From The Couch: Round 4

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on March 26, 2012

The Worst Annihilation: Queensland Labor copped one hell of a beatdown over the weekend but it arguably wasn't as bad as Parramatta's 39-6 home loss to Penrith on Friday. It was the latest humiliating chapter at a club that has become used to embarrassment.

The Parramatta Eels are a team in disarray and the only way it ends is with complete and utter bloodshed. The coach won't see out the year. He can't. The board must be overthrown. They have driven the Eels to such depths. The playing roster must be gutted. Players simply aren't trying. The recruitment team must be dismissed. Their failures over the last half-decade have been an abomination across various administrators and recruitment managers.

The Eels have lost all four games this year. Three of those games have been at home. On three occasions, they have allowed 36-plus points. They have managed just seven tries all year including three games where they managed just one. They have not got within 12 points in any match. They have the fewest tackle breaks in the NRL. No team has made fewer line breaks – just five in four games. They sit second in missed tackles. They have provided only 10 offloads all year, a long last.

Under Stephen Kearney, the Eels have won just 6 of 28 games, playing a tired, stale and ill disciplined brand of football.

Fans threw 50c pieces at the Eels on Friday night, appalled at their lack of effort and zeal. It was perhaps too restrained a response. The booing sent a signal but storming the field and demanding the heads of the majority of the Eels on the paddock would have been better. But that's Parramatta fans for you …

The problems at Parramatta are endemic. A fish rots from the head down, so the old saying goes, and the Eels have been rotting ever since Roy Spagnolo stormed to power in 2009. Take out a three month stretch where the Eels got hot and made an improbable run to a Grand Final and the Eels have without question been the worst built, worst run, worst performing team in the NRL.

Spagnolo caused a great deal of disruption in ousting the Emperor of Parramatta, Denis Fitzgerald. He alienated many at the club and won the vote on a very shaky foundation after a very unpleasant campaign.

One of his first actions was to appoint the totally unqualified Paul Osborne as chief executive. Osborne was caught up in any number of scandals, he was an abject failure in his recruitment and there was a great deal of instability on his watch with Daniel Anderson fired as coach a year after the Eels' Grand Final showing and Nathan Cayless forced into an early retirement.  That is about the best I can say about that.

The recruitment over the last three seasons has been worse than at any other club in any three-year period in history. This column said it at the time and it has said it ever since.  A huge-money contract for prop Justin Poore, who is hardly even a first grader these days. Signing washed up hacks Carl Webb, Chris Walker, Paul Whatuira, Timana Tahu and Chris Hicks. Showing a complete misunderstanding of the game by recruiting Chris Sandow and Ben Roberts to play in the halves with another individual in Jarryd Hayne at fullback. Bringing in the Tonga boys, two of the more overrated players in the game. It has been one disaster after another. Missing out on any number of players.

Osborne was eventually shown the door but only after the club's major sponsor threatened to walk. Of course, the club's major sponsor has a pretty big say in the club. He wanted Stephen Kearney. He got his man. He wanted Osborne fired. He got that too. The problem of allowing a sponsor to direct club policy and personnel is, obviously, madness.

There seems to be a great deal of sympathy for Kearney. He has been thrown a tough bone. He has shown patience and given leeway to a playing group who have done nothing but take advantage of him. He has been pantsed. But he accepted the job, he has had his hand in recruitment and he is the main tactician and he has done an awful job on all counts. Worse, he refuses to take an axe to the team. It is hard to see how his position is even tenable any longer. The players just aren't responding. He looks totally out of his depth. If I were a betting man, I'd back him being gone by May.

On the players, the Eels need to put a broom through the club. The Eels have 14 players off contract at season's end: Cheyse Blair, Jon Mannah, Joseph Paulo, Daniel Penese, Ken Sio, Nathan Smith, Jordan Atkins, Luke Burt, Nathan Hindmarsh, Casey McGuire, Fuifui Moimoi, Justin Poore, Shane Shackleton and Ben Smith.

Hindmarsh, Sio and Moimoi are the only three that should be retained. There has been talk about forcing Hindmarsh out. The Eels probably will. But they shouldn't. He is the lifeblood of the team and the new 2013 side need a connection to the past and an example to learn from. He remains the club's best defender and only leader.

Trying to offload Ben Roberts and Willie Tonga would also be smart.

It is then time to get a new board in place.

Hell, I would be more prepared to back Queensland Labor to win their next election before Parramatta makes the eight again.

Benefit of the Doubt Must Go: What a disgraceful decision to award Jacob Miller a try on Monday night. Take away the fact Sam Mataora allowed it by standing around like an acid-head staring at a shooting star while Miller dived on the loose ball – there was no way Miller should have got the benefit of the doubt. This followed on from the farcical no try to Sam Perrett the day prior. Benefit of the doubt is just applied willy-nilly without consistency or thought. The video referees are moronic enough as it is – they shouldn't be given any more rope to hang the game with.

Farewell Willie: The career of Willie Mason is over. It has ended on, what vindictive bastards who love rugby league like myself call, a positive note.

There was word last week that Willie Mason was about to join the Wests Tigers. Back from a sojourn in England and France where he managed to alienate himself from two more teams, the 32-year-old has declared himself ready to return to the NRL.

Not many clubs came calling, just like women don't go calling an unemployed train enthusiast with a copstache the week after hitting up speed dating. Then the Tigers hit some injuries up front and got desperate. They looked at Willie. He was obviously keen. He always says he is, anyway. A deal was virtually done. Then the story was leaked, there was an uprising among the Tigers faithful and the deal was scuppered. Common sense and people power prevailed.

Why the Tigers, who should be close to the title this year, would want to bring in such a selfish, destructive personality into a club that is already reportedly divided is beyond me. Surely Tim Sheens could not have signed off on it.

Alas, Mason won't be playing at the club this year or any other. And it would seem unlikely any other club would take such a high risk for such little possible return. Mason still likes to talk the talk but without being able to walk the walk, he is just another has-been with a hatful of memories and list as long as your arm of enemies.

Cooper Cronk Must Stay: It would be devastating to see the Big Three of the Melbourne Storm broken up. There is no better sight in the game than watching Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk – three of the best seven or eight players in the NRL – combine week in and week out to produce the best rugby league you could ever hope to see.

I understand Cronk wanting to collect the big bucks. He has certainly earned the right. But he does not want to get himself involved in the clusterfuck that is the Gold Coast Titans.

Dave Taylor is thinking about pulling out. Cronk would do well to follow his lead. The big money may be there on paper but it is not there in the bank. The Titans are so far in the hole they may never get out without NRL assistance, assistance that, by the by, should be forthcoming for the good of the game – the NRL cannot afford to abandon the Gold Coast. Does Cronk want to be part of that when he is part of such a wonderful club with a wonderful culture with a wonderful coach?

Don't break up the band Cooper. Do the smart thing and stick with the Storm. All rugby league fans want it.

How Slow is Tim Moltzen: He got outrun by Jarrod Croker over 80 metres. He is definitely a player two clubs should be fighting over … please note the sarcasm dripping from that last statement.

Bedsy for Origin: Wayne Bennett has called for Danny Buderus to be given back his Origin No.9 jersey – he is right. The incumbent Michael Ennis is playing like a crippled mule suffering from the onset of the consumption while Robbie Farah hasn't shown much in three games this year. Buderus has been hot since returning and it would be a great inspiration for a besieged Blues outfit trying to win their first series in what seems like a century. Bring back Bedsy.

Reality Bites: The new reality for the Canterbury Bulldogs hit on Sunday afternoon when Bulldogs No.7 Trent Hodkinson went down with an MCL injury. He will miss at least four weeks and likely six. When he left the field, the Bulldogs were a disorganised rabble. They moved from side to side with no organisation at all. Joel Romelo plays hard but he is not an organiser. Neither is Josh Reynolds.

Shane Flanagan highlighted the importance of the organiser two weeks back when he brought in Jeff Robson. The Sharks were lacking an organiser and lost the first two weeks. They bring in Robson and record two wins over two top eight teams from last year.

Some halfbacks – the great ones – can organise and play at a high level. Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston, Daly Cherry-Evans.

Others can play but lack the ability to also organise at once. Jarrod Mullen.

Others are mainly organisers: Luke Walsh, Peter Wallace and Ben Hornby.

Good clubs need a player who can organise. All clubs do really. And Canterbury don't have one now. The next six weeks are going to be mighty tough for the blue and white.

Desperate Nine: The latest word out of Nine is that they are now showing Sunday afternoon games into Perth at the same time they show it over in the East. Nine must really be panicking about losing the rights. Fingers crossed …

Meaningless Field Goal Update: We saw a couple of classic meaningless field goals over the weekend. Travis Burns kicked it off in fine style to slot one from 35 out to put Penrith up 23-0 against the hopeless Eels. It was just the kind of insult Parramatta needed. And Jamie Soward, a fine purveyor of the meaningless field goal, slotted one to put the Dragons up by 11 with two minutes to go. Excellent stuff.

Injury Update: The worst injury of the week was without question the compound fracture picked up by Jharal Yow Yeh. The Australian winger is going to do well to return from such a brutal injury.

Travis Burns (Penrith): Corked a bicep but the tough little bastard won't miss any time.

Adam Cuthbertson (Newcastle): Missed the Knights' most impressive showing of the season. Hopefully Wayne Bennett heeds the lesson.

Nathan Gardner (Cronulla): Suffered a nasty concussion against the Cowboys after a good first half. Will probably play this week seeing as the concussion rule has already been forgotten.

Trent Hodkinson (Canterbury): The Bulldogs No.7 hobbled off early in Canterbury's clash with Newcastle, the Dogs looking horrid without him. He did an MCL and will miss six weeks. Joel Romelo is front-runner to replace him but Canterbury need to bring in an organiser. I hate to say it but perhaps Kris Keating will be required.

Cameron King (St George Illawarra): Backup Dragons rake Cameron King broke his thumb and won't play again until round 10. With Nathan Fien also out, Dean Young will be playing more hooker.

Jeremy Latimore (St George Illawarra): Sprained his ankle and will be replaced by Josh Miller if he doesn't come good for round five.

Kevin Locke (New Zealand): Picked up a cork in his though won't miss any games.

Nathan Smith (Penrith): Panthers backrower Nathan Smith went down with a leg injury early on Friday night and it looks like it could be a busted fibula. He won't play again in 2012.

Akuila Uate (Newcastle): Missed the Canterbury win with a hip pointer but will be back in round five.

Manu Vatuvei (New Zealand): The Warriors winger went down with a hamstring injury after 48 minutes. He shouldn't miss any time though it has been a problem for him in the pass.

Peter Wallace (Brisbane): Got creamed by Michael Crocker and has some sore ribs. Will probably not miss any games.

Matt White (Gold Coast): The Titans prop hyper-extended his elbow and will miss at least a couple of weeks. Michael Henderson will come in for him.

Jharal Yow Yeh (Brisbane): The Broncos winger suffered a heinous compound fracture to his leg and won't play again this year. Dane Gagai will replace him at the Broncos while Brent Tate could be in the mix for Queensland on the flank.

Fun Fact #1: The Roosters have scored six of their seven tries in the 134 minutes Daniel Mortimer has been on the paddock. In the 240 minutes Braith Anasta has played, the Roosters have scored three tries. In the 186 minutes Anasta has been on the paddock without Mortimer, the Roosters have managed just one try.

The 2012 Willie M Medal: Congratulations goes out to Parramatta recruit and international centre Willie Tonga, who became the first player in 2012 to poll Willie M votes three weeks in a row. Any reader of this column knew he was destined to be a bust and he has proven just that with another insipid performance that saw him take out two votes. Tonga managed to make a fool of himself by constantly rushing out of the line. He spilt a ball and made just 78 metres, to go with five tackles. Tonga is such a stupid selfish player that he is bound to fit right in at the Eels. Only a shocking effort by Tim Moltzen prevented Tonga from claiming the lead after round four.

Parramatta v Penrith
3-Cheyse Blair (Par)
2-Willie Tonga (Par)
1-Ken Sio (Par)
Judge: Nick Tedeschi

South Sydney v Brisbane
3-Dylan Farrell (Sou)
2-John Sutton (Sou)
1-Andrew McCullough (Bri)
Judge: Nick Tedeschi

New Zealand v Gold Coast
3-William Zillman (GC)
2-Mark Minichiello (GC)
1-Manu Vatuvei (War)
Judge: Rohan Kendall

St George Illawarra v Manly
3-David Williams (Man)
2-Michael Oldfield (Man)
1-Brent Kite (Man)
Judge: Rohan Kendall

North Queensland v Cronulla
3-Colin Best (Cro)
2-Matthew Scott (Cow)
1-James Segeyaro (Cow)
Judge: Nathan Boss

Melbourne v Sydney Roosters
3-Mitchell Pearce (Roo)
2-Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Roo)
1-Jake Friend (Roo)
Judge: Nick Tedeschi

Canterbury v Newcastle

3-Michael Ennis (Bul)
2-Sam Kasiano (Bul)
1-Ben Barba (Bul)
Judge: Craig Finlayson

Wests Tigers v Canberra

3-Tim Moltzen (Tig)
2-Matt Groat (Tig)
1-Adam Blair (Tig)
Judge: Nick Tedeschi

8: Tim Moltzen (Tig)
6: Willie Tonga (Par)
5: Mark Minichiello (GC), Mitchell Pearce (Roo), Matt Groat (Tig)
4: Jake Friend (Roo), Steve Michaels (GC), Ben Roberts (Par), William Zillman (GC)

Rumour Mill: The hottest rumour in rugby league circles right now is that Craig Bellamy is on his way to the Sydney Roosters at the end of the season. Bellamy has built too much at Melbourne. He is going nowhere, even for $1 million, in my opinion. Cooper Cronk to the Titans, however, is supposedly nearly done. I hope Cronk backs out as it would be a travesty to see the Big Three broken up. Catalans fullback Clint Greenshields is moving back to Australia and he will attract the attention of a number of clubs with the Wests Tigers, Manly and the Sydney Roosters all expected to be in the hunt. Despite the rumours cooling on a Sonny Bill Williams return, he will be playing for the Chooks in 2013, sadly.

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

Betting Market of the Week: The Gold Coast Titans will attempt to save themselves by:

Selling the Centre of Excellence for a profit: $501
Selling Jamal Idris for a profit: $501
Selling tickets: $401
Selling tickets to the court case that will end Michael Searle's tenure: $2.50

What I Like About … Billy Slater: Four doubles and 10 Dally M votes is an almighty way to make it through your first four weeks. Slater is now the greatest active tryscorer and the greatest fullback tryscorer of all-time with 132. He now sits 16th all-time and is only 28 years of age. He could catch Eddie Lumsden, Phil Blake, Nigel Vagana, Steve Renouf, Johnny King, Benny Wearing, Frank Burge and Bob Fulton, the last of who is 15 tries away, this year. He is an absolute superstar. Give his fitness history, pencil him in for the Dally M Award right now.

Moniker XIII of the Week: With Stephen Kearney's career seemingly at the crossroads, we find the best Steves and Stephens to ever stride onto a rugby league field in Australia.

1.Steve Turner (156 games for Penrith/Melbourne/Canterbury)
2. Steve Bell (172 games for Melbourne/Manly)
3. Steve Renouf (183 games for Brisbane)
4. Steve Rogers (231 games for Cronulla/St George)
5. Steve Morris (247 games for St George/Eastern Suburbs)
6. Steve Ella (157 games for Parramatta)
7. Steve Mortimer (272 games for Canterbury)
13. Steve Menzies (349 games for Manly/Northern Eagles)
12. Stephen Kearney (264 games for Wests/Auckland/Melbourne)
11. Steve Folkes (245 games for Canterbury)
10. Steve Roach (186 games for Balmain)
9. Steve Walters (272 games for Canberra/North Qld/Newcastle)
8. Steve Price (313 games for Canterbury/Warriors)

Analysis: The Steves are one of the strongest sides put together with all bar fullback strong. Walters is arguably the greatest hooker of all time. He beat out five-time premiership skipper Edge. Mortimer, Renouf, Rogers and Roach are some of the finest exponents of their position to ever play the code. The Steves would have plenty of points and plenty of fire in them.

The Coaching Crosshairs: See Kearney, Stephen above. He may be gone by round five. Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has done exceptionally well in biting the bullet after two weeks and putting Jeff Robson in and shifting Wade Graham to lock. He may have saved his career with the decision with the Sharks considering extending his deal.

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: Ben Pomeroy turned in a very vanilla performance against North Queensland: 79 metres, one error, one tackle break, 14 tackles, no misses. The Sharks will take that showing every week.

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 4: St George Illawarra-Manly, 17-6. A gruelling battle between two of the premiership heavyweights with the Dragons maintaining their dominance over the Eagles, St George Illawarra confirmed their loss to Canterbury in round two was nothing more than an aberration. They are the real deal. Manly still have plenty of heart but they are lacking the punch required up front without Tony Williams and Glenn Stewart. This was a crackerjack with the highlight being 'Horse' Weyman's try from 30 metres out, where he walked past a lazy effort from Brett Stewart.

Correspondence Corner: Anonymous, as soon as we get rid of this cheap bullshit at games – tacky music, ordinary fireworks, fake pump-ups – the better off the rugby league experience will be. I don't pull my ass out of bed, hungover as sin, on a Sunday afternoon to make the effort to get to a footy ground only to hear some shitty dance music blaring when I just want to enjoy the game. Stop with the rubbish.

Warriorman, Kearney is not safe. He was in charge of this year's recruitment. He must take a good deal of responsibility for the position the club is in.

Dragons68, Tony Williams should have been sent off. Referees do not use the send off or the sin bin enough. I still think 10 weeks was harsh. Even seven. But the tackle was worthy of a send off. It was ridiculously dangerous. And NYC is mainly development … I don't think many have to justify their job with victories.

Tony Monero, the pro-Bulldogs, anti-Eels recipe has tended to work, historically.

Sal, I would suggest Kearney's contract is probably that good because he was only negotiating against Paul Osborne. I could probably have won a three-year deal with an 18-month payout if up against the former Parramatta CEO.

Renegade, you are right, I was too harsh on Jeff Robson. He is an honest first grader and has done well this year at the Sharks. And Tony Williams dropped the ball and gave away dumb penalties against the Sharks … that is how he picked up the three votes.

Gareth, I'm so pleased that I'm not a Rooster-man.

Arthur, the rumour mill segment is me just passing on what is doing the rounds. I heard Brett Stewart was a done deal at the Bulldogs and Roosters too. The Rugby League rumour mill contains plenty of horseshit so you need to be careful. But the Gerard Beale to the Dragons seems pretty strong.

Mav63, the Williams tackle was ugly, no risk

Hazzardis, one of Kearney's problems is that he is too nice. He was Craig Bellamy's good angel. It clearly doesn't work with the Eels.

Mike From Tari, it is a cheap excuse, the wanting to go back home one. I can’t stand it. Players should just admit they are going for the cash.

Beard Watch: There have been some positive moves in the facial hair stakes over the last few years but Kieran Foran's patchy beard is not one of them. Foran looks more like a redneck associate of Dickie Bennett in Justified. Foran needs to get the razor out quick smart.

Watch It: Controversy Corner with Rex Mossop was one of the great segments in rugby league television history. Here we go back 31 years where Rex and the panel interview Canterbury captain George Peponis. Watch it here. 


Comments (2)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    How did Thurston not get the 3 points for the Willie Mason Medal against the Sharks?!?!?!  He was atrocious, missed 3 of 4 goals and 2 of his mistakes led to Sharks tries.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Agree with benefit of the doubt.  The video ref's job should be making sure that decisions can't be proven wrong by every TV station and newspaper the next day.  If the video is not conclusive, back to the field officials who then have a licence to go with their initial impression.  We'll get better decisions on grounding the ball and double movements.

    What I like about Billy Slater:  He provides a solid reference of what a great fullback looks like in the modern era.  Count the number of current fullbacks who might otherwise be considered all-time greats some time in the future (if the hype is anything to go by).  Hayne, Dugan, Stewart, Boyd, Bowen, Minichiello.  Plus new entrants Inglis and Morris already this year.  It's an easy/easier position to look good in.