From The Couch
The Greatest Press Conference of Them All… Well, Craig Bellamy and Brian Waldron did not leave anybody in doubt as to what they were thinking at the post-match press conference last Friday night. Bellamy and Waldron unleashed on the NRL and the judiciary panel over the suspension of skipper Cameron Smith. Bellamy and Waldron were both entirely justified in their anger; Smith had been made a scapegoat. He was hung out to dry for a tackle that has gone unpunished for most of the season after the Sydney media launched into one of their anti-Storm crusades. Bellamy and Waldron were right to question the decision, right to call out the anti-Melbourne Sydney media and right to attack Sharks coach Ricky Stuart who used his position to influence the judiciary. Having said all that, Bellamy and Waldron probably went a little over the mark in linking betting markets on the judiciary outcome and the actual outcome of the judiciary hearing, implying that Sportingbet had inside information from judiciary members. The $50,000 by the NRL, however, was a little heavy. The Brisbane Broncos were extremely successful in using the siege mentality and now the Storm seem to be fuelled by it. It may be the best $50,000 the Storm have ever spent. Don’t underestimate the power such strong words will have on the Storm team throughout the week.
Match Analysis: Cronulla-Melbourne… The Sharks were true to form and failed to show up against a Melbourne outfit fuelled by anti-Storm sentiment and a belief that the NRL was working against them. It worked for the Broncos in the early nineties and it is working for the Storm now. Cronulla had two weeks to prepare for Melbourne, who were without internationals Smith, Smith, and Hoffman, yet allowed Cooper Cronk to slice them to pieces and send Steve Turner over in the corner only three minutes into the match. Not a good start for a team that prides themselves on defence and struggles to score points. When Ben Ross lost to Brett White in the most recent round of their ongoing feud, it was all over. The Sharks were not ready for the fight. Melbourne were tough, gritty and smart. Cronulla were limp, unprepared and clueless. The deciding factors were no doubt coaching and heart. Craig Bellamy ensured the Storm were tactically brilliant and mentally ready while Ricky Stuart spent his time trying to get Cameron Smith suspended. The Storm now enter the Grand Final in good stead while the Sharks have another season of failure to reflect upon. Ricky Stuart would be well advised to try and develop a gameplan next time his club plays a finals game.
Match Analysis: Manly-Warriors… The first half of the Manly-Warriors clash was simply outstanding with some brilliant attack and some brutal defence. The Warriors should have led early through Manu Vatuvei but rather than diving for the line the enigmatic Warriors winger tried to step back inside and the ball was subsequently knocked loose. Matt Orford and Brett Stewart then came into their own with the two combining for the Eagles first try and playing key roles in the remaining two first half scores. The Warriors came out firing in the second half but couldn’t break through the strong and mobile Eagles defence and when Jamie Lyon put Matt Orford into the endzone the game was all over. The Eagles then ran away with the contest in an effort that was supreme. The Warriors lost no admirers and the score belied the closeness and intensity of the match. They will again be competitive next year if they can keep Price and Mackinnon on the field. Manly now enter the Grand Final as a solid favourite.
Grand Final Preview… You have to like the Storm. They get all the ticks. They have had the tougher run in which will ensure they are more battle hardened for the big game. They are a mentally stronger outfit. They have more firepower out wide and more creative ballplayers inside. They have a dominant recent record against Manly and are comforted by the fact that the Eagles have never defeated Melbourne away from Brookvale. Tony Archer suits Melbourne’s style of play more than Manly’s. Melbourne have a far superior record at ANZ Stadium to Manly. Melbourne are a better coached team both tactically and motivationally. Question marks remain over Matt Orford’s ability to lift for big games and games against Melbourne, where he has struggled historically. Jamie Lyon is still unproven at five-eighth for the Eagles. The siege mentality instilled by Craig Bellamy has Melbourne believing they have to win. There is more pressure on Manly to win given their loss in last year’s decider and their favouritism this year. The loss of Cameron Smith certainly hurts the Storm but they can adequately cover for him in most areas of the game. The smart money will be on Melbourne with the Storm predicted to win by eight points in a low-scoring affair. Melbourne 18 Manly 10.
Vale, Danny Nutley… Boy, could The Nut tackle. He would just tackle and tackle and tackle, taking over the role that Danny Lee once filled at the Sharks. If they still had the Club Keno Top Tackler award The Nut surely would have won it on more than one occasion. Throughout his career with South Queensland and the Sharks and the Roosters and the Sharks again, Nutley was a player who belied his natural abilities with an incredible heart and the willpower of a Clydesdale. He was never a star but he was a player you yearned to have playing in your colours. He was a true team-man and there are very few of those about these days.
Vale, Blake Green… Well, I’m assuming after his performance last Friday night.
Vale, Ruben Wiki… There have been few people who have played the game with the sheer brutality, commitment and hardness of Ruben Wiki. He was a shining example of how rugby league should be played with his warrior-esque style and his wanton disregard for his personal health or the health of others. Winning was the only thing that mattered and the consequences of his actions were irrelevant. He leaves a legacy of being one of the finest Kiwis to ever step on a rugby league field as well as being one of the most loved. The fact he made it through 300-plus first grade games and 55 Test matches is a testament to his toughness and team-oriented nature. The game will certainly miss having Ruben running around.
You Cat… Ben Ross is a cat of the highest order and may well have the most feline characteristics of any prop forward in the game today or any other day for that matter. How else can being comprehensively knocked out twice by Brett White, a prop not renowned for his toughness or zeal, be explainedl? The two have been feuding for years after falling out over a girl. Since then it is White who has claimed the upper hand after leaving Ross seeing stars on more than one occasion. This places Ross in the Jason Ryles class of prop toughness which is on par with most wingers and even a few beat writers. Ben Ross is a contract player, pure and simple. He will pull his finger out when his job is on the line and not beforehand. The old Cronulla Sharks, I dare say, are regretting signing him to big bucks for four seasons. It is little wonder they have tried to offload him so often since he has arrived and disappointed from Penrith.
The Colin Best Express Fan Revue… The Colin Best Express, in Haiku.
On Frozen Paddocks
A Lean and Dazzling Scorer
The Best They Say
The Top Five Preliminary Finals of the NRL Era…
1. Canterbury-Parramatta, 32-20 (1998)
The Greatest Game Ever Played, the Bulldogs came from 20-2 down with eleven minutes remaining to win in extra-time. Daryl Halligan landed a shot from the sideline to tie the scores while Craig Polla-Mounta was only inches from giving the Bulldogs victory in regulation with a 49 metre field goal. Forever remembered as Paul Carige’s last game.
2. Roosters-North Queensland, 19-16 (2004)
The Cowboys almost created one of the great upsets against a team that had played in the two previous Grand Finals. The Cowboys were gallant and had the scores tied at 16-all in their first finals campaign before a late field goal to Brett Finch and a Craig Fitzgibbon penalty put the Roosters over the line 19-16.
3. Roosters-Newcastle, 26-20 (2000)
The Andrew Johns-led Knights were in front 16-2 and looked to have the match in their keeping when Bill Peden was penalized for an incorrect play-the-ball. The Roosters responded with four unanswered tries to reach their first Grand Final in two decades.
4 Melbourne-Parramatta, 18-16 (1999)
The Eels led at half-time for the second consecutive season but they couldn’t hold out premiership newcomers Melbourne with Richard Swain diving over for the winner.
5. Wests Tigers-St.George-Illawarra, 20-12 (2005)
The Tigers walked into the Grand Final on the back of great momentum, a wave of popular support and another Dragons choke.
Rebecca Wilson Believes She Knows A Thing About Grace… Rebecca Wilson believes she knows a thing or two about grace and class and decency. She led off her kitty litter padding with some moralistic dribble, telling the Melbourne Storm, a club that she alleges “invented the grapple tackle”, that they have “a lot to learn about sportsmanship and being graceful in victory and defeat.” That is a little rich coming from one of the most objectionable, obnoxious, classless people in a profession not known for its nobility or decency. What does Rebecca Wilson know about grace? Is it graceful running gossip? Is it graceful using your profession to further personal vendettas? Those who are unfortunate enough to remember her television days recall how “graceful” she was with her constant interruptions, her failure to undertake any research and her desire to be the centre of attention at all times. Unbearable is the only term to describe her.
And One Final Thought… From The Couch is pleased to note that we are lobbying hard for the NRL to formalise its statistics and make public the guidelines used for calculating NRL statistics. This will allow bookmakers to once again wager on player tackles and metres gained with some confidence in the system. It will take nothing more than the NRL signing off on a document outlining how statistics are calculated and then declaring NRL Stats the official stats. It is all very simple. Punting Ace will be sure to keep readers up-to-date on the progress of the lobbying that will certainly assist punters and bookmakers if it comes off.