From The Couch: Round 20

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on July 26, 2011

Stop the Clock, Bring in the Bucks: It is rare that I ever agree with David Gyngell. He runs the station that has consistently raped rugby league for the better part of the last twenty years. He feels his station has some divine right to broadcast rugby league yet he does not believe his station should do anything to promote and grow the game. It is a disgrace. He is again angling to underpay with his chatter that Nine will go hell-for-leather for NRL rights, attemping to use Nine’s first-and-last rights to scare off other bidders. He has mocked the new expectations that the NRL will get somewhere between $1 billion and $1.4 billion for the next television deal, a most realistic figure considering how the game rates and how many potential bidders there are.

But when it comes to the need to formalise more ad breaks into rugby league, Gyngell and I are on the same page. Gyngell has called for league to bring in more stoppages to allow for ad breaks. There is no reason why the game should not do this. The benefits are two-fold and the supposed negative that this will stop the flow of the game is a total myth.

I have been on the barrel of stopping the clock in dead-ball situations for years. This is the best way to bring in short ad-breaks throughout the match that will allow the game to reap a greater financial reward while finally adding some consistency to clock management.

The idea is simply and was well argued by NRL Stats boss Andrew Moufarrige here. Rugby league has its stoppages already. The problem for ad networks is that there is no formalisation of how long they will be and essentially, the game continues. Viewers don’t want to see ads while the clock continues and hence ad revenue during live broadcasts of league is diminished.

But if we stop the clock in dead-ball situations, networks can plan with a series of 15 second and 30 second spots that can be infused into a match while not pissing off viewers by eating into “playing time”, even though nothing is actually happening.

Moufarrige offers the stats to back it up. There are on average three drop outs a game and we have this stupid 40-second “shot clock” that means that games go for 79 minutes, 21 seconds if the game is close and a drop out is forced. We stop the clock every time for 30 seconds, go to an ad and the players are ready when we return. If they are not, they are penalised.

When the ball goes out, the clock stops for 30 seconds for a scrum. We sneak an ad break in and we are ready. If we are not, the offending team is penalised.

It is the same for tries, penalty goals and kicks for touch.

None of these time outs will actually slow the game down. That is a myth. At present, the game essentially stops during these breaks anyway.

So let’s bring some consistency to these stoppages and get plenty of cash while we are at it. Moufarrige forecasts it can bring $70 million a year in additional revenue. While I don’t agree with all his notions, like a two minute mid-half break and the changing of the interchange rules, he is onto something.

Hopefully the new Commission see the dual benefits of stopping the clock in dead-ball situations. There is money to be made for the game and if we are to reach the very achievable $1.4 billion rights deal without changing the game, we will need to jump at opportunities like these.

City-Country Must Be Kept: The proposal to scrap City-Country in 2013 is absurd and the new Independent Commission must overrule the desire of the clubs and the NRL administration and ensure it remains on the annual program.

The City-Country match is a wonderful annual tradition unique to rugby league. Dating back to 1934, the match has been staged nearly every year and is a tremendous occasion. Primarily, the match is about the bush. Country represent the neglected bush areas that have been allowed to wither for two decades as a series of forces have weakened the strength of bush footy. This annual match may be only a token gesture but it is a token gesture that means plenty to country folk.

The match is also a wonderful opportunity to take the big names to the bush and allow those who live in the country to see some top line rugby league live. Towns go crazy for it. I was in Orange a few years ago for the match and the town was swept by City-Country fever, as Mudgee will be next year.

Never mind its importance as an Origin trial and a chance for fringe representative players to stake their claims. Ryan Hinchcliffe didn’t get picked for the Blues this year but his name was put into the mix by his stellar effort for Country.

This will be the first big test for the IC. It will determine whether it is a body that will simply look after the interests of the 16 NRL clubs or whether it will act in the greater interests of the game, as the AFL Commission does. Hopefully, it will serve the game as a whole and not just kow-tow to the short-term interests of club bosses.

John Grant, your time to stand up and be counted is coming and hopefully you show the vision and understanding to look after rugby league in the bush. That means keeping City-Country.

Craig Bellamy is a Brilliant Coach: It doesn’t take a genius to label Craig Bellamy a great coach. It has been patently obvious for all to see since he took the reins at Melbourne. The Storm have won a couple of premierships under Bellamy, winning three straight minor premierships and consistently setting the benchmark for defence. He has built a culture of genuine pride and the list of players he has made better at the Storm will stretch on forever and a day.

It is his efforts with the Storm over the last 18 months though that has me willing to rank him below only Wayne Bennett and Jack Gibson in the pantheon of all-time great rugby league coaches. In terms of active coaches in Australian sport, Bennett is his only rival with the likes of Mick Malthouse not even in the same league.

It was astonishing that the Storm did so well in 2010 after being told they would play for no premiership points, winning 14 games including 10 after the sanctions were imposed. It was an incredible effort and one that would have been achievable at no other club. I can say with near certainty that any of the other 15 clubs would have imploded, giving up and winning no more than two or three games.

Bellamy’s effort in getting the Storm to the minor premiership this year-and the Storm are near certainties for the regular season title-has been just as incredible. Melbourne were forced to shed a heap of talent. Greg Inglis, Brett Finch, Ryan Hoffman, Jeff Lima and a string of others were offloaded as did assistant coach Stephen Kearney, a year after both Dallas Johnson and assistant Michael Maguire left.

Replacing the big names that left have been no-names who Bellamy has pulled the best from. Gareth Widdop has always had talent but he was re-shaped into a five-eighth who in a year has become one of the top pivots in the game. Maurice Blair was a fat bum at Penrith. He has been electric in the last six weeks. The likes of Adam Woolnough and Bryan Norrie have carried the pack.

Bellamy is a lock for coach of the year honours. He also deserves to be knighted for his achievements with the Storm over the last 18 months, a performance that is arguably the most remarkable in the history of our great game.

Petero Goes Home:It is wonderful news that Petero Civoniceva has re-signed with the Brisbane Broncos for next year. There is no doubt the arrival of Phil Gould at Penrith precipitated the move but Petero, a sentimental man who has always indicated he wanted to return home to Brisbane, is also moving for the right reasons. He will re-form the top class front row tandem with Ben Hannant and ensure Brisbane have one of the leading packs in the NRL in 2012.

Commentary Breakdowns:For mine, rugby league has one of the least talented group of callers. There are some solid play-by-play men, some interesting analysts, some keen sideline eyes but the culture of calling rugby league is not great. There is far too much of the cheer squad mentality, too much reliance on recently retired “superstars” and a general unwillingness to think either outside the square or say something that could offend a player or a coach. There certainly isn’t the combative nature in television and radio that there is in print and internet journalism.

Having said that, we do have commentary teams and now is the time to break them down, sorting the wheat from the chaff, finding strengths and weaknesses and all that blarney.

Nine: (Ray Warren, Andrew Voss, Peter Sterling, Phil Gould, Andrew Johns, Paul Vautin, Wally Lewis, Tim Gilbert, Brad Fittler)

There is so much not to like about the Nine broadcasts but first we will get into the positives. Ray Warren is a legend of the game and though his inaccuracy and knockabout sensibility can wear, there is nothing like a close match with Rabs. Andrew Voss is a good play-by-play man if not a bit self-involved. I appreciate his sense of history and love of the obscure. He is a rugby league trainspotter. If you could combine the two-Rabs’ ability to get excited and Vossy’s eye- you would have a great play-by-play man. But at the moment, we have two good ones.

The same cannot be said of the analysts. Phil Gould is a great brain, the kind of guy you want in the box as a fan. But he takes so much away from his insight with his hyperbolic stupidity and his need to big note. His tone is also extraordinarily negative. Gus has the ability in him…he just seems to choose to play the caricature rather than the top analyst he could be. Peter Sterling is a consummate professional and even though he isn’t a deep thinker or overly insightful and he is a bit of a cheerleader, he does his job and he does it well.

The same cannot be said for the rest of the crew. Wally Lewis tries hard but really provides little insight. Brad Fittler thinks everything is funny. He is a joke who detracts from every broadcast. Andrew Johns is no Matthew Johns and his jovial banter and chummy comments don’t add anything. Paul Vautin can get excitable and is a good television host but for mine he is on the B-team for a reason. Tim Gilbert is okay but rarely gets a chance.

Overall, I think Nine underachieves with its broadcasts. They try nothing new and seem more intent on promoting other bollocks or being pally or sharing inside jokes or pulling the blokes-having-a-beer schtick than they do offering a quality broadcast. The analysts seem like a horrible parody of John Madden at his worst while the callers don’t present themselves as being above the chitter-chatter. It is a shame.

Fox Sports: (Callers: Warren Smith, Mark Braybrook, Andy Raymond; Analysts: Gary Belcher, Braith Anasta, Gary Freeman, Simon Woolford, Laurie Daley, Greg Alexander, Brett Kimmorley)

Fox Sports kills Nine in terms of television commentary, pure and simple. They have three quality play-by-play men. Warren Smith is the best television announcer while Andy Raymond isn’t far behind. Both offer excitability and accuracy. Mark Braybrook lacks a little on the former but he is rarely wrong and his laconic nature can be just what is required at times.

On Raymond, his sideline work on the Monday Night broadcast also deserves kudos. He takes a real NFL route and it works. He builds up a game well and he gets the good information.

Where Fox Sports lets itself down is with its analysts and Laurie Daley in particular. Daley is painful to listen too. His miss-the-point and totally inaccurate insights drag on for an entire set. He isn’t excitable. He isn’t interesting. He brings nothing but annoyance. He is the worst analyst regularly on television. The quicker he is out, the better. Gorden Tallis, Gary Freeman and Wayne Pearce are morons. Greg Alexander is okay. Simon Woolford is out of his depth. New boys like Braith Anasta and Brett Kimmorley aren’t there yet. Gary Belcher is about the only name who regularly entertains and informs and seems capable of the job. Perhaps Fox Sports should look at more obscure, more talented former players than just going for the stars. They should also look to find a former coach to get involved. I would recommend Matt Elliott.

The Fox Sports broadcasts kill Nine but there is still room for improvement.

ABC: (David Morrow, Warren Ryan, Steve Mascord, Daniel Anderson, Craig Hamilton, Tim Gavel, Warren Boland plus others)

I used to love the ABC call but I am growing weary of it and for mine, David Morrow has slipped off the perch as the top radio caller. He is always accurate and his in-game stuff is usually spot-on but his pre and post-game interviewing leaves plenty to be desired. He loves the soft stuff and his banter is dated and almost elitist. Warren Ryan doesn’t help. He is belligerent and too far removed from the game with most of his ideas tending to be rather whacky these days. His chatter is stilted and self-indulgent and he tends to focus on his bug-bears far too much. Daniel Anderson seems to be being groomed for his spot and I hope he gets it (if he misses the Canterbury job) because Anderson is a smooth analyst more in-touch with the modern game. He certainly understands modern trends more. Steve Mascord is the top sideline man in the business. I have always had a fondness for Craig Hamilton and his calls are always solid. He has a good voice and a good understanding of tempo. Tim Gavel always does a stellar job in Canberra and if he lived in Sydney, he would be the top caller, I would like to think. Warren Boland does the Queensland games but after hearing his call of the Cowboys-Titans match, I can’t help but feel my sense of nostalgia for him is a little misguided. Overall, the ABC broadcasts tend to be more serious (a definite plus) and the calls more accurate but the pre and post-game stuff seems a bit old, a bit soft and a bit self-indulgent. Bring back Peter Wilkins and get him working with Craig Hamilton, Daniel Anderson and Steve Mascord.

Triple M: (Dan Ginnane Peter Sterling, Andrew Johns, Steve Mascord)

I rarely ever listen to the call on Triple M but I regularly tune into the pre-game and like what I hear. They play to their audience, offering sound analysis with a light-hearted approach. They understand what they are better than anyone. Ginnane is good at directing traffic and though his voice is nothing special, he seems a promising young caller. Joey is more suited to Triple M than Nine, where he can be himself a lot more. Peter Sterling, as always, is a total pro but can get more involved with the Triple M call. Steve Mascord is the best sideline eye there is, particularly in post-match interviews where he always asks the interesting questions.

2GB: (Andrew Moore, Steve Roach, Daryl Brohman, Joel Caine, Ray Hadley, Bob Fulton, Don Moseley)

Andrew Moore is the best caller in the game and if Nine lose the rights, he will be in the boxseat to move to television. He is accurate, intelligent, relaxed but has a heavy understanding of tone and context. He also does well on The Game Plan. For mine, 2GB is eminently more listenable now Moore is calling all games as I cannot stand the bitter Ray Hadley at this stage of his career. He can express excitement but he is a little too knockabout to be a head caller. The funny, pal-it-up nature of Steve Roach and Daryl Brohman also takes away from the 2GB call though that kind of stuff is endemic across the code. Joel Caine is a good talent. Insightful and with a steady nature, he is someone I would like to see a lot more involved, perhaps even moving him up from sideline duties to the No.1 analyst role.

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The Raiders Must Dump Alan Tongue: It pains me to say this. It really does. But David Furner must dump Alan Tongue from the first grade seventeen and he must do it now both for the Raiders’ slim, slim finals chances and for the Raiders’ future.

Alan Tongue is a true champion of the game. He doesn’t have the rep games or the reputation but as someone who spent eight years watching Tonguey at Canberra Stadium, he has been as important to the Raiders as any other player over the last decade. There are few players in the game as revered. There are also few 200-game players who have been so limited in natural ability yet made so much of their career.

At his peak, he was a workhorse on par with Nathan Hindmarsh and Dallas Johnson. He would tackle himself to a standstill while also showing a deft ability with the ball that made him a dangerous attacking weapon.

But those days, sadly, are long gone and at the Raiders, he is no longer a good fit.

This year, Tongue is playing hooker. He is a terrible option at rake. His decision making is poor and his passing is worse than any starting rake in the competition. The Raiders sparked to life when Glen Buttriss came on against the Dragons and it has been a common theme all year.

And there is no room for him in the backrow. These days, Shaun Fensom has a greater appetite and aptitude for tackling while Tongue just doesn’t fit on the fringes.

He does not offer enough punch or spark off the bench.

It is awfully hard for me to say this but Alan Tongue is done and dusted and for the Raiders to move forward, the face of the club for the last decade must be moved on. It is a matter of fit and Tongue is a square peg trying to be shoved into a round hole.

Has Tim Sheens Lost His Mind: Tim Sheens’ decision to sign Adam Blair to a $500,000 a year deal, chase Canterbury captain Andrew Ryan and sign club rugby player John Grant suggests age may have finally caught up with him.

Sheens went on ABC Radio on Sunday to talk about Adam Blair. Sheens is convinced he has purchased a superstar but one who is currently being misused. Yes, Tim Sheens believes he knows better than Craig Bellamy and paid a hefty price for it. Of course, not every poker table is full of sharks.

The Tigers coach is of the firm belief that Blair is a better inside player than fringe dweller, where he has played for Melbourne. That is all good and well. He probably is. The problem is, he is as lazy as a stoned hippie, rarely making his tackles or running anywhere near full speed. More of a concern is the fact Chris Heighington already fills that role more than well at the Tigers. It seems Heighington is now set to become a bench player, something that would be a travesty.

It is absurd that anyone would pay such a price for a bum like Blair, who brings so little to a team. Perhaps Sheens is just looking for insurance for Todd Payten, having another overrated and overpaid player on the books.

Sheens didn’t discuss the other two issues though. He surprisingly doesn’t want to deal with the hypocrisy that chasing Ryan would entail and there has been little chatter about signing a no-name union winger that seems about as absurd as Balmain signing Darren Clarke back in the mid-nineties.

The Tigers have gone off the rails in recent times and Tim Sheens is behind it all. He has plenty to answer for, for mine.

Oh No: Josh McCrone may have won the game for the Canberra Raiders with his last minute grubber that put Josh Dugan over for the game-winner. But it was a hot-headed, impetuous play that should not be applauded. It was Ben Roberts like and McCrone should be pilloried for it. The ends do not justify the means. With a field goal still an option with three tackles remaining, McCrone needed to play it smart. He got away with it this time but he will lose out more often than not.

Call of the Week: Andy Raymond, one of my favourite play-by-play men in the game, came up with this beauty with the Roosters wearing their retro jersey with the navy blue line at the bottom of the jumper: “It looks like a team of Harry Highpants’ out there”.

Beau Knows Headgear and Forward Play: Welcome to your new reality Beau Ryan. The popular Tigers winger was forced to wear headgear in Saturday’s clash with the Roosters, something he was not too keen on as it apparently hid his good looks. Poor old Beau then had to move to the forward pack when Matt Utai got in on the action. Tim Sheens, as only he would, went into the match with four wingers (two on the bench) and it meant Beau was in the middle tackling. I bet he can’t wait to get to Penrith.

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Fire Up: Just in case you missed it, I was a guest on FBI's Fire Up on Friday, sitting in studio with Brett Oaten and Stephen Ferris to talk league, league and more league. Check out the podcast here if you missed the show and be sure to tune in each and every Friday as it is the best show on radio.It really is an awesome hour of rugby league and I implore every footy fan to tune in each Friday at 9am on FBI radio to listen in.

Injury Update:The most concerning injury of the week came at ANZ Stadium with warhorse David Stagg leaving the ground on a medicab after seriously injuring his ankle in a Nathan Hindmarsh tackle. It would appear extremely unlikely that we will see him again in 2011.

Travis Burns (Penrith): Appeared to tear his bicep and break his hand against Manly in an all-round bad day for the Panthers No.6. The most likely scenario is that he will miss at least a month but possibly the season. Luke Lewis would come in at five-eighth but he remains hurt and is doubtful for this week meaning Masada Iosefa or Harry Sejeika could get the call-up.

Richie Fa’aoso (Newcastle): The Knights injury toll continues to get bigger with the big prop straining his hamstring, meaning he will miss a couple of weeks. Evarn Tuimivave will likely return from the medical rooms to replace him.

Kane Linnett (Roosters): Damaged his knee again against the Tigers and if he does go down, that will likely see Phil Graham back in the top grade.

Darren Lockyer (Brisbane): Had a rough night hurting his draw and feeling a hamstring twinge so with the game gone, he sat the last eight minutes. Will continue to battle on.

Steve Michaels (Gold Coast): Suffered a concussion in the 66th minute, which didn’t make up for his first 65 minutes of rubbish.

Jarrod Mullen (Newcastle): Has damaged his pec again and missed the end of the win over Cronulla but is unlikely to miss any major time.

David Stagg (Canterbury): Was in a great deal of pain after being buckled over in a Nathan Hindmarsh tackle against the Eels. The diagnosis is a high ankle sprain after a broken leg was first feared. He is unlikely to play again in 2011 with Dene Halatau now safe at lock and the Bulldogs middle looking decidedly susceptible.

Martin Taupau (Canterbury): The Bulldogs reserve prop didn’t last long against the Eels before sustaining a leg injury which seems certain to rule him out for the year.

Trevor Thurling (Canberra): Carried off in the final minutes of the Monday night thriller with what appeared to be a serious knee or ankle injury.

The 2011 Willie M Medal:On Saturday night, I received three messages within five minutes of each other asking whether Steve Michaels is the worst player in first grade. He has to be close. Wing is the easiest position to replace. Surely John Cartwright can find a young winger who can at least catch the ball.

Canterbury v Parramatta
3-Steve Turner (Bul)
2-Luke Burt (Par)
1-Justin Horo (Par)

Melbourne v Brisbane
3-Scott Anderson (Bri)
2-Peter Wallace (Bri)
1-Sika Manu (Mel)

Gold Coast v North Queensland
3-Steve Michaels (GC)
2-Beau Henry (GC)
1-Ben Jones (NQ)

Cronulla v Newcastle
3-Taulima Tautai (Cro)
2-Kade Snowden (Cro)
1-Chad Townsend (Cro)

Wests Tigers v Sydney Roosters
3-Jason Ryles (Roo)
2-Robert Lui (Tig)
1-Jake Friend (Roo)

South Sydney v New Zealand
3-Issac Luke (Sou)
2-Greg Inglis (Sou)
1-Dave Tyrell (Sou)

Penrith v Manly
3-Travis Burns (Pen)
2-Daly Cherry-Evans (Man)
1-Nafe Seluini (Pen)

Canberra v St George-Illawarra
3-Alan Tongue (Can)
2-Sam Williams (Can)
1-Mark Gasnier (Dra)

18: Blake Ferguson (Can)
14: Matt Orford (Can)
12: Jarryd Hayne (Par), Jarrod Mullen (New)
11: Greg Bird (GC), Krisnan Inu (NZ), Steve Michaels (GC)
10: Preston Campell (GC), Wade Graham (Cro), Michael Jennings (Pen), Antonio Kaufusi (New), Kris Keating (Bul), Robert Lui (Tig), Jason Ryles (Roo), Clinton Toopi (GC), Matthew Wright (Cro)
9: Ben Barba (Bul), Lachlan Coote (Pen), BJ Leulia (Roo), Nate Myles (Roo), Ben Pomeroy (Cro)

Round 20 Voting Panel: Nick Tedeschi, Rohan Kendall, Cliff Bingham, Matt Fisk

Fun Fact #1:There have been 11,979 matches of top grade rugby league played in Australia (NSWRL/ARL/Super League/NRL). Match number 12,000 will come at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night when the Eels take on Manly.

Fun Fact #2: Only once has a played kicked five field goals in a game: Eric Simms, for South Sydney against Penrith in 1969. Simms also is one of only two players to kick four field goals in a match. Simms did it against Manly in 1970. The other was Phil Hawthorne, who nabbed four drop goals for St George against Balmain in 1968. Hawthorne was a dual international.

Round 21 Selection Notes:

Brisbane: Darren Lockyer has pulled up fine after the Storm loss and will play game number 348 this week against Cronulla.

Cronulla: Paul Gallen will miss another week as he battles a calf injury and fatigue. The Special Needs Penguin has been dumped to the bench for Matthew Wright, in a very exciting move by Shane Flanagan. Kade Snowden remains on the pine.

Manly: Regulars Anthony Watmough and Michael Robertson return, replacing Michael Oldfield and Shane Rodney, the latter who will drop to the bench.

Wests Tigers: Lote Tuqiri hasn't been named with Matt Utai set to start. Wade Mackinnon gets a run on the bench.

Sydney Roosters: Kane Linnett has seemingly pulled up okay and has been named but is no certainty. Tom Symonds rounds out a five-man bench.

Canterbury: Josh Morris remains in reserve grade with Tim Lafai keeping his spot at left centre and Jamal Idris lucky to remain at right. Chris Armit and Corey Payne come onto the bench for the injured duo David Stagg and Martin Taupau.

North Queensland: Neil Henry has named an unchanged squad from the one that rolled the Titans on the Gold Coast last Saturday.

Penrith:The Panthers have been forced to make a slew of changes this week with Lachlan Coote and Travis Burns both sidelined by injury. David Simmons goes back to fullback with Cody Walker to debut on the wing and Harry Seijka at five-eighth. Luke Lewis is set to return at lock though he is no certainty to play.

New Zealand: Lance Hohaia remains out hurt with Ivan Cleary sticking with the 17 who thrashed South Sydney at ANZ on Sunday.

Canberra: Trevor Thurling is out after damaging his ankle. Joe Picker or Josh Miller will take his spot.

Newcastle: Evarn Tuimivave returns from injury to start in place of Richie Fa'aoso. Matt Hilder remains on the bench.

Gold Coast: Luke Capewell, who signed with the Broncos midweek, has been dumped for Jordan Rankin, who last played in New Zealand. John Cartwright has finally dropped Steve Michaels, handing a first grade debut to Dominique Peyroux, who has played three times for the Cook Islands. Ashley Harrison is still out with an elbow problem. Nathan Friend announced midweek he would not play again for the Titans after aborting a comeback bid.

St George-Illawarra: Skipper Ben Hornby has been named to return, forcing Nathan Fien to hooker and Mitch Rein to a five-man bench. The albinio backrow of Ben Creagh, Beau Scott and Matt Prior remains.

South Sydney: Michael Crocker returns to skipper the team but Sam Burgess is still out.

Parramatta: Reni Maitua has been called in to the starting pack, forcing Justin Horo to the centres. Jeff Robson will again start at halfback with Casey McGuire riding the pine.

Melbourne: Matt Duffie returns after covering up a chest injury two weeks back which saw him withdraw in the warm-up to the Broncos game.

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

R: Range, LW: Last Week

Rumour Mill:There has been a fairly strong rumour sweeping league circles that Cooper Cronk could be on his way to South Sydney. Cronk is signed until the end of 2013 but he continues to be linked to the Bunnies. More likely though is that Rangi Chase, the talented former Dragon and current favourite for the Super League Man of Steel award, will replace Chris Sandow at halfback. Daniel Mortimer will be playing in the Super League next year. He feels he has earned the right to get back in first grade but does not seem to be able to get a chance at the Eels. There was talk Maurice Blair was returning to Penrith but the Storm are confident of retaining him. The Wests Tigers have made enquiries for Bulldogs captain Andrew Ryan in what would be a major move if it were too eventuate. Keith Lulia is the favourite to be the player traded to Leeds for Danny Buderus.

Betting Market of the Week:Rugby league’s top commentator Matthew Johns will do what after Nine boss David Gyngell extended an olive branch to the former Nine star:

Johns will return meekly and gratefully to Nine: $501.00
Johns will consider the offer and politely reject it: $3.50
Johns will call Gyngell personally and tell him to shove it up his Karmichael Hunt: $4.00
Johns will wait for Seven to win the rights and then have the last laugh: $2.00

Moniker XIII of the Week: For the rest of the season, we will be picking a name and providing the all-time top team with same. In honour of Nathan Hindmarsh’s 300th game last week, here is the greatest team of Nathan’s to ever play.

The Nathans

1.Nathan Gardner (31 games for Cronulla)
2. Nathan Blacklock (142 games for St George/St George-Illawarra)
3. Nathan Barnes (123 games for Penrith/ Parramatta/Newcastle/Canberra)
4. Nathan Smith (110 games for Canberra/Penrith)
5. Nathan Merritt (177 games for Cronulla/South Sydney)
6. Nathan Wood (114 games for Balmain/Sydney Roosters/New Zealand)
7. Nathan Fien (229 games for North Queensland/New Zealand/St George-Illawarra)
13. Nathan Sologinkin (32 games for South Qld/Canberra/Canterbury/Melbourne)
12. Nathan Long (153 games for Cronulla/Northern Eagles/Manly/St George-Illawarra)
11. Nathan Hindmarsh (301 games for Parramatta)
10. Nate Myles (127 games for Canterbury/Sydney Roosters)
9. Nathan Brown (172 games for St George/St George-Illawarra)
8. Nathan Cayless (259 games for Parramatta)

Nathans Analysis: The Nathans have a top class and well balanced pack with a sharp hooker to join a couple of Test props and a champion workhorse backrower. They also have plenty of tries out wide with Blacklock and Merritt. Halves are a concern though while they certainly lack punch in the centres with Barnes and Smith.

What I Like About…Trent Hodkinson: I have loved the Canterbury halfback since he was a hardnosed young hustler at Manly last year. He forever endeared himself to me on Friday night with a two field goal showing to give the Dogs an 8-7 win over Parramatta with both cracking shots. It is the second time in his short career Hodkinson has kicked two field goals in a match to win a game for his team, a stellar effort. Hodkinson is a brainy, tough, low-maintenance halfback whose future is bright. At the very least, he will keep dropping field goals on a regular basis.

From Deep in the Bowels of Twitter: Rugby league lover and friend of the column Paul Dalligan was bemused by Brad Walter’s comparison of Luke Capewell to Darren Lockyer: “Capewell the next Lockyer? That will do me. Played more like Heather Locklear than Darren Lockyer at the Rabbitohs”

Royce Simmons, deeply protective of the game: “Have started showing #lomaskell some new plays in private. Don't want eastmond stealing my ideas and taking them to union”

Josh Dugan, a man of fine taste: “Just watched coach Carter good movie! Now to play some xbox 😉 resting up for the game tomoro”

Obscure Score of the Week:New York Knights-Aston Bulls, 50-8. The Knights, who last won the title in 2008, had few problems disposing of the six time champions to remain at the top of the Atlantic Conference standings with a 5-1 record. The match was a fiery affair with Knights No.6 Nigel Millgate sin-binned for a trip off the ball.

Coaching Stocks:
5: Wayne Bennett: Bennett will go the way of every Dragons coach against Canberra
5: Craig Bellamy: The Storm had few problems with the Broncos and are the real deal
4.5: Des Hasler: Manly were far from impressive but still collected the points v Penrith
4.5: Anthony Griffin: Can’t overcome Melbourne but no shame in loss at AAMI Park
4: Ivan Cleary: The Warriors could not have been any more impressive v Souths
3.5: Neil Henry: That is two wins without Thurston in another very classy showing
2.5: Tim Sheens: Tigers perhaps flattered by Roosters win but results keep coming good
2: Shane Flanagan: Shut out at home but didn’t have Gallen and copped dud refereeing
2: Steve Georgallis: A stellar showing from the Panthers minus Lewis against high-flyers
2: Rick Stone: Ground out a much-needed win against beatable opposition
0.5: Jim Dymock: Recorded his first win in charge of the Dogs with changes working
0: Stephen Kearney: Another heartbreaking loss for the Eels who just can’t get home
-0.5: John Lang: An embarrassing display defensively at home in a must-win match
-2: John Cartwright: Carty is a likable bloke but he is doing nothing to fix Titans woes
-5.5:Brian Smith: Roosters couldn’t take a trick v Tigers but they are going awful
-6: David Furner: The Raiders continue to own the Dragons…astonishingly

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin:The name Ben derives from the Hebrew word for son with Benjamin meaning the son of my right hand. Pomeroy is French meaning apple orchard. Ben Pomeroy is therefore the son of my right hand that has an apple in it. That may partially explain why he cannot catch.

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 20: Canberra-St George-Illawarra, 24-19. Well, the Raiders just have it on the Dragons with St George-Illawarra going down in Canberra in a thriller. Again. The Dragons had it all over Canberra. They simply smashed them in the possession count. The Dragons just peppered the Raiders in the first half and with an 18-6 lead; it didn’t look like they were any hope of losing. But a simply stunning performance from Josh Dugan put the Raiders over the line in the dying seconds. Dugan scored a magnificent try to set the comeback in motion. He just ran hard right through the middle. It was sensational. But even with the score back to 18-18, the Raiders appeared to have blown it. A shocking Sam Williams kick on the third tackle allowed Jamie Soward to kick the match-winning field goal, or so it seemed. It was a lovely kick. But then the Raiders took the short kick, Gasnier made a meal of it and the Raiders got close. Sam Williams was in line for the winner but the pressure got to him and he shifted it wide. In a moment of absolute madness- a Ben Roberts like play- McCrone kicked it. It was moronic. But there is a fine line in rugby league between stupidity and gutsiness and a great Josh Dugan chase made it a match-winning play. It was an amazing finish to the likely leader in the game of the year chase.  

The Canterbury-Parramatta, 8-7, game shouldn’t be forgotten though and in any other round this would have got the chocolates. An absolute nail-biter between two hated rivals, this game was always going to get the edge. Played on a surface wetter than a Jarryd Hayne headbutt, scoring came at a premium. The Dogs defended stoutly early and jumped to a 6-0 lead after a classy run by Trent Hodkinson sent Josh Reynolds over. Canterbury seemed to have control of the game before the game’s biggest moron, Ben Roberts, threw a horrible floating intercept that Hayne collected before running the distance. Roberts may as well have been playing for the Eels on Friday night. The momentum swung and a Hayne field goal had the Eels up 7-6. All seemed lost for the Dogs until the cool head of Trent Hodkinson came to the fore, the halfback slotting a nice drop goal to send the match to golden point. It was then back-and-forth with the Eels having the early chances. But again, Hodkinson stepped up to the plate, hitting a brilliant 35-yard field goal to give Canterbury an 8-7 win in what was a thrilling game of wet weather football.

Fantasy Team of the Week:
1. Lachlan Coote (Pen)
2. Ashley Graham (NQ)
3. Joel Moon (NZ)
4. Maurice Blair (Mel)
5. Manu Vatuvei (NZ)
6. James Maloney (NZ)
7. Cooper Cronk (Mel)
13. Corey Parker (Bri)
12. Shaun Fensom (Can)
11. Nathan Hindmarsh (Par)
10. Tim Mannah (Par)
9. Cameron Smith (Mel)
8. Aiden Tolman (Bul)

14. Liam Fulton (Tig)
15. Andrew Ryan (Bul)
16. Nate Myles (Roo)
17. Matt Hilder (New)

Waiver Wire Advice: Canterbury lock Dene Halatau is the scoop bargain for this week at $148,000 following the coaching change at the Bulldogs and the injury to David Stagg. Halatau’s minutes have gone up markedly over the last two weeks and he is assured big time over the rest of the season, sadly for Canterbury fans. On Friday he made 37 tackles to go with 14 runs and is a great pickup, particularly in the centres where he will score consistent points.

Correspondence Corner: Dan and Dogballz, yes, I know, even-tempered may have been the wrong description for Daniel Anderson. What I was getting at is that he is not a loose cannon with the media and the like. He gets into his players and that is fine but he doesn’t constantly reach for excuses like Stuart.

Arthur, one of the greatest gifts ever given to me is the fact Jason Ryles has never played for Canterbury.  Jim, having Ryles is a tough gig. He was appalling and his attitude towards Mitchell, concussed only minutes earlier, was shameful.

Nick, I certainly didn’t intend to convey that no Super League coach can make it in Australia. I think Mick Maguire will be a raging success and I think there are a few who could make it over here. I’m just not sure I would look to any of them for the Canterbury job at present. You are spot on about culture too. Canterbury need to instil some of that workaholic, hard-nosed, take-no-bollocks, family club mentality that we once had.

Darren, I can’t believe more isn’t being made about Dymock being a turncoat. Disgraceful.

Allstar, you are spot on about the ridiculous 40-second rule and the scrum. I don’t know why Parramatta, two weeks back, didn’t run the ball dead from half-way knowing they could kill off the last 40 seconds.  For mine, consistent clock management is one of the most important issues facing the NRL.

Mitch, Chris Anderson is Canterbury’s greatest coach.

Beard Watch:It is good to see Darius Boyd entering the world of the beard with a nice little showing coming to fruition. Boyd’s beard, combined with his dead eyes, have him looking a little like a tin-rattler who has been on the sauce hardcore for twenty years. You wouldn’t want him sitting next to you on the midnight train back to Newtown.

Making The Nut Poll: Last week’s poll question asked who should be inducted as the next Immortal and it was Darren Lockyer topping the poll, receiving 33% of the vote ahead of Andrew Johns and Mal Meninga on 24%. It is tough to argue with Lockyer being inducted. Barry Berrigan got 18% of the vote. Check out this week’s poll at

Watch It: The Illawarra Team of the Century was named last week with the rugby league nursery having some wonderful names involved including Graeme Langlands, Bob Fulton, Craig Young, Harry Wells, Steve Roach, Ian Moir and my personal favourite, John Dorahy. There were also a couple of modern Steelers including Paul McGregor and Rod Wishart. This week we look back on the Steelers’ only finals win as a standalone club, an 18-16 win over St George in 1992 in which McGregor and Wishart played. The star of the day was undoubtedly Alan McIndoe but for mine, Ian “Chook” Herron’s step past David Riolo is the most shocking moment in league history. Watch it here.

Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images AsiaPac


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Comments (4)

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  1. kginger says:

    nick agree with a lot of your sentiments on the channel nine commentary team, they are apostates. i hope ten make a play for the rights.

  2. Keyboard Rambo says:

    I'm reluctant to criticise McCrone as he's been pretty good for the Raiders this year but his kicking game is plain embarrassing.

  3. mick.pearson says:

    Steady up gents, the Tongster is the rock of the team and his presence alone can't be understated.Granted he is out of position at hooker but sharing the role with Butriss allows him entry as an impact player.Also with respect to the likes of Josh Miller and co, there is no one knocking the door down to replace him.

    Agree with thoughts about McCrone's match though…appears as though being around Matt Awful  this year might have taught him a few bad habits!!!

  4. The Ram Jam says:

    I'm glad you brought up the point about McCrone on Monday night Punt. He had the Willie M's sown up until the last minute for mine. The Raiders run the risk of ruining Sam Williams if McCrone is the player he has to look up to for guidance.