Paying Ricky His Due: This column has, at its very core, been built on whacking Ricky Stuart. For a good solid decade the material has flowed more than freely. He has made an ass of himself with his coaching, his blow-ups, his inability to coach attacking football, season after season of poor results.
So after delivering so many body shots over the years it is only fair to publicly acknowledge what a fine job Stuart has done at the Raiders this year. His performance across the board has been nothing of remarkable. Almost single-handedly he has brought the Raiders back to relevancy. Not since his playing days in the lime green have Canberra been legitimate contenders.
And not only have they been successful, they have been so playing a beautiful game that has seen them top all attacking metrics. They play with expanse. They play with freedom. And it has brought in the crowds and softened rusted-on critics like me.
He has done an exceptional job in recruitment, tapping into unknown Super League players and unfashionable western Sydney types. He has worked on making Canberra Stadium a fortress. He has harnessed talented but wayward players.
So kudos to Ricky and his 2016 Raiders – he has done a magnificent job.
2016 Best Buy Team: Will Hopoate (Bulldogs), Ryan Morgan (Storm), Konrad Hurrell (Titans), Peta Hiku (Panthers), Suliasi Vunivalu (Storm), James Maloney (Sharks), Ashley Taylor (Titans), Beau Scott (Eels), Elliot Whitehead (Raiders), Zeb Taia (Titans), Trent Merrin (Panthers), Nathan Peats (Titans), Sam Burgess (Rabbitohs)
2016 Worst Buy Team: Kurt Mann (Dragons), Joe Burgess (Roosters/Souths), Tim Lafai (Dragons), Blake Ayshford (Warriors), Brendan Elliot (Knights), Kieran Foran (Eels), Jeff Robson (Warriors/Eels), Lewis Brown (Sea Eagles), Dunamis Lui (Dragons), Joseph Paulo (Sharks), Nate Myles (Sea Eagles), Matt Ballin (Tigers), Jeff Lima (Raiders)
Punish Kick Blockers: The NRL needs to clamp down on blockers for high kicks. They are unsightly and are eliminating great acts of athleticism trying to bring down a bomb. Players are allowed to keep their line but that line shouldn’t be a deliberate act to run a chaser off the ball or to form a protective wall to protect the catcher. This is just another case of coaches pushing the boundaries and rulemakers having no idea what to do.
Quote of the Week – Phil Gould When Hiring Corey Payne: “”Corey really piqued my interest straight away. I always thought he’d go down a different direction in life. But I’m really pleased he came back to rugby league. I could see him running a top 500 company. I think that’s his potential down the track. He’s a wonderfully gifted and intelligent individual with the history of rugby league. It was a perfect fit.”
Corey Payne Urban Legend No.1: Corey Payne took a number of NYC players who were late for training on a personal torture session against the advice of the club’s condition staff.
Corey Payne Urban Legend No.2: Corey Payne demanded first class flights for him and 20 friends throughout the World Cup.
Corey Payne Urban Legend No.3: Corey Payne delivered bizarre speeches to first grade players that were delivered with the succinctness and clarity of The Ultimate Warrior.
Corey Payne Urban Legend No.4: Corey Payne was a good first grade footballer.
2016 Field Goal Update – 33: A field goal-less week is not a good week.
Fun Fact #1: Jamie Lyon played in losing Grand Finals against both Bill Peden and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Fun Fact #2: Blake Austin is the only Australian schoolboy to represent Portugal.
Fun Fact #3: The New Zealand Warriors have spent just 3 of 550 rounds on top of the premiership.
Rumour Mill: Take it as read that Ivan Cleary will be running the St George Illawarra Dragons in 2017. The Penrith-Cronulla match from earlier in the season has come to the attention of investigators looking into match fixing/point shaving claims. Don’t expect anything to come of the Peter O’Sullivan affair and his relationship with Eddie Hayson. There is a cleanout of Brisbane outside backs coming with James Roberts being shopped around (and Manly being a potential destination) while Jordan Kahu will shift to Canberra. Tyrone Peachey is likely to be at South Sydney next year.
Betting Market of the Week: Corey Payne’s next job will be:
$1001: CEO of another football club
$501: Head of a Fortune 500 company
$401: Speechwriter for Malcolm Turnbull
$401: Boss of the Rugby League World Cup
$1.10: Referees boss and Bunker official
Punters Guide Tipping Service: If you are interested in signing up to the Punters Guide tipping service, drop me an email: email@example.com
This week we have a special deal. Get the remainder of the season for just $50.
The Barrett and Bozo Show: Manly are throwing the Corso, the Stein Hotel and Bob Fulton’s mansion at Matt Gillett but the Broncos forward is set to reject the big offer after getting the inside word on the culture at the club. This is the first time in the club’s history players do no want to go there. Gillett is likely to end up at the Sharks.
What I Like About … Cody Walker: It has taken Cody Walker a long time to get his NRL career going and he has been jerked from position to position but there is no denying he is one of the most exciting players in the competition to watch. He runs hard, he plays with great skill and has outstanding instincts. Hopefully he is in and around the NRL for a long time.
Game of the Year Nomination, Round 24: Canberra-Parramatta, 28-18. The Raiders were in all sorts early before a stirring comeback on the surprising head of Brenko Lee, who scored four tries. Bonus points for the awesome viking chant that will hopefully become a regular element of Canberra Stadium.
The Coaching Crosshairs: Paul McGregor is done and dusted as a first grade coach after the embarrassing 42-6 loss to the Roosters on Sunday. CEO Peter Doust has been loyal to McGregor but can persist no more. The Dragons have performed poorly for him. Recruits won’t go to the joint. No team plays a less inspiring style. The axe will fall on McGregor sooner rather than later.
Moronic Coaching Decision of the Week: Andrew McFadden collects again with his short-sighted, absurd decision to drop Tuimoala Lolohea for Blake Ayshford. A late Solomone Kata withdrawal didn’t see Lolohea recalled but saw the truly incompetent Matt Allwood come in. It is little wonder the Warriors got absolutely towelled by an out-of-form Cowboys team.
Beard Watch: There is absolutely, unequivocally no better moustache in the NRL than that of Regan Campbell-Gillard (aka Ronald Preston-Julia). His delightful upper lip special seems to lack irony. It is an Errol Flynn without any hipster pretension. It is truly sublime facial hair.
Correspondence Corner: Mav63, intent is irrelevant. It was reckless and while I don’t necessarily agree than the extent of an injury should have any role in the charge, precedent says it does.
Mike Butterfield, I am all for penalising harshly shoulder charges that go wrong in any aspect of the game.
MagpieMick, you have absolutely nailed it re: how out of touch NRL HQ is with the Rugby League public.
Johnno, there is no double standards. The Hayne situation is a little different. He left the Eels with their blessing. And it seems to me the Eels didn’t really want him back. So not quite like Sonny. But it still doesn’t sit that well with me that he has returned to the NRL and is allowed to come and go as he pleases.
Robbo, bring back the voluntary tackle penalty!
CTPE, NRL HQ will protect The Bunker forever and a day.
Kel, the best idea for NRL Retro Round would be for all clubs to play under the conditions/rules of a particular year. Say 1968: four tackles, three-metre rule, no differential penalties etc.
Watch It: It is hard to believe this was just 30 years ago but let’s go back to the 1987 season and Channel 10’s intro to the State Bank Big Game hosted by Rex Mossop. The graphics. The music. The slow wave rustling in the wind. Rex. Watch it in all its glory here.