A Brief and Fair Synopsis of Australian Rugby League in the Year of 2006

Filed in Other by on December 4, 2010

For the last ten or so days, I have been locked down in preparation for season 2006. I can’t sleep. Constructive writing is out of the question. And Andrea, my assistant, is getting increasingly unimpressed by late night phone calls regarding the fitness levels of SBW or rumours relating to the heart size of Jason Ryles.

“I don’t know” she’ll yell, crazed and banshee-esque.

“What about my draft list…where is it…I need it now…important changes must be made…I must win the Fantasy NRL this year…there are rumours circulating that Parko will take Fitzgibbon…this has thrown it all out” I’d babble, caring little for the time. I was cranked on League and when you hit that level of wired, there is no turning back. You’re in for the ride, for good or ill.

“I can’t handle this, I can’t take this” was the last I heard from Andrea before wandering away from the phone, flicking through papers and data sheets and scribbled notes.

I’ve never had a lot of luck with assistants at this time of year. Most aren’t all that prepared for the pressure and very few really understand the importance of rugby league or the excitement that engulfs you when kick off is but days away. Andrea will probably go mad before round three but there is nothing that can be done about all that. League means too much to let some matter of personal sanity interfere.

But enough of these professional dealings…

League is back. The searing beauty of a sweeping backline movement…the insane nobility of The Hit Up…incompetent officiating and tipping competitions…hoarse Monday mornings and drunken Sunday afternoons…hope and happiness… disappointment and glory…the greatest game of all, as they say.

Sleeping is difficult at this time of year. Thinking of Steven Price makes me angry and fills me with hate. But then a Tony Grimaldi dummy floats by and equilibrium is restored. I enter into a state of league thought about two weeks prior to the season and that is pretty much it. Nothing much else gets discussed or thought about. I tend to cancel all non-essential or league related appointments and spend the days and nights divulging information, yelling and listening and rapping for hours on how the glory day of the five eighth is long gone…it’s a sad day when the second best number six is a coin toss between that big game superstar Trent Barrett and captain consistency, Braith Anasta.

Yes, this is the time of year to get your old footballing crew together and nut out the new season. Argue and agree and condescend and patronise and listen closely because you never know where the next good bet will come from…

And if you disagree with any of the following, call my assistant and we may be able to reach agreement on some terms and conditions for a small wager or two for the NRL, 2006…

Yes, the time is nigh…the bells ring loud and true…and now must words of truth be spoken…some thoughts on rugby league, 2006:

The No Hopers

There are some teams without a hope of winning the NRL in 2006. To make the fairytale bolder, many tell of the futility of the Wests Tigers at the dawn of 2005…but this is a lie and an embellishment. Those smarties knew they could win it and they did and now there are some very well-to-do rugby league supporters out there…

Souths (15th): Not much needs to be said here. The Bunnies will continue to be the whipping boys of the comp again. Joe Galavau is not an equal replacement for Bryan Fletcher and Ashley Harrison. Until that cancer of Souths, George Piggins, is removed, the Bunnies will be mired in mediocrity. They can never be backed with great confidence and can probably only threaten early in the season.

Warriors (14th): It’s going to be tough for an inconsistent and ordinary side to give the competition four points and be competitive. But then again, they are lucky because they should have been docked 37 points had the NRL had any ticker. The loss of Stacey Jones has really hurt the Warriors and unless Nathan Fien and Lance Hohiaia have superstar seasons, the Warriors will languish near the cellar. They can rarely be backed due to their inconsistency, particularly at home.

Cronulla (13th): An extraordinarily ordinary looking football side on paper who would be a real shot at the spoon if it wasn’t for a few superstars who hold the team together. Nigel Vagana is all class and so is Brett Kimmorley at club level, but the rest of the side is very thin. The added pace of Darren Albert will help but this will be more than offset by the negative impact Lance Thompson will have on the club. Thompson is playing out of spite and will inevitably do a number of stupid things at crucial times that will cost Sharks dearly. Paul Gallen is an improved player and if he goes on with it, he may push the Sharks up a few slots. Don’t expect much from this poorly coached club that accepts failure and strives for almost and hard luck stories.

Penrith (12th): Penrith are on the slide back to rock bottom again after a couple of years as contenders. They have a soft-as-butter backline and a forward pack that has been decimated by off season moves. Craig Gower, Luke Priddis and Rhys Wesser are stars and will win Penrith a few games but it won’t be enough. Preston Campbell is a liability in defence, the outside backs are slow and refuse to put up a fight, Joel Clinton is weak and spongy and the Panther pack is seemingly lacking in size and experience. All this, combined with numerous off field dramas, won’t help the Panther cause. Until the side toughens up and eliminates their soft underbelly, Penrith will struggle.

Canberra (11th): A team with few superstars, but one that realises its limitations and plays to their strengths. The Raiders are a team for the future with young, pacey outside backs and a forward pack with some upside. The likes of Alan Tongue and Michael Weyman will come all day while Clinton Schifofske, Marshall Chalk and Phil Graham are major threats in broken play. They are a dour (do-er not dower) side who can be backed at decent size pluses early in the season but who will struggle when injuries hit and The Crunch comes. And they will always give their best, which isn’t always true of some teams.

The Fringe

Teams that will be there or thereabouts, who may sneak into the eight and if they get enough momentum, could do a Canterbury in ’95 or Tigers in ’05…

Wests Tigers (10th): The Premiers did everything right last year. They played their carefree style until the glorious conclusion and deserve all the accolades heaped upon them. But that was last year and this is now and the Tigers won’t be able to get away with their underdog/carefree game this year. And they don’t look like they have the talent to win conventionally. Benji is a superstar, without a doubt, but the rest of the side are no better than average with the one exception of Brett Hodgson. The off season dramas have not helped the Tigers either, particularly the Scott Prince situation. The one thing the Tigers do have in their favour is that they are a great team- the sum of the parts is not nearly as great as the ability of the team. So they can win a few and can make the finals…but they won’t be getting my cash to do so.

Manly (9th): The big spenders of the off season who recruited superbly when signing Matt Orford and Steven Bell. They have one of the best back rows in the NRL, a half back of the highest order and a potential superstar fullback…but there are significant quality holes in the Eagles. Aside from Bell, the three-quarter line is less than average while the front row offers little in terms of quality. Expect some nice wins and a top eight position in 2007 but don’t get caught up in the hype of the 2006 Eagles…they will win a few but combinations don’t just happen and depth is the key to success.

Melbourne (8th): The significant losses of Orford, Bell and Kearns have seen the Storm slip from genuine contenders to fringe dwellers. But while they have been written off by all and sundry, I give them some hope this year. They are well coached, have a big and speedy backline and have a solid forward pack. The key to the Storm’s season will be their pack…if the likes of Scott, Cross, Hoffman et al step up and lift, the Storm can win more than their share. But if they fail to help out Cameron Smith, the season could be long and winding for the boys from the rainy city. The Storm are a team wounded by player movement…but they aren’t shot yet and can be expected to win their share of fixtures.

Roosters (7th): The Bondi bastards have a very good first thirteen but not an ounce of depth and without depth, you can’t be considered a genuine premiership contender. The Roosters have a strong pack again this year with Ashley Harrison- a fine player and hard worker- the major addition. But while the Rooster pack is dominant, the same cannot be said about their backline. Whilst there is no doubting the credentials of Anthony Minichello at the back and outside backs like Soliola and Perrett look promising, there are some definite concerns about the halves. This is a watershed year for both Brett Finch and Braith Anasta and if they fail to reach expectations, they will be lynched by the Tri-Colour faithful. A team who will be more than competitive early on but who, with the injury toll rising, will fade mid season…fade away like the first grade career of Brett Finch.

The Contenders

Teams that can smell premiership glory…teams that can taste it…teams that will spend next off season wallowing if they don’t make the nut in 2006…

North Queensland (6th): The Cowboys in recent times are a wonderful story and it’s not about to reach some cruel and cataclysmic conclusion this year. They will perform admirably again this year, winning games on the magic of the Thurston-Bowen Express and the classy down home coaching of Graham Murray. While they are inconsistent and hard to follow, they can beat any team on their day and could, without doubt, go one better this year. But their average pack suggests to me they won’t…

Newcastle (5th): The definite improvers for 2006. At their best, they have the ability to match it with any team in the competition. Of course, if Andrew Johns goes down again you should tear up your ticket and put on some soothing sounds. Whilst the Knights are solid in most positions, they are a one man team. If Andrew Johns gets seriously injured, Newcastle cannot win the premiership and would struggle to make the eight. A certain contender but a risky bet. You’re not only betting on the Knights…you’re backing some Joey fitness, a bet not shining gold in recent form.

St George (4th): On paper, probably the most talented side. They have skill and pace out wide, class and finesse in close and a pack that’s predominantly tough and good with the ball. But they are poorly coached, they have trouble in the big games and they never really seem to click. They are mentally weak and a few players seemingly lack commitment and the heart for the fight. The Saints will win a lot of games this year but I’d be prepared to bet that this is another year of excuses and unfulfilled potential. Perennial underachievers who will look brilliant until it really counts.

Parramatta (3rd): A team crazy with September failure, expect another grand regular season effort from the Eels before the inevitable choke sometime in early spring. Parramatta are a team that can be backed most weeks with great confidence and bet against in September with equal conviction. The Eels will be near the peak of the premiership mountain this year…they are strong all over the park and have a mountain of depth…but they cannot possibly be backed to win it all. They may win it…they have the side to…but how can you back a team with such a recent record of clutch failure? You can’t. Simple.

Brisbane (2nd): The Broncos never really seem to go too bad but it has been a long time since they have won a premiership and in recent times, have failed to reach any lofty expectations. And it is extraordinarily difficult to comprehend why. They are coached by a master of the game, they always seem to have the right balance of youth and experience, they are suffering less and less from the burden of State of Origin and they have a great degree of depth. Perhaps they are just a tad less classier than Broncos teams of days gone by, but it is difficult to believe that Brisbane have not made a grand final since 2000. So it is with some trepidation that I predict a big year from the Broncos…a year where I anticipate their GF drought will come to an end. The Broncos field a squad one year more experienced this year and it shows. Youngsters like Stagg and Hunt are future stars and have benefited enormously from a tough 2005. I expect the Broncos will have a big season, finishing in the top two or three and pushing right on through the semi finals. And if they get a roll on, all other clubs should watch out.

Canterbury-Bankstown (1st): I am extraordinarily biased and I see only one team holding the premiership trophy aloft every year. And 2006 will be no different. The boys from Bankstown will attain wondrous heights this season, being the first side in many years to win the premiership undefeated. SBW will return from injury and see out the year. Hazem will break the point scoring record. Tony Grimaldi will top the tackle count. Darren Smith will pull on the boots again for a “last run” with the blue and whites. Steven Price will enjoy a life of regret and self loathing. Daniel Holdsworth will be the next Craig Polla-Mounta. And Andrew Ryan, on that first weekend in October, will hold aloft another premiership. Maybe.

A man has to dream. It comes with the territory. Well, that’s what old Willy Loman thinks anyway.

And that, sports fans, is that.


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