From The Couch: Round 2

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on March 12, 2012

A Step in the Right Direction: It was pleasing to read over the weekend that a number of the game's powerbrokers are pushing for a challenge system, first advocated in this column three years ago. A challenge system has worked tremendously well in the NFL and the NRL should look at a similar model.

While I am extremely pleased that the advent of the Independent Commission has led to a greater freedom thinking in the game, the NRL should follow the below model rather than that which is being proposed, where it will operate concurrently with the video referees with each team getting one challenge per half without penalties for incorrect challenges.

This new proposed system will add to the length of matches, could hold games up at any time and continues to allow on-field referees to avoid decision-making and deflect responsibility. The key to the challenge system should be abolishing the use of an off-field video referee while forcing on-field officials to make decision on every play. The below system will be far more effective and I implore the powers-that-be to implement it.

It will work like this.

  • Teams are given two incorrect challenges per match
  • Challenges are unlimited if they are proven correct
  • The penalty for an incorrect challenge is the loss of an interchange
  • Teams cannot challenge if they are out of interchanges
  • The captain will make the challenge though he may be advised from the sideline
  • Challenges are limited to the try-scoring play
  • The on-field referee must make a decision and that decision stands unless there is conclusive evidence to overturn the original call
  • The on-field referee will analyse the video for a maximum of 1 minute with booths located behind each goal-line
  • Video referees are abolished
  • Benefit of the doubt is abolished

The benefits of such a system are plentiful. It allows the positives of technology to be used while circumventing bitter and arrogant ex-referees. It re-empowers the on-field officials, forcing them to make decisions. By forcing the on-field official to also act as a video referee with a burden of proof that calls for overwhelming evidence, it eliminates the ticky-tacky and nit-picky decisions currently made by video referees. The system is essentially designed to ensure egregious errors are mended but the nit-picking and illogical awarding of tries is removed from the sport. This new system is not perfect but it is sure as hell better than what we have at the moment and is better than what is being proposed.

The NRL is currently thinking bold. Let's go all the way and implement a system that will actually change the game for the better.

Transfer Angst: Beau Scott's decision to sign with Newcastle has again brought to a head the issue of player transfers and the annoyance some get from seeing players sign with clubs for the following season a year or longer out.

Personally, I have few problems with this. Relative to systems used in the past, it is the best available. The June 30 deadline was a crock. Everyone knew players had reached agreements during the dark period. The same with the AFL model – everyone knew Gary Ablett had signed with the Gold Coast the season prior to his move. A total free market model is preferable to both those.

The best way through, however, is for the NRL to do two things: introduce two transfer windows and a set roster number.

An end of year transfer window will only work if accompanied by a mid-season transfer window. Players won't just wait for the end of year window and neither will clubs. A mid-season transfer window will allow clubs willing to chase players for the following season to get that player immediately. It will also encourage more trading, something that would benefit the game and every club. The Knights could get Beau Scott this year and the Dragons could release him to go in return, for say, young Ryan Stig or Tyrone Roberts. That is just win-win all round. A mid-season transfer window will require a change in attitude from clubs and it will need the RLPA's support but it is an idea that would stop players sticking with a club when signed elsewhere.

The introduction of a set roster is also important. The NRL needs to better control the playing rosters of clubs. The AFL has a roster of 40. The NFL 52. Specific lists are there for injured players, rookies etc. By introducing this, it will be easier to track the salary cap while it will stop clubs hoarding young talent. This is a no-brainer and must be looked at. A primary list of 30-34 would be ideal with players from outside that only eligible to be selected if elevated in the place of another. It all makes sense but it is another professional move that the NRL has never bothered with.

Player movement is good. It is exciting. The NRL just needs to harness it more professionally.

The Arrogance of Nine: "We want the broadcast rights – and we'll win them," declared Nine boss Jeff Browne. "We do rugby league best." Browne is clearly showing how out of touch he is with rugby league, living down in his ivory tower in Melbourne. Nine has done nothing but stymie the growth of rugby league with plenty of conspiracy theories abounding as to Browne's involvement as behind the lack of coverage south of the Barrassi Line. Browne says that more has to be done to grow the game – Nine has had every chance to do that for the last 20 years and has chosen to do nothing. I have faith in the new Independent Commission that bold decisions will be made – being bold in this situation would be leaving Nine, the station that has done not one thing to help the game grow. It has underpaid, it has not fulfilled its contractual obligations and it has made no attempts to show even the biggest games in non-traditional league states.

A Disgraceful Call: How Tony Archer came up with a try to Junior Sau is beyond me. The decision to award Ben Pomeroy the last try was just as bad. Ball carriers must take responsibility for holding the ball. The referees need to stop trying to be so cute. Sau lost the ball in the tackle. How could any other interpretation be reached? Astonishing.

David Furner, Leave the Thinking to Those With Brains: It was great to see Canberra's Great Thinker, David Furner, come up with a solution to dealing with controversial refereeing decision. Furner wants teams' for and against adjusted. The wonderful Canberra boss didn't offer any comment on how this hurts the balance of the comp or what decisions will lead to adjustments. Furner again showing his smarts. He should concentrate on getting his win rate up above 39 per cent.

Papua New Guinea is Great: There is little more entertaining than rugby league in Papua New Guinea. They love their league. They also manage to get very excited very quickly, as was shown last week when the country went into a state of mourning over the death of Darren Lockyer. Nobody bothered to check the veracity of the story. The good news is that Lockyer is still kicking and even has a statue, unveiled at Lang Park last week.

An Orange Boy Done Good: From The Couch loves to see an Orange boy in the big time and we are thoroughly pumped to see young Raiders winger burst onto the scene to join Daniel Mortimer and James Maloney in first grade. Wighton was outstanding on debut, setting up a try with a magic jump but showing he was ready for the top level with his aggressive defence. He has an exceptionally bright future. It was also good to see former Orange newsreader Matt Russell call the game and give a shoutout to fine establishment Kelly's.

The Gold Coast Titans Sign William Zillman to a 5-Year Deal: My only thought: why? The fullback does not rate in the top 10 in the game, he has had two knee reconstructions and is not particularly well desired. Talk about misreading the market.

Des Listens: It was pleasing to see Des Hasler listen to this column and return lock David Stagg to his status as an 80-minute player. Stagg was back to his best on Saturday night, playing out the whole game, setting up a try and making 41 tackles. Your malleability is appreciated, Des.

Mark Minichiello Reaches 200 Games: An amazing achievement for somebody with flippers for hands. How he blew the first try against Canberra defied belief. If he worked on his catching, he could be a star. But he has never bothered and he really is nothing but a big boy who ruins chances for his team.

Once a King: South Sydney outside back Matt King may be only two games into his NRL comeback but I don't think it is too early to say that he is the latest in a long line of backs returning from Super League who have proven they are no longer up to the NRL game. Super League is a great product but it is much easier for backs to shine. King is on decent money at the Bunnies but Souths won't see a return. King has shown little and it would be a surprise if he sees the year out in first grade.

Bring Back Morts: The Sydney Roosters looked dreadful on Sunday afternoon, failing to register a single point at home against a Penrith team missing two of its best players. It was a shameful showing after such a mighty win against Souths the week prior. Brian Smith attempted to deflect attention from the lifeless Roosters showing by firing a few shots at the referees for allowing wrestling – of which there was some, no doubt – but he should look at his own selection primarily. The decision to drop Daniel Mortimer to the bench for the returning Braith Anasta was strange after Mortimer's fine showing against the Bunnies. To drop him from the 17 altogether was just stupid. It showed in the Roosters' limp attack, of which Anasta provided nothing. Anasta is a backrower these days – whether he wants to accept it or not. Mortimer needs to be playing plenty of minutes if the Roosters are to go anywhere in 2012.

Hurt Burt: Poor old Luke Burt. One of the few Parramatta Eels to try over the last few years, Burt was dumped to the NSW Cup to keep, wait for it, Ken Sio and Cheyse Blair. The thinking is that Stephen Kearney has officially lost his mind.

Mo Disappointment: Why Kevin Shayne Hayne, why? You had such a magnificent moustache … and now it is no longer. Devastating.

Thems Were the Days: Chooseday Night Football on Fox Sports is always marvellous, particularly when they go well back in time, as they did last week when showing Norths and Wests from 1991. The highlight was Bears coach Steve Martin sipping on, what appeared to be, a short glass with coke. Considering Martin's get-up, the smart money is that there was rum or bourbon with it. Needless to say, Martin's short coaching career could not be described as stellar.

Worst Effort of the Week: The man in charge of ironing on North Queensland's numbers. Nearly all fell off against the Broncos. Very disappointing.

Spotted: The great SK Warne watching the Melbourne Storm outlast the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Good to see Warney getting some league into him.

Injury Update: The most noteworthy injury over the weekend saw Newcastle skipper Kurt Gidley damage his shoulder in what could be a season-ending injury. Gidley is critical to the Knights' success and Wayne Bennett will be desperate to get some good news on his captain. Internationals Jarryd Hayne and Corey Parker also went down.

Neville Costigan (Newcastle): Sustained a nasty cork but is a tough bastard and will be right to play against Brisbane.

Gareth Ellis (Wests Tigers): The powerful Tigers backrower was in visible pain when damaging his quad against Manly, playing only 43 minutes. He is looking at one, possibly two weeks on the sideline.

Kurt Gidley (Newcastle): The Knights skipper is set to miss at least a month of action with a shoulder injury and could be outed for the season if he requires a reconstruction. Ryan Stig will come into the No.6 jersey but nobody can replicate Gidley's energy.

Tim Grant (Penrith): The burly Panthers prop picked up a calf injury at training last week and was a late scratching against the Sydney Roosters. Will play this week, one would imagine.

Jarryd Hayne (Parramatta): Appeared to damage his knee against the Warriors when a late inclusion and he looks like he will be out for quite a while. Should see Luke Burt win a recall.

David Mead (Gold Coast): The Titans winger broke his jaw against the Raiders and will now play without their top tryscorer for at least six weeks. Kevin Gordon will take his spot if he has recovered from his knee complaint.

Corey Parker (Brisbane): Broke his thumb against North Queensland early on and could miss up to six weeks though it will likely only be a couple knowing his toughness. He has gone for surgery.

Adam Reynolds (Souths): The Bunnies rookie halfback looked in a ton of pain when hurting his knee against Melbourne but battled on. Should be fine.

Beau Scott (St George Illawarra): The Dragons utility took a bad cork and played only a half against Canterbury. Shouldn't be out long but is in doubt for this weekend.

Dave Taylor (Souths): The huge Bunnies forward picked up a nasty back/hamstring injury and struggled to get off the field. Looks like an ongoing concern. He is in doubt over the coming weeks.

Esi Tonga (Parramatta): Pulled up like shot when chasing Bill Tupou. Unclear what damage was done.

Matt Utai (Wests Tigers): The Tigers winger has done his MCL and will miss six weeks. The Tigers have a host of outside backs who can more than capably fill the void – some would argue more capably – with Joel Reddy the favourite for the spot.

Fun Fact #1: The Brisbane Broncos, the Melbourne Storm and the Gold Coast Titans have never been shutout at home. Of teams that have been shutout at home, Manly have the longest non-shutout streak with their last loss to zero at Brookvale coming in round six 1993, a 6-0 defeat to Eastern Suburbs. The streak is currently 175 games at the venue.

The 2012 Willie M Medal: Votes for week two are in and there was plenty of mediocrity, mindlessness and wretchedness to give the judges a hard week.

Manly v Wests Tigers
3-Matt Utai (Tig)
2-Darcy Lussick (Man)
1-Adam Blair (Tig)
Judge-Rohan Kendall

Brisbane v North Queensland

3-Ashton Sims (Cow)
2-Gerard Beale (Bri)
1-Corey Norman (Bri)
Judge-Cliff Bingham

Gold Coast v Canberra

3-Mark Minichiello (GC)
2-Steve Michaels (GC)
1-Joel Thompson (Can)
Judge-Nick Tedeschi

Canterbury v St George Illawarra

3-Mitch Rein (Dra)
2-Ben Hornby (Dra)
1-Ben Creagh (Dra)
Judge-Nick Tedeschi

Cronulla v Newcastle

3-Ben Pomeroy (Cro)
2-Sam Tagataese (Cro)
1-Junior Sau (New)
Judge-Nathan Boss

Sydney Roosters v Penrith

3-Jake Friend (Roo)
2-Mitchell Pearce (Roo)
1-BJ Leilua (Roo)
Judge-Nick Tedeschi

Melbourne v South Sydney

3-Fetuli Talanoa (Sou)
2-Matt King (Sou)
1-Jason Ryles (Mel)
Judge-Matt Fisk

Parramatta v New Zealand

3-Willie Tonga (Par)
2-Matt Keating (Par)
1-Ben Roberts (Par)
Judge-Nick Tedeschi


3- Multiple

Rumour Mill: The rumour mill has been in overdrive this week. The Wests Tigers have reportedly entered the market for Sonny Bill Williams though Tim Sheens is supposedly against the play. Back-up Dragons hooker Cameron King is supposedly set to follow Beau Scott to Newcastle to again play for Wayne Bennett. Former Origin halfback Brett Finch is looking to return to the NRL with South Sydney the likely destination. Stephen Kearney reportedly considered dropping Eels stalwart Nathan Hindmarsh but backed away at the last minute. Allowing Beau Scott to walk suggests St George Illawarra are serious contenders for the Stewart boys. Overrated Sydney Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves won't be at Bondi next year with a return to rugby union now favoured ahead of a stint at Parramatta. Cooper Cronk is on the verge of re-signing with Melbourne.

Power Rankings:
1. Manly 2-0 (1)
2. Melbourne 2-0 (4)
3. Canterbury 2-0 (6)
4. Wests Tigers 1-1 (5)
5. Brisbane 1-1 (2)
6. Newcastle 1-1 (7)
7. New Zealand 1-1 (8)
8. Penrith 1-1 (14)
9. St George Illawarra 1-1 (3)
10. Canberra 1-1 (12)
11. Cronulla 0-2 (10)
12. South Sydney 0-2 (13)
13. North Queensland 1-1 (16)
14. Sydney Roosters 1-1 (9)
15. Gold Coast 1-1 (11)
16. Parramatta 0-2 (15)

Betting Market of the Week: In five years time, William Zillman will:

Still be an effective fullback for the Titans: $7.00
Be recovering from his fourth knee reconstruction: $4.00
Be about to enter his third Super League season: $2.60
The decision that ended Michael Searle's tenure at the Titans: $2.20

What I Like About … Micheal Luck: That the Warriors workhorse has had over 300 stitches throughout his career. The tackling machine has taken the lead from former Warriors No.13 Kevin Campion and has made a habit out of bleeding and bleeding often. Kudos. There are few players I enjoy watching more. Expect the Warriors to struggle without their hardman early.

The Moniker XIII of the Week: With Stephen Kearney's shock decision to drop Luke Burt to the NSW Cup, we this week find the best Lukes to play the game in Australia.

The Lukes
1. Luke Patten (282 games for Illawarra/Dragons/Canterbury)
2. Luke Rooney (140 games for Penrith)
3. Luke Phillips (105 games for Canberra/North Q/Manly/Roosters)
4. Luke Williamson (218 games for Adelaide/Canberra/N Eagles/Manly)
5. Luke Burt (245 games for Parramatta)
6. Luke Lewis (196 games for Penrith)
7. Luke Goodwin (33 games for Penrith/Canterbury/W Reds/Wests)
13. Luke Ricketson (301 games for Roosters)
12. Luke O'Donnell (168 games for Balmain/Wests Tigers/North Qld)
11. Luke Douglas (148 games for Cronulla/Gold Coast)
10. Luke Stuart (242 games for Cronulla/South Sydney)
9. Luke Priddis (315 games for Canberra/Brisbane/Penrith/Dragons)

8. Luke Bailey (215 games for Dragons/Gold Coast)

Analysis: The Lukes don't have the most spectacular squad but you would be hard pressed to find a more honest, more reliable, more solid team. The pack just keeps on going while the majority of the backline, led by fullback Luke Patten and five-eighth Luke Lewis, never let anybody down.

The Coaching Crosshairs: Victories seem to have kept the death-riders at bay for Neil Henry and David Furner but both are still well in the gun. The Cowboys were much improved against Brisbane but Henry's team selection was again poor and he doesn't seem to have much support among the players. The Raiders snuck home past the Titans but Furner has a lot of making up to do for 2011. Steve Price is one coach who could find himself in trouble. The Dragons played as bad as they have in a half-decade against Canterbury and has reportedly fallen out with front office brass. He needs results or Nathan Brown could find himself back in charge.

Obscure Score of the Week: Lezignan-Montpellier, 38-10, quarter-finals Lord Derby Cup. The Sangliers, who have won the last four French championships and the last two Lord Derby Cups, had an easy victory over Montpellier to advance to the semi-finals and will meet the Pia Donkeys in the semi-finals. Lezignan have Australians Jye Mullane and Tony Duggan in their squad.

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: The incomparable Matt Fisk sent this on Sunday afternoon: "The Penguin is back … three mistakes, just got caught on the last and looked confused when a handover was ruled." Yep, that about says it all.

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 2: Brisbane-North Queensland, 26-28. Another high-class weekend of action but the Cowboys' last second win over the Broncos was the most memorable. The Broncos were slow out of the blocks but had the game in their keeping until Matt Bowen made a joke of Corey Parker to score the winner. Outstanding finish in a game that always lives up to the hype.

Correspondence Corner: Zig, the try to Cronk against the Raiders was a total joke and shows that many of those charged with being video referees aren't up to the job. And Roy Astoasi's decline is sad to watch. He is hardly even a first grader these days.

Bill, since 2000, Canterbury have signed five internationals. One Englishman (James Graham – 2012), three Kiwis (Nigel Vagana -2001, Greg Eastwood -2009, Frank Pritchard – 2011) and one Australian (Brett Kimmorley – 2009). Kimmorley had not played an international in four seasons. That is hardly a club that has purchased a ton of internationals.  Over that same period, Penrith purchased three: Luke Priddis – 2002, Petero Civoniceva – 2008 and Timana Tahu – 2010.

Warriorman, I am a Bulldogs fan … and a rugby league fan and if he walked out like that on another club I would never want to see him back either. And Shaun Johnson got no points because the Willie M Medal is for the three worst players, as has been made abundantly clear over the years. Johnson was outstanding. I'm not sure why you want him to be recognised for mediocrity. The Bulldogs will be cutting up to eight players if the Stewart boys are signed. I just hope David Stagg isn't one of them.

Anna, Stagg does plenty with the ball and even if he was only a tackling machine, every pack needs one. Very harsh on Stagg and Hindmarsh.

Davey G, sorry mate, but I can't tell you the last year a player wasn't done for the year in round one. Brett Stewart, of course, in 2009 goes on that list. It does happen often.

Arthur, Dragons68 I just think Hornby is well past it. The Dragons really need a halfback.

Mike From Tari, James Graham and Sam Burgess have both been brilliant. I hope that the move to Nine for the Queensland Cup does work but when it is moved to midnight on a Tuesday, don't say that you weren't warned. How many Super League games do we get to see now?

The Voice, yes, I am aware of the confidant's love of Hanley and Ellis … an affection I share. Graham has a way to go but he has it in him to catch them

Dan, my solution isn't perfect regarding the charge-down rule but I think that it does come with a risk if a player tries to kick the ball at opposition players. At any rate, if the defensive player does not move towards the kicker, that would not be considered played at.

Warriors_fan, I think Matty has found his groove and Ben Ikin has been outstanding as well. He has really come along as an excellent analyst. Regarding Williams, you are spot on – he should never be allowed near the great game again.

Mav63, I don't think you are right on Hindmarsh at all. He still is the best defensive player Parramatta have. At any rate, they have nobody of talent to replace him.

Redman, we all have our biases – I accept that. But as a neutral observer, the Sharks were robbed. Full stop. And Willie Tonga is among the most overrated players in the game.

Beard Watch: And the award for the worst beard of the year … Manu Vatuvei. If The Beast spent more time learning to catch and less time touching up his very odd facial hair, he could be one of the most destructive players in the game.

Watch It: The 1991 fifth-placed playoff – the last playoff to ever take place – finished in high controversy with Canterbury robbed of a spot in the finals series by Bill Harrigan and a heap of cheating Wests fans who stormed the field with the Bulldogs down 19-14 but with Jonathan Davies free and on his way to the tryline. I have never forgiven Wests fans for this loss, nor will I forget. Watch it here.


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