Season 2009: Round 7

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on December 2, 2010


From The Couch

Saturday Afternoon Football: It was delightful to see Saturday afternoon rugby league again. How hard is it to schedule a game at 3.30 every Saturday afternoon? It would be one more live match for Fox Sports, it would be another day game for punters and it would be a throwback to the better days of yore. Everybody remembers the ABC Saturday afternoon match with fondness, a moustachioed Warren Boland in the headphones and Debbie Spillane on the sideline calling a Noel Goldthorpe cut-out to Paul Smith at Campbelltown or a Gavin Hill penalty at Belmore. Saturday afternoon is a perfect time for rugby league: the NRL should make sure it is a must when the next TV deal comes up.

About Time: It was tremendous to see the New South Wales selectors wise up and ditch some perennial underachievers and throw a few new names into the mix when they named a 40-man preliminary squad for Origin I. Braith Anasta, Willie Mason and Mark O’Meley all took their exclusions as a snub but the three players combined have had ample opportunity to perform for the Blues in recent seasons and haven’t. Further, with the exception of Anasta, none have offered anything at club level to suggest they are even close to the best forty players in New South Wales. It was only a shame that other out-of-form and overrated types such as Jarryd Hayne, Ryan Hoffman, Ben Cross, Luke O’Donnell and Anthony Tupou weren’t also given the boot. The one disappointment was that the likes of Nathan Hindmarsh, Andrew Ryan and Craig Fitzgibbon, all Blues veterans who have been in outstanding form in 2009, weren’t named and given an opportunity to prove their worth.

Meaningless Field Goal Alert: As readers of this column would no doubt know, I find nothing more enjoyable than a meaningless field goal and one of this column’s favourite players, Jamie Soward, provided one over the weekend when he snapped a one-pointer right on the half-time buzzer to provide the Dragons with a 9-0 lead. Soward is a true field goal architect and his drop goal on the stroke of half-time shows just how much of a throwback Soward is to the days when the field goal was admired and respected.

An Immaculate Performance: It was not only Jamie Soward’s field goal kicking that was outstanding on Saturday: his all-round game was magnificent and would rate among the best individual performances of the season. Not only did Soward score two tries in a tally of 21 points but he delivered a wonderful kicking game, displayed outstanding speed, was faultless in defence and was the most dangerous player on the field. The Tiny Dancer, as the Oh Errol ( have amusingly named him, must surely be in the running for an Origin jersey. Despite the fact he wears the six for the Dragons, he is a genuine halfback who plays first receiver and would be the perfect compliment for Terry Campese. He has an outstanding kicking game, he is as dangerous a runner as he is a passer and he is brilliant once the forwards start tiring. His nose should be just ahead of Peter Wallace’s at the moment.

Grubland: Welcome back to the NRL Paul Gallen. And now, its time for another holiday. After a three week spell on the sidelines, the biggest grub in rugby league was at it again, this time hitting Craig Wing around the chin with another dirty swinging arm. He will almost certainly cop at least a few more weeks on the sideline with his disgraceful record suggesting he deserves a few more. Not only has Gallen callously hit an opposition player in the head, he has selfishly left the struggling Sharks without their skipper or best player. If he wasn’t already passed over as a potential Blues captain, he has been now.

Riding Your Luck: Warriors backrower Micheal Luck turned in one of the all-time great defensive performances on Saturday night when the tireless worker made a record 74 tackles in 90 minutes of action against the Melbourne Storm. Luck missed only a single tackle. He surpassed Nathan Hindmarsh’s record of 69 tackles to now hold the mantle of the greatest single defensive performance in the history of big time rugby league in Australia. Ian Henderson was the next best effort in the Warriors, making 37 tackles in 47 minutes. Luck’s effort will quickly be forgotten but it shouldn’t be as it was one of the greatest displays of toughness, character and mental fortitude ever seen on a rugby league field and to do it during the Anzac Day clash made the feat even more special. Rugby league is built on defence and Luck personifies defensive attitude as well as any player in the NRL. Don’t be surprised if he bobs up as a bench player for Queensland this season.

NRL Top Tacklers: In honour of Micheal Luck’s outstanding achievement, below is a list of the top tacklers in the NRL era, dating back to 1998. The list is filled with workhorses like Richard Swain and Nathan Hindmarash, Dallas Johnson and Cameron Smith, Simon Bonetti and Cherry Mescia. One interesting point to note is how the average tackles per match of the top tacklers has steadily risen over the last decade. In 1998, Jamie Goddard led the league with an average of 32.2 tackles per match. Since 2004, the average has jumped to over 40 in four of the five seasons. This year has seen a ridiculous increase with six players averaging over 43 tackles and four over 47. There are a number of reasons for the change over the last twelve seasons: full professionalism means fitter players; a reduction in the interchange bench; changes in stoppage rules; a focus on a faster play-the-ball, a greater maturity in stats keeping. The one thing that can be gathered from the data, however, is that the game is much quicker today than it was ten years ago and even five years back. That makes Michael Luck’s achievement even more remarkable.

1998: 1st: Jamie Goddard (32.2) 2nd: Sean Garlick (30.3) 3rd: Simon Bonetti (29.5)
1999: 1st: Ciriaco Mescia (32.6) 2nd: Richard Swain (32) 3rd: Simon Bonetti (31.6)
2000: 1st: Richard Swain (35) 2nd: Jason Hetherington (31.5) 3rd: Robert Mears (30.8)
2001: 1st: Richard Swain (38.6) 2nd: Kevin Campion (30.4) 3rd: Ciriaco Mescia (30.2)
2002: 1st: Richard Swain (38.8) 2nd: Simon Bonetti (31.5) 3rd: Ian Hindmarsh (30.4)
2003: 1st: Danny Nutley (36.3) 2nd: Luke Priddis (35.4) 3rd: Lance Thompson (35.1)
2004: 1st: Nathan Hindmarsh (41) 2nd: Cameron Smith (34.8) 3rd: Matt Hilder (34)
2005: 1st: Cameron Smith (38.9) 2nd: Dallas Johnson (36.5) 3rd: Craig Fitzgibbon (36)
2006: 1st: Alan Tongue (43.5) 2nd: Nathan Hindmarsh (41.4) 3rd: Dallas Johnson (38.9)
2007: 1st: Nathan Hindmarsh (43.4) 2nd: Craig Fitzgibbon (39.2) 3rd: A. Laffranchi (38.1)
2008: 1st: Nathan Friend (42.2) 2nd: Nathan Hindmarsh (39.5) 3rd: Micheal Luck (38.3)
2009: 1st: Dallas Johnson (51.6) 2nd: Micheal Luck (48.2) 3rd: David Stagg (47.5)

Stop Press- Matthew Head Plays!: In what was disappointing news for all rugby league historians, Dragons back-up half Matthew Head made it onto the field last Saturday against the Roosters. Head, after sitting on the bench for two consecutive games and then being a late omission in round six, was finally given the go ahead by Wayne Bennett to hit the field. Had Head have spent the entire 80 minutes on the bench, he would have become the first player in the history of the NRL to ride the pine for three straight matches. Head’s performance, that produced nothing special from 19 touches through 20 minutes, could see him looking out for splinters once more next week.

Tactic of the Week: Kevin Moore may have prolonged Hazem El Masri’s first grade career with his ploy of playing Jamal Idris on the wing on the final tackle when the Bulldogs are defending in their own quarter. Canberra constantly peppered the right wing with bombs but instead of the height deficient El Masri jumping for them, the tall and athletic Idris was there. The ploy worked a treat.

Fun Fact #1: Graham Appo is the all-time leading try scorer for the Adelaide Rams with 12.

Fun Fact # 2: Danny Peacock is the all-time leading try scorer for the Gold Coast Giants/Seagulls/Titans with 28.

Fun Fact #3: Chris Ryan is both the leading try scorer and point scorer for the Western Reds with 24 tries and 236 points.

Fun Fact #4: Jason Hudson is the South Queensland Crushers all-time leading try scorer with 11.

Fun Fact #5: Nick Zisti is the all-time leading try scorer and point scorer for the Hunter Mariners with 16 tries and 104 points.

Fun Fact #6: None of the previous five fun facts are particularly useful to anyone other than rugby league trivia buffs, Graham Appo, Danny Peacock, Chris Ryan, Jason Hudson and Nick Zisti.

Coaching Stocks:

Coach Comment
Kevin Moore The Dogs continue to win. Genius move to put Idris to the wing to protect against the bomb. A thinker and a winner.
Wayne Bennett The job he has done with Soward, Weyman, Poore, Creagh, Scott and Prior continues to reap big rewards.
Ivan Henjak The Broncos were clinical in putting away the Eels as they should have.
John Cartwright Awful performance against a Penrith team that remains unconvincing. The Titans had a bad night off.
Brian Smith Bad loss to the Tigers when they had the points in the bag. Next week is crucial for how the Knights go this season.
Tim Sheens The Tigers pulled out a wonderful comeback win over Newcastle. Marshall move starting to pay dividends.
Craig Bellamy Attack is still a concern but Finch should help fix that. Defence remains strong and to draw with only 15 men was positive.
Ivan Cleary The Warriors showed a toughness not usually seen in Warriors teams when holding the Storm to a draw on the road.
Jason Tayler Showed glimpses of brilliance in attack but defence looks a worry. Still, the Bunnies showed fight in getting the 2 points.
David Furner The Raiders were gallant but a sick Campese left them short. Wins are just around the corner for Furner's men.
Neil Henry The Cowboys recorded a strong win. Looks like he has let Thurston off the leash.
Matt Elliot Seemingly a coach in demand with the Roosters reportedly chasing him. Big win on Monday night.
Des Hasler Quite the fall from grace. The ban on speaking of Stewart's loss is childish and he seems to have no answers for attack.
Brad Fittler Three consecutive halves without a point, obvious defensive deficiencies and a a team who fails to respond to adversity.
Daniel Anderson The Eels just go from bad to worse. Anderson needs to clean house and soon or he will be singing for his supper.
Ricky Stewart The Sharks finally scored some points but then their defence went missing. The pressure is building…

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 7: Wests Tigers-Newcastle, 26-24. The match was a genuine thriller with the Tigers overcoming a 24-10 deficit in the final eighteen minutes to sweep to victory on the back of some Benji Marshall brilliance. Marshall set up three tries in what was his finest performance, digging the Tigers out of a big hole to defeat the in-form Knights at Campbelltown. His running game was a sight to behold while his kicking game was spot on. And the cherry on the cake was his final conversion, slotted from the sideline with less than five minutes on the clock to provide the Tigers with a two point win. The match was alive even down to the final siren when Newcastle broke free down the right hand side and had a four-on-one situation before play was pulled up for a dubious forward pass call. A sensational match at a fine suburban ground.

The Colin Best Express Fan Revue: The Colin Best Express is on the verge of claiming his second ever representative jersey and his push for that elusive Blues jumper is so close he can taste it. Twelve outside backs were chosen in the Blues 40-man preliminary squad, leaving Best with eleven enemies for the four positions on offer. Of those, Josh Morris is out hurt and Jamie Lyon doesn’t want to play. Throw in the fact Jarryd Hayne would be outplayed by Paul Doolan these days, Michael Robertson has reverted to his Canberra form where he was widely derided as a quarter-horse in the world of thoroughbreds, Anthony Quinn has proven he is nothing more than the product of a talented backline and David Williams, whose time has been limited due to injury, CBE is now right in the mix. Matt Cooper and Joel Monaghan should have two positions locked up meaning the final two spots will be filled by either James McManus, Michael Jennings, Chris Lawrence or our intrepid hero. The time is nigh my friends. The hour of the Colin Best Express has arrived…

What Did Shane Rodney Do This Week? “Sugar” Shane was disappointed to find out he did not join Lucille Ball, Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, L. Ron Hubbard and Lizzie Borden on the list of the 25 most known redheads, found here. He was then devastated to find he was not considered one of the ten best redheads of the modern era of rugby league, a list that includes Keiffy Galloway, Alan Tongue and Steve Southern. “Sugar” Shane’s spirits will be picked up now, however, with the first annual Chutney Crotch XIII named here, with Rodney given the captaincy and honorary “King of the Gingers” title.

1. Ben Jones
2. Steve Michaels
3. Luke O’Dwyer
4. David Stagg
5. Joel Monaghan
6. Alan Tongue
7. Peter Wallace
8. Keiffy Galloway
9. James Aubusson
10. Shane Shackleton
11. Brad Meyers
12. Shane Rodney ©
13. Steve Southern

Beard Watch: Hazem El Masri’s shaved head and goatee look is coming along nicely. While the goatee is certainly the most ordinary of all forms of facial hair, combining it with a shaved head shows bottle. It would be a real winner if El Masri lets it go the distance, hopefully he will turn into the NRL’s version of Red Sox slugger Kevin Youkilis.

Special mention must also be made of the Penrith Panthers who had a wonderful week on the facial hair front. Paul Aiton has gone with a wonderful little straightener right on the upper lip while “Sugar” Shane Elford, the slowest winger in the game who managed to score an 80 metre intercept try, has a well manicured square beard. The real impressive performance, however, came from coach Matthew Elliott who went the raggedy homeless angle that left him looking like an aging beggar or a crusty old sea dog. It was an outstanding effort and one this author certainly hope plays right out.

Thems Were The Days: Dally M Medal betting is back this season. It is the first time betting has been allowed on the awarding of rugby league’s top player award since 1994, when a plunge on North Sydney backrower David Fairleigh turned both the league and bookies off. Fairleigh had been good throughout the 1994 season but was overlooked for Origin despite having played in 1991 and 1993. The Bears were travelling well and played finals football that year but few thought Fairleigh was in the running for the most prestigious individual award of the day, the Rothman’s Medal. That attitude changed, however, when word leaked that Fairleigh was the winner. Unlike the many Brownlow leaks that occur each year, this one was supported by cash and proved correct. Fairleigh was bet from 33-1 into even money in what was a bigger plunge than that on Fine Cotton. When Fairleigh collected the award, punters were ecstatic, bookies were furious and the league was left red-faced. An old-fashioned plunge…hopefully we get something like that again this year.

Fantasy Team of the Week:

1. K.Hunt (Brs)
2. J.Nightingale (Stg)
3. J.Ropati (War)
4. B.Champion (Sou)
5. M.Vatuvei (War)
6. J.Soward (Stg)
7. J.Thurston (NQ)
13. D.Johnson (Mlb)
12. M.Luck (War)
11. P.Gallen (Cro)
10. N.Kenny (Brs)
9. M.Ennis (Bul)
8. B.Hannant (Bul)

Geurie Greens Update: The Greens march of dominance continues with Geurie making it seven from seven with an outstanding win against the third-placed Ulladulla Underwear. The Underwear put up a stern fight with a century to Michael Ennis and a big score to Johnathan Thurston but an outstanding solo performance from the mighty Jamie Soward backed-up by solid efforts from David Stagg, Steve Price and Michael Jennings saw the Greens get home comfortably. The Tiny Dancer with the lion heart is quickly becoming the Greens best player…

What I Hate About Rebecca Wilson This Week: Rebecca Wilson and her boy Phil Rothfield used their scurrilous gossip column this week to have a go at one of league’s best minds, Warren Ryan. The column, a mouthpiece for the Continuous Call Team, let rip at Ryan after the Wok rightfully wrote a piece criticising Bob Fulton and his influence as a selector. It is a little rich that Wilson should be criticising anybody for not having their finger on the pulse when she has offered nothing but ill-informed gossip and the bidding of those who use her to spread same.

Watch It: Chris Anderson’s magnificent try in the 1980 Grand Final, found here. Anderson, one of the game’s great coaches, was also a fine winger with tremendous speed and outstanding vision. He displayed both traits with this try where he showed the presence of mind to cut back inside centre Chris Mortimer before showing skill to pick up a low pass and then blistering speed to outpace the Easts winger. Chris Anderson, you are truly a delight.

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