Season 2010: Round 30

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

From The Couch

Grand Final Wrap: The drought is over, as they say, and fans of St George-Illawarra have been engaged in a much deserved celebration since the Dragons routed the Roosters 32-8 in what proved a Grand Final mismatch. The rains did not come for everyone, however, with Brian Smith still searching for that elusive premiership 26 years on from his coaching debut and 23 seasons into his NRL coaching career.

There is no doubt coaching played a big role in the decider and if you are siding with anybody in the Wayne Bennett-Brian Smith match-up, you want to be with Benny. And so it came to pass as the man who is now considered the greatest rugby league coach in history claimed his seventh title and his first with a club that had not won a title in 31 years.

The Roosters came out fired up early, a traditional trait of Brian Smith coached teams after being worked up all week and though the Dragons established a 6-0 early lead, the Roosters had the running in the first half hour. The Dragons were making uncharacteristic handling errors and the Roosters were given plenty of chances but an outstanding kicking game from Jamie Soward, some desperation by Ben Hornby and some smart work around the ruck saw the Roosters go into half-time with only an 8-6 lead. It was never going to be enough. The Dragons were always going to work themselves into the match and the Roosters needed a buffer. They didn’t have it.

The second half was all one way traffic. The Dragons played flawless rugby league and their class shone through. Wayne Bennett convinced the team that they should not panic and they didn’t. The Dragons blitzed the Roosters, who did not seem to get a set in the Dragons twenty in the second stanza. The Dragons won the second half 26-0, completed 90% of their sets, had only three handling errors, missed only seven tackles and won the metre battle by 293. Even as the rains teemed down, the Dragons showed some rare flair in tearing the Roosters to shreds. Jason Nightingale landed himself the two key tries of the match and Jamie Soward had no problem extending the Dragons lead to 10 and then Nathan Fien and Dean Young got themselves deserved tries and the blowout was complete.

The match had a 1998 Grand Final feel about it. Canterbury led the Wayne Bennett coached Broncos 8-6 at the break but Brisbane were the class outfit and looked ready to pounce at any minute. They duly did. The 2010 Dragons were the same. It was a rugby league version of rope-a-dope. The Dragons allowed the Roosters to burn their energy early, their line bending but not breaking as often as it should. They then came out and blitzed an overcooked Roosters in the second half. The Broncos stomped Canterbury in a similar fashion in ’98.

The Dragons were deserving premiers. They were the best team since Melbourne was tossed out and there was a clear gap between them and the pack. So it came to pass. Despite a general dislike for the Dragons, I have had nothing but respect for the club ever since Wayne Bennett hit town. They play rugby league the way it should be played: tough, hard and gritty. I’m also pleased that a Dragons premiership suggests the rugby league paradigm of success hasn’t changed. Defence wins premierships, pure and simple. That is how it should be.

The biggest disgrace of the Grand Final was without doubt the refereeing. How many chances can both Robert Finch and Bill Harrigan be given? Despite being dropped only two months prior for a disgraceful video referee decision, Bill Harrigan was in the box on Grand Final day. It came as no surprise to anybody. Nor did the fact Harrigan awarded a ridiculous try. The decision to award Braith Anasta a try was despicable. Leulia clearly lost the ball forward yet was rewarded because he put it on Jamie Soward’s leg. Had that have been a deciding factor, it would have led to a riot. It simply wasn’t rugby league. Why does the NRL continue to allow this to happen? When are they going to stand up and hold officials to account? Refereeing is a hard game. Nobody is disputing that and they deserve some leeway. Video refereeing should not be hard though. It is Robert Finch and Bill Harrigan and their cute interpretations that cause so much grief. These clowns have blighted a Grand Final yet they have escaped unscathed. Disgraceful.

And that is to say nothing of the abhorrent touch judge ruling when Brett Morris was clearly out yet play on was called and the Dragons scored later that set.

Overall, the Grand Final was okay. It wasn’t as lopsided as 2008 and it wasn’t as dour as 2000 but it didn’t hold the excitement of 1989 or 2004 or 2006 and it didn’t have the expansive play of 2001 or 2005. It is a Grand Final that sits firmly in the middle and will likely be forgotten in the years to come.

Player Ratings:

St George-Illawarra Dragons

1. Darius Boyd (7.5): Safe at the back and made the most of his one chance in attack by setting up Jason Nightingale for a beautiful try.

2. Brett Morris (5): Would have gone unnoticed had he not have been involved in a controversial decision where he went into touch only to have the touch judge miss it and the Dragons score in the same set.

3. Mark Gasnier (7): Showed tremendous athleticism in scoring the opening try and did not make a single error in defence despite being targeted by the Rooster forwards. His best game since returning from rugby.

4. Matt Cooper (6.5): Messed up big time in allowing Mitch Aubusson to score but was generally average for most of the match. A typical Matt Cooper performance.

5. Jason Nightingale (8.5): Florence was superb with two straight tries, three line breaks and ten tackle breaks and his ownership of Leulia was a key factor behind the Dragons win.

6. Jamie Soward (8): His kicking game was critical to the Dragons victory and his short chip to Mark Gasnier to open the scoring was sublime.

7. Ben Hornby (7.5): Took an outstanding leaping catch to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation where he came from the clouds and then set up a try at the other end of the park. He is a wonderful leader and a deserving premiership winning captain.

8. Neville Costigan (7): Tried hard all day in his last game in the Red V. Made some impact going forward though his hands were a worry in the first half.

9. Dean Young (8.5): Was always threatening around the middle of the ruck and never shirked his workload in defence and was duly rewarded with the match sealing try.

10. Michael Weyman (4): Was touted as one of the key players and fought hard to overcome a groin injury but dropped a ball early on and only played 21 minutes after receiving a knock. A disappointing night for Horse.

11. Beau Scott (7): Selfless to a fault and did what was expected of him with 37 tackles and 68 metres. His attitude personified the Dragons success.

12. Ben Creagh (6): The Dragons uncharacteristically lost plenty of ball in the first stanza and it was Creagh who was the main offender with three errors but he bounced back well in the second half and was a perennial threat on the left fringe.

13. Jeremy Smith (6.5): Tried hard all game and his charge down was his biggest play in the match.

14. Nathan Fien (7.5): Fien added a real spark when he came on and his 51 minutes were filled with taking advantage of the tired Roosters forwards around the centre of the ruck. Scored a try and set up another in what was a fairytale ending to a miserable year for Fien.

15. Trent Merrin (3): Only got on when the match was all over and did nothing of note either way.

16. Matt Prior (6.5): Underrated Dragons forward who didn’t do a lot on Sunday night but was effective with the ball in hand in limited opportunities.

17. Jarrad Saffy (6.5): See Prior, Matt.

Sydney Roosters

1. Anthony Minichiello (7): Had two handling errors but was one of the few Rooster players to get some go forward with his work out of dummy half key to the Roosters top first half.

2. Joseph Leulia (3.5): Was targeted all night and was shaky under the high ball and ineffective when given the ball in attack. He should have another error against his name after knocking on in the lead-up to Anasta’s try.

3. Kane Linnett (2): Linnett has a bright future but he will want to forget his first Grand Final after missing some critical tackles and dropping the ball at one of his few opportunities. Linnett had a shocker.

4. Shaun Kenny-Dowall (3): Where was SKD? A try scoring threat all season, Kenny-Dowall went missing, dropping the ball twice on only 15 touches. He failed to handle the occasion or the conditions.

5. Sam Perrett (8): Perrett was clearly the Roosters best with his work out of dummy half outstanding. He was the last effort of resistance as the Roosters attack collapsed under relenting pressure.

6. Todd Carney (5.5): Was he even out there? Carney battled through a knee injury and subsequently had no running game. With no go forward he was ineffective in creating.

7. Mitchell Pearce (4.5): Talk of an Australian jersey was snuffed out by a totally directionless performance where he kicked poorly, threw a bad forward pass and gave the Roosters no direction. Missed an astonishing 10 tackles and thus made a fool of those who claim he is the best defensive halfback in the game.

8. Jason Ryles (6): It is always good to see Jason Ryles step up on the big stage and he did just that against his former club when he did not provide the impact the Roosters needed to be even a puncher’s chance.

9. Jake Friend (7.5): 56 tackles and 60 touches in 69 minutes was outstanding from the hard working hooker who never stopped trying in the face of a juggernaut.

10. Lopini Paea (3.5): Why did he start again? Smith got cute and gave him the run-on gig but he did nothing for the Roosters in what must have been a huge disappointment to his teammates and the coaching staff.

11. Nate Myles (6): Myles worked hard in defence but his ball carrying was limp and he did not come close to bending the Dragons line.

12. Mitch Aubusson (6.5): Ran a nice line for the Roosters second try and worked hard with 34 tackles in a solid performance with few faults.

13. Braith Anasta (4): Was expected to lead from the front as he had throughout the finals but went completely missing except when dropping the ball or giving away a penalty. The decider was his worst game of the season.

14. Frank-Paul Nuuasuala (5): Looked for the big shot constantly which worked occasionally but more often than not forced his teammates to clean up his mess. Not his best effort.

15. Martin Kennedy (6.5): Kennedy was the Roosters best prop and gave the Roosters some punch when he flew into the match but he had little left when the game was in the balance midway through the second stanza.

16. Jared Waerea-Hargraves (4.5): Loved a big shot and did manage to bend the Dragons line but he did not do nearly enough work for a bench forward.

17. Daniel Conn (4.5): Finished off Mick Weyman with a high shot and tackled his heart out but only received limited playing time.

The Clive Churchill Medal: It should have come as no surprise that Darius Boyd won the Churchill Medal. The Medal is chosen by the Australian selectors, meaning fools Bob McCarthy and Bob Fulton tallied half the votes. They are usually too stupid to notice anything but the glaringly obvious. Hence Darius Boyd was chosen for the honour. Boyd played decently with a try assist and 107 metres and there was no clear standout but there were at least three more deserving players and had Boyd not been a project player of the selectors for years, he would not have won the time honoured medal.

For mine, Dean Young was the best player on the field. He was involved in everything for the entire match, sealing the match with a try to go with 40 tackles and 13 runs. It was a typical Dean Young effort, never quitting, doing the grunt work, moving where needed. At least he got the Test jumper.

Jason Nightingale and Jamie Soward were the other two who can consider themselves unlucky. Nightingale had fairly hefty claims to being the first winger to win the Churchill Medal after a match that netted him two tries, three line breaks, ten tackle breaks and 168 metres. It was a sublime performance and arguably the best performance from a winger in a Grand Final since John Ferguson in ’89. Soward was also near-perfect with his game, kicking with length and accuracy while slotting over goals from the sideline in nasty conditions. He set up Gasnier for the first try of the match with a delightful kick and his often maligned defence was faultless.

All three had better matches than Boyd but none had the name or reputation of Boyd. Boyd played well but even he admitted he was extremely lucky to have the Churchill Medal wrapped around his neck.

Where The Hell Was Julia Gillard? Julia Gillard’s contempt for rugby league as well as the Australian Labor Party’s disdain for the greatest game of all was again on full display for all to see on the weekend as the Prime Minister snubbed the NRL Grand Final. Gillard was at both an AFL preliminary final and the AFL Grand Final and watched the replay from Afghanistan with Australian troops. She could not be assed turning up to the NRL decider and there were no news reports of her tuning in from a far off location. Instead, Wayne Swan was dispatched to present the NRL trophy.

I am not surprised by Gillard’s dislike of rugby league. She is, of course, Welsh and calls both South Australia (Does she have a SANFL team or is that not politically expedient enough for her?) and Victoria home. She is from rugby union stock and she grew up in AFL heartland. I am, however, shocked that the Prime Minister, as an office holder, can show such contempt for the game of choice for Australia’s largest and third largest states. She did not attend the Dally M Medal ceremony and now she has snubbed the NRL Grand Final. It is little wonder that New South Wales and Queensland turned on her so viciously at the last election. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: the current Australian Labor Party hates rugby league.

It is a shame John Howard is no longer Prime Minister. Having presented the trophy every year from 1996 through 2007, Howard would have taken great joy from delivering the premiership trophy to his beloved St George-Illawarra Dragons. Instead, in the Dragons finest hour in three decades, the Deputy PM was assigned with presenting the trophy.

Paul Sheehan is on the Money This Time: Sports fans across Australia should take note of this erudite and incisive piece Click Here by Fairfax writer Paul Sheehan, who carves up the Australian sporting landscape. He rightly declares rugby league the future, “the most exciting and telegenic of the four major football codes in Australia” because it is “fast, furious…and brutal”. Sheehan also declares rugby union “a rubbish product” and “a 19th century game in a 21st century marketplace” while soccer in Australia suffers from “being built from a business plan.” He laid some shots in about how the code is run and the behaviour of those who play it but he is right: rugby league is the most dynamic sport in Australia. It is a game that combines speed and strength, beauty and brutality, like no other. Rugby league could not have finished 2010 on a higher note.

Fun Fact #1: Anthony Minichiello is a fine player and his form has correlated strongly with the Roosters making the Grand Final but he is no doubt a huge mock. Minichiello played in his fifth decider on Sunday night yet he has only won one premiership and that was in 2002 when the Roosters benefitted from Canterbury, the best team in the competition, being thrown out. Minichiello has played in the losing Rooster teams of 2000, 2003, 2004 and now 2010. Minichiello’s loss means he surpasses Mark Coyne (1992, 1993 and 1996 with St George), Michael Crocker (2003 and 2004 with the Roosters, 2008 with Melbourne), Steve Menzies (1995, 1997 and 2007 with Manly), Shannon Hegarty (2000, 2003 and 2004 with the Roosters), Ryan Cross (2000, 2003 and 2004 with the Roosters), Craig Wing (2000, 2003 and 2004 with the Roosters), Nathan Brown (1993 and 1996 with St George, 1999 with St George-Illawarra), Brad Mackay (1992 and 1993 with St George, 1999 with St George-Illawarra), Neil Tierney (1992 and 1996 with St George, 1997 with Manly), Scott Gourley (1992, 1993 and 1996 for St George) and Noel Goldthorpe (1992, 1993 and 1996 for St George) and equals Brad Fittler (1990 with Penrith, 2000, 2003 and 2004 with the Roosters), David Barnhill (1991 with Canberra, 1992, 1993 and 1996 with St George) and Craig Fitzgibbon (1999 with St George-Illawarra and 2000, 2003 and 2004 with the Roosters) as the most losing Grand Finalist of the last twenty years.

Australian Four Nation Team Thoughts: It is tough to make a mess of the Australian team considering the depth of talent available and Australia’s record of winning nearly everything when Ricky Stuart isn’t coach but there were a few dubious omissions and some even more questionable selections.

Due to the large number of injuries, six fresh faces were chosen who will all make their debuts if they play. Dean Young, Nate Myles and Matthew Scott all deserved their positions. All have had outstanding seasons. It is tough to fight with the selection of Todd Carney considering his Dally M Medal and his versatility though Jamie Soward completely outplayed him in the Grand Final and should have been given due consideration. Tom Learoyd-Lars and Chris Lawrence, however, can consider themselves extremely lucky with Learoyd-Lars chosen ahead of Mick Weyman and Kade Snowden and Lawrence clearly the pet project of Tim Sheens.

It was disappointing not to see Josh Dugan included ahead of Jarryd Hayne despite Dugan outplaying Hayne all year and Dugan being more than capable of playing on the wing.

Other questionable selections were Greg Bird, Anthony Watmough and Willie Tonga. It continues to defy belief that Bird and Watmough could be selected ahead of the likes of Anthony Laffranchi, Ashley Harrison, Chris Heighington or Nathan Hindmarsh while Willie Tonga’s selection is an utter mystery. There is no doubt a shortage of centres available but Tonga’s attitude should surely have counted against him.

It was also pleasing to see Cooper Cronk get the halfback gig. It was a close run thing between Prince and Cronk and it was pleasing to see the Storm’s salary cap scandal didn’t count against him.

NRL Betting Scandal: The day of doom, at least according to the text messages and emails implicating certain parties in the NRL betting scandal, has come and gone but that shouldn’t upset those who want the game clean and heads served on a platter. They will be on a platter soon enough and there could well be some big names with at least two internationals thought to be involved. The police investigation continues and the NRL will have no choice but to come down with a heavy hand. Casting no aspersions, there is at least one player alleged to have been involved that will almost never play rugby league again and certain parties from North Queensland might receive similar treatment. There are many who are arguing that the NRL deserves this for getting into bed with betting shops but that is as foolish as it is naïve. Betting on rugby league goes back as long as the game itself and was done with illegal SP’s and on the sly. Betting shops offer transparency and the NRL is right to have an agreement with them as it not only allows the NRL to cast an eye over matters like this but to get adequately compensated. It is the betting shops that have actually brought this to a head and it is the betting shops that will take down those involved. Issues should not be blurred. This is about a dodgy element fraudulently spot fixing in a football match not a discussion over the ills of betting on rugby league.

Rumour Mill: The rumour mill has gone into overdrive since the Dragons won the 2010 premiership suggesting Wayne Bennett is going to head home. It is believed both he and the Broncos would be interested in resuming their relationship with Bennett’s nemesis Bruno Cullen retiring at the end of the year. It has been mentioned that Bennett may take up a coaching director role at the club but he is more likely to push for the head coaching gig. Brisbane players have already put an end to speculation that Ricky Stuart may coach them with players threatening to walk out on the club if Stuart is appointed. Ivan Henjak is a lame duck and the only way he will survive this offseason is if the Broncos believe they are legitimate hopes of picking Bennett back up. There is talk that the QRL are attempting yet another power play with the independent commission, threatening to withdraw support if current ARL boss Colin Love is appointed as one of the commissioners. This might be a play they actually succeed on. There are a number of well connected people who are saying that Adam Blair will be a Bulldog next year.

Watch It: In the lead up to the Four Nations, we will look to international rugby league with From The Couch favourite and Papua New Guinea coach Stanley Gene dishing out an interview. Sadly, he doesn’t reveal his age. Watch it here.

Correspondence Corner: Wesley Smith this week wrote to me: “I must say that I pretty much agree with your top fifty. The only change I would make is sliding Michael Weyman up the list. He has been great for the Dragons this year. Earlier in the year I got stuck into your mate Soward for the poor run the Dragons were going through, but in hindsight at the time Michael Weyman was suspended, I think that seriously effected their go forward, and thus Soward and Hornby's impact on the games…Now, with the Four Nations approaching Nick, I am curious to know your view on the halfback situation, or selection criteria generally. Everyone will be calling on Scott Prince to be the halfback, and I have already heard these calls. Because his team made it deep into the finals there is always a tendency for players that are playing late in September to get the call up or be pushed for the call up. I don't agree with it. What has Cooper Cronk done wrong to get dropped from the team. Just because his team didn't play in September doesn't mean he should be dropped from the national team. And it doesn't mean that just because any other player that is playing late in September should be promoted. I'm a big Scott Prince fan don't get me wrong, I just don't agree with the culture of chopping and changing teams based on flavours of the month. Being a QLD'er you can probably see why I feel this way, I don't want the NSW selection criteria ruining the Australian team.”

First up Wes, you are right about Horse Weyman. He is a gun. But I think his Grand Final performance showed that they can win without him. And in terms of the halfback, see above. I am happy Cronk got the nod. I named Prince as the #1 player this year and he would have been deserving of a spot in the team but Cronk is the incumbent deputy to Thurston and his game sits better with Darren Lockyer than Scott Prince’s, who needs all the ball to go through him.

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