From The Couch: Round 15

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on June 24, 2011

Origin II Wrap: What a game, what a monumental shift in the Origin landscape. Ricky Stuart rolled the dice and he came up trumps.

New South Wales signalled their intent to play “small-ball” with team selection but just how small that would be didn’t become apparent until last Wednesday when NSW props received just 52 minutes of playing time.

It was a tactic that worked and worked a treat and one that will have me all over the Blues in the decider, injuries and team selection permitting.

From the opening 10 minutes, even when Queensland were on top, the Blues looked to be making inroads. The big Queensland pack was tired and tiring quickly. The Blues were operating a lot of cutbacks, inside angles and second phase play and it had the Maroons on their heels early. It left them crippled by the end of the game with big forwards like Matt Scott, Petero Civoniceva and Ben Hannant almost completely neutralised.

The Blues pack was magnificent. Paul Gallen had one of the great Origin games. It was heroic and even more so when you factor in he was a captain playing out of position. Beau Scott just didn’t stop hitting hard all day. I questioned his selection going into the series but he is now a central part of the Blues pack, arguably the new Nathan Hindmarsh.

Things were looking a little touchy early on for the Blues though. They were in the arm wrestle but Queensland scored a soft try, the Blues took a silly shot at penalty goal and Jamie Soward was kicking poorly. The Maroons led at the break and while the momentum was swinging the Blues’ way, they looked to be struggling to convert.

In the second half, the Blues just ground the Maroons down, playing on their tiredness with Kurt Gidley’s enthusiasm from dummy half central. Jamie Soward found his feet, the forwards were winning more metres and they won the field position battle. There were a few key moments in the second half. William Hopoate’s magnificent try. The young centre’s courageous take of a bomb. Luke Lewis’ brilliant cover tackle. Greg Inglis’ dropped intercept.

The match was sealed by Anthony Minichiello, whose return to Origin football was magnificent, scoring the sealing try when Jamie Soward, always unfairly criticised for not running, got through two Queensland defenders to put him over.

Minichiello’s return was one for the ages. He would never have expected to play Origin again yet turned in a performance that may well force Ricky Stuart to seriously consider him for Origin III even if Josh Dugan is fully fit (though that would be silly to go ahead with).

The fundamental shift this victory showed will be critical in the decider. For the first time in half a decade, the Blues’ have exposed Queensland’s weakness. The Maroons have three weeks to adjust and find an answer because if they go in with the same team and the same style, they will lose the decider.

Origin II Ratings:

New South Wales
1. Anthony Minichiello (7.5): The Italian Mountain Goat was surefooted in a fine return
2. Jarryd Hayne (5): Was hardly spotted in a lifeless effort after missing out in Origin I
3. Mark Gasnier (4.5): Another disappointing performance where he showed very little
4. William Hopoate (8): Faultless on debut and scored an unbelievably poised try
5. Akuila Uate (8): Involved in everything and was dangerous all night from the wing
6, Jamie Soward (7): Slow start with his kicking game but best playmaker in second half
7. Mitchell Pearce (7.5): Directed play well and was constantly probing around the ruck
13. Greg Bird (6.5): Played fewer minutes and was only fair in the time he was on
12. Ben Creagh (6): Faultless in defence but didn’t offer much in attack, picked up injury
11. Beau Scott (8.5): One of the Blues’ best who was everywhere in defence hitting big
10. Paul Gallen (10): One of the great Origin displays when playing out of position
9. Michael Ennis (5): The Blues were much better without the hooker on the field
8. Tim Mannah (6): Did his best in limited opportunities with a heavy workload
14. Trent Merrin (3): Played only 12 minutes and let in Queensland’s only try
15. Kurt Gidley (8): Added a heap of spark off the bench and was a key to NSW’s tempo
16. Anthony Watmough (7.5): Was strong in Origin return but did make one key error
17. Luke Lewis (8): Scored the first try for the Blues and made a monster cover tackle

1. Billy Slater (5): Had perhaps his worst Origin game where he watched first try
2. Darius Boyd (5.5): Didn’t have much involvement but did make one nice break
3. Dane Nielsen (5.5): Wasn’t as active as in game one and will do well to keep his spot
4. Greg Inglis (4.5): There was a spark there but handling and effort were poor
5. Jharal Yow Yeh (5): Did little when he was needed to take up more ruck work
6. Darren Lockyer (6.5): Made one bust, kicked well but forced to do plenty of tackling
7. Johnathan Thurston (6): Had his worst Origin where he couldn’t get anything going
13. Ashley Harrison (8): Another big game from the most honest player in the game
12. Sam Thaiday (4.5): Looks like he is back on the turtle meat with workload down
11. Nate Myles (6.5): Had a quality opening but went missing as the game wore on
10. Petero Civoniceva (6): Managed only 34 minutes, unusual for the big man.
9. Cameron Smith (8.5): The only Maroons forward to threaten and made 55 tackles
8. Matt Scott (6): Struggled against smaller opponents and missed key tackles
14. Cooper Cronk (4): Didn’t get much time and did make a handling error in position
15. Corey Parker (7): Was dangerous in 40 minutes and may get nod over Thaiday now
16. Dave Taylor (6): Wasn’t really the player for that type of game but tried hard.
17. Ben Hannant (6.5): The best of the Maroons props but pace of the game hurt him

Ricky’s Unreasonable Request: Ricky Stuart has been making a lot of heavy requests lately and regardless of the Blues’ win in Origin II, he is completely out of order in making most of them.

In the last fortnight, he has made a plea for the NRL to move next Monday’s match between St George-Illawarra and Manly before calling on all his Origin players to stand down from club duty next weekend. How completely unfair, how single-minded, how selfish and how absurd.

The schedule is already in place and the machinations of moving it are simply too great. At any rate, the Blues don’t actually need an extra day. They get well over a week and to get a match moved to get an extra day of camp is more than a little over the top.

To ask players to stand down from club duty is ridiculous. For all the hype around Origin, the simple fact remains that club football is what drives the game and club football is what is most important. I don’t recall Stuart offering to stand Paul Gallen down over his last few years at the Sharks.

It has put his players in a very awkward position having to even think about it. They rightly want to play rep footy and they rightly want to win but they also have obligations to their club. Stuart has a job to do but he also has an obligation to the code, something he has completely neglected with this crackpot request.

Ricky Stuart has done a good job with the Blues but he should realise his job is simply to coach three games a year, not run the entire game.

Canterbury in Crisis: The time for change has come at Canterbury. After Sunday’s despicable loss, From The Couch is officially calling for coach Kevin Moore’s head. It is apparent the players aren’t responding to his methods and that Canterbury’s attack is lifeless, amplified by the absence of Trent Hodkinson and Michael Ennis.

Moore, simply, has to go and with him any player who can’t muster up the required effort to simply do their job and stop robbing Canterbury fans. I’m looking squarely at Frank Pritchard, Jamal Idris, Josh Morris, Dene Halatau, Greg Eastwood and Grant Millington.

Kris Keating is playing horribly too but that is more execution that effort. The only thing he has going for him at the moment is that he is not Ben Roberts.

The pathetic effort put up against Cronulla was something else. It made the Manly thrashing look like a Grand Final win. It was truly insipid. Canterbury had little in attack outside of prop forward Sam Kasiano. The halves could barely hold onto the ball, the three-quarters were slow and awkward and the likes of Frank Pritchard threw so many idiotic passes it was like watching Paul Pfeiffer back himself at the Playboy Mansion.  

This was, of course, against Cronulla, at, of course, a ground Cronulla had a 5-10 record at, not winning at ANZ since 2008. We weren’t tackling Melbourne or the Dragons.

There is no doubt there is a real attitude problem at the club. That is no better exemplified than by Jamal Idris, the turncoat centre who simply couldn’t be bothered turning up to training after a short break even though the club is mired in a horrid stretch. Idris managed to piss off state coach Ricky Stuart by showing no enthusiasm and throughout the year he has managed to mosey through games without a care in the world. He has done little to earn a first grade spot.

If he showed the same enthusiasm for rugby league as he does for money, children’s television shows and stupid comments, he may actually be something.

Moore has had his chance but the simple fact remains, Canterbury are 15-20 over the last two seasons and are facing missing the finals in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1992. The outrage is such that Moore will not only be the first coach fired under contract in the 76-year history of Canterbury, he could be axed by the end of the week.

Something needs to be done. And it needs to be done now. Get on the phone to Rick Stone, Michael Hagan or Daniel Anderson and get them in as soon as possible.

Suspending Thurston Would Be a Travesty: It would be an absolute travesty if Johnathan Thurston was to miss the Origin decider, a match Fairfax columnist Richard Hinds described as “the biggest football event this year. Bigger than the Wallabies making the World Cup final. Bigger than traditional rivals Collingwood-Carlton playing in an AFL grand final”.

Thurston faces two weeks on the sideline for flattening, accidentally, referee Matt Cecchin as he turned to chase down James Maloney. It was unpleasant but it certainly isn’t worthy of two weeks, particularly two weeks that would cost an Origin appearance.

Nothing so silly should take away from the most anticipated match in seasons.

And, hell, the rest of the world really doesn’t need Queensland’s paranoia cranked up even further because if Thurston cops the two, we will be hearing about it forever and a day.

Rugby League Needs Singing: The best thing about Australian Rules football is the singing. The best thing about sport in the UK is singing. Hearing the song play at full-time in the AFL is a marvellous attraction, fans standing arm in arm singing the traditional victory song. It is high time rugby league brought in some of the old music charms. Clubs should distribute victory songs widely and ground announcers should play the winning team’s song right on full-time. There is nothing quite like celebrating through song. Let’s get this going now.

Taumata Chases Down the Record: Congratulations to Arana Taumata, who this week has been caught up in a prescription drugs scandal that has seen medication attempted to be purchased using Taumata’s name on a prescription pad stolen from the Panthers club doctor. When Taumata is sacked by Penrith, which seems an inevitability, that will be the seventh club he has left in acrimonious circumstances before he turns 23. That is Newcastle, Brisbane, Canterbury, Wests Tigers, Melbourne, North Queensland and Penrith that Taumata has been outed from. Hopefully rugby league gives him another chance so he can get to his 8th club before he chases double figures and then all sixteen teams. The Sharks could surely do with a half, no?

Awesome Trip Down Memory Lane:It was brilliant to see Newcastle win a scrum against the head and Akuila Uate penalised three times for not playing the ball correctly. We may have been back in 1988 for a bit. I went looking for the Henny Penny jerseys.

Bring Back the Tap Forward:Wouldn’t it be great to see the tap forward come back. No marker and the ball carrier can get up and go again. Just saying, is all.

Matt Elliott is Done: Matt Elliott has coached his last game at Penrith and likely his last game in the NRL. Following Penrith’s disappointing loss to Newcastle, Elliott was asked to step aside by new Penrith boss Phil Gould to allow assistant Steve Georgallis to show his wares. It also had plenty to do with the cancerous attitude problem at the club and the lack of training, which angered and annoyed Gould no end.

This is really the only move Penrith could make. They should have done it months ago when they decided Elliott was no longer part of the future. The very worst that can happen is that the club can find out Steve Georgallis is not much chop.

For Georgallis, while the opportunity is double-edged, it is his best hope of winning a full-time job. He has almost no profile and is unlikely to score a job outside of the Panthers. This is his best roll of the dice. 

As for Matt Elliott, he will likely turn up in the media after some time off. He finishes his career with a 108-125-3 record after 10 seasons at Canberra and Penrith, failing to win a single finals match over that period. His 236 games is 19th all-time in Australian rugby league history while his 108 wins is 28th all-time.

Coaching Ages on the Up:The trend in the AFL has been towards younger coaches in recent times. Rugby league is heading the other way.

In the last decade, the average age of NRL coaches has gone up over five years, rising from 43.29 at the start of the 2001 season to 48.5 at the start of the 2011 season.

There is no doubt the average has gone up, in part, because of the longevity of the four senior coaches in the game: Wayne Bennett, Tim Sheens, John Lang and Brian Smith. All four were around in 2001 and all four are still in the game with only John Lang missing more than a season over that time.

This year, there are three coaches older than 60 years and seven 50 or older.

In 2001, there was not one coach older than 60 and only Bennett, Sheens and Lang over 50 with Bennett the oldest of the 14 coaches at 51.

There were also three coaches in their 30s in 2001 (Terry Lamb, Michael Hagan and Daniel Anderson) with Daniel Anderson the youngest at 33. Stephen Kearney is the only coach in his 30s this year.

As rugby league becomes more complex and the head coaching role becomes ever more arduous, clubs are relying more and more on experienced coaches. With the Penrith job now open and the Canterbury one likely to be, expect both clubs to chase hard-headed, experienced coaches. Looking at the list of Grand Finalists the last half-decade, you can see why.

Injury Update:

Scott Bolton (North Queensland): Went down in the leadup to the Warriors game, tearing his calf for the second time this season. He will miss at least three weeks with Glenn Hall to cover for him when he returns from suspension.

Ben Creagh (St George-Illawarra): Went over on his ankle in Origin II and though battled on, will miss at least two weeks and could be in danger for Origin III.

Paul Gallen (Cronulla): Took a head knock against the Bulldogs but played until the game was over. No chance of missing any time.

Nathan Gardner (Cronulla): Suffered a hip flexor injury against the Dogs but played out the game and is unlikely to miss any time, a big relief to the Sharks.

Ben Hornby (St George-Illawarra): Looked to do a serious ankle injury 6 minutes into the Broncos game. Battled on til half-time but could go no further. Scans have revealed a minor strain but thoughts are he will be back to take on Manly on Monday.

Ryan James (Gold Coast): The big unit did his knee early and it is a season-ender, the last thing the Titans need as they look to rebuild. The Titans are really struggling for big forwards at the moment.

Sika Manu (Melbourne): Had a pretty nasty nose bleed but the player with the biggest thighs in league will be more worried about a possible suspension.

Benji Marshall (Wests Tigers): Damaged his ankle in an awkward tackle and went off. Diagnosed as a minor medial strain and he will be sidelined for a couple of weeks with Tim Moltzen likely to move to five-eighth.

Beau Scott (St George-Illawarra): Damaged his knee in Origin II and is unlikely to be seen again before the series decider.

James Tamou (North Queensland): Tamou hurt his shoulder at training and will miss a couple of weeks which should see the Cowboys see too much of Ashton Sims and the Ah Mau boys.

Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland): Hurt his ankle and was limping badly during the Cowboys win over the Warriors and could miss a match.

Tony Williams (Manly): Went down early against Parramatta with a knee and was unsighted. No assessment as of writing on how bad the injury is.

Matt Duffie’s Song:The Whitlams surely wrote this little ditty for Matt Duffie. I’m not sure if Matt has the public defecation problem of Brent, who I believe was based loosely on Jason Taylor (well, that’s what I have always wanted to believe). 

My New Favourite Betting Market:Luxbet has been a dream place to wager for numbers nerds who like their tackles and player metres bets and they were kind enough to offer player tackles over-under bets for Origin II. These were wonderful to bet into. Hopefully Jimmy and the team will see fit to offer these for most regular season games. I fancy they are just around the corner.  

Cannonball: It was most disappointing to read throughout the week that Josh Miller has been shown the door at the Raiders. The Cannonball is a bit of a hero around the Nation’s Capital and is a damn fine player to boot. He is a versatile hardworker capable of playing tight or wide with a strong run and a heavy hit. He will hopefully find his way to a more appreciative club. He would certainly be welcome in the blue and white.

Another Code Defector:Joseph Tomane has defected to the ACT Brumbies. He will be missed by nobody in rugby league outside of, perhaps, partner in crime in the Worst Centre Pairing in the NRL, Clinton Toopi. He will be well suited to rugby. He doesn’t tackle, can’t catch and is as soft as a three-week-old load of bread.

The 2011 Willie M Medal: A horrible game from Kris Keating sees him rocket up the leaderboard while another three points to Krisnan Inu has him right in the mix. To the surprise of nobody, Ben Roberts found himself in the points in his first starting match of the season. Keep an eye on Jarryd Hayne. A few more games where he makes five errors and he could have himself an unusual double of a Dally M and a Willie M in the space of three years.

New South Wales v Queensland
3-Greg Inglis (QLD)
2-Sam Thaiday (QLD)
1-Trent Merrin (NSW)

Brisbane v St George-Illawarra
3-Michael Greenfield (Dra)
2-Peni Tagive (Dra)
1-Mark Gasnier (Dra)

South Sydney v Gold Coast
3-Clinton Toopi (GC)
2-Mark Minichielllo (GC)
1-Preston Campbell (GC)

Newcastle v Penrith
3-Joseph Paulo (Pen)
2-Nathan Smith (Pen)
1-Brad Tighe (Pen)

North Queensland v New Zealand
3-Krisnan Inu (NZ)
2-Aaron Heremaia (NZ)
1-Glen Fiisiahi (NZ)

Canterbury v Cronulla
3-Kris Keating (Bul)
2-Frank Pritchard (Bul)
1-Ben Roberts (Bul)

Wests Tigers v Melbourne
3-Robbie Farah (Tig)
2-Andrew Fifita (Tig)
1-Tim Moltzen (Tig)

Manly v Parramatta
3-Jarryd Hayne (Par)
2-Carl Webb (Par)
1-George Rose (Man)

14-Matt Orford (Can)
13-Blake Ferguson (Can)
12-Jarryd Hayne (Par)
11-Krisnan Inu (NZ)
10-Preston Campbell (GC), Wade Graham (Cro), Michael Jennings (Pen), Jarrod Mullen (New), Matthew Wright (Cro)
9-Antonio Kaufusi (New), Kris Keating (Bul)
8-Greg Bird (GC), Justin Carney (Roo), Feleti Mateo (NZ)

Round 12 Voting Panel:Nick Tedeschi, Rohan Kendall, Cliff Bingham, Grant Vickers

Fun Fact #1: It has been six seasons, 69 months, 103 games and 2,088 days since Bryce Gibbs scored his last try. He was disallowed one on Sunday.

Fun Fact #2: Brisbane prop Scott Anderson has not scored a try in 52 first grade appearances.

Round 15 Selection Notes:

South Sydney: Move along, move along, nothing to see here. Souths, with so many injuries, stick with the same squad.

Brisbane: Andrew McCullough has been dropped for disciplinary reasons with Kurt Baptiste replacing him in the starting team. Jack Reed has forced his way back into the starting team with Dale Copley dropped. Reed was outstanding against the Dragons. Corey Parker returns from an Origin sustained injury while Matt Gillett will play his first game in 10 weeks if he passes a fitness test.

Wests Tigers: Benji Marshall is out hurt, replaced by Jacob Miller. Tim Moltzen has been named on the bench but will likely start ahead of Miller. Gareth Ellis has been named but is in some doubt with his ankle still causing him grief.

Canterbury: After an unimpressive one game cameo, Ben Roberts has been dropped to his rightful level: NSW Cup. Trent Hodkinson takes his place as he returns from suspension. Jamal Idris and Michael Ennis are also back in, forcing Tim Lafai and Josh Reynolds back to the lower grades. Jonathan Wright gets a start in the wing, replacing Michael Lett. Heaven help us.

Gold Coast: Anthony Laffranchi has been named at prop, shifting tighter to accomdate the injury of Ryan James. Greg Bird comes into the backrow. Cartwright is persisting with Campbell at five-eighth and Tomane and Toopi in the centres.

Cronulla: Shane Flanagan has kept the same 17 that downed Canterbury on Sunday afternoon.

Canberra: Josh Dugan is still sidelined with an ankle complaint which means Nathan Massey keeps the fullback job. Matt Orford also remains nowhere to be seen, still "injured" presumably. Josh Papalii has been brought in for the out-of-form Bronson Harrison, who drops to the bench. Brett White and David Shillington will start at prop.

Parramatta:Stephen Kearney has named an unchanged line-up from the one who challenged Manly on Monday night.

New Zealand: Ivan Cleary has made the interesting (see stupid) decision to recall Brett Seymour and drop boom half Shaun Johnson to the bench. Johnson is a much better player and should be stuck with. Lance Hohaia returns to fullback in place of the injured Kevin Locke while Bill Tupou is in for the injured Glen Fiisahi. Krisnan Inu, mercifully, has been dropped, replaced by Shaun Berrigan. Simon Mannering is moving back to the second row. Lewis Brown is into the centres.

Melbourne: Craig Bellamy has gone with the same team he named last week, meaning anything is possible. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two Origin players rested. Billy Slater, in particular, may get freshened.

Penrith: Luke Lewis is back after missing last week due to injury. Amazingly, a two-try effort couldn't help Masada Iosefa retain his spot. Still no Michael Jennings.

North Queensland:Johnathan Thurston has been named though he faces a suspension and is battling an injury. James Tamou has also been named as he fight through an injury.

Newcastle:After a cracking debut, The Stig (aka Ryan) has kept his spot in the No.6 jersey. James McManus returns on the wing while Rick Stone has named an extended bench.

Sydney Roosters:Sam Perrett will make his long-awaited return from injury with the Roosters struggling without his workrate rucking it out from deep in their own territory. Aiden Guerra has disgracefully been left on the Roosters bench despite being their best player over the last fortnight. Justin Carney has kept his spot in the centres be default.

St George-Illawarra:Brett Morris and Ben Creagh have both been named but both will need to pass a fitness test later in the week to play. Ben Hornby has also recovered from an ankle injury. Kyle Stanley will again play in the centres.

Manly:Des Hasler has made no changes to his team with Brent Kite still sidelined with injury.

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

LW: Last Week, R: Range

Rumour Mill:Contrary to reports, Ricky Stuart is not the front runner for the Canterbury job in 2012 with Daniel Anderson supposedly the preferred choice of the majority of board members. Ivan Cleary is also expected to be named as Penrith coach in 2012. He won’t be named for quite a while though. The big cleanout is on at Canberra with Travis Waddell, Josh Miller and David Milne all expected to be moved on. Miller is expected to sign with Melbourne. Liam Fulton has been linked to a number of clubs including Penrith, Cronulla and the Roosters. The Sharks are favourites to get his signature.  Blake Ferguson has been linked to his former club Cronulla as well though it seems highly unlikely that would happen given the acrimonious circumstances surrounding his departure. 

Betting Market of the Week: Andrew McCullough and Ben Hunt were suspended because they:

Got into a fight over whether Joe Kilroy or Brett Plowman was the better player: $9.00
Were practicing dummy half running at the Queen Street Mall at 2am: $4,25
Got high on kava, turtle meat and Winnie blues with Sam Thaiday: $3.50
Were planning a revolutionary overthrow of the Broncos board: $13.00

What I Like About…Mark Riddell: I like that a fat little fella with no speed, not a lot of strength and an old school knockabout attitude managed to play top level rugby league for over a decade, racking up 189 games, 44 tries and 629 career points. Riddell played for clubs I have, for the most part, despised and as such Riddell has been caught up in much of that dislike but at the end of the day, he was an entertainer, someone who viewed rugby league as we do. From his creativity out of dummy half to his raised arm goal kicking style, his try celebration to his match winning kicks at goal, his drinking to his rotundness, Riddell was a fan favourite. He is a true character of the game and though it was time for him to go, he will be sorely missed.

From Deep in the Bowels of Twitter: The Rugby League Week Mole is always looking on the bright side: “"Stole" is such an ugly word… The Mole prefers to think @aranataumata"borrowed" the doctor's pad.”

The Fire Up boys would make the best sub-editors in the game: “Why Vaivai? I thought Gus was going to focus on local Juniors?”

Obscure Score of the Week: Mounties-St John’s, 36-10. Prop Mick Hawkings led the Mounties to a big win over the Darren Maroon (ex-South Sydney, Manly, Roosters) coached St John’s Eagles. Maroon played 61 games over a decade of first grade football.

Coaching Stocks:
4.5: Wayne Bennett: A disappointing loss to the Broncos that has the Dragons off the top
4.5: Craig Bellamy: A huge win at Leichhardt in the Storm’s best effort of 2011
4.5: Anthony Griffin: Has done a magnificent job and now has the Broncos back on track
4.5: Des Hasler: Manly showed signs of brilliance but nearly blew it against tough Eels
4: Neil Henry: The Cows have now won seven straight at home in a big turnaround
3.5: Tim Sheens: Tried hard against the Storm but key playmakers were off-song
2.5: Ivan Cleary: The Warriors are struggling and Cleary is caught in a tug-o-war
2.5: Rick Stone: The Knights ground out a much needed win with a rookie five-eighth
1.5: Stephen Kearney: The Eels tried mighty hard against Manly and getting better
0: Kevin Moore: The knives are out and rightly so after such a humiliating loss
0: John Lang: Disposed of the Titans but were far from impressive in doing so
0: John Cartwright: The Titans look destined for the spoon after more ineptitude
0: Shane Flanagan: Huge win that keeps their season alive when all seemed lost
-1: Brian Smith: Bye
-6: David Furner: Bye
*: Steve Georgallis: First day on the job after Matt Elliott moved aside

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin:I shouldn’t mock Ben Pomeroy. He did score the first try against the team I hitched my wagon too, leading to one avid reader of this column, old Boof, to clean up on first tryscorer action.

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 15:Wests Tigers-Melbourne, 4-12. Not the most fashionable game but it was a real defensive stoush in front of a packed Leichhardt Oval on a glorious day. Despite the scoreline, the football was free-flowing, with Cooper Cronk magnificent, booting two 40-20s in the first four minutes of the match, then playing a hand in both tries. Cronk rates as one of the ten best players in the game.

Fantasy Team of the Week:
1. Brett Stewart (Man)
2. Kalifa Faifai-Loa (NQ)
3. Jack Reed (Bri)
4. Mark Gasnier (Dra)
5. Jharal Yow Yeh (Bri)
6. Darren Lockyer (Bri)
7. Johnathan Thurston (NQ)
13. Paul Gallen (Cro)
12. Dave Taylor (Sou)
11. Eddy Pettybourne (Sou)
10. Sam Kasiano (Bul)
9. Masada Iosefa (Pen)
8. Ben Hannant (Bri)

14. Issac Luke (Sou)
15. Matt Prior (Dra)
16. Ben Smith (Par)
17. Cooper Cronk (Mel)

Waiver Wire Advice: Issac Luke started the season as one of the most expensive hookers in fantasy but has fallen over $80,000 in price after a slow start saw his numbers drop markedly. He has hit three 80-plus scores in the last six weeks now though after an effort against the Titans that saw him score a try, set up another, break seven tackles and run for 185 metres. If you are after a big double switch, upgrade to Luke.

Correspondence Corner: Zig, I’m not sure where I sit on Nathan Brown. He was dreadful for the Dragons but he has done well with Huddersfield. I would take him over Ricky Stuart but I’d prefer Rick Stone, Michael Hagan or Daniel Anderson. Brown still has plenty to prove to my eye.

Arthur and Dragons68, I can’t help but disagree. I think Campbell is capable of the odd quality game but most of his stuff is dross these days and worse, he could be keeping quality players out of the team. I would still rather the Titans mould Luke Capewell than keep Preston Campbell in first grade on past reputation. Beau Henry is now the man at the club and shouldn’t be held back in the twos any longer.

Dragons68, good games can mean different things. The majority of the game was rubbish but it was a cracking finish.

Cudars, Jason Taylor was a bum and you know it. Did you defect to Parramatta and Souths when he went there as you did moving from Wests to Norths? Is David Fa’alogo your favourite player these days? I certainly have a soft spot for knocking out the biggest impostor.

Beard Watch: What happened to the beastly front rower with the viking beard? Aaron Woods burst onto the NRL scene with a hefty beard and an attitude to match. But he was unrecognisable in a meek performance at Leichhardt on Sunday afternoon after shaving his beard off. This impostor needs to go. We need The Woodsman back.

Watch It:From The Couch was greatly saddened to hear of the death of Rex Mossop. Mossop was a giant of the game, a central figure in rugby league’s growth over four decades. He was never known for his grace or subtlety but Mossop was a man’s man who called it like he saw it. Here is Mossop on his most renowned show, Controversy Corner, looking back on the Canterbury-Cronulla semi-final from 1979. Watch it here.

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