From The Couch: The Countdown to 2011

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on March 8, 2011

Five Young Guns to Watch

Kalifa Faifai-Loa: In two appearances for the Dragons in 2010, Faifai-Loa gave every indication that he would turn into a superstar winger. Moving to North Queensland was a smart move as he was going nowhere behind Brett Morris and Jason Nightingale. Faifai-Loa will need to create plenty himself but with his strength and his speed, he is set for a big year and may finish near the top of the tryscoring list.

Justin O’Neill: O’Neill had a forgettable debut for the Storm in round 14 last year but bounced back with a hat-trick in his second appearance, finishing the year with nine tries in nine games. He has the kind of athleticism that was seen in the likes of Inglis and Folau at his age. A try scoring wizard who will score plenty of tries off Cooper Cronk’s boot.

Kyle Stanley: Stanley is an immense talent who should finally get his chance in the Dragons top grade team in 2011. In limited opportunities in 2010, Stanley played like a seasoned first grader, with plenty of time and a wonderful read of what was in front of him. Stanley should fulfil a bench role similar to Ben Barba at the Bulldogs last year but will get a starting spot if any of the backline goes down hurt, such is his versatility.

Justin Horo: The Parramatta backrower is now a certain starter at the Eels and that should see him take his game down to the next level. Horo is a high intensity player, who runs hard and hits hard and does everything at 100%. Horo is a future international.

Joel Thompson: The Raiders backrower-cum-centre made his first grade debut three seasons back but still has only 25 appearances to his name. He had a break out year in 2010 before cruelled by oestitis pubis yet he remains an underrated proposition. He shapes as a future Origin player.

Predictions for 2011:

Dally M Medal Winner: Scott Prince (Gold Coast)
Coach of the Year: Craig Bellamy (Melbourne)
Top Pointscorer: Jamie Soward (Dragons)
Top Tryscorer: Justin O'Neill (Melbourne)
Fullback of the Year: Josh Dugan (Canberra)
Winger of the Year: Justin O'Neill (Melbourne)
Centre of the Year: Joel Thompson (Canberra)
Five-Eighth of the Year: Jamie Soward (Dragons)
Halfback of the Year: Scott Prince (Gold Coast)
Lock of the Year: David Stagg (Bulldogs)
Second Rower of the Year: Gareth Ellis (Tigers)
Prop of the Year: Luke Bailey (Gold Coast)
Hooker of the Year: Cameron Smith (Melbourne)
Rookie of the Year: Sam Kasiano (Canterbury)
Captain of the Year: Alan Tongue (Canberra)
Grand Final: Wests Tigers v St George-Illawarra
Grand Final Referees: Tony Archer and Jarrad Maxwell
State of Origin: Queensland 2-1
First Coach Fired: Neil Henry

Recruitment and Retention Grades

Brisbane: B Ben Hannant returns and will toughen up the Broncos pack though Henjak stymied other opportunities

Canberra: B+ The Raiders are finally bringing some big names to C-Town with Orford a monster signing for the Green machine

Canterbury: A+ Canterbury have recruited big with the likes of Tolman, Hodkinson, Pritchard and Eastwood now in blue and white

Cronulla: B- Jeremy Smith is a winner who adds to the quality in the Sharks pack but Graham and Best were the best backs they could find

Gold Coast: C Mat Rogers retired and no big names were recruited in a quiet off-season on the holiday strip

Manly: D- For the second straight year, Manly have been on the wrong end of off-season moves, losing halfback Trent Hodkinson and not acquiring any big names

Melbourne: C+ It is amazing that the Storm have done so well with their recruitment after the team was gutted of many superstars with the signing of Champion top rate

Newcastle: C Chris Houston returns, which adds some class to the Knights pack, but the remainder of the signings have plenty to show before given a tick here

New Zealand: C- Out are the retired Steve Price and the injured Brent Tate and in are renowned cats Krisnan Inu and Feleti Mateo in what is a certain downgrade

North Queensland: B Dallas Johnson was a major coup as were Brent Tate, Kalifa Faifai-Loa and Gavin Cooper but Ashton Sims and Antonio Winterstein aren’t much

Parramatta: F One of the most disgraceful recruitments ever with it impossible to find any logical justification for the signing of Webb, Maitua, Walker, Whatuira et al.

Penrith: D- Frank Pritchard has moved on and he has been replaced by Buddy Gordon which, really, says it all

Dragons: C+ The Dragons didn’t sign any big names but they didn’t need to having re-signed the majority of their premiership winning team

Souths: C+ Inglis is a superstar but he has turned up to Souths well out-of-shape and the Bunnies did give up the hard running Beau Champion

Roosters: C+ A surprisingly low-key off-season for the Roosters though they did score well with Justin Carney

Tigers: C The Tigers made no moves and lost no regular top-grader

Five Players Not to Watch:

Ben Pomeroy: If the Sharks were smart, the Special Needs Penguin would never play first grade again. The Sharks of course, aren’t smart. They don’t even have a chief executive. So Pomeroy will play, spilling passes and missing shoulder charges and generally making a fool out of the great game.

Carl Webb: Jesus, Carl Webb is one of the most awful players to watch in the game. Webb is such a lazy bludger that the Paxton kids look like David Stagg. in comparison. Now he is at Parramatta, he is just going to get lazier. A bum of the highest order.

Clinton Toopi: It infuriates me that Toopi continues to play first grade. No player in the NRL has less understanding of defensive structure. He is a talentless moron and surely John Cartwright won’t use him again.

Ben Roberts: Roberts has redefined the term moron. There is no dumber player in first grade. He has been a pimple on my ass for way too long and it is finally time to get rid of him. If there is one player you don’t want to touch the ball in the dying minutes of a close game, it is Ben Roberts. He will certainly mess it up. I never thought I would cheer Kris Keating so hard.

Albert Kelly: Kelly has reportedly won the right to partner Wade Graham in the Cronulla halves. It is a situation that is not going to end well. Kelly doesn’t play a team game and he doesn’t have a lot to work with. If handling errors are your go, Albert Kelly is your man.

Five Veterans on the Slide:

Paul Whatuira: Parramatta fans hoping to see the centre who won titles with Penrith in 2003 and the Wests Tigers in 2005 are in for a disappointment. Whatuira turns 30 this year with his speed and strength in sharp decline. Outside backs rarely return better for the Super League run and Whatuira will be no exception.

Matt Bowen: Mercurial in his heyday, with an ability to create the amazing, two knee reconstructions have left Bowen a shell of his former self. In a bad side with an increasingly disinterested Johnathan Thurston and a foolish coach in Neil Henry, Bowen has every right to throw the towel in.

Brent Kite: I’ve never been a big fan of Kite but since winning the Clive Churchill Medal he has slipped in stature to Dan Tolar levels. He has always been on the soft side but these days he doesn’t seem to want to do anything. Kite will be heading overseas by season’s end, fingers crossed.

Anthony Tupou: It is hard to conceptualise the notion that Anthony Tupou played Test match football as recently as 2008. His form has fallen so rapidly, he is arguably not in the three best Tupou’s in the NRL. In a quality Sharks pack, Tupou is clearly the imposter. Overpaid, overhyped and overexposed. Tupou should be dumped as soon as possible.

Rhys Wesser: The former Penrith flyer is now nothing more than the South Sydney snail. Slow, unreliable and generally unthreatening, Wesser has been washed up for so long that he is almost ready to go back out to sea. Souths cannot threaten while he remains in first grade.

Five Fools to Fear:

Bill Harrigan: It defies belief that Harrigan was promoted to referees boss after being a major player in the incompetence that marked the Robert Finch years. Already Harrigan has made the wrong noises, suggesting referees will get heavy on dissent and the play-the-ball while allowing the atrocity of the current try scoring system to go on. Rugby league fans should all be very scared.

Bob Fulton: Bozo is an appropriate nickname for Fulton as he is nothing but a clown. Sadly, he is quite the powerful clown and will be Ricky Stuart's primary "selection advisor" for the New South Wales team this season. Expect more of the same rot come the series.

Jeff Browne: The boss of Channel Nine in Melbourne will once again inhibit the expansion of rugby league by refusing to show matches live or at a reasonable hour into Melbourne despite the fact Nine now has three channels to play with. His equals in Adelaide and Perth are no better.

David Furner: The Raiders are on the cusp of being legitimate title contenders for the first time since Super League with an exciting backline and a feared forward pack. The only man who could screw it up is David Furner, who has proven time and time again that he is not up to first grade standard and only survives because of the nepotism that is prevalent in Canberra.

Phil Rothfield: In his pursuit of relevance, the sports editor of The Daily Telegraph finds it necessary to fuel the flames of anger in any decent rugby league fan by writing bollocks and promoting beat-ups. Rothfield himself is not capable of hurting you but he may cause you to hurt yourself.

Round One Selections Notes:

Brisbane: As expected, Justin Hodges is out hurt which means Jack Reed will debut in a three-quarter line that has only 44 games experience. Dane Gagai will also debut on a wing. Sam Thaiday has surprisingly been moved to the front row but it isn't at the expense of Ben Te'o, who will start from the bench. Alex Glenn gets a run in the second row while Scott Anderson gets the nod at starting prop.

Canberra: No surprises with the Raiders other than the fact Matt Orford was named after it was initially thought he would miss with a hamstring injury. His selection may be protection for young gun Sam Williams, who will play if Orford is out.Alan Tongue has been named to start at hooker but will shift to the backrow after 20 minutes when Glen Buttriss enters the match.

Canterbury: Kevin Moore has pulled the right rein and named Kris Keating at five-eighth ahead of Ben Roberts. Ben Barba has officially been crowned as the next Canterbury fullback. Jake Foster is a surprise inclusion at second-row ahead of Frank Pritchard, who will play off the bench. Sam Kasiano will start at prop forward in another surprise, beating out veteran Michael Hodgson.

Cronulla: Albert Kelly will play five-eighth, beating out Scott Porter and Tim Smith for the right to partner Wade Graham. Ben Pomeroy has rightly missed a spot in the three-quarter line, as have Nathan Stapleton and Isaac Gordon with Shane Flanagan going with Matthew Wright and Dean Collis along with John Williams and Colin Best. John Morris will start at hooker ahead of Paul Aiton in a very silly decision.

Gold Coast: The biggest shock in the Titans selection came in the form of Mark Minichiello's axing. Despite Anthony Laffranchi still being on the comeback trail, Minichiello was dumped for Bodene Thompson and could only force his way up to 18th man status. Interestingly, Steve Michaels and Clinton Toopi have been preferred at centre to Esi Tonga and Joseph Tomane, the two best centres at the club. Luke Capewell has won the five-eighth jersey, the right call which will allow Greg Bird to play in the backrow. William Zillman has officially taken over from Preston Campbell at fullback.

Manly: Brett Stewart returns for his first game since round one last season. David Williams, who missed the entire 2010 season, is out with a hamstring strain and has been replaced by William Hopoate. Tony Williams moves to the centres in place of the suspended Steve Matai. Shane Rodney is still sidelined with a knee injury.

Melbourne: Justin O'Neill has surprisingly been left out of the Storm three-quarter line with Matt Duffie and Anthony Quinn winning the wing spots. Beau Champion was named on an extended bench but is highly unlikely, as is named second-rower Sika Manu. Gareth Widdop has beaten Mo Blair to the five-eighth job. Jaiman Lowe has created a bit of a surprise in winning the starting prop job alongside Bryan Norrie.

Newcastle: Adam MacDougall has found yet another way to miss a game, this time out on bereavement leave. Wes Naqaima gets the start in the centres. Rick Stone has decided to start Kurt Gidley at fullback, meaning Beau Henry will make his first grade debut at five-eighth. The forward puzzle became a little clearer. Houston, Taia and Costigan will start in the backrow with Cory Paterson and Matt Hilder riding the pine. For some reason, Antonio Kaufusi will start. He shouldn’t even be playing in the Newcastle comp.

New Zealand: Ivan Cleary has pleasantly surprised by selecting Glen Fisiiahi to make his debut for the Warriors on the left wing. Fisiiahi beat out Kevin Locke (a favourite of this column), Bill Tupou and a "shattered" Krisnan Inu, who was reportedly aching to play his old club. Leaving Inu out was a genius move by Ivan. Cleary has gone conservative in the halves, sticking with Maloney and Seymour ahead of Johnson and John.

North Queensland: Neil Henry is an absolute moron and deserves to be sacked immediately. For some reason new recruit Kalifa Faifai-Loa has been left out for Michael Bani, the same Michael Bani who cannot catch or tackle. Gavin Cooper was also named on the bench instead of as a starter while Ashton Sims is somehow in the best seventeen.

Parramatta: The Eels are fielding a horrible looking team. Parramatta will field a total of six players with only seven NRL games experience between them in the past year. Prop Mitch Allgood and centre Ryan Morgan debut, Etu Uaisele and Taniela Lasalo get another shot at the top grade and Casey Maguire and Chris Walker return from Super League. Casey Maguire has won the hooking job with Matt Keating on the bench and Anthony Mitchell, sadly, missing. The Eels look as bad as they have since the Ron Hilditch days.

Penrith: No Michael Jennings is a major worry for Penrith, who are fielding a team that looks horrible on paper. David Simmons will play in the centres in place of Jennings. Nathan Smith is also out hurt. Nigel Plum will get the chance to impress in the second row. Travis burns appears to have pipped Arana Taumata for the five-eighth spot.

St George-Illawarra: No real shocks with the Dragons team to take on the Gold Coast. Dean Young is still out hurt with Matt Prior set to start at lock. Kyle Stanley will play off the bench.

South Sydney: Dylan Farrell has beaten out Junior Vaivai for the right centre position. No back/utility has been named on the bench suggesting Issac Luke will play 80 minutes. 

Sydney Roosters: Todd Carney is out hurt, his injury no doubt exacerbated by his penchant for the drink. Braith Anasta moves back to his preferred five-eighth with Frank-Paul Nuuausala starting in the backrow. B.J Leulia has beaten Justin Carney to the open wing position.

Wests Tigers: Bobo Ryan is sidelined with injury and Benji has been cleared to play meaning the Tigers have nearly a full-strength lineup though Matt Utai on the wing must surely be of some concern to the Tigers faithful.

Photo by Sandra Mu/Getty Images AsiaPac

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  1. Redman says:

    TOTALLY agree with your Bob Fulton and David Furner assessments. ALL the NSW selectors should have been sacked after last years performance – did you see Laurie Daley on the MNF panel after the team was announced with 21 players?? HE should be in your 'Five fools to fear' lot too…

    As for Furner…. well…. I think the start of season 2011 just goes to show what he's capable of. Orford is rubbish, but it's not all his fault and the Raiders forwards need to take the heat too – They're big, but they're the laziest/unfittest in the comp.


    Utai is going pretty good for the Tigs too…. Happy about that.