From The Couch: Round 5

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on April 8, 2013

Opening Report Card: After five weeks, how every team is travelling and how they project going forward:

BRISBANE (B): Have opened 2-3 but lost to an three teams who have combined for a 12-3 record. The backline has started to score points and they should go in favourites in three of their next four. Corey Norman is excelling at fullback. Health of Justin Hodges paramount.

CANBERRA (C): Have been disgraceful on the road but pretty good at home. Victory against the Roosters may have turned things around. Loss of Dugan (sacked) and Ferguson (injury) hurts. Tough month ahead.

CANTERBURY (C): Have had a brutal draw to open the season and have had no luck with injuries and suspension but have still shown little. Attack has been diabolical. Things should improve but perhaps too far back.

CRONULLA (C-): After an emotional fresh win, the Sharks have collapsed under the weight of a drugs investigation that threatens to turn the club inside out. The attitude is bad and the club is failing to shoulder its heavy burden.

GOLD COAST (A-): Beating Manly in Round 3 added plenty of credibility to a club expected to contend for the wooden spoon. Blew a lead against the Broncos and halves injuries a worry. Should stay near the top though with a very good six-week run.

 MANLY (A): The Sea Eagles have been phenomenal defensively, allowing just 36 points across the first five rounds. Depth hasn’t been tested but clear this team is not dropping off the radar yet. Excelling despite poor form of Lyon. Brent Lawrence has been a revelation.

MELBOURNE (A+): The Storm have again bolted from the blocks and have rarely looked in danger this season. Defence has been a little loose but Cooper Cronk is going as well as anybody. Ryan Hoffman is flying and Tohu Harris is going to be quite the player.

NEWCASTLE (B): This is the tale of two teams. The home team that has gone 3-0 for a 104-28 for-and-against. And there is the away team, who has lost convincingly to the Eagles and Dragons and are 16-51. Tyrone Roberts is great at halfback. Darius Boyd is close to being at his best.

NEW ZEALAND (C-): The Warriors were embarrassing across the first three weeks before ending a long skid with a win over the Cowboys. Showed courage in the loss to Souths. Plenty of talent but the pack is letting the team down. Kevin Locke needs to lift.

NORTH QUEENSLAND (C): Have a crack side from top to bottom with a ton of depth but after an impressive opening win have been disappointing across the last month. Need to travel better and show more composure if a legit threat.

PARRAMATTA (D): Ricky Stuart has done little to improve the Eels with the club’s two wins against a hapless Warriors and a distracted Sharks. Jarryd Hayne is still inconsistent. The roster is heinous. It is hard to see anything but a bottom four finish.

PENRITH (F): After a dominant win against the Raiders to open the year, Penrith have been utterly pathetic. They have shown little. Josh Mansour and Sika Manu have both impressed but the halves have been a mess and a season-ending injury to Lachlan Coote has the Panthers wooden spoon-bound.

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA (C): The Dragons have opened the year with a very difficult draw but have escaped with a 2-3 start. Steve Price remains under pressure, as does Jamie Soward. Points have been hard to come by but defence is slowly improving. An honest team.

SOUTH SYDNEY (A): The Rabbitohs are undefeated after the first five weeks for the first time since 1971. Greg Inglis, Sam Burgess and Issac Luke have been three of the best players in the competition, while Adam Reynolds and Nathan Merritt have been superb.

SYDNEY ROOSTERS (B+): Invested big and the coin spent on James Maloney and Sonny Bill Williams has reaped plenty of rewards. Michael Jennings and Luke O’Donnell have been a bit more iffy. Have improved remarkably in defence.

WESTS TIGERS (C-): Have rolled Parramatta and Penrith, arguably the two worst teams in the premiership, but have been horrific defensively. Benji is well off his game. Aaron Woods and Robbie Farah are the two bright spots.

Test Selection Notes: We have our first rep game of the season and while the Australian team perhaps looks a little obvious, there could and should be some selection bolters. We will break down the Aussies, along with the Kiwis, position by position.

Fullback: Billy Slater will start for Australia, as he has in 19 of the 24 Test matches Australia has played since he made his debut in May 2008. The Kiwi battle for the No.1 jersey is far more interesting with Warrior Kevin Locke, Bronco Josh Hoffman and Panther Dean Whare all in the mix. Hoffman has started in the No.1 in the Kiwis’ last two Test matches and with Locke and Whare not doing enough to dislodge him, he should win the fullback job.

Three-Quarters: The Australian three-quarter line will contain Greg Inglis and Justin Hodges in the centres with Darius Boyd on one wing. The other wing slot is up for grabs with Brett Morris currently pipping Akuila Uate. Michael Gordon is the man that should win the job though. The Kiwi three-quarter line is very competitive. Sam Perrett, Manu Vatuvei, Jason Nightingale and Roger Tuivasa-Scheck will fight it out for the two wing positions. Centre is a lot tougher with Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Dean Whare and Simon Mannering in all sorts and Gerard Beale out hurt. Konrad Hurrell could be the surprise, with Alex Glenn potentially playing on the left edge.

Halves: This is a no-brainer for Australia with Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk set to don the No.6 and No.7 jerseys. Kiwi selectors have a tough three-way battle between Benji Marshall, Kieran Foran an Shaun Johnson. Marshall is in … he will likely be partnered with Foran though Johnson, the larger attacking threat, would be a more effective option with Foran coming off the bench.

Backrow: Australia’s last backrow consisted of Paul Gallen, Tony Williams and Greg Bird. Gallen is the only certainty. Williams is no chance. Ryan Hoffman, Dave Taylor, Ben Te’o and Nate Myles are considered other contenders while Trent Merrin is one player who should be in, as is Shaun Fensom. Both have been outstanding this year. Gallen, Myles and Merrin are my starters. Skipper Simon Mannering will be one of the Kiwi backrowers, if not used in the centres. Sonny Bill Williams will return to international league. Alex Glenn is another who will start in the backrow if not used in the centres. Expect Greg Eastwood, playing in good form, to come into contention.

Prop: North Queensland pairing Matt Scott and James Tamou are the frontrunners to be starting props with Ben Hannant and David Shillington also in contention. Aaron Woods should be there though. Woods has been one of the form props of the premiership and would not be out of place in an Australian jersey. For the Kiwis, Roosters pairing Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Sam Moa have both earned a spot with a great run of form. Jesse Bromwich and Ben Matulino are also in the mix.

Hooker: Cameron Smith will play his 31st Test for Australia. Issac Luke, who has been in great form, will get the run for the Kiwis. No debate.

Bench: Australia will take a utility, a prop, a prop/backrower and an aggressive edge backrower. This means Kurt Gidley and Robbie Farah will play it out for the utility spot. Gidley is in front. Farah should be. Shillington, Bird and hopefully Aaron Woods get the bench spots. Kieran Foran, Browmwich, Matulino and Jeremy Smith should all play for New Zealand.

Commentary Moment of the Week: Ben Ikin is a fine rugby league caller and he pushed himself to the top of the list last Sunday when he called the Roosters “the Rooters” with about 15 to go. There is no faster rising star in the rugby league media that the youngest ever Origin player.

Vale, Ian Walsh: From The Couch was greatly saddened to hear of the death of great Ian Walsh. Last Thursday, I had lunch with the doyen of league writers, Ian Heads, and he passed on how close Walsh must have been to being named hooker in the 2008 Team of the Century. He also called Walsh one of the great gentlemen of rugby league. What it must have been like to watch Walsh play. He certainly achieved so much, playing in the first Australia team to win the Ashes on English soil, captaining the great St George team during its famous run and skippering his country. He became a forthright commentator in retirement, famously slamming his own Parramatta Eels. Walsh will be sorely missed and should be fully honoured by the NRL.

Oh Jamie Soward: Last Sunday, Jamie Soward became just the fourth Dragon in history to boot a field goal in three straight games. This was his second meaningless one scored from long range just before halftime. It put the Dragons up 9-0. It came into play late in the match, giving the Dragons a seven-point buffer. More players should dab one just before the break. Well done Jimmy.

Promise Locker: One exciting new website that has risen from the fertile ground of the internet is Promise Locker. It tracks promises made – including in rugby league – and holds them in posterity to see whether those making the vow stick true. It is well worth contributing to, as well as following.

Fun Fact #1: Since the start of last season, the Broncos are 13-8 when Justin Hodges is playing and 1-8 without him.

Fun Fact #2:  Newcastle have won just 3 of their last 12 road games.

Fun Fact #3: Penrith have averaged 36.5 missed tackles a game since their Round 1 win against Canberra.

The Willie M Medal: Such has been the popularity of The Willie M Medal that it has become bigger than the confines of From The Couch. The Willie M Medal votes and leaderboard will now be published each and every Tuesday. So check in tomorrow for all the latest Willie M action.

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

Rumour Mill: ASADA are reportedly set to pounce on the Sharks this week. What shakes out is still a matter of conjecture but they will hit players with interview notices. Gareth Widdop is reportedly very close to penning a deal with Brisbane. The Broncos have plenty to fork out for the star pivot. Rumour has it that Israel Folau has already penned a deal with the Bulldogs. Aiden Tolman and Frank Pritchard will be the players likely to make way. The Dragons will sign Josh Dugan this week with Gerard Beale likely sidelined for some time. 

What I Like About … Tim Mannah: I rarely find much good in Parramatta. They are a shockingly run club with an ordinary coach and a deplorable playing roster. But one player who holds his head high every week is prop Tim Mannah. In the match played for his fallen brother, Mannah was outstanding, carting the ball with such emotion, hitting with such fury. Mannah is such a tough character, the personification of what rugby league is about.

Betting Market of the Week: This week, Tony Williams will be:

– $3.00: Bra shopping
– $4.00: Enrolling in kabuki theatre
– $4.40: Painting his nails
– $61.00: Learning how to get deep and hit a ball at speed

Combo XIII of the Week: The all-Queensland derby affair between the Broncos and the Titans sees us look back at the best team to play for Brisbane and one of the many Gold Coast franchises to reside on the sunset strip.

1.Dale Shearer (27 games for Brisbane, 33 games for Seagulls)
2. Chris Walker (62 games for Brisbane, 20 games for Titans)
3. Stu Kelly (4 games for Seagulls, 82 games for Brisbane)
4. Ben Ikin (8 games for Chargers, 55 for Broncos)
5. Pat Savage (14 games for Brisbane, 5 games for Seagulls)
6. Wally Lewis (46 games for Brisbane, 34 games for Seagulls)
7. Scott Prince (33 games for Brisbane, 124 games for Titans)
13. Ashley Harrison (52 games for Brisbane, 92 games for Titans)
12. Ray Herring (5 games for Brisbane, 56 games for Seagulls)
11. Dave Taylor (49 games for Brisbane, 5 games for Titans)
10. Brad Meyers (102 games for Brisbane, 75 games for Titans)
9. Nathan Friend (1 game for Brisbane, 100 games for Titans)
8. Keith Gee (12 games for Brisbane, 25 games for Seagulls)

The Coaching Crosshairs: Penrith coach Ivan Cleary was brought in to rebuild the Panthers. There is no doubt that under the supervision of Phil Gould, he has done that. He has cleared the books of most of the top-end talent and re-stocked with youngsters, journeyman veterans and fringe first graders, hoping for a Lord of the Flies-like scenario that would see the cream rise. It is not working out that way. Only Josh Mansour seems to have any talent among those coming through. This side has some bleak days ahead but it is pretty clear the Panthers are still a long way from seeing the worst of it.

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: We got ourselves a Penguin special on Saturday night with Ben Pomeroy making a crucial error and missing four tackles, before being hooked. He picked up his first Willie M votes of the year.

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 5: Canberra-Sydney Roosters, 24-22. The Raiders launched a stunning come-from-behind victory against the Roosters, a win that may turn their season around. Trailing 16-0, the Roosters seemed set to continue on their outstanding run. But a near-perfect second half ensured the Raiders collected the points. It was sealed with an arsey try to Jarrod Croker, who also nailed a pressure conversion to win the match. A memorable match for those from the capital. 

Beard Watch: Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita is in stunning form, playing with such gusto that he is right in the representative mix for 2013. Part of the credit must go to his Asian-looking beard and moustache that has him looking like he could have been a henchman in Big Trouble in Little China.

Correspondence Corner: Anonymous, 2012 certainly was not a fluke from the Bulldogs. They were a quality team with, most importantly, a great coach. They will come back at some point in 2013 after a brutal opener but they are spotting the front runners a big start.

Anonymous, the Sea Eagles and Roosters have no feud. And Manly fans don’t travel to any games. The only challenger is the Bulldogs-Roosters feud or the Rabbitohs-Roosters feud in terms of rivalry. I didn’t say the two best Sydney teams. They are certainly Souths and Manly.

Manly Fan, it would be great if the Sea Eagles did actually bring back Parramatta’s famous wall play.

Anonymous, yes, I was wrong there. Willie Mason has and would follow the Dugan path.

Semi Pro, a quality rant! No wonder you are such an avid fan of The Nut.

Anonymous, and Manly were unlucky not to have a third last Friday.

Anonymous, decoy runners should not instigate contact with defenders and common sense should be used as to whether that defender was in any way interfered with In making a defensive play.

Anonymous, I think you’ll find the Broncos are warming to be a quality side.

Anon, if Vai Toutai keeps playing first grade, he could become our first ever rookie winner.

Anon and Keyboard Rambo, finding points in the Eels’ loss to the Roosters was very difficult.

Avoozi, Simon Mannering has fallen off the face of the earth this season.

Watch It: This special investigation into violence in the closing rounds of the 1979 season is excellent viewing. The highlights includes a young Ray Warren, John Donnelly’s cardigan of choice for the judiciary, Graham McNiece interviewing Roy Masters and John Dorahy’s stiff arm. Watch it here


Comments (5)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    As a 'dogs supporter I am amazed that you continue to rank them within the top 8 each week. Surely their lack of attack and general laziness put them lower in the pack. They are one of only three teams to go 1-4 this year and they looked much worse than many of the teams ranked below them from last week (Dragons, Cowboys, Raiders and Eels all managed a win and the Warriors and Tigers only lost narrowly). I am seriously worried about my team this year and yet you seem to feel that we're doing OK because we're losing to good teams?

    Dessie needs to bench Tony 'standing start' Williams and use him the way he did 2 years ago. Or am I imagining that Williams used to be an impact player?

  2. SemiiPro says:

    1979! Dallas ‘The Dude’ Donnelly! A belligerent Roy! Thanks for that link.

    I’m bewildered, baffled and bamboozled by Tony Williams. Does he have a neurological condition that prohibits him from catching and running at the same time? Is Dessie insisting Tony play 80 and Tony doesn’t like that so he’s taking the piss? Is he actually a feigned injured player a la Ashley Gilbert and he isn’t spotting up in the right spot?

    Oh that’s right. He’s in the first year of a mega mufti year deal. He’s just doing what any normal person would do in his situation – bludging. Dallas would likely be proud.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Nick, you do realise Merrin and Myles are tight forwards and neither have actually played a game in the wide backrow in their career (despite the fact that Myles wears 11 on his back). And Thaiday will probably be there as well. For the kiwis, making mannering captain is just retarded. He tackles his arse off but offers nothing in attack and his handling is probably worse than Vatuvei.

  4. Davey G says:

    For (I'm pretty sure) the third consecutive week, Scott Prince gave away the first penalty of the game. Basically the same penalty too, being an indiscretion in the tackle (hand on the ball / holding down too long). This is the style of play that has dominated Prince's game in 2013 and is a major flop and disappointment. It's funny to have someone there that will retire in 2 years with the pay-off being a young star hitting his straps going to a crap team (my Eels) for good coin, and I wonder how the coach and management really feel about it.

    It's great that Aaron Woods gets the recognition in this column (I am a fan)  – his stats this week (thank you show only Paul Gallen doing as many hitups and tackles. What we will see of course is Woods on the bench for Australia yet overlooked for NSW so they can stick with who have lost the past 6 or 7 years. NSW want to copy QLD by sticking with their team because of loyalty – one day the NSW selectors will figure out QLD are sticking with the same team because they always win but saying loyalty. Sticking with the same team who ALMOST win (or lose) is falling for the bluff and going all-in on a pair of 8's. Come on Laurie – pick the true talent (Fensom / Woods / Tolman / Morris brothers / reynolds and reynolds are the future halves, give them this series to get blooded). Living in Brisbane is pretty cruisy for lifestyle, and being 45 minutes away from Noosa is delightful for a lazy Sunday, but being surrounded by a few million rednecks in the middle of the year telling me how much they hate Phil Gould (they don't have much comeback when I tell them so do we…but I digress) and hearing how rubbish the NSW team is tough, but having no comeback is worse.

  5. Anonymous says:

    "Anonymous, the Sea Eagles and Roosters have no feud. And Manly fans don’t travel to any games. The only challenger is the Bulldogs-Roosters feud or the Rabbitohs-Roosters feud in terms of rivalry. I didn’t say the two best Sydney teams. They are certainly Souths and Manly."


    Same anonymous, I didn't address rivalry, and neither did you in the piece. Nor did I address Sydney rivalries, and neither did you. You stated that the Bulldogs and Rabbitohs were "set to fight it out for No.1 contender status to the Melbourne Storm’s title". Manly and Souths are the two, the Bulldogs are not even worth considering for the top 8 yet.