How The Chips Are Falling: A Midseason Look at the NRL

Filed in Other by on December 4, 2010

It was last Saturday, somewhere around six bells, when I reflected quietly and thanked the Good Lord for the choices I have made that had led me to the fortunate life position in which I currently reside.

As I sat in a full King O’Malley’s smack in the nexus of Canberra, I smirked to myself and thought of that old Lou Reed tune Men of Good Fortune. I had just woken up from last night and finished belting out Tigerland for the second straight week and I decided to catch the Raiders-Cowboys clash, feeling a contest was on the cards. I ordered a pint from the busty bar girl and turned, in dismay and sadness, to see that there was no rugby league.

No, despite the local lads playing, the queers and sadists at O’Malley’s decided it would be good and proper to show some two-bit sporting contest between a couple of New Zealand sides. Shrouded in fog to the point where next to nothing could be seen, the Super 14 final played itself into its inevitable dull and meandering conclusion.

 High on the giant screen-a fitting testament to the futility, charmlessness, amateurism, tedium and stifling nature of rugby- was the showpiece of provincial rugby union.

Life had led me to the grandeur, subtle charm, toughness and beauty of rugby league and I was most grateful. To have sat among the embarrassed and stupid fools who had made an effort to watch this garbage would have been too much for me. Even if I’d had a bet in the game-and make no mistake, gambling is the only thing that makes rugby barely tolerable- I wouldn’t have watched the rubbish. Hell, I’d rather poke my eyes out with a rusted table fork than have to sit through most rugby matches…

I smacked down the pint and high-tailed it for a more accommodating venue.

When I found the Braddon Club and the salt-of-the-earth folk who inhabited it, I was damned certain that there would be no rugby joke. And so it was. Between arguments over an NRL promotion-relegation system and whether Russia deserved to have a team in the NRL, Todd Carney kicked an extra-time field goal in a classic defensive game of rugby league.

The Raiders, sitting near the bottom of the table, had just rolled one of the competition front runners. Ah, the brilliant and unpredictable nature of rugby league.

And with that, the mid-season review…

South Sydney            

Pre Season Prediction: 15th              
Current Prediction: 15th

Current Position: 15th

Souths are an absolute abortion this year, going worse than even most pessimists involved in the game could have predicted. The Bunnies are a whirling dervish of mediocrity, division, ill discipline and false hope. If Souths win a game this season, it will be a goddamn miracle. They haven’t had a decent coach since at least the early eighties and they attract washed up playing staff and troublemakers. Until a coach with a record of discipline and a taste for victory gets bought in, the wooden spoons will keep flowing in as annually as the Melbourne Cup. Not a hope of even snatching second last on the effort and execution they have shown so far this year. One can only feel sorry for the likes of hard working captain Peter Cusack and young guns like John Sutton. It’s no wonder they all head to greener pastures as soon as the gate swings open…


Pre Season Prediction: 14th              
Current Prediction: 14th

Current Position: 14th

Even with the four points they were stripped, the Warriors would still be languishing in the cheap seats. Whilst showing flashes of brilliance, the Warriors on the whole have looked like a team lacking in talent, direction and discipline. The Warriors backline appears slow and listless and completely incapable of scoring. But you have to expect that from a side who lists Todd Byrne one of the club’s two best wingers. The forwards are trying hard but are lacking in depth and sometimes, common sense. They can cause a few upsets and make most matches competitive, but the Warriors can’t finish off opponents and they struggle in tough affairs. Young Rovelli looks a likely type but 2006 isn’t the year of the Warrior…

Pre Season Prediction: 13th              
Current Prediction: 10th

Current Position: 6th

The Sharks have been reasonably impressive this season, surpassing my expectations and playing some decent footy. They seem to have had a decent rub of the green most weeks but they have been winning without Kimmorley, something many believed impossible. Lance Thompson has been a revelation, as a footballer and a mature adult, leading the Sharks forward pack with the ever-improving Paul Gallen. The Sharks still look a little fragile and while the likes of Brett Kearney have stepped up in the face of injury, the twenty four games should sort the Sharks out and they will still miss the eight. Perhaps finals footy in 2007…


Pre Season Prediction: 12th              
Current Prediction: 11th

Current Position: 11th

Penrith, at times, have been brilliant this season. But that brilliance is mired in so much poor rugby league that it is tough to remember them playing well. Workhorse forwards Matthew Cross and Shane Rodney have impressed this year, as has brilliant hooker Luke Priddis. And the move of Luke Lewis to five-eighth looks like it could bear fruit. But there are too many weaknesses in the Panthers side for them to be any real threat. The side is directionless without the injury plagued Craig Gower. Forwards like Joel Clinton need to toughen up in their actions and live up to their mouths. The backline needs to develop some consistency and an ability to defend. Until then, well, they will struggle to make any sort of nut…


Pre Season Prediction: 11th             
Current Prediction: 12th

Current Position: 11th

Despite their position on the ladder, the Raiders have overachieved this year after a couple of early season wallopings. Alan Tongue and Troy Thompson have worked themselves breathless this year, keeping Canberra in a number of games. And when Canberra dig into a tight contest, they usually come up trumps. They are the kings of the golden point and they love a scrap. Already this season they have two extra time victories. But they just lack class at the moment, and that will tell in the second half of the season when The Crunch is on. Canberra continue to be a good bet at big pluses and will win a few games but the eight looks beyond them…

Wests Tigers             

Pre Season Prediction: 10th              
Current Prediction: 9th

Current Position: 12th

The Tigers have been up and down like a cheap hotel elevator this season, putting up brilliant performances like their narrow loss to Newcastle and playing like a team of Madagascan’s against the lowly Warriors. They are very hard to nail down and while at their best they can beat most sides, their lack of consistency is a fat black mark against them. They have an over reliance on the irrepressible Benji Marshall and there are significant question marks over Scott Prince and their outside backs. They have an ability to smash ordinary sides but they aren’t really a side you want in for the fight. As a betting proposition, the best you can do with them is backing them to clear out when they are up against weak, slow opponents…


Pre Season Prediction: 9th                
Current Prediction: 7th

Current Position: 7th

Manly have gelled much quicker than anticipated and have become a genuine premiership threat when playing at their best. Matt Orford has had a very good season, Steven Bell has been a revelation and the Manly backrow is as formidable as any in the competition with Steven Menzies playing like a damned intelligent twenty year-old. Travis Burns has also developed into a regular first grader who is a workhorse in defence and creative as the second string ball player. They still lack depth, which is a concern, as is their coaching. It is rare foolish coaches win premierships but hey, Ricky Stuart won in 2002 (admittedly, by default) so anything is possible…


Pre Season Prediction: 8th                
Current Prediction: 5th

Current Position: 2nd

Melbourne have bounced out of the gates like a cat on speed, but they always tend to do that and end up peaking mid-season before the end of year slide. There is no doubt they have played above expectations with the likes of Greg Inglis and Dallas Johnson really stepping up and Cooper Cronk’s brilliant performance to replace Matt Orford. But this is a regular start for the Storm and the challenge now will be to not drop off…and if recent performances are anything to go by, that might be harder than expected. Unpredictable, but on the slide to my eye…


Pre Season Prediction: 7th                
Current Prediction: 8th

Current Position: 9th

I don’t know what crazy gear Ricky Stuart is sucking back but I damned well wish he would get in contact with my agent. Despite a highly credentialed playing staff, the Roosters are a team on the rocks and a team who cannot be considered a chance of winning the competition. Ricky Stuart is constantly screwing with his team, ensuring combinations have no time to develop and players are always lacking in confidence. The halves situation has been frustrating to Rooster fans and comical to the rest of us. The treatment of world class player Craig Wing has been abominable and when he leaves at the end of the year, Rooster fans will have no one to blame but their man Sticky. What they do have in their favour is that feel of class, which may be enough to see them sneak into the finals. Of course, a team with Minichello, Morley, Harrison, Wing, Anasta, Cross, Roberts et al should not be just sneaking into the finals…

North Queensland     

Pre Season Prediction: 6th                
Current Prediction: 6th

Current Position: 3rd

Something has happened to the Cowboys this year and it is not good. They started the season on fire but they have burned out and to my eye, are no longer a premiership threat. The weight of expectation has taken its toll and so has the State of Origin series. For the first time, the Cowboys are expected to do well and it appears to be stifling them. And the Origin series has hurt the Cowboys more than any other team in the NRL with their coach splitting his focus between club and state and the creativity of the Cowboys being forced into different roles by that genius Big Mal. The result is that North Queensland can no longer score points and can no longer finish off the gutted goat. Thurston is still playing magically but I don’t think his shoulders are broad enough and his skill levels high enough to carry the Cowboys on his own…


Pre Season Prediction: 5th                
Current Prediction:3rd

Current Position: 4th

Johns has stayed fit and the Knights are punching with the big boys at the half way mark but their litmus test is June.  If they can hold it all together through June, with Joey playing tired and Buderus on rep duty, then they will be a real threat come September. They are at the junction and the path they travel will be decided now. Recently, they have played like a flat side, with the forward pack struggling and Joey making mistakes. They have the ability and the coach to turn it all around and by no means write the Knights off. But be wary. And take their June form as a pretty solid indicator of how the rest of their season bodes…

St George             
Pre Season Prediction: 4th                
Current Prediction: 4th
Current Position: 8th

Another poor start to the season but the signs are there that all is not lost. They have the class to make a run at the title and the ability to keep on winning for the rest of the season. Players like Ben Hornby, Dean Young and The Gas have kept the side together so far but now is time for thus-far injured talents like Luke Bailey and Matthew Head to drive the premiership bus. In a roundabout way, the suspension of Trent Barrett may be the best thing to happen to the Dragons. Not in the short term…Mark Gasnier is no number six. But when Matt Head-a future Origin player- returns, he will have full control and he will step up to the mark. The imminent return of Jason Ryles will soften the pack up but that is about the only negative, along with wunderkind Nathan Brown, Dragons fans need be concerned with right now…


Pre Season Prediction: 3rd                
Current Prediction: 13th
Current Position: 13th

Wow. I really fucked up on Parramatta. And I deserve the repercussions because no sane man should ever be stupid enough to tip a Parramatta team to perform. They are a team in absolute disarray, filled with hate and failure. Nothing has gone well for them and that is probably a result of Karmic Retribution. Brian Smith, the man Parramatta jacked out for 2007, walked away. His replacement is Jason Taylor, a man who will be as much a failure as a coach as he was mediocre and overrated as a player. Tim Smith, the so-called saviour, is nothing but a drunk and a hot-head who has a knack of taking the wrong option at all times. Mark Riddell has managed to cause dissent at another club and Dennis Fitzgerald won’t flee the fiefdom. If it wasn’t for the best forward in the game, Nathan Hindmarsh, the Eels would be locked in battle with the all powerful South Sydney for the highly sought after wooden spoon…


Pre Season Prediction: 2nd               
Current Prediction: 2nd         
                                                            Current Position: 1st

Brisbane are spot on target and Wayne Bennett would be very pleased with how the Broncos have played this season. For the first time, they have not been significantly damaged by Origin, they have young kids playing well and older stars like Petro Civoneceva and Justin Hodges have been going better they have for years. Aside from their problem at halfback, Brisbane are strong all over the park. So far this season, Brisbane have been underrated and from a gambling perspective, let’s hope this continues. A grand final berth is on the cards…


Pre Season Prediction: 1st                 
Current Prediction: 1st          

Current Position: 5th

Make no mistake about it…the Dogs are going as well as they should be at this stage. You don’t win premierships in May. You only lose them. And the Dogs are still in the fight. The effusive Tony Grimaldi has led the way with the unglamorous stuff and Willie Mason has matured into a dynamic and mature bull. Daniel Holdsworth is starting to come good and Roy Asotasi is a dangerous proposition. Playing SBW in the centres is a concern, as is the frightful form of Brent Sherwin but the Dogs march strong and firm and premiership glory is merely months away… I’d start firing off Willy Loman lines about hopes and dreams but I think they’ve all been used.

And that, learned league fans, is that.


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