Ed Is Dead: The inevitable has occurred. Steve Price has been sacked as coach of St George Illawarra, midway through his third season. He leaves with a 22-36 record and not a single finals appearance on his resume. He will almost never be seen again as an NRL head coach.
He endured a horror time at St George Illawarra, much of it his own making. Price had the unenviable task of following Wayne Bennett, inheriting a team that had won a premiership two seasons prior but was clearly on the decline.
The surprise isn’t that Price was fired or even that he was fired this week – it was forecast in this column last week that the Dragons would attempt to whitewash the move under the spectre of Origin I. The surprise is that he has survived this long.
Price had plenty of failings. He was soft on senior players. He failed to give the team an identity. He panicked. He struggled with recruitment. His team has gone to water defensively. There has been no advancement in the team’s attack. Perhaps most importantly though, he has not had the confidence to surround himself with smart, senior assistants, a result of his insecurity.
The question now becomes who succeeds Price long-term.
Paul McGregor has been named as the interim head coach. He doesn’t have the cattle – and doesn’t seem to have either the long-term ambition or the boom – to be appointed in a full-term capacity.
There have been plenty of names touted.
The holy grail is Wayne Bennett. The Dragons would do anything to have him back. He is long odds though, despite having an affinity with the club. It will be the Broncos or retirement for Wayne unless the Dragons find something out of nowhere.
Other experienced coaches have been touted. Some that will please the Dragons. Neil Henry and Nathan Brown. Others that will terrify them: Matt Elliott and Brian Smith. Tim Sheens would make an interesting choice considering his falling out with Benji Marshall.
Other names touted include Blues coach Laurie Daley, Penrith NYC coach Trent Barrett, Canterbury assistant Jim Dymock, Roosters assistant Jason Taylor and Newcastle assistant Rick Stone.
They will almost certainly move to a senior coach with NRL experience. Though the trend is to find the hot assistant, the Dragons will take a conservative approach and go with experience. They almost have to with their fragile roster. They could afford – and probably should – take an older assistant like Rick Stone, the best man available. They won’t though. They need to make a splash.
While Neil Henry remains the favourite, Brian Smith is very much in the running. He has been there before and no coach is better at building a club from scratch. Let the fun begin!
Wave of Mutilation: It has been eight long and torturous years for the Blues, a wave of mutilation that just grows by the year, and unfortunately for those south of the Tweed, it looks set to continue. With two home games, a significant edge in both experience and class and the raft of outs for the Blues, it is hard to see NSW turning the table.
I applaud Laurie Daley for his team selection. There are few complaints from my end. It was a ballsy move bringing in the Canterbury halves and I hope they work out. At least he has given us a chance. His attempts to change team culture must also be applauded.
The long and the short of it is though that home ground is huge in Origin and NSW have not won a live game at Suncorp in nearly a decade. That is unlikely to change on Wednesday. The cattle simply isn’t there.
The Blues have the fire to keep it close. Opening matches are rarely blow-outs. I’ll be on the plus. But anyone who tips against the Maroons is either a fool or a degenerate or possibly both. Don’t mind the claims of being too old, too slow, over the top. Queensland will get it done. They always do.
QUEENSLAND 16, NEW SOUTH WALES 12
Broken Face: Diving cannot be condoned in Rugby League. So as much as I enjoy Michael Ennis’ gamesmanship, it was pretty embarrassing to see him lie down and feign injury to win a penalty. Sam Moa had every right to yell at him. The NRL needs to start cracking down on this.
Debaser: Making sense of the officiating in the NRL is like trying to find rhyme or logic or sense in a surrealist film by Luis Bunuel. The refereeing on Friday was a total and utter debacle. The idiots in the box pressing the wrong button got most attention but the decision to disallow Moses Mbye’s opening try was laughable. Consistency is all fans ask and again we get nothing but confusion and stupidity.
Gigantic: That is about the only term that fits the description of Nathan Tinkler. It is about the most accurate to describe the clusterfuck that was his brief and colourful ownership, one so calamitous that only the infamous Jeff Mueller surpasses him in Rugby League history. It is also the level of relief in the Hunter now he is out. The Knights will feel more pain before gain and they have to endure another rebuild but the insecurity and the madness is near an end. The town gets its team back. And those of us who backed Tinkler – myself well and truly included – must eat our words.
Where Is My Mind: It is possibly the most remarkable thing you will read or see or hear all year – John Morris, the John Morris, has racked up 300 first grade games. Morris becomes just the 19th player to reach the feat, coming along way since debuting in a 40-0 loss for Newcastle in 2001 and seeing his career pass through four different clubs and four different starting positions. Morris becomes the first player to achieve the feat having not played state or international footy – he has never been in serious contention – while he has played in more losses than any player with the exception of Scott Prince, whom he sits just eight losses behind. Morris has played in just eight finals and has never won a match beyond the qualifying final stage. It is incredible he has made it this far and while Morris has never been one of my players, I am chuffed to see a warhorse of his stature survive so long at the elite level.
Scrum Push Alert: The Warriors went the big push against the Titans and it paid off in spades with the Titans knocking on from the scrum.
Fun Fact #1: Ben Matulino has scored the first try in three straight games. Prior to the streak he had just nine top grade tries in 139 games.
Fun Fact #2: An all-up of Ben Matulino scoring the first try over the last three games would have resulted in a return of $132,651 for just $1 invested.
Rumour Mill: Canberra are set to open the wallet for the first time in years. They have their eyes on Michael Ennis, Kevin Proctor, James Tedesco and Josh Mansour. Ennis will almost certainly join on the ridiculous $500,000 per season while Tedesco will do well to knock back the huge offer on the table for him. Instability at the Dragons has Proctor seriously considering the Raiders. Mansour is more likely to end up back at Souths or at Cronulla than at the Raiders. Joel Thompson will also return to the Raiders next season. Tom Learoyd-Lahrs will leave the Raiders for the Dragons or the Storm, potentially this year. Cowboys winger Curtis Rona will be at Canterbury in 2015 with the deal already done. Adam Cuthbertson is heading to the English Super League.
What I Love About … Paul Carter: Former Penrith half Steve Carter was a grub, in the Michael Ennis sense, an annoying SOB who you loved to watch because he gave his all and then a bit of lip on top. His son Paul seems a bit the same, a mongrel not concerned about things getting ugly. He scraps, he fights, he niggles … and he can play. Young Carter is the player the Titans need to build around.
Betting Market of the Week: Daly Cherry-Evans’ over-under first half minutes for Queensland in Origin I:
$1.95: Over 31 seconds
$1.95: Under 30 seconds
Funniest Eels Moment of the Week: The groundswell of support for the absurd notion that Ricky Stuart had anything at all to do with the Eels’ resurgence. His only contribution was leaving the club. He contributed virtually nothing to Parramatta’s turnaround. It was Brad Arthur and he alone.
1. Canterbury 8-3 (1)
2. Melbourne 6-4 (3)
3. Manly 7-3 (4)
4. North Queensland 5-6 (2)
5. South Sydney 6-5 (5)
6. Parramatta 6-4 (6)
7. Sydney Roosters 6-5 (7)
8. Penrith 6-4 (8)
9. New Zealand 5-6 (10)
10. Gold Coast 6-5 (9)
11. Brisbane 6-5 (12)
12. Wests Tigers 6-5 (11)
13. Newcastle 2-8 (13)
14. St George Illawarra 4-6 (14)
15. Cronulla 2-9 (15)
16. Canberra 4-7 (16)
The Coaching Crosshairs: We are two coaches down now following the dismissal of Steve Price – predicted to come over the weekend in last Monday’s Couch – and it would not surprise if a third coaching change was announced soon with Wayne Bennett almost no chance of remaining at the Knights in 2015. The Tinkler debacle has left the Knights well short and the club simply cannot afford Bennett’s huge deal. He won’t be there in 2015, the final year of his contract, with the Knights to enter a huge rebuild. Brisbane or St George Illawarra are beckoning, while Rick Stone may get a much deserved second chance at the Knights.
Ricky Stuart Stat of the Week: No Ricky Stuart team has won back-to-back games since Cronulla won four straight in 2009.
Game of the Year Nomination, Round 11: Wests Tigers-Brisbane, 12-14. An absolute ripper of a match that was decided on a late penalty. While there was desperate defence, end-to-end attack, drama, controversy and all the ingredients that make Rugby League the greatest game of all. This game was about one man though: Luke Brooks. The Tigers No.7 may have been on the losing team but he established himself as the Blues’ halfback of the future with another sublime performance highlighted by a superb individual try that saw him grubber twice and win the race to the ball. He is some kind of talent.
Correspondence Corner: Zig, Josh Reynolds will give his all and he has the ability to give Queensland plenty of headaches.
Mike Butterfield, not sure Ricky’s recruitment has done much. Hopoate bought in before Stuart signed. Norman not doing much. Other than Nathan Peats, Stuart can take no credit. Martin Kennedy is struggling and is on way too much cash.
Mav63, no coach available or we could just give the award to Ricky Stuart.
Habi, yes, 2015 … apologies. The Dragons’ recruitment situation is a mess at the moment so he may go to Canberra.
ManlyMagic, Trent Hodkinson will hopefully have a ripper of a game.
Beard Watch: He may not be playing in Origin I but Will Chambers has declared his readiness – or at the very least, his love for Sisa Waqa – with his caveman Lincoln beard. It is the leading contender for beard of the year.
Watch It: On the eve of the 100th Origin match, we look back on Origin I with the great Billy J Smith and Mick Veivers. Watch it here.