From The Couch: Round 5

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on April 7, 2014

Elliott Had to Go: Matt Elliott was a shocking – and surprising – hire by the New Zealand Warriors in the first place so it is no surprise it all came to an end after a mediocre 13-16 run in just over a year. Elliott, not a renowned disciplinarian, was never going to work with a team that desperately requires a harsh taskmaster even if the players don’t believe they want it. It is the earliest firing since Murray Hurst was axed after three games by the Cowboys in 2002.

While Elliott may have a good brain for Rugby League, his record of 108-133-3 with not a single finals win meant he had no business being hired by the Warriors. The club once again showed its tremendous ability to make bad decisions by handing him the reins following the Brian McClennan debacle. They are now looking at another English coach with Shaun Wane the front-runner.

The club had few options after last Saturday’s debacle against the Sharks where the players turned in a pathetic display that would not have been tolerated in Rugby Union yet alone League. They turned it up on Elliott but it is a coach who has to hold his players.

With so much young talent, the Warriors could wait no longer. They made the correct decision to axe Elliott with immediate effect. Andrew McFadden will take over. McFadden has the anger and the fire to make it work but he is a lame duck because the club will almost certainly make a high-profile hire.

The Warriors have had only two successful coaches in their history – Ivan Cleary and Daniel Anderson. Both weren’t popular but both were rigid disciplinarians who could craft an identity for their team. It is paramount they find someone in a similar mould or this investment in the likes of Tomkins and Johnson will be for nought.

There are few options among coaches with experience. Brian Smith is one coach. He is not the man to take a team to a premiership but he is good at stripping a team down and laying a solid foundation. Michael Hagan, if he wanted to get back in the game is another. Rick Stone could certainly do the job. The Warriors need to scour the NRL and find a tough assistant or go with one of those three if they don’t want to be firing another coach next year.

A Penalty Too Far: The seven-week suspension dished out to Jordan McLean was far too harsh and one based on a particularly dangerous premise. Everyone in Rugby League feels particularly sorry for Alex McKinnon and nobody in the game supports dangerous lifting tackles but the seven-match ban on McLean – based nearly entirely on the severity of McKinnon’s injury and not on McLean’s actions – was obscene and another instance of the reactionary rubbish the NRL has sadly become known for. McLean deserved a ban. He deserved one consistent with precedent and the laws of the game. Just as Kade Snowden did not deserve seven weeks for his nonchalant shot that broke Ray Thompson’s jaw, McLean does not deserve seven weeks or the burden of guilt the penalty comes with. All stakeholders in Rugby League want is consistency. If the NRL wants to come down harder on lifting tackles, amend the laws or have referees start sending players off. This reactionary garbage has hung a young man out to dry and made a mess of the laws of the game.

A Great Feud: I can’t help but jump in the corner of Greg Bird in his feud with Cooper Cronk. It is very exciting to have a new personal feud in Rugby League and it is particularly awesome when one is pious and obtuse and the other is Rugby League to the core. In the throes of Wrestlemania season, it is great to see two warhorses battle it out in that most lethal of forums, Instagram.

Field Goal Lovers, Rejoice: It has been a magnificent year for the field goal to date with eight of the first 40 matches containing at least one drop goal. This weekend we saw one in each of the first three clashes including a gem of a meaningless one where Todd Carney slotted one pointlessly with 12 minutes to play. Hopefully the strong field goal streak will go on.

The Perfect Field Goal: It is surprising how many teams have no idea how to construct a field goal. It is often left to a mad scramble with most players contributing nothing. Not Canterbury on Friday night. They worked to a plan and it netted two premiership points. The problem with a field goal when it is needed is pressure. Canterbury knew this. The ball went screeching back to halfback Trent Hodkinson from dummy-half and naturally every Rooster went flying at the No.7, arms up like scarecrows. In a clearly rehearsed move, Hodkinson switched the play to Reynolds, who had an age to slot the decisive one-pointer. Clubs could learn plenty – about misdirection, about blockers, about space – from that single play. Field goals should be Michelangelo, not Jackson Pollock.

The Power of Robson: The most unlikely most valuable player in the NRL is Cronulla half Jeff Robson. The Sharks are 0-7 without him over the last three seasons without their talismanic half. Their average losing margin has been 18.43 points. The Sharks were sure happy to see him return on Saturday. If Parramatta could go back in time and keep Robson and not waste $500,000 a year on Chris Sandow, I dare say they would.

Friendly Fire: There have been plenty of players going down through errant high fives and celebratory misdirection but rarely is a player mauled like Anthony Milford was by teammate Paul ‘Fatty’ Vaughan. Milford copped a stray elbow, leaving him splayed on the turf. Luckily for Vaughan, it wasn’t serious.

Fun Fact #1: The Sydney Roosters are the first team since 1990 to concede less than 10 points in consecutive weeks and lose both games – thanks to Josh Massoud for that nugget!

Fun Fact #2: During the NRL Era, teams who make a midseason coaching change are 9-11 the following week.

Fun Fact #3: Matt Elliott’s teams have never won a finals game.

Rumour Mill: Speculation is rife that the Warriors have already reached a deal with Wigan coach Shaun Wane, who will take over the club at the end of the season. St George Illawarra are believed to be the front runners for Tariq Sims, with the salary cap pressures at the Cowboys likely to force him out. Peta Hiku is weighing up a number of offers but is unlikely to remain at Manly despite the club’s desperation to sign him. Only if the Stewart brothers sign with Canterbury – as has been touted – will Hiku stay.

What I Love About … Ashley Harrison: Veteran lock forward Ashley Harrison announced on Monday that he would retire at the end of the season. It will be a significant loss to Rugby League. Harrison has been a quality player across four clubs for 15 seasons. There have rarely been few frills around Harrison’s game but he is a tough SOB who never took a backward step, who continually played above his weight and who achieved so much with few natural talents. Ash Harrison is what Rugby League is all about and his loss will be a sad one for the game.

Betting Market of the Week: Betting on the Greg Bird – Cooper Cronk cage match:

$1.60: Greg Bird by Knockout
$2.50: Cooper Cronk by Confusion

The 2014 Punters Guide:  If you don’t get yourself a copy of my fine tome The Punters Guide to the 2014 NRL Season you’ve not only let yourself, your family, your friends and your community down, you’ve let Rugby League down. Nobody wants to let the great game down now. Get your copy at any good newsagency or online at the iTunes store.

Funniest Eels Moment of the Week: The Eels are going so well that what they are doing isn’t funny, it is proper football. Brad Arthur is doing a wonderful job at the Eels.

Power Rankings:
1. Canterbury 3-2 (6)
2. Gold Coast 4-1 (8)
3. Manly 3-2 (1)
4. Sydney Roosters 2-3 (3)
5. Melbourne 3-2 (2)
6. Penrith 3-2 (7)
7. South Sydney 2-3 (12)
8. St George Illawarra 3-2 (5)

9. Brisbane 3-2 (4)
10. Parramatta 3-2 (11)
11. Wests Tigers 3-2 (13)
12. Canberra 2-3 (10)
13. North Queensland 2-3 (14)
14. Cronulla 1-4 (16)
15. New Zealand 2-3 (9)
16. Newcastle 1-4 (15)

The Coaching Crosshairs: The pressure is returning to St George Illawarra coach Steve Price. The Dragons have now dropped two straight and were humiliated against South Sydney. Most concerning has been the roundabout at halfback with Adam Quinlan the third used in five weeks. The Dragons are a fickle bunch and another couple of losses will see the chants of slice Price up and about again.

Ricky Stuart Stat of the Week: Parramatta are 3-2 without Ricky Stuart, winning half the games Stuart did in an entire season in the first five weeks. In the side that won in Brisbane were 11 players Stuart had at his disposal.

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 5: Sydney Roosters-Canterbury, 8-9. The game of the year, without question. In teeming rain and on a cut up Sydney Football Stadium, the Bulldogs and Chooks played out a classic. The two teams combined for end-to-end football, fantastic attack and desperate defence. It was a gripping affair between two very good teams, capped by a match-winning field goal that was perfectly orchestrated. A wonderful game.

Beard Watch: Josh Mansour’s teammates generally rate him as a bit of a prima donna and it is wonderful that the prima donna look these days is a full and thick beard. It is great to see, even if it is combined with the schoolboy comb-over.

Correspondence Corner: Manly fan, I have broken my duck with Cronulla players this week. Matty Elliott had to lead.

Boz, I am happy for alternate thinking on strips as long as there is consistency. I cannot cop personalised numbers though … it is confusing and silly. If a punter is going to put a number on their back, it is usually a player who is settled with a number. Not to many people are buying Newcastle 14 and disappointed when Adam Cuthbertson wears No.17.

Cleves and Jason, first, I am hoping named after Cleaver Green. Secondly, I think professional foul sin binnings should be far more rampant. Look at the Storm. They gave away a deliberate penalty after Nate Myles’ break. No sin bin. I am with you on this Cleves. There is no doubt that in certain positions any cost benefit analysis in giving away a penalty is in the positive.

Mike Butterfield, so good to see the PNG Hunters in the Q-Cup.

Buzz’s Alco Cheeks, Rothfield’s idea on the conferences was laughable. Though he is set to write a column that Andrew Ettingshausen will soon be recognised on the streets of Beijing.

Davey G, I missed Hodges not shaking Sandow’s mitt. Not good form though.

Sparkles, I tend to agree … and I love that they used it to treat someone who declares they love rugby union like the fool they are.

Watch It: I know I feel like a cigarette after this outstanding ad for Craven A cigarettes that is all Rugby League and 1960s and Poppa Clay and Mad Men. Watch it here.

Au Revoir: On a final note, I will be off on an oversea sojourn for five weeks. In my travels I will be visiting the great romantic cities of Europe: Paris, Rome, Taormina, St Helens. Never fear though – the great Will Evans will be taking over the writing of this column while the incomparable Cliff Bingham will be running the Willie M Medal. All is left in capable hands and I will see you on the flipside.


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Comments (6)

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  1. Davey G says:

    Matt Elliott resigned, the Warriors said. Shane Flanagan had nothing to do with the drugs thing, the Sharks said. James Graham didn’t mean to bite Billy, the Bulldogs said. We don’t practice wrestling and choke holds at training, the Storm said. Justin Hodges is really a good sport and he was just mucking around, the Broncos said.

    Already plenty of Origin names being thrown around – Mansour is one of them. He is a tough lad, but is he too young? I would have loved a youngsters / emerging squad actually picked 2 or 3 years ago, so by now they would have that experience together. As it stands, the different NSW coaches just pick the same NSW players that unfortunately have one thing in common – losing. Plenty of awesome players, no doubt, but together they don’t win. origin overhaul please, Laurie. Pick with your head, not with you Fulton.

    And I’m sure Semi Radrandra has already been sent his welcome gift basket from the QRL since he played at Suncorp last week.

  2. Mike Butterfield says:

    Inglis got put on his head so the whole crackdown on lifting is crap, Buettner said
    he landed on his arm, even with the Burgess the Refs didn’t act until he stood up & looked around waiting for them to do something, stone the crows, what is going on with them.

  3. H-Bomb says:

    What does Kurt Gidley have to do to get Willie M points? Up his stupid penalty quota to ten per game instead of five?

    • Mike Butterfield says:

      Gidley is not a hooker, he’s a half or fullback, the days of moving halves to hooker are nearly over, the workload of the no.9 in defence is huge, Gidley is giving away a lot of these penalties because he is fatiguing quickly.

  4. Jason says:

    My first point is in response to Davey G from last week. The Broncos released a statement on Saturday that Hodges and Sandow are mates and it was all in jest. Granted, it didn’t look very good on tv, but it wasn’t the malicious act that some harsher commentators have suggested.

    I thought you (well, Cliff) were being very nice in not giving Ben Barba the full 3 points for the Willy M medal. The butter fingers were bad enough, but his try line defence was appalling. With Josh Hoffman languishing in the #6 jersey, Barba won’t get away with too many more performances like that. To be fair though, I thought he’d been playing quite well in the prior matches.

    I’m so glad that you gave Ashley Harrison the kudos he deserved in this week’s edition. He’s probably the prettiest player to ever play the game, but he certainly didn’t shirk his responsibility or shy away from dinging up that face. The Titans are going to face an interesting period losing workhorses like him and Luke Bailey (who is bound to retire soon) and trying to fill the void they leave.

    Finally, I couldn’t agree more with your summary of the McLean/McKinnon issue. It will be very interesting to see what happens next time a tackler puts a player in a dangerous position, both on the field and with the judiciary.

    • Mav63 says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more Jason, Barba is a liability for the Broncs at the moment and Hoffman looks all at sea in the #6. It hadn’t really cost us until last week against Parra but it may well do often down the track. Even in the first 4 rounds although solid Barba looked a shadow of his former self.