Season 2010: Round 29

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

From The Couch

Parramatta Fire Daniel Anderson: No club deserves misery more than the Parramatta Eels and no team is run by a bigger bunch of clowns than the Parramatta Eels. The Eels this year went into meltdown after everybody at the club bought into the idea that the club actually were the team to beat this year after being installed as preseason favourites when they were clearly the beneficiaries of a three month period of hot Jarryd Hayne form in 2009, something he was clearly not able to replicate in 2010.

From top to bottom, the Eels are a club with a toxic culture. Chairman Roy Spagnolo is hardly the most trustworthy of bosses and has been staging a vindictive campaign against former club patriarch Denis Fitzgerald since he took the job. New chief executive Paul Osborne is, for some reason, highly touted by the Daily Telegraph despite the fact he has achieved very little in rugby league and his time in charge of Parramatta has been marked by a terrible recruitment and retention strategy, player unrest and coaching instability. Many of the senior players have been severely unhappy with the likes of Hayne and Mateo giving less than their best for much of the season, Nathan Cayless embittered about how his retirement was leaked, Nathan Hindmarsh clearly frustrated at the state of the club and young halves like Mortimer and Keating not developing as expected.

It is tough to see what Daniel Anderson did to deserve being fired. He is one of only two coaches to lead Parramatta to a Grand Final in the last 24 years and the other coach was given a decade in charge and another five seasons after taking the Eels to the Big Dance. Anderson went only 25-26 at the Eels but he never had the opportunity to bring his own players in nor was Anderson ever given the opportunity to have total control over the team with board interference being a constant.

Parramatta brass seems to enjoy blaming coaches for their constant underachievement but over recent years the problem has clearly been the players. Brian Smith was a dictatorial coach but eventually lost the players at the club. Michael Hagan was a players coach and the players seemed to take advantage of that. Daniel Anderson has seemingly never had all the players completely onside despite his fine record as a coach. Feleti Mateo is the perfect example. He did absolutely nothing through the first half of the season but as soon as he was not offered a contract by the Eels and news came out the club was chasing rugby player Quade Cooper he all of a sudden found his best form. Parramatta players, for the most part, have been selfish and unwilling to get behind a coach over the last half-decade.

It was interesting how Anderson was fired. It came only a month after he was guaranteed tenure by Roy Spagnolo and came amid allegations of racism with Ray Hadley, a man close to the Parramatta club, reporting that Feleti Mateo would make a racially based complaint against Anderson if Anderson was not dismissed. Mateo has denied this but there is no doubt he fell out big time with Anderson, who left the Warriors amid rumours of not having the Polynesian players on side.

Stephen Kearney is the man expected to take over with the Eels once again reverting to a players coach. Former Storm assistant Michael Maguire is believed to have been approached but knocked back the offer. Kearney would be well advised to seriously consider the same decision. Head coaching jobs don’t come along every day and Kearney, who is the current Kiwi coach, has long been considered one of the top assistant prospects in the game and will almost certainly be a high level top grade coach with many suggesting he has more than a touch of John Cartwright about him. The Eels job may well be a poisoned chalice, however, and Kearney needs to be aware that his reputation could be significantly tarnished if things go badly. Kearney also needs to avoid being stereotyped as a “Mr Fix-It” coach for clubs with a strong Polynesian contingent who appear disgruntled. Kearney has a reputation for being very good with Polynesian players but he will want to be viewed as simply a good coach and not a good coach to a particular type of player if he wants to fulfil his potential. Parramatta may be the wrong foot to get off on.

I certainly cannot see Parramatta improving next year and I don’t think Daniel Anderson was the reason they failed this year. The problem is the culture and attitude of many within the club. The Eels have cleaned house with the likes of Mateo and Inu sent packing but they have replaced those with the likes of Carl Webb and Reni Maitua. Whoever takes on the job will have their work cut out for them and it will take the club years to get the right players to go on a legitimate title run.

Preliminary Final #1 Assessment: The final score read the Roosters 32-6 and while the match was much closer than that for much of the way there is no doubt the Roosters were deserving winners. They dominated the match. That isn’t to say the Roosters played outstanding rugby league. They didn’t. The Roosters simply outenthused a Titans team who looked overcooked and who played with too much conservatism. Brian Smith certainly had the Roosters up for the match and it paid dividends. The Roosters had two or three to every tackle, they were off their line defensively and they looked to create. The Titans did none of that. They appeared lethargic and they allowed an inferior pack to win the arm wrestle. They struggled to show much enthusiasm in defence. And they offered virtually nothing creatively. Scott Prince did not have a bad game but he certainly did not have a good one and with Mat Rogers quiet and a centre pairing that couldn’t create dessert in an ice cream factory. The Titans just didn’t have enough going in attack. The Roosters backline, by contrast, was outstanding with Sam Perrett having his best game of 2010 while Todd Carney and Mitchell Pearce were again outstanding. Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Nate Myles were the pick of the forwards. Braith Anasta led like a true leader. The Titans will be back next year. They have another year or two left in their window and John Cartwright will have learnt plenty from having a week off for the first time. The Roosters, meanwhile, are beginning to shape as a team of destiny and their enthusiasm that has carried them this far may well carry them to a premiership.

Preliminary Final #2 Assessment: It is a shame there had to be a loser between the Dragons and the Tigers because both teams deserved to play in a Grand Final. The Roosters-Tigers match in week one of the finals will long be remembered as a classic but this was its equal. The Dragons and Tigers were simply two titans of the game who engaged in an epic preliminary final that deserves to be remembered as one of the great finals matches ever played. The Tigers, as expected, jumped the gun and led 6-0 and 12-6 thanks to a very good try to Lote Tuqiri and an opportunistic four-pointer to Robert “Stanley” Lui. Even at half-time though, with the Tigers up 12-6, the Dragons looked well in control. They were always going to grind it out and they never deviated from their game plan. It was all about field position and more field position. As long as the Dragons were within a try, they were probably going to be the team to win in the end. The metre advantage said it all. The Dragons won that battle 1747m-1205m and in the end that was the difference. The only real variation between the teams was how well the two teams handled the last 15 minutes. The Dragons were composed and worked hard and with focus towards a field goal while the Tigers panicked, kicking the ball out on the full and turning the ball over and not working for the one-pointer. The Tigers are to be commended. They dealt with the Dragons game plan well by using their back three to work out of the corners to great effect while Keith Galloway and Gareth Ellis played brilliant matches and were undeserving of defeat. The Dragons, as per usual, had no stars with everyone contributing. They did not have a bad player in the seventeen with Darius Boyd continuing on his good form, Neville Costigan having his best ever match and Matt Prior playing the game of his life. The only negative of the match was the refereeing. Shayne Hayne was dreadful but luckily he was equally as abhorrent for both teams. The Tigers will regroup and if they adopt the same attitude in 2011 they will be near on making the decider. The Dragons, well, have a drought of 31 years ready to be busted.

Grand Final Preview: I have considered the Dragons the top team for most of the year and I see no reason to get off now. They have the perfect credentials for a premiership and are the most deserving team. They have the coach, the team, the defence and the game plan to win a premiership. The Roosters have their shot but this one is really the Dragons to lose.

Breaking it down position by position, the Dragons get the edge in most categories.

Anthony Minichiello has had his best season in a half-decade and was there when the Roosters won their last title in 2002 but Darius Boyd has had a career year and is legitimately rated one of the ten best players in the game. The Dragons have a big edge at fullback.

The three-quarter line is a little more even. The left hand Dragons attack and the right hand Roosters side cancel each other out with Brett Morris and Matt Cooper going as well as Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Sam Perrett. The Roosters left side is far more inexperienced with the promising Kane Linnett and the unknown quantity B.J Leulia up against Mark Gasnier, who is a long way from his best, and the underrated Jason Nightingale. It is a slight edge to the Dragons.

The halves are exceptionally close with the Roosters getting the slightest of edges with Dally M Medal winner Todd Carney and NSW half Mitchell Pearce up against Jamie Soward and Ben Hornby. All four are rep quality with Carney and Pearce probably going marginally better than the Soward-Hornby duo. Slight, slight edge Roosters.

The backrow is too hard to call. Nate Myles and Braith Anasta are playing outstanding at the moment while Mitch Aubusson is holding his own. Ben Creagh is the class man of the Dragons backrow while Beau Scott and Jeremy Smith get the job done. This one is a tie.

The Dragons murder the Roosters up front. Michael Weyman is a top-five prop while Dean Young is indispensable for the Dragons. Neville Costigan is also playing quality football. The Roosters, meanwhile, have the hardworking but one-dimensional hooker in Jake Friend, the soft and ill disciplined Jason Ryles. Frank-Paul Nuusuala is hot and cold. Major edge Dragons.

The Dragons also get a major edge on the bench. Nathan Fien starts at most other clubs and offers plenty around the middle of the ruck while Trent Merrin, Jarrod Saffy and Matt Prior are all quality players. The Roosters have been getting plenty out of Martin Kennedy lately but the likes of Daniel Conn, Jared Waerea-Hargraves and James Aubusson are all a little boom-or-bust. Edge Dragons.

On the coaching front, there is no doubt Wayne Bennett gets the money over Brian Smith. Bennett does, of course, have six premierships and is arguably the greatest coach ever while Brian Smith has no premierships in nearly a quarter century of coaching.

Defence will be the key to the Dragons premiership. They are one of the best defensive units of the modern era with the Dragons allowing a miserly 12.46 points per match, a near 8 full points per less than the next best defensive unit competing in this year’s title. They have a distinct Melbourne Storm feel about them. There is certainly no more difficult team to break down and that has held firm in the finals with the Dragons holding Manly scoreless and then holding a committed Tigers team to 12 points. The Roosters are not so patient and that lack of patience could hurt the Roosters.

While the Roosters have strike power, they panic when they can’t break down a defence. It happened when the two met at the SCG and it is likely to happen again. The Dragons have won 9 of their last 11 against the Roosters and have allowed the Roosters only 46 points over the last six encounters at an average of 7.66 points a match. I just cannot see the Roosters scoring enough points. The Dragons may only need 13 to win.

A victory for the Roosters would suggest a fundamental shift in what wins deciders. Throughout the Storm era it has been defence. The top defensive units win Grand Finals. That should mean the Dragons get the money. I don’t think the game has moved on to a new era jut yet.

While it will be sad to see the end of a 30-year period of misery and choking, it will be pleasing to see the most deserving team win.

Canterbury Sign Lett, Millington, Wright: Canterbury have made two very good signings and potentially a third with the signing of Michael Lett, Grant Millington and Jonathan Wright. All add tremendous depth to the Bulldogs, who suffered when injuries hit the front line this year. Michael Lett is 23 years of age and has played only 11 first grade games since debuting for the Roosters in 2005 but he has outstanding potential and could push Bryson Goodwin for a starting wing position in 2011. Grant Millington has been one of the Sharks best second tier players, making 24.4 tackles and 52.2 metres in only 49 minutes a game. I have never really thought a great deal of Jonathan Wright but he is only young and is certainly a better backup centre option than Tim Winitana or Shane Neumann. Peter Mulholland has again done a fine job in strengthening the Canterbury team for 2011.

A Rugby League Tragedy: The term tragedy gets bandied about a lot in sportswriting but the premature death of Great Britain hooker Terry Newton is a heartbreak of the highest order. Newton, who played 15 Tests for Britain and 317 Super League matches, was this week found dead at his home at the age of 31. It is believed he committed suicide. Newton was serving a two-year ban for test positive to HGH. Despite the bad name be bought upon rugby league, it is horrifically sad that a life was lost at such a young age, that a rugby league man with so much to offer could see no reason to live. The wishes of From The Couch go out to all associated with Newton.

Net Recruitment Grades: Most teams have their rosters sorted for 2011. Recruitment is the key to boosting a teams performance or maintaining standards Here are the recruitment grades for each team as they stand right now.

Gains: Greg Inglis, Ben Hannant
Losses: Israel Folau, Antonio Winterstein, Ashton Sims, Lagi Setu

The Broncos have replaced like for like with Inglis in for Folau and they have offloaded some deadweight like Sims and Setu and bought back top class prop Hannant but they have done little to improve depth and problems out wide.

Gains: Brett White, Blake Ferguson
Losses: Troy Thompson, Justin Carney, Brett Kelly, Adam Mogg

Canberra have lost no player of any real value to them and have bolstered their pack with an international prop and their backline with a three-quarter of great potential. Still, their pack doesn’t need bolstering and they are still without a quality experienced halfback.

Gains: Frank Pritchard, Greg Eastwood, Aiden Tolman, Trent Hodkinson, Kris Keating, Grant Millington, Michael Lett, Jonathan Wright
Losses: Brett Kimmorley, Luke Patten, Ben Hannant, Blake Green, Buddy Gordon, Jarrad Hickey, Danny Williams

Canterbury have lost plenty of experience in Kimmorley, who was ready to retire, and Patten, who still had a year to go, as well as Hannant, who wanted to go home and was far from his best this year. Tolman is a quality replacement for Hannant, Hodkinson replaces Kimmorley, Keating should win the five-eighth job from Ben Roberts while the backrow looks lethal for the first time in years.

Gains: Jeremy Smith, Colin Best, Wade Graham
Losses: Trent Barrett, Luke Covell, Grant Millington, Blake Ferguson

Not really much to write about. Graham replaces Barrett which has upside but plenty of risk while Best is a good outside back who should win a starting job. Jeremy Smith is an upgrade on Millington but one with an injury risk.

Losses: Mat Rogers

The Titans have stayed pat with no gain and only Mat Rogers retiring, who may be hard to replace as the Titans lack quality in the centres.

Losses: Trent Hodkinson, Josh Perry, Ben Farrar

Manly have lost the promising young halfback they were set to build the club around, a versatile backup outside back and a starting prop with rep experience and have not replaced them from the outside with the prop rotation a particular worry for Manly fans.

Gains: Adam Woolnough, Troy Thompson, Maurice Blair, Jaiman Lowe
Losses: Greg Inglis, Ryan Hoffman, Jeff Lima, Brett White, Brett Finch, Aiden Tolman, Willie Isa, Luke MacDougall, Hep Cahill, Sinbad Kali

The Storm have had to clear house and lost plenty of big names but they have done their best on the recruitment front by bringing in unfashionable and cheap players who can do a job. Craig Bellamy gets the best out of these players. Troy Thompson and Mo Blair should improve markedly. This grade could have been much worse.

Gains: Neville Costigan, Steve Southern, Beau Henry
Losses: Cooper Vuna, Scott Dureau

Costigan adds some thump to their pack and they have dumped a terrible halfback. Vuna hurts but they have depth in the outside backs. Newcastle probably needed to do more if they were to make a run next year.

Gains: Feleti Mateo, Krisnan Inu, Steve Rapira
Losses: Steve Price, Brent Tate, Ian Henderson, Patrick Ah Van

The Warriors may be excited about Mateo and Inu but Inu is a cat and Mateo doesn’t always put in. Steve Rapira is solid enough but is a long way from making up for the loss of Price and Tate. Ian Henderson is also underrated who gave plenty to the Warriors in recent years. Lack of experience in 2011 will hurt the Warriors.

Gains: Dallas Johnson, Brent Tate, Antonio Winterstein, Ashton Sims, Ricky Thorby, Gavin Cooper, Kalifa Fai-Fai Loa, Josh Bateman
Losses: Luke O’Donnell, Willie Mason, Anthony Watts, Steve Rapira, Carl Webb, Arana Taumata, Ty Williams, John Williams, Clint Amos, Steve Southern, Donald Malone, Obe Geia

The Cowboys front office has done the right thing in dumping the majority of their squad including senior players on big money like O’Donnell, Webb and Mason. Johnson and Tate are great buys while Cooper and Fai-Fai Loa are super value who are big upgrades on the current team. Sims was a waste of cash but the ideals behind the roster turnover will reap dividends.

Gains: Reni Maitua, Carl Webb, Phil Graham
Losses: Nathan Cayless, Kris Keating, Feleti Mateo, Krisnan Inu, Jonathan Wright

The Eels recruitment has been a disaster. They have signed a lazy prop and a troublemaking backrower currently on a drug suspension and are still in search of that long elusive halfback despite offering supporters plenty of false hope. And they have lost a promising half in Keating, their spiritual leader in Cayless and the enigmatic but undoubtedly talented Mateo. Bad times await the Eels in 2011.

Gains: Buddy Gordon, Arana Taumata
Losses: Frank Pritchard, Wade Graham, Gavin Cooper, Maurice Blair, Josh Bateman, Shane Elford

The Panthers have lost a skilled backrower in Pritchard and a five-eighth of great potential in Graham as well as depth with the versatile Gavin Cooper. They have signed a nomad and a fat reserve grader in their place.

Losses: Colin Best, Jaiman Lowe

Best hurts but he can be replaced internally while Lowe was only ever a fill in for 2010 at the Bunnies.

Gains: David Gower
Losses: Jeremy Smith, Neville Costigan, Beau Henry, Michael Lett, Jarrod Saffy, Ricky Thorby, Kalifa Fai-Fai Loa, Luke Priddis

The Dragons have paid the price for their success by having to offload much of their depth. They have done well to lose only Smith, Costigan and Saffy from the regular first grade team but their fringe players have chased riches elsewhere. Fringe Tigers forward David Gower is their only acquisition.

Gains: Anthony Watts, Justin Carney
Released: Lopeni Paea, Phil Graham, Sam Brunton

The Roosters have done well to add underrated hooker Anthony Watts and talented outside back Justin Carney to a team that may well win the premiership. Very good recruitment at Bondi Junction though they are missing their usual big name acquisition that has become an annual tradition at the Roosters.

Released: David Gower

The Tigers are full to the brim on the cap and have done nothing to build on their preliminary final team though the key is they have lost no key players.

Clinton Toopi is the Worst Player in the NRL: Clinton Toopi is arguably the worst player in the NRL and his inept performance on Friday night cost the Titans dearly. Toopi was only credited with 1 error by NRL Stats along with 4 missed tackles but his performance was diabolical and he let the Titans down so much that he should never play another first grade game again. William Zillman was the goat of the match after knocking on plenty of ball but it was Toopi inside of him that made most of the errors. The return of Clinton Toopi to the NRL has been an epic failure. He is a bum.

What I Learned from Twitter This Week: Mark Geyer rates Steve Menzies, Michael Speechley and Colin Van Der Voort as the three best grass cutter defenders he has ever seen while Tim Mannah spent Monday snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef.

Fun Fact #1: Wayne Bennett is 6-1 in Grand Finals while Brian Smith is 0-3. Bennett’s Broncos rolled Smith’s Dragons in ’92 and ’93.

Fun Fact #2: Wayne Bennett holds a 4-2 all-time edge over Brian Smith in finals match-ups.

Fun Fact #3: The Roosters are 3-6 in Grand Finals since they became mandatory while the Dragons are 13-7.

Fun Fact #4: The Roosters and Dragons have met three times in the decider previously, playing off in 1941, 1960 and 1975. The Dragons beat the minor premier Roosters in 1941 31-14 in what was the Dragons first ever premiership and point-scoring legend Dave Brown’s last match. The Dragons handed out a similar whipping in 1960 with St George winning 31-6 despite losing the penalty count 17-6. The Roosters got their revenge in 1975, however, when winning 38-0 in the infamous white boots decider.

Fun Fact #5: Graham Murray is the only coach aside from Brian Smith to coach over 300 games and not won a premiership. Murray coached 330 games. Smith currently sits on 552. Roy Masters, Matthew Elliott and Terry Fearnley are the only other coaches to coach over 200 matches and never won a title.

Fun Fact #6: Craig Fitzgibbon is the only Rooster to have won a Clive Churchill Medal while Brad Mackay is the only Dragon though 2 Roosters (Arthur Beetson in ’74 and Ian Schubert in ’75) and 11 Dragons (Kevin Brown in ’56, Norm Provan in ’57, ’58 and ’63, Peter Provan in ’59, Monty Porter in ’60, Brian Clay in ’61, Ian Walsh in ’62, Graeme Langlands in ’64, Kevin Ryan in ’65, John Raper in ’66, Craig Young in ’77 and Steve Morris in ’79) have retrospectively been awarded the medal.

Rumour Mill: All the buzz this week has been about Craig Gower returning to the NRL. With Mick Picker a very good prospect of being sacked by the Raiders after a drink driving charge, Canberra are firming as favourites for Gower’s signature though Parramatta and his former club Penrith are also possible destinations. There are unconfirmed rumours that Willie Tonga wants out of the Cowboys. His publicist at the Sydney Morning Herald suggests he had an agreement with coach Neil Henry that would allow him to walk away if ever he was unhappy but the Cowboys have a different version of events. The Titans are favoured to tag his signature. There is a push for Michael Hagan to take over as boss of the referees next year though Hagan may resist as he is assistant coach to the successful Queensland outfit. Greg McCallum is the favourite for the position.

Power Rankings:

Last Week

St George-Illawarra and the Sydney Roosters are the only two teams with the exception of the Melbourne Storm to reach #1 in the power rankings in 2011. The Dragons have held the #1 slot from rounds 2-3 and from round 6 onwards with the exception of round 21 when the Roosters ascended to the top position.

Stats from the Special Needs Penguin: Zero clubs have chased Ben Pomeroy this offseason despite having his best career year. There were, however, 117 Special Needs Penguin jokes last Saturday night in Albury where I, among with about 20 other league heads, got together for a bucks night.

Obscure Score of the Week: Tumut-Junee, 22-8, Group 9 Grand Final. The Blues won their fourth Group 9 Grand Final in eight years on Sunday with a dazzling 22-8 victory over the Junee Diesels in front of a packed Lavington Park crowd in Albury. The Diesels chased their first title in nearly a quarter-century but couldn’t take advantage of an early 4-0 lead as the Blues pounded home their dominance from the 15th minute onwards.

Watch It: It has been 31 years since the Dragons won the title and this Click Here was the lead-up to that Grand Final win with Frank Hyde and Ron Casey engaging in a standup stoush over the refereeing of Gary Cook in the major semi-final between St George and Parramatta. Note the cameo appearances of a dapper Ray Chesterton and Peter “Chippy” Frillingos. Chesterton showed he was out of touch by slamming “the Americanisation of coaching”. He was no doubt gushing in his praise of Jack Gibson over the next thirty years.

Lazy Long Bay Days, Part 30: Danny Wicks was pleased that his beloved Grafton Ghosts won the Northern Rivers title 14-6 with the Ballina Seagulls covering the big spread. “You are one lucky boy, Danny” said Toff, one of the guards. “Things could have been very messy”. Toff then sat down, counted his cash and tossed Danny three cigarettes. “I think you’ve earned these, Old Son.”

Beard Watch: This week we take a look at one of the great beard sites going around with everything you need to know about facial hair right here at There is no better guide to the beard anywhere as all the styles, shapes and stories never mind the promotion of beard contests worldwide. Many NRL stars would do well to read this site and take up the challenge in 2011.

Correspondence Corner: There was plenty of feedback over my third annual NRL Top 50 list. There seems to be a fairly wide push for Terry Campese to have been rated higher with Nathan Boss and Chris Parkinson both suggesting he should have ranked top ten. Rohan Kendall thought Corey Parker should have been top ten though Kendall spends his evenings fantasising about being the ham in a Corey Parker-Chris Heighington sandwich. Stephen Green thought Kevin Kingston should have been nowhere near the list and thought I had a personal vendetta against Jarryd Hayne to have him ranked at #49. While I admit to hating Hayne’s attitude, I did rank him #2 last year and rated him so low this year because of his unfulfilled potential and his refusal to buy into the team game. Craig Finlayson thought Nate Myles was ranked too high.

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