A Win for the Ages: It was a night NSW fans will never forget. After eight straight series wins, Queensland’s historic run was ended, a sold out ANZ Stadium erupting into pandemonium, a state awash with pride for a team that had conquered one of the greatest footy sides every put together.
New South Wales’ win wasn’t pretty. It was as ugly as sin, as attractive as a Ricky Stuart game plan. It was never meant to be pretty though. That was made perfectly clear when Laurie Daley made the ballsy decision to dump Mitchell Pearce and bring in bolters Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds. It worked a treat. Hodkinson was the unlikeliest of heroes. The duo also set the tone for the hard-nosed football that would prove decisive.
Laurie Daley deserves the biggest slice of the credit. He has done a wonderful job. He put to bed the ranting and the raving and the excuses and set about culture reform, selection reform, attitude reform. He succeeded on all fronts.
While it was tough – as a NSW man – to watch Queensland dominate for so long, it was incredible on a number of levels. Aesthetically, we were blessed to see some all-time greats play together and win together. This Queensland team contains potentially four Immortals and some other champions. It was a joy to witness. It was also, in a perverted way, great for building the Blues passion. There is nothing like getting whipped year after year for the better part of a decade to get the troops to care. The passion south of the tweed now equals that north of it.
Both teams had their chances but the game was choked out by some awful officiating. Both teams were offside all night. It is such a dreadful shame to see such gutless refereeing. Mistakes happen but the referees last Wednesday were guileless, overwhelmed, unwilling to be the centre of attention and in the meantime infecting the entire game.
History was made though. And for that, we can all be grateful.
Ch-ch-ch-changes: There is little question that both teams will have to field notably different teams for the dead rubber Origin III with plenty of blood and bone left on ANZ last Wednsday – and across NRL paddocks last weekend.
The Blues seem certain to be without centre Michael Jennings while backrower Trent Merrin and winger Will Hopoate seem highly unlikely to be fit.
The Maroons won’t have Brent Tate or Matt Scott while Daly Cherry-Evans has to be in doubt with his injury. Dave Taylor will almost certainly be dropped while Chris McQueen could join him. Ben Te’o is off to rugby so probably shouldn’t be named.
The Blues have no depth in the centres. Jack Wighton was 19th man for the second game and could receive an unlikely call-up that would be totally undeserved. The player that should get a go is Bulldog Tim Lafai. On the wing, it has to be Josh Mansour. Unlikely not to be chosen last time, his time has come. For Trent Merrin, the race is a bit more open. Josh Jackson has been close lately and this looks like a nice time to bring him in.
Will Chambers will come straight in for the unlucky Brent Tate while Josh McGuire is the player who should be tapped to come in for Scott. Ben Hunt will play for Cherry-Evans if the Manly half doesn’t come up. The interesting roles are the backrow/bench spots. Josh Papalii may get recalled if fit but selectors may choose to blood some youngsters including Anthony Milford. Expect to see a host of changes.
Sharp Words: Paul Gallen certainly didn’t miss when he squared up interim coach Peter Sharp and blamed him totally for the woes of the Sharks. Gallen declared Sharp’s poor work ethic and clear dislike of the top job as the reason Sharks players are acting like children and not wanting to be there. It says plenty about how the club is run. A coach who doesn’t want the job has it. A captain with a huge work ethic can’t get his players to follow. The playing group is allowed to act like children. There is no question that plenty of ordinary football seep down from the coach but players need to be accountable for their club. Gallen has plenty to say and the Sharks won’t find an interim interim coach so he may need to step up and take on the captain-coaching gig because it is likely Cronulla’s only option.
How Good is Ricky Stuart? The Canberra coach deserves full marks for both persistence and scrotum size for calling on Raiders fans to be patient, declaring he will turn the club into a power in the next “four to seven years”. That is like being the worst toilet cleaner in the history of any McDonalds anywhere and walking in confidently for a job as Apple CEO. It is pretty reasonable to argue that Raiders fans have had just about enough of their coach who has failed to live up to his price tag and promises, their board who may be the most conservative organisation this side of the Australia First Party and their players who don’t really seem to care. If there is one stakeholder in the NRL who deserves to be impatient, it is Raiders fans. A little tip to those Raiders fans who expect Ricky to change things for the better: he won’t and I’ll bet my stellar reputation on it.
The End of an Era: It is always sad to see long-serving warriors of the game go out on terms that aren’t theirs but that seems like it will be the case with three warhorses with Ashley Harrison, Brent Tate and John Morris all potentially having played their last matches. Let’s hope they all play again but if not our cap is doffed for such long service to the greatest game of all.
Fun Fact #1: Mitchell Pearce’s State of Origin record is 3-11. Trent Hodkinson is 2-0 in Blue.
Fun Fact #2: Cronulla are the first team in NRL history to be held scoreless for three straight weeks. The Sharks have not scored a point in 35 days.
Fun Fact #3: Canberra’s best player, Anthony Milford, played just 35 minutes on Friday against Canterbury despite (1) Canberra needing the win, (2) Milford being Canberra’s best player and (3) the Raiders desperately needing points.
Rumour Mill: The Raiders are seemingly targeting David Mead, Robert Lui and Hull KR hooker Josh Hodgson. Sharks coach Peter Sharp is likely to step aside for the remainder of the season after being tossed under the bus by skipper Paul Gallen. Andrew Fifita’s injury continues to confound some with suggestions he may have a new injury that he may have picked up a fresh one away from the paddock. Tariq Sims is looking like being a Dragon. The Dragons are also expected to go hard at bringing Beau Scott back to the club. Tautau Moga has offers from both the Sharks and Raiders … and is rightly reluctant to go to either. Promising rake Jake Granville will be at the Cowboys next year.
What I Love About … Paul Gallen: Gee, one of the most divisive players in the NRL has pretty quickly become a hero to most after a stellar performance in leading NSW to their first series victory in nine years. Gallen was the inspiration and the workhorse, turning in another spectacular performance that will go down in the annals of Origin lore. His from-the-heart comments on coach Peter Sharp are also worthy of praise. The Sharks are in a world of hurt and Gallen pointed the finger at Sharp, who doesn’t want the job, calling for him to step down. The Sharks need something and Gallen is showing plenty of leadership in calling out Sharp.
Funniest Eels Moment of the Week: There were plenty of contenders from their embarrassing loss to the Storm but without question the one that stands out was Chris Sandow costing his club the match by stupidly abusing referee Ben Cummins, asking how much the whistleblower had been paid. It was an ordinary call but one particularly low from somebody who has had his fair share of problems on the punt.
Betting Market of the Week: A statue of Paul Gallen will be erected:
$2.50: Outside ANZ Stadium
$3.00: Outside Shark Park
$101.00: Outside Peter Sharp’s house
1. South Sydney 9-5 (1)
2. Manly 9-4 (2)
3. Sydney Roosters 9-5 (3)
4. Penrith 9-4 (4)
5. Canterbury 9-5 (6)
6. Brisbane 8-6 (8)
7. Melbourne 8-6 (11)
8. New Zealand 7-7 (10)
9. Wests Tigers 7-6 (9)
10. Parramatta 8-6 (7)
11. North Queensland 6-8 (5)
12. St George Illawarra 6-8 (13)
13. Gold Coast 6-8 (12)
14. Newcastle 3-11 (14)
15. Canberra 4-10 (15)
16. Cronulla 2-11 (16)
The Coaching Crosshairs: Rubbing the magic eight ball and predicting the future, it looks like there will be four offseason coaching vacancies:
St George Illawarra: Steve Price has already been fired. The Dragons are well advanced in their interview process with Neil Henry. The former Raiders and Cowboys coach will get the job … but only if Wayne Bennett totally rules out a return to the Dragons. Tim Sheens remains a longshot.
Newcastle: The financial situation of the Knights following the Tinkler saga will mean the great Wayne Bennett will likely walk. It would seem unlikely the club will stand in his way given his salary. May decide to stay on but that is long odds. Rick Stone will get the job back if Bennett does go.
Gold Coast: With six straight losses and four straight seasons without finals footy will surely see John Cartwright shown the door. The club cannot afford a big recruit but will likely make overtures to current assistant Neil Henry. Expect a young assistant – perhaps Trent Barrett or Kevin Walters – to get a look in.
Brisbane: Anthony Griffin has done well so far in 2014 but the Broncos need to finish top four or Griffin is gone and they are long odds to achieve that mark. It is an interesting job. Word is that Wayne Bennett is not being sought but that is surely bollocks. Darren Lockyer and Kevin Walters could be courted but the one name being mentioned is Jim Dymock.
Ricky Stuart Stat of the Week: Ricky Stuart has played his favourite card, declaring Raiders fans need patience with recruitment and that they would be a power in “four to seven years”. Ricky Stuart has a win rate of 23.6% over the last four seasons he has coached while he has made the finals just once since 2004.
Correspondence Corner: Mascot Maven, Happy Dragon may have missed the power rankings but it rates high on my ‘favourite Five Dock Chinese restaurants’ power rankings.
Davey G and Witty Reference, I totally agree with your assessment of Origin. It would be great to see Shaun Fensom given a run in the dead rubber but it won’t happen.
Gus, if only … if only … ripper of a yarn.
Game of the Year Nomination, Round 15: New Zealand-Brisbane, 19-10. A physical, desperate contest that was fairly entertaining. The shots were hard and there was plenty of clever footy. Jake Granville is some kind of player and the contest between Barba and Tomkins was exciting. Not a great weekend of footy but this was plenty good enough.
Beard Watch: It is mighty pleasing to see a pair of brothers don extremely full and fashionable beards like the Bromwich boys of Melbourne, Jesse and Kenny. Jesse is one hell of a player and Kenny has certainly come along since he has let his facial locks reach their full potential.
Watch It: Everyone loves terrible kicks and here is a collection of the worst in premiership history, with a special shout-out to the great Joel ‘Sugar’ Cane for his monster effort. Watch it here.