From The Couch: Finals Week 1

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on December 12, 2010

Billy Slater, Champion: It was wonderful to see Billy Slater win the Dally M Medal, a surprise and a most pleasant one at that.

Slater finished the season off with a flourish and is a more deserving winner than pre-poll favourites Benji Marshall and Johnathan Thurston, both fine players but who have not been as consistent as Slater.

This year, Slater was a central figure in the resurrection of the Storm and his numbers, which rarely do his brilliance justice, bear examining: second this year in tackle breaks with 131, eighth in tries with 12, fourth in line breaks with 17 and third among non-halves in try assists with 14.

Such is Slater’s consistency that he has polled in the top 10 of voting in the Dally M Medal in each of the last five years, a remarkable achievement. He should have won the Dally M in 2008, losing only because of a suspension, and finally got his just reward this year.

There is now a legitimate argument for Slater being the greatest fullback Australian rugby league has ever seen. He is in the discussion with Clive Churchill, Graeme Langlands and perhaps Keith Barnes. I never saw any of that trio play but there is no doubt now, considering what Slater has achieved and the high level with which he consistently plays at, he must be considered.

Billy Slater will one day be considered the greatest custodian the game has known and will be quickly inducted into the Immortals upon his retirement.

Julia Gillard Spits on Rugby League (Again):Julia Gillard has once again slapped rugby league in the face by failing to present the Dally M Medal. It is the latest snub, which started with last year’s awards ceremony and included the 2010 Grand Final and this year’s State of Origin, Darren Lockyer’s last.

Yet she regularly attends AFL matches and lied to the American President by giving him a Sherrin and suggesting Australian rules was Australia’s national game. This week she was mouthing off about rugby union and World Cups and other such dribble.

Even Kevin Rudd, far from being a man with rugby league in his blood, at least made a token appearance at Origin and at Broncos matches and was there to present the 2009 Dally M Medal.

This is to say nothing of John Howard, an avid Dragons man, who regularly presented the Dally M and was always on hand for the big games, giving rugby league its proper recognition as one of the two sports that Australia cares passionately about.

Rugby league was once the game of the Labor Party. Even those from outside traditional rugby league states such as Bob Hawke embraced the game, what it stood for, its working class roots and its position in the sporting landscape.

Julia Gillard has abandoned that. She has abandoned rugby league as she has the working class and this should not be forgotten when the time comes to vote next. Nobody who likes rugby league should direct a vote her way. She has disrespected the game again and rugby league fans should not tolerate it, particularly when all federal elections these days are decided in Queensland and New South Wales.  

Dally M, Top Three By Club:

Brisbane: Corey Parker (20), Peter Wallace (14), Sam Thaiday (12)
Canberra: Josh McCrone (15), Shaun Fensom (8), Blake Ferguson (4)
Canterbury: Ben Barba (16), Frank Pritchard (8), Aiden Tolman (8)
Cronulla: Paul Gallen (24), Jeremy Smith (5), Albert Kelly (5)
Gold Coast: Luke Bailey (6), Mark Minichiello (6), Matt Srama (4)
Manly: Kieran Foran (21), Glenn Stewart (18), Daly Cherry-Evans (16)
Melbourne: Billy Slater (29), Cooper Cronk (25), Cameron Smith (20)
Newcastle: Kurt Gidley (18), Jarrod Mullen (11), Akuila Uate (10)
New Zealand: Kevin Locke (18), Feleti Mateo (17), James Maloney (10)
North Qld: Johnathan Thurston (24), Matt Bowen (22), Matt Scott (5), Dallas Johnson (5)
Parramatta: Luke Burt (14), Nathan Hindmarsh (11), Tim Mannah (6)
Penrith: Luke Walsh (15), Luke Lewis (9), Petero Civoniceva (8)
Dragons: Darius Boyd (14), Mark Gasnier (9), Ben Creagh (8), Jamie Soward (8)
Souths: Chris Sandow (22), Issac Luke (7), Nathan Merritt (5), Ben Ross (5), John Sutton (5)
Roosters: Jake Friend (14), Mitchell Pearce (13), Nate Myles (7), Anthony Minichiello (7)
Wests Tigers: Benji Marshall (27), Liam Fulton (10), Robbie Farah (10)

The Most Deserving Award of the Night: Billy Slater was a deserving winner of the Dally M Medal but it was the recognition of Craig Bellamy as the coach of the year that was the most worthy presentation of the night. Bellamy has been the man who has held the Storm together and it is his ability to create such a positive culture that has allowed the Storm to win the minor premiership after losing seven rep players. Bellamy is one of the all-time greats and his effort this year will go down as one of the greatest coaching performances ever, premiership or no premiership.

2011 Club Awards: Some club awards have already been issued this year. Here is a rundown of the main gongs:

Mal Meninga Medal (Canberra): Shaun Fensom
Penrith Player of the Year: Luke Walsh
Jack Gibson Medal (Roosters): Jake Friend

Rugby League is Flying: It was pleasing to see rugby league in such a healthy state after David Gallop delivered some fantastic news in his annual State of the Game report. Rugby league is flying and is doing so at exactly the right time with a new television deal just around the corner and the battle with the AFL heating up. Here are a few notes/thoughts on a few elements of the report. To read the full report, click here.

Crowds:Crowds were down 0.6% but were the second highest on record and compared to other major sporting codes, this was an excellent result with other codes suffering major downfalls. Particularly strong has been the increase in crowds in Newcastle and New Zealand. The Knights increase of 32% has been primarily because of the sale of the club to Nathan Tinkler, who has made tickets cheaper and provided greater hope for the Knights faithful. The Warriors increase of 19% is particularly pleasing as the game continues to explode in New Zealand, even in a rugby World Cup year. The reason behind such a strong crowd performance is parity and the continuing explosion in the popularity of the game. Of the timeslots, the drop in crowds for daytime Sunday afternoon matches is a concern but the boost of 8% on Monday night shows that the timeslot is becoming one of the marquee events of the week with the NRL better managing it this year with better games, increased promotion and a recognition that it is a marquee match.

Free-To-Air Ratings:The FTA ratings were up nearly across the board with the live Friday match growing by 6% and Sunday afternoon, despite the match being delayed, up by 2%. The only downturn is the Friday delayed match. Hopefully the NRL looks into moving the match to Saturday afternoon as they will be expected to show every match live in the next television deal. Of note, two Storm games finished second and third all-time in rugby league FTA ratings while Origin III was the highest rating Origin ever and all three Origin matches among the 10 highest FTA programs of the year. Origin was reignited this year and the boom in FTA ratings should mean a boom in the next television deal. The audience of over 1 million people for the Indigenous All Stars game shows how much league is anticipated suggesting an amazing amount of strength and the right level of offseason so that the game is not overexposed.

Pay Television Ratings:Not surprisingly, rugby league again dominated pay television ratings with 74 of the top 100 shows for the year compared to 14 AFL matches, six rugby union matches, four cricket events and one soccer match. The Cowboys-Eels clash also broke the 400,000 barrier for the first time in NRL history. Monday night games were up 17%, Saturday night ratings were up 26% and every slot rose. The biggest gain for the NRL in the next ratings deal will be from Foxtel/Fox Sports, who are going to have to start paying a fair sum for what rugby league provides.

Membership:Membership is relatively new to rugby league but fans are starting to take to it with numbers up 28% and the Dragons and South Sydney becoming the first clubs to pass 20,000 members. All clubs bar the Cowboys, coming off a wooden spoon, saw a rise in membership. This is going to be the next big revenue stream for NRL clubs and the push to get fans to become members is working. The NRL should really be applauded for its campaign on this front.

Refereeing:The most interesting thing on the refereeing front has been the reduction in penalties (down 140) and use of the video referee (down 111), a clear reflection in the shift of philosophy taken by Bill Harrigan when assuming the job after Robert Finch’s reign of terror. Tries from scrums were also up from 54 to 72 indicating referees are keeping players bound longer, a clear improvement on previous years. Overall the refereeing has improved markedly this year. Two other areas have also improved the game: dummy half runs are down from 102 to 79 while blowout wins of 30-plus results have halved over the last two years. Dummy half running is boring, as are blowout results, so interpretations have helped eradicate these concerns. The big worry has been the downturn in tries, down from 1420 to 1309. I quite like tight, defensive football but to grow the game there must be tries with the major reason in the downturn being the amount of time defenders are allowed to wrestle in the tackle. This needs to be sorted soon.

Player Salaries:Annoyingly, David Gallop chose not publish salary figures as the AFL chooses to do including average salaries, salary figure breakdowns and the like.

David Gallop Shouldn’t Be Too Upset: The NRL boss can’t have been too surprised. When he came to AAMI Park to present the Storm with the JJGiltinan Shield, he had to expect that he would be booed ferociously. They say time heals all wounds but a year is not nearly long enough to have mended the wounds of the heavy handed penalty handed down last year, particularly when little has been done by either party to rebuild burnt bridges. So it should have come as no great surprise to Gallop that the 14,000-strong crowd let out the biggest boo ever to come out of the stadium, akin to that saved for Wally Lewis in Sydney in the mid-eighties.

He didn’t seem to enjoy it, perhaps finding it disrespectful. He looked sullen, was short on the microphone and was quoted making a snide remark in the aftermath.

But Gallop should be chuffed that there is so much passion for rugby league in Melbourne. Five years ago, it simply wouldn’t have happened. There simply wasn’t that level of care. On Sunday, there were 14,000 diehards who had so much anger, so much care, so much love that they simply had to chastise the NRL boss.

The NRL hasn’t done a lot to help league in Melbourne but they should be happy that the game is taking some hold in the home of Australian Rules.

Mo Blair’s Finest Moment: It was with some surprise that Mo Blair was the man presented with the JJ Giltinan Shield on Sunday as the Storm’s representative. Mo has come a long way in a year, from being a fat boy playing for Windsor to being handed rugby league’s oldest active trophy.

Final Coaching Breakdown:How the 16 head coaches are looking heading into 2012:
Anthony Griffin (Brisbane): Has done a stellar job in his first season and looks to have a long-term gig at the Broncos with his calm demeanour and connection with the players.

David Furner (Canberra): Should have been fired during the team’s eight-game losing streak but his connections will mean he should survive well into next year.

Jim Dymock (Canterbury): Has firmed for the Bulldogs job after a solid finish to the season but he still seems raw and there were some bad losses that cost a finals spot.

Shane Flanagan (Cronulla): Record was poor but the Sharks seemed to break away from the Stuart bleakness and he has earned the right to give it a shot with his own players.

John Cartwright (Gold Coast): A brutal year for the Titans that saw Cartwright hospitalised but he has recruited well, is highly regarded and has a long-term deal.

Des Hasler (Manly): Has overachieved this year and with his record at the club he will be Manly coach for as long as he wants the job.

Craig Bellamy (Melbourne): An astonishing achievement to win the minor premiership and Coach of the Year and has done so much for the Storm that he will retire there.

Rick Stone (Newcastle): Showed tremendous dignity and class this year in tough circumstances and is worthy of a head coaching job somewhere, hopefully Canterbury.

Ivan Cleary (New Zealand): Done another nice job with the Warriors and is on his way to Penrith to rebuild the Panthers in 2012.

Neil Henry (North Queensland): Saved his career with a finals showing but a disappointing end to the year means he could again be on the hot seat in 2012.

Stephen Kearney (Parramatta): An unpleasant welcome to NRL head coaching but gets a pass because he had little say in the horrible recruitment class the Eels offered.

Steve Georgallis (Penrith): Did a decent job with a Penrith team ravaged by injuries but is likely to spend his time as an assistant at the Tigers rather than get a head gig.

Wayne Bennett (Dragons): The Dragons have faded in the backend of the year but Bennett’s star remains bright as he looks to take his magic to Newcastle.

John Lang (Souths): Has faded into retirement after a stellar career that began in Queensland and saw him become the best coach at three clubs in the last 20 years.

Brian Smith (Sydney Roosters): A horrible follow-up year but due to his reformed position on Todd Carney seems to have escaped pressure somewhat undeservedly.

Tim Sheens (Wests Tigers): Has got the Tigers in contention again and though on a short-term deal he will likely be at the Tigers until this crop of talent is done and dusted.

A Suggestion: Brisbane forward Josh McGuire suffered another whack to the eye on the weekend. Perhaps he needs to get some of the old Horace Grant goggles. That would be a damn sweet look.

Nice Signing: Well done to Penrith for signing Clint Newton for next season. Newton is a decent backrower with a good work ethic. He’ll do a serviceable job for the Panthers in 2012.

Oh, Please: Matt Orford seemingly hasn’t retired with the hot word being that he is looking to sign with a Sydney club. I can only hope. The most likely situation is that Orford will sign on with South Sydney though the Roosters would be some possibility. Orford is as done as last night’s dinner so it will be a damn sight amusing if he tries to push on for one reason or another.

Channel Nine Can Burn to the Ground: This is how much Nine care about growing the game of rugby league into new territory: the NRL needed to twist the arm of the broadcaster to show the Storm qualifying final live into Melbourne. Rather, Nine wanted to show a rerun of that pathetic dribble Farmer Wants A Wife. Not one other final was beamed into the southern capital at a reasonable hour. If this isn’t a strike against Nine, about the 9,673rd, then David Gallop and his team need to take a good hard look at their administration.

Game Pass: On Monday morning, I woke up at 4am. I logged onto my computer and for the small fee of $120 a season, I had the choice of watching any game from week one of the NFL. I could flick between any game, get any call, watch any breakdown of a sport that is barely played in Australia. Yet I live in Melbourne and cannot legally watch a single NRL finals match, not including the Storm, legally. It is bad enough the NRL doesn’t force Nine to show games out of the heartland but to not offer us the option of live internet streaming is appalling. Hopefully this will be remedied in the next television deal for the greater good of the game so that anyone can stream games live over the internet for a fee. Fans should be able to engage with the game if they want to.

Stats Watch: The top five in a number of statistical categories this season:

Try Assists: Benji Marshall (24), Jarryd Hayne (24), Darren Lockyer (24), Johnathan Thurston (22), Luke Walsh (20)

Line Breaks:Ben Barba (30), Matt Cooper (19), Akuila Uate (18), Billy Slater (17), Brett Morris (17)

Offloads:Feleti Mateo (74), Anthony Tupou (61), Corey Parker (56), Trent Waterhouse (56), Paul Gallen (48)

Tackle Breaks:Akuila Uate (148), Billy Slater (131), Matt Bowen (124), Jamal Idris (117), Ben Barba (117)

Average Tackles:Nathan Hindmarsh (49.92), Shaun Fensom (47.29), Jake Friend (45.04), Michael Ennis (42.50), Dallas Johnson (41.91)

Average Kick Metres:Jamie Soward (491), Cooper Cronk (436), Jarrod Mullen (400), James Maloney (384), Scott Prince (381)

Gus’ Finals Plan:In Sunday’s Sun Herald, Phil Gould took it upon himself to propose a new finals system, proposing that the NRL expand by two teams and then get divided into two conferences: a Sydney conference and a regional conference with both conferences to play a four-week top five finals system followed by the winner of each playing off in the Grand Final. Can I say conference again? There are plenty of positives with Gus’ proposal: the return to a top-five, an extra week of finals, bigger finals games, better crowds. But the great failing is that it rules out Sydney teams from taking on each other. That is enough for the idea to be scrapped altogether. Gould should be congratulated for thinking but he needs to offer something that allows two Sydney clubs to play in a Grand Final before it can be taken seriously.

The Evil Albino: Despite his heavy media involvement, Phil Gould has still yet to explain his midseason move to albinism. So all I can surmise is that Gus is now playing the stereotypical “evil albino,” a sinister character akin to Mr Joshua in Lethal Weapon. Until he dishes out an explanation or gets some pigment in his skin, Phil Gould will be nothing more than The Evil Albino in these pages.  

Farewells: This weekend we say goodbye to two Australian internationals with over 100 first grade games under their belt.

Adam MacDougall:It is hard to believe but the career of Adam “Mad Dog” MacDougall is over after 195 games and 16 seasons. One of the strangest, most oft-injured and most highly strung footballers of his era, MacDougall was certainly a character. At his peak, in his first spell with the Knights, he was an outstanding winger, strong and fast. By the time he got to Souths, he had been done for drugs and was known to talk to his thighs. When he returned to the Knights, he broke the club record for tries scored and still showed flashes of his best. Was the second last of the 1995 vintage to retire.

Antonio Kaufusi:The most overrated prop forward of the last five seasons, Kaufusi eked out an astonishing 144 first grade games with Melbourne, North Queensland and Newcastle, a Test and an Origin appearances over nine seasons meaning he has been stealing from the NRL for at least nine years. He goes to England as a player who will be missed by nobody.

The McIntyre System is Rubbish: I am sick of repeating myself at this time of year, year after goddamn year, preaching the inferiority of the McIntyre System. It is an absolutely moronic system. It supposedly went as expected in week one with the top four teams all winning. The result? Two completely meaningless games and two mismatches. The finals would have been much better if the Storm hosted the Tigers and the Eagles hosting Brisbane in qualifying finals and the Dragons playing the Knights and the Warriors hosting the Cowboys in known elimination finals.

So rather than rehash it, here it all is, a year on, when my outrage wasn’t so blunted, the times not so cynical.

Injury Update:The most serious injury to come out of the weekend was that of Joel Moon, who was forced to have surgery on a dislocated ankle in what is a sad end to his career with the Warriors.

Blake Ayshford (Wests Tigers): Came off with an eye concern with five minutes to play. Should be right for this weekend.

Shaun Berrigan (New Zealand): Didn’t come up from a hip injury and was ruled out pregame. Was ably replaced by Lewis Brown and is in some doubt again.

Scott Bolton (North Queensland): Took a knock to his ribs, the icing on another injury interrupted season.

Rory Kostjasyn (Melbourne): Was a late withdrawal with Gareth Widdop returning. A hamstring injury was cited. He is fine.

Jacob Lillyman (New Zealand): Suffered a nasty gash to his face but won’t miss any time.

Kevin Locke (New Zealand): Took a head knock late in the game but went the distance and will be there to take on the Tigers.

Simon Mannering (New Zealand): Took a knock to the hip and wasn’t spotted after the 45th minute but is expected to line up against the Tigers this week.

Steve Matai (Manly): Can you ever take a Steve Matai injury seriously? It was six minutes when he called for the trainer with a head knock for those playing Oh Errol’s Matai Minutes.

Joel Moon (New Zealand): Dislocated his ankle and had surgery in Brisbane. Won’t play again for the club as he is on the move to Salford. Berrigan replaces him if he comes up otherwise Krisnan Inu comes back into the team.

Jarrod Mullen (Newcastle): The Knights halfback supposedly hurt his arm against the Storm but after another shocker I dare say it is just another excuse.

Cory Paterson (North Queensland): Carted off in a neck brace after a shaky shot from Shane Rodney but it turned out it was just ligament damage.

Fun Fact #1: 17 players had over 30 handling errors during the regular season this year. Benji Marshall led the way with 45 followed by Willie M Medal winner Blake Ferguson (43), Jarryd Hayne (41), Ben Barba (40), Josh McCrone (39), Jarrod Croker (38), Ashley Graham (33) and Greg Bird (33).

Fun Fact #2: 15 players conceded 15 or more penalties during the regular season. Shaun Fensom led the way with 23 ahead of Jake Friend (22), Michael Ennis (19), Glenn Stewart (19), James Maloney (17) and Anthony Watmough (17).

Fun Fact #3: 18 players missed an average of four tackles per game who played at least five games this year: Chris Sandow missed the most with 5.75 misses per game followed by Joel Reynolds (5.5), Brett Seymour (5.44), Albert Kelly (4.78), Issac Luke (4.67), Daniel Mortimer (4.56), Joel Romelo (4.4) and James Maloney (4.36).

Making The Nut Poll: It was a close run race, the battle for the worst coach of the last 21 years but it seems that former Balmain coach Alan Jones (27%) has just pipped old Souths boss Paul Langmack (25%) for the honour. Canberra coach David Furner was a clear third on 19%, another reason why he should be sacked.

Check out this week’s Making The Nut poll question: Who is the best rugby league play-by-play man? I’ve given my vote to Andrew Moore.

Power Rankings:
1. Melbourne (20-5) LW:1, R:1-4
2. Brisbane (19-6) LW:2, R:2-14
3. Wests Tigers (16-9) LW:6, R:3-9
4. Manly (19-6) LW:3, R:2-13
5. St George-Illawarra (14-10-1) LW:4, R:1-5
6. New Zealand (14-11) LW:5, R:4-14

Betting Market of the Week:On Dally M Medal night, Julia Gillard was:

Practicing her marking and her king hits to be like Barry Hall: $6.00
Involved in some illicit practices with Andrew Demetriou: $5.50
On the phone desperately trying to save her administration: $2.10
Masturbating furiously picturing Bryan Norrie in action: $4.00

Rumour Mill:All was reportedly not well at the Bunnies camp at the backend of the season with Chris Sandow’s “gone missing” incident coming after a supposed falling out with a teammate. There is supposedly going to be another delay with the handing of power to the Independent Commission with the main sticking point being News refusing to sign a non-compete clause. There is speculation that Warren Ryan could be named coaching director or a senior coaching consultant at Canterbury if Jim Dymock gets the job, a move that would border on embarrassing. There is a major rift in the camp at Manly with the players believed to be hot over the sacking of Peter Peters. The most concerning rumour is that Des Hasler may walk out on the team over it, something that would seem highly unlikely. It has been suggested that both South Sydney and North Queensland held talks regarding Todd Carney but he is unlikely to end up with either with Rangi Chase the favourite for the halfback spot at South Sydney.

What I Like About…Manu Vatuvei: It doesn’t matter how many mistakes he makes or what the scoreline is, he still thinks it is okay to celebrate a try and thank the Lord and all that bollocks. Beast made five errors against the Broncos in a hellish performance reminiscent of his shocker against Parramatta five or so seasons back. It was an appalling showing and one that should never come from a senior player. Vatuvei may be a terrifying winger, a tryscoring machine who can put the fear into opposition wingers but if he can’t catch then he can’t be on the field. He needs to show some maturity. Or, at the very least, some humility when scoring a try after such a horrid performance.

Never Bet with IAS…Ever: Those who fancy a wager should not bet with IAS. Ever. Having just spent four days dealing with them and not being able to get a straight answer out of them, I cannot help but advise readers of From The Couch that IAS is now persona non grata, a betting shop who has no more leeway. There are plenty of good shops out there: IAS is not one of them. Astonishingly, I spent four hours trying to sort out a futures bet and was forced to rehash the issue to at least five different staff members and when I asked for a straight answer I was given nothing. The joint has gone significantly downhill and anybody who bets there should look elsehwhere.

Moniker XIII of the Week: After 195 first grade games in a career spanning 17 seasons back to 1995, Adam MacDougall played his last match on Sunday afternoon with the Knights going down to the Storm. In honour of Mad Dog, here is the all-time Adams.

The Adams
1. Adam Warwick (14 games for North Queensland/Brisbane)
2. Adam O’Neill (37 games for South Sydney)
3. Adam MacDougall (195 games for Eastern Suburbs/Newcastle/South Sydney)
4. Adam Mogg (105 games for Parramatta/Canberra)
5. Adam Donovan (16 games for Western Suburbs)
6. Adam Dykes (221 games for Cronulla/Parramatta)
7. Adam Nable (64 games for Manly/Balmain/Wests Tigers/North Queensland)
13. Adam Muir (184 games for Newcastle/North Sydney/Northern Eagles/Souths)
12. Adam Peek (134 games for Adelaide/Bulldogs/Souths/Parra./Dragons/Cronulla)
11. Adam Blair (121 games for Melbourne)
10. Adam Ritson (40 games for Cronulla/Parramatta)
9. Adam Perry (133 games for Canterbury)
8. Adam Woolnough (153 games for Newcastle/Penrith/Melbourne)

The Adams Analysis:There is not a lot to get excited about with the Adams with Muir, Blair and MacDougall the only internationals. Mogg had a brief and successful run with Queensland while Ritson held plenty of promise before his career was cut short but a tumour. Warhorses Peek, Perry and Woolnough are only honest toilers while Dykes was a long-serving and competent half for the Sharks. They would be soundly beaten by most of the sides we have come up with so far.

From Deep in the Bowels of Twitter: I have lost a lot of respect for Trent Hodkinson: “My boy jonny wilkinson in action!”

But my keenness on Phil Gould certainly increased: “Union is boring. So boring. No wonder Gasnier fit in. He has the personality of a wet mop.”

Obscure Score of the Week: Orange CYMS-Lithgow Workies, 30-12, Group 10 Grand Final. For the first time since 1987-88, CYMS have gone back-to-back, decimating the Workies of Lithgow at Endeavour Oval. The yellow and golds triumphed and From The Couch couldn’t be happier.

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin:Dressed up on Mad Monday as Playboy Penguin, the Looney Tunes character. He was accused by his teammates of not dressing up.

Game of the Year Nomination, Finals Week One:Wests Tigers-St George-Illawarra, 21-12. It wasn’t a great opening weekend of finals action with the Broncos smashing the Warriors, the Storm comfortably holding the Knights and Manly switching on in the second half against the Cowboys. But the Tigers-Dragons match was a quality affair, as we have come to expect with these two. It had the air of importance about it and it didn’t disappoint with the Dragons fighting back to a half-time lead after a crock of a decision to allow Benji Marshall’s first try to stand. The Dragons were solid but looked vulnerable. That proved correct when Robert Lui, in what was his best first grade performance, lit it up in the second half as the Tigers streaked away to a big win. The backrow was outstanding for the Tigers while questions need to be asked about the Dragons left-side duo of Matt Cooper and Brett Morris after they both again turned in shockers. Mark Gasnier was hardly any better. It was a very nice way to open up the finals.

Correspondence Corner: Anna, while I agree with you that it is wise to look for alternative revenue streams, there is a line and Canterbury passed that line about 200km before they got to the Star Wars jerseys. It was embarrassing.

Dragons68, I don’t think the Storm minded winning the minor premiership after a hammering. They seemed pretty chuffed on Sunday, at least when David Gallop wasn’t about.

Head Anchor, thanks for picking up the stats error. The Making The Nut budget isn’t big enough to employ a full-time statistician (or even a kid with Rugby League Aspergers) so these kind of errors may pop up every now and then. Thanks for your vigilance on such matters.

Calum, Corey Parker had a very good year and I expect him to feature heavily in my annual top 50 for the third straight year after placing 29th last season and 25th in 2009.

JohnJ, Benji is playing with fire by shaving off the playoff beard!

Witty Reference, Corey Parker got the votes on his goalkicking, I’m told.

Cudars, I am ashamed that Orange rugby league has had to go to a pansy rugby union oval. And if Jason Taylor comes to Canterbury, you will have bigger problems than getting yourself a new Bulldogs strip.

Beard Watch:There is no doubt the Tigers were mighty impressive in downing the Dragons on Friday night. Mighty impressive. But they are a team playing with fire and you do not want your last on them for the premiership. Benji Marshall shaved for the Dally M Medal and with it went the hopes of Tiger Nation. His arrogance and/or stupidity could cost the Tigers their second title.

Watch It:I got thinking about the 1987 Brisbane Rugby League Grand Final after reading about the match in Rugby League Week so thought it best to check it out and what a wonderful match it was between Brothers (The Brethren or The Leprechauns) and Redcliffe (The Dolphins). This was the last BRL Grand Final before the Broncos came in and ruined it all. There were some stars running around including Mark Coyne, Trevor Bailey, Greg “The Turtle” Conescu, Dave Brown, Bryan Niebling, Clinton Mohr, Peter Gill, Tony Rea and personal favourite, “Smokin” Joe Kilroy, before his stint at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Clinton Mohr didn’t end up donning the green and gold but that didn’t stop him being best afield in that classic decider.  Perhaps the most emotional part was seeing Ross Strudwick talk about celebrating and seeing what would happen. When the party died down, Brothers would soon be gone and would never again reach the high watermark of 1987. Watch it here.

Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images AsiaPac

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