Prophets Down South: State of Origin in Melbourne and Part One of the 2009 Midseason Review

Filed in Other by on December 10, 2010

Melbourne is in the throes of rugby league fever. It is a condition that will last no longer than 24 hours but it is an illness I have been trying to unleash into a pandemic unsuccessfully for nearly a year. It has taken one of rugby league’s showcase events to cripple people with interest in the greatest game of all.

Sitting on the 75 tram from Vermont South to the backend of Spencer Street, questions are being asked about bombs and the obstruction rule by two old girls sporting blue rinses.

Down at the All Nations on Lennox Street, the bartender wants to know if you are cheering for Queensland or New South Wales rather than Richmond or Collingwood.

At the Flemington races last Saturday, hardened Melbourne punters entrenched in AFL betting are trying to find a good bet for Origin, circularly prodding and poking and looking for an edge.

The hottest ticket in town is for a foreign sport.

It is a wonderful time to be in Melbourne for a rugby league diehard who loves everything about the city from the pier down St. Kilda through to the Corner Hotel with the one exception being the sparseness of rugby league.

The fever will be gone by Thursday and normality will return by the weekend but until then it is time to lap up life in Australia’s finest city where the world’s greatest sport is the number one game in town.

So caught up in a heavy rugby league fervour, even greater than my normal high levels, it is time to do the midseason review of the NRL. Below, part one, The Failures, the teams that will miss the finals and lose lots of games and will wallow in mediocrity for the remainder of the season.

Sydney Roosters
Prediction: 16th
Pre-season Prediction: 13th
Best: Fitzgibbon, Anasta, Perrett, Shackleton
Disappointing: O’Meley, Mason, Pearce, Minichiello

The Roosters have trotted out their typical rubbish this season. Their ape-like forward pack has been shown up as slow and lazy with an attitude as petulant as that of a thirteen-year-old girl at the wrong time of the month. Mason and O’Meley have played without pride or impact. Craig Fitzgibbon and Shane Shackleton are the only forwards who have offered anything significant in terms of attitude and workload though Myles has been decent. The backline has been a paper-mache of ineptitude, foolishness and one-dimensionality. The Roosters are not a team renowned for digging themselves out of holes and this group of players has too many egomaniacs to get the elbows dirty. This is Fittler’s last tango in Bondi. And it will end with a wooden spoon right to the ass.

Cronulla Sharks
Prediction: 15th
Pre-season Prediction: 12th
Best: Douglas, Gallen, Tupou
Disappointing: Hughes, Maitua, Pomeroy, Seymour

2009 has been a disaster for the Sharks. Off-field controversy, on-field mediocrity and the prospect of not being around for 2010 looming large. They were always going to struggle this season after some ordinary recruiting and the obvious vulnerabilities in their attack but they have managed to defy such low expectations with only two wins. Even old time Cronulla haters like your dear author, one of the few people to lay the slipper into the Sharks hopes before 2009 kicked off, couldn’t foretell how abhorrent times would get at Shark Park. Corey Hughes would have gone down as the worst buy of the decade if it wasn’t for Reni Maitua. They rank last in the NRL in attack and their defence is only marginally better. Their best player has been stripped of the captaincy due to persistent grubbiness. Their backline is as slow as a three-legged tortoise on valium. And their coach seems bereft of answers. The best the Sharks can hope for is to see 2010 and even a compulsive punter with a penchant for the shorts wouldn’t touch anything less than 2.50 on that proposition.

Parramatta Eels
Prediction: 14th
Pre-season Prediction: 14th
Best: Hindmarsh, Moimoi, Hayne
Disappointing: Inu, Burt, Cayless, Mateo

Attitude and internal division continue to be the biggest problems at Parramatta with few Eels putting in on the field and little being done to stop the problem. Nathan Hindmarsh is the only player who should be able to look an Eels fan in the eye (though that is usually a dangerous habit as they will likely knee you in the bollocks and attempt to take your wallet if they can attract such focus). The lack of a playmaker has rendered the Eels attack paraplegic while their defence has very little grunt to it. They have lost three games by 20-plus and they have scored 20 points only once. Daniel Anderson needs to undertake a Brian Smith like cleanout of the club and start again with his kind of players. Otherwise 2010 will be as bad as this season. And there is no way they are escaping the bottom four this year. There is a greater likelihood that Dennis Fitzgerald kidnapped the Beaumont Children than there is of the Eels playing finals footy.

Wests Tigers
Prediction: 13th
Pre-season Prediction: 15th
Best: Farah, Heighington, Marshall, Tuiaki, Ellis
Disappointing: Collis, Gibbs, Morris

The Tigers have actually been reasonably competent over the last half of the season this year and have probably been a touch unlucky to be so far down the competition table. They lost three matches in a row by two points or less and have shown a surprising amount of backbone for a Tigers team. Defence, however, is again a major issue for them. They just seem to have very little willingness in the tackle and are too content to accept a shootout. The biggest problem for the Tigers in recent years has been the backend of the season and there looks no reason why that will change this time around, particularly with Robbie Farah now on Origin duty. A number of injuries have also cruelled the hopes of the Tigers faithful. Expect them to show plenty of hustle and create plenty of highlights but they simply aren’t good enough to make the finals.

Penrith Panthers
Prediction: 12th
Pre-season Prediction: 16th
Best: Civoniceva, Jennings, Lewis, Waterhouse
Disappointing: Pritchard, Gordon, Iosefa, Smith

The Panthers looked morals for the wooden spoon going into the season and were virtually a consensus selection for same among pundits but they have exceeded expectations on the back of the always wonderful grindwork of Petero Civoniceva, the hustle of Luke Lewis and the explosiveness of Michael Jennings. The Panthers right fringe has been brilliant in attack and with the likes of Coote, Graham and Sammut chiming in, the Panthers seem to have a few points in them. Like the Tigers, however, defence is a concern and the Origin period will set them back. Penrith have also had a pretty soft run, having beaten only one top eight team. They can cause opponents the odd headache but they don’t have the quality to mix it with the best teams as seen last week when they were pumped by an undermanned Dragons. They are going to run out of steam over the next month and make the slide down the snake.

South Sydney Rabbitohs
Prediction: 11th
Pre-season Prediction: 8th
Best: Sutton, Wing, Stuart, Asotasi
Disappointing: Sandow, Wesser, Luke, Best

The Bunnies have shown flashes of brilliance this season but those moments have been few and far between. The Ewan McGrady Theory seems to be in full force at Redfern. Souths have not been able to string two wins together all season, they are struggling during night games and they have lost a number of games that they should have won (Parramatta, Canberra). Having a coach who is from the same league as Nathan Brown and Paul Langmack is doing the team no favours. Sutton has been top class and Craig Wing is showing something of his best but there just isn’t enough happening out wide and the backrowers of Souths just aren’t creating any second phase play or holes for their outside men. The Bunnies will be a danger during day games but that won’t be enough to see them climb into the finals for only the second time since 1989. Give John Lang the reins and things may change though…

New Zealand Warriors
Prediction: 10th
Pre-season Prediction: 3rd
Best: Price, Packer, McKinnon, Vatuvei
Disappointing: Moon, Fien, Kemp, Rapira, Jones

The Warriors are like that super fun but unreliable friend everyone has (and if you don’t have one, it is probably you). They will leave you waiting by yourself for an hour at the pub. They will cancel at the last minute. They will blow you off to hook up with some hot broad they met last night. But you can’t hate them because when you hang out the good times roll on and the laughs are plentiful and the adventures amusing. That is how the Warriors are. At their best they can be dynamic and capable of beating any team in the NRL. But they can never be relied on and they will let you down more often than not. They looked to be legitimate premiership contenders this year but after two three game losing streaks that included losses at home to the Cowboys and Souths they look like yet another underachieving Warriors team. Who said history never repeats? They may go on a late season run like last year. Or they may fade into a fight for the wooden spoon. It is impossible to gauge a team that plays so inconsistently. Whatever happens, one thing is for sure: they won’t have me or any sound-minded punter on board. We are all sick of being stood up, embarrassed and forced to justify our solitude to strangers.

Gold Coast Titans
Prediction: 9th
Pre-season Prediction: 9th
Best: Prince, Bailey, Campbell, Laffranchi, Gordon
Disappointing: Henderson, Minichiello, Zillman, Delaney

Now seems to be about the right time for the Titans fade that has been as regular as clockwork over the last two seasons. You can set your watch to it. They have become a rather predictable team and they are one of the easiest teams to get a grasp on. They start the season well, win plenty of games at home, Origin season rolls around and they lose a few key players and as injuries start to take their toll the club’s depth or lack thereof gets found out. It is nice and tidy, like an eighties sitcom script, though unlike Family Ties there won’t be a happy ending in the last ten minutes. The Titans are certainly building to something and 2010 may be their year but at present depth remains an overwhelming problem. Prince is guiding the team well, Campbell is having his best year since 2003, Bailey and Laffranchi have been good as always and young Kevin Gordon looks an outstanding wing prospect but their struggles on the road continue and when injuries inevitably strike they will be outclassed. They will miss out again but only by a whisker.

That is it for the tale of woe, the inevitable first act where despair is found and humour is wanting and destitution seems eternal. Next week, part two, where positivity will reign supreme and the need to dish out public humiliation will be gone.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.