From The Couch: February 13

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on February 13, 2012

Independence Day: Finally. Our day of independence has arrived. After a three-year war and 14 years of peace, rugby league in Australia can grow to become all it can be.

It was an historic day. News Limited and the ARL are out. The dawn of a new era has begun. The war is over and the squalid peace-time truce that stymied the game's financial growth and crippled its self-worth is now a thing of the past.

We could pontificate all day on what the new IC should do. The commissioners and the NRL administration have a stack on their plate. Some they will be able to take care of quickly. Other matters will take time.

It isn't the issues that will define the IC though. Rather, it is the confidence the new Commission gives the game that will be the most telling measure of its success. Rugby league in Australia has perennially hurt itself by refusing to be all it can. It is the Independent Commission who must make rugby league truly believe that it is the greatest game of all. If they can, it is only going to be onwards and upwards for rugby league.

Hopes are high. Disappointment will be crushing. The IC must be bold, it must have vision and it must provide leadership. If it does, rugby league will be a new game, one confident in itself and one that will win its worth and shake the self-doubts of the past forever.

Back to Belmore: I woke up last Sunday morning, as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning. We were going back to Belmore. For a diehard Bulldog, a lover of the great game of rugby league and a believer in suburban footy, returning to Belmore was like walking into heaven.

And so it was, my good mate and fellow Canterbury tragic Kendall, who was there with me at the 2004 Grand Final and was there when on the cover of Rugby League Week with me when we got kicked out in 2002 and he was there for that five hour drive from Sydney to Harden the night we blew a preliminary final half-time lead to Brisbane in 2006, made the trek out to Belmore Sports Ground.

It was all I had hoped for and more.

The house full sign went up. It was a sell out. What started as a beautiful sunny day quickly turned ugly. The rains came and came hard. Thunder roared, lightning flashed. But not a soul was deterred. We had, of course, come home and all anyone wanted to do was talk about the past and talk about the future. They wanted to talk about their great memories of the ground. They wanted to talk about playing here in future. They talked of legends past. They talked of the new regime.

It was a day of hope.

In the end, Canterbury lost to the Sydney Roosters. A hard pre-season told. The Dogs were sluggish. So be it. There were no points on the line and Des is doing the right things. There were some bright signs. Aiden Tolman looked magnificent and Sam Kasiano is going to be a real player. But the point of the day wasn't the result. It was about being able to watch the blue and white away from that monstrosity known as Homebush.

Canterbury will soon play at the ground for points. I'd put money on it happening in three years. The faithful showed what was possible. It brought a tear to my eye. You just don't get moments like that anymore.

Todd Greenberg, thank you. Thank you for bringing us home. Thank you for letting us watch footy the way it should be watched.

A Brave Man: Referee Matt Cecchin should be applauded for coming out and revealing he is a homosexual. It was a brave decision from the 115-game veteran in a sport like rugby league. It will hopefully have no bearing on how he is addressed by players or treated by the rugby league community. Everyone should get behind the whistleblower for being so open and honest about his life.

Expansion: With the Independent Commission now up and running, talk of expansion is now on the horizon, pushed forward by Steve Mortimer calling for a second team in Melbourne. While talk of an in-town rival for the Storm is a little premature, the game has reached the point where bids need to now be accepted.  Perth should be a certainty. They tick all the boxes in terms of demographics and fit. It is the great frontier. The second spot will go to one of the Central Coast, Brisbane, Central Queensland or Wellington. It is a close run thing. And be sure only one spot is up for grabs as the conservative David Gallop won't push beyond 18 teams. Nor should he. It is going to be a closer fight than most think. As much as we would all love the Central Coast and the return of the Bears, they are arguably ahead of only Central Queensland. Wellington would be an interesting proposition. New Zealand is a great nursery for talent and rugby league is on the up and up there. But a second Brisbane team is the most logical play. Never mind the Crushers. A second team, given time, would thrive in the home of rugby league in Australia.

The Boxing Clown: Issac Luke's grubbiness now makes plenty of sense. Sonny Bill Williams is, by all reports, his idol. Luke now wants to box. Souths fans be warned: this is not going to end well. Luke's mind is elsewhere. He wants to be a hero rather than a rugby league player. How very sad.

The Right Call: I was mighty pleased to read that Josh Dugan is on the verge of re-signing with the Raiders. While a little part of me wanted him to don the Bulldogs' No.1 jersey, he is Canberra to the bone and it would crush the spirit of the club if he upped and left. He is a wonderful talent and one the Raiders need to inspire a resurgence in the popularity of rugby league in the nation's capital.

Shut Up, Sandow: There is nothing that gets my goat more in sport than when a player who clearly switched clubs for money claims to have done so for other reasons. I don't begrudge a player doing the best for themselves. Good luck. But don't come out and lie about the reasons. Sandow clearly defected from Souths for reasons of money and money alone. He expressed his love for Souths, cried when he made his decision. Stop treating us all for fools. You went for the big bucks. Well done. But don't lie.

Fun Fact #1: Greg Bird last week claimed on Twitter, with much prompting from this author, to have eaten a 2kg steak. He wants to start an Australian Man v Food.

Rumour Mill: There has been increased speculation that Brett and Glenn Stewart could be on their way to Belmore. There is growing disaffection at Brookvale and they are said to be in constant contact with old coach Des Hasler. There is talk that Matt Gillett could be first choice five-eighth for Brisbane this season. Panthers winger Michael Gordon has been linked to the Gold Coast. There is even talk he could demand an immediate release if not picked at fullback this year.

The Punters' Guide to the 2012 NRL Season:It has all been written and will be out next week so get ready for the best rugby league guide anywhere in the world.

The Punters' Guide to the 2012 NRL Season is the must have guide for every rugby league fan. Respected rugby league writer and pricing consultant Nick Tedeschi has put together this thorough guide that is a no-holds barred assessment, unique statistical evaluation and comprehensive betting appraisal all rolled into one. With the legendary Mr Rugby chiming in, the thoughts of leading bookmaker Jason Sylvester of Flemington Sportsbet and a comprehensive array of information sourced from within the gambling industry, there is no better tool for the rugby league punter no matter how seriously one takes their betting. It can even be used to win your tipping competition or fantasy league.

The Punters' Guide to the 2012 NRL Season includes:

* All the latest team information with complete squad listings for each club
* Detailed betting information from the 2011 season including analysis of head-to-head, line and total points betting for each club and the NRL as a whole
* Notes on betting information for the last two seasons
* The thoughts and premiership prices of Australia's top rugby league gambler and former Punting Ace guru, Mr Rugby
* Comments from leading bookmaker Jason Sylvester of Flemington Sportsbet
* An in-depth and original statistical analysis of all 16 teams
* Detailed betting data for each and every team
* Recruitment analysis, positional and coaching assessment and draw evaluation for every club
* Predictions and betting advice for the 2011 season
* A full list of blue-chip players

This product is a must for every NRL fan. It is useful for those who bet on NRL games regularly, casual footy punters, those in tipping competitions and fantasy competitions and those who just want the latest on the upcoming footy season. There is no guide quite like The Punters' Guide to the 2012 NRL Season.

The Punters' Guide to the 2012 NRL Season is on sale for only $19.95 and is extraordinary value for every rugby league fan. It will be available next week.

Moniker XIII of the Week: With John Grant becoming official Independent Commission chairman on Friday, we this week look at the greatest Johns to ever play the game in Australia.

The Johns
1. John Dorahy (239 games for Wests/Manly/Illawarra/Norths)
2. Johnny King (191 games for St George)
3. John Brass (143 games for Eastern Suburbs)
4. Johnny Greaves (135 games for St George/Canterbury)
5. John Ferguson (201 games for Newtown/Easts/Canberra)
6. John Peard (174 games for Easts/St George/Parramatta)
7. Johnathan Thurston (173 games for Canterbury/North Qld)
13. Johnny Raper (215 games for St George/South Sydney)
12. John Cartwright (184 games for Penrith)
11. John 'Dallas' Donnelly (148 games for Western Suburbs)
10. John Sattler (195 games for South Sydney)
9. John Lang (22 games for Eastern Suburbs)
8. John O'Neill (201 games for South Sydney/Manly)

Analysis:The Johns are one of the great teams, with four of the top 100 Australian players of all-time (Sattler, O'Neil, Raper and King) , inclusive of one Immortal, leading a team made up of all internationals. Another team of internationals could have been picked. There is weakness at no position, creativity and strength across the park. Of all moniker XIII's, these guys are the hot pots.

Correspondence Corner: Dan, it was a tragedy against Wests. What do you remember about the end of the game with Davies away and the Magpies fans storming the field and Harrigan calling full-time?

AJL, Mike From Tari, my problems were the randomness and inequity of the penalties. The Dogs lost all the points they were on. Does that mean if caught in round four they would only have lost eight? And they were then allowed to play for points while the Storm were not. I also have a major concern with the retrospective stripping of titles. Those are my issues. Both deserved severe punishment but there are major issues surrounding the penalties handed down to both teams.

Gareth, it would be a major shock if Bani did get a start with the Raiders.

Warriorman, Simon Durrie I'm with you. I like the good feeling it brings to start the season. Who cares that it isn't Origin? It is an interesting and fierce contest played in the right spirit that means plenty to the players and a good deal of the population.

Tonka, I appreciate your perspective and I agree that it is important for everyone to be treated equally in the game. I think, for the most part, that is the case. But I think the NRL is trying to do something positive here and it should be applauded for same.

Rabby and Michael Johnson, yes, we will need to agree to disagree, I'm afraid.

Ricker, I think you'll find plenty of points in future All Stars games.

Zig, you'll be happy that Josh Dugan has re-signed with the Raiders and you are right: it is good for the game.

Chris Riediger, I am all for the consumer being able to record and watch as he sees fit. It is the way the world is going. But the NRL is not equipped to deal with this at present and the current climate will cost the NRL cash in the short-term.

Watch It: This classic game from the 1972 World Cup speaks for itself. It was an outstanding clash from Perpignan between Australia and Great Britain with the likes of Langlands, Fulton, McCarthy, O'Neil, Beetson and Raudonikis for Australia and Sullivan, Charlton, Stephenson, Lowe and Lockwood for England. A classic. Watch it here

Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images AsiaPac


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