From The couch: Round 18

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on July 15, 2013

Origin III Preview: It will require a miracle. It is that simple. The Blues have a chance but it will need divine intervention. New South Wales will not win without it.

The Blues blitzed the series opener, Queensland blew the Blues off the park in the second clash. Back in New South Wales, the series should be in the hands of the Blues. It isn’t though as another horrendous preparation will prove costly. The Blues have lost Jarryd Hayne and Paul Gallen. Greg Bird is hurt. We have recalled another pasty slow winger.

I really like this Blues team. Save for a terrible halfback and a few of the forward selections, this Blues team is as good as there has been over the seven-series streak. But without Gallen, the Blues lose not only their best and hardest working forward but invaluable leadership, experience and spirit. Young forwards like Aaron Woods and James Tamou have bright futures but they just don’t have the miles in the legs and the benefit of time on their side.

Deciders are made for Queensland. That is why just four of the 16 played have gone against the Maroons. The Queensland Spirit – whether real or perceived – comes to the fore in these games and this is the most experienced and greatest Queensland side of all. Players like Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk have always stood up when it counted. They will again on Wednesday.

The Blues cannot stop that rise. They cannot shut them down. Their only way is to step up and play with the Maroons. And I just don’t think the Blues can do that with Mitchell Pearce at halfback, a surely tentative James Maloney at No.6 and a prop rotation that is every chance of being dominated.

I hope I am wrong. It has been known to happen. But on paper – and on rugby league history – it seems unlikely.

Seeya Sandow: Ricky Stuart claims to love Wentworthville halfback Chris Sandow. Maybe he does. Maybe he doesn’t. He has compared him to Allan Langer. It is unclear if that is a compliment or not. Stuart, of course, was the antithesis of Langer as a player and his main rival for the Australian No.7 jersey. Whatever the outcome, it appears Chris Sandow’s first grade career is coming to a sharp halt, the two-time Willie M Medal winner dropped to the NSW Cup for the second time in two seasons. Sandow is a confidence player and it is unlikely he will ever get that at the Eels and he certainly won’t ever get it under Stuart, whose wretched history with halves needs to be seen to be believed. Sandow may have plenty of talent but he lacks application and plenty of the qualities required in a first grade halfback. Either way though, he will be making $550,000 a season for a while, thank you Parramatta.

The Great Gus: Do yourself a favour and read this cracking piece from Phil Gould, arguably the best piece written on the game all season and one that echos my sentiments fully and completley about the sanitisation of the game in recent years. While morons like Rothfield chastise him by playing for cheap applause from the supposed high moral ground, Gould rightfully explains that rugby league is a tough game for tough men. Just read the piece. It is wonderful. 

Oh When the Saints, Go Marching In: While 2013 is long gone for the Dragons, 2014 is shaping up quite nicely after another strong recruiting coup, landing Raiders halfback Sam Williams. While Williams is on the outs at the Raiders – despite the fact he is probably the best half at the club – he is a class act who is a legitimate playmaker who will only be better for being thrown into the deep end at such a young age. He joins Gareth Widdop in the halves and Josh Dugan at fullback and will be one of up to seven Raiders on the Dragons’ books. If they can’t beat Canberra, they may as well pinch their players.

Which Road is More Worn? The one from Canberra to Kogarah, the one from Kogarah to Newcastle or the one from Leichhardt to the Shire.

Wham Bam, No More Tim Tam: With only four games scheduled over the weekend, I figured there was no better way to spend Saturday than at Henson Park with the girl and the dog and the sun and the hipsters and the old time footy. The game was Newtown and Newcastle and what a belter it was with the Bluebags getting the chocolates. The biggest name on display was Timana Tahu, who was banished to NSW Cup months ago by Wayne Bennett. If his form on Saturday is anything to go by, Bennett won’t be in any hurry to recall him. Tahu was disinterested and weak defensively. It is a sad way for such a turbulent career to end.

Live By The Sword, Die By The Sword: I am, of course, the greatest proponent of the meaningless field goal there is. Nobody loves that pointless point more than me. When it is a Canterbury player undertaking the practice, it is usually a moment of great joy. Not on Sunday. Having loaded up on the under 38.5 points, I could not have been a happier man after 79-and-a-half minutes. Then Hodkinson – on a broken play that included at least one knock on – stepped back and dropped the meaningless dagger. The pain, the horror …

The Professional Foul: What has happened to referees penalising the professional foul? Canterbury five-eighth Josh Reynolds tackled Justin O’Neill without the ball with a try beckoning yet the referee simply blew a penalty. It was a clear professional foul and one that should have met with Reynolds sitting down for 10 minutes.

Fun Fact #1: There have been just seven sin binnings across the opening 18 rounds.

Fun Fact #2: The premiership has seen one Agar play: George Agar, who scored two tries for Eastern Suburbs across 1923-24.

Fun Fact #3: Two men played Test cricket for Australia and first grade rugby league: Herbie Collins (Easts) and Ray Lindwall (St George).

Rumour Mill: Ben Barba is expected to join the Broncos next year but the Bulldogs have made a concerted effort to keep him and may be able to secure their man. Expect Will Hopoate to try to escape his current contract with the Eels. St George Illawarra and the Broncos are two clubs that have been mentioned. The Panthers are set to make a play for Shaun Johnson but there is zero chance he is released by the Warriors. Lachlan Coote has been linked with a move to both the Bulldogs and the Cowboys. The Eels are chasing Nathan Peats. George Rose has been linked with a move to the Wests Tigers in 2014. David Shillington will not be at the Raiders next year with the Broncos his most likely destination, though don’t be surprised to see the Dragons make a play.

Funniest Eels Moment of the Week: Naming Willie Tonga. Playing Willie Tonga. Watching Willie Tonga show the lateral movement of King Kong Bundy. Seeing Willie Tonga cost the Eels any chance of victory. Knowing the Eels are paying Willie Tonga somewhere in the vicinity of $300,000 a season.

What I Love About … Josh Reynolds: There is no player in the premiership I love more than Josh Reynolds. He embodies all that is great about the greatest game of all. The rugged Bulldogs takes the game by the scruff and gives it his all. A terrier, a fighter, someone who brings energy and mongrel and leadership, Reynolds is the closest player to Terry Lamb since the great Baa himself. Reynolds knows how privileged he is to be a top grader and plays every game with every fibre of his being. Despite being dropped from Origin, Reynolds was best afield for the Bulldogs on Sunday, chasing and competing and creating on every play. No single play sums up his attitude more than when he ran down Justin O’Neill in the chase for a loose ball, an incredible effort. When I see Reynolds play, I feel he is the embodiment of the fan, someone who gives his all each and every play. Let’s hope he has a long and virtuous career with the Bulldogs.

Betting Market of the Week: If Mitchell Pearce again fails to step up on Wednesday, the reaction from the powers-that-be will be:

$41: He will be dropped and rightfully banished from Origin forever
$34: He will be called out for the ordinary player that he is
$101: He will be publicly lambasted and shamed by coach Laurie Daley and skipper Paul Gallen
$1.40: He will be picked in 2014 for his 13th, 14th and 15th Origin appearances.

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

Combo XIII of the Week: Golden West rivals Parramatta and Penrith have been doing battle since 1967 and have shared plenty of players. Here are the best.

1.Andrew Leeds
2. David Liddiard
3. David Woods
4. Peter Langmack
5. Neville Glover
6. Mark Levy
7. Gary Freeman
13. Lew Platz
12. Paul Dunn
11. Ron Lynch
10. Geoff Gerard
9. Kevin Kingston
8. Bob O’Reilly

Correspondence Corner: The Truth Teller, while I like that you are thinking outside the box, there is zero chance that the NRL goes on hiatus or moves Origins to the weekend. They simply rate too well Monday midweek and the broadcasters won’t cop no club footy for three straight weeks. I still think our best go is a knockout cup competition.

Witty Reference, while I agree with you that the Broncos are in need of change, you are totally wrong about Corey Norman, who is secretly having a very good year – a potential top 30 in my end of year top 50 list. Justin Hodges does try and I love his work but sometimes it simply doesn’t come back.

Davey G, Ricky Stuart clearly doesn’t relate to 20-year-olds. He doesn’t relate to any player. And we all enjoyed Steve Matai getting one on the chin, no doubt.

Tony Monero, I can hardly remember a punch before this edict came in. It is a ridiculous rule and it deserves the ridiculous outcome it has reaped.

Anonymous, why would you stay in league? Because it is the greatest game of all and rugby is a pseudo-sport for skirts and silver-spoon fed snots.

The Coaching Crosshairs: Speculation is running rife that the Broncos are doing their best to draft in Darren Lockyer to coach the club in 2014. While Lockyer has no coaching experience, the word is that he could be teamed with an experienced assistant. The Broncos’ main issues at the moment are the crumbling cache that has impacted upon recruitment and the complete failure of the Broncos’ attack to fire. Lockyer would be a risky play but he is a great thinker and a club legend and the Broncos need to roll the dice.

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: The Special Needs Penguin enjoyed Friday’s clash against the Broncos like the rest of us – on television.

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 18: Brisbane-Cronulla, 18-19. The Sharks and Broncos – sans their Origin stars – played a thrilling opening half that ended 0-0. But the points came about in the second half with the Sharks holding on 19-18 in a high quality game. Todd Carney was exceptional with three try assists and the deciding field goal that sent the Sharks out to a 19-6 lead. It was then that the Broncos woke up with two tries to send the match to the wire with the Broncos nearly pulling it off. An excellent game.

Beard Watch: He may have little to offer in the way of speed, skill or finishing ability but Parramatta winger Brayden Williame has a fantastic little moustache. That should be enough to see him retained in first grade for the rest of the season.

Watch It: This week we delve into Rugby League: The Musical and the stylings of the one and only Denis Carnahan. Listen to the updated version of ‘That’s in Queensland’ here and be sure to check out other classics like ‘1 Out of 3 Ain’t Bad’ and ‘Puff the St George Dragon’.


Comments (6)

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  1. Bulldogtimbo says:

    Hey Nick,

                     Very interested to see your thoughts re Josh Reynolds.When I read it I thought somehow you were reading my mind.If only there were more players like Reynolds this game would be much more interesting.


  2. Anonymous says:

    How would Melbourne be going this year if their spine was Slater, Widdop, Cam Smith and Chris Sandow? How would Parramatta be if Cooper Cronk was their halfback? Sandow is playing for Wenty, but let's think back a few years when Parramatta made the Grand Final, and who their halfback was (Jeff Robson).

    We hear the weekly cliches of the "forwards laid the platform" in interviews, however this has not been mentioned in the past 2 years at Parra because that is what the forwards are not doing. No denying that Mannah tries his guts out, Fui Fui bends the line but doesn't offload, and the rest are run-of-the-mill forwards who hit the line and get tackled. In 2009, the forwards would drag in 3 players, offload, then Jarryd could take his pick of holes to run into.

    What I am getting at is that if Cronk was at the Eels, playing behind the current pack, I don't see their results being that much different. The halfback and then the coach and then the superstar are always the first to get blamed, and Sandow is copping it for having no platform. Of course, the halfback needs to direct the forwards and run the show, and while the cattle at the Storm aren't big names but do the job, the Eels are not the only team who don't have the pack that allows their team to score.

    If you think the argument is flawed, please tell me then how the Broncos pack full of rep players and 2 origin players in their halves are failing? Wallace looks sheepish while prine dominates, however he relies on milking penalty tactics rather than his old cross-field runs dragging in defenders and creating holes. The broncos pack are having a go (they seem to be to me), so why aren't Prince and Wallace playing for the Clydesdales?

    If Parramatta have so much coin now to spend next year, they need to be hitting the forward market. They brought in Lussick and harrison, but they have pretty much drawn comparison to Justin Poore since arriving. Some of the younger Tanginoas of the club hopefully can continue to build with experience, but until they do or there are better forwards, I don't think Sandow (and Hayne) should be copping as much as they do. They do need to put their hands up and indentify ways to improve, definitely, but not feel the weight solely on their shoulders.

    It's like in the Under 6's, when after every play the ball a kid picks up the ball and runs to their best player, hands it to them, then everyone yells "GO!!". Relying on the best kid in your team instead of having a team effort laying the platform is the disaster that has been my Eels the past few years, and it is getting harder and harder to stomach.

    Davey G

    P.S as a long-time Aaron Woods fan, it was disapponting to see him not do much early and then not get back on. We'll see if he gets a run next year, I hope there will be opportunities for the team of the future to get in there as the current QLD team are all old. NSW need to get their team of tomorrow in their now for when Smith / Hodges / Thurston / Scott etc retire

  3. WittyReference says:

    re Corey Norman – I did exagerate a bit for effect and at times this year he has been great, but I don't see the consistency at fullback that I did from Hoffman. The one attacking play that he was apart of doesn't work anymore as every other team sees it comming, he doesn't kick enough and his defensive positional play isn't as good as Hoffman. Prince is a flop so I'd rather Norman played at 5/8 even if last year wasn't great. I see his potential but he's not there yet, top 50? mmm really? And that dropped bomb against the Sharks…..


    Can every player who wants more money stop claiming they'll go to the Broncos, please. You're breaking our hearts with all this false hope.


    I've been watching the complete Origin highlights dvds, starting with the 80's and have been loving the nostalagia trip to my youth. The free flowing, less structured attack is rereshing and you really don't notice the 5m defensive line. Really makes me wonder what the game would look like if that rule wasn't changed to 10m. Whatever happenned to shoulder pads? They look as funny as the fashion in the crowds.


    Wingers still can't mark wingers.


  4. Anonymous says:

    Is it possible to play sevens at the Brazil Olympics without being ARU aligned?
    Does the AOC just select the best players regardless of code to possibly earn the chance to win an olympic gold medal? Surely, if they want to win, the answer to both questions must be yes.
    Tony Monero

  5. Anonymous says:

    Mr Nutella,

    I am sick to death of the germs (player managers) who say that the club, or the NRL hierarchy hasn’t done enough to keep their client in the greatest game of all. In my opinion it is the germs who have not done enough in convincing their client that they are getting a good deal, shut up and count your blessings that everything you have is as a result of your club, the code and the fans support. For a few pieces of silver or whatever, Benji, Ablett and the Maggot (SBW) have compromised their legacy at their respective clubs.

    On that if I were the tigers I would go all in for Folau, that way he won’t end up at the dogs.


  6. Anonymous says:

    Great column again Nick. Two quick things:

    1) As someone who worshipped the ground Andrew Leeds walked on as a child wearing the black and white of Western Suburbs, thank you for acknowledging Jumper as one of the more underrated players of the game, even if it was just a combined Parra-Penrith team;


    2) I know this may be nit-picking, but as a proud Magpie who still holds on to the small shreds of Wests identity within WT, is it possible to refer to Campbelltown instead of Leichhardt on occasion (EG the path from Leichhardt to the Shire)?