From The Couch
Like A Rick Stone: “Now you don’t talk so loud. Now you don’t seem so proud.” Brian Smith was shown the door on Friday night by the Newcastle Knights board with assistant Rick Stone elevated to the top job for at least the next two seasons. The Rick Stone era has officially begun. And Brian Smith once again left the house in shame: you can’t get enough money on his tenure at the Roosters ending in tears. The decision to fire Smith came a fortnight too late but it may have been just in time to save the Knights finals hopes after Newcastle turned in one of their best performances of the year to down the Melbourne Storm. The players had clearly given up on Smith and were phoning it in over the last three weeks.
That behaviour typifies unprofessionalism but it achieved its aim: Smith is now gone and the Knights are a chance of September action. Stone did a great job on Monday night by getting the Knights to start fast and work the fringes hard. Newcastle’s great strength is their powerful centres and skilful backrowers so they need to attack the fringes and against the Storm they did just that on their way to a 26-0 lead. They hung on to win 26-14. Brian Smith has once again burned down the bridge on the way out of town and the Knights are quickly realising that the quick fix isn’t always the best one. “Ain’t it hard when you discover that, he really wasn’t where it’s at. And he took from you everything he could steal.” Smith did a good job in rebuilding the Knights but there are plenty at Newcastle who wish they could forget he ever arrived.
Club Player of the Year Predictions:
|Brisbane||Sam Thaiday||Corey Parker|
|Bulldogs||Andrew Ryan||David Stagg|
|Canberra||Joel Monaghan||Bronson Harrison|
|Cronulla||Paul Gallen||Luke Douglas|
|Gold Coast||Preston Campbell||Scott Prince|
|Manly||Glenn Stewart||Anthony Watmough|
|Melbourne||Billy Slater||Billy Slater|
|Newcastle||Kurt Gidley||Kurt Gidley|
|New Zealand||Simon Mannering||Micheal Luck|
|North Queensland||Aaron Payne||Johnathan Thurston|
|Parramatta||Nathan Hindmarsh||Jarryd Hayne|
|Penrith||Petero Civoniceva||Michael Jennings|
|South Sydney||Luke Stuart||John Sutton|
|St George Illawarrra||Ben Creagh||Jamie Soward|
|Sydney Roosters||Mitchell Pearce||Craig Fitzgibbon|
|Wests Tigers||Chris Heighington||Robbie Farah|
Biting a Cancer Survivor: “The Zip Zip Man” Willie Zillman is in line to take the award for the most heinous act committed on an NRL field. Zip Zip, who has looked washed up all season after his second knee reconstruction, allegedly bit into the arm of Rabbitohs winger Jamie Simpson. Simpson is a cancer survivor and a product of a single parent family while biting ranks behind only the king hit and the eye gouge in terms of social stigma. That is not a great combination for Slick Willie. It is like shooting Bambi or sexually assaulting Mrs. Claus. Zip Zip is going to struggle to wiggle his way out of this one.
Cannonball: Josh Miller is one of the most enjoyable players in the NRL to watch and his performance against the Dragons on Saturday night was one of the most admirable of the season. The Cannonball was being fired at high velocity with the highlight being his knockout of Michael Weyman. Cannonball launched himself into Weyman who was down for the count for the remainder of the match. The Cannonball jumped straight to his feet and was looking for a fight. “Ladies and Gentlemen, can I please have your attention. I’ve been handed an urgent and horrifying news story and I need you to all stop what you’re doing. CANNONBALL!”
The Todd Byrne All-Stars: Todd Byrne will forever rank as the slowest winger to play in the NRL. That was never more evident than when he was given 15 metres start by backrower Scott Sattler and was run down within about 25. Here are his all-stars, the slowest players at their position in 2009, the tortoises whose couldn’t outrun a crippled midget downhill.
1. Mitch Brown (Cronulla)
2. Hazem El Masri (Canterbury)
3. Ben Smith (Parramatta)
4. Mo Blair (Penrith)
5. Luke Covell (Cronulla)
6. Chris Bailey (Manly)
7. John Morris (Wests Tigers)
13. Glen Turner (Canberra)
12. Manase Manuokafoa (North Queensland)
11. Yileen Gordon (Canterbury)
10. Dane Tilse (Canberra)
9. Corey Hughes (Cronulla)
8. Scott Geddes (Souths)
Nickname of the Year: Thanks to Matthew Fisk of Sydney who wrote in to offer new Wests Tigers halfback Robert Lui the nickname of Stevenson, a moniker that couldn’t be anymore natural. Matthew has won a signed Ross Harrington 1989 footy card for his brilliant contribution to the 2009 rugby league season. The card is signed by me.
Worst Jersey Ever: The Newcastle Knights have claimed the award for the worst jersey ever with their number on Monday night. The Knights went with the below design, an attempt to celebrate the NRL’s indigenous round. The design was not one for those with epilepsy, a sway of dots and circles and colours and swirls that was an eyesore of the highest order. No longer will the Crushers mustard colour jersey, the Broncos diamond jersey and the Western Reds multi coloured block of rectangles special be in the running. The Newcastle Knights are the proud owners of the worst jersey ever.
Rumour of the Week: Exciting Bradford prop Sam Burgess will be playing for the Roosters in 2010. Burgess wants to play in the NRL and the Roosters are trying to free up enough cap space to pay Burgess, a bruising 20 year old bookend who is rated as the next Adrian Morley. The sticking point is his contract with Bradford though it is expected the Roosters will pay a substantial sub to get his release. Burgess is a 75 % chance to play in the NRL next year and if he does it will be under Brian Smith at the Sydney Roosters.
Fun Fact #1: Since the formation of the NRL, there have been 51 first grade coaches including the latest, Rick Stone.
Fun Fact #2: 15 of those coaches have coached more than one team since 1998 including Wayne Pearce (Balmain, Wests Tigers), Peter Sharp (Manly, Northern Eagles), David Waite (St. George, St. George-Illawarra) and Andrew Farrar (Illawarra, St. George-Illawarra), who all coached one half of a now merged team before taking over the joint venture.
Fun Fact #3: 10 coaches of the NRL era had coached top grade rugby league in Australia previously with Warren Ryan (Newtown, Canterbury, Balmain, Wests) the only man to have coached four teams before being appointed to a team when signed up to coach Newcastle.
Fun Fact #4: South Sydney have had the most first grade coaches since 1998: Steve Martin, Craig Coleman, Paul Langmack, Arthur Kitinas, Shaun McRae and Jason Taylor. No coach of Souths in the NRL era has been appointed after leaving Souths.
Fun Fact #5: Newcastle, North Queensland, New Zealand and the Sydney Roosters have all had five coaches with the Roosters having already appointed their sixth for 2010. Of the six Roosters signings, four have coached at another club previously.
Fun Fact #6: Four coaches have won the premiership since Jack Gibson won with the Roosters in 1974 with their second club: Warren Ryan (Canterbury), Wayne Bennett (Brisbane), Chris Anderson (Melbourne) and John Lang (Penrith). Chris Anderson is the only coach among them to have won premierships with two clubs.
Fun Fact #8: Only Jack Gibson (Parramatta) and Tim Sheens (Wests Tigers) have won premierships with a new club after two previous appointments. Both have won premierships with more than one club.
Fun Fact #9: The five most forgettable coaches of the NRL era: Kieran Dempsey (Norths, 8-16, 1999), Ian Millward (North Queensland, 2-12, 2008), Murray Hurst (North Queensland, 6-21-2, 2001-02), Paul Langmack (Souths, 5-29-1, 2003-04) and Arthur Kitinas (Souths, 3-9-1, 2004).
Wayne Bennett  A bad loss to the Raiders but not an overly concerning one. Would like to end that curse, however.
Kevin Moore  Best win of the season for the Dogs who lost Patten and Hannant and then two props early. Tough.
Craig Bellamy [4.5] Bad loss to the Knights but were distracted by Inglis fiasco. Next week will determine title hopes.
Tim Sheens [4.5] The Tigers have now put six on end and thumped the hapless Sharks. A hint of 2005 about run.
John Cartwright  Far from impressive against Bunnies but collected the points and showed desperation on line.
Daniel Anderson [3.5] Five in a row without Mateo is unbelievable. Attack has been brilliant and steel in defence is good.
Matt Elliott [2.5] Shocking effort against out-of-form Broncos with season on line. 40 second half points was awful.
Rick Stone [2.5] Good to start with a win over team who has played in last three Grand Finals.
Des Hasler  Did what they needed to do in beating the Roosters. Crunch time against Storm. Will be faves.
Neil Henry [1.5] A dreadful effort against injury ravaged Dogs when game was there to be won. Miss finals.
David Furner [1.5] Raiders have beaten Dragons, Storm and Titans and nearly rolled Dogs twice. Season lost.
Jason Taylor  The Bunnies needed to win Friday…and threw it away. With a good coach the Rabbits play finals.
Ivan Henjak [-0.5] The season may have been saved against Penrith. Dreadful defence is still a major worry.
Ricky Stuart [-3] No players but to let in 50 plus is disgraceful. Doubt 2010 will be any better either.
Ivan Cleary [-10] The spectre of Sonny Fai is the only excuse saving Cleary. They have embarrassed the club.
Brad Fittler [-99] Another nail hammered into Brad Fittler’s career…he better try the media next.
NRL Game of the Year Nomination, Round 23: Canberra-Dragons, 24-12. An amazing game at Bruce Stadium with the Raiders upsetting the competition front-runners and maintaining the curse that has seen the Dragons lose every match at Bruce since 2000 and lose all but three matches against the Raiders since 2001. The intensity was high from the opening kickoff and only cranked up a notch when Dean Young unleashed on the soon-to-be-John-Stamos Terry Campese with a flurry of crosses, upper cuts and hooks that would have made Willie Pep proud. Young was duly binned. Off the penalty Josh Miller launched himself at Michael Weyman, getting some head-on-head action and leaving Horse to travel off via the medicab. Ten minutes later and Campese was in the bin for firing off his best Lenny Bruce impersonation. The Dragons led 6-0 at the break in a real semi-final like atmosphere and that lead was extended to twelve not long after but in the space of eight minutes Canberra ran in three converted tries to hit the front. They weren’t headed after it. The game finished on the back of two more brawls, another sin bin and three Raiders penalty goals in a match that could be considered a complete dandy of an affair. A definite runner for the match of the season.
The Colin Best Express Fan Revue: The Colin Best Express is back! CBE has his best game of the year scoring the Bunnies first four-pointer on Friday night before setting up another just before the break. CBE looked dangerous and was ever present in attack. There were still a few errors in his game but he appears to be getting some confidence back after Jason Taylor beat it to a bloody pulp for most of the season.
What Did Shane Rodney Do This Week? Shane Rodney had his finest attacking game of the season when he ran for 136 metres on 15 runs at 9.07 metres per carry including an average of 7.22 metres per hit up. “Sugar” Shane is taking every chance afforded him by Hasler who, if he has any sense or decency at all, will start him this weekend.
Beard Watch: The prize for the worst beard in the NRL will probably be taken out by Will Chambers. It is a good thing he is buggering off to The Dullest Sport in the World. Chambers has some over-manicured chinstrap deal happening that would in part explain why he has been a miserable failure for the Storm this season. If you are going to go for some facial hair, give it a real crack.
Thems Were The Days: With the bottom of the top eight so close with only three rounds remaining, memories flood back to that long dead concept called the midweek playoff. Before the game got so professional and before we moved to a top eight and before cigarette sponsorship was banned and before we reached the modern era, rugby league had a top five system and a team could not be excluded on differential alone. It was all about fairness and a team was not going to miss out based on a ruined try here or a penalty there. And in the top five era between 1973 and 1994 there were ten midweek playoffs in nine seasons and all entirely memorable for those who had an interest. The feeling of the midweek playoff for fifth spot was always somewhat surreal: the daunting realisation that an entire season was on the line, the tantalising proposition that finals football was so close and the odd scenario of having such an important match played on a Tuesday night. It was do or die in its most pure form. The first year a playoff was used under the top five system was in 1975 when Parramatta won two matches to advance to the finals. In a remarkable effort, Parramatta won four matches in eight days, the first a final round victory over Norths to qualify for the playoff and the last a minor preliminary semi-final victory over Canterbury. In between the Eels beat Wests 18-13 and perennial playoff participants Balmain 19-8 in what was one of the most gruelling weeks of rugby league. The Eels were eventually ousted by Manly but their remarkable effort lives on in folklore to this day.
It would be eight years until the next playoff, St. George downing Easts 44-16 in 1983, but from that season until 1992 the New South Wales Rugby League had a midweek playoff in every year bar 1987. In 1984 the Canberra Raiders had their first taste of postseason play but it wasn’t to be their finals run after being touched up 23-4 by Souths in a tryless performance. Souths backed up that Saturday to defeat Manly but were bundled out by the Dragons in the minor semi. In 1985 the boot of Greg Alexander put Penrith into their first finals series when eliminating Manly 10-7 in a thriller. Both teams scored a try apiece and amazingly Paul Vautin kicked a field goal, the second and last of his career, but three goals from Greg Alexander saw the Panthers play finals football for the first time. Penrith were bundled out 38-6 by Parramatta on the weekend. In 1986 North Sydney missed out on what would have been only their second finals series in twenty years when they went down 14-7 to Balmain in a game that saw Benny Elias kick two drop goals and Scott Gale score the winner in front of 10,000 at the SCG. The Bears won the penalty count and the scrums but couldn’t get over the line. Balmain proved themselves playoff kings again in 1988 when thumping Penrith 28-8 in front of a big crowd at Parramatta Stadium. The Tigers then won finals games over defending premiers Manly, 1987 grand finalists Canberra and minor premiers Cronulla to be the first team to make a Grand Final from fifth position. The Bulldogs were too good on the day however and held aloft the Winfield Cup that year. Balmain would never win another flag though they would get a lot closer in 1989. That season Cronulla had a rare postseason win when they smashed Brisbane 38-14 in the Broncos first piece of September action in only their second season. On the back of 18 points from Alan Wilson the Sharks hammered Brisbane but were duly touched up by eventual premiers Canberra that Saturday. With the spectre of that 1989 Grand Final defeat looming large, Balmain won the playoff for fifth spot in 1990. The Tigers defeated Newcastle 12-4 in what would be their last finals match as a stand alone entity. The final playoff was staged in 1991 and was one of the great travesties of justice to have taken place. Western Suburbs won 19-14 in a grudge match against the Bulldogs with the Magpies fielding four recent Bulldogs defectors: Andrew Farrar, David Gillespie, Paul Langmack and Joe Thomas. Jonathan Davies was streaking away in the dying minutes when hoards of Magpies fans stormed Parramatta Stadium with the pitch invasion causing Bill Harrigan to blow full time with the Bulldogs being dealt the cruellest of blows. It was to be the last playoff. These days we have a top eight and the fifth placed playoff has been consigned to the annals of history. At least that part of history will be looked on with fondness from all those old enough to recall a time when it was a near annual tradition.
Fantasy Team of the Week:
1. J.Hayne (Par)
2. T.Tuiaki (Tig)
3. J.Croker (Can)
4. J.Reddy (Par)
5. L.Burt (Par)
6. B.Marshall (Tig)
7. C.Cronk (Mlb)
13. M.Hilder (New)
12. M.Minichiello (GC)
11. C.Parker (Brs)
10. D.Taylor (Brs)
9. R.Farah (Tig)
8. L.Bailey (GC)
Geurie Greens Update: The celebrations in Geurie have lasted well over a week with the stars of the Geurie team unfamiliar with the word sobriety. Jamie Soward has been chaired around like an ancient pharaoh, at times wearing nothing more than his headgear and Friend Medal and will never buy a drink in Central West New South Wales again. David Stagg put on a show by tackling the entire Geurie population in a little over 123 minutes. Taniela Tuiaki dragged a truck halfway to Wellington. Shane Rodney rode a bull. Steve Simpson drank so much whiskey all his injuries were cured and doctors are now looking into the drink for medical purposes. Wild times aplenty down Geurie way this week…
What I Hate About Rebecca Wilson This Week: Her petulant attack on the Dragons aiming high. It is nothing but a continued attack on an old nemesis on Wayne Bennett though Bennett wouldn’t even give her the time of day and would likely have no idea what her name was. I have no particular fondness for the Dragons but there is no doubt that Bennett has turned the club around wholly and they are deserved premiership favourites. He and Peter Doust, the man who bought Bennett in, deserve credit. They certainly don’t need the moralistic undercutting of some drunk media tart.
Watch It: For those with 80 minutes to spare and old school rugby league in their hearts, You Tube has the 1991 preliminary final in its entirety. It is wonderful to have an entire match just for an easy trip down memory lane. Graeme Hughes, Wayne Pearce and Bill Anderson have the commentary duties. Norths jump to a great start thanks to some heavy engagement from Mario Fenech, some delightful skill from Paul Conlon and some super grunt work from Tony Rea. It wasn’t long before the Raiders class (and salary cap excess) kicked into play, however, and within a ten minute period the Raiders were back on top with winger Paul Martin the unlikely hero with three tries. The best player on the ground, however, was Brad Clyde. Sometimes you can forget what a brilliant player Clyde was. In this game he shows why he is probably the best backrower of the last thirty years. Click Here.