‘NRL rep weekend: four games is not enough’ Published on theroar.com.au 23/4/13
Most people would now agree that the representative weekend is a fantastic idea. But surely more work can be done to squeeze more out of what could be a wonderful annual extravaganza.
The ANZAC Test match rightfully took centre stage on Friday night at Canberra Stadium and was backed up by three pretty good games of footy over the next two days.
Australia might have ran away with the victory in the end but over 25,000 fans at the ground saw a legitimate arm wrestle for most of the clash.
With Benji Marshall, Simon Mannering and Sonny Bill Williams still to come back into the fold you can be assured the Kiwis will be more than a chance at the 2013 World Cup later in the year.
New South Wales made it two victories in a row in the under-20s State of Origin encounter with fierce rivals Queensland after a commanding performance at Penrith on Saturday night.
But the main event at Centrebet Stadium was a showdown between bitter foes Samoa and Tonga. This fixture needs to be a part of the representative weekend next year and every year thereafter.
Both sides showed pride and passion and proved we are on the right track when it comes to international rugby league. There is so much untapped potential within the pacific islands and across the world, we must be grow the game.
Sunday in Coffs Harbour was another story.
With detractors already tapping nails into its coffin, fans on the north coast were expected to lob up in droves and fork out for ridiculously priced tickets despite a number of players pulling out of the game.
But this game is still relevant.
The Australian Rugby League Commission needs to put the work in all year round and not just throw the bones of a once-entertaining concept to a different country town each season.
There is still a place for City-Country Origin.
“It would be a tragedy if people took this weekend’s crowd as a sign of the interest in Country-City,” Country Rugby League chief executive Terry Quinn told The Daily Telegraph.
“This match has an amazing impact in the regions we play in every year and you only have to look at the support it has generated over the past few seasons to understand how many people in the bush want to see this match played.
“We will be doing all we can to grow Country-City in the future and the NRL is extremely supportive of that.”
Well good for them.
But something caught this writer’s eye while on the beautiful Gold Coast this weekend. There wasn’t enough games to satisfy supporters thirst for rugby league.
Four games was simply not enough.
Sitting at an establishment in Southport on Sunday afternoon, it was obvious how much of a leg up rivals the AFL had with only the delayed 4pm City-Country coverage going up three matches of Aussie Rules.
From 1pm right through to 6pm, the AFL dominated the numerous big screens at said establishment. Coming from Sydney, you are used to having the rub of the green when it comes to television dominance at any given venue.
But the few watching City-Country felt like lepers tucked away in the corner with one rather small screen to watch.
Surely we can add some more games to this representative weekend to make it more viable to the neutral sports fans.
Why not have a Queensland City-Country contest to keep the Queenslanders interested?
Perhaps a Papua New Guinea versus Fiji Test match in Townsville?
Maybe even pit the NSW Cup champions Newtown Jets up against the 2012 Queensland Cup premiers the Wynnum-Manly Seagulls?
‘Sharks and Dogs desperate as anyone this weekend’ Published on theroar.com.au 24/4/13
The last time the Cronulla Sharks battled the Canterbury Bulldogs, both sides had already started their surges toward the 2012 finals series.
It was May of last season and both were in the top eight and flying.
But as we all know, 12 months is a long time in rugby league.
It might only be Round 7 but these supposed heavyweights are just trying to stay afloat and both desperately need a victory to keep in touch or risk losing their season before it really even begins.
Canterbury, the 2012 minor premiers, sit dead last on the National Rugby League table after losing four consecutive matches. They might have been without a number of their stars but the best teams find a way to win when the chips are down.
Dally M Medalist Ben Barba is back on the paddock yet the Bulldogs refuse to click.
The Sharks looked the real deal heading into the new season with the signings of Luke Lewis, Beau Ryan and Michael Gordon.
Add the likes of Paul Gallen and Todd Carney, who were already at the club, and that elusive premiership was finally within their sights.
With ASADA’s investigation targeting them, the Sharks have crumbled under the pressure, lost their past three games and sit precariously on the table with a 2-4 record.
While Cronulla cops plenty for a seemingly one dimensional attack, the Bulldogs have scored less points in 2013 and boast the worst points differential in the NRL.
These sides come together at Bluetongue Stadium on Sunday afternoon, desperate to regain that winning feeling.
This competition has a funny way of bringing you back to Earth with a thud no matter how good you were the previous season. The NRL is about the now and what you are doing to win this weekend’s game.
Neither side can lose any more ground to the competition’s leaders.
Trent Hodkinson has been named at halfback for the Dogs and will partner Josh Reynolds against Jeff Robson and Todd Carney. You get the feeling that something has to give and one of these playmakers needs to stand up.
“We really need a win, we’ll be doing everything we can to get it this weekend,” Canterbury winger Sam Perretttold bulldogs.com.au.
“The Sharks haven’t had the best start to the year either so they’ll be a tough opposition as I’m sure they want the victory just as much as we do.”
These might not be the championship rounds just yet for most sides in the NRL but for the Bulldogs and the Sharks, the next five weeks will go a long way to deciding their fate in 2013.
After this weekend’s clash Canterbury will face the Wests Tigers, Brisbane Broncos and St George Illawarra with road trips to Newcastle and Auckland.
Cronulla head to Newcastle in Round 8 before facing the Tigers, Canberra Raiders and South Sydney before a bye.
The point is these sides need to start winning and winning now.
It isn’t panic stations just yet, but the hand is definitely on the red button.
‘Roosters v Dragons: Lest we forget’ Published on theroar.com.au 25/4/13
It takes a lot for the modern day rugby league player to get caught up in the occasion. They are professional athletes and do everything in their power to block out anything and everything in the lead up to a big match.
In almost every other instance these men are the centre of attention, whether it be State of Origin, internationals or the bright lights of the National Rugby League. They are superstars and fans worship them accordingly.
But ANZAC Day at Allianz Stadium is a different beast altogether.
This will be the twelfth time the St George Illawarra Dragons and Sydney Roosters have played out the biggest annual club match on the NRL calendar since its inception in 2002.
The Dragons have dominated the fixture, winning eight of the eleven matches.
But this game is not about statistics, or Sonny Bill Williams, or even the Dragons’ return to form.
Just like every other week, these players will have woken up today with the game itself furthest from their minds. They will have breakfast and some might even catch a wave, whether it be Bondi or Wollongong.
Some will prepare their bags and some will re-check theirs after packing the night before.
They’ll eventually find themselves at the ground signing autographs and keeping conversation to a minimum as they weave their way through to the locker rooms at Allianz.
So far everything feels like just another match.
The players will go through their notes and take in some instructions from the coaching staff, some sporting headphones and some not, before putting on their gear and heading out for warm-up.
Now they can feel the buzz around the ground.
But as the warm-up intensifies the crowd becomes a distant memory. They know the game plan and they know their individual jobs. The butterflies build in their stomachs as they prepare for kickoff.
Then it’s back into the sheds.
Just like any other match, they take their final instructions from the head coach, some listening more intently than others, with kickoff minutes away.
The time comes and they are down the tunnel and onto the field.
With the shadows lengthening over the ground, they can now take in the 40,000 strong crowd.
But this is completely different to any other game they’ll play. For a few short minutes prior to kickoff, these professional athletes are reminded of how insignificant their jobs really are in the big scheme of things.
The Last Post is played.
This spectacle isn’t about them anymore.
Then there’s that eerie silence that takes over the stadium and the players are paying tribute just like every other man, woman and child inside Allianz Stadium.
They are humbled just like everybody else.
“It was definitely my favourite game and something I will always remember,” said former Rooster Ryan Cross.
“Standing there in front of a massive crowd I would always look forward to the Last Post and the whole emotion behind the day, it’s something I will never forget.”
For those few short moments between feeling the turf under their boots and the referee’s whistle, the players feel something they won’t feel in any other match in 2013.
Lest we forget.
‘My Blues team for State of Origin I’ Published on theroar.com.au 29/4/13
There is a little over a month before the first State of Origin match of 2013, where the New South Wales Blues are hunting their first series victory in almost a decade.
Some have already given their Blues squad for game one and many will follow suit in the coming weeks. So why not get on the bandwagon and give my New South Wales 17 to finally bring down the Queensland empire beginning June 5 at ANZ Stadium.
Fullback: Brett Stewart
Other contenders: Jarryd Hayne, Kurt Gidley, Anthony Minichiello
Stewart has slowly worked back into form at the Sea Eagles and is a shoe-in to be Blues custodian with the disappearance of Josh Dugan and the poor form of Jarryd Hayne at Parramatta.
Gidley is a chance but is a better option on the bench.
Wingers: Brett Morris and Nathan Merritt
Other contenders: Akuila Uate, Jarryd Hayne, Jorge Taufua
Morris has become one of the premier wingers in international rugby league and has continued to excel in a Dragons side that has been less than impressive over the past 12 months.
Merritt deserves a chance in Origin and his try scoring feats at the Rabbitohs cannot be ignored anymore. He will have no problem with the step up into the Origin arena.
Centres: Josh Morris and Michael Jennings
Other contenders: Jamal Idris, Jarrod Croker
Jennings picks himself this year after a spectacular start to the year at the Roosters. He might have been picked from NSW Cup last year, but the enigmatic speedster has been on fire at Bondi Junction in 2013.
Morris will pair up with his brother on one side and the mouth-watering combination of Merritt and Jennings on the other.
Five-Eighth: Todd Carney
Other contenders: James Maloney, Josh Reynolds
Carney keeps his spot at five-eighth despite serious challenges from Maloney and Josh Reynolds. The Cronulla playmaker has been good in a poor side so far in 2013 and will need to step up after a disappointing Origin debut last season.
Halfback: Mitchell Pearce
Other contenders: Adam Reynolds
Coach Laurie Daley said he would stick solid with Pearce earlier this year and the public support has paid dividends, with Pearce and the Roosters firing. The combination of Pearce and Carney returns for another shot at the mighty Queenslanders.
It’s now or never for these two. But that doesn’t mean they can’t do it.
Props: James Tamou and Aaron Woods
Other contenders: Tim Grant, Willie Mason, Andrew Fifita, Tim Mannah
Australian prop Tamou is first prop picked and continues to thrive in the big matches. He plays big minutes and has the ability to dominate the Maroons pack.
Woods gets his first sky blue jumper continually standing out in a struggling Wests Tigers side. Woods plays big minutes too and does so with the quality of a seasoned pro. He is ready for State of Origin.
Hooker: Robbie Farah
Other contenders: nil
Farah has come a long way since being re-picked for the Blues in 2012. Behind Paul Gallen, the Tigers rake is the second man picked for New South Wales.
Backrow: Luke Lewis, Greg Bird, Paul Gallen
Other Contenders: Anthony Watmough, Ryan Hoffman, Trent Merrin, Glenn Stewart
Gallen will play tight for the Blues shoring up the middle third with Woods and Tamou in the opening exchanges. Bird and Lewis can play tight or on the fringes depending on what the situation calls for.
Bench: Kurt Gidley, Trent Merrin, Anthony Watmough, Ryan Hoffman
Watmough has been playing in the middle for the Sea Eagles but can play a little wider. His intensity and passion is an added bonus on the bench for the Blues.
When Merrin gets his chance, Gallen can be pushed up to prop to give either Tamou or Woods the break they need.
Hoffman is a devastating line runner and gives the bench that balance Laurie Daley is looking for.
Gidley could be the x-factor for the Blues at around the 30 minute mark, keeping Farah fresh and posing a serious threat to the tiring Queenslanders.
‘Eels the worst side of the NRL era’ Published on theroar.com.au 30/4/13
Heavily backed and expected to roll the under-strength Penrith Panthers on Monday night football, the hapless Parramatta Eels crumbled without a whimper in one of the darkest nights in the club’s proud history.
The Sydney Roosters might have put 50 points on them in Round 4 but at least there was some effort and even the most hardy of Eels fans will tell you the Roosters were simply a class or two above them.
But last night was something different altogether.
Penrith were missing stars right across the paddock and fielded a makeshift 17. Usual starters like Lachlan Coote, Josh Mansour, Blake Austin, Wes Naiqama, James Roberts, Cameron Ciraldo and Brad Tighe were all out.
Parramatta had this one in the bag.
But nobody told the Panthers how this story was suppose to unfold.
Most experts had Parramatta winning and winning handsomely. Instead, the thousands of Eels fans that trekked to Centrebet Stadium were left to wallow for another week.
There might have been bigger defeats in the past but the 44-12 demolition at the hands of the Panthers is easily one of their worst losses since their inception in 1947.
The question isn’t how does coach Ricky Stuart get his team out of this mess, because nobody has that answer.
The question is how the hell has this club fallen so far?
So far, in fact, you have to compare this Parramatta side to some of the worst rugby league sides since the birth of the National Rugby League in 1998.
You can argue it isn’t fair comparing different teams from other eras.
Other sides might have lost more games on a more regular basis and may not have had superstars like Jarryd Hayne in their squad, but in this modern age you are expected to be a whole lot better than what was expected of sides from the past.
Are they worst than the 1999 Western Suburbs Magpies?
The Magpies won only three matches in ‘99 and gave up a whopping 944 points.
Parramatta, man to man, are a better team than that Wests side but that was a different time. The NRL in 1999 wasn’t the even playing field it is today.
The point is, the gap between the Magpies and the premier sides of that year compared to the distance between the Eels and the top sides of 2013 is the exactly the same – possibly even worse.
South Sydney Rabbitohs of 2003 recorded only three wins for the season too and conceded 758 points.
It’s a fait accompli Parramatta will win more than three games this year and they definitely won’t concede anywhere near the aforementioned teams. But the fact still remains the Eels are just as bad as any other side the NRL has seen since 1998.
Coach Stuart didn’t have much to say post-match. But what he did say would send shudders down the spines of all Parramatta fans.
“It’s embarrassing when your two best players are an 18 and 19 year old both learning how to play the game or play at first grade level.”
For Eels fans you could say the only way is up.
When the ascent begins however is anyone’s guess.
‘Manly’s brutish ways could be their downfall’ Published on theroar.com.au 1/5/13
No side treads the fine line of aggression quite like the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles. In recent years the so called silvertails have based their game on grit, passion and intimidation.
While other sides in the modern era shy away from confrontation, the Sea Eagles welcome it and thrive on it. When the chips are down or a match is on the line, no other side can match Manly for sheer brutality.
Under Des Hasler and now Geoff Toovey, the Eagles have made an art form out of one of the basic fundamentals of rugby league.
They are what you call ‘old school’ and that is exactly how they want it.
They still have the attacking finesse of other sides and boast some of the best players in the competition in Jamie Lyon, Brett Stewart and Kieran Foran.
But last Friday night against the South Sydney Rabbitohs, Manly crossed that fine line. That fine line makes them an awesome football side and will probably carry them all the way to the finals and the top four.
Although everyone loves watching the Eagles play, everyone also knows that things can escalate pretty quickly too.
The high-flying Rabbitohs were headed to Brookvale and Manly wanted to remind them who’s turf they were stepping onto.
And what a game it was. It had everything and then some.
But as the stakes continued to rise and the pressure reached boiling point, the Eagles lost their way. Souths took everything they had and then took the competition points.
So where did this result leave both sides?
Yes the Rabbitohs might have been battered and bruised for the next few days but they still had the victory. Coach Michael Maguire knew what a litmus test it was going to be for his team and they came out the other side with flying colours.
But what of the Eagles?
For all their ‘passion’ they will now be without Richie Fao’aso and Steve Matai for Monday’s clash with the St George Illawarra Dragons.
Both took early guilty pleas with Matai missing only one match after a tackle gone wrong on giant Rabbitoh George Burgess while Fao’aso will miss eight games after two separate lifting tackles on superstar Greg Inglis.
“I thought it was a cracker of a hit [Matai on Burgess],” Cherry-Evans said on Tuesday.
“(I am) very surprised that he’s been charged.
“We see those sort of tackles week after week and no one else seems to cop any grunt from it.
“It’s just because, unfortunately, Steve’s built up a bit of a resume when it comes to the judiciary.
“That one, I thought was pretty fair and he should be right to play hopefully.”
Fullback Stewart has also taken an early plea for an elbow on Andrew Everingham but will take his place on Monday.
At the end of the day, Matai’s hit can be excused.
But the others leave you wondering if the Sea Eagles care about winning the two competition points or just breaking some bones.
Come September, Manly’s strength could be the very thing that brings them down.
‘Bronco Thaiday fires up Sam Thaiday’ Published on theroar.com.au 2/5/13
Brisbane Broncos captain Sam Thaiday might as well have walked straight up to Sam Burgess and slapped him across the face.
If the South Sydney Rabbitoh did not need anymore firing up, yesterday’s headline in The Courier-Mail said it all: ‘Thaiday says George is the best of the Burgess brothers’.
Thaiday has not done his team-mates any favours heading into the Round 8 clash at Suncorp Stadium.
Although Burgess may not admit it, there is nothing that lights a fire under any competitive man like being told your little brother is better than you.
“They are some huge boys. They tower over our front-rowers,” Thaiday told The Courier-Mail.
“We are more the shorter [Thaiday and Hannant], rounder front-rowers.
“Their team plays a lot of football off the back of those two guys.
“I have been more impressed with the younger brother this season.
“He’s really stepped up and really taken that role of being a great young front-rower right on board.
“I think there will be some reward for him at the end of the year with a World Cup call-up for England.”
Perhaps George has overshadowed his brother in the opening rounds with his barnstorming runs and intimidating presence. But when it comes down to it and you put it all on the line, big bro Sam is light years ahead of his giant sibling.
Physically and mentally the Rabbitohs are a better team with Sam in the side.
Statistically George (818) leads Sam (789) by 29 in all run metres in 2013 despite George playing an extra game. Oh and Sam has made 47 more tackles.
The point is that Sam is a finely tuned all-round monster while George still has plenty of work to do. And the scariest part is that Sam still has plenty of improvement left in him this season.
Brisbane sit sixth on the National Rugby League table with a record of 4-3.
But has anyone really been impressed with the Broncos so far this year?
Against a listless Wests Tigers pack last weekend that boasted such “household” names as Shaun Spence, Jack Buchanan and Sauaso Sue the Broncos almost found a way to lose the unloseable match.
They were awesome early but faded badly at Campbelltown on Saturday night.
Those same lapses in concentration and execution cannot be repeated against the Rabbitohs who boast one of the most powerful forward packs in the NRL.
Brisbane might have won their past three encounters against the Bunnies and seven of their last ten, but there is something different in the air this year at Redfern.
It isn’t Mario Fenech and Craig Coleman beating their chests or the throngs of Souths supporters and their annual premiership song and dance.
This is an honest-to-god premiership threat.
Friday night in Brisbane, the red and green road show rolls on.
All the stars will be out.
Inglis, John Sutton, Adam Reynolds and yes even George Burgess.
And don’t forget one S. Burgess looking for a certain S. Thaiday.