Wired for League: The Mid-Season NRL Review (Part 2)

Filed in Other by on December 5, 2010

And so we continue. The path has been mapped, decisions have been made and all that is left to do is get the right words in the right order. For purposes of proper conveyance and The Edge, of course. It is important to exist in complete solitude at this time of year. Something like a week long hibernation to clear the mind for the wild ride ahead; the run home. It is time to find an abandoned fishing shack somewhere in the hills off a beaten dirt track and bring only red wine, an esky full of ham and onion sandwiches and all the rugby league information you need. Folders full of statistics, an armory of tapes, browned copies of Big League, the words and wisdom of your favourite analysts…

It is the only way. Any rugby league man will tell you that. It is the only way to make the nut, the only way to ensure success, the only way to get it right, as it were.

North Queensland Cowboys

Pre-Season Prediction: 8th
Best for 2007: Johnathan Thurston, Aaron Payne, Matt Bowen
2007 Disappointments: Carl Webb, Matthew Scott
Current Prediction:  11th

The Cowboys again started the season in fine form and have again faded throughout Origin season like a black dog in Death Valley. After some superb early season victories against the likes of Brisbane and Manly, led inevitably by the outstanding halfback J. Thurston, the Cowboys have capitulated in a manner similar to 2006. The last few weeks have seen the Cowboys leak an extraordinary 122 points and embarrass themselves on the national stage. The axe now looms large for coach Graham Murray and the Cowboys have fallen under the undesired heading “One Man Band”. And as talented as that one man is, he isn’t good enough to carry a team of slow outside backs who consistently miss tackles and forwards who rarely play to their best and don’t have particularly strong workrates. Even Matt Bowen, a maestro with the ball, has shown some appalling lack of ticker in defence. His cross field kick to Ben Smith when he opted against putting his body on the line is one example that comes to mind. The Cowboys have major cracks in their foundations and are in for a rough finale to the season.

Parramatta Eels

Pre-Season Prediction: 7th
Best for 2007: Nathan Hindmarsh, Nathan Cayless, Luke Burt, Jarryd Hayne
2007 Disappointments: Timana Tahu, Tim Smith, Brett Finch
Current Prediction:  4th

The Eels have come together better than expected this season with Michael Hagan silencing the critics that insisted it was Andrew Johns who had coached the Knights under Hagan’s tenure. At their best the Eels have been dominant this season. They have systematically dissected some opponents on the back of quality ball-playing and hard running by the big forward pack. Nathan Hindmarsh has again been exceptional, maintaining his high defensive standards while adding a new dimension with some quality attacking play. The backs have fired, mainly thanks to the natural ability of the three-quarter line and the intuition of Luke Burt, who has really lifted in 2007. The only disappointment to date for Eel fans has been their halves, who have struggled with consistency. Still, the Eels have enough ability to go deep into the finals before they inevitably blow it.

Sydney Roosters

Pre-Season Prediction: 6th
Best for 2007: Craig Wing, Craig Fitzgibbon, Danny Nutley, Mitchell Pearce
2007 Disappointments: Nate Myles, Anthony Tupou, Ashley Harrison
Current Prediction:  9th

The Roosters started the season off in appalling fashion with new coach, the legendary and iconic Chris Anderson, taking time to find his feet again and many of the stars the Roosters look to rely on not coming through for the Tri-Colours. The Roosters could not win a game and were copping a battering at every turn. The critics had the hammer out and were waving without abandon, hitting even club legends like Craig Fitzgibbon and Craig Wing. But the knockers did not have enough faith in the infinite footballing wisdom of Chris Anderson. He stuck through the tough times with a new halfback and now has potentially one of the best seven’s in the game. He has stuck firm to his belief a big pack wins games. And he has not backed down from making the tough calls, letting plenty of good players go. The Roosters are a team on the up and while they may have dug themselves into too bigger a hole, they will go close to making the eight. Key lock-forward Ashley Harrison needs to lift if the Roosters are to sneak in.

Newcastle Knights

Pre-Season Prediction: 5th
Best for 2007: Kurt Gidley, Danny Buderus, Adam Woolnough, Cory Patterson
2007 Disappointments: Andrew Johns, George Carmont, Josh Perry
Current Prediction:  8th

It has been a rough ride for the Knights in 2007 and it all started when they hired Brian Smith. He is no shrinking violet and he was always going to make his mark on the club, be it by pen or by pump-action shotgun. There was Andrew Johns lying motionless on the carpet after being on the receiving end of Sonny Bill Williams’ over-enthusiasm. Then there was the shock and the sadness of his retirement. Then there was Brian Smith telling a significant number of players to look elsewhere, “you’re all bums and you’re not wanted around these parts no more”, resulting in Clint Newton’s immediate departure. And there was the almighty massacre at Lang Park at the hands of the Brisbane Broncos. All the while the boardroom is split and the front office is in chaos. Yet the Knights have managed to win a few games and sit in the top eight. Kurt Gidley and Jarrod Mullen have taken it to the next level while young guns Cory Patterson, Matthew White and Luke Walsh are all showing they are first grade material. The Knights will win a few and lose a few and probably have enough quality players to sneak into the eight.

Manly Sea Eagles

Pre-Season Prediction: 4th
Best for 2007: Brett Stewart, Glenn Stewart, Anthony Watmough, Michael Monaghan
2007 Disappointments: Steve Menzies, Jamie Lyon, Jason King
Current Prediction:  2nd

The Eagles have been good throughout 2007, having lost only two games and they were two games that the Eagles should very nearly have won. Even after the retirement of Ben Kennedy and the mystery injury to local icon Steve Menzies, the Sea Eagles have managed to improve this season on what was a good 2006 platform. The Eagles forward pack has been outstanding with Watmough always a threat with the ball, Brent Kite making good yardage and workhorses Glenn Stewart and Luke Williamson making a ton of tackles. The backline has struggled at times and that is primarily a function of the on-and-off form of halfback Matt Orford. Jamie Lyon has been a major disappointment and Steve Bell has been quiet but much of this has been offset by the tryscoring abilities of Brett Stewart and the good finishing of Chris Hicks. The Eagles will be there come late September. Teams that base success on sound defensive structures and attitudes usually are.

Brisbane Broncos

Pre-Season Prediction: 3rd
Best for 2007: Karmichael Hunt, Petero Civoniceva, David Stagg, Corey Parker
2007 Disappointments: Shaun Berrigan, Shane Perry, Darren Lockyer
Current Prediction:  6th

The Brisbane Broncos are an enigma and have been for the last few seasons. When the Broncos are expected to win they lose. There was no better example of that than the horrifying 11-4 defeat against a near Premier League-strength Dragons outfit. And when they are written off and the rugby league world finally proclaims that this is the year the Broncos don’t make it, they come good. See last week’s courageous post-Origin win against the Bulldogs. They obviously have the talent to make another run at the title and the Bulldogs win did look like a turning point in the season. If Darren Lockyer can just get the backline moving and scoring tries, the Broncos will be fine. Never write off a champion. Critics have been hurt by the Broncos before. They still have a great roster and one of the finest mentors in the sport. Only off-field worries will stop Brisbane from at least making the finals.

Melbourne Storm

Pre-Season Prediction: 2nd
Best for 2007: Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith, Dallas Johnson, Billy Slater
2007 Disappointments: Brett White, Greg Inglis (and only because he is playing in six)
Current Prediction:  1st

The Melbourne Storm has been the dominant team throughout 2007 with massive depth in their roster and complete commitment on the field. The Storm has talented players not only in all the skill positions but across the entire park and that immense talent is realised on the scoreboard. The Storm are largely lauded for their skilful and explosive backline prowess- as they rightfully should- but the Storm win games due to their hard working and diversely skilled forward pack and the intense coaching regime of Craig Bellamy. Across the park, Bellamy has no weaknesses and even when injuries occur there is enough depth within the team to cover. The Storm will again be in the grand final and with last year still burning fresh, they will be dying for the chance to go one better. It is tough to find a harsh word against them.

Canterbury Bulldogs

Pre-Season Prediction: 1st
Best for 2007: Andrew Ryan, Luke Patten, Sonny Bill Williams, Hazem El Masri
2007 Disappointments: Daniel Holdsworth, Reni Maitua, Willie Tonga
Current Prediction:  3rd

Ye Gods, who knows where to start with this lot. It could end up the length of Ulysses or even The Town and the City if this were to be a full and complete essay on the failings at Belmore and the reasons for such severe underachievement this season. A poor defensive attitude, lack of focus and composure, a lack of speed out wide, some questionable tactical decisions, a high propensity to throw stupid passes, internal divisions between the board and the playing staff and some off-field incidents are some decent chapter blurbs. To start off with, at any rate. But it can all turn around. If the side as a whole adopts the attitude that Andrew Ryan, Luke Patten and Hazem El Masri have displayed all season then the Dogs have the talent to make a run at the Premiership. The whole season now rests with Steve Folkes. If he can steel the Dogs into the mental titans of the teams of yesteryear, he will be regarded as a saviour and can perhaps add to the silverware collection at Belmore. If he cannot, he will be fired and 2007 will be regarded as a year of calamity by those who call blue and white their colours. Call it blind faith, call it loyalty, call it goddamn Prickly Pete for all I care…the Dogs can still win it all. Never mind that. Once those forwards develop some toughness and unity, Boom Town, the Dogs are back.

That better be the nuts of it all. Society is calling and only God knows what breaks lie ahead.

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