Tales of Truth: The 2007 NRL Preview (Part 1)

Filed in Other by on December 5, 2010

Sienna Miller is now my favourite actress, surpassing Uma Thurman and Scarlett Johansson and perhaps even Jenna Jamieson. Her open-mindedness and taste for fun are admirable qualities for a young starlet who may or may not have starred in a movie that I have seen. She walks the high tightrope of fame buzzing like a bumblebee and dreaming of Moby Dick on a bicycle calling down her sixes full of tens while Eight Miles High blasts loudly from every orifice of the speaker-cum-friend that sits next to her, yet she still stands high and she has no fear of the fall. She claims to be hardcore and who am I to disagree.

The reasons I found it necessary to put those words onto paper are unclear. It may have been simple pandering to my ever-expanding base of female and Hollywood-focused readers. It may have been the joy of witnessing the initial thrusts of Brian Burke boning Kevin Rudd and the federal Labor Party. It may have been the sleepless weekend of severe indulgence and Miller-esque fun. In the late hours of Tuesday that have overlapped with the early hours of Wednesday, it is a pondering too difficult to deal with.

And so much for all that.

And so much for pretty much everything else too because rugby league season is now upon us and with each passing hour of each passing day we draw ever-closer to the impending rugby league season and the smorgasbord of emotions it will bring. It leaves you more giddy than falling in love and takes you to heights that even the best friend of Charlie Cheese wouldn’t have reached.  The Greatest Game on Earth is back and even Zola couldn’t describe the flood of beauty and excitement which engulfs all true rugby league fans right now. Of course, by September, most of that white has turned to black and nearly all of that excitement has turned to frustration for a great deal of supporters. And come October this year, unless you're wearing blue and white and yell in the name of Canterbury, you will have already been doused by severe disappointment and bitterness will be your calling card.

My leg bounces uncontrollably with anticipation and the mind ticks over at such a rate thinking of heavy defence and big plusses and mind-bending commentary and field goals and video referees that sleep has become a most laborious task. Rugby league is back.

And now, a look at the clubs who will be more concerned with nudie runs and lowly publicized Cancun strip joints than rugby league action in September.

16th: Gold Coast Titans

Best: Luke Bailey, Anthony Laffranchi, Jake Webster
Overrated: Preston Campbell, Scott Prince
On the Up: Nathan Friend
Position Spread: 13th-16th

It will be a tough and unforgiving season for the fresh-faced Titans. Already damaged by some crucial off-season no-shows (Brian Carney, Steve Turner, Frank Puletua), the Titans are struggling for depth already and that will only become more of an issue as injuries and poor form wreak havoc with selection. Their one major positive is Luke Bailey. He is a true warrior and as tough as any player in the game. But after him, the playing roster falls away. The halves combination of Scott Prince and Preston Campbell is tremendously overrated by most and will be found out this season, Mat Rogers is much older now and will not be as explosive as he was when he left the game and the Titans forward pack is hardworking but lacking in star power. Combined with an unproven coach and an inexperienced administration, as well as a star-crossed history of rugby league in the area, expect the Titans to struggle for even seven wins.

15th: Cronulla Sharks

Best: Paul Gallen, David Simmons, Greg Bird
Overrated: Brett Kimmorley, Lance Thompson
On the Up: Craig Stapleton
Position Spread: 13th-16th

The Sharks are another team who are often marked by the term star-crossed. Perennial failures, however, would be a more accurate description. When the measure of success is premierships and you have none after nearly forty seasons, there are very few other terms applicable. And this season will be no different to any other since 1967. The Sharks look horrible this year and cannot possibly make the eight, having recruited no player of significant substance. They are a direction-less side with few genuine stars and even fewer hard workers. Ricky Stuart will be found out this season as the mug coach he actually is. Brett Kimmorley is a year older and a year slower and the rest of the side, with the exceptions of Paul Gallen, David Simmons and possibly Greg Bird, are just plodders. Anything outside the bottom four is a moral victory for the Sharks. But moral victories don’t fill trophy cabinets and the Sharks fans will again be howling come August, looking for heads and scapegoats.

14th: Wests Tigers

Best: Benji Marshall, Robbie Farah, Brett Hodgson
Overrated: Bryce Gibbs, Dene Halatau
On the Up: Chris Lawrence
Position Spread: 11th-14th

A colleague of mine, known to many but recognizable to few, has a penchant for using the term myth. As in, the Wests Tigers are a myth. And they are. With the benefit of hindsight and historical perspective, it still defies belief and logic that they managed to win it all in 2005. If one were to bet on whether the Tigers would repeat their amazing 2005 run this season or whether another 2006 abortion is on the cards, the heavy favourite would be the mess that was 2006. They are not big enough or talented enough to compete in the modern game and won’t be climbing too high up the competition ladder this season. There are a few exceptions; Benji Marshall is a delight to watch running a rugby league side and Brett Hodgson is as courageous as they come. But after that…the dark abyss. The Tigers will be mired in mediocrity for most of 2007.

13th: Canberra Raiders

Best: Alan Tongue, Troy Thompson, Todd Carney
Overrated: Colin Best, Matt Bickerstaff
On the Up: Willie Zillman
Position Spread: 11th-16th

The most maligned team in the NRL, the Raiders are free of expectation and pressure. Most have them pegged for the wooden spoon but those who have taken the shorts about it should be very worried as a bet against the Raiders shows a serious misunderstanding of the Raider ethos. The Raiders, as bad as they have looked on paper over the last half a decade, do not come last and to the contrary, often significantly over-achieve and sneak into the finals. While a playoff berth seems beyond them this season after the avalanche of senior players and coaches left the club at the end of 2006, expect a little something from a Raiders team who will play simple football and win a few games because of it. Alan Tongue, a red-haired footballing maestro with the bottle of a bear and the brain of an owl, will lead from the front and some clever young halves may produce enough to scare a few teams. The Raiders season will swing on how well rookie mentor Neil Henry does. Expect nothing great from the Raiders but expect more than the bookmakers are offering.

12th: Penrith Panthers

Best: Rhys Wesser, Frank Pritchard, Luke Priddis
Overrated: Joel Clinton, Luke Rooney
On the Up: Mattthew Cross
Position Spread: 9th-14th

On paper, the Panthers should have made the finals for the last five years. They are a side laced with big name players and genuine match winners. They have a backline chock full of size and speed and a forward pack that, when giving it all, can outmuscle any in the competition. But over the last half-decade, save for 2003 and some of 2004, the Panthers superstar forwards have dogged it and their outside backs have played like twelve year old school girls. For a team to fail with the likes of Wesser, Rooney, Lewis, Gower, Waterhouse, Priddis and Clinton is ordinary. For a team to consistently do so suggests systemic problems within the club. The one positive for Penrith is new coach Matt Elliott, who has a tendency to get the best out of his players. If he can, the Panthers can make the eight. If he can’t, and with the pre-season troubles that have haunted Penrith and the continuing drama over Craig Gower’s willingness to be a Panther, I am prepared to bet he can’t, then Penrith can mark 2007 as another year of mediocrity and underachievement.

11th: South Sydney Rabbitohs

Best: Roy Asotasi, David Faálogo, John Sutton
Overrated: David Kidwell, David Peachey
On the Up: Jeremy Smith
Position Spread: 10th-14th

Souths, I can say with some confidence for the first time in over fifteen seasons, will not come last. The new era has begun and with some heavy recruitment and a substantial makeover, the Bunnies look set to not come last. And that in itself will probably see 2007 marked as a success, for Souths fans- and probably justifiably so after such a run of complete and utter hopelessness- have a very different definition of the term positive season than most. Embittered Souths fans will get some joy from their men in red and green in 2007. The Bunnies have a tough forward pack, led by Roy Asotasi and Peter Cusack and will have a platform upon which they will be able to win games. Where the Bunnies are still weak is in the backline, where the defence looks brittle and individualism is the hallmark characteristic. The Rabbits also need to overcome their greatest hurdle-the culture and mentality of losing. When they can win the tight games, it is then they will be taken seriously.

10th: New Zealand Warriors

Best: Steven Price, Louis Anderson, Jerome Ropati
Overrated: Wade McKinnon, Manu Vatuvei
On the Up: Simon Mannering
Position Spread: 6th-14th

As always, the Warriors will be the most enigmatic side in the NRL this season. They will score some improbable and miraculous victories and will be humiliated and whipped by lowly cellar dwellers. That is how the Warriors have always rolled and that is how they seemingly always will. Tremendous skill with no discipline. Every year the same old story is rolled out about changing cultures and every year we get the same old Warriors. Nothing will change this season. After an awful start to 2006, the Warriors rallied late. This season, they have a lot more against them. They have lost two of their best in Brent Webb and Awen Guttenbeil and the young guns who came of age last season, Grant Rovelli and Simon Mannering, will not get away with the rookie freedom they did in 2006. Expect the Warriors to win a few games but as a semi-final proposition, they cannot be bet to be consistent enough to make it to September.

9th: St George Illawarra Dragons

Best: Ben Hornby, Dean Young, Matthew Head
Overrated: Jason Ryles, Wes Naiqama
On the Up: Danny Wicks
Position Spread: 5th-10th

Perennial under-achievers St George, for the first time this century, are not burdened by the weight of significant pre-season expectation. The loss of stars Trent Barrett, Luke Bailey and Shaun Timmins as well as quality youngsters Clint Greenshields, Aaron Gorrell and Daryl Millard has the Dragons looking short of experience and talent this season. And bookmakers and punters tend to agree. They still have the ability to sneak into the finals but that not-so-lofty goal has been made all the more difficult with the loss of Mark Gasnier for the year. They have lost a significant amount of firepower and that may prove costly. The Dragons are also short on the grunt this season with no Luke Bailey. Jason Ryles is now the front man of the pack and he is not in the same league as Bailey when it comes to quality and toughness. Expect an up-and-down year for the Dragons but come August, they will be well and truly proven as below the top-tier clubs.

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