From The Couch: Finals Week 2

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on September 20, 2011

What Went Wrong in the Kingdom of Wayne:Last week Wayne Bennett was taken to task in the media for visiting his new club Newcastle only days before the Dragons were to take on Brisbane in an elimination semi-final. It was a complete and utter beat-up with the Dragons playing as well as they have since the Origin period against Brisbane,  very nearly pulling off an unlikely win. Bennett is one of the game’s greatest coaches and one of its great competitors, a total professional who would never do anything to hurt the prospects of his team. To suggest otherwise is not only disrespectful but stupid and clearly shows a fundamental misunderstanding of one of the game’s great coaching figures.

So what did go wrong with the Dragons? How did they fall from clear cut premiers, the World Club champions, a team that lost only once in the first 13 rounds to a club who could find only four wins in their last 15 encounters? How did it get to the point where the finger of blame was pointed at anyone in red and white?

There are two popular theories.

The first is the decision of Bennett to join Newcastle. I don’t subscribe to this at all. Bennett was a hired gun. The club knew that, the players knew that. He did what he came to do, won the club a premiership, made many of the Dragons better players. He engenders plenty of loyalty and I doubt very much that Bennett’s move has created any resentment or division internally. I dare say that the players were merely grateful and happy that his hand-picked successor would be in charge next year.

The second is that the Dragons lost their mongrel when Jeremy Smith and Neville Costigan signed elsewhere after being offered deals the Dragons could not match. This is a much more reasonable assertion. Combined with Michael Weyman’s significant drop in form (where he went from Origin prop to Carl Webb like in production), the loss of Smith and Costigan has taken the fear, the hardness, the backbone out of the Dragons pack. What was left was a bunch of hard workers, a heavy hitter like Beau Scott, and a rotation of decent props but Adam Cuthbertson, Matt Prior and company were hardly adequate replacements in terms of hardness for Smith and Costigan. When the going got tough, the Dragons were generally viewed as soft this year.

For mine though, the biggest problem was what Bill Simmons calls “The Disease of More”. It seemed like individual players wanted more but weren’t prepared to work as hard as last year. That came to a flashpoint in the Origin period when a whole host of Dragons had to work exceptionally hard to combine Origin with a premiership defence. In the end, the Dragons didn’t seem to want it enough and very few of those Origin players managed to combine the two competing interests.

Mark Gasnier, Jamie Soward, Ben Creagh and Brett Morris all lost form during Origin. Gasnier, Creagh and Morris never found it again. Soward’s body gave way towards the backend of the year and though he was decent during the finals he was not the star of the previous two-and-a-half seasons after the Origin battering.

The biggest drop off came in defence, the element of the game that requires the most desire, the most hard work. There is no doubt the timing of the attack fell away in the latter part of the season but it is the loss of a defensive backbone that eventually consigned the Dragons to a season of disappointment. Defence is, of course, the best indicator of success in the modern NRL.

In 2010, the Dragons led the NRL in defence, allowing 12.46 points per game, clearly ahead of the second-placed Storm (15.13) but more tellingly, nearly eight points ahead of the third-placed (and second most eligible team) New Zealand (20.25).

This year, the Dragons have fallen to third, allowing 14.21 points per game but relatively, they are 1.38 points per game off the league-leading Storm and are one of seven teams that allow 18.5 points per game and one of four that allows under 15.5. In essence, the Dragons’ great strength – defence – has gotten worse while other teams have improved significantly (helped by a slowing down of the play-the-ball in 2011), exacerbating the loss of the Dragons’ edge.

The difference between the first half and second half of the season is also worth noting. In the Dragons’ first 12 games, they allowed 10.67 points per game, not allowing 18 points once and keeping opponents to one try or less on four occasions. In their last 14 games, they allowed 17.64 points per game, allowing opponents 19-plus points on seven occasions and keeping opponents to one try or less only twice.

There may have been other factors. Player division, ongoing injuries, depth worries, a change in rule interpretations.

But from the outside, the Dragons fell apart this year because they lost the desire when the going got hard during the Origin period and it manifested itself in defence.

Everybody, Take a Breath: It defies belief how one clumsy remark has managed to dominate the headlines but such was the case last week when David Gallop made an ill-considered remark talking about Storm fans and passion and terrorism that got totally misconstrued and blown wildly out of proportion.

Gallop made a long, awkward, weird and ill-time analogy, saying passion doesn’t justify poor behaviour. Terrorists were also passionate, he said, all while responding to the heckling he received at AAMI Park when presenting the Storm with the JJ Giltinan Shield for claiming the minor premiership.

Gallop was clearly upset at the pizzling he copped from the 14,000-strong in attendance. He shouldn’t be but due to a thin-skin he seems to think he was disrespected. Of course, he had to expect it after the way the Storm were treated (and he had to expect it regardless of what side of the fence you sit on there) and he had to realise that it is very much the Australian way to boo those in positions of power. It was a good sign for rugby league.

But he reacted in a churlish, stung manner and felt the need on radio to lay some shots on the Storm faithful. They were completely unnecessary. He could have avoided a week of embarrassment had he just sucked it up and moved on with his life, not fretting on being booed. It was silliness and the kind of petty tomfoolery that does nothing for the game of rugby league.

But for those looking to use it as an excuse to have him fired, it is a tough reach and an awful overreaction. Led by Phil Gould, a certain element in the game want Gallop’s clumsiness cased as a malicious attack and they want to use it to bring him down. It is this kind of rubbish from Phil Gould that makes him so intolerable. He is so perceptive on the game, has a great vision and a wonderful care for the code but he cannot overcome the bile that resides inside him. To call for Gallop’s head is moronic and it only serves to take away from whatever positive things Gould has to say.

Nepotism and Inertia Still Rule in Canberra:The preliminary findings are in for the Raiders’ review into their abhorrent 2011 that saw a potential premiership contender run second last through a combination of horrid defence, poor recruitment, key injuries, horrible coaching, a poor attitude and a lack of professionalism. Needless to say, the preliminary finals provide nothing of substance. This comes as absolutely no surprise to anybody who understands of how the business of rugby league is conducted in Canberra these days. Perhaps they should have taken note of my free and frank review here.

The review was conducted by so-called sports consultant John Waser and former Newcastle and Parramatta coach Michael Hagan. The “High Performance Review” was no doubt overseen by the powerbrokers in Canberra: the Furners, the McIntyres and the like, who fear political change more than Justice Scalia.

The initial findings were presented at a nice little holiday retreat down the South Coast (author’s guess: Moruya) where David Furner, so safe in his position, had taken the players down for a three-day review.

The findings were so pissweak that they hardly bear repeating and the brutal tearing apart they are about to have heaped upon them but I am in a violent mood and it seems entirely necessary in these dark and doomed times in Capital City.

Let’s get to the slaughter…we all have more important things to be doing.

1.       A restructure of the NRL coaching staff to better cater for the new direction of the high performance environment.

Unless that restructure involves the sacking of the undisputed worst coach in rugby league then the review is completely toothless and offers nothing that will fundamentally change the club. David Furner had to go but instead assistant Quinten Pongia was made a scapegoat while assistant Andrew McFadden is supposedly on the outer. No mention was made of Furner’s inability to delegate, his refusal to work constructively with his assistants, his obvious inability to grasp modern strategy or inspire his players and his refusal to change his methods to allow the Raiders to at least start the season on level footing. The possible hiring of Justin Morgan and/or Peter Sharp are hardly going to change this. Furner paid no heed to Ian Millward when he was in town and is unlikely to offer more to Morgan or Sharp. It is clear Waser and Hagan did not want to rock the boat and were more focused on tinkering at the edges and indulging the want for management-speak solutions than real answers. As such, Furner is set to become the second longest serving Raiders coach in history despite a win record that sits south of 40%. Firing a string of assistants is not going to do anything and it is embarrassing the club would publicly act as if it will.

2.       More resources toward Rehabilitation of players and Medical staff

This one became entirely clear when Josh Dugan battled leg and hamstring injuries all year and Terry Campese was rushed back way too early. Whoever was in charge of health and fitness decisions should be sacked. I doubt he will be but more resources in this area cannot hurt and this is the one recommendation that made sense, though it should be expanded to include fitness staff who clearly have not had the team ready to go in the early part of the season in a long time.

3.       Adding some depth and experience to the playing roster for 2012 and beyond

Obviously, Einstein wasn’t appointed to conduct the review. How the Raiders could not see this when something could actually be done about it in mid-2011 is beyond me but now they have reached the conclusion they have little room to move with most decent players signed for next year and beyond. The Raiders obviously need players: an experienced hooker (or two), an experienced half, impact forwards, centres who can tackle, wingers who can catch. But it is too late now with Shaun Berrigan likely to be the best of their signings where they will no doubt try and jam him into the hooking role.

4.       Moving to a full time Strength and Conditioning Coach for the NYC team

This is an obvious answer to a first grade team that managed only six wins all year. The NYC team won only eight matches but the strength and conditioning team for a reserves team is hardly the most pressing issue and certainly shouldn’t have been a key recommendation.

It is the same old bullshit rehashed at Canberra. And those that pay the price are the loyal Raiders fans who get nothing back from the club they give so much too. The Raiders had a premiership window and one that will close at the end of next season when Josh Dugan likely leaves and the trophy cabinet will be empty. A chance was lost this year and it is about to be next year. Raiders members need to overthrow this conservative, politically driven board if they ever want change. Without political revolution, nothing is going to change in the capital.

Refereeing on a Hartley-Like Level: On The Sunday Roast, Mark Geyer called it red-hot. To watch it play out was embarrassing. To see a team overcome it was incredibly rewarding.

The refereeing in Friday night’s semi-final between the Wests Tigers and New Zealand was a travesty and every one of the decisions went the way of the Tigers. It was as if Jared Maxwell and Kevin “Shayne” Hayne had been directed by the League to get them home. Not that such behaviour would ever occur, of course, but on first appearances it seemed like the duo had loaded up on the Tigers, such was the consistency of their calamity.

The penalty count finished 9-4 with the Warriors not getting their first penalty until well into the second half.

Nathan Boss, regular Willie M judge and author at The Footy Almanac put it best:

“Keith Galloway knocks the ball on. Referee conveniently unsighted. Robbie Farah trips over his feet. Penalty. Matt Utai does what Matt Utai does best and drops the ball. Penalty. Blake Ayshford does his Matt Utai impersonation and drops the ball. Penalty. Feleti Mateo brushes Tim Moltzen’s jersey. Penalty. Kevin Locke tackles a player around the legs. Penalty.”

It was terribly concerning to see such one-sided refereeing. There is the rub of the green and then there is being handed the game on a platter.

Yet the plucky Warriors, they hung in there and on improved showings from Kevin Locke and Shaun Johnson came away with the win in a controversial try that, though I believe it to be the right call, was sure would go against the Warriors.

Both Maxwell and Hayne should be sat down for the rest of the year after that display.

 It was enough to take one back to ’78 and Greg Hartley helping Manly go the distance.

Famous Finals Field Goals:Darren Lockyer’s field goal to down St George-Illawarra was one of the most memorable finals field goals ever kicked. With a fractured cheekbone and the game in extra-time, Lockyer hit a low shot that split the uprights. Here are the 12 most memorable finals field goals of the last 20 seasons.

1.      Darren Lockyer (2011): Kept the dream of a fairytale farewell alive by kicking the Broncos to victory in extra-time against his old coach with a fractured cheekbone. The shot was low but always accurate as the champion five-eighth wrote another chapter in his storied history.

2.      Daryl Halligan (1994): Put Canterbury into the 1994 Grand Final with the decisive field goal two minutes from the end of the 20-minute extra-time period of the major semi-final. The Raiders went into the extra period having scored with 40 seconds remaining but Halligan came through with the goods as he so often did for the Bulldogs. The Raiders would well and truly reverse the result in the Grand Final.

3.      Braith Anasta (2010): Kicked an extraordinary field goal from 40 metres out as the final siren sounded after a controversial scrum to send the Roosters-Tigers qualifying final into extra-time with the Roosters eventually winning on a Shaun Kenny-Dowall intercept, going on to play in the Grand Final.

4.      Matthew Johns (1995): The Sharks led 12-0 and 18-6 but against Newcastle, as they have so often, fell apart when the vinegar was applied in the heady days of September. The Sharks had blown a 20-8 lead against Manly the week before and felt the pressure when Adam Muir and Robbie Ross scored late to level the scores. Matthew Johns calmly slotted the winner.

5.      Jamie Soward (2010): The Dragons were red-hot favourites to down the Tigers in the 2010 preliminary final but in a hard-fought game the scores were locked 12-12 with six minutes to play when Jamie Soward slotted the match-winner from 33 metres out. It was the defining moment in the Dragons’ first premiership run in 31 years.

6.      Jason Taylor (1994): Jason Taylor ended the Broncos’ hopes for a hat-trick of premierships when a towering field goal sailed over with less than six minutes remaining to give the Bears a stunning 15-14 win despite being outplayed most of the match. The win stands as one of the greatest in the history of the Bears, who would lose to Canberra in the preliminary final a week later.

7.      Peter Coyne (1992): In his final season with the Dragons, Coyne’s field goal with 15 minutes remaining gave the Dragons a 3-2 win over Newcastle in the lowest scoring final of the last quarter-century. St George went on to lose to Brisbane in the Grand Final.

8.      Stacey Jones (2003) The Raiders captain and coach received death threats before the match but looked the winners early on when jumping to a 10-0 lead at the SFS but the Warriors scored the next three to make it 16-10. A Luke Davico try levelled the scores and the Raiders had the chance to win it but Jason Bulgarelli knocked on. Stacey Jones then kicked the winner with four minutes remaining. It was as close as Raiders coach Matthew Elliott ever got to a finals win.

9.      Craig Field (1997) In a thrilling ARL preliminary final between Manly and the Roosters, the two teams exchanged blows all match before Field slotted the winner with three minutes on the clock. Manly would suffer a crushing blow of their own a week later when Andrew Johns and Darren Albert combined to beat the Sea Eagles on the siren.

10.  Jarrod Mullen (2006) The Knights and Eagles played out another thriller nearly a decade later in the first week of the 2006 finals. Manly led 12-0 and 18-6 but the Knights rallied with bench half Jarrod Mullen putting the Knights up for the first time in the 75th minute, Newcastle going  on to win 25-18. They were eliminated a week later.

11.  Craig Gower (2004) The Panthers had the Dragons on toast, leading 30-12 before the Dragons staged a comeback to get the score to 30-24. Craig Gower knocked over a drop goal and it was the winning play with the defending premiers receiving a surprise week off where they would lose to Canterbury. The Dragons were eliminated.

12.  Willie Peters (2001) The little-known Dragons half put the seventh-placed Dragons up 23-16 against the second-placed Bulldogs in the opening week of the 2001 finals but was to prove critical with the Dogs coming back with a converted try, the Peters field goal proving decisive.

Finals Field Goals in the NRL Era:
2011: Qualifying Final: Benji Marshall (Tig) in 21-12 win over Dragons
2011: Semi Final: Darren Lockyer (Bri) in 13-12 win over Dragons
2010: Qualifying Final: Robbie Farah (Tig)  in 15-19 loss to Roosters
2010: Qualifying Final: Braith Anasta (Roo) in 19-15 win over Tigers
2010: Preliminary Final: Jamie Soward (Dra) in 13-12 win over Tigers
2009: Qualifying Final: Luke Burt (Par) in 25-12 win over Dragons
2009: Semi Final: Jarryd Hayne (Par) in 27-2 win over Titans
2009: Grand Final: Greg Inglis (Mel) in 23-16 win over Parramatta
2008: Qualifying Final: Greg Inglis (Mel) in 15-18 loss to Warriors
2008: Semi Final: Braith Anasta (Roo) in 13-30 loss to Warriors
2007: Semi Final: Brett Finch (Par) in 25-6 win over Bulldogs
2007: Semi Final: Matt Bowen (Cow) in 49-12 win over Warriors
2006: Qualifying Final: Jarrod Mullen (New) in 25-18 win over Manly
2006: Preliminary Final: Darren Lockyer (Bri) in 37-20 win over Bulldogs
2006: Grand Final: Darren Lockyer (Bri) in 15-8 win over Melbourne
2005: Preliminary Final: Johnathan Thurston (Cow) in 29-0 win over Parramatta
2004: Qualifying Final: Craig Gower (Pen) in 31-30 win over Dragons
2004: Qualifying Final: Matt Orford (Mel) in 31-14 win over Brisbane
2004: Semi Final: Brent Sherwin (Bul) in 43-18 win over Melbourne
2004: Preliminary Final: Brett Finch (Roo) in 19-16 win over Cowboys
2004: Grand Final: Brett Finch (Roo) in 13-16 loss to Bulldogs
2003: Semi Final: Stacey Jones (War) in 17-16 win over Raiders
2003: Semi Final: Braith Anasta (Bul) in 30-0 win over Melbourne
2003: Semi Final: Braith Anasta (Bul) in 30-0 win over Melbourne
2001: Qualifying Final: Willie Peters (Dra) in 23-22 win over Bulldogs
1998: Minor Prelim. Semi: Ricky Stuart (Rai) in 17-4 win over Manly
1998: Major Prelim. Semi: John Simon (Par) in 25-12 win over Norths
1998: Minor Semi: Corey Hughes (Bul) in 23-2 win over Norths
1998: Major Semi: Andrew Johns (New) in 15-26 loss to Roosters
1998: Major Semi: John Simon (Par) in 15-10 win over Brisbane
1998: Preliminary Final: Craig Polla-Mounter (Bul) in 32-20 win over Eels
1998: Preliminary Final: Craig Polla-Mounter (Bul) in 32-20 win over Eels

Fun Fact #1: There have been 32 finals field goals in the NRL era but only one was slotted in the four seasons between 1999 and 2002.

Fun Fact #2: Only twice in the NRL era has a team kicked two field goals in a game and both were from Canterbury with Craig Polla-Mounter doing it in 1998 and Braith Anasta in 2003.

Fun Fact #3:Braith Anasta has kicked the most finals field goals of the NRL era with four ahead of Darren Lockyer and Brett Finch, who have both slotted three.

Fun Fact #4: Canterbury have kicked the most finals field goal of the NRL era with six ahead of Parramatta on five and the Roosters on four.

Fun Fact #5: Of the 32 teams to kick a finals field goal in the NRL era, five have lost.

Three Things You Needed to See From the Weekend:

1.      The Feisty Streaker: One dude keen to get his kit off streaked at the Tigers-Warriors game and it took about eight security guards to pull him down after some nice footwork and some real heart in the struggle.

2.      Florence Pantsed: Jason Nightingale was down to his old school jocks for a couple of plays in Saturday’s loss when his flimsy shorts gave way. Nightingale is one of the few players to wear black boots. There has been little study done on the colour of the derps of NRL players.

3.      Mike Bailey Becomes Tigers Chairman: It was great to see former ABC weatherman win the Tigers chairmanship and Adrian Proszenko’s piece is most entertaining. Bailey is one interesting cat.

It’s Preliminary Final Weekend: And as I love too every year, here are the highlights of the famous 1998 preliminary final between Canterbury and Parramatta, one of the greatest games of rugby league. And as always, this is dedicated to all the Parramatta fans out there, to Paul Carige and in particular to all those Parramatta fans I know: Chris Parkinson and Damien Kelly. You can also watch the entire match on YouTube, a very worthwhile experience. 

Hodges Hit:Brisbane centre Justin Hodges has been condemned in some circles of the media for a shot he laid on Dragons winger Brett Morris with the worst coming from Morris’ father “Slippery” Steve, who called Hodges a “grub” and the hit a “low act”.

There is no doubt the shot was unsavoury. Morris lay prone on the ground while teammate Ben Creagh stood above him with his hand out as if to stop.

But can Hodges really be called a grub for the act? I don’t think so. In an era when players like Issac Luke make it okay to lay down, players simply have to play to the whistle. Hodges did just that. If grubs like Luke get away with their gutlessness, stuff like this happens. How did Hodges know Morris wasn’t feigning? Hodges wasn’t going to be fooled by any chicanery. He made the tackle and then moved on. This is the rugby league world we now live in where it can’t automatically be assumed that you play by manly ideals and when you are down, you are legitimately hurt.

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

Warren Ryan Medal (ABC Radio): Cooper Cronk
RLPA Player of the Year (RLPA): Akuila Uate
Rugby League Week Player of the Year (RLW): Corey Parker
Mal Meninga Medal (Canberra): Shaun Fensom
Paul Broughton Medal (Gold Coast): Luke Bailey
Newcastle Player of the Year (Newcastle): Kurt Gidley
New Zealand Player of the Year (New Zealand): Simon Mannering
Ken Thornett Player of the Year (Parramatta): Fuifui Moimoi
Penrith Player of the Year (Penrith): Luke Walsh
Jack Gibson Medal (Roosters): Jake Friend

Farewells: This week we say goodbye to Mark Gasnier, an enigma if ever there was one.

Mark Gasnier:There were high hopes for Mark Gasnier when he made his debut for St George-Illawarra in 2000 as the 18-year-old nephew of Immortal and club legend Reg. He was quick to make his mark with his outstanding footwork and combination of size and strength, scoring 28 tries in 50 games in his first three seasons, making his debut for Australia in 2001 with a try against Papua New Guinea. Injuries were a major drama early in his career but by 2004 he was the New South Wales centre but though brilliant, he was not viewed as a big match player. His immaturity also shone through though when he was dumped from the Blues for his infamous “fire up, bitch” drunken telephone call.

Class shone out though and from 2005 through to 2008 he was the Blues and Kangaroos’ centre. He won back-to-back Dally M Centre of the Year honours in 2005 and 2006, having arguably his best year when he won his second award, scoring 18 tries in 23 games. If 2006 was his best year, 2007 was his worst. He attempted an ill-fated move to five-eighth after coming back from a torn pectoral muscle in July and looked hopelessly out of place. By 2008, Gasnier was the sole captain of the Dragons and had a stellar season before defecting to French rugby union in a move that embittered many of the Dragons faithful.

He returned to league and the Dragons in 2010 and though struggling for form he played in the Grand Final victory. He hit the ground running in 2011 and was one of the better centres in the first half of the year but his form fell away dramatically during Origin and despite having three years left on his contract announced he was retiring at the tender age of 30.

Gasnier’s career is a hard one to assess. He was one of the most naturally gifted centres of his generation but he was injury prone and a non-winner for much of his career. He could score a wonderful try but he was a selfish player who never always had the team interests at heart. He turned his back on the game and is retiring early but at his peak seemed like a once-in-a-generation three-quarter. I’m sure history will remember him fondly but for mine Gasnier’s career was a very good one that should have been great, one hurt by greed, selfishness and immaturity when it needn’t have been that way.

Injury Update: The biggest concern this week is no doubt Darren Lockyer, who suffered a nasty fracture late in the Broncos’ win over St George-Illawarra.

Bryce Gibbs (Wests Tigers): Injured his ankle in his last game for the Tigers 15 minutes in and his absence was felt at the backend of the match where the likes of Matt Groat got way too much game time.

Darren Lockyer (Brisbane): Suffered a depressed fracture of the cheekbone when hit by Gerald Beale’s knee. He played out the game and kicked the winning field goal. The Broncos were coy about the seriousness but opted for surgery two hours after the match. Went under the knife Sunday morning and had three titanium plates inserted. Papers suggest he is 50/50 but the Broncos said they will leave the decision to the Broncos captain, who will almost certainly play.

Brett Morris (St George-Illawarra): Hurt his knee in an innocuous incident catching a dropout. Tried to play on for another 10 minutes but did more damage. Likely an MCL, which will rule him out of the Four Nations campaign.

Power Rankings:
1. Melbourne (20-5) LW:1, R:1-4
2. Brisbane (20-6) LW:2, R:2-14
3. Manly (19-6) LW:4, R:2-13
4. New Zealand (15-11) LW:6, R:4-14

Betting Market of the Week: What would it take to keep Darren Lockyer out of this week’s preliminary final:

A fractured cheekbone and major surgery: $151.00
A kidnapping by a group of Somali pirates: $101.00
An attempted quartering: $51.00
Chuck Norris: $26.00

Rumour Mill:Todd Carney is thought to be tossing up between Canterbury and Cronulla with the Bulldogs likely to be the option if Ricky Stuart is signed on as coach. Gold Coast and Penrith are also in the mix for what would be a dreadful signing. Adam Cuthbertson is thought to be on his way overseas after offers by both the Dragons and Knights were withdrawn. There is believed to be a move among NRL CEO’s led by Nick Politis, Ray Dib, Phil Gould and Roy Spagnolo(the CEO mafia) to oust David Gallop. It is unlikely to be successful. There is talk that Chris Sandow, coming off a good year, will bring more than a little baggage to Parramatta Stadium. Justin Morgan has been linked to a role in Canberra as the senior assistant with Peter Sharp also likely to find a spot at the Raiders in 2012. Shaun Berrigan is set to sign with Canberra once the Warriors’ season comes to an end.

What I Like About…Darren Lockyer: Lockyer personifies all that is great about rugby league and his ability to fight through the severe pain of a depressed fracture of the cheekbone to win an elimination final for the Broncos with an extra-time field goal shows just how much of a champion he is. The game will be the worse for his leaving. He is the last of his kind, a tough-as-nails winner and an icon of the game.

Moniker XIII of the Week: We have, allegedly, seen the last of Mark Gasnier after a stop-start and kind of odd career, capped off with a retirement at the age of 30. I would take evens he will be back in two years but be that as it may, he was a pretty handy footballer and we don’t need too many excuses to name a team here.

The Marks
1. Mark Hughes (161 games for Newcastle)
2. Mark Coyne (222 games for St George/St George-Illawarra)
3. Mark Harris (213 games for Eastern Suburbs/North Sydney)
4. Mark Gasnier (174 games for St George-Illawarra)
5. Mark McGaw (193 games for Cronulla/Penrith/South Sydney)
6. Mark Hughes (177 games for Canterbury)
7. Mark Murray (6 Tests, 17 Origins from Norths/Valleys in BRL)
13. Mark Graham (145 games for North Sydney)
12. Mark Carroll (185 games for Penrith/South Sydney/Manly)
11. Mark Geyer (181 games for Penrith/Balmain/Western Reds)
10. Mark Sargent (145 games for Canterbury/Newcastle)
9. Mark Bugden (117 games for Newtown/Canterbury/Parramatta)
8. Mark O’Meley (201 games for Norths/Northern Eagles/Canterbury/Roosters)

Analysis: Though the Marks lack any inclusions in the 100 Greatest Players list, they have a quality team that contains 10 internationals. The Marks have a fearsome and violent forward pack with Carroll, Geyer, Sargent, Budgen and O’Meley all renowned for their ability to “get wild” and find themselves sidelined through suspension. The three-quarter line is also strong with the skilful Gasnier teaming with the powerful Harris in the centres, forcing Coyne and McGaw both out to a wing each. If they lack anywhere, it is class in the key positions. Halves Murray and Hughes were both nice players but “Boozy” at fullback and Bugden at hooker are queries.

From Deep in the Bowels of Twitter: This week, we dedicate everything to Mark Taufua and his bitterness at Wayne Bennett.

“A few of da anti Wayne Bennett Boys r drinking at @JzEbByT [Zeb Taia’s] house while they have a #Rank meeting with Bennett. Worry about da Dragons u 9Ball”

“Just hanging with [Isaac] De Gois n [Antonio] Kaufusi just laughing about Wayne Bennett! Dis guy is coach of da Dragons but is havin a meeting wit all my boys”

“Sounds like I’m hating but he’s a 9ball and I wish he was a player so I could fold him like my washing bahahahahaba #EatDeez.”

And now, the glossary, thanks to Urban Dictionary, who helped me translate Taufua’s rants:

9Ball: Uninformed, often slow, person whose hobbies include talking about things they don't actually know about

Rank: something horrible, disgusting, sick

Dis: This

Da: The

N: And

R: Are

Hating: When one puts down the success or fortune of others due to jealousy

Deez: slang for "these", usually referring to nuts, as in deez nuts

Obscure Score of the Week: Redcliffe Dolphins-Wests Panthers, 38-18, preliminary final FOGS A-Grade Cup. Hayden Topliss scored a hat-trick and Alwyn Simpson scored 18 points as the Dolphins ran away to a Grand Final berth against Norths Devils next week.

Game of the Year Nominations, Finals Week Two: Brisbane-Dragons, 13-12. What a cracking weekend of finals football with two outstanding matches decided in the dying moments. The Broncos-Dragons match gets the edge, however, for being more representative of what finals football is all about plus a boost in the storyline factor. Heading into the match, something was coming to an end: either the career of Darren Lockyer or the Dragons coaching reign of Wayne Bennett. It was to be Bennett who would walk away the loser on the back of some Darren Lockyer heroism. The Broncos were all over the Dragons early on but went into half-time up only 8-0 despite having 56% of possession and making 59 fewer tackles. The Dragons were always going to fight back and they did. Adam Cuthbertson played the best game of football in his life, scoring the first try and setting up the last with a key strip. When the full-time hooter rang out, it was 12-12 but all eyes were on Darren Lockyer, who only minutes earlier was down, clutching his jaw after copping a stray knee from Gerald Beale. It would turn out to be a fracture but that didn’t stop Lockyer, who made it to his feet as quickly as possible, from kicking the winning field goal in extra-time, an ugly but successful line drive. It was one of the great finals wins.

Correspondence Corner: Jason, I’m not sure why Gallop was so thin-skinned or surprised. It is the Australian way to boo those in power and Gallop should have taken it with good grace and the realisation that league has a loyal fanbase in Melbourne.

Redman, I maintain that the retrospective stripping of premierships and minor premierships was excessive and unnecessary, if not a little pointless as the Storm are still generally recognised as the premiers in 2007 and 2009. In regards Marshall’s try, if it hit his foot on the way down I would agree but it hit his foot on the half volley meaning he knocked on first. It clearly wasn’t a shot at field goal.

Mike from Tari, I’d love to hear what you’ve got to say on Ross Strudwick. In regards the promotion of the game, the NRL has absolutely no vision. International rights should almost be given away. Internet rights should be utilised so that any fan of the game can watch any game live. League should be shown across Australia, live. Whoever is charged with marketing and growing the game at the NRL has done a criminally poor job.

Sax, it is pretty clear David Gallop is not happy with Storm fans. For what reason, I have no idea. It is petty and stupid.

Warriors Fan, thanks for the kind words. The top 50 list will be out the week after the Grand Final.

Moorooka Saint, whatever your thoughts of what happened with the Storm in previous years, there is no doubt that there achievements this season have been astonishing and great for rugby league.

Chris G, public figures are fair game and it was all said in jest. Bob Hawke still maintains an interest in the Raiders though is obviously an AFL man. I’m pleased Howard dumped AFL. If only he would dump bloody rugby.

Dan, Nine have never done anything in the interests of rugby league. They have looked after only themselves. Well, hopefully the chickens will come home to roost now. Or something like that.

George, I agree with you that the Storm shouldn’t have been stripped of past premierships but I think calling Gallop filth is perhaps a little over the top. Fans do deserve their outlet and he has sold out to the interests of Nine and News far too often though I can’t agree with Phil Gould calling for his head in Sunday’s Sun Herald.

Mitch, Roberts may not even get a start in first grade for Parramatta next year, such is his class.

Beard Watch: You play with fire, you get burnt and so it came to pass for the Wests Tigers. Their star player, Benji Marshall, thinking he was on his way to the Dally M Medal, shaved off his playoff beard. The Tigers were subsequently shocked by the Warriors. Don’t mess with the Beard Gods. Ever.

Watch It:I miss Kangaroo Tours, the idea of the Aussies playing not only Great Britain in a series but Cumbria and Wigan and Oldham and whoever else popped up. The first one I recall with any great clarity was 1990 and what a series it was with Mark McGaw’s brilliant individual try and Ricky Stuart’s magnificent break to put Mal over to secure the Ashes. None of those highlights matched Mark Geyer’s Simpson’s t-shirt though. Watch it here. As an added bonus, 1980s rugby league cheerleaders. The video, seen here, speaks for itself.


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