‘It’s time for an SBW masterclass’ published on theroar.com.au 19/6/13
When Sonny Bill Williams announced he was returning to the game that made him famous, the rugby league world stopped and for a month or two Williams was bigger than Ben Hur.
His face was everywhere.
Finally came his debut for the Sydney Roosters and even then we were treated to SBW voiceovers from Channel Nine as he paced the touchline in Round 1 against the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
But at least there were no more ‘SBW OMG’ promos right?
The Roosters have hit the ground running in season 2013 and have developed a lethal attack headed by James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce and Michael Jennings.
In fact, anyone who has put on a Roosters jersey this year has played out of their skin and it doesn’t hurt to have a first-year coach who knows exactly what he is doing.
Williams’ transition back into the NRL has been seamless and he has his teammates to thank for that.
He can also thank rugby league for the constant headlines away from the field that have kept the big New Zealander out of the spotlight.
The ASADA saga, public outcry over on-field violence, police investigations, Ben Barba’s return, Josh Dugan’s sacking and resurrection and serious problems at both the Wests Tigers and Parramatta Eels have meant Williams can go about his business.
If you wanted anonymity Mr Williams, this is the closest you’re ever going to get.
For all intents and purposes Sonny has been pretty impressive in his return to the NRL. Even in his return match there were signs the devastating force that once dominated at the Canterbury Bulldogs would soon be back at the Bondi club.
Defensively he has been a workhorse and is clearly a better athlete than the one who left us for France way back in 2008.
“I want to be consistent rather than one week you are on fire, the next week you’re not,” Williams told The Daily Telegraph back in April.
“I see it as a massive challenge.
“I don’t worry about what is going on outside and what people are saying and things like that. I just worry about doing my job and doing the little things well.
“I am feeling good. For me it’s about doing the little things well. The one percenters and making sure I have been diligent in my preparation. If I do then the big picture always seems to fall into pace.”
There is no doubting the professionalism of the man and it really is hard to dislike the guy. He has helped create an instant winning culture at the tricolours and has contributed to every win the Roosters have notched up so far in 2013.
But some might say he still has plenty to prove and you could argue that he wasn’t signed by the Roosters to pass the ball before the line. Granted some of his ball playing has been spectacular and he’s set up some slashing tries for his colleagues.
The question is, when will Williams unleash?
Not just play well but really unleash a destructive 80 minute performance?
With Maloney, Pearce and Jennings all missing due to Origin duties the Roosters travel to Homebush for a clash with the Bulldogs. The very side Williams won a premiership with in 2004.
Under Des Hasler the Bulldogs have forged a new era and are one of the heavyweights of the competition.
It’s time SBW went to the next level and reminded Canterbury who he is.
‘Time to remember Super League origins’ published on theroar.com.au 24/6/13
The Super League War is a distant memory to some and will never be forgotten by others. It was quite simply the most tumultuous time in the long history of this great game.
It has been 16 years since the split competitions of Super League and the Australian Rugby League. It was a difficult time for most and nobody paid more than the fans.
While Super League and its supporters were continually vilified, the breakaway competition did drag rugby league kicking and screaming into a new era.
State of Origin suffered too.
In 1997 the ARL kept with the original Origin format, despite a serious erosion of depth and talent. Super League, on the other hand, went with a tri-series competition containing New South Wales, Queensland and New Zealand.
For some, the memory of Super League still burns. But enough water has now flown under the bridge to recognise the representative caps these players received.
When looking through Origin records, startling omissions sit in the 1997 column.
Fringe players at their very best in a united competition, the likes of John Simon and Michael Buettner were selected for New South Wales in ARL’s series and will forever be branded Origin players.
Yet Super League players like Laurie Daley, Andrew Ettingshausen, Glenn Lazarus, and Brad Clyde are still not recognised for their efforts for New South Wales in the tri-series.
With the Super League-aligned Brisbane Broncos boasting so many representative players, Queensland’s ARL squad was severely ravaged.
Who were some of these guys handed Maroons jumpers? Good question.
Remember Danny Moore, Neil Teirney, Jeremy Schloss or Stuart Kelly?
What about Tony Hearn or Clinton O’Brien?
You can’t blame them for being selected and you can’t question their pride as Queenslanders and you’re sure as hell not going to try and take their Origin jumpers away from them.
Yet Queensland legends like Allan Langer, Kevin Walters, Wendell Sailor, Darren Lockyer, Gorden Tallis and Steve Walters all still boast an asterick next to their representative records.
Is it not time for all these men to be remembered for the games they played for their respective states too?
Where is their recognition?
Let’s not forget the quality of those games in ’97 either.
While the ARL series was played out over three dour struggles, the Super League tri-series culminated in one of the great forgotten marathons of the modern era.
In front of over 35,000 fans at Brisbane’s ANZ Stadium, Queensland and New South Wales battled to a 22-all draw after 80 minutes.
Canberra Raiders flyer Brett Mullins bagged a hat-trick, while Queensland’s Steve Renouf crossed for two tries.
After another 20 minutes of extra time, the teams were still locked at 22.
Finally, in the 104th minute, Noel Goldthorpe slotted a booming field goal in the driving rain to hand New South Wales victory.
Blues great Mark Geyer, who was playing for Super League’s Western Reds that year, agrees players from both New South Wales and Queensland’s tri-series competition should be remembered.
“Of course,” Geyer has told The Roar.
“It was what it was. If a joint and harmonious league existed I dare say there’d be players on both sides (of the war) lucky to have played origin.”
‘The best 10 utilities in the NRL’ published on theroar.com.au 25/6/13
They are a necessity of the modern game. Players who can fill more than one position and still get the job done.
They are the utilities and they’re loved by coaches right across the National Rugby League.
But who are the best ten utilities in the NRL?
10: Jamie Buhrer (Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles)
Former New South Wales coach Ricky Stuart shocked many when he selected Buhrer for State of Origin last season. His stay in the Origin arena was short lived but Stuart obviously saw the value in playing the young Sea Eagle.
He may not have kicked on at club level just yet but he gives coach Geoff Toovey a comfort factor from the bench. His ability to play anywhere in the pack and even wider is a great asset for the Eagles.
9: Nathan Peats (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Playing well above his weight each and every week, Peats would be a starting hooker at most other clubs. Issac Luke might have a mortgage on the dummy half position but that hasn’t stopped Peats from carving out a spot of his own in the red and green.
Creative, tough and determined Peats, has become an integral squad member at Redfern.
Peats proved his worth again over the weekend starting in the back row against Parramatta.
8: Chris McQueen (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
McQueen’s impressive rise through the ranks at South Sydney culminated recently with his very first Queensland cap. His selection was no easy feat, considering the dominance the Maroons team has had over such a long period of time.
He may have debuted on the wing but he has quickly developed into a barnstorming back rower who can also mix it in tight with the big boys.
7: Simon Mannering (New Zealand Warriors)
The Warriors and Kiwi captain has been solid if nothing else over an extended period of time in Auckland.
The big New Zealander might be better suited to the second row but can always be relied on to fill-in in the centres and proved as much by being selected there for the ANZAC Test before being ruled out with injury.
Mannering was made Kiwi skipper earlier in 2013 replacing superstar Benji Marshall. A worthy prize for one of New Zealand’s most reliable players.
6: Lewis Brown (Penrith Panthers)
The greatest compliment Brown can be paid is that the public is still divided as to what really is his best position. Whether it’s second row, hooker or centre, the Warrior-turn-Panther is a dangerous attacking weapon.
Brown is a dangerous line runner but truly came of age in season 2011 out of dummy half. Despite playing in the centres on his way to a grand final appearance with the Warriors, Brown was lethal around the ruck.
5: Ryan Hinchcliffe (Melbourne Storm)
Hinchcliffe joined the Storm as a bona fide hooker and many thought the former Raider would simply be a backup to star and captain Cameron Smith.
Instead, Hinchcliffe re-invented himself into a hardworking, bustling back rower.
Shows what you can do when you really love the club you play for.
4: Matt Gillett (Brisbane Broncos)
The Brisbane-native has quickly become one of the most important members of the Broncos team after bursting onto the scene in 2010 as the Dally M Rookie of the Year.
Gillett is a natural footballer and thrives at centre or in the forwards.
3: Feleti Mateo (New Zealand Warriors)
What can you say about Feleti Mateo that hasn’t already been said?
The silky ballplayer is one of the most dangerous attacking weapons in the NRL when on his game and has won many games for both the Warriors and his former club Parramatta.
He might be more accustomed to second row or lock, but the Tongan representative can also lead a side at halfback or five-eighth.
Pity he may never wear the sky blue of New South Wales though.
2: Kurt Gidley (Newcastle Knights)
There is a certain stigma about Gidley with many fans and it might have something to do with a few serious injuries hampering his career.
But on his day and fully fit, there are not many players like him.
The versatile Novocastrian can play anywhere in the backline or hooker and could probably handle lock or second row quite easily. He kicks goals too, which is an added bonus.
Gidley even captained New South Wales from the bench such is his ability to cover almost every position on the field.
1: Sonny Bill Williams (Sydney Roosters)
One of the most fearsome forwards going around in the NRL.
Williams has proven since returning in 2013 he can play tight and rack up statistic after statistic. But as the season has progressed we’ve seen more of the attacking game that made him a superstar all those years ago.
Only last Friday we saw what Sonny could do as an out-and-out pivot, steering the Roosters to a famous victory over Canterbury.
Whether you like it or not, SBW is almost the perfect footballer.
‘Hey Papalii, bring it on big boy’ published on theroar.com.au 26/6/13
Josh Papalii was just seven days old when Queensland and New South Wales went to battle in Game One of the 1992 State of Origin series.
On that night legendary Queensland forwards like Gary Larson, Bob Lindner and Trevor Gillmeister took to the Sydney Football Stadium for another instalment of the greatest rivalry in Australian sport.
All the while, a newborn baby was still adjusting to his brand new life in Auckland.
The Blues won that evening on the back of powerful displays from bookends Paul Harragon and Glenn Lazarus.
It was something similar in Game One of the 2013 series with the Blues engine room outplaying and overpowering a disappointing Maroons pack.
Just like that night way back in 1992, the score finished 14-6.
Queensland had to make changes.
Enter Auckland-born, Queensland-raised, six-foot tall 115 kilogram juggernaut Josh Papalii.
The Canberra Raider deserves his Origin spot on form alone.
Yet media reports suggest that the Blues camp believe Papalii has been selected to headhunt NSW captain Paul Gallen and take the makeshift prop forward out of the contest.
That’s fine with Blues supporters.
If Papalii has been given orders to seek out and destroy our inspirational skipper, then by all means Queensland, go for it.
Queensland would be negating much of this giant’s attacking arsenal. If Papalii only has eyes for Gallen, the rest of his game will deteriorate.
The Canberra Raiders eliminated Cronulla from the 2012 finals series on the back of a dominant performance from Papalii. The match was highlighted by a running battle between Papalii and Gallen.
Papalii won out that day.
But Origin is a different beast and it won’t matter how much advice he gets. He won’t know if he is ready for State of Origin football until he gets into the grind.
The quickest, toughest almighty grind of them all.
And Queensland want him to be Gallen’s kryptonite in his very first taste of the big time?
That’s a hell of a lot of pressure.
Not to mention the target they’ve placed on their own man.
Gallen concedes it won’t just be Papalii looking for a square-up after his fists of fury with Nate Myles in Game One at ANZ Stadium.
“That’s fine, if they want to target me I’ve got 16 other blokes behind me that are going to be right there with me,” Gallen told a media scrum yesterday.
“If they want to concentrate on me, there’s a lot more strike power on the field than me.
“If they just want to worry about me I’ll be happy with that.”
So should the rest of New South Wales.
This is panic, paranoia, and bitterness at its best. The Maroons empire is wobbling.
Those cracks that Laurie Daley speaks of are widening by the minute.
‘Why desperate Tigers can brave the Storm’ published on theroar.com.au 29/6/13
You would have been laughed at a week ago if you suggested the Wests Tigers were a chance of beating the Melbourne Storm tonight at Leichhardt Oval.
But a week is a long time in rugby league.
If the State of Origin period was not enough for them to deal with, Melbourne’s star five-eighth Gareth Widdop was injured last Monday night in a losing effort against the Gold Coast Titans. The classy Englishman suffered a season ending hip injury similar to the one that sidelined Wests Tigers speedster Chris Lawrence in 2011.
Widdop may just have played his last game in a Storm jersey.
Brett Finch was brought back to the Storm for situations exactly like this one. He has been there before and still has enough talent to fill a void in the Melbourne cog. But he is definitely no Gareth Widdop.
Media reports confirmed yesterday that Melbourne would also be without their inspirational skipper Cameron Smith after a bruising Origin encounter on Wednesday.
Eight stitches under his right eye will see the Queensland and Australian captain replaced by Ryan Hinchcliffe.
Storm supporters will argue they can beat anyone on any given day with or without their biggest names. But when you take Smith’s leadership and direction out the Storm just look like another side.
Granted they’re just another side that boasts Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Ryan Hoffman.
But what happens when you cut the head of a snake?
Widdop’s absence can’t be underestimated either.
Their opponents have had a horrible season to date and have been ravaged by injuries to key personnel.
Despite missing the likes of Keith Galloway, Chris Lawrence, Tim Moltzen and Lote Tuquri for extended periods Wests have shown plenty of ticker and unearthed some stars of the future in the process.
Unbelievably the Tigers have amassed eight competition points since round eleven.
A remarkable effort considering the obstacles that have been placed in front of them.
We all know the NRL isn’t just about what players you can throw onto the park. It’s just as much about effort and if you don’t show up to play you’ll be beat.
Rain is expected for kickoff and no team has braved the conditions in 2013 quite like Wests.
Last weekend the Tigers upset the Raiders at Campbelltown in monsoonal conditions and did the same in similar weather back in round eleven against the North Queensland Cowboys.
With Origin stars Robbie Farah and Aaron Woods returning and a resurgent Benji Marshall steering the ship, the Tigers are a chance tonight at Leichhardt.
A desperate team is a dangerous team in the NRL and the Tigers are just that.
“It’s getting close to the point where we have to win every game,” Tigers centre Chris Lawrence told NRL.com.
“The old cliché is one game at a time, but we have to win just about every game that comes our way.
“So we’re treating this game as if it’s our last one. There are not going to be too many opportunities for us if we lose a couple more games.”
Much has been said of the Tigers brilliance when they’re on their game. But this can only be won on guts, toughness and that desperation that separates teams in this, the closest competition in the world.
‘Souths headed north on way to minor premiership’ published on theroar.com.au 30/6/13
Greek philosopher Aristotle once wrote “we do not have knowledge of a thing until we have grasped its why, that is to say, its cause.”
That thing in question here is the juggernaut known as Michael Maguire’s South Sydney Rabbitohs.
On Friday night the Rabbitohs eased passed the Canberra Raiders 32-2 at ANZ Stadium in a display that would have sent chills down the spines of other contenders like the Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters.
They were not at their best and they certainly didn’t destroy the Raiders. But the way they went about their business over the eighty minutes, never getting out of second gear, was the most impressive aspect.
All the while missing Chris McQueen, George Burgess, Matt King, Michael Crocker, Andrew Everingham, Beau Champion and losing Ben Te’o for the majority of the clash.
Souths have become something else.
The Roosters and Storm aren’t too far behind. But there is no doubting that at this stage the Rabbitohs are the favourites for the premiership and everyone else is trying to chase them down.
Coach Maguire deserves plenty of credit.
But their success was set in motion years before Maguire ever returned from the north of England.
Back to Aristotle.
Aristotle believed that the ‘four causes’ of movement could explain why something changed.
The first of these causes is material.
For years Souths were the laughing stock of rugby league. Long gone were the glory days and in its place was a team anchored to the bottom of the table year after year.
They were broke and despite their resurrection in 2002 not much had changed at Redfern.
Enter Hollywood movie star Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes á Court. After members voted to hand control of the club to these men everything changed. Sponsorship deals, marquee signings and a competitive squad meant the Rabbitohs had began their renaissance.
The second of Aristotle’s causes is formal. This is spawned by arrangement, shape or appearance.
It is hard to say where Souths would be if they didn’t sack Jason Taylor or if they had re-signed Chris Sandow or they didn’t chase young English tyrant Sam Burgess.
Without Sandow’s departure Adam Reynolds may have never got his chance at the Bunnies and could have been playing at another club.
If there was no Sam Burgess we wouldn’t have seen the other three rather talented siblings and its quite obvious Maguire would have been coaching somewhere else if Taylor was never given the punt.
Michael Maguire is Aristotle’s third cause. He is the moving cause.
The moving cause is the agent that interacts. Souths needed Maguire for change.
The cause of a boy is his father, for a car its petrol and for the Rabbitohs it was Maguire. Souths are a ruthless machine because of Maguire’s regime. He has taken this squad from a top eight contender to an NRL heavyweight.
And the final cause is the aim.
That aim is off course a premiership victory on the sixth of October.
Like the other fifteen clubs in the NRL, winning the title is the purpose each and every year.
‘Sharks pay the price for Gallen’s origins’ published on roundeight.com 1/7/13
Inspirational New South Wales captain Paul Gallen is racing the clock to be ready for State of Origin III after suffering a foot injury in the Blues loss to Queensland last Wednesday night at Suncorp Stadium.
Gallen has given everything for the Blue cause and has become accustomed to battling through injury to play for his beloved state. It will be tight but if anyone can do it its Gallen.
Diagnosis at this stage is three to five weeks and there is a strong possibility he won’t be ready for the decider at ANZ Stadium on July 17.
Nobody is as passionate about the Blues as Gallen and he will be the first to tell you how desperate he is to finally get NSW over the line and claim a series victory.
But in his quest for Origin glory Gallen continues to put his body through hell.
“He is our leader and we will give him every chance to be fit for the game,” Blues coach Laurie Daley told The Daily Telegraph.
“If we have to bring other people into camp just in case we will do that.
“But if Paul Gallen says he is going to be right to play then he is going to be picked to lead our team.
“Gal is an experienced player and I will back whatever he tells me.”
So who is the real loser in all of this?
If Gallen is ruled out for five weeks or possibly longer, aren’t the Cronulla Sharks the ones that really pay the price?
It seems that year after year Gallen and the Sharks fizzle out heading toward September and much of that can be attributed to Gallen’s workload through the Origin period.
Has Gallen thought about his club?
Are the Sharks within their rights asking their skipper to step down from representative duties?
After all it is Cronulla paying his salary and it isn’t the first time his club has paid the penalty for his representative heroics.
The Sharks were circling in 2012 and were expected to figure heavily in Finals football. But they faded badly and were bundled out of the playoffs by the Canberra Raiders in week one.
After the round 13 fixture against Parramatta, Gallen could only muster seven appearances for Cronulla. He made it through Origin with some gargantuan performances, but the Sharks paid the price.
Gallen played his fair share of games in 2011 but the Sharks still wilted at the back end of the season losing their last six games. A fit and firing Gallen certainly could have helped his side. Instead Cronulla were the ones who suffered after yet another Origin series.
When do the Sharks draw the line in the sand?
How many more years can Cronulla’s most prized possession keep doing this to his body?