‘A Nostalgic Return in the Name of Business’ Published on theroar.com.au 6/5/13
With yet another impressive victory under their belts over the weekend the South Sydney Rabbitohs are sitting pretty at the top of the National Rugby League table with the Melbourne Storm.
With 25,000 members officially signing up with the club prior to their Round 8 trip to face the Brisbane Broncos you could say the red and greens are in a good place.
They have superstars right across the paddock, a ruthless tactician in coach Michael Maguire and play a brand of football their fans can believe in, not to mention the Hollywood star power owner Russell Crowe brings to the franchise.
It is all happening at Redfern in 2013.
Rabbitohs hierarchy also continue to prove they are a club that thinks outside the box.
This year alone Souths will take home matches to places like Perth and Cairns.
In the coming months the Rabbitohs will host the Gold Coast Titans in Cairns, the New Zealand Warriors at NIB Stadium in Perth and take a match to Gosford for a showdown with the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.
Hats off to Chief Executive Shane Richardson and his colleagues.
Fans of the aforementioned teams wouldn’t be at ANZ Stadium for these respective matches anyway so why not move the fixtures?
Taking any more than three games away from their supporters would be a crime.
But what happens this Friday night when the Rabbitohs host the hot and cold North Queensland Cowboys?
How many will be at the Olympic stadium for this game?
So here is an idea for the future.
Some Souths fans will hate it and some will see the value in it.
However they feel about it, you can be assured old North Sydney Bears fans will love it even if it is only for a day. And not just Bears diehards but any rugby league fan that loves a little nostalgia in what has become a professional juggernaut we call the NRL.
Can you see where this is going?
The Bears are of course the NSW Cup feeder side of the Rabbitohs and ran out onto North Sydney Oval yesterday for a clash with the Wests Tigers. In the end, the Bears went down by four points in front of a small crowd at the legendary venue.
It’s a far cry from the halcyon days at Bear Park.
But for the sake of business and giving those old diehard Bears supporters the chance to feel that rush once more at a packed North Sydney Oval would be something administrators at Souths should really consider.
15,000 fans on a Sunday afternoon at North Sydney Oval is a far more attractive proposition than 15,000 in a 80,000 capacity arena like ANZ Stadium.
Every now and then you will find an old Bears tragic.
They’ll tell you about climbing the fig tree when they were young or how their grandfather first took them to the ground to see the mighty Ken Irvine and how they’ve never watched another game of rugby league since the topflight death of their club in 1999.
This would be a day for the Bears and one last chance to see the black and red running out onto North Sydney Oval.
What’s in it for Souths?
Money of course. It’s business after all.
‘Tigers and Sharks in a World Of Their Own’ Published on theroar.com.au 7/5/13
Through no fault of their own the Wests Tigers and the Cronulla Sharks find themselves on Friday night football in Round 9 of the National Rugby League competition.
For different reasons these sides find themselves on life support already in 2013.
The Tigers have been hammered with injuries and have been forced to blood youngsters well before their time. Already tipped by many to struggle this season, Wests have been without many of their stars through the first eight rounds.
Cronulla on the other hand have been crippled by the ongoing ASADA investigation after promising so much in the pre-season. This whole ordeal is yet to really blow up and when it does how much of this proud club will be left?
The Sharks stole the first golden point victory of 2013 with a gallant win over the Newcastle Knights in Sunday afternoon football and did it without inspirational skipper Paul Gallen.
But you have to wonder if Cronulla can string two performances together considering their mental state.
For the Tigers it’s the perfect time to get the Sharks and likewise for Cronulla.
So where does that leave us?
It leaves us with two struggling sides that nobody in their right mind would pay to see.
The diehards on both sides of the fence will say they’re with their team through thick and thin and their boys need all the support they can get.
Well that would be Allianz Stadium smack bang in the middle of the city.
In previous years the Tigers have hosted matches at Allianz against the likes of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, Parramatta Eels and Sydney Roosters.
But someone thought it would be a good move in 2013 to play the Sharks here.
History has suggested that no more than 20,000 show for these “blockbusters” anyway. Did Wests officials really think that they would see a river of people flowing into the ground with Cronulla’s loyal yet rather small following?
Finally the move has backfired.
Remember Charlton Heston’s 1971 classic Omega Man?
What about Will Smith’s 2007 blockbuster I Am Legend?
50,000 will pack Etihad Stadium Friday night for an AFL match between the Geelong Cats and Essendon Bombers. Can you imagine the chuckles when casual fans switch over later in the night to see 8 or 9,000 fans at Allianz?
Channel 9 may have found their next big series. 34 rugby league players going to war in a post-apocalyptic world inside an empty stadium.
There is nothing wrong with a side like Souths taking games against the Gold Coast Titans to Cairns or the Warriors to Perth.
But do the Tigers really need to take these games away from the people of Campbelltown and Balmain?
Since 2009 the Tigers have spruiked that the deal with the SCG Trust has bolstered revenue.
Well that deal is finally up at the end of 2013 and with the billion dollar television deal coming to fruition the question is, do the Tigers really need to be at Allianz Stadium?
You can’t blame the Tigers for making the deal in 2009 or an earlier deal in 2004 that saw them play out of Homebush. Times were tough and clubs needed to do what they needed to do.
But that was then.
We’ll find out Friday night if the fans have finally had enough.
‘The Blues Can Win Without Paul Gallen’ Published on theroar.com.au 8/5/13
If Paul Gallen is ruled out of State of Origin I on June 5 the New South Wales Blues cannot win. That is the consensus of some after the Cronulla Sharks workhorse broke down Sunday afternoon at Hunter Stadium.
Well if that is the case, why even show up on June 5?
Let’s just give the shield to the Queenslanders and give ourselves an early mark.
The fact is Gallen has been broken for quite some time but almost always finds a way to get himself onto the field. He is a different beast and will do anything and everything for his beloved club, state and country.
But media reports suggest the inspirational skipper could make a remarkable return this weekend against the Wests Tigers at Allianz Stadium despite what looked like a crippling injury against the Knights.
It takes something pretty sinister to keep Gallen from walking off the field on his own accord. Yet The Daily Telegraph confirmed that the lock had only strained his medial ligament.
“Gone for a month,” they barked.
“Could be six weeks,” they cried.
“I rang Loz (Blues coach Laurie Daley) to let him know the results of the scans as soon as I got them,” Gallen told reporters.
“He told me he hadn’t even had a sip of his beer while watching the game on Sunday and I was off the field.
“I suppose if you’re going to cop a knee injury, this is the best kind. So he was as pleased as I was when the scans showed there wasn’t any major damage.
“Even though Loz has told me before he wants me as captain of the Blues, I don’t take anything for granted. That’s why I’m so eager to get back as soon as possible.
“Nobody is guaranteed a Blues jersey until the team is announced.”
Now after Monday night football the Blues are apparently in chaos with injuries to St George Illawarra flyer Brett Morris and Manly Sea Eagles’ custodian Brett Stewart.
But who said these guys were even going to be picked?
New South Wales have something they haven’t had for years. They have players in form in all positions ready for an assault on the Maroons empire.
Who says the Blues can’t win without captain Gallen?
Who cares if Morris and Stewart are gone?
The fact that so many have already written off the Blues proves that the mindset of its supporters remains the same. Have no doubt that things are improving and the belief is slowly coming back, but is it the end of the world if Gallen or others are ruled out?
I guess unbridled belief is from a bygone era.
The Blues can topple Queensland.
‘Bulldogs Need Barba Now, Not Later’ Published on theroar.com.au 9/5/13
The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have won their last two matches and are seemingly on their way back after eight rounds of the 2013 National Rugby League season.
But how much can you take out of scratchy victories against the self-imploding Cronulla Sharks and the injury-ravaged Wests Tigers?
Signs are good and the improvement is there.
As expected, props Sam Kasiano and James Graham have returned and made an instant difference to their side and how they play. The momentum is returning and finally the results are going their way.
This Saturday sees the Bulldogs travel across the ditch for a date with the New Zealand Warriors in a rate match at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium.
Most pundits have Canterbury winning comfortably.
Five-eighth Josh Reynolds continues to improve, backrower Tony Williams is finally starting to fire and Trent Hodkinson has shifted back into first grade with aplomb.
But, despite all this improvement, something is still missing.
It is time for 2012 Dally M Medallist Ben Barba to burn the house down and show everyone the kid from Mackay isn’t just a one hit wonder.
Yes he had off-field problems and yes his rollercoaster ride to superstardom is something most NRL players will never experience. But for the Bulldogs and their fans, Barba needs to find the form that made him the poster boy of rugby league last season.
The Bulldogs will win their fair share of games in the coming months and will almost definitely push for a finals spot.
Difference between Canterbury being a top eight side and a premiership threat?
The enigmatic custodian has been back for 400 minutes of football in 2013 and now needs to find his feet. He needs a big game. Not for himself, for his team.
“I’m not too happy at the moment,” Barba told The Daily Telegraph after the 40-4 win over the Tigers.
“Obviously we won but I’m still disappointed with the way I’m playing. But as I said and as Dessie said, ‘it’s not going to happen straight away and you’re not going to expect to make line breaks and score these tries’.
“I’ve just got to work real hard on trying to find what I had last year. And if it takes months it takes months, but I’ve just got to be in there for the team and hopefully my form comes on the back of just building and continuing to build.”
It might be harsh but Canterbury need more from Barba now.
In the coming weeks the Bulldogs play the Newcastle Knights at Hunter Stadium before home games against the Brisbane Broncos and St George Illawarra Dragons.
Of course there is plenty of time left in the 2013 season.
But for Barba and the Bulldogs, the fire needs to be lit now.
‘Robbie Farah’s Lost Origin Years’ Published on theroar.com.au 10/5/13
He is widely regarded as one of the best players in the National Rugby League, but Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah will look back on the past five seasons as the lost Origin years.
There are Australian, NRL All Stars and City Origin jumpers sitting in his wardrobe, and a premiership-ring on his finger for his heroics in the 2005 decider. His achievements speak for themselves.
But when Danny Buderus’ dominance of the New South Wales Blues’ number nine jersey came to an end after the 2008 series, many predicted Farah to take the throne.
Instead Origin got the better of him.
After only two games, the silky rake was axed for rival Michael Ennis.
Yet the losses continued with Ennis, then Dean Young and with Ennis again.
The opinion of most was that Farah wasn’t tough enough, or didn’t have the mindset for the brutality of State of Origin football.
They tried Ennis at hooker with Craig Wing on the bench, Ennis with Kurt Gidley deputising, and by 2011 you kind of lose track. The position was always Farah’s to take if he could just find that edge.
Whether Farah should have ever been dropped for Ennis is anyone’s guess.
Then came 2012.
Blues coach Ricky Stuart told Farah personally Buderus would be selected ahead of him, and assistant coach Steve Roach even publicly stated that Farah was not, “an Origin type player.”
“Robbie is a great player and I gave him man of the match in City-Country,” Roach said in April last year.
“But his game doesn’t suit Origin. You can’t do in Origin what you do in club games.
“You need more than just skill and guile.”
Buderus was eventually ruled out and Farah got his chance anyway. To say Farah was never an Origin player is a stretch. It was always there inside him, he just needed to find the balance.
In a losing effort in game one, Farah was one of the Blues’ best.
In game two he was named players’ player for one of the greatest Origin performances we will ever see, handling the ball over a 100 times and making a record 63 tackles for no misses. This is made even more remarkable considering how close his beloved mother was to death.
Despite yet another Origin series loss, Farah was named NSW’s Brad Fittler player of the series.
Another series is just around the corner and the Blues now have the Robbie Farah they always wanted.
But even he would still think about all those sky blue jumpers that never were.
‘Maroons Front Row Stocks Dwindling For Origin’ Published on theroar.com.au 11/5/13
There was once a time when Queensland could call on an endless line of representative front rowers to bash the helpless New South Wales Blues into submission.
While Blues coach Laurie Daley has the wonderful predicament of fitting at least half a dozen players into three spots, the Maroons will be forced to blood unproven youngsters in the hellfire that is State of Origin football.
Alarm bells were ringing for Queensland mentor Mal Meninga when Ben Hannant limped from Parramatta Stadium in the 19-18 loss to the Eels on Saturday night.
Reports suggest Hannant could miss up to a month with a hamstring injury.
With the Maroons side named in a fortnight, Hannant’s place is now up for grabs with youngsters Martin Kennedy and Josh McGuire roaring into contention.
But McGuire’s chances have also taken a hit after being placed on report Saturday night for a high-shot on Eels superstar Jarryd Hayne.
Another option for Queensland is to push Sam Thaiday up to the front row. But even this would be music to Daley’s ears as his impact on the match would be all but nullified.
Undoubtedly Matt Scott and David Shillington will lead the pack and have no choice but play big minutes against the Blues.
Shillington returned from a rib cartilage injury in the Canberra’s Raiders big win over the Newcastle Knights on Sunday.
Nonetheless, stocks are slim for Queensland and you can guarantee the Blues brains trust can smell blood in the water.
A massive target has now been placed on the chests of Scott and Shillington.
With the likes of James Tamou, Aaron Woods, Tim Grant, Willie Mason, Andrew Fifita and Aiden Tolman waiting in the wings New South Wales clearly have the upper hand through the middle third.
The Blues now have the front row to go with the most dangerous back row combination in rugby league.
Origin matches might be won by the Cooper Cronks and the Jarryd Haynes in the dying moments. But the platform they work from is setup by the blood and sweat of the men in the middle.
New South Wales also have the advantage in 2013 of playing not one but two matches at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium. It’s no secret the Maroons struggle at Homebush and its slower track.
Queensland’s greatness will truly be tested.
The Blues have their own injury concerns with speedsters Brett Stewart and Brett Morris considered unlikely starters on June 5.
But outside backs can be replaced.
Quality State of Origin hard men are few and far between.
‘Warriors Keep Signing Same Old Tune’ Published on theroar.com.au 14/5/13
Two grand final appearances in eleven years is not the worst record in the National Rugby League.
But for the New Zealand Warriors, it always has been a case of one step forward and three steps back.
The year was 2011 and the Warriors rollercoaster ride to the decider at ANZ Stadium had New Zealanders across both islands jumping for joy.
Granted, the mighty All Blacks are the pride of the land over there, but this NRL franchise had the entire country behind them.
Casual fans headed out to buy merchandise in their droves and record numbers tuned in on televisions for the final match of the season.
The Warriors were soundly beaten by the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, but the groundwork had been laid for a golden era of rugby league to follow.
Young stars like Shaun Johnson, Kevin Locke and Ben Matulino had fans beaming.
Then reality hit.
2012 came around and the Warriors went into remission once again.
Those casual fans grabbed the remote and changed the channel back to the Super Rugby and folded their Warriors flags and caps back into the bottom draw.
Last weekend was the perfect time to get their season back on track. A trip to Wellington and a clash with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in front of over 30,000 fans at Westpac Stadium.
They shot out of the blocks and looked destined for a famous victory.
And then it happened again.
The Warriors fell away like they always seem to do.
“I think it’s pretty much the same as the last few weeks. It’s obviously something in preparation that we need to tidy up,” coach Matthew Elliott said after the loss to Canterbury.
“It’s not as though we’re not addressing it. We’ve just got to do a better job of it that’s for sure.
“I thought our effort to hang in there and get ourselves back in the game again was really positive. We just didn’t play positive footy… it’s too hard to be stuck in your end for 40 minutes and try and hold on.”
After appearing in the 2002 grand final the Warriors missed three of the following four finals series.
Prodigies like Ali Lauitiiti and Clinton Toopi quickly faded into rugby league history.
Almost like clockwork, the Auckland-based club self imploded last season, finishing 14th despite showing so much promise the year before.
Is this just a young side trying to find their feet? Is it time these players were held accountable? Or will this group of youngsters fade like prodigies past?
‘Toothless Tigers Bench Benji Marshall’ Published on theroar.com.au 15/5/13
The Wests Tigers have officially hit rock bottom. Comparing their struggles in 2013 to the dark old days of the merged club is somewhat unfair.
Back then it was John Hopoate’s famous fingers which cost the winger 12 weeks on the sidelines, and of course the six-month suspensions of Craig Field and Kevin McGuiness for the use of recreational drugs.
These were only two of many ugly incidents for the Tigers in the early 2000s.
Things improved for a while and they even snagged a premiership in 2005 with one of the great winning sequences of the modern era.
But this, in 2013, is their lowest ebb.
They sit last on the National Rugby League table after nine competition rounds with a points differential of -120.
Six sad losses on the trot means Wests have not won a game of football since the 22nd of March.
And now their most prized asset has been dropped from the starting 13.
Benji Marshall’s form has been so poor that coach Michael Potter had no other choice but start the playmaker from the pine in what could be one almighty massacre at the hands of the South Sydney Rabbitohs on Friday night at ANZ Stadium.
Now the burden, if it wasn’t already, has been dumped in the laps of captain Robbie Farah, Aaron Woods and youngsters like Curtis Sironen.
Things are eroding just as quickly away from the field too, with old factions continuing to death ride the franchise.
The bickering between both the Western Suburbs and Balmain sides of the club has hampered any growth the team had made in the previous eight seasons.
“I have always said you need a healthy side off the field,” former Tigers director Ben Elias told The Daily Telegraph.
“We have managed so far to be quite resilient. Unfortunately, this year we seem to be really struggling on the field.”
Therein lies the problem.
While the Wests Tigers were winning games and making semi-finals everything was fine. But the inevitable tough times would rip open wounds that refuse to heal.
Back to Marshall.
There was proof two weeks ago Benji is struggling physically and mentally.
In the early stages of their clash with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, Marshall found himself on his own try line one-on-one with monstrous backrower Tony Williams.
Instead of making any attempt to stop the rampaging Bulldog, he simply let him go by without laying a finger on him.
On the verge of a new contract at the Tigers, reportedly worth upwards of $4 million, Marshall recently pieced acolumn for The Sydney Morning Herald pleading his case.
“This year, I’ve hardly taken the line on and I’ve hardly been tackled. Lately, I’ve got caught in the ball-playing trap of just trying to put others over,” Marshall wrote.
“The strength of my game has always been my running. The 2011 season wasn’t quite so bad, but 2012? It was like I was playing in a dinner suit. I hardly took the line on. What made me a good rugby league player was the way I used to play the game.”
There is no doubt Marshall helped propel the Tigers into the stratosphere all those years ago.
But there is also no doubt the enigmatic number six has become stale.
Much like the rest of his club.
The $4 million question is do the Tigers pay up for the ageing star or lock up the river of young talent coming through and prepare for the future?