From The Couch
Nine Fucks It Up Again… Channel Nine did rugby league and their network another great disservice by not showing one of the great modern day classics live (or at a reasonable hour for that matter) into Melbourne despite the fact the Melbourne Storm, the defending premiers, faced elimination. It was one of the great fuck-ups in sports broadcasting history with the opportunity to defeat AFL in the ratings (for the second half, when the Hawthorn-St. Kilda preliminary final was already a bust) and grow the game in a developing market blown. This comes after Nine reneged on a deal to show all finals games live in New South Wales and Queensland by showing the Warriors-Roosters game on delay. If ever there was an example as to why the NRL must sell the rights to another network when the current deal expires, this weekend is it. Nine treats rugby league with total and utter contempt, taking New South Wales and Queensland fans for granted while ignoring ex-pat fans in the rest of Australia and forgoing the opportunity to grow the game (and their product) in non-traditional markets. Nine is a disgrace and the NRL are gutless. The Labor Government, if they are really about the people, should review the anti-siphoning laws to ensure sports fans can watch major sporting events live, regardless of where they live in Australia.
The Match Review Panel Fucks It Up Again… In what will surely go down as one of the most disgraceful decisions ever made, the match review panel charged Melbourne Storm and Australian skipper Cameron Smith with a grapple tackle that, if he is found guilty, will out him for the remainder of the season. In an attempt to make an example, the NRL is working to not only eradicate one of the marquee players from the finals series but one of the most upstanding players in the game. The tackle was worth nothing more than a penalty for high contact. How soft has the game become? There are so many in rugby league administration who should be taken out behind the garden shed and shot. Greg McCallum is near the top of that list. This is just another in a long line of decisions made by the NRL to appease the media. Some leadership in the game would really be appreciated at this critical juncture.
Match Analysis: Warriors-Roosters… The first elimination final went to script with the Roosters wrestling the ascendancy early before the fitter, more mobile, more multi-dimensional Warriors came home over the top. This has been the way the Roosters have rolled for the last two months. Everyone could see this except Brad Fittler, who also made a monumental error in playing a clearly injured Amos Roberts. Why play an injured Amos Roberts? He is a marginal first grade player at best. In the end he butchered a try before leaving the Roosters with just three bench players when going off injured. That is not an ideal situation for a lumbering team who have struggled to close out games in the back-half of the season. Surely the gushing praise of Brad Fittler by the Sydney media will stop now. That is probably wishful thinking, however, as Brad Fittler is the golden boy. The game was reasonably interesting with a ridiculous penalty try, a field goal and some great play by Warriors little men Hohaia, Henderson and Fien. The Warriors have built up enough momentum to threaten Manly while the Roosters have to seriously look at their roster if they have any intention of playing finals football again; the days of winning football games with big, immobile forward packs ended in 2000. Somebody should tell Brad Fittler.
Match Analysis: Brisbane-Melbourne… One of the great games in rugby league history. There was nothing this game didn’t have. Drama, intensity, controversy, brutality, individual brilliance and a grandstand finish that will never be forgotten. Not least of all by Ashton Sims, whose colossal fuck-up was a delight to all those sick of hearing the completely ludicrous claims that he was one of the “buys of the season.” He was lazy and inept at the Dragons and he is lazy and inept at Brisbane. He is like a poor man’s Jason Ryles.. Sims’ error with less than ninety seconds on the clock gave the Storm one last chance at victory after being marginally outplayed and the Storm grasped their chance with a fine Greg Inglis try. It capped off a memorable game of league that saw some awful video-refereeing decisions, a sin bin, plenty of hold-ups, a nice brawl and some outstanding end-to-end rugby league. Melbourne move on to meet Cronulla and seem to have one foot in the grand final regardless of Cameron Smith’s inclusion…they are just much better than the Sharks. Brisbane, meanwhile, faces an uncertain future. If the last week was anything to go by, the curtain on their golden era may have closed. If their behaviour and discipline in Wayne Bennett’s final days was so appalling, Lord only knows how bad it will be now he is gone.
The Legend of the Playoff Beard Grows… Only a fool or a drunk goat would question the power of the playoff beard now as the Warriors have come from death’s door to challenge for the 2008 premiership. It is no coincidence that the Warriors started beating all-comers, including the Melbourne Storm twice, when the playoff beard came into being. These hairy monsters look unstoppable. Manly had want to have a similar plan to those who cut Sampson’s hair if they hope to take the chocolates this Saturday.
Vale, Wayne Bennett… Everything must come to an end. Life, love, careers, government, books, movies, a grand bottle of red. That is just how things go, I guess. And so it is with the surest institution in rugby league. Wayne Bennett, after 21 years and 519 games in charge of the Brisbane Broncos, is done in terms of being The Man in Brisbane. He will always be loved and revered north of the Tweed, regarded as one of the finest figures in Queensland lore. The Wayne Bennett era has, however, ended. He leaves after six premierships and a consecutive finals run that stretches back to 1992. He has left an indelible mark not only on rugby league in Queensland but on Queensland itself. There is not nearly enough that can be said about Wayne Bennett in such limited space; he is that important a figure. Hopefully success follows him to the Dragons. Regardless, his legacy as one of rugby league’s all time great coaches and leaders of men will never be diminished. He personifies class. When the 2009 season rolls around, there will be a strange and hollow feeling not seeing Wayne Bennett in the coaches box at Suncorp Stadium.
Vale, Tonie Carroll… Tunza personifies rugby league and throughout his top grade career which stretches back to 1996, Carroll became renowned for his warrior-like qualities. Few players in the game today have the grit, determination, hardness and brutality that Carroll exhibited throughout his entire career for the Brisbane Broncos. It is little wonder that Wayne Bennett was so fond of Carroll that he named him his favourite ever player. Carroll won four premierships with Brisbane and also had the distinction of being the first player in ninety years to represent both Australia and New Zealand in Test match rugby league. Carroll is a rugby league champion who should be remembered with great fondness for his violent hits, relentless drive and unquenchable work ethic.
Vale, Greg Eastwood… Eastwood could have been anything but his love for the Colonel proved too great and he turned out to be nothing more than a fringe first grader with a weight problem, another example of potential not equating to class. Eastwood has bailed on the toughness of the NRL to make a career in England. The fish & chips and the pints of lager are sure to do wonders for his future. Still, one can’t be too critical of Eastwood…the Colonel can make a fine piece of chicken.
The Colin Best Express Fan Revue… The Raiders “Mad Monday” celebrations were, by all reports, a riotous affair with Joe Picker’s apartment left the worse for wear. The highlight of proceedings were Joe Picker’s couch being set alight, most likely by the Colin Best Express after realizing he had been overlooked for the Prime Minister’s XIII game against Papua New Guinea. It was a disgraceful decision to select Wendell Sailor ahead of Best. It was even more appalling to see Nathan Merritt replace Sailor once the latter withdrew. The Colin Best Express is only the reigning Dally M winger of the year as well as being the most exciting player in the game. The selectors have once again proved themselves to be fools of the highest order. Joe Picker proved himself not much brighter when questioning the cleaning service he hired to clean up his apartment for charging extra for cleaning the roof. Joe obviously thought this was more routine than actually is.
Semi-Finals in 2003… The New Zealand Warriors defeated the Canberra Raiders 17-16 in one of the greatest modern day finals contests in the first semi-final of 2003. A late Stacey Jones field goal was the difference in the Sydney Football Stadium classic that was a tough and uncompromising encounter between two very good teams. The Warriors scored three tries to the Raiders two but Clinton Schifcofske’s boot kept the Raiders in it until Jones potted the winner to enhance his hero status in the land of the long white cloud. In the second semi-final, the Bulldogs murdered Melbourne on a sunny Sunday afternoon (a seemingly long-forgotten tradition in rugby league). The Bulldogs piled on thirty points and held the Storm scoreless in a dominant performance that suggested the heartache of 2002 was behind them. The highlight of the performance was two field goals to Braith Anasta.
Rebecca Wilson Fancies Herself as a Jackboot… Rebecca Wilson led her weekly Sunday “column” with a little gem, calling for the NRL to set up a tribunal to discipline players for off-field indiscretions with unlimited powers to suspend and fine. She justified her moronic view by quoting Ron Coote, supposedly “the most respected voice among all former rugby league players.” Wilson quite enjoys getting on board the high horse. Nearly as much, it would seem, as she enjoys getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and while without a license. Wilson has been convicted three times for driving offences. Perhaps a tribunal to monitor journalistic hacks with unlimited powers to fire, edit, jail, stone or whip would be a better idea? If she wants to take the fascist path we really should “crank it up a notch” in the words of George Costanza.
Patrick Smith Should Stay the Hell Away from Rugby League… Australian columnist Patrick Smith should stick to what he knows and that is AFL and nothing more. His hopelessly ill-informed attempts to diminish Wayne Bennett’s standing in Australian sport in Tuesday’s edition of The Australian are sickeningly elitist, hopelessly narrow-minded and pathetically stupid. Bennett is an icon of modern Australian sport, a revered leader and the benchmark for coaching in this country. Smith’s attempts to paint Bennett as nothing more than a hypocritical grump shows just how little Smith, a man who arrogantly regards himself as a modern doyen of sports journalism, knows outside his own little world of Australian Rules.
And One Final Thought… It is little wonder Matthew Richardson is one of the most beloved figures in Australian sport. The great shame of Richo is that he was not bought up on rugby league. Big Richo was the star of Brownlow Medal night despite not taking home Charlie. With each vote garnered, the crowd cheered, willing the sporting gods to cut The Big Fella a break. As the night drew to a tense conclusion, Richo acted with cool aplomb, mouthing to the camera that he was “no chance” while offering a peace sign when a best on ground came to pass. He is a character, a modest and brilliant champion who is an absolute rarity in modern Australian sport. His defeat in the Brownlow was a tragedy but his liberating demeanour was and is something to treasure.