From The Couch: Round 15

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on June 24, 2013

Origin II Preview: New South Wales were – at times – excellent in Origin I. Their first 20 was phenomenal and despite dropping plenty of ball and making some questionable decisions, their enthusiasm and aggression was irrepressible. It was not only a new era for New South Wales but a new attitude. The veterans led the way but the young blokes were right behind them.

With two positive changes for Origin II – both upgrades to my eye – it is very tempting to get on board the upset. Aaron Woods is going better than James Tamou and Nathan Merritt is far more reliable than Blake Ferguson.

With Queensland’s adjustments though, it is hard to tip against the home side and the amazing run of seven straight ending Wednesday night in Brisbane.

While the Maroons have been widely panned for their decision to drop veterans David Shillington and Ashley Harrison, the Maroons side for Origin II is much better balanced. While Harrison was probably a bit stiff to get the axe, Shillington was lucky to be playing first grade after his piss weak effort. Most importantly, the Maroons no longer have four similar backrowers on the pine and Nate Myles won’t be forced into the front row after 25 minutes playing middle defender from the second row. Corey Parker gives the Maroons more dynamism while Josh Papalii adds an bust-up element from the bench. Daly Cherry-Evans will be used as an extra playmaker.

The Blues have gone up to Brisbane seven times a game up and come away with a win just once. This great Queensland team are unlikely to let it all go on their home turf in a game two. Queensland will play with more intensity, more width and without question, better halves play. Thurston and Cronk surely won’t play as poorly as they did in the opener and I doubt Pearce will stay out of the way as much as he did in the opener.

We are headed for a decider. Queensland 24, New South Wales 14.

Bugger Off, Blake: Redemption stories in rugby league are overrated. Too much credit is given to bad boys done good and league’s ability to deal with them than the vast majority of players who are good citizens, hard workers and likable blokes. League Freak wrote about it here in a fine piece. League does not need idiots like Blake Ferguson. He is no better than an average player on the field, despite some judges falling in love with his athleticism and body type. He won a bloody Willie M Medal for playing like a fool and an idiot and that mentality clearly operates in all facets of his life. I am no hypocrite. If I enjoyed Ferguson’s work as a player – as I do Josh Dugan or Todd Carney – I may be more lenient. But I don’t. He has a rotten attitude on it and aside from about a month of bullying teams at home, he has been nothing but mediocre for mine. So throw the book at him. I don’t care. He doesn’t deserve a Blues jersey. He hardly deserves a first grade one. And I couldn’t give a damn if league does save him or not. He has had his chance and he has blown it. So leave the great game for men prepared to actually give a damn.

Shame on Sonny Bill: For not one second do I believe Sonny Bill Williams was hurt leading into the Bulldogs match. The whole “injury concern” was nothing more than a charade for Williams to hurt ticket sales for the Bulldogs, the Judas who walked out on Canterbury one year into a five-year deal still believing he was harshly treated by the club. His unaccredited manager Khoder Nasser – who should not have been allowed to cut Williams’ deal but the NRL somehow let that slip – said in the preseason that Williams did not want to play the Bulldogs at ANZ so they could profit off him. Williams is lucky he has been welcomed back by the League at all. If I was running the show, he never would have played the great game ever again. Williams, of course, made a miraculous recovery and turned on his second man-of-the-match showing against his former club.

Cup Time: After what can best be described as a fairly mediocre weekend of rugby league it is once again time to bring up the idea of introducing a midseason knockout Cup between the 16 premiership teams to be played across the four representative weekends. The concept would be like the old City Cup and has plenty of benefits. It allows meaningful club rugby league to still be played every weekend without the integrity of the premiership being hurt. Teams well out of premiership contention can give their fans something to cheer about by chasing a piece of silverware. Clubs would have the freedom to blood youngsters and rest veterans. It will add a different element to the midseason lull. Dave Smith has shown a willingness to look at new ideas. This should be close to the top of the pile.

Dan Really is the Man: It is such a dreadful shame that we don’t get to see Daniel Mortimer play regular starting minutes as there is no question that he is one of the 32 best halves in the premiership. There is a fairly strong argument that Mortimer is among the two best halves at the Roosters – but it would be hard to bench the Blues halfback. Perhaps they need to hire Steve Price? Mortimer was exceptional on Friday night, laying on two tries in a stellar performance. He is locked in at the Roosters but it would be great if we got to see him in action more often.

A Fine Example: Mal Meninga calls it a beat-up and it probably is. He was last week asked (or thrown out of, depending on who you ask) a restaurant after walking behind the bar and requesting more booze (or pouring himself more booze, depending on who you ask). It is hardly the end of the world but it is a bit rich from someone who has enjoyed firing pot shots from the high ground on his rather tall horse.

Back to the Future: Without question, one of the highlights of the weekend was Andrew Moore’s call of the 1980 Origin match off DVD. What better way to spend a rainy Sunday.

Cap Crap: Once again, the NRL’s inflexible salary cap has hurt a team’s premiership chances and long-term player development by banning Kane Evans from playing for the Roosters on Friday night. Evans, highly regarded as a real prop of the future, was prohibited because the very average Tinirau Arona was available. The salary cap has its place in league but it needs to be more flexible. This would allow clubs more incentive to develop players while giving salary cap concessions to clubs willing to move players on mid-season to contenders would allow teams to get better quicker. Jim Doyle has a tough job but hopefully he thinks a little more tangentially than his predecessor and looks at how leagues like the NBA and NFL manage their caps.

Sam Arrives: It was reported over the weekend that Sam Tomkins has finally signed with the New Zealand Warriors, with the Warriors set to announce the deal when Tomkins has the time to fly to Auckland. English players have added so much to the fabric of the premiership in recent years but Tomkins will take it to a new level. He is one of the great English players, a brilliant attacking talent who has to be seen to be believed. With Tomkins and Shaun Johnson playing together next year, the Warriors look set to be the most entertaining team to watch in 2014.

Ricky’s Hypocrisy: It was great to see Ricky Stuart doing a further disservice to New South Wales by running his mouth off at Queensland, questioning their so-called ‘pick and stick’ policy. Stuart didn’t mention that the players he stuck by were ones he used his rep coaching position to get to his club. Anthony Tupou anyone? I wonder what Jamie Buhrer thinks of Ricky trying to defend picking and sticking.

A Deserved Fine: On Ricky Stuart, it was pleasing to see him fined $15,000 for his totally unwarranted attack on referees coach Daniel Anderson. Stuart coaches an ill-disciplined rabble and it is not hard to see where it comes from when Stuart has a hissy-fit trying to shift the blame of another heinous defeat to anyone but himself. Soon the Eels will see him for what he really is. And by then, sadly for them, it will be all too late.

Fun Fact #1: The Raiders have lost their last 16 games when they have failed to reach 20 points.

Fun Fact #2: Only two coaches in NRL history have never recorded a win. Tony Iro, who coached the Warriors in two losses at the end of 2012, and Harold Johnston, who was in charge of Manly in their first five matches.

Fun Fact #3: Mitchell Pearce is 0-5 in Origin matches outside of NSW.

Rumour Mill: Ben Barba is expected to be released by Canterbury to join the Broncos. Barba is desperate to be close to his ex-partner, who is reportedly on the move to the Gold Coast. The move will free up cap room for the Bulldogs to sign Israel Folau and retain Josh Morris. The drums are getting louder that Adam Blair will be at Parramatta next year. Only the Eels would take him off the Tigers’ hands. Sam Williams is expected to be at the Dragons by June 30 but the Raiders are playing hardball. The deal will go through though. Panthers winger Travis Robinson is expected to find himself at the Raiders this week, joining his brother Reece. Despite his terrible record at the Raiders, the Broncos are reportedly interested in signing Mal Meninga to coach the team. He will, presumably, come with assistant Michael Hagan.

Funniest Eels Moment of the Week: Ricky Stuart declaring that Jarryd Hayne would be saved for Origin III because "that was the priority". That must make fans of the last-placed team swell with pride, happy in the knowledge they are paying this man $800,000 a season.

What I Love About … James Gandolfini: I doubt the man who played Tony Soprano ever heard of rugby league but I am positive deep down that if Gandolfini – or at the very least Soprano – were different characters in a different place that he would have loved the Greatest Game of All. It was with great sadness that news came through this week that Gandolfini passed away at the age of 51. He was one of the great character actors of our generation and he will long be revered as playing one of the most compelling television characters on one of the great television shows. Salut.

#FiskySoprano: Fans of rugby league and The Sopranos should do the right thing and follow @Fisky76 on Twitter. A long-time friend of The Nut, Fisky, a devotee of both the greatest game of all and the greatest television show of all, is doing two wonderful things under the hash-tag #FiskySoprano: he is giving a brief character synopsis of all of the characters from the show and he is comparing each to a rugby league player, past or present. Do yourself a favour and get on board. It is well worth it.

Betting Market of the Week: In six weeks, the NRL’s hard-line policy on fighting will be:

$17: Strictly enforced with adherence to the precedents that have been set
$12: Evenly handled at all levels and with all players
$1.80: Ignored with a focus on the next issue du jour – probably attacking the toes of the opposition
$1.02: Totally forgotten

Power Rankings:
1. South Sydney 12-2 (1)
2. Melbourne 10-3-1 (2)
3. Sydney Roosters 10-4 (4)
4. Canterbury 8-7 (3)
5. Manly 7-5-2 (5)
6. Gold Coast 8-6 (6)
7. Cronulla 7-6 (7)
8. New Zealand 6-8 (9)
9. Canberra 7-6 (8)
10. Newcastle 6-8 (10)
11. Penrith 5-8 (11)
12. St George Illawarra 5-9 (12)
13. Brisbane 6-8 (13)
14. North Queensland 5-9 (14)
15. Wests Tigers 5-9 (15)
16. Parramatta 3-11 (16)

Combo XIII of the Week: With South Sydney and Parramatta squaring off on Saturday, we delve into the annals to find the best players to wear the cardinal and myrtle and the blue and yellow.
1. Rod Maybon
2. Tony Melrose
3. David Penna
4. Jason Bell
5. Martin Gallagher
6. Denis Pitard
7. Chris Sandow
13. Mick Patison
12. Brian Hambly
11. David Kidwell
10. Paul Stringer
9. Ken Stewart
8. Nathan Gibbs

Correspondence Corner: Anonymous, yes, the pathetic performance of the Eels against the Sharks saved the Penguin from a vote last week.

Anonymous, a premiership winning five-eighth did not deserve to be dumped from the club when he was clearly the team’s best half. Full stop.

Anonymous, Manly have been desperately unlucky in close games this year – a year after they had an outstanding record in close games.

Anonymous, we can’t give Blake Ferguson three votes in every game. But perhaps he provides us with a timely lesson: players terrible and stupid enough to win Willie Ms shouldn’t be playing rep football.

Davey G, I don’t agree with your assessment of Nathan Merritt. I would have gone with Michael Gordon but Merritt is an outstanding winger who is reliable and a great finisher, the two best qualities you could hope for in a flanker. Jorge Taufua isn’t there because he is totally unreliable – too many rocks or diamond plays.

The Coaching Crosshairs: The pressure continues to heap on Cowboys coach Neil Henry with the club announcing a review into all aspects of the club including coaching. Henry has survived one review when Phil Gould looked into the club but is unlikely to get through this one with the Cowboys believed to already be scouting replacements.

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: Ben Pomeroy enjoyed the weekend with the bye and torrential rain meaning The Penguin could splash around doing nothing.

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 15: Wests Tigers-Canberra, 17-12. Not a great weekend of footy with Origin stars out and weather a constant but this game had plenty of drama and was a mighty courageous effort from the Tigers.

Beard Watch: Fans of referees with beards should be very excited about Under 20s ref Phil Henderson. Henderson, in charge of the Raiders-Tigers clash on Saturday, has a full and thick set of whiskers that would shame Greg McCallum in his hey-day. Let’s hope Daniel Anderson gives him the call sooner rather than later.

Watch It: Without question, the most infamous tournament rugby league has known is the 1997 World Club Challenge, where Australian teams mauled English teams for the better part of three months. For those who fondly remember the series – or for those who have been desperate to see it – I have wonderful news with nearly 30 minutes of highlights here, here and here.







Comments (3)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Once again Farah tried to selfishly barge over for a try on the 4th in 65th minute; hindering one of only a few chances to run a last tackle play. Sure we didn’t have much happening in attack and were well an truly behind but there is a definite pattern. Game 3 will decide.
    Tony Monero

  2. Anonymous says:

    With defensive decisions reminiscent of Eric Grothe Jnr, Nathan Merritt replied back to the naysayers "nay". He joins the ranks alongside Steve Turner now in failed Origin projects, and has proven to the masses two things –

    1 – a 30 year old very good NRL winger making their Origin debut after waiting on the cusp for 6 years has built up so much pressure from the legions who have been telling him he should have been there all along so when it comes to the crunch he doesn't play anything like he does normally and is left aimless and useless

    2 – picking someone to play Origin for a feel good story does not make anyone feel good, except the opposition.

    I was at the game, I have no voice today from cheering and yelling for our Blues to win, and will support anyone wearing the colours (same way we cheer for QLDers when they wear green and gold). I don't seem to see or hear as much from the "Glory, Glory" brigade though this morning, which is a nice change. The unfoirtunate thing for NSW though is who would be next in line to play wing in Game 3? McManus? Taufua? Wighton – not yet (his defence is already very, very good). Personally, I would put Hayne back on the wing as he has performed exceptionally well in years past, as there is no reason he and Dugan cannot switch during the game to let Jarryd do in attack what we know he can.

    The crowd at Suncorp last night were mostly their usual selves – abusive, off their nuts on rum, unable to put together a decent conversation without spraying you their expletives about Paul Gallen. I did wear my referee jersey, and while there was some friendly banter before the game, I didn't cop the abuse I expected during the game. Why? Because the QLD crowd thought the referees did a good job. I know – I couldn't believe it either, but speaking to my mates in Sydney today it is clear they are not of the same opinion. Hard to comment when you are at the ground and don't get the same angles as the viewers at home, so I won't.

    Looks like Billy Slater got away with his elbow to Pearce's face. While it would have been better if it meant Pearce was unable to continue (his passing game was diabolical, and let's not mention the kicks), I still find it hard to believe that an elbow exerted with enough force to cut someone's face exactly on the cheekbone could be seen as accidental. I will be watching the Melbourne game this weekend and will see if Billy does anything remotely similar while trying to get off the ground after being tackled, to see if it is how he does it every time (unlikely). In fact, I will watch most games like usual and see if anyone lashes out with elbows when trying to get up off the ground. Again – unlikely.

    Davey G

    P.S At least Eric Grothe Jnr had the decency to punch Justin Hodges in the head while representing his state

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wat are the chances of Sam Williams being released t the dragons??