‘Trent Robinson: The man behind the chooks’ Published on theroar.com.au 16/5/13
Bondi Junction is hardly the ideal place to gel a rugby league side. The Eastern Suburbs of Sydney has plenty of distractions and has chewed up and spat out many fine football players and coaches alike.
Big money, fast cars and faster women is a lure for plenty and for a coach to try and keep all those egos in check at the Sydney Roosters has been an impossible job.
Ask former coach Brad Fittler.
Lattés, restaurants and the most beautiful beach in the world has its upsides.
When the Roosters are successful that is.
That’s where rookie coach Trent Robinson comes in.
While other clubs have struggled with their new recruits and sit precariously outside the top eight, Robinson’s Roosters are firing on all cylinders and can now be classed as a legitimate premiership threat after defeating the Manly Sea Eagles on Monday night.
The Cronulla Sharks hit the open market aggressively and hooked stars Luke Lewis and Michael Gordon from the Penrith Panthers and Beau Ryan and Chris Heighington from the Wests Tigers.
But who could have foretold the ongoing ASADA saga that has ripped the Sharks 2013 campaign to shreds? Paul Gallen and his troops are barely keeping it together, despite two wins on the trot.
Giant backrowers Tony Williams and Dave Taylor made switches in the off season to the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Gold Coast Titans respectively. Yet fans for both sides are still waiting for the devastating form that made them famous.
Scott Prince is yet to click at the Brisbane Broncos, Beau Scott and Jeremy Smith have been quiet at the Newcastle Knights and the South Sydney Rabbitohs’ Ben Te’o is far from the player that made his State of Origin debut in 2012.
The New Zealand Warriors brought in Dane Nielsen, Todd Lowrie and Thomas Leuluai to help develop the raw talent at the club but the Auckland-based side still languish at the wrong end of the table.
Braith Anasta’s Tigers are dead last too, while there has only been slight improvement from the new look Panthers.
Every side buys success these days, so let’s not use that old line.
But coach Robinson deserves all the credit in the world for what he has done in such a little amount of time.
Roosters supremo Nick Politis went out and picked up the human headline Sonny Bill Williams, troubled speedster Michael Jennings, James Maloney and hothead Luke O’Donnell and told Robinson to make it work.
And he has.
Every single one of them is contributing.
“It was gutsy. We didn’t play our best but that was due to a bit of us and a bit of Manly,” Robinson said after the 16-4 win against Manly.
“But we showed great calmness.”
Now there is a word that hasn’t been used regarding the Roosters for years.
The tri-colours next mission is a trip to Townsville and a Saturday night date with the North Queensland Cowboys.
Many thought the Roosters would still struggle in 2013 despite their new signings.
But people didn’t know about Robinson or how good a coach he was.
Now we know.
‘Mateo a man in rugby league purgatory’ Published on theroar.com.au 17/5/13
With the ink still fresh on a brand-spanking new three-year deal with the New Zealand Warriors, silky second-rower Feleti Mateo will play his 150th National Rugby League game on Saturday night at Centrebet Stadium.
Mateo turned down lucrative offers to return to Australia and insists there is still plenty of unfinished business in Auckland.
“There were other offers but there’s so much more I want to achieve with the team and the coaching staff at the Vodafone Warriors,” Mateo said.
“Making the move to this club has helped me to develop as a player and I know there’s a lot more room for improvement, too. I’ve also grown as a person since joining the club.”
Despite two grand final appearances, two NRL All-Stars caps, City Origin jumpers and a World Cup campaign with Tonga, this talented ballplayer is still yet to taste State of Origin football.
It is almost second nature to forget Mateo this time of year.
For whatever reason his name is rarely mentioned when it comes time to pick a New South Wales Blues team. Sure there are plenty of talented second-rowers to pick from but to think he is still to get a look-in after seven straight series defeats is mind boggling.
Mateo must be considered one of the greatest players to have never graced the Origin field.
With the likes of Luke Lewis, Greg Bird, Anthony Watmough and Paul Gallen ahead of him, Mateo is destined to join a group of talented players that never got to don the sky blue jumper of New South Wales.
Men like Nathan Blacklock, Darren Britt and Colin Van Der Voort.
South Sydney Rabbitohs winger Nathan Merritt is no certainty of claiming his maiden Blues guernsey in 2013 either despite racking up an incredible 147 tries over his career.
But back to Mateo for a moment.
So serious is the Warriors superstar about breaking into the Origin arena he has turned his back on his proud Tongan heritage and switched back allegiances to make himself available for coach Laurie Daley and the Blues.
If he does miss out on selection for New South Wales, Mateo will be forced to watch the World Cup from home if as expected he misses selection for Australia.
Mateo made the tough decision at the beginning of the season to forever turn his back on Tonga.
”I have just decided to back myself,” Mateo told The Sydney Morning Herald in February.
”I had always played for Tonga and the rule was that once I changed I couldn’t go back, so I thought that if I did that and didn’t get picked then I would rule myself out for Tonga and I didn’t want to do that but now I have decided to go that path.”
It was a decision Mateo had to make.
But now he is risks the very strong possibility of missing out on State of Origin and a date at the 2013 World Cup in England.
‘The Knights have arrived, but will they stay?’ Published on theroar.com.au 20/5/13
The Newcastle Knights have all the ingredients to be a premiership threat in 2013. Finally on Sunday afternoon, the Knights put it all together to stun the Canterbury Bulldogs 44-8 at Hunter Stadium.
They have the iconic mentor in Wayne Bennett, an impressive roster headed up by captain Kurt Gidley and play out of one of the best venues in the National Rugby League.
But so far something has been missing.
The Knights headed into yesterday’s match on a two-match losing streak after being lapped by the Canberra Raiders in Round 9 and going down to a Cronulla Sharks side that lost Paul Gallen in the opening stages the previous week.
Canterbury were expected to win and win comfortably.
But nobody told the Knights.
Veteran prop Willie Mason turned back the clock, Darius Boyd returned to the form that saw him win a Clive Churchill Medal in 2010 and Jarrod Mullen was at his scheming best.
“It was a lot better than the way we’ve played over the last two weeks,” Bennett said after the big win.
“We needed to come here today and play well and we have done that, which was good as otherwise our season would have been under a fair bit of pressure.”
Despite their spluttering form Newcastle still sit in fourth place.
Bennett doesn’t say much at the best of times and he knows better than most that if the Knights don’t beat the hapless New Zealand Warriors next weekend the victory against the Bulldogs means diddlysquat.
“We got embarrassed last weekend,” captain Gidley said.
“Anytime you get embarrassed, it’s a knock to your pride.
“You need to aim up and that’s what I was most proud of today.
“We spoke about actions over words and it was the response we were after today.”
You know you’ve done something special when the opposition coach is singing your praises.
“You have to congratulate Newcastle, coming off the back of what they came off last week, they almost pulled off the perfect game,” Bulldogs coach Des Hasler said.
“I think they completed 95 percent of their sets .. they were very controlled and very on for the game today.”
There is no turning back now for Newcastle after such a performance. They have officially arrived and are now expected to put the cleaners through the Warriors.
Whether they do or not is another question.
New Zealand were destroyed by the Penrith Panthers on Saturday night going down 62-6 at Centrebet Stadium promising a tumultuous week in Auckland for coach Matt Elliott and his players.
The Warriors will be far more committed then they were on Saturday.
But none of that will matter if Newcastle are in fact the real deal.
Only time will tell.
‘Time for golden point to get the flick’ Published on theroar.com.au 21/5/13
A famous rivalry added another chapter on Monday night as the Melbourne Storm and the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles battled to a 10-all draw at AAMI Park.
The Storm headed into half-time down by eight points and staring down the barrel of three losses on the trot.
Craig Bellamy’s men were struggling and would need to dig deep against the pugnacious Eagles.
Manly looked the better of the two sides in the first stanza and deserved their lead.
What happened in the following 40 minutes, not 50, was something not seen in any other National Rugby League match so far in 2013.
It was nothing close to their best football but eventually Melbourne levelled the scores at eight with a try to Maurice Blair and two goals from skipper Cameron Smith.
Despite a glut of defence and countless goal-line dropouts, Manly stood firm.
When the chips are down champion sides find a way to stay in the fight. Both sides proved why they are indeed champion sides.
The Storm peppered the Manly try line time and time again, yet the Sea Eagles refused to wilt. With all the guts of 13 Rocky Balboas, Manly continued to turn Melbourne back.
A Melbourne side containing Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith no less.
Melbourne kept coming and Manly kept scrambling.
It might not have been the prettiest NRL game of all time but it had all the intensity and heroics of a finals match.
Excuse the boxing puns but the Storm almost attacked themselves off their feet in rugby league’s equivalent of the rope-a-dope made famous by Muhammad Ali against George Foreman in 1974.
It was classic rugby league.
Glenn Stewart worked to a standstill in defence, Billy Slater defused every last kick from the scheming Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran played like a man possessed.
After 80 minutes of epic football they were stilled locked.
Then golden point reared its ugly head.
Neither side deserved to lose but you sensed one of these sides was going to go home empty handed.
But both sides struggled to get anywhere near the posts to attempt anything close to a match winner. The one exception was a shot from the Storm’s Cooper Cronk, who missed from 15 metres.
Fatigue played a part too.
80 minutes of tense football was wrecked by ten minutes of mediocrity.
Since 1908, we as rugby league fans have scoffed at rugby union and its unwatchable goal-a-thons. We laugh at the predictability and the mindset of that sport.
Yet golden point in the NRL has become comical and everything we supposedly stand against as a code.
It’s time for a change.
It’s time for golden point to take its place in history.
‘Wests Tigers at sixes and sevens for years’ Published on theroar.com.au 23/5/13
There is no doubting Benji Marshall’s contributions to the Wests Tigers franchise since debuting as a fresh-faced 18-year-old way back in 2004.
With the help of silky playmaker, Scott Prince, the Tigers ushered in a new era of attacking football that took the National Rugby League by storm. The joint venture club became an overnight sensation and plenty of that had to do with Marshall and Prince.
The combination was deadly.
Having Prince inside him helped Marshall concentrate purely on his own game.
Leading the team was Prince’s responsibility and Benji was free to do as he pleased.
The 2005 premiership victory came and went and so did Prince as the talented pivot headed north to become the Gold Coast Titans’ inaugural skipper.
No Prince? No worries. Surely Benji could do the job.
Then reality set in.
For whatever reason former coach Tim Sheens never found a long-term replacement for Prince. The years rolled on and Marshall was left to run the show on his own.
Since Prince left the Tigers at the end of 2006, Marshall has been partnered with 14 different men in the halves.
The mighty task of trying to create a new combination with a different playmaker almost on a weekly basis for the past seven years surely takes it toll on your personal performance.
Sure Marshall isn’t the player he once was.
Is he too heavy? Who knows.
Are media commitments hampering his career? Maybe.
But the fact that Marshall has been left to steer the ship for so long when he clearly isn’t that type of player is staggering.
It seems Wests still haven’t copped the tip in 2013 with Jacob Miller, Curtis Sironen and Braith Anasta all spending time with Marshall in the halves.
Wests play the North Queensland Cowboys on Friday night at Leichhardt Oval with Marshall returning to the starting line-up at five-eighth with Sironen at seven.
Yet to re-sign with the club, Marshall is desperate to deliver.
“I don’t want to comment on what happened last week,” Marshall told a media scrum at Tigers training in Kiama.
“I am back in the team this week and starting and we have to win. Full stop.
“I know what my role is and I will be trying to do what I did when I came on last week. The best way is to go back and look at what I was doing well when I was going well. That is my running game. All the rest comes off that.”
The time has come for the Tigers to either recruit a legitimate NRL halfback or invest heavily in youngsters like Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses and give Marshall a legitimate chance of sparking Wests into action.
The seven year experiment hasn’t worked.
Benji Marshall is not the leader Scott Prince was.
There is only one thing he needs to worry about on Friday night and that’s himself.
Benji’s partners post-Prince: 2007
‘Hot Roosters await Storm in a teacup’ Published on theroar.com.au 24/5/13
They are the reigning and defending National Rugby League champions. They’re the Melbourne Storm and they deserve our respect.
But after shock losses to the Canberra Raiders and Penrith Panthers, Melbourne have officially hit one of those eventual flat spots most experts predicted. Their torturous start to 2013 has finally caught up to them.
For weeks they had been scrambling to keep themselves in games relying heavily on a little class and a whole lot of heart.
The bubble burst against the Raiders in Round 8. They had officially hit the first wall of the season.
The last thing they needed was a 90 minute dogfight with old foes the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles on Monday night. These sides pummelled each other and somehow Melbourne came away with a draw.
Sure they had all the ball in the second stanza and probably should have won by 20.
But that finishing quality that had got them over the line in the past was gone. They were running on fumes and the Eagles kept hitting.
So here comes Round 11 and the undisputed match of the round between the Storm and the high-flying Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.
How do the Roosters beat the weary Storm?
You hit harder than Manly did a week earlier. You step it up another notch and you knock this champion side off its feet.
They will be back and they’ll be hard to beat in September, but right now, the Roosters have a chance to put the foot on the throat.
The Roosters might boast Michael Jennings, Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney.
But it’s their defence that has everyone raving.
The greatest sides through history had the attack but they were also impressive defensive machines. Trent Robinson’s Roosters are one of those defensive machines and they’ll be ready to continue Melbourne’s slump on Saturday.
Sydney are the only side left in the NRL yet to concede 100 points. Their points differential of 142 is also the best in the competition. That means they can beat you with speed and skill or they can just plain beat you up.
This is the perfect time for the Roosters to get Melbourne. They shouldn’t be thinking about racking up a big score or trying to blow the Storm off the park.
This might sound harsh but the Roosters should be thinking about hurting them. Really firing up.
The Storm are battered and bruised.
Why not stick the boot in now?
And hey, the Roosters might just be helping out Laurie Daley and the New South Wales Blues too.
‘NSW’s most important Origin series ever’ Published on theroar.com.au 31/5/13
Legendary Scottish football manager Bill Shankly once said, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
Sure, Shankly was speaking about another code, but for New South Welshmen does this State of Origin not have that same kind of feeling?
For most of the year supporting a National Rugby League team is more a like warm blanket for fans. Whatever problems or stresses you might have, you are always guaranteed your favourite NRL team will be there for you on the weekend.
But Origin is different.
Seven years of torment and submission all at the hands of those damned mighty Queenslanders from the north. With their star players, fancy team announcements and that old song and dance about how ‘Queenslanders are more passionate’, the last seven years have been hell.
While the Maroons surge on for avarice, Blues fans have been left to wallow in the muck. Beaten and destroyed by the pure talent of Queensland, the Blues need this series more than anyone has ever needed anything.
It isn’t about bragging rights anymore.
It’s about more than that.
No longer can NSW stomach the stench of defeat. That desperate feeling all fans have whether they’re watching Origin at home or at their local pub. The vile stench of Queensland victory needs to be banished.
It is that time of year after all.
You’re allowed to hate. If it was alright for Queenslanders to fuel their own fire with the same feelings way back in 1980, then so be it today.
By the way, Queenslanders aren’t more passionate than us. They just hate us more than we hate them. It’s always been that way and the Maroons have used it against us time and time again.
So hate that maroon jersey, bemoan that turncoat Greg Inglis and downright loath that ghastly victory song of theirs.
But after the sides run out into the cauldron that is ANZ Stadium on Wednesday night and the atmosphere hits them, the side that plays better football will win.
There will be big hits, a lot of niggle and maybe even a few punches thrown.
Yet it’s still the side that settles and executes their game plan better that will come out on top.
“Honestly, we’ve lost seven in a row, and I am sick of all the excuses about why we lost,” former Origin great Steve Roach told reporters.
“I want blokes who will get in there and tell me why we will win. It is all bullshit and clichéd to say we haven’t got this or they’ve got that.”
Strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride.
‘Stale Cowboys not fooling anyone’ Published on theroar.com.au 3/6/13
Forget their 31-12 loss to the Gold Coast Titans yesterday at Skilled Park. The North Queensland Cowboys were always going to struggle without Johnathan Thurston and Australian props James Tamou and Matt Scott.
But this was their fourth straight loss with reports suggesting coach Neil Henry has one last chance to save his job if the Cowboys can muster a victory over the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs next weekend.
The effort is there. Something you would expect from professional athletes. But no Thurston usually means no win for the Townsville club.
“We’re not travelling well, we all take responsibility for that and I’m the head coach and that goes with the territory,” Henry said after the loss on Sunday.
“But I’ve got confidence in the squad we’ve got and you know we’ve put ourselves in a difficult position this far into the competition.
“We’ve got a couple of weeks until our bye and then we have a run of home games. But you know you start looking at things where you’ve got to win nine out of 12 or something and start pushing those numbers it becomes very hard.
“We need a consistent performance and we haven’t been able to do that.
“We can’t use our rep players as an excuse for that performance, we take responsibility when you put the jumper on and we weren’t very good today.”
More alarming for Cowboys fans was the defeat a week earlier in the mud at Leichhardt Oval against the struggling Wests Tigers. Red-hot favourites to put the Tigers to the sword, the Cowboys failed to fire, again.
Even with Thurston running the show and bookends Tamou and Scott leading the way, North Queensland fizzled out more depressingly than the rain that came down above them.
They didn’t look like NRL heavyweights having a bad night and they didn’t look like the worst side to ever play the game. They just looked bland.
We all know success in the National Rugby League is cyclical. A premiership window experts all over the country speak about. The question is, has the window closed on this batch of Cowboys?
Has Henry had enough time to make this squad successful?
How much of the blame should the players take?
The re-signing of Thurston recently should be the catalyst for a complete overhaul of the squad and unfortunately for some, that means it is time for the old tap on the shoulder.
Veterans like Matt Bowen, Scott Bolton, Glenn Hall and Dallas Johnson are all wonderful players and have been for quite some time. But surely Cowboys management need to look at the freshness of the squad and what is the best option for the team moving forward.
A little pain now might be their best medicine.
There is still time for the Cowboys to salvage 2013.
The question is, are they good enough?
‘NRL scheduling a necessary evil’ Published on theroar.com.au 4/6/13
The annual State of Origin series is undoubtedly one of the greatest sporting events on the Australian calendar. Yet while we salivate for the theatre that is Origin, the National Rugby League suffers.
Missing stars Sam Thaiday, Justin Hodges, Corey Parker and Matt Gillett the Brisbane Broncos were smashed by the New Zealand Warriors on Monday night in what could only be called a slaughter.
Brisbane’s makeshift side had no answers to the brilliance of Feleti Mateo and the Warriors who put on an attacking masterclass that eventually saw them run out 56-18 victors.
But you can’t blame Origin for all Brisbane’s woes.
Coach Anthony Griffin made some dubious changes to his side prior to kickoff.
Peter Wallace was shifted to hooker, Anthony McCullough to the back row with Ben Hunt starting at five-eighth. Sure the changes didn’t help, but Broncos’ fans would still be wondering why they ever had to play without their best players.
A majority of clubs are in the same boat and fans throughout the competition are up in arms.
The North Queensland Cowboys went down to the Gold Coast Titans on Sunday without captain Johnathan Thurston, winger Brent Tate and Australian props James Tamou and Matt Scott.
Wayne Bennett’s Newcastle Knights had the unenviable task of facing the South Sydney Rabbitohs without Darius Boyd. Skipper Kurt Gidley was originally named for the New South Wales Blues but still missed the clash with Souths due to injury.
St George Illawarra Dragons came within a whisker of downing Canterbury-Bankstown and just might have pulled off the upset had they enjoyed the services of Trent Merrin and Brett Morris.
Fans hit social media on Monday night to vent their frustrations at the NRL’s scheduling.
“@NRL scheduling is a joke. Most heavily affected #Origin team against one of two teams unaffected. Please explain!” one fan wrote.
Another wrote, “Heads must roll @NRL over scheduling of this game.”
But what is the answer?
The NRL can’t afford to have stand alone Origin weekends. Eighty minutes of football for an entire weekend is not good business. Most fans would agree, the more football the better.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
The answer is there is no answer.
Clubs would rather be ravaged by representative duties if it means those turnstiles keep clicking over. As long as a profit is being made, clubs will cop it on the chin.
The NRL feels the same.
But what about those poor old fans?
On Sunday fans on the Gold Coast were forced to pay anywhere between $30 and $65 to gain entry to a clash that was missing Greg Bird, Nate Myles, Ashley Harrison, Thurston, Tate, Tamou and Scott.
Does that sound reasonable?
Fans in Brisbane were hit with similar prices.
What was their reward? A team missing Hodges, Thaiday, Parker and Gillett and a hiding at the hands of the Warriors.
The fact is scheduling around Origin period is always going to be an issue. But the necessity for profit and the fact we always need football on our televisions will always win out.
Fans are the only real losers in all of this. Yet we saw solid crowds over the four games in Round 12.
I guess we’re just gluttons for punishment.