From The Couch: Finals Week 2

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on September 22, 2013


Investigation Whitewash: When an honourable journalist like Steve Mascord is prepared to take a stand against the League and the game over its ‘investigation’ into Canterbury and the Ben Barba domestic violence allegations, we need to take a long, hard look at where we are at as a code.

Two points of disclosure. Firstly, I am an unabashed Canterbury fan, a member and tragic who has loved the blue and white since I was five-years-old. Secondly, I know Steve well. I drink with Steve. I am a regular guest on his podcast. He has contributed to The Rugby League Almanac. I have chowed down Hungry Jacks with him at 3am.

Steve is the most ethical person I have met in rugby league or journalism. He is as straight and honest at there is. There is no pretension, no condescension, no Machiavellian games, no consideration for politics or power or petty squabbles. Steve is in the game because he loves it. He loves the purity of the game itself, what it stands for, the characters associated with it. All he wants is to watch the games, write interesting features, make the game better.

Over the weekend, he announced that he would no longer be a rugby league newsman. He will continue to write features and match reports but will no longer pursue the news that surrounds the game. The breaking point was the result of the NRL’s investigation into Canterbury and Barba and the alleged cover-up. The NRL made a low-key announcement on Saturday that the Bulldogs had been cleared.

It was embarrassing to call it an investigation. It was like asking Nixon and Haldemann to investigate Watergate. I am certainly not here to suggest my club covered anything up. Nor am I accusing them of doing anything wrong. All I know is that a photo of Ben Barba’s girlfriend with a bloodied lip is in existence and continues to go unaccounted for. She had clearly taken a heavy knock. Yet Barba has paid no price. Reports surfaced over the weekend that Barba did not complete one session of counselling. The Bulldogs players had clearly excommunicated him. Something was going on. Yet the football public have been given no proper answer. Rugby league players are, rightly or wrongly, held up as role models by, among others, the League. Allowing Barba to go unpunished is akin to suggesting violence against women is acceptable. If the club covered this up – and this does not mean that they had to give full details to the public but it does mean that appropriate parties were informed, counselled or punished – then they need to be held accountable.

The NRL provided none of this with their whitewash of an investigation. They gave no answers to anyone. The cost has been the game’s hardest working and most upstanding journalist. The Smith administration should be deeply ashamed.

The Raiders Have It All Wrong: The Raiders’ decision to fine David Shillington for speaking out against trouble-making players and stating that the players wanted Andrew Dunnemann to coach the club is a disgrace and a polaroid of just how ass-backwards the club has it. The old fogeys who run the club and their combination of Hitler-esque views on authority and a skewed Darwin-istic slant on talent overriding everything has created one of the most insipid and vacuous cultures in the NRL. Hiring Ricky Stuart is hardly going to right that. Well done John McIntyre – it is quite a legacy you have left.

Shillington has rallied against that culture. So he should. He has tried to hold the likes of Ferguson and Dugan to account. That is what a club should want. And why is it a surprise that the players wanted the assistant coach to run the show? The assistant coaches are the most popular figures at any club and players ALWAYS back the caretaker coach. It is no reflection of Stuart though Shillington could have answered first-hand what a rotten coach he is.

The Raiders are sinking from mediocrity to Parramatta-esque disaster and they are doing it quickly.

Rugby League Goes Right: It was pleasing to see none other than Roy Masters highlight what this column has been saying for years – that the ALP has abandoned the game and rugby league’s new political ally is the Coalition. Save for Albo – and boy, does this column love Albo and his love of the game and the fine photo of him putting up a bomb – Labor has hitched itself to the AFL. With Coalition governments along the eastern seaboard at state level and Tony Abbott Australia’s new Prime Minister, rugby league must take full advantage. No more can the AFL monopoly on government be allowed to go on unchecked. Read Roy’s full article here.

Why They Won – Manly: Courage. Experience. Daly Cherry-Evans. Kieran Foran. Mental toughness.

The Sea Eagles were far from their best against the Sharks after being brutalised the week prior in the Roosters epic. But they knew how to win and they toughed it out in a win of tremendous courage, great smarts and a tick to veteran leadership. Having arguably the best halves combination in the game did not hurt.

Why They Won – Newcastle: Experience. Freshness. Coaching. Energy. Balance. Inspiration.

Wayne Bennett knows a thing or two about timing and seems to be pulling a Bart Cummings special this year. He was widely mocked for recruiting so old and, in some cases, so one-dimensional but it has turned out to be a masterstroke. The winners he brought in – Smith, Scott, Buderus, Mason – have not fired too many shots throughout the season but all are firing when it counts because Bennett has kept them fresh. They are a great mix with the youthful exuberance and natural talent in the likes of Dane Gagai, Tyrone Roberts and Jarrod Mullen. They blasted the Storm from the start last week. Having Danny Buderus as inspiration does no harm either.

Why They Lost – Cronulla: John Morris. Kicking. Passengers. No Todd Carney. Panic. Refereeing.

It was a moment of madness but John Morris’ decision to tackle Matt Ballin from an offside position, one that negated Paul Gallen’s match-equalising try, will go down in Sharks history as a defining moment. He won the game the week before. He lost the Sharks this one. Cronulla were not helped by Todd Carney’s absence, nor the inclusion of too many passengers. Ben Pomeroy, Jonathan Wright, Siosaia Feki and Morris have all had their moments this year but are usually inept. Chad Townsend and Jeff Robson lacked the poise in the kicking game to help. Two very ordinary refereeing decisions that resulted in tries – Matai’s and Taufua’s – certainly hurt the Sharks as well.

Why They Lost – Melbourne: Tiredness. Lack of hunger. Sisa Waqa. Fringe defence. Lack of energy. Poor play from two of the Big Three.

For just the second time since 2005, the Storm won’t be playing in a preliminary final after being out-hustled by the Knights. Bar for a few weeks in August, the Storm have not looked like the Storm since Origin began. The hunger just wasn’t there and with Cronk and Slater both struggling, it wasn’t going to be enough. When the edge defence leaked like the Titanic and Sisa Waqa managed to make every mistake imaginable, it just wasn’t going to be enough.

Off the Wagon: Forgettable former Eel and Dragon Daniel Wagon – one of the worst players to reach the 200-game mark – ensured he won’t ever be welcome in The Shire again with a series of vulgar texts on Friday night alleging, among other things, that Paul Gallen is a “roid muncher”. At least he is contributing more to Twitter than he did to rugby league.

Fun Fact #1: The coaches of South Sydney, Manly and the Sydney Roosters have less combined seasons in the NRL (five) than Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett has premierships (seven).

Rumour Mill: There was significant speculation last week that Jarryd Hayne had agreed to terms with Canterbury. The Bulldogs are chasing him hard and are believed to have pitched an offer worth $800,000 per season at him. The Eels are believed to be on the verge of hiring Daniel Anderson as coach. Paul Green is also in the mix. Neil Henry is a false favourite. Henry is likely to end up at the Dragons as an assistant. There are big troubles at the Warriors with Kevin Locke, Ben Matulino and Russell Packer all wanting out. Locke will almost certainly be at the Bulldogs next year while Packer is on the Eels’ radar. The Warriors are unlikely to release Matulino but if they do, the Dragons and Tigers are interested. George Rose will be at the Storm in 2014.

What I Love About … Andrew Fifita: There is so much to love about the Cronulla prop forward that I’m sure I could write an essay on him. He is a thrilling player to watch, one who works hard and makes a massive impact. He topped the Sharks’ tryscoring, probably the first prop forward since the limited tackle rule was introduced to achieve the feat. He regularly makes 150 metres and 35-plus tackles yet can burst for a 50-metre run, lay on a bonecrusher or deftly put a runner through a hole. When he gets taken off the field, he gives his coach an absolute serve, his competitive drive being so high. He should be the first prop picked for the World Cup.

Funniest Eels Moment of the Week: The crisis at Parramatta is so bad that four-time premiership winner Ray Price put his name forward for the coaching job. Price has had no official role in football other than professional bellyache and windbag merchant since retiring. Sadly, the Eels let him down gently rather than wait for what surely would have been a brilliant interview. The game is crying out for sour bus drivers.

Betting Market of the Week: The next NRL investigation will find:

$2.10: That Ricky Stuart is a great coach and a fine human
$1.95: That Blake Ferguson is in line for a Nobel Prize
$1.70: That the Smith administration has done a superb job
$1.20: That rugby league is played on an oval with a brick

Power Rankings:
1. Sydney Roosters 19-6 (1)
2. South Sydney 19-6 (2)
3. Manly 16-9-1 (3)
4. Newcastle 14-11-1 (6)

Correspondence Corner: Sydney, I openly loathe the Roosters far more than Manly. You are the one looking through maroon coloured glasses. The penalties I am complaining about (and non-penalties for that matter) were a flimsy high tackle shot followed up by a non-penalty to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck when he was clotheslined. Some dubious midfield strip penalties were just as bad. I was sitting on halfway and was appalled by the officiating.

Combo XIII of the Week: After John Morris etched himself into Cronulla folklore with one of the biggest moments of total implosion in the history of a club littered with it, we name the best ever Morris’.

1. Paul Morris (Balmain/St George/Newtown)
2. Brett Morris (St George Illawarra)
3. Josh Morris (St George Illawarra/Canterbury)
4. Ray Morris (Wests/University)
5. Paul Morris (Brisbane/North Queensland)
6. Billy Morris (Wests/Easts/Parramatta)
7. Steve Morris (St George/Easts)
13. Glenn Morrison (Norths/North Queensland/Tigers)
12. Des Morris (Brisbane Easts)
11. Dean Morris (Cronulla/St George)
10. Arthur Morris (Canterbury)
9. John Morris (Newcastle/Parramatta/Wests Tigers/Cronulla)
8. Rod Morris (Balmain)

The Coaching Crosshairs: With Steve Price, Mick Potter, Matt Elliott and John Cartwright assured their positions for 2014, it would appear that only the vacant positions at North Queensland and Parramatta will be available (though Anthony Griffin is far from safe in Brisbane, for mine). The Cowboys are expected to make an announcement within the next few weeks. Their delay suggests Rick Stone, currently assisting Wayne Bennett at Newcastle, will be the hire. It is an excellent move for the club. The Eels have not started interviewing yet but word has it that Daniel Anderson will get the gig thanks to a push by powerbroker Denis Fitzgerald. The club has, officially, ruled out Ray Price.

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: Much to the angst of the Cronulla faithful, Ben Pomeroy was offered and jumped at the opportunity to re-sign with the Sharks. He thanked the Sharks by turning in an absolute stinker against Manly, going off injured/getting dragged in the second half. He will form the slowest centre pairing since Graham Bradley and Col Bentley with Blake Ayshford in 2014.

Game of the Year Nomination, Finals Week 2: Melbourne-Newcastle, 16-18. Over the first two weeks of the finals, we have seen four absolute classics, another pretty decent game and a fizzer. This week, we had two classics. While the Sharks-Sea Eagles clash was thrilling, the Knights-Storm match took it up a notch. It was a fast, intense, compelling match. The Knights just blitzed the Storm from the start and Melbourne never recovered. Before they knew it, they were down 18-4 – and their first try was gifted to them by a disgraceful penalty call. Wayne Bennett recruited a veteran, experienced team and it is reaping rewards now. He has winners on his books and they are lifting in September. It is not just the likes of Smith, Scott, Mason and Buderus doing the job though. It was young tykes Dane Gagai, Tyrone Roberts and Kevin Naiqama who put the Storm on the backfoot. For Melbourne, they could not find the resources to get back into it. They were not helped by having two of their big three as out-of-form as they have ever been. It was a great game and one that could go close to game of the year honours.

Beard Watch: Jeremy Smith is rocking a patchy little number that seems to be the style within Newcastle at present. He is one game away from becoming part of a very limited group to play in Grand Finals with three separate clubs.

Watch It: It was the most brutal of all Grand Finals, the ’73 decider. Watch it in all its glory here


Comments (2)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The funniest thing I saw was in the Northern Pride v Easts last weekend, Pride put a kick to the corner, on the 1st play the ball the Easts centre took a run from dummy half went straight through, the 2nd marker went to tackle him but stopped & put his hands in the air, my son told me the ref penalised the Easts 1/2 back for saying “stay out of it number 11”. This is the first time in 52 years of watching our great game that I have seen a penalty given, should have been told to go back and play the ball.