Welcome Back: Tee up the theme to Welcome Back, Kotter … Tedeschi is back. After a midseason European sojourn, highlighted by a trip to St Helens to watch the Good Friday clash with Wigan, I have been jonesing for the Great Game. So buckle down … we have an uninterrupted run to the line full of love, anger and the dismantling of the great Ricky Stuart lie.
We Didn’t Start The Fire: To fill me in on all that has happened while rolling on the other side of the world, I asked my twitter followers for a brief summary in the form of Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’. Here were the best.
“Oh Benji’s back, rep week’s whack, Ricky’s going to get the sack. Mitchell Pearce, homophobia fears, sharks fans in tears!” – @Vic_Arious
“Under 20s homophobe / NRL has launched a probe / Mitchell Pearce CCTV / he’ll still get a blue jersey” – @Shunter86
“Dogs on top, Ricky’s a flop, Benji’s back & copping flack – Konrad Hurrell got head, City Country dead.” – @MichaelDarren79
The Continued Self-Destruction of Mitchell Pearce: Everyone in NSW – including Mitchell Pearce – knows that Pearce is not the man to wear the Blues No.7 jersey. That has become abundantly clear over the last six seasons as Pearce has oscillated between terrible and mediocre on his way to a 3-9 Origin record. It would seem Pearce has finally accepted he is not up to the task of rep football and taken an approach of self-sabotage, apparently necessary because the only folks in the state of NSW that actually believe in Pearce are those charged with selecting the team. There is no question in my mind that Pearce’s drunken roll through the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney was his way of avoiding the public humiliation of having his inadequacies highlighted, his game scrutinised and his weaknesses exploted without losing his perverted sense of manhood that allows him to play the game. NSW don’t want Pearce to play. Pearce doesn’t want Pearce to play. Hopefully Laurie Daley agrees.
I Hope You Kept the Receipt: St George Illawarra forked out $1.1 million (approximately $400,000 a season) and a further 150-large to the Tigers for the rights to Rugby failure Benji Marshall. They should be looking for the receipt after an inept Dragons debut that saw him make four handling errors, run the ball just four times, put in a selfish and ridiculous kick from a 20 metre tap and show little commitment to helping the Dragons improve. Incredibly, a team who has scored just one try in each of their last two outings went backwards in attack, being the first team in five years to be held scoreless by the two-time defending wooden spooners. Benji went so well that the Eels fans chanted his name. The Dragons would have been much better sticking fat with Sam Williams, using the coin for a decent forward and dumping Steve Price for a coach who can actually use the tools at his disposal. Marshall is 31. He is who he is. He isn’t changing. The upside is some cross-field running with occasional moments of brilliance. The downside is a club torn apart and a financial albatross that could drown the Dragons for the next two years.
Vale, Reg Gasnier: It was with great sadness that Rugby League bid farewell to Immortal Reg Gasnier. The St George great is regarded by many as the finest player to ever strap on a boot. He is the third Immortal to pass away and the second in the last 18 months. I have only ever seen Gasnier on the grainy highlight reels but the limited vision of him certainly sits well with the legend, a smooth and graceful runner who elusive and strong and eminently selfless. Puff The Magic Dragon will always mean just one thing in these parts. Gasnier gave the game plenty and the game tips its cap to a brilliant, scintillating, sublime player.
Blues Selection Notes: Another May, another imminent Origin defeat looming, another period worrying that selectors will get it wrong. Let’s hope they follow the advice of your sage author.
HALFBACK: Mitchell Pearce cannot be chosen. I actually have faith he won’t be either. Selectors aren’t ready to pull the trigger on a long-term transition to Adam Reynolds, particularly after his disappointing effort against the Storm. With that in mind, Trent Hodkinson seems like the way they will go and I am supportive of the move as a transition before the Reynolds/Brooks era.
FIVE-EIGHTH: This one is a no-brainer. JOSH REYNOLDS! Reynolds is the form No.6 of the comp, leads the Dally M and is the right person to change the culture of the Blues. His competitiveness is akin to that shown by Wally Lewis. An absolute must.
FULLBACK: Jarryd Hayne is killing it … but he kills it anywhere. He should play in the centres with either Jennings or Morris with Josh Dugan at fullback. Dugan is the best returner in the game and NSW need quality field position. Dugan provides that.
WING: Daniel Tupou probably blew his chance with an absolute shocker against the Cowboys. The Blues simply cannot afford any vulnerability under the high ball, an Akuila Uate disaster mark II. That probably rules out Jorge Taufua as well. Michael Gordon may not play on the wing any more but has a heap of experience on it and should be the man picked.
BACKROW: With Greg Bird out and Boyd Cordner likely to join him, the Blues’ typical one area of competitive advantage is an absolute mess. Trent Merrin needs to be the first player picked. With four others to be spread out in the starting team and on the bench, the Blues need a mix of workrate, toughness and impact as well as edge and middle players. Anthony Watmough is in. Ryan Hoffman gets in by default. After that, it is tough going. Shaun Fensom deserves a shot but won’t. Josh Jackson and Dale Finucane should be in the mix too. Tony Williams and Tariq Sims would be monumental errors. Beau Scott … I love his toughness but he is not the man to throw back into Origin and change the tide. PROP: Gallen, Tamou and Woods are locks. Aiden Tolman is the fourth if they go an extra big man instead of a utility.
The Biggest Balls in Rugby League: Matt Parish is dating Ray Hadley’s wife, working for Ricky Stuart, suing the Parramatta Eels and feuding with Dean Pay … say what you want about the Blues assistant coach but he has bollocks the size of grape fruits.
Teflon Todd: Nothing sticks to Rugby League boss Todd Greenberg, that is for sure, surviving another NRL investigation and a concerted campaign by The Daily Telegraph to oust him. Greenberg is a good man to have at NRL HQ but he had want to hope no more skeletons make their way from his closet. Let’s hope he can get onto the business of making the greatest game of all greater.
Another Ricky Smoke Screen: Surprise, surprise, Ricky Stuart blows his top after another loss to deflect the fact he is a terrible coach who sends every team backwards. The Raiders deserve exactly what they have right now. They cannot say they weren’t warned. Stuart’s Raiders are playing pathetic. They got the rub of the green on Sunday and he still bitched and moaned. To call him a terrible coach would be an insult to the likes of Matt Elliott and Ivan Henjak.
Fun Fact #1: No starting player ran fewer times in the Eels-Dragons clash than one Benjamin Marshall, who carried the ball just four times.
Rumour Mill: The drums are beating for the Roosters halves pairing as NSW No.6 and No.7 with Laurie Daley likely to go with Canterbury pairing Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson for the opener. Israel Folau and Karnichael Hunt will both be playing in the NRL next year with Folau to play for either Parramatta or Canterbury and Hunt to lob with the Titans. Ben Hannant will play at Newcastle next year if Wayne Bennett remains at the club. Kevin Proctor will be at St George Illawarra in 2014, likely rejecting an offer to play under Ricky Stuart.
What I Love About … James Graham: My man crush on James Graham could not be much larger – he is without question my favourite player in the NRL – but his showing against the Warriors certainly added to his standing in my eyes. It was a monumental effort. If Matt Scott got a perfect 10 from RLW for his game against the Broncos, Graham has to be close to nabbing one this week. His try, his cover tackle, his workrate, his skill … he has a tremendous all-round game and he never gives anything less than everything. What a wonderful player to watch.
Betting Market of the Week: Laurie Daley and Bob Fulton will show courage and common sense when selecting the NSW Origin team:
Funniest Eels Moment of the Week: The sell-out crowd chanting ‘Benji, Benji’ as the star-turned-stinker did his best to get the Eels over the line.
1. Canterbury 8-2
2. North Queensland 5-5
3. Melbourne 6-4
5. South Sydney 5-5
6. Parramatta 6-4
7. Sydney Roosters 5-5
8. Penrith 6-4
9. Gold Coast 6-4
10. New Zealand 4-6
11. Wests Tigers 6-4
12. Brisbane 5-5
13. Newcastle 2-8
14. St George Illawarra 4-6
15. Cronulla 2-8
16. Canberra 3-7
The Coaching Crosshairs: St George Illawarra’s Steve Price is firmly in the gun after the Dragons’ third straight humiliation. With the bye this week, speculation is rife that the Dragons could axe Price this week. If he is ousted, Paul McGregor will take over for the remainder of the year with Tim Sheens the firm favourite to take over full-time from 2015.
Ricky Stuart Stat of the Week: Parramatta have kept opponents under 18 points five times in the opening 10 rounds, a feat they managed just six times under Ricky Stuart. Stuart’s Raiders conceded 50 points in back-to-back weeks for the first time since 2006.
Game of the Year Nomination, Round 10: Canterbury-New Zealand, 16-12. An absolute classic in the outpost of Hamilton, New Zealand. The Warriors were excellent but the Bulldogs were better in a desperate defensive battle. James Graham marked himself as the game’s best prop with a simply stunning game, pushing the Bulldogs to seven straight wins. A classic and potential game of the year winner.
Beard Watch: It was very exciting to see a number of Dragons sporting the exact same look: beard with near-shaved head and a heap of tatts. The Josh Dugan look was copied by Joel Thompson and Will Matthews. The Dragons should probably spend more time working on their attack but kudos for the look coordination.
Watch It: This week we look back at the exceptional career of the great Reg Gasnier, Immortal and giant of the game. Watch it here.
Tags: From The Couch