From The Couch: January 16

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on January 16, 2013

Will He Stay or Will He Go? The most important move this year will be that of Craig Bellamy: will he stay with the Melbourne Storm or will he sign with St George Illawarra?

The Storm – and by extension, News Limited – must do all they can to ensure Bellamy stays. He is arguably the greatest coach of all time and is the single most important factor behind the Storm's success over the last decade. Whatever the Dragons offer, they must match. They need to pray on his loyalty, pray on his commitment to the Big Three, pray on his love of the club he built.

The Dragons have and will continue to throw the kitchen sink at Bellamy. He is a no lose proposition. If he signs a five-year deal, there will be at least one premiership and possibly two or three in that span. He will also fundamentally change the culture of the club.

Bellamy has nothing to prove and it would be best for rugby league if he stayed with the Storm. There is a thought that he may want to prove he can succeed at a different club but it is more impressive that he has kept the Storm dynasty rolling for seven years and longer. In an era of supreme parity, that is incredible.

The feeling is he is 50-50. My thoughts are that he will stay. Let's hope he does – he is commander of the best run organisation in Australian sport.

Bring Back the Captain-Coach: One positive to come out of Bellamy potentially leaving the Storm is the prospect that Cameron Smith could become the first captain-coach since Wally Lewis at the Gold Coast in the early 1990s. Hugh McGahan at the Roosters is the only other player to have done it since the 1970s. Smith is the smartest player in the game and one central to the Storm's culture. He could do it, just like Peyton Manning coaches the Denver Broncos' offense. But it would be a major surprise if the Storm made it official.

The Gus Purge: Phil Gould knows his rugby league, there is no question about that. And after a year-long quest to offload disruptive centre Michael Jennings, he did just that, releasing him and his near $700,000 a season contract to play for the Sydney Roosters. Gould has now seen class players Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon and Jennings leave the club.

In the end, it was a move Penrith had to make. The Panthers need to endure another season of pain to release them from the shackles of the burdensome contracts handed out by the last administration. It is the second time in a decade the club has been crippled by some terrible contracts.

It is unclear if Gould will try to force out any of the other players on big contracts – Tim Grant, Sam McKendry, Lachlan Coote.

Jennings' position at the Panthers was untenable. Not only was he on a ridiculous contract that would have placed him among the top half-dozen paid players in the game this year, he has severe attitude problems and his on-field contributions have been poor.

The Panthers will enter 2013 as the only club without a blue-chip player. But Gould won't care. This season is about survival, not success.

For the Roosters, the investment in Jennings could reap handsome rewards if a fresh start leads to a different attitude. But if he buys into the typical Roosters culture, it could be a disaster. I'm backing the latter. Jennings is a brilliant speedster with an outstanding swerve but he has plenty of off-field issues and nothing seems to get through to him.

We will see but I'd rather be on the Panthers to have more success over the next five years than the Roosters. Fewer dramas too.

All-Star Knockaround: Poor old Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, who was punted from the All-Stars team because of Jennings' defection to the Roosters. Tim Grant got the call-up. Another fault line in the Roosters camp perhaps …

Injury Notes: Canberra fans seem set to wait at least a month into the season before seeing Terry Campese in action. The Raiders pivot, who has played just eight games over the last two seasons, is struggling in his return from a knee injury and will be eased back. Having Sam Williams and Josh McCrone helps.

Manly also have worries with Glenn Stewart still feeling the impact of a nasty finger injury picked up in round one last year. Stewart had a down season in 2012 and with the Eagles losing so much depth this year, can't afford to see him sidelined.

Parramatta Miss Out Again: The hot rumour in rugby league circles in recent times was that Greg Bird was set to reunited with former Sharks mentor and Blues coach Ricky Stuart at Parramatta. Bird was rumoured to have fallen out with a number of Titans and was keen to join a cashed-up Parramatta in pursuit of big-name stars. The Eels, of course, missed out again with Bird penning a four-year deal with the Titans. While the Gold Coast have made some big mistakes when it came to contracts in recent times, this was a good signature to get. And the Eels, well, it looks like even Ricky Stuart can't attract the big names the club was hoping for.

Poor Call on Radio Rights: The NRL has made a short-sighted decision in handing commercial radio rights to both 2GB and Triple M exclusively. The two stations will each cover four games a weekend, while the ABC will also cover a number of games. While it is pleasing to see Triple M expand its coverage, it is disappointing the NRL nickel and dimed the game by not opening up coverage to any station who wanted to call games. 2UE and 2SM are both set to miss out on the rights. Open coverage works superb in the AFL – it allows fans to find their favourite callers, to have every game covered in depth and to boost the quality of coverage because of competition. The NRL needed to show more vision when it came to radio rights. The small amount of money made by exclusivity does not make up for the reduced coverage.  

Beau Knows Souths: South Sydney have done a superb job in luring Beau Champion back to the Bunnies. Champion has moved between indifferent and shocking form over the last two years since leaving Redfern but can rediscover his best back at Souths, where he was in superb nick. With rumours circulating that Matt King could be set to retire, effective immediately, because of complications with the broken arm he sustained last season, the acquirement of Champion is a top move. Souths have very few weak spots in their starting 13 now. 

The Rugby League Almanac: If you haven't got yourself a copy of The Rugby League Almanac, you should. It covers every game from last year from the perspective of fans. It is a sensational read and a must for any league fans. Edited by myself and John Harms, it is a wonderful book. To get your copy, click here.

2012 Willie M Preview: As we await the fourth year of the Willie M Medal, we examine the contenders from all 16 clubs and see who is in the mix for the coveted gong as the most consistently bad first grader in the NRL.

Brisbane: Peter Wallace is the obvious contender, but may struggle to keep his first grade position. Dale Copley is a bad player and could get some votes from the wing.

Canberra: Blake Ferguson is a past winner, Jarrod Croker is locked into first grade despite being a terrible defender, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs is one of the most overrated players in the game and Josh McCrone is capable of a stinker.

Canterbury: Krisnan Inu started his Canterbury career in fine form but we all know the depths his form can plummet to.

Cronulla: Unless Ben Pomeroy has received a dual hand transplant during the offseason, he will be heavily in the focus of Willie M voters in 2013.

Gold Coast: Steve Michaels, who could be a regular starter now Beau Champion has gone, always polls well. Whoever plays halfback should be in the mix. Dave Taylor is a bludger. Double that for Jamal Idris. Mark Minichiello ranks second behind only Ben Pomeroy for poor hands.

Manly: Steve Matai usually manages to attract the ire of Willie M voters while the front row contingent of Brent Kite and Jason King are on borrowed time. Jorge Taufua plays like he did against the Storm and he will be single figures. Anthony Watmough is a bolter if the Eagles fall hard.

Melbourne: The Storm don't go bad enough for anyone to be a legitimate shot. Jason Ryles is probably the man but no player will hit 10 votes from the Storm.

Newcastle: Timana Tahu is a washed-up former star who doesn't realise it, prime conditions for Willie M votes. Jarrod Mullen always polls well with his poor kicking game.

New Zealand: The Warriors tend to be hot and cold across the board with no real standout, though the smart money will be on Thomas Leuluai making a major impact on the Willie M leaderboard in his first season in the NRL since 2004.

North Queensland: The Cowboys are strong across the park with hooker their only real weakness. If Matt Bowen's form turns, he will be in the mix. Ashton Sims and Glenn Hall will feature.

Parramatta: A horrible team who will go close to running last again, Parramatta is a magnet for Willie M votes. Co-winners Chris Sandow and Ben Roberts will again feature heavily – particularly if Roberts is given the No.6 jersey – while Cheyse Blair nearly pinched the award in his debut season. Willie Tonga is terrible and Matt Keating can make a nuisance of himself. A smorgasbord of hopes.

Penrith: With so much depth, it is hard to see really poor players being given long enough to go a long way in voting. Luke Walsh isn't much chop and will be one contender while Brad Tighe has traditionally polled well and will score well if he can defy the odds and win a top grade spot.

St George Illawarra: Expected to struggle this year so should have some players right in the throes of voting. Jamie Soward is facing a pressure year and his form could go south. Mitch Rein runs hot and cold. Nathan Fien, the likely halfback, is the one though.

South Sydney: John Sutton had a strong year last year but will need another to avoid the ire of voters. Roy Asotasi has seen his form slide in recent years.

Sydney Roosters: The focus will again be on the halves with Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney both polling double figures in 2012. Pearce can't organise an attack while Maloney can't tackle. Expect Sonny Bill Williams to do a lot of stupid things. Michael Jennings will need an attitude change.

Wests Tigers: Tim Moltzen was a co-winner of the Willie M Medal last year in an horrific year. He looks set to play as a bench utility, which may save him this year. If he starts though, look out. Braith Anasta, Adam Blair and Blake Ayshford are typically featured.


Comments (1)

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  1. SemiiPro says:

    Reminds me of the most consistently bad 1st grader of all time. I grew up watching some very bad then very good teams at Seiffert oval. There was one player, most often called a ‘utility’ but who I referred to as ‘futility’ who amazed me every other week with his terrible play. Fortunately for him, stats weren’t much of a go then, but I estimate he dropped the ball every 3 touches and missed half the tackles he attempted. He must of been a Canberra 1st grade regular for 6 or 7 years. He was just a cosmic joke.

    If you had told me back then that that player, Craig Bellamy, would go on to be the best coach in the NRL, I would have put you to the turf and put you out of your misery as you would have obviously lost your grasp of reality.

    True story.