Kicking the October Blues

Filed in Other by on December 6, 2010

The sun shines bright today as it does most of this time of year. Spring is in the air and the endless hope of summer nights sits alluringly on the horizon. Birds chirp, bees bang and the drums of love beat ever so loud. Those who hibernate for the winter poke their heads out. It is October. And I couldn’t be more depressed.

Rugby league is over for another year. As is meaning. Hunter Thompson blew his head off with a .45-caliber pistol when football season finished so never underestimate the emotional toll it can take. Last weekend was our finale and though we will be comforted by the thought of lazy Test match days drunk and happy, they are still a way off yet. Today, we yearn for last weekend and cry for this one coming. Last weekend was sordid and successful and the high of all highs. This weekend will be filled with a sense of hollowness, a lack of control and the realization that you are nothing but a dot of dust caught up in the torrents of life.

Last weekend saw the Melbourne Storm do everything right for the intelligent sector of the gambling community. This weekend will see me outside, wandering the streets aimlessly and drunk without too much idea on what I should be doing. Last weekend was a wild buck’s night involving heavy beer consumption, strange alpha male rituals involving fire and a police woman’s underwear, the largest chicken schnitzels you are ever likely to see and naked girls doing depraved things to each other all in the name of fun and public consumption. This weekend will be time to deal with the fact that most people you know are growing into something resembling adults while you remain devoted to inebriation, distortion and Madden football.

So, in an attempt to prevent The Nut frombecoming an avenue for self-pity and wallowing, I will take what those in the writing game call “The Cheap Option”. This, dear reader, will be a list. A list of the finest rugby league players in the game today and it will give us all something to think about during the hot, football-less months ahead. Unlike the French or the Finnish or any other civilization that has preceded us, those of us in the new West have a sick and insatiable need to rank everything in a hierarchical order. It is a sick way to operate but we all do it and there isn’t one person out there who doesn’t at least get a little giddy at the thought of a list.

So, in preparation for the 2008 rugby league season and to release the excess energy of 2007, below is the definitive list of the top forty rugby league players in the NRL. For the purposes of clarification and what not, those off to England will be considered. Those retiring will not. Those going to rugby will also be considered and dually told to burn in hell.

40. Ben Hannant: Yep, the Polar Bear is a better player than Mark O’Meley, Jason Ryles, Paul Gallen, Matt Orford, Steve Simpson, Jamie Lyon and a hell of a lot of other “stars” who, for some reason or another and probably something to do with why Shane Watson is considered an international cricketer, are considered top players.

39. Ryan Hoffman: Fantastic runner and ball player who never shirks his workload.

38. Fuifui Moimoi: I love his name and the way he carries the ball up like a maniac. I also love how he lives with Taniela Tuiaki and is supposedly his bitch. More marks for telling one of the dumbest men on the face of the earth, Paul Langmack, that if he is only played for ten minutes he will only train for ten minutes.

37. Craig Wing: Playing for the pathetic Roosters has damaged his stock in recent times but he is still a class act who can do it all. Tremendous heart and he could send Souths into the top six next season.

36. Israel Folau: Comparisons to Mal Meninga are a little rich. He is more a love child of Willie Talau and Paul Hauff, whatever that means. The boy can score and if he works on his defence, he will progress very quickly into the role of number one centre in rugby league.

35. Mark Gasnier: Scratch 2006. Still a tad overrated but has the best footwork in the game. He could have his career ruined if he and Nathan Brown, the two geniuses of Kogarah, move him to number six. His jaw-line would suggest he may be the missing link.

34. Ben Cross, 33. Luke Douglas: Two sensational young props who are right on the cusp of breaking into the elite front row level. Cross is a cheap thug so you have to love his hustle. And Douglas really throws his frame around. Douglas just pips Cross because he will not have to play for Brian Smith next season and potentially have his career and life ruined.

32. Greg Bird: Another cheap thug but more in the street rat loser type. Nevertheless, rusty nail tough with some skill to boot. Australian number six is a bit over the top as was his dip at Lara Bingle. Still, a multi-dimensional player with plenty of skill and Cronulla are very little without him.

31. Ben Creagh: Some pigment may help him in day games. He is one of the few Dragons with heart and is surprisingly hard to tackle when he gets going. He could probably do with a little more aggression in his game. Hopefully he will thump Jason Ryles in the ear.

30. Michael Monaghan: The Eagles chose their path when they decided to keep Matt Orford ahead of Monaghan. That road is paved with failure. Michael Monaghan is one of the smartest players in the game with all the skills and a heart as big as anybody who played the game and now he is off to England. Matt Orford chokes in big games. Good choice Des.

29. David Stagg: I have always had a sick love affair with workhorse backrowers who just keep going like a bad conversation. Every team needs a player like Stagg and his injury ravaged season is one of the reasons the Broncos failed to make a mark this September.

28. Alan Tongue: No player is more beloved by his teammates or his clubs fans than Alan Tongue. In Canberra he is The Balls. This ginger personifies the new Canberra Raiders and will be there when they return to the glory days of yore. Tongue should have played representative football and if he was of Queensland origin he’d have fifteen Origin caps and be regarded as a hero of the state game. But he is a Blue and the dumbass selectors have determined size is more important than heart or skill. We have all seen how that has worked out the last few years.

27. Jarryd Hayne: He is a dog of the highest order for laying down at least twice this season but the kid has the one asset you cannot teach: speed. Manoa Thompson would be proud as, I’m sure, would Steve Mavin and Ross Harrington.

26. Andrew Ryan: One of the few Bulldogs who tries hard every week for the Bulldogs. His work ethic is as high as anybody in the competition and he continues on the tradition, handed from Reardon and Relf to Grimaldi and Feeney and now in the hands of the Bulldogs skip, of tough and skilful Dogs backrowers. Very close to being in the all-time Bulldogs side.

25. Todd Carney: The best young half in the game who will be playing Origin within two seasons if he stays off the road and selectors ever watch a Raiders game. He is forever dangerous with a top class passing game, a jinking run and a long and accurate boot. If he played behind any go-forward he would be the dominant halfback of the competition.

24. Luke Patten: I would have gone mad three years ago if it wasn’t for Luke Patten. A true professional who has never been given an opportunity by rep selectors nor his dues by pundits. There are fewer more reliable fullbacks in the game. He has been the Dogs best buy of the last decade.

23. Danny Buderus: He is no longer Australia’s top hooker but he still has plenty to offer. He is quick out of dummy-half, he plays with his head and he inspires his team. He also loathes Brian Smith, which is a most admirable quality. I am, unashamedly, a Bedsy apologist.

22. Dallas Johnson: It wouldn’t be a big game without DJ stumbling around directionless, moving only on instinct and heart, bleeding from an ear or an eye but still looking to tackle. If they still had the Club Keno Top Tackler award, Johnson would be odds on. He continues the fine tradition of players named Dallas being suited by the game of rugby league.

21. Luke Bailey: He just looks like he loves hurting people and getting hurt. God bless him. Rugby league was built on that kind of attitude.

20. Matt Bowen: Now that he has learned how to tackle, Bowen has a much more rounded game. He has always been dynamic in attack and now he is just as dangerous in defence. He is a genuine game breaker who can rip a team to shreds when his mind is that way inclined.

19. Kurt Gidley: Some people get their kicks in slagging Kurt Gidley. They are idiots. He is dynamic with the ball and can create like an old school number six. Which, by the by Brian Smith, is where he should be playing. Trust me. I know more about rugby league and winning than you do.

18. Cooper Cronk: Cronk is finally getting his due. He is playing for Australia and the kid deserves it. He took over from Matt Orford and soon helped Melbourne fans forget that name. He is a brilliant ball runner and provides the direction that so few modern halfbacks do. Please come to Canterbury.

17. Anthony Laffranchi: Warren would be proud of Tony. Of course, nobody is really sure if that is a good or bad thing. Be that as it may, the only thing that scares him are courts of law and Mad Monday parties gone awry. If he stays out of prison he will take the next step in 2008.

16. Anthony Watmough: A prodigiously gifted backrower who has a game built on aggression and intimidation, he has had his career held back by his bad attitude and his psychopathic tendencies away from the paddock. Those tendencies, however, make him a most entertaining player to watch. His big problem is the way he chokes up in big games.

15. Nathan Hindmarsh: Any person who calls themselves a rugby league fan and hates Nathan Hindmarsh is a fool who should be whipped without mercy. He has a motor unmatched in the NRL and he has all the little tricks to fool the opposition. It is just a damn shame he plays for such a queer club.

14. Willie Mason: His strength, speed and aggression make him a fearsome proposition. What usually lets him down are his hands and his will for the fight. He lifts for the big game but can be up and down as a regular round player. The Bulldogs are, however, at their best when he is playing. He should be put into the backrow next year (replacing Reni Maitua, who should be thrown out of Canterbury for being photographed in public in South Sydney attire), where he can hit the fringes a little more.

13. Justin Hodges: Hodges, once upon a time, was a petulant punk heading down the same road as Chris Walker. But he has turned himself, his life and his game around since returning to Wayne Bennett and the Broncos and is now the most explosive centre in the game. He has it all and would, without doubt, be one of the hardest players in the game to tackle. When fully fit there is no better three-quarter.

12. Billy Slater: Electrifying with the ball, sensational without it. There are few better players to watch in the NRL than Billy.

11. Petro Civoniceva: It is a real shame the big man had to leave the Broncos for the rabble that is Penrith. He is as good as ever, throwing his big frame into defensive lines and tackling like a maniac. He deserves every round of kudos he gets. He will be sorely missed in Brisbane next season and he will hate his life at Penrith playing with the fools they have on their roster.

10. Brett Stewart: There is little more valuable in rugby league than a tryscorer and Brett Stewart is just that. He is also a bastion of safety under the high ball and in defense. His rise to Origin and Test football is deserved and he will only improve over the next few years. His value was seen in the Grand Final when Manly capitulated without him on the paddock. Just make sure there is a packet of snakes on stand-by.

9. Greg Inglis: His natural talents are almost as amazing as the maturity he has acquired at such a young age. He always rises to the occasion and will only get better as he plays more at five eighth.

8. Sonny Bill Williams: He is the Bulldogs most valuable player, for good or ill. At his best he is unstoppable. He reined in the more stupid of his passes mid-season and it made him a better player. But his constant stints on the sideline make him the most frustrating player in the NRL. Just once, O Lord, just once give us an uninterrupted SBW season.

7. Robbie Farah: Nothing at the Wests Tigers works without Robbie Farah. You can take the rest of the team and they look like the ‘Fax circa 1998. Awful. He has so much ability and a real rugby league brain. Combined with an unquenchable work ethic, he has risen to the level of absolute star this season, just missing out on a Dally M. You just have to love the way he plays the game and the love he has for rugby league.

6. Steven Price: The bastard is still a traitor who stomped all over the grave of the Bullfrog but you just cannot question the impact Price has had on the NRL this season. His go-forward is simply amazing and his leadership is second-to-none in the NRL. Causing me a significant amount of grief is the fact that Steven Price is one of three top six players that those idiots running the Bulldogs have let get away in the last three years.

5. Roy Asotasi: Number two on the weeping list. The ability of Big Roy was shown this season when he turned around a club mired in mediocrity in one season. He has everything you could want out of a front rower and more. Any club in their right mind would make room to keep him. Well, most.

4. Karmichael Hunt: Watching Hunt run the ball back on a kick return is one of the true pleasures of rugby league viewing. He has the perfect body shape for a modern day back to go with all the skill that has propelled him to the title of number one custodian in a golden era for fullbacks. He can play anywhere in the backline and be effective. He will be who Brisbane builds their side around in coming seasons.

3. Darren Lockyer: It was unfortunate Lockyer went down with injury this season because there aren’t too many more years left for him. He is still the clear number one five eighth with his ability to set up his outside backs and penetrate defensive lines still as good as ever.

2. Cameron Smith: He tackles. He creates. He kicks. He passes. He is dangerous when running. Cameron Smith has it all. He was well deserving of being promoted to Australian captain. He is the best hooker I have seen in a quarter of a century of watching the game.

1.Johnathan Thurston: Not much needs to be said. His two Dally M awards in three seasons say more than enough.

And that is that. The definitive list of rugby league’s best. Stew on that until March.

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