You Can’t Make Sponge Cake with Sour Cream: The Mid-Season NRL Review (Part 1)

Filed in Other by on December 5, 2010

There are some folk who always come through with the goods when you need them. Even when they don’t realise they are being so magnanimous. Mulling over some words for this weeks piece, fighting the fear of the blank page in unfamiliar surroundings, old Pops Tedeschi- a man of reserved wit and unparalleled generosity- came out with “you can’t make a sponge cake with sour cream”. Ah, very true O wise one. And it hit the nut of the problem right in the heart. They were the words I was after. I was off. He had summed up the divide between the contenders and the pretenders and all that was left was to plow through the teams and lay the Tedeschi Assessment on them.

Gold Coast Titans

Pre-Season Prediction: 16th
Best for 2007: Anthony Laffranchi, Luke Bailey, Mat Rogers
2007 Disappointments: Jake Webster
Current Prediction: 14th

There is little doubt that the Titans have performed better than expected by most and certainly better than forecast by your wrath-tending author. There have been some good early season victories, particularly grand wins over Brisbane and Parramatta. The Titans have been tough up front and have won the games they have because of hard punching forwards hitting the advantage line well and a tremendous work ethic from the pack as a whole, the stamp of coach John Cartwright. The Titans have, however, struggled to score points and halfback Scott Prince has really gone missing when the Titans have a game on the line. It is tough to win games when the number one shot-caller is off on the crack pipe when there is a game to be won. Injuries are starting to become a problem and the lack of depth will hit the Titans hard in the back half of the season.

Cronulla Sharks

Pre-Season Prediction: 15th
Best for 2007: Greg Bird, Paul Gallen, Luke Douglas
2007 Disappointments: Ben Ross
Current Prediction: 7th

The Sharks are another to surprise but their success looks to have a more sound foundation than the Titans good form. Ricky Stuart has built a sound defensive base at The Shire and Cronulla are winning games on the back of gritty determination and an ability to stop opponents scoring. Stuart has played to the strengths of his limited roster by channeling the aggression and energy in his team to provide positive results. The backrow for Cronulla has been outstanding this season and Brett Kimmorley looks rejuvenated. The soft prop Ben Ross has had his true colours revealed this season. The Sharks, being the Sharks, have no hope of winning it all but can consider a top eight finish a significant overachievement. With the Tigers, the major surprise packet of 2007.

Wests Tigers

Pre-Season Prediction: 14th
Best for 2007: Robbie Farah, Dean Collis, Chris Heighington, Todd Payten, Tim Sheens
2007 Disappointments: Benji Marshall
Current Prediction: 5th

Tim Sheens has proved once again why he is an ageless coach who will be regarded by history as one of the finest coaches the game has ever seen. After a bad and unlucky start with a roster who struggled throughout 2006 and with an injury to their biggest asset, Sheens has re-steeled the Tigers and turned them into a side that can win games. More, he has created a team that wins in a very entertaining manner with sweeping backline movements and ingeniuitive set plays. Robbie Farah has been simply outstanding this season, establishing himself as one of the games best creators. In three years time, he will be regarded as the best player in rugby league. The nameless forward pack has played with skill and strength and the backs are getting over the tryline. Expect the Tigers to stay in the eight for the remainder of 2007. A premiership, however, still looks beyond them.

Canberra Raiders

Pre-Season Prediction: 13th
Best for 2007: Alan Tongue, Lincoln Withers, Scott Logan, Adrian Purtell
2007 Disappointments: Todd Carney, Troy Thompson
Current Prediction: 10th

The Raiders have proven themselves to be a team suffering from a severe case of bi-polar disorder. In the brisk winter air of Bruce Stadium the Raiders are energetic, tough and a team that can run up a big score. On the road, the Raiders have turned in some performances reminiscent of South Sydney over the last decade. Still, the Raiders have won their share of games this year and have again made fools of the pundits who again rated them as wooden spoon material. And they have won amid the controversy of seeing Todd Carney’s off-field antics. The Raiders are again a genuine threat to any side at home but will continue to find road victories sparse. They will be hovering around the top eight but will probably just miss out.

Penrith Panthers

Pre-Season Prediction: 12th
Best for 2007: Peter Wallace, Luke Lewis, Luke Priddis
2007 Disappointments: Craig Gower, Rhys Wesser
Current Prediction: 13th

The Panthers have failed to shake their weak mental attitude to football under Matt Elliott and are sitting on the verge of a free fall at the moment, right the way down to the wooden spoon. Penrith, on their day, can flatten any team as they did against Manly two Friday’s ago. The problem for the Panthers and all their fans is that the Panthers are just as likely to turn in brainless and weak performances like they did against Souths. Penrith have no consistency about their game and their ability to win matches seems to be based solely on the attitude of their “stars” on any given day. Elliott, simply, has failed to kill the cancer that has been growing within the organisation in recent times. Offloading Joel Clinton could see things change in 2008, but the loss of Peter Wallace is damaging and may have repercussions this season if things start getting tough out west.

South Sydney Rabbitohs

Pre-Season Prediction: 11th
Best for 2007: Luke Stuart, Roy Asotasi, Peter Cusack
2007 Disappointments: Joe Williams, Jeremy Smith,
Current Prediction: 15th

The new South Sydney is heading for a remarkably similar result to the mediocre sides of the last twenty-odd years. The Bunnies are finding it very difficult to win after a dream start that was smashed by the Bulldogs in round four. But while they are not winning too often, this season’s Souths are not embarrassing themselves either. Jason Taylor has instilled a tough defensive attitude in the team and Souths are not leaking large amounts of points. The big Bunny forwards have been very good this season, led by captains Cusack and Asotasi. Where Souths are falling- and they are failing here miserably- is scoring points. A poor halves combination and some slow and thoughtless outside backs have made points a rarity at Redfern. Until Jason Taylor can sort out his pointscoring problems, the cardinal and myrtle will continue to taunt their fans with so-near-yet-so-far results.

New Zealand Warriors

Pre-Season Prediction: 10th
Best for 2007: Steve Price, Simon Mannering, Wade McKinnon
2007 Disappointments: Ruben Wiki, Louis Anderson, Manu Vatuvei, Jerome Ropati
Current Prediction: 12th

After a good start to 2007, the Warriors have gone completely off the rails. Through a combination of ill discipline and a failure to perform the fundamentals of the game competently, the Warriors have thrown away games they should have won and at times embarrassed themselves with shocking defensive and handling displays. They have proven that they can mix it with the best and this would be expected in a team led by the treacherous yet graceful Steve Price but the Warriors constantly under-perform. They get penalised, they leak points and they can become victims of momentum and the rub of the green. The Warriors will win a few games but again fail due to form lapses and a loss of focus.

St George Illawarra Dragons

Pre-Season Prediction: 9th
Best for 2007: Ben Creagh, Matt Cooper, Jamie Soward
2007 Disappointments: Matt Head, Dean Young, Danny Wicks, Ashton Sims
Current Prediction: 16th

The Dragons are a complete rabble at the moment and with a roster gutted by injury, the outlook is bleak for the Dragons. Their highly incompetent coach and the internal divisions pervading the Saints does nothing to help the situation. Losing the likes of Gasnier, Young, Hornby and Naiqama to injury will always have severe ramifications for a team but the fact that a plethora of talented youngsters have not been able to rise to the occasion is an indictment on the organisation. Nathan Brown has not only left his young guns unprepared but he devises game plans unsuited to his side and he has not been able to extract the best from his roster. The failure to stick with a halves combination is a further indictment on Brown.  Matthew Head has been a severe disappointment, promising young forwards like Corey Payne, Danny Wicks and Ashton Sims have failed to step up to the mark and the form of some older players like Ben Hornby and Wes Naiqama was less than impressive before injury hit. The Dragons look headed for the spoon.

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