From The Couch: Rep Weekend

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on April 23, 2013

A Win for the Game, A Loss for the Bulldogs: It was with a great deal of sadness – yet a great deal of hope – that I received word that Todd Greenberg had tended his resignation as CEO of Canterbury to take up a role as the No.2 at the NRL.

Greenberg has been one of Canterbury’s greatest ever acquisitions. From when he signed on in 2008, he has taken the Bulldogs from a club with a muddied reputation and an ability to lurch from one self-made disaster to the next to a club that has been one of the best run in the premiership, who made last year’s decider, who has signed plenty of big-name talent and prised one of the all-time great coaches from a team that had just won the premiership. He has led from the front with his vision and his commitment to excellence. He has totally transformed the club. He will be so sorely missed that I am not sure the Bulldogs will be able to recover anytime soon.

But Canterbury’s loss is the game’s gain. CEO David Smith is clearly out of his league. He has no idea about the code. He is at least smart enough to realise he needed the right men around him. And Todd Greenberg is exactly the right man to run football. He is so highly regarded, he was offered the Cricket Australia CEO. And he is so smart, he made sure he wasn’t anywhere near that sinking ship.

And the appointment of highly regarded former NZRL boss Jim Doyle as chief operating officer is another boon for the game.

These are two men who can take the game forward. They can also stop the appalling gaffes, the overriding ineptness, the laziness, the narrowed vision and the small-time politicking that has hamstring the League for so long.

This is a great day for the game.

We Must Save City-Country: City-Country as a concept must be saved. This year’s match – and its surrounds – were farcical, thanks mainly to David Smith and his team having no understanding of its meaning, the economics of the country or the politics of rugby league. The game could have been an outstanding spectacle had the ARLC simply told the clubs players would be suspended for a game if selected and withdrew without permission from the City or Country medical staff while guaranteeing the existence of the game well into the future. Instead, the League kept silent and let a great institution slip into a near-fatal state. This match must be saved. Hopefully Todd Greenberg ensures its existence well into the future.

A Scandal of Epic Proportions: Without question, the most entertaining match of the rep weekend was the Tonga-Samoa match. Seeing these nations represented by mostly quality players in front of a passionate crowd was wonderful to see. It was also nice to collect on Tonga, a collect that came about only because Ben Roberts was playing for Samoa. It is a sound betting policy: play against the team Ben Roberts is on. He is 16-30 over the last four years and is the worst player in the NRL. He was totally outplayed by two Holden Cup players with no first grade experience.

The joy of the Tongan victory was, however, soured by the happenings of the wild crowd at the end who embarrassed the game and their respective countries by invading the field and forcing the international to be abandoned. It was disgraceful.

And boy, didn’t the punters cop it. The total points line was set at 40. Mahe Fonua’s try sent the score to 40 with an easy conversion to send the match over. That conversion was never taken and punters – like your devoted author – were left furious at the stupidity of the idiots in the crowd. A new way to lose is always just around the corner in the punting game …

Transfer Season: Clubs made the most of the representative bye weekend with the Dragons signing Gareth Widdop as a replacement for Jamie Soward, who has fled to the Panthers after the Dragons refused to table him an offer. Both the Panthers and Dragons have won big-time out of the deal.

First, the Dragons. They have clearly had enough of Soward. Soward has clearly had enough of them. He needed a new environment, a fresh start. And the Dragons needed a quality playmaker. They get just that in Widdop, one of the few traditional running five-eighths in the game. Widdop can run great lines and has a Brad Fittler-like step. He will need an organiser to team with and he will need to step up from being the star rather than player No.4 in a team of stars but he has that potential.

The Panthers, they won too in signing Soward. The Panthers’ halves situation is abysmal and has been for years. Soward has his issues – he lacks confidence, he hates running the ball, he is a defensive liability – but he is one of the best kickers in the game and a supremely talented player when his confidence is up.

Both the Saints and Panthers came out well on top last week.

Fun Fact #1: It has been 12 years since NSW was captained by a player not from Newcastle or Cronulla. Over that time, neither the Knights or the Sharks have played in a Grand Final.

Fun Fact #2: Julia Gillard, as Prime Minister, has attended one A-League Grand Final and zero NRL deciders.

Fun Fact #3: Nathan Merritt is the only player who has scored 140 premiership tries and not played state or international football.

The Willie M Medal: The Willie M Medal is on a bye this week and will return next Monday.

Rumour Mill: Penrith are the red-hot favourites to snare Cronulla five-eighth Todd Carney. Carney, who has been linked with the Dragons, has been offered a huge number to move to the Panthers and join Jamie Soward in the halves. Ben Barba has apparently sought a release in order to join the Broncos. He and Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg have denied the rumour. Centre Josh Morris has also reportedly requested a release in order to return to the Dragons, another rumour denied by Greenberg. Manly winger David Williams is apparently set to retire at season’s end as he continues to battle injury. The Dragons and the Warriors are two clubs linked to boom English fullback Sam Tomkins, who would be a sensation in the NRL.

What I Like About … Charlie ‘Charles’ Tonga: For starters, he is an ex-Bulldog. Secondly, a man named Tonga is coaching Tonga. Finally, with his boys up 14-4 in the second half, he desperately wanted his team to take the two … from 45 metres out, on an angle. Let’s hope we see plenty more of Charlie Tonga.

Betting Market of the Week: When Mitchell Pearce gets named for his 10th Origin in a number of weeks’ time, the outcome will be:

-$1.40: Little running, poor kicking, the inevitable public call to “stay loyal”.
-$9.00: A marginally competent performance resulting in defeat.
-$14.00: Real leadership, his experience coming to the fore.
-$1001: An inspired Pearce performance that leads to a Blues victory.

Combo XIII: This week we look at those players who have represented City or Country Origin the most times – in honour of one of the great events on the rugby league calendar.

1.Brett Hodgson (6 matches for City)
2. Tim Brasher (6 matches for City)
3. Andrew Ettingshausen (8 matches for City)
4. Laurie Daley (7 matches for Country)
5. Hazem El Masri (6 matches for City)
6. Brad Fittler (7 matches for City)
7. Des Hasler (6 matches for City)
13. Braith Anasta (7 matches for City)
12. Steve Menzies (8 matches for City)
11. Paul Sironen (8 matches for City)
10. Glenn Lazarus (2 matches for City, 5 matches for Country)
9. Robbie Farah (6 matches for City)
8. Paul Harragon (6 matches for Country)

The Coaching Crosshairs: Despite the Dragons winning three straight, it seems inevitable that the club is going to replace coach Steve Price. The latest reports have Manly assistant Brad Arthur – the architect of the Sea Eagles’ impenetrable defence this season – as the man being targeted. Arthur replaced Stephen Kearney as interim coach at Parramatta after a spell on Craig Bellamy’s Melbourne staff. He has all the makings of a first grade coach. Perhaps Price’s decision to install Ben Roberts as halfback and vice-captain for Samoa may have been the last straw. It was certainly the one reason your author backed Tonga with gay abandon on Saturday night.

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: Not surprisingly, Ben Pomeroy was overlooked for City selection. What is surprising is that Pomeroy has three City jumpers, one more than Nathan Merritt.

Correspondence Corner: Tony Monero, luckily Jamie is staying in the NRL and according to Buzz, all the talk – that was published almost exclusively in The Daily Telegraph as news – was nothing but a ruse to up his bargaining price with Penrith, something the club supposedly fell for. Another Buzz scoop!

Davey G, I love your team of players who never would have got a look in for NSW. You are spot on the money with Fensom and Tongue. City-Country is still important though, even if it is not an Origin trial.

Semi Pro, Wayne Bennett is one of the top three coaches the game has ever known. Newcastle have, at times, played some quality football. Against Penrith they were rubbish. There is no question that they are a top eight side – quite possibly a top four side.

Sharkie – you are right – it was disgraceful that the Bulldogs pulled Josh Reynolds out of City. And the NRL should put rules in place to prevent it. No other player feigned injury for international football though. I would put my last dollar that SBW won’t be playing in the World Cup at the end of the year. And I doubt Sonny lost a cent, knowing the way the Roosters do business, for saving his health.

Beard Watch: There were plenty of beards on show over the rep weekend but perhaps the most enjoyable was that of Kiwi winger Jason Nightingale, particularly during the Haka. While the Kiwi players had their war faces on – well most of them – Nightingale was chuckling and smiling.

Watch It: This week we go back to 1992, 21 long years ago, for a real highlight from the City-Country contest of that year. Watch it here.



Comments (3)

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  1. Keyboard Rambo says:

    City-Country needs to be taken out back and shot.

  2. SemiiPro says:

    Thanks Nick. You seem to be the only person in the city media (?) who wants to keep City v Country. I’m all for it. Expanded to city and country first and seconds with the country seconds made of real country boys, old fashioned style. And have a televised round robin during the early part of the season involving the Group champs to crown the best country team. Has to be done.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Can’t blame the people for not going to Coffs, once I saw the final teams, I would not have paid myself, a lot of the players had hardly played any NR experience , now I drove from Sydney to Canberra to watch the first City – Country game held in the country & that game had all the Top players, this is what people want to see, the best players.