A Wonderful Weekend: The NRL did a tremendous job honouring Anzac Day and the 100-year anniversary of Gallipoli. Outside of the aural molestation that was the Guy Sebastian/Lee Kernaghan/Jess Mauboy song, everything was done with class and an eye to avoiding over-commercialisation. Seeing players walk out together was a fantastic way to show that while Rugby League is gladiatorial, it is not war and is just a game. The guard of honour for the servicemen was a fine tribute, as was playing the anthems of both Australia and New Zealand. The games were generally played in the right spirit to boot. A wonderful weekend and something the NRL actually does well.
The Scourge of Rugby League: Diving is absolutely the worst thing in Rugby League. It is the lowest act a player can engage in and worse, the league encourages it by allowing the video referees – already overcharged for a bunched of simpletons – to award a penalty. Trent Robinson – the calmest coach in the NRL by the length of the straight – was right to blow up deluxe at Euan Aitken. Ivan Cleary has the right to do the same after Michael Ennis catted it up against the Panthers. Luckily he wasn’t given a penalty. The NRL has no choice but to ban video refs from looking at these matters to stop these grubby players from diving.
Rep Selections: Australia: Tough to argue with the side but I find it hard to believe Justin Hodges didn’t deserve a spot over a former rugby union player. There is no way in hell either Luke Lewis or Sam Thaiday deserved their spots. Both are dreadfully out of form and if the youth movement is supposedly on neither should have been picked. Josh Jackson and Boyd Cordner were dreadfully stiff. Great to see Trent Merrin, Josh Dugan and Alex Johnston handed debuts.
New Zealand: It made zero sense that Manu Vatuvei kept his spot in the squad while Jason Nightingale was dumped. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will star at the back. It may be another false start for the unlucky Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. DWZ missed his Test debut after breaking his foot and now faces a suspension for what would be his second shot.
Country: There is only one issue that is worthy of discussion here and it is the continued disgraceful treatment of Shaun Fensom. How does one of the best players in the game get snubbed by these jokers? He should have been the first player picked. All the selectors should resign out of embarrassment. Shannon Boyd is going to be some kind of player. Hopefully he gets a run in. Dale Finucane is very deserving of a shot.
City: It makes zero sense that Trent Hodkinson AND Mitchell Pearce were passed over. It makes even less sense that they were done so for a Queenslander who has no intention of ever ruining his representation claims with that state. It was idiotic and has done plenty of damage It makes zero sense that Trent Hodkinson AND Mitchell Pearce were passed over. It makes even less sense that they were done so for a Queenslander who has no intention of ever ruining his representation claims with that state. It was idiotic and has done plenty of damage to the concept. Good to see James Tedesco join the squad late while James RobertGood to see James Tedesco join the squad late while James Roberts is a potential superstar.
Raiders, Titans, Dragons Rolling: The NRL has succeeded because of parity. Every weekend is unpredictable. There is no such thing as an easy game to pick. Over Round 8 six outsiders won straight out – including three that were given starts of 8 or more – while the Raiders, Titans and Dragons have been red-hot with the latter two now in the top eight. All three were expected to finish in the bottom four this year. The Dragons have now won six straight on the back of the best defence in the NRL. The Titans are rejuvenated with Kane Elgey at half. Canberra have become this year’s road warriors, with wins over Souths, Manly and Cronulla away from Canberra Stadium.
Catch the Damn Ball: Sam Perrett is a solid player, honest and tough. But his decision to not contest a bomb that led directly to a Luke Brooks try was unforgivable. The quicker he moves back to the wing the better the Bulldogs will be.
Long Remember The Send Off: The send off certainly doesn’t exist anymore. After James Graham stayed on the field for abusing a ref, Tyson Frizell stayed on the paddock for a vicious swinging arm from a kick off and Chris Heighington speared Jeremy Latimore into the grass via the head and didn’t get marched, it is clear the NRL has issued an edict not to dismiss any players. It is a travesty and flies in the face of this player safety binge they are overdosing on.
2015 Field Goal Count: 12 – We unfortunately endured a field goal free weekend, something of a rarity on a weekend dominated by weather. With an average of 1.5 per round, field goals are not having a great run. Let’s hope as the winter settles in they become more prevalent.
Fun Fact #1: The Titans are 4 of 5 since Kane Elgey got his chance in first grade.
Fun Fact #2: Justin Hodges has played his last Test match – having never lost any of the 13 Tests he competed in.
Rumour Mill: Laurie Daley is set to stick with Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson for Origin I. Daley wants to bring in the culture of Queensland and considers loyalty highly important. Expect Luke Keary to play in Round 9. His injury may have been nothing more than an effort to maintain his fight to play for Queensland. Recent big losses to the Roosters should ensure they now retain James Maloney. Manly will almost certainly land Kane Elgey now his price has doubled after a scintillating performance against the Warriors. Manly aren’t out of the mix for Chris Sandow either though the Sharks are also in the hunt. Don’t be surprised if the Warriors sound out former boss Daniel Anderson now Jim Doyle is in charge of the club. He may come in as a coaching director.
What I Like About … Pat Richards: Richards is one of those rare unique talents that makes watching Rugby League so much fun. He isn’t the best player in the comp. Not even close. But he is about the most entertaining. His penalty goal from 54 metres is a feat only he could achieve. There hasn’t been a kick lob from that long in 30 years. And he had plenty to spare. Seeing him try one from 60-plus would be a real treat and something Jason Taylor should seriously look at exploiting. With his ability to kick long range field goals, his drop outs and short kicks – and don’t forget about that assist to James Tedesco on Easter Monday – he is the most entertaining player in the game.
Betting Market of the Week: After an extremely rare weather-related delay on Saturday in the Roosters-Dragons Anzac Day clash, the next major stoppage in an NRL game will be a result of:
$4.00: A mid-game player strike caused by the disproportionately large sum of money Ben Barba and Benji Marshall are paid
$3.00: Lost ball from a Pat Richards kick
$2.00: A riot caused by inept referees refusing to punish acts of thuggery
$1.33: David Smith running onto the field and ordering the game stopped so Buzz Rothfield can get another glass of cheap shiraz.
Manly Collapse Update: There is still life in the Sea Eagles! But despite the good news of a win over Melbourne word is leaking out of a major blue between props Josh Starling and Willie Mason with the young tyro reportedly calling out Mason for his lack of output. And fair enough too with Mason running the ball just seven times in 30 minutes last week, an appalling effort from a prop. If the Sea Eagles are to get out of their rut it will be on the back of hard-nosed attitudes like Starling’s.
Referee Power Rankings: Gavin Badger is off the list thanks to being dropped but it hasn’t stopped him getting involved as a pocket referee. He made some absurd decisions over the weekend, most notably an obscene and blatantly wrong penalty in the Bulldogs-Tigers game that led to a Tigers try. Badger has gone shockingly bad since getting a hipster haircut and beard.
- Ashley Klein (2)
- Adam Devcich (4)
- Gerard Sutton (1)
- Ben Cummins (3)
- Jared Maxwell (5)
- Matt Cecchin (7)
- Grant Atkins (n/a)
- Gavin Morris (n/a)
The Coaching Crosshairs: With Manly in last position, Geoff Toovey’s career as Sea Eagles coach is as good as done, despite the courageous win over Melbourne on Saturday night. The victory will most likely only delay the inevitable though he is no sure thing to see out the week with a general bye this weekend. Trent Barrett will be named Toovey’s successor. Steve Georgallis will come in as interim coach if Toovey is sacked midseason.
Games of the Year Nomination – Rounds 5 – 8: It is time to play catch-up for the last four week:
Round 5: Canterbury 17 – South Sydney 18
Round 6: Brisbane 22 – Sydney Roosters 18
Round 7: Melbourne 17 – Sydney Roosters 16
Round 8: Sydney Roosters 12 – St George Illawarra 14
Ricky Stuart Stat of the Week: Ricky Stuart has used 43 halves as a first grade coach. He has been through four this year.
Beard Watch: No club is doing a better job with beards right now than the Canberra Raiders and the new front-runner might be backup rake Kurt Baptiste. Baptiste has been a livewire on the field and has certainly been noticed more because of his full beard/shaved ball dead combo. Seeing him break free is like seeing a garden gnome leap from the tulip bed, lose his cap and just take off like the wind.
Watch It: This week we look back on the career of Robert ‘Rocky’ Laurie – a South Sydney and Eastern Suburbs star of the early 1980s. Laurie won the 1980 Dally M Medal and is rightly regarded as one of the most underrated halves of the era. Watch him at his best here.