From The Couch: Round 7

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

Matt Elliott, Over and Out: Matt Elliott was this week told by the Penrith board his contract would not be renewed in 2012, confirming the worst kept secret in rugby league.

The right decision was made, even if the players wanted Elliott to remain. His results at Penrith have been horrendous-a wooden spoon, three finishes under 11th and a straight sets exit in their only finals appearance since 2004-and he has hardly built anything at the club with Penrith’s roster worse than when he arrived and his development of local juniors average at best.

I doubt we will see Matt Elliott coaching in the NRL after 2011. He has had his chances and he is still waiting for his first finals win. He is an interesting and well-spoken guy though and he should get a gig in the media, with somewhere like the ABC shaping as a likely home.

It is the future we must think of though and not Matt Elliott’s. It is time to think Penrith and where to for a club mired in one hell of a mess, one even Nate Myles would be proud of.

Elliott has been told he has until the end of the year. I doubt he will see it out. This situation rarely works and Penrith should have had the bottle to fire him and bring Steve Georgallis in as an interim coach. Elliott’s position is totally untenable and when not fired immediately, he should have walked away. The Panthers seem willing to waste another year, something the club certainly cannot afford as they struggle to adapt to this post-poker machine rugby league world.

Plenty of coaches have been linked to the job: Mal Meninga, Daniel Anderson, Nathan Brown, Ricky Stuart, Mick Potter, Steve Georgallis, Steve Folkes, Jason Taylor and even Tim Sheens. Anderson is a smart guy who will get another job but probably one with fewer Polynesian players if recent history is anything to go by. Folkes has the runs on the board at Canterbury but is waiting out the Wests Tigers gig. Potter has a good reputation but probably doesn’t have the profile in this field. Tim Sheens is an all-time great but is not leaving the Tigers for that monstrosity.

The rest are morons, coaches you want nothing to do with.

There is only one man the Panthers should be chasing and that is Newcastle coach Rick Stone. He is the best available coach and he is a mentor who a club can build around and who can build a club. He has done an outstanding job at the Knights with limited resources, always getting his team playing to their best or near to it. The Knights are 4-3 this year and took both the Dragons and the Broncos to the siren despite being devastated by a mass injury toll.

If I had any interest in Penrith’s success, I’d beg them to sign Rick Stone, throwing at him whatever he asked. But I don’t. I just want to see a good coach get a gig. So Penrith, do the right thing: sign Rick Stone.

Down with Interchanges: Paul Gallen and I are rarely on the same page but when it comes to the concept of reducing the interchange bench, we certainly are.

Gallen advocated a drop from 10 interchanges to six. That is the sharpest call Paul Gallen has ever made.

Rugby league has benefited markedly since dropping the interchange number from 12 to 10 while the AFL is reaping the rewards of changing their interchange rules that has seen fatigue play a greater factor at the backend of matches.

That is what rugby league needs.

Gallen feels more forwards should be 80 minute players like himself and I couldn’t agree more. The likes of Gallen, Nathan Hindmarsh, Corey Parker and David Stagg need to be the norm, not the exception. These fat, lazy forwards who blow after 20 minutes and want a spell aren’t good for the game.

Rugby league is a man’s sport. So let’s start rewarding the men in the game.

We also need to help the small men in the game. Halfbacks are constantly forced into a barrage of defence against men bigger who are often fresher than themselves. At no point is there respite. Fatigue opens the game up at the backend of halves, allowing the smarts of the small-men to come to the fore. This can only be good for rugby league.

Splashing Hard: The Gold Coast Titans made their second major purchase in the space of eight days last week when they swooped in to steal durable Cronulla prop Luke Douglas, the Titans seemingly hell-bent on recreating my fantasy football team, adding Douglas and Jamal Idris to Luke Bailey, three stalwarts of the Geurie Greens now together in the NRL.

The signing of Douglas is an outstanding coup for the Titans. Douglas has played 124 straight games since making his debut, a remarkable effort for a hard-working forward who never shirks the task. No team can go wrong with Douglas.

His signing isn’t all good news for the Titans though. The purchase of Douglas suggests off-contract Anthony Laffranchi is headed to England though. The Titans don’t have that much cap room available and Laffranchi has been mentioned as being courted by Super League clubs. Laffranchi, when fit, is a devastating backrower, one of the best in the NRL.

The news should be better for the Sharks though. The room is there now to offer Kade Snowden more cash and after the Tinkler deal with Newcastle fell through, he will likely stay a Shark.

Losing Douglas is a blow though. He never misses a game, he tackles all day and he is an effective metre-eater. The Sharks are really going to feel the pinch when he heads north.

Looking to Origin: Origin is just around the corner and New South Wales are staring down the barrel of a sixth straight loss. There is some hope for the Blues, a change of coach and the dumping of the selection panel implemented this year. The bad news is, that coach is Ricky Stuart and the one selection “advisor” is Bob McCarthy, who has done more damage to the New South Wales Origin team than the any one person in the history of the game including Darren Lockyer and Wally Lewis.

Here, we breakdown each position and look at the contenders, who should be picked and who will be picked. This week, the backline. Next week, the pack.

Fullback: Surprisingly, considering the depth at the position pre-season, the Blues are short at the one. Josh Dugan and Brett Stewart have hardly played this year and neither has been particularly impressive when they have. Jarryd Hayne is in dreadful form and is completely undeserving of consideration. Lachlan Coote was in poor form before injury got the best of him. Anthony Minichiello is too old.

There are three players that should be considered for the Origin fullback position: Kurt Gidley, Michael Gordon and Nathan Gardner.

Players really should be picked in position and Gidley has been playing six this year so he should probably be the bench utility again. Michael Gordon is in outstanding form and will certainly start, be it at fullback or on the wing. He is better at fullback but is really needed at the wing. I would plump for the unlikely candidate of Nathan Gardner, a player who reminds me of Brett Hodgson with his courage, smarts and ball return. He is flying for the Sharks and would let nobody down. He is probably 100-1 to get selected though. Stuart and McCarthy will select Hayne, unless Dugan finds some form quickly.

Wing: Michael Gordon will rightfully be selected on the right wing if he is fit. The expected challenge from Akuila Uate has not eventuated this season, the top tryscorer from 2010 going a month without scoring before last wek. Nathan Merritt, despite his claims and his incredible consistency, will again be ignored due to the obsession of Bob McCarthy with size.

On the left wing, Brett Morris has the spot sewn up. He has not done a lot in 2011 but he has the try scoring runs on the board from previous years and with no direct challenge, he will get first crack.

Blake Ferguson, who can play either side, has probably done his chances more harm than good by shifting to fullback in Josh Dugan’s absence. Too error prone and with a loose ball carry, Ferguson’s excitement has likely been offset too much by his laziness-induced errors.

One smoky that likely won’t come into reckoning but should at least be considered is Manly winger William Hopoate. He has been electric since sewing down a first grade spot and is deserving of at least thought.

Jarryd Hayne may be considered on a wing. That would be dumb.

Centre: The two centre positions are probably the most contentious positions in the New South Wales backline with neither the right or left centre spot locked down.

In the mix for the left centre position are Michael Jennings and Josh Morris.On the right, Jamie Lyon, Mark Gasnier and Jamal Idris are the leading contenders with Beau Champion and Joel Thompson potential smokies.

The one thing Stuart and McCarthy had best get right is selecting a left centre on the left and a right centre on the right. They have fucked around with switching centres to their non-preferred side or playing backrowers or utility players in the midfield for too long. Left centre and right centre are two unique positions and should be considered as such by those picking the team.

Left centre is a real worry for New South Wales. Michael Jennings and Josh Morris are both gifted attacking centres but both are below average defenders who will be forced to square up on one of Greg Inglis, Willie Tonga or Justin Hodges. With Jennings’ form down markedly this year, having not scored a single try, Josh Morris is in the driver’s seat. He looked good before going down with injury and if he can prove himself not to be a defensive liability, he should get picked.

The right is much more contentious but at least for New South Wales, it is an embarrassment of riches. Mark Gasnier is being mooted and he is really starting to shine since returning from union, starting to show some of that hypnotising footwork and renowned upper-body strength he built his reputation on. I think Jamie Lyon has his nose in front of Gasnier though. He just offers a little bit more creatively. He is one of the great providing centres of the last few seasons, a Matt Gidley like player who thrives with a good winger outside him and a good five-eighth inside. Give him Soward and Gordon and he will  be at his best. The only worry with Lyon is his defence. He was stood up by Greg Inglis a few weeks back and if selectors recall that, the nod could go to Gasnier.

Jamal Idris is the new kid on the block and will get his chance in the future but for mine, his game is too inconsistent to pip Gasnier or Lyon. He will get there but he needs to play at his best more often. I had high hopes for both Beau Champion and Joel Thompson this year and while I think both have Origin potential inside them, both are playing below their best  with neither likely to get picked.

I think the centre combination should be Josh Morris and Jamie Lyon though I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark Gasnier came in for Lyon.

Five-Eighth :If Jamie Soward is again ignored by those in charged of selection, the Blues deserve to lose. He is the best five-eighth New South Wales has to offer and has been for the last three seasons. It is a myth that he is defensively weak and at any rate, a five-eighth is picked for his attacking prowess. Attack, of course, is the best form of defence and the Blues need to learn to score points.

There have been so many occasions over the last two Origin campaigns where New South Wales simply needed a five-eighth who could kick them into decent field position. Instead, the Blues have selected centres or backrowers like Jamie Lyon or Greg Bird in the position. If either are selected to play five-eighth, I will be betting Queensland to win by plenty again.

For mine, Kurt Gidley is the only player who could usurp Soward but he is better used as a bench utility.

Jamie Soward must be picked. It is as simple as that. If Stuart and McCarthy go with Greg Bird again, screw New South Wales. They don’t deserve victory.

Halfback:This is a race in three with Peter Wallace reportedly having a line run through his name after some disappointing performances in the Blue No.7 combined with a real lack of pace in his game.

Mitchell Pearce is the unbackable favourite, the incumbent who has played well in a struggling team this year. He has brought a level of consistency to his game and deserves first crack, something he will get.

Jarrod Mullen is seen as the primary contender. While at his best, he is a very good player, his game is too inconsistent and his kicking game lacks sense or accuracy. He is also too much of a “thinker”, a player who lets the situation of a game get to him, which is not good if things have gone bad.

A player who I would like to see thrown into the mix is Trent Hodkinson. He is the best defensive halfback in the NRL, a big and burly type, but he is also one blessed with a steady temperament and sound kicking game, the two most important aspects of an Origin halfback’s game. He is a little behind but is the future long-term Origin halfback and is the player I would look at if Pearce doesn’t perform.

Suspicious Eyes: I didn’t have a bet in the game and I have no evidence to prove there was anything untoward but the last five minutes of the Manly-Penrith game certainly drew my attention. Manly led 22-6 with only a few minutes to play when Penrith scored two “consolation” tries to finish six point losers. The line for the game was 7 ½ points. Penrith ended up covering.

Now these things happen. I prefer not to watch these matches with cynical eyes and I am no conspiracy theorist. Still, the finale to this match seemed to have all the elements of point shaving: a big line, an underdog never in the match covering when it looked like the favourite would beat the line, some questionable defence in the dying moments.

The NRL is rightly looking to clean up rugby league. Betting related corruption is the most dangerous issue confronting rugby league. Without legitimacy, league will quickly fall into the murky waters of boxing and more recently, cricket. Sex scandals, drug scandals, off-field misbehaviour, refereeing issues and the like all pale into insignificant when compared to betting corruption, something that eats at the heart of the game like a termite, cutting the legitimacy out of the sport.

The NRL is going about it all wrong though. They are looking to ban some forms of exotic betting like last tryscorer and field goal markets.

This will do exactly nothing to stop match fixing, spot fixing or betting related corruption.

I would say with almost complete confidence that never in the history of rugby league has the fix ever been in for last tryscorer. It is simply too difficult. Not only would it require a large number of conspirators, it is very easy to identify. And with regards field goal exotics, you simply cannot get on for enough to make it worth while and there just aren’t enough field goals kicked to suggest something is amiss in relation to that scoring option.

The NRL would be much better off focussing on line betting, first scoring plays, margin betting and establishing a permanent and powerful integrity office, draconian penalties and increased cooperation with betting shops.

Point shaving is the biggest concern rugby league has. The Tandy case has the NRL fearing exotic betting but it is point shaving that is the biggest worry and if I were to hazard a guess, I would say there has been at least one match with that stench in each of the last six years and you could probably find more anecdotal evidence if you spoke to an old-timer who has been in the bookmaking game longer.

Players have no fear because many have gotten away with it in the past and the NRL has no real infrastructure to not only prevent it but identify it.

The NRL, simply, needs a betting office with significant powers and proper expertise from people who understand betting. It is that simple. They also need to lay out right now that anyone caught match fixing will be out for life.

Focussing on exotics is just jumping at shadows. The NRL needs to start spending money to make a real dent in a very real and dangerous problem.

Injury Update: The biggest injury blow this week came to the belly of St George-Illawarra, who have lost star fullback Darius Boyd to a hamstring injury for at least a fortnight and possibly longer.

Darius Boyd (St George-Illawarra): Boyd tore his hamstring in the middle of the second half against the Roosters and was clearly hobbling after the match with Wayne Bennett saying he would not be back for next month’s Test. He is out for at least two weeks and if the tear is bad, he could be sidelined for as long as six. His loss will really hurt the Dragons.

Sam Burgess (Souths): Burgess did his ankle in the throes of a very good game against Canterbury and it looks serious. He is looking at two-to-three months on the sideline. He is a huge loss for South Sydney, who have another soft tissue injury and another prop forward sidelined after losing Luke Stuart and Scott Geddes for the year. The Bunnies are quickly running out of forwards. His brother George may be next in line for a first grade berth. So short on props are Souths, John Lang has named a bench with no front rowers on it this week.

Nathan Gardner (Cronulla): Lasted only six minutes against the Cowboys before spraining his ankle. It should only be a week or two unless it is a high sprain, that would sideline him for significantly longer. He is their most important attacking player and the Sharks are desperate for him to return. Toyota Cup fullback Callum Tutauha could get his chance though Nathan Stapleton is more likely to be recalled. Scratch that: Flanagan has plumped for Isaac Gordon.

Bryson Goodwin (Canterbury): Apparently hurt his foot. Hopefully has played his last first grade game. Michael Lett will lock down the wing position.

Michael Hodgson (Canterbury): Hodgson, who announced his retirement last week, fainted after only two minutes of action in a weird injury. He didn’t return and must surely be in doubt for this week.

Albert Kelly (Cronulla): The Sharks received a double blow when playmaker Albert Kelly, who has been playing surprisingly well, broke his leg trying to tackle Gavin Cooper. He is out for three months. The Sharks have no depth in the halves, meaning Tim Smith or Scott Porter will get recalled. Surely Flanagan will play it smart and pick Porter. Nope, late news, he went with Smith.

James Roberts (Souths): Roberts had a forgettable first grade debut, looking like he broke his arm 10 minutes from times. Has been cleared of a fracture though but has to be questionable despite being named this week.

Field Goal Fun: I am an unabashed fan of Darren Lockyer and he endeared himself to me even further on Friday night when he, smartly, potted an ugly dinker of a field goal on the stroke of halftime to give Brisbane a 25-6 lead at the break. It was Lockyer’s 19th career field goal and is probably my favourite. It was also critical in the context of the match. The Wests Tigers, on the comeback, got within seven but could not bridge the gap any further. They may have played with more patience had Lockyer not taken the one. It is that kind of intelligence that makes Lockyer one of the all-time greats.

Nice Haircut: Is it just me or does Kieran Foran and his new mop top make him look like he should have been playing bass in The Beatles? It shouldn’t matter though. He is playing outstanding rugby league and looks like a five-eighth who will be around for a long time yet.

Georgie Porgie, Also Known as The George Rose Story:

Georgie Porgie, Puddin' and Pie,

Kissed the girls and made them cry,

When the boys came out to play

Georgie Porgie ran away.

The fattest man in the NRL, George Rose is all pudding and pie. I can’t imagine too many girls would be all that keen to go the pash with him. And when the big boys come out to play, old Georgie doesn’t really tangle with them too often. But he is a character and it is great to have him running around in the NRL. Keep at it Georgie Porgie…

The 2011 Willie M Award: Oh, how great it is to have Matt Utai playing in the NRL for a team that isn’t Canterbury. Delightful. Finally, a team decided to exploit him by bombing to his wing all night and it reaped strong rewards for Brisbane, as Darren Lockyer put the Broncos ahead by peppering his wing all evening. Sure, it brought back horrible memories of the last decade but the entertainment factor is still sweet relief.

Wests Tigers v Brisbane
3-Matt Utai (Tig)
2-Beau Ryan (Tig)
1-Andrew McCullough (Bri)

Manly v Penrith
3-Kevin Kingston (Pen)
2-Travis Burns (Pen)
1-Luke Walsh (Pen)

Cronulla v North Queensland
3-Matt Wright (Cro)
2-Wade Graham (Cro)
1-Dean Collis (Cro)

Canterbury v South Sydney
3-Michael Crocker (Sou)
2-Bryson Goodwin (Bul)
1-Dave Tyrell (Sou)

Canberra v Newcastle
3-Blake Ferguson (Can)
2-Junior Sau (New)
1-Kurt Gidley (New)

Parramatta v Gold Coast
3-Daniel Mortimer (Par)
2-Scott Prince (GC)
1-Nathan Hindmarsh (Par)

Sydney Roosters v St George-Illawarra
3-Justin Carney (Roo)
2-Phil Graham (Roo)
1-Beau Scott (Dra)

Melbourne v New Zealand
3-Anthony Quinn (Mel)
2-Billy Slater (Mel)
1-Beau Champion (Mel)

11-Matt Orford (Can)
9-Blake Ferguson (Can)
8-Feleti Mateo (NZ), Jarrod Mullen (New)
7-Lachlan Coote (Pen), Michael Jennings (Pen)
6-Jarryd Hayne (Par), BJ Leulia (Roo), Anthony Quinn (Mel), Matthew Wright (Cro)

Round 7 Judges Panel:Nick Tedeschi, Sarah Neill (Oh Errol), Brett Oaten (Fire Up), Stephen Ferris (Oh Errol), Matt Clements (Zero Tackle), Rohan Kendall, Nathan Boss

Why is Bryson Goodwin in First Grade? He is as fast me, has the same ball skills, he is a defensive liability and he is not a particularly good goalkicker. Why is he in the team? The Dogs may be winning but Kevin Moore needs to wield the axe and now. Michael Lett deserves an opportunity. STOP PRESS: Kevin Moore has read my mind and given Bryson a three-week injury.

Fun Fact #1: A list of top tryscorers from 1908 onwards, by club, including finals:

Balmain (8): Tommy Kennedy (1924), Sid Goodwin (1939), Bobby Lulham (1947), Paul Cross (1971), Larry Corowa (1978), Wayne Wigham (1980), Gary Schofield (1986t), Tim Brasher (1992t)

Brisbane (2): Steve Renouf (1994), Darren Smith (1998)

Canberra (5): John Ferguson (1988), Gary Belcher (1989), Mal Meninga (1990), Noa Nadruku (1993,96)

Canterbury(4): Terry Lamb (1984t,87), Matt Ryan (1997), Nigel Vagana (2002)

Eastern Suburbs/Sydney Roosters (16): Horrie Miller (1908), Gordon Wright (1919,20,21), Morrie Boyle (1930), Jack Lynch (1931), Dave Brown (1934t,35), Fred Tottey (1936,37), Sel Lisle (1941t), Percy Dermond (1941t), Brian Allsop (1955t), Bill Mullins (1974t), Terry Fahey (1981), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (2010t)

Glebe (5):Dave Garlick (1911), Roy Algie (1912), Frank Burge (1915,16,18)

Illawarra (1): Alan McIndoe (1991)

Manly (13): Les Hanigan (1967), Bob Fulton (1972,73,76), Kevin Junee (1974t), Johnny Mayes (1975), Russell Gartner (1977), Tom Mooney (1979t), Phil Blake (1983,86t), Steve Menzies (1995), Terry Hill (1997), Brett Stewart (2008)

Melbourne (1): Billy Slater (2005t)

Newcastle (1): Akuila Uate (2010)

Newtown (5): Sid Goodwin (1944), Charles Cahill (1945), Norm Jacobson (1948), Jack Troy (1950), Ray Preston (1954)

North Queensland (2): Matt Bowen (2005t,07)

North Sydney (8): Cec Blinkhorn (1922), Herman Peters (1923), Kelly McMahon (1943), Peter O’Brien (1952), Ken Irvine (1959,66,69,70)

Parramatta (1): Steve Ella (1982)

Penrith (2): Rhys Wesser (2003), Amos Roberts (2004)

St George (18): Fred Gardner (1934t), Jack Lindwall (1940,42,46), Ron Roberts (1949), Tommy Ryan (1956,57), Eddie Lumsden (1958,62), Reg Gasnier (1960,63,64), Johnny King (1961,65), Stan Gorton (1968), Mitch Brennan (1979t), Steve Morris (1984t), Steve Linnane (1985)

St George-Illawarra (5): Nathan Blacklock (1999, 2000, 01), Colin Best (2005t), Brett Morris (2009)

South Sydney (14): Tommy Anderson (1909), Arthur McCabe (1910), Harold Horder (1913,14,17), Benny Wearing (1925,26,27), Don Mason (1938), Johnny Graves (1951), Ian Moir (1953,55t), Nathan Merritt (2006)

University (1): Jack Gray-Spence (1933)

Western Suburbs (6): Jack Redmond (1928), Alan Brady (1929), Alan Ridley (1932), Vic Hey (1934t), John Ribot (1980t), Mark Bell (1992t)

Wests Tigers (1) :Pat Richards (2005t)

Fun Fact #2: 18 Players who have topped the tryscoring list on more than one occasion:

Harold Horder, Frank Burge, Gordon Wright, Benny Wearing, Dave Brown, Jack Lindwall, Sid Goodwin, Ian Moir, Eddie Lumsden, Johnny King, Reg Gasnier, Ken Irvine, Bob Fulton, Phil Blake, Terry Lamb, Noa Nadruku, Nathan Blacklock and Matt Bowen

Fun Fact #3: Ken Irvine is the only player to top the tryscoring list four times. Only three players have topped the list in three consecutive years: Gordon Wright, Benny Wearing and Nathan Blacklock

Fun Fact #4: Sid Goodwin is the only player to top the tryscoring list for two separate clubs, doing it for Balmain in 1939 and Newtown in 1944

Fun Fact #5: Steve and Brett Morris are the only father and son combination to top the tryscoring list, Steve doing it for St George in 1984 and Brett for St George-Illawarra in 2009

Fun Fact #6: St George/St George-Illawarra have had the most top tryscorers with a combined 14 players topping it 23 times.

Fun Fact #7: Canterbury waited 50 seasons for their first top tryscorer with Terry Lamb in 1984. Newtown waited 37 years (Sid Goodwin, 1944), Parramatta 36 (Steve Ella, 1982), Penrith 25 (Alan McIndoe, 1991), Newcastle 23 (Akuila Uate, 2010), 21 Western Suburbs (Tommy Redmond, 1928) and Manly 21 (Les Hanigan, 1967)


Power Rankings:

1. St George-Illawarra (6-1) LW:1, R:1-3

2. Brisbane (6-1) LW:3, R:3-14

3. Melbourne (5-2) LW:2 R:1-4

4. Canterbury (5-2) LW:4, R:1-5

5. Newcastle (4-3) LW:6, R:5-7

6. Manly (4-3) LW:7, R:6-13

7. North Queensland (5-2) LW:8, R:7-16

8. Wests Tigers (3-4) LW:5, R:3-8

9. New Zealand (3-4) LW:9, R:9-4

10. South Sydney (2-5) LW:10, R:8-11

11. Sydney Roosters (2-5) LW:11, R:5-11

12. Cronulla (2-5) LW:12, R:10-16

13. Gold Coast (2-5) LW:13, R:9-15

14. Parramatta (3-4) LW:16, R:8-16

15. Penrith (2-5) LW:14, R:10-16

16. Canberra (1-6) LW:16, R:8-16

Round 8 Selection Notes:

Brisbane Broncos: After six straight wins, it is not surprising Anthony Griffin is reluctant to make any changes.

Canterbury Bulldogs:Bryson Goodwin has an "injury" and mercifully, is no longer in first grade. Michael Lett finally gets a chance at the Dogs. Corey Payne comes into the team for Michael Hodgson with Canterbury nearly full strength for the first time in 2011.

South Sydney: I'm not 100% sure John Lang has named anything like the team he intends to field with James Roberts, who has a suspected fracture to his arm, named at fullback despite being virtually no chance even in a best case scenario. Sam Burgess has been replaced by Ben Ross. Jason Clark is added to the squad, showing how stretched the Bunnies pack is again.

Cronulla: Isaac Gordon and Tim Smith have been named to replace Nathan Gardner and Albert Kelly, Shane Flanagan pulling the wrong rein on both counts. Colin Best and Jason Bukuya come in for Dean Collis and Taulima Tautai, smart moves.

Gold Coast: John Cartwight has made no changes to his side that disappointingly lost to Parramatta. William Zillman seems to be warming to the task at five-eighth but outside him is a major worry.

Sydney Roosters: Jason Ryles and Tom Symonds have been added to the bench and both will play if fit with Phil Graham certain to drop off the bench.

Melbourne:The Storm played Monday and no changes have been made though Anthony Quinn should be dumped for Justin O’Neill.

Newcastle: The Knights have not named any players to return from injury though Rick Stone said on Melbourne radio that Adam MacDougall and Beau Henry could return.

North Queensland: No changes to a team winning well but Dallas Johnson, Willie Tonga and Matt Bowen need to all be monitored as they are suffering minor injuries and could be late withdrawals. Dane Hogan will play Queensland Cup.

Manly: The experiment of Tony Williams as an impact forward off the bench seems to have ended. He is either a winger or he is useless and he is probably 4th or 5th choice wing at Manly at the moment. Brett Stewart has again been named so expect Michael Oldfield to get another late call-up.

New Zealand: The Warriors have made no changes to the team that won the club’s first ever Monday night match. It is good to see Kevin Locke playing and playing well.

Penrith: Timana Tahu has somehow got a starting spot with Brad Tighe shifted to the wing and Sandor Earl, after a couple of howlers, dropped again. Adrian Purtell has been added to the bench with Matt Elliott’s golden child sure to play.

Canberra: To the delight of Raiders fans, Matt Orford returns this week. The Raiders are going just awful at present and the one axing that should be made is David Furner, whose micromanagement of the Raiders has sucked any breath out of a team that lacks structure, discipline, fitness or a positive attitude.

Wests Tigers: Gareth Ellis has again been sidelined by his troublesome ankle with anonymous Schinack one, one half of The Conquistadors of the NRL, replacing him. Wade Mackinnon, attempting to become the next Brett Stewart has again been named and is again unlikely.

St George-Illawarra: In a little surprise, Jason Nightingale has been shifted to fullback ahead of Kyle Stanley with Peni Tagive getting a run on the wing in the reshuffle caused by Darius Boyd’s injury. My gut tells me Kyle Stanley is being protected though and may start.

Parramatta:With nobody to bring in, Stephen Kearney has brought nobody in.

Rumour Mill: Parramatta have reportedly reached a deal with both Chris Sandow and Junior Vaivai. Souths are resigned to losing Sandow while Vaivai to Parramatta is the worst kept secret in rugby league. Parramatta, along with Canterbury and St George, are in the running for hot young Manly outside back William Hopoate. Hopoate is the hottest young prospect in rugby league with Canterbury believed to be in front for his signature. It is believed that Penrith powerbrokers are already in the process of feeling out candidates to take over from Matt Elliott. Mal Meninga was thought to be in front but word is Nathan Brown is now favourite. Despite talk to the contrary, Darius Boyd is locked into Newcastle from 2012 onwards. One match has raised suspicions over possible betting fraud this year. The team involved performed uncharacteristically poorly.

Betting Market of the Week:

Canberra’s home losing streak to extend another month:                                         $3.00

Canberra’s home losing streak to extend until Terry Campese returns:                $4.50

Canberra’s home losing streak to extend through Matt Orford’s “back injury”:      $6.00

Canberra’s home losing streak to extend through David Furner’s career:             $15.00

How does David Furner still have a job? Oh, that’s right, his brother signs the contracts. Furner cannot be blamed for all of Canberra’s ills but he has to take responsibility for many of them. The Raiders are tactically bereft, their discipline is poor, their attitude is all wrong and even their fitness is concerning. This team on the rise has been stymied by an incompetent coach not fit for first grade.

What I Like About…Paul Osborne: Carl Webb. Reni Maitua. Chris Hicks. Chris Walker. Paul Whatuira. Justin Poore. Chasing Chris Sandow. Throwing big money at rugby players. Paul Osborne has no idea what he is doing and he continues to drive the Eels into disrepair, something I take great delight in. The pursuit of Chris Sandow on a big deal is absurd. Sandow is having his best season but let’s be honest: it has been an average year at best for a 2-5 team who are falling at every hurdle. Sandow has done little to inspire and little to excite, even in a contract year. He is only looking so good because he is coming off such a low base of expectation. Yet the Eels want to hurl money at him. There really isn’t that much difference between him and Jeff Robson.yet Paul Osborne wants to eat the cap on him. Paul Osborne, you never disappoint.

From Deep in the Bowels of Twitter:

Chris Walker is taking an unhealthy interest in betting on his own side: “Just been told $5.50 13+ ….interesting!!!!”

Walker again: “Wat does every1 think??? Parra paying $2.20 at home… Good odds if I was a betting man…”

South Sydney diehard and Victorian rugby league prophet Paul Dalligan: “The Chinese say it is the Year of the Rabbit -sadly Confucious mustn’t have been a rugby league fan”

Obscure Score of the Week: Townsville-Herbert River, 25-25, Final of the 1982 Foley Shield. The Foley Shield, resurrected in 2000 after a five year absence, is the most important trophy in far North Queensland and in 1982, a ripper was played between Townsville, the powerhouse of the shield named in honour of the founder of rugby league in Townsville Arch Foley, and Herbert River, with the match finishing drawn after extra-time, the only time in the 63-year history of the Shield that honours have been split.

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: With Luke Douglas moving to Cronulla, Ben Pomeroy will be the last remaining player from his debut game with the Sharks to still be at the club in 2012 and one of only two players, with Paul Gallen, from the 2006 season to still be at Shark Park six seasons on. The remaining players from Pomeroy’s first game with the Sharks, and where they are now, are:

David Simmons (Penrith), Darren Albert (retired), Nigel Vagana (retired), Beau Scott (St George-Illawarra), Luke Covell (retired), Adam Dykes (retired), Brett Kimmorley (retired), James Stosic (retired), Kevin Kingston (Penrith), Luke Douglas (Cronulla), Reece Williams (retired), Lance Thompson (retired), Greg Bird (Gold Coast), Hutch Maiava (retired), Matt Hilder (Newcastle), Brett Kearney (Bradford)

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 7: Canterbury-South Sydney, 36-24. The Parramatta-Gold Coast game had the grandstand finish but Canterbury-South Sydney had the sparkling attacking play. Canterbury scorched the ANZ Stadium turf with some memorable tries. Ben Barba was sensational, backing up like Terry Lamb and flying like Larry Corowa. Jamal Idris was brutal at times and again won the decision over Greg Inglis. Trent Hodkinson showed he is the real deal, always taking the right option. Aiden Tolman again stamped himself as the hottest young prop in the game. This was a super game, full of attacking flair and individual brilliance.

Coaching Stocks:

5: Wayne Bennett: There is no better big game coach in rugby league.

4.5: Craig Bellamy: Bellamy would be extremely disappointed in a home loss to NZ.

4: Anthony Griffin: Has built a defensive line to challenge STG and MEL in 2 months.

3.5: Tim Sheens: Was outcoached by Griffin v BRS and mistakes were uncharacteristic.

3.5: Rick Stone: A monster win in Canberra considering history…deserves a job.

3.5: Kevin Moore: The Dogs are playing with plenty of confidence and flair now.

3.5: Des Hasler: Manly are getting it done even without impressing overly, a good sign.

3.5: Ivan Cleary: A defence-based win in MEL may be his and the Warriors biggest win.

2: John Cartwright: A most disappointing loss when the Titans needed a win most.

1.5: Brian Smith: The Roosters are back to their mediocre ways on and off field

1.5: Stephen Kearney: Didn’t deserve a win but will take the two points.

1: Shane Flanagan: The Cowboys game was there to be won but discipline cost them.

1: Neil Henry: Has the Cowboys back on track and the road win will do plenty of good.

-1: John Lang: After such a good defensive showing v SOU, Souths were awful v CANT.

-2: Matt Elliott: Gone, gone, gone…

-2.5: David Furner: Three straight home losses with Dugan back is unacceptable.

Correspondence Corner: It seems there were plenty who didn’t take too kindly to my assessment of Jarryd Hayne last week. Daryl Collison took time to write while Ryan, Matt, paynesadog, Gordon James and Nathan Dawes expressed their views at either Rleague or Makingthenut.

Nathan Dawes called my last piece “rubbish” and myself a “grub” while Gordon James took it further, calling me a “grub of the lowest form” who “likes to smoke the flesh pole”. Matt and paynesadog called it “journalistic rubbish” and “journalistic bullshittery”. Ryan merely dealt with the issue.

First of all, to deal with the journalistic rubbish line, I am a writer, not a journalist. I have never purported to be a journalist and it is apparent from my first line to my last that I am not hiding behind the silliness known as objectivity. The Hayne piece, along with the rest of the column, is emotional and subjective and biased because that is what it is: if you want straight up reporting, there are plenty of sites and plenty of articles out there for you. You don't go to a whorehouse for a fish and chip meal.

In regards to me being a grub well, everyone is entitled to their opinion just as I am entitled to mine on Jarryd Hayne as a footballer who, I maintain, plays selfishly, lazily, goes to water when the going gets tough, is a niggler and plays like a cat.

Daryl Collison wrote asking if I would say this to Hayne’s face. Yes, of course I would. Jarryd Hayne may well be a lovely bloke. All indications are that he is. But I don’t care…I am paid to comment on rugby league and that is what I do and I will not abide by a player staying down faking injury in order to win a penalty, nor will I stay silent when a player lays a headbutt on another. Yes, I hate Parramatta and support Canterbury. But I’m not going to hide behind some bullshit veil of fake objectivity. This is who I am as a rugby league fan. Enjoy it, hate it, read it, don’t read it…everyone should feel free to do what makes them happy. We are all big kids and there is enough out there not to read something you don’t like. I’m fairly sure Jarryd Hayne doesn’t care what I have to say and I know I don’t care what he thinks of me.

Red Dog and Anna seemed to enjoy the piece. I'm glad.

To Mitch, we have danced this Ben Roberts dance before. Canterbury have a Idris, Morris, Barba and Keating who are game breakers and if we need more, Michael Lett needs to come in for Bryson Goodwin. I hope Ben Roberts never wears the blue and white again.

Dave, I wasn’t counting Super League. Kevin Walters also coached Catalans.

Peter, I agree with your assessment of Ray Price. I’d rather be with a hard team who can win like Canterbury rather than the sniping, whining skirts at Parramatta. Poor old Nathan Hindmarsh. He deserved a better fate.

Zig, the one Matt Utai game I do remember was the first semi in 2004 when the Cowboys went at him all night and Utai was hopeless under the bomb and then dropped the ball as we were rucking it out on more than one occasion, costing the Dogs the game and what I though was the year. But those scumbag union types…they are the worst of the lot. Filth is what they are.

To Johno, no, the Channel 10 Challenge Cup from 1978 doesn’t count because it wasn’t an all-encompassing competition. Rather, it only included the seven teams that didn’t make the finals. That isn’t a real title.

Fantasy Team of the Week:

1. Ben Barba (Cant)

2. Steve Turner (Cant)

3. Mark Gasnier (Dra)

4. Steve Matai (Man)

5. Akuila Uate (New)

6. Gareth Widdop (Mel)

7. Johnathan Thurston (NQ)

13. Paul Gallen (Cro)

12. Gavin Cooper (NQ)

11. Corey Parker (Bri)

10. Luke Douglas (Cro)

9. Matt Hilder (New)

8. Aiden Tolman (Cant)


14. Greg Bird (GC)

15. Michael Gordon (Pen)

16. Cameron Smith (Mel)

17. Ashley Harrson (GC)

Waiver Wire Advice: Ashley Harrison is going for a touch under $320,000 but is well worth the investment if using him at five-eighth. Harrison is going at 74.20 this year and allows you to use an extra backrower, which is extremely useful as five-eighths, generally, can be a little too temperamental.

Beard Watch: Cronulla hooker Paul Aiton is certainly making a splash with a fantastic Ian Chappell moustache. It is starting to develop some thickness and could well be the best ‘tache in league for at least a decade.

Watch It: In 1988, Wigan and Warrington went to Milwaukee to play an exhibition game with the likes of Ellery Hanley, Shaun Edwards, Les Boyd, Shaun Hampson and Kevin Iro all involved. Things got a little heated early. Watch it here. Mind the American commentary though: it is a little disconcerting.

Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images AsiaPac

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