From The Couch: Rep Weekend

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on April 23, 2012

The Eighth Immortal: 2012 is a big year for no other reason than we are going to have our eighth Immortal named. There is no more prestigious club in rugby league. It is expected to be a race in four: Andrew Johns, Mal Meninga, Ron Coote and Norm Provan.

All have their claims. Johns is widely regarded as the greatest halfback to ever play the game, a player of unparalleled talent who fundamentally changed the position he played. Counting against him won't be his drug use or his off-field behaviour but how recently he finished. He is a deserved favourite.

Meninga's record at every level of the game is astonishing. He won three premierships in the Sydney premiership, captained two Kangaroo Tours and holds plenty of records at club, Origin and international level. Counting against him are the number of centres already included: Gasnier, Fulton and Langlands (though the latter two played plenty of five-eighth and fullback respectively). His dominance was, however, very rare.

Coote and Provan both have in their favour the sheer weight of premierships. Coote did it at two clubs. Provan won 10 straight. Against both though is their age: they have all been considered and passed over three times. Against Coote is that he was often kept out of his preferred lock position by Johnny Raper while against Provan is the fact voters will be loath to put another Dragon in.

While the contest is realistically only between those four, it would be great if Rugby League Week released a short-list to pay recognition and homage to other deserving greats. Those who should be included are Keith Holman, Ken Irvine, Allan Langer, Peter Sterling, Steve Rogers, Steve Mortimer and Mick Cronin.

If I had a vote, I would likely give it to Andrew Johns though I would seriously consider Holman. For that older brigade, this is probably their last chance and I don't think 'Yappy' has been properly recognised by history as probably the greatest pre-Joey halfback. He won an array of individual awards and always shone in the rep arena. It would be great if the Western Suburbs champion was recognised.

The Importance of Rep Footy: Newsflash: NRL clubs do not run or own or have total control of policy direction for rugby league. The game is bigger than the NRL and its clubs. Representative fixtures are important. International rugby league is critical to the game's growth and rugby league should never forget about the bush. And if I read one more cheap, club-driven, populist rant from some blinkered moron who has never understood the essence of rugby league like Rebecca Wilson or Phil Rothfield then there will be blood in the streets and violence in the heart.

The Anzac Test and the City-Country game are both essential elements of the rugby league calendar and they are both essential parts of the rugby league way of life. International rugby league should not just be confined to an end-of-season tournament. I am not naive enough to think we can have proper Kangaroo Tours but it is a travesty that we can no longer fit an Ashes Tour in. We can no longer take on the Kiwis in a proper three-Test series but we should still honour the rivalry with an annual Anzac Day Test. The ratings showed how much desire there is for rugby league, to say nothing of the benefits the game got in New Zealand when it received more column space than rugby union.

City-Country is important for so many reasons and those who trot out the tired argument that it isn't a proper Origin trial totally miss the point. The game is incredibly important to players like Bryce Gibbs and Liam Fulton, players who will never play a higher level because they aren't good enough. It is incredibly important for the likes of Tariq Sims, young fellas who can prove they have what it takes. It is important to players like Steve Turner, to get due recognition of good form. It is, most importantly though, important to rugby league in the country. When I was a small kid, I was staying at a hotel in Tamworth that happened to be the same hotel as the Manly side were staying before a pre-season clash. I asked Cliff Lyons for an autograph and he took me around to every room and got me every player's signature. I already liked league. That made me a devotee. Being able to engage with big-time players is important and country folk need that chance. That's why City-Country is important.

Let's respect these games. Let's given them their proper due. And let's stop this total and utter garbage about scrapping them.

Channel Nine Can Burn in Hell: It is time for a little bit of a history lesson. In 15th century France, a nobleman called Gilles De Rais was embroiled in one of the more heinous acts you will ever read about. De Rais, a French military hero who served next to Joan of Arc in the 100 Years War, went somewhat off the rails when the fighting stopped. A paedophile with an appetite for violence, De Rais kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed a great number of children. He was the personification of evil. Well, if he sits on the lowest rung of humanity in history, then in a rugby league context Channel Nine is close to his equal. Nine has kidnapped, raped, tortured and done its best to kill rugby league in this coutnry. To not show the Test or City-Country live was a total, unadulterated disgrace and the fact David Gallop came out and accepted the decision without applying any pressure to the network was worse. I've said it before and I'll say it again: rep football is important. People want to watch the game. They want to watch sport live. People don't accept delayed coverage anymore. Nine is not only a hick, backwards network that lacks vision, it is a vindictive station who uses rugby league for its own base pleasures and then guts it and leaves it bloody in the corner. If this Commission gives the game to Nine, there is a fair chance there will be a riot or at the very least a very ugly scene in Willoughby sometime soon.

The Weekend Off: One element we should be adding to this weekend off is the start of an annual knockout cup. Like the Challenge Cup, it would be a knockout affair with the games to be held on this weekend and the three weekends before Origin. We still get club footy but the integrity of the premiership is not hampered. While clubs like Melbourne and Brisbane would likely rest their best players, clubs like Parramatta and the Gold Coast would go all out, particularly if the prizemoney was ample enough. It would be nice if the powers-that-be actually showed a little vision and provided competitive rugby league games while ensuring the integrity of the premiership.

When Professionalism Goes Too Far: There is no question that rugby league is better off for full professionalism. The game has better athletes and more amazing plays are witnessed now than when most players had jobs. But one of the sad ramifications of professionalism has been that money has eaten away even at national pride. It was embarrassing watching James Tamou run out for Australia. He didn't know the anthem. He is a Maori. It was more embarrassing listening to him justify it, saying it was about "his career" and when asked about Origin saying "this is what I went through all this for", like playing for Australia was a chore or at the very least, something to be endured for Origin football. James Tamou is a quality footballer. Sadly, he is a man without principle or pride. The real sadness though: he is far from alone. Representative eligibility rules need to be tightened with and the option taken out of the players hands.

A Mighty Disappointment: I must say, the most surprising thing about Willie Mason's comeback is the number of good pundits who fancy he will go well. Matthew Johns, Wayne Bennett, Paul Kent … the list goes on. Well, they are all going to finish the year with egg on their faces as his signing was as dumb as talk of moving Jarryd Hayne to No.6 for NSW. I had Newcastle as a top-four team at the beginning of the season. Even heading into last week I fancied they were on track. Now, I think they must be going worse than appearances suggest and I have seen the path of destruction he has left at every club. I'll be waiting for Mason to start causing trouble and losing games soon. His record in his last 39 NRL matches: 8-31. He was washed-up three years ago. There is no upside to his signing.

Poor DCE: While I am very fond of Daly Cherry-Evans, his selection ahead of a more versatile player seemed odd and it proved so when Tim Sheens kept him on the bench. He'll get chances in the future but it was very weird. Aaron Raper, no doubt, sends his regards.

Farewell, Micheal Luck: This week Micheal Luck announced that he would retire at season's end. There have been few harder tacklers and few better bleeders. His loss will hurt the Warriors no end.

Campese Done, Raiders Gone: Terry Campese has suffered his third season-ending injury in three years and won't be seen again until 2013. It is tremendously sad for the very talented No.6. Hopefully he comes back bigger and stronger than ever. For the Raiders though, they will struggle to win four more games this year. Josh Dugan will come back from a shoulder injury but needs surgery but it won't be enough.

A Fine Spectacle: Let's hope the Toyota Cup State of Origin continues as the first version of it on Saturday night was truly excellent spectacle that had a real Origin feel about it. It was fiery all night, every player showed pride in his jersey and defence was the main focus of the contest. Those with first grade experience like Boyd Cordner and Alex McKinnon led the way while there was some outstanding young talent that will soon find their way to the NRL; Lachlan Maranta was the best Queenslander out there while Edrick Lee, Kane Evans and Ben Hampton will all be stars. Age group footy is very popular south of the Barassi Line. League is starting to make it more accessible now and should be applauded for same.

Recruitment in the NRL Era – Canberra: The recruitment picture for the Raiders has not been pretty over the last 15 years. They have struggled to recruit established stars in their prime and they have lost a host of players who went on to become outstanding at other clubs. Poor old Canberra.

Best Year: There haven't been many great years but their best might have been 2006 when they signed Dane Tilse, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs and Trevor Thurling, who have played 133, 85 and 98 games for the club respectively and have all contributed. Losses that year were Michael Robertson (who went on to a stellar career at Manly), Ben Cross and Ryan O'Hara, the latter two who weren't big losses though Cross would become an Origin rep.

Worst Year: There have been some bad years for the Raiders including 1999 (losing clubs legends Ricky Stuart and Brad Clyde as well as up and comer Luke Priddis), 2000 (losing Ben Kennedy), 2009 (losing Mick Weyman, Colin Best, Neville Costigan and Ryan Hinchcliffe) but the worst would have to be 2011. Hopes were high after a finals win in 2010 but the signing of Matt Orford was a disaster while Brett White was paid big overs for little contribution and Blake Ferguson was so error-prone he would win that year's Willie M Medal.

Best Buy: It is probably touch and go between Clinton Schifcofske and David Shillington with the fullback just getting the nod. Schifcofske was a bit of a journeyman when he arrived in 2001 after stints with South Queensland and Parramatta but developed into one of the most reliable custodians in the game in a six-year career at the Raiders that reaped 1052 points.

Worst Buy: Matt Orford. Recruited as the last piece of the puzzle in 2011, managed only six games, all of which were horrific, before being ruled out of the rest of the season with “injury” and being quietly released.

Worst Loss: Without question, Ben Kennedy. Kennedy debuted with the Raiders in ’96 and developed into an Origin player by ’99 but was at Newcastle by 2000 and went on to become members of all-time teams at both the Knights and Manly, while playing 13 Origins and 16 Tests. He also won a premiership with Newcastle. The Raiders lost him just as he was hitting his peak.

Origin/International Players Recruited:
Already: (7) Tyran Smith, Matt Adamson, Jason Smith, Andrew Lomu, Bronson Harrison, Brett White, Shaun Berrigan
Became: (6) Clinton Schifcofske, Adam Mogg, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Neville Costigan, Joel Monaghan, David Shillington

Origin/International Players Lost:
Already:(10) Quentin Pongia, Brad Clyde, Ricky Stuart, Luke Priddis, Ben Kennedy, Ruben Wiki, Ryan O’Hara, Andrew Lomu, Jason Smith, Neville Costigan
Became: (6) Sione Faumuina, Brett Finch, Jamaal Lolesi, Ben Cross, Michael Weyman, Joel Monaghan

Fun Fact #1: A decade ago in May 2002, Warrington halfback Lee Briers kicked five field goals in a 16-11 loss to Halifax. Briers kicked field goals to go up 5-0, 6-0, 7-0, 10-4 and 11-4. Oh, to have been at The Shay that day.

Rumour Mill: The big rumour this week is whether Kieran Foran defects to Canterbury. It seems a certainty at this stage. Foran seems to be holding off until after the grudge match this Friday but it would seem he will be wearing the No.6 at Belmore next year. Expect the Eagles to kick up a stink but his contract will be registered. He will be joined by Tony Williams. There is speculation that Jamie Soward is set to sign with Wigan in what will be a tremendously sad day for the NRL. You can't blame him, though, considering the way he has been treated by Ricky Stuart and his very selective "pick and stick" policy.  

What I Like About … Stephen Kearney: There hasn't been a lot to like about Kearney lately. He coaches a team that can't win and worse, he doesn't appear to have any plan to get the club out of the mire. His Kiwi side has probably gone backwards since he has taken the Parramatta job. But I did enjoy seeing him whip halfback Chris Sandow publicly, dragging him and then criticising him in the media, before this week dropping him to the NSW Cup when Sandow wanted to return home. It was the first time since he played that Kearney has shown some balls. 

Betting Market of the Week: The chances that Bill Harrigan will eliminate the wrestle from rugby league and will stick with any crackdown for longer than two weeks:

No market offered – favourite too short.

Moniker XIII of the Week: To pay homage to the wonderful Test debut of Shaun Johnson, we find the best team of Shauns and Seans to ever play premiership rugby league.

The Shauns/Seans
1. Shaun Devine (66 matches for Western Suburbs/Western Reds)
2. Sean Hoppe (152 games for Canberra/North Sydney/Auckland)
3. Shaun Berrigan (212 games for Brisbane/New Zealand/Canberra)
4. Sean Rudder (132 games for Newcastle/Roosters)
5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall (109 games for Roosters)
6. Shaun Edwards (12 games for Balmain)
7. Shaun Johnson (22 games for New Zealand)
13. Shaun Timmins (210 games for Illawarra/St George Illawarra)
12. Shaun Fensom (45 games for Canberra)
11. Sean Ryan (128 games for Cronulla)
10. Sean McVean (36 games for St George/Balmain)
9. Sean Garlick (160 games for South Sydney/Eastern Suburbs)
8. Sean Rutgerson (68 games for Canberra/North Sydney)

Analysis: There is plenty to like about the all-time Shauns/Seans with five internationals in the backline and an international forward in Timmins, who is probably their most decorated player. Hoppe was a great finisher, as is Kenny-Dowall, while Berrigan is just quality. Johnson and Edwards are a great halves pairing while Fensom is going to be a gun. The pack will get soundly beaten but gee this team would be good to watch with the ball in hand.

The Coaching Crosshairs: The season-ending injury to Terry Campese has finished David Furner's career. Surely even his family won't tolerate another 6-9 win season. Word is Ricky Stuart is already a done deal and with few wins left in the team, Furner is unlikely to pressure a change of decision. Hopefully common sense takes hold though and the Raiders find someone – anyone – else. There was a report in one of the Sunday papers that the Eels were looking at a new sponsor. With Glenn Duncan, Pirtek boss, being the angel protecting Stephen Kearney, the Parramatta boss could soon find himself gone if a new sponsor comes on board.

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: Ben Pomeroy spent the entire week watching a replay of his dummy try on Jarryd Hayne and attempting to masturbate with those big flippers.

Correspondence Corner: Jack Muir, Gary Tupou did play for the Kiwis but he wasn't recruited from another club after playing first grade there and then went to the English Super League. I explained the criteria in the intro last week.

Davey G, I think the difference between kicking for touch and booting it dead is that kicking for touch gives the fullback/wingers and opportunity to play at the ball, even if only in theory. The long kick dead just gives the attacking team too much of an advantage against good fullbacks. Corey Payne and B.J Leilua shouldn't be in first grade, let alone rep footy. How Aiden Tolman, Kade Snowden and Chris Houston all missed out is beyond me.

Queenslandah, you make an interesting point re: long kicks. Perhaps the rule should only apply within the attacking half.

Renegade, the fate of Terry Campese is very sad. Just horrible to hear he will be out for the year. On Aiden Tolman, I had a man-crush on him before he arrived at the Bulldogs and to my eye he is exactly the same type as Ben Hannant and is deserving of better rep honours. Jamie Soward is going better than most halves. He rarely makes a mistake. Yes, he needs to run the ball more but he is restricted by the stifling way the Dragons attack. Soward should be there.

Ferret, we clearly disagree on Dave Taylor. I've never disputed he isn't capable of the brilliant or pulling a win out for his team. My issue is with his consistency. And he has as much of that as he does bottle. And I do think the standard of league is down a touch this year, primarily because of an influx of new coaches, for mine, who tend to start out extremely conservatively. That, with all this wrestling and negative kicking nonsense, has really made the game a more disappointing specatacle and the competition a lot more split this year.

Snapperhead, that is disgraceful language from Watmough and more than a little hypocritical. It is a shame your young kids have to endure that. Swearing happens at footy – we all accept that. But that kind of aggression is not acceptable.

Doubter, perhaps Ricky Stuart should name Brad Fittler at five-eighth for NSW. He has never won many games without Fittler leading the way. And you are spot on about Penrith getting games because of Gus.

Dragons68, it is true that the Dragons were given the 2009 minor premiership. Hardly won though. Canterbury won more games and got stitched up by the NRL. Perhaps subconsciously I was rebelling against the ruling.

Arthur, I don't know that moving the tap out to the 30 metre line will stop the tactic.

AJL, yes, I was surprised at the rumour the Raiders would move Furner on for Stuart but the drums are beating on it. You are being very harsh on Trent Merrin. He has been in outstanding form this year and is well on the improve.

Scott, surpassing 'Sticks' is a huge achievement from Ben Hornby, one of the true good guys of the game. Well done to him. Brett Morris was extremely unlucky to miss out to Darius Boyd, who has done nothing at all this year.

Mav63, Ashton Sims and Clinton were the final two but I figure you didn't pay much for Sims while Clinton was on big coin. Will the Blues pick the right team to roll the Maroons? The odds are long.

Col Quinn, thanks for the great notes on the '72 World Cup. We will see about Dave Taylor.

Beard Watch: Steve Menzies just continues to create history. Not only is Menzies the only player to have starred alongside Darren Lockyer and Dally Messenger, he has now reinvented himself at Catalans with a wonderful little moustache. Yoplait petit miam. It's French for Beaver.

Watch It: I cannot stand these short-sighted morons who every year dredge up the same old garbage about scrapping the mid-season Test. It is a wonderful concept. Rugby league was built on the international game and over the last decade the international game has come along in leaps and bounds. We should be doing more to promote it, not knock it as clueless jokers like Rebecca Wilson do. So to jam it up all these clowns, here is a Test between Australia and New Zealand from 1982. Watch it here.



Comments (6)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Nick, the Toyota Cup SOO was possibly the worst game of League I have seen. This game was far from a fine spectacle, it was just plain embarrassing. The mistake rate from both teams was inexcusable. If those boys are the best we have coming through the junior ranks then RL is in for a lean period. Maybe you let the closeness of the shoreline and a few interesting scuffles cloud your judgement.


  2. Tim Napper says:

    You are not a Stuart fan: this is well known. But surely he'll do a better job than Furner?

    • Sportznut says:

      Up here in Qld, City/Country is basically known as the Who Cares? Cup. It's a complete waste of time and it doesn't have any interest at all for us. I can't remember the last one I watched.

      I wholeheartedly agree with Nick on one thing. I've thought for ages that State of Origin should always be on stand alone weekends, BUT that they should introduce a knockout "Challenge Cup" tournament to play on those weekends as well.

      And surely it's no coincidence at all that they just happen to be voting on a new "Immortal" in the very first year that Andrew Johns becomes eligible.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Would have liked to hear your thoughts on Todd Carney at #6 for NSW? I worry about his ability to close games strongly, he can and presumably will turn to water when the game is there to be won just like he did when he was in career form in the 2010 GF… Three things happened with ten to go- he put up an absolute bludger of a bomb that didn't even make it to their 20m line, he put in a grubber on the third tackle that was never on and he went missing when Beau Scott ended up with the ball on the fifth with three minutes to go (equal blame to Mullen the Myth there). Todd was solid whenever he straightened in attack though, he can't just run sideways and turn a forward in against QLD he needs to work on reading numbers and picking the options. Buhrer gifted him that linebreak… Surely Soward hasn't played himself out of contention just yet?

  4. Gilbert Gantry says:

    I've always enjoyed City Country, and in the past have been resolute in my belief in its' continuation, but after this weekend's game I'm not sure I can see the point anymore. I agree that it is important for bush footy and think it's great it gives blokes a class below Origin some recognition for their service, but in its current incarnation what purpose does it really serve?

    Selections and positions are dictated  by Stuart, who not only ordered Hayne to play 5/8, but had Morris and Lawrence switching sides to see if they could handle the positional change if selected for Origin. From what I've read he even has an input into the playing styles employed by the teams. With such meddling, can it possibly still be a real contest? And if it's not a real contest how can it be considered a genuine Origin trial?

    A case in point is Mitch Pearce, who has been tried and failed at Origin level and has been ordinary this season. After a starring performance agaonst a listless, insipid Country outfit in the first half, he now seems to have all but retained his Origin gig, at the expense of someone like Peter Wallace who is in career best form (and I know he's had a go at Origin too, but he's a much better player now). Leaving aside the (quite valid) argument that Queenslanders are having a good laugh watching our blokes bash each other up before taking on the Maroons every year, how stoked would they be to see Pearce all but cement his spot for Game One?

    And with a month to go before that first game, what has it really decided? I'm not saying it necessarily should be scrapped, but something needs to change. As it  currently stands it can't continue. 

  5. Stu Warren says:

    Take it problem with Ashes tours is scheduling? Thoughts on a higher profile for Toyota Cup-age rep tours? Sounds like the Origin concept is a winner…

    Also – the image I conjured up of a young Tedeschi under the wing of Cliffy and being escorted from room to room in a Tamworth pub is a beautfiul thing. Truly beautiful.