Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Round 12: Headlines

In light of the ongoing negotiations and bidding between the NRL and all commercial networks regarding the broadcast rights for the game over the next few years, this week’s Roast is in headline form.

South Sydney vs. Canberra – “Funny Bunnies struggle but thrash Raider Faders”

Over many years, South Sydney would sometimes produce a big effort when they were not expected to trouble the opposition, but on those rare occasions when they were heavily favoured to win a game, they would be far too complacent and lose.

Unfortunately, this is not the same old 50uff$, although for about 25 minutes on Friday night, they did their best to scare the long-time toothless. To be fair though, motivation was going to be difficult to summon. Canberra is rubbish and they were without serial geese Dugan and Ferguson. Meanwhile, Souths welcomed back Inglis and Taylor into their winning line-up.

Matters were not helped after several hilariously easy tries and Canberra responded with two easy tries of their own (the other try being amongst the top 5 in worst video refereeing decisions ever – how can a try be given without any evidence the ball was touched down?!?!). However, Souths started the second half strongly and thrashed the Raiders.

Melbourne v. Brisbane – “Storm surge thanks to Goose Griffin”

Melbourne almost never loses at home and even though they took a while to get going on Friday night, Brisbane’s brave effort fell way short in the end.

However one has to question the wisdom of Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin and his decision to rest some of his State of Origin players. In a code where any good idea is relentlessly copied, no other team has decided to rest players coming off an Origin game. While Civoniceva possibly had trouble with his Zimmer Frame on Thursday and Friday, there seemed no good reason to rest his other stars.

Speaking of backing up from Origin, it was only a few short years ago when the consensus seemed to be that backing up from Origin was easier on the Friday than the Saturday or the Sunday. What has changed since then? Surely it can’t be from Origin being faster or harder; Wednesday night’s game was slow as a wet week. Obviously the idea of the Origin weekend is now popular amongst players; hence, their story had to change regarding preferred day for backing-up.

Backing the campaign of the players is NRL windbag, guy-who-writes-for-the-Telegraph (not a journalist's backside) and king sh!t-stirrer Phil “Buzz” Rothfield. His campaign to talk down post-Origin weekends - whilst also talking down the game in general (so as to lessen the amount Fox must pay to re-acquire broadcast rights) reached idiotic heights in yesterday’s paper, where he declared the full-time siren in the Dragons-Eels game to be his highlight of the round, while his lowlight was the generally low skill level.

Coming off his failed, Bennett-led campaign to eradicate the wrestle out of the game, he’s back on a familiar old hobby horse; except for a few things: 1. the ‘bad’ games in round 12 contained few if any Origin players, 2. there were several well-played games featuring backing-up Origin players and 3. there were a host of bad games in the weeks leading up to Origin. Apart from these, his theory was brilliant!!!

(PS - Buzz is on about 'No Sunday footy in Sydney!!!!' today. Times are tough for this fraud - he's used three of his favourite targets in less than a few weeks. Look for 'Brian Smith on the outer' or 'Suburban Footy costing crowds' very soon.....)

Newcastle v. Gold Coast – “Titans the Toast of the Coast; Knights Most Gracious Hosts”

Newcastle started fairly well against the Titans on Saturday night, scoring first to take an early lead. However, after the Gold Coast fought back mid-way through the first half, the Knights’ response was pitiful. Willie Mason had another solid outing, but you know you’re struggling when 32-year old Willie Mason is your best forward (by some distance).

The Gold Coast dominated in the forwards while Scott Prince overcame yet another ‘injury’ to play and play well. The Titans are improving and may be a top-8 threat if their forwards continue to play well and their spine, much maligned at times, continues to surprise. Little known fact: since the end of Round 5, only three underdogs playing away from home have won – they’ve all been the Gold Coast.

St. George Illawarra v. Parramatta – “Dragons overcome Vid-tarded mistakes to beat Eels”

After two brave but ultimately unsuccessful efforts in the last two rounds, the injury-hit Dragons had a tricky game in Round 12 – the Eels were surely due to put in a much better effort. Parramatta started strongly, taking an early lead and looked the better team for much of the game.

The Dragons were resilient and may have made a better contest of this earlier on were it for not a host of pathetic plays from winger Daniel Vidot. Poor offloads and clumsy catches littered his Vid-tarded effort. It was significant to note that Kyle Stanley ignored the unmarked Vidot on his game-winning try.

(It was also quite funny on this play that Chris Sandow-now attempted a shoulder charge as Stanley ran towards the line and that Jarryd Hayne chucked a big tanty and kicked the ball into Carlton Public School after Stanley put the ball down).

But the chief Vidiot of the night was Fox Sports commentator Laurie Daley – he of the ‘uge effort’ and ‘getting his football team back into the football game’. After Hayne sent a general kick well across the dead ball line as the Eels held on to a lead with 15 minutes left, Daley reached deep within and came up with this gem, “Gee I hope Parramatta’s not playing to hold on to the lead here because I can tell you the Dragons won’t be playing to hold on, they’re playing to win”.


Penrith v. Manly – “General Grant leads Panthers to victory over Manly's Foran Legion”

(I know – Kieran Foran didn’t play again this week. I just wanted to use the Foran Legion headline before it was used in actual media).

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary (assisted, in all likelihood, by puppet master Phil Gould) has made some unpopular decisions in recent weeks. Taking the captaincy off Luke Lewis was perhaps the most bizarre yet. But his/their unorthodox motivational methods are working; Penrith was excellent in their ultimately comprehensive win over Manly.

The game was locked at nil-all until well in the first half before Penrith took the lead. Manly responded before half-time, but rarely got the ball in good attacking position after that. Penrith’s effort on both sides of the ball and across the park was simply too much for a beaten-up Manly, who were without Jason King, a fully-functioning Watmough and should have been without Steve Matai for the game’s final 15 or so minutes after his swinging-arm high-tackle which knocked out Danny Galea (how did the referees miss this tackle on first viewing???).

This game featured another hideous video refereeing blunder – Geoff Daniela’s late effort looked like someone trying to catch a greased-up eel rather than putting a ball down, but Penrith were deserving winners.

Wests Tigers v. North Queensland – “Tigers reaffirm quality, excitement, non-Feral edge over Cowbores”

Buzz Rothfield obviously wrote his piece for yesterday’s paper without watching this game; it was one of the better games of the season so far, despite having five players returning from Origin.

The Tigers led for most of the game but they seemed to score from opportune plays and some luck while the Cowbores’ scoring plays came after strong lead-up play.

Ultimately, the Tigers succeeded with two late tries but it was a highly entertaining game. Benji Marshall and James Tamou enjoyed a first half fisticuffs and a second half sprint (with each contest won by the guy most would have thought to be least likely to win), Tamou had another sprint downfield (with a left-foot side-step thrown in) before a Cowbores try, a correctly disallowed Cowbores try saw the normally reserved Brent Tate fire up at the referees, Matt Utai shocked everyone with a smart attacking kick late in the game and debutant Curtis Sironen looked like he’d been playing first grade for three years.

Perhaps the funniest series of plays on Sunday afternoon were the kick-off blunders by the Tigers. Tim LOLtzen first kicked off across the dead-ball line then Blake Ayshford misjudged the next four or five kick-offs received. It brought back memories of the corresponding fixture between these teams in 2005, when a towering Pat Richards kick-off hit the post and rebounded back to the Tigers, who scored soon after.

(To be fair, there wasn’t much similarity between the plays; it’s just good to recount examples of Tigers dominance over the hated Cowbores).

Sydney Roosters v. Canterbury – “Benny Barba and his 40 saves: Dogs take their chances; Roosters squander theirs”

It was a somewhat bizarre game to finish Round 11, with the Roosters again looking very strong for much of the game (as they have for long periods of games since ANZAC Day) but ending up being well beaten by the Bulldogs.

In short, the Bulldogs took a high percentage of their opportunities while the Roosters failed to take enough of theirs. After leading 12-4, the Roosters had significant attacking field position through to the end of the first half and over the first 15 minutes of the second half but, through some poor late-tackle options, some bad luck and some Ben Barba brilliance, could not convert any of these into points.

The Bulldogs’ resilience and good fortune paid off after they scored; the Roosters were broken. An easy try to Stagg and salt in the wound from a length-of-the-field try to Wright finished the scoring.

The Tuesday Roast has long disliked the excessive adoration given to Ben Barba (who could forget the media cheer-leading for his basketball bounce try late last season?) but his two try saves tonight added to an ongoing body of work in this area: for once, he received praise that was not over-the-top.

Instead, the excess was heaped on to the Bulldogs in general and specifically to Bulldogs debutant Krisnan Inu. Last night was Inu’s 100th game in the NRL; he would have played maybe 30 of these better than he played last night (where he was quite good but nothing special). Yet the Fox commentators acted as if it was Inglis, Jordan, Ali and Bradman all at once. Warren Smith took the cake when he proclaimed Inu’s leaping catch and fluky pass as “one of the highlights of the season so far”. PUH-LEASE!

Then Inu was awarded man of the match despite missing a host of easy kicks at goal and doing very little for much of the game. It was not quite Lachlan Coote man-of-the-match material from 2008 but it was not far off. Big Sam Kasiano could feel hard done by after his excellent effort.

The Inu exuberance came in a barrage of Bulldogs praise. Smith again overstepped the mark when he claimed that the Bulldogs – Souths game in Round 13 would be “with the exception of the Storm, a match-up of the two form teams in the NRL”. Were the Bulldogs not well beaten by the Titans barely two weeks ago? Did they not feature in the Lame of the Year against Manly not long before? Smith is no doubt talking up an upcoming Fox game and talking to the biggest fan base in Sydney but such hot air must not be ignored.

See you next week.


Thursday, 24 May 2012

Round 11 – Disappointment and Interest

Rugby League is a game built on hard work, mateship but also clichés and buzzwords. Words used so often that their exact definition or initial meaning is lost but words which develop the versatility Ricky Stuart can only dream about.

Two of the biggest offenders here are disappointing (or disappointed or disappoints) and interesting. Here are some examples:

The Rabbitohs’ coach felt for his players, who dug deep to come away with nothing. “I’m extremely disappointed for the boys with the amount of effort they put in,” Maguire said.

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan says he is disappointed by the NRL club’s horror schedule during the State of Origin period, but is hopeful they can come out the other end a better team for it. “The only thing that disappoints me is that we don’t get a bye during that period,” Flanagan told AAP.

Steve Sharp, a former premiership winner who was at Parramatta Leagues Club when the entire squad stood on stage at Tuesday night’s meeting said he was embarrassed to be a former player of the club. “It was very disappointing. From my perspective, I was down the front and I could see the tension on some of the players’ faces. I was embarrassed to be an ex-Parramatta player.”

Does disappointing/ed mean sad, unfair or below expectations? Who knows?! How about interesting?

Western Australia Rugby League chief executive John Sackson said although his first preference was for a Perth team to gain entry on their own right, the prospect of a club relocating to Perth would still be welcomed. “Overall we want NRL back in this town,” Sackson said on Tuesday. “We want an NRL team here representing the state of Western Australia. It’s interesting what Gordie had to say about his belief in relocating (that Cronulla should relocate to Perth).”

Melbourne Storm centre and Queensland Origin representative Dane Nielsen has set himself a simple goal of playing consistent football in 2012. “I’m off contract at the end of the year. It’s an interesting time for me,” Nielsen said.

Catherine Harris, the only woman on the new Australian Rugby League Commission, recently recounted a previous role as trustee of the Sydney Cricket Ground, “I had to watch every sport but I just found rugby league more interesting,” she said.

Does interesting mean engaging to the watcher, time for the subject to get PAID or hilariously funny (as if we’d want that loser club relocating here)? Again, it’s impossible to tell.

Perhaps a review of Round 11 in the NRL highlighting some incidents that were disappointing or interesting may clear things up here.

Wests Tigers v. New Zealand

More than most in the NRL, the Tigers have a significant degree of stability amongst key players and how they play in certain situations. Their winning percentage at Leichhardt has remained high for many years but in recent times, they never look like thrashing an opponent at Leichhardt. Instead, they almost tease the opposition by looking flat and uninterested in the hope that the 4-game per season Leichhardt supporters will lift them to a comeback.

This happened again on Friday night. The Tigers started very slowly but the Warriors could only score 10 points in this time. A much improved second half saw the Tigers look the better side but victory was not sealed until the Tigers took advantage of a dubious advantage call where the ensuing scrum saw Tim Moltzen score the winning try.

Disappointing: Manu Vatuvei has long been one of the most inconsistent players in the NRL. He made some bruising metres in this game and helped set up the first try, but his insipid effort in picking up Sleau Ryan’s otherwise-harmless grubber kick gifted the Tigers their first try and started their comeback. Vatuvei’s best is great but if Matt Utai can reform his game and remove many of the mistakes, Vatuvei should be able to do the same.

Interesting: While there were two sets of brothers as team-mates in Round 11 – Ashton and Tariq Sims for North Queensland and Kieran and Liam Foran for Manly – there was also one married couple: Benji and Tim Marshall for the Tigers.

That is a little unkind; rumours continue to swirl that Tim Moltzen’s surely-tenuous position at the Tigers is a little safer than it should be due to his close friendship with Marshall. These rumours could only have strengthened early on in this game as Moltzen required new undies as the Warriors bombed him relentlessly. But his 60 metre run out of the in-goal from a well-placed kick and his nice move on the game-winning try showed he may have a future not in park football.

North Queensland v. Penrith

While this game was not necessarily of the highest calibre skills-wise, it was certainly an entertaining game with a number of tries and lead changes. North Queensland exhibited their improved depth in 2012 by taking the early lead. But Penrith looked untroubled by the emotional win just five days earlier as they stuck close with the Cowbores all game long.

A tragic injury to Tariq Sims was followed by Penrith scoring two tries to take a late lead but they were unable to hold on; Tariq’s brother Ashton took the batted-down cross-kick to win the game for the locals.

Disappointing: The injury to Sims was a badly-broken leg after a freak collision and took the air out of the game for a few minutes. However, Sims risked following in Luke O’Donnell’s thuggish footsteps when he delivered a forearm to Blake Austin’s throat in the second half. The silver lining to the injury for Sims is any suspension will now be almost meaningless but a stricter referee may have prevented his injury from ever happening.

Interesting: Tariq’s brother Ashton had an interesting night. He was frequently aggressive towards the opposition, more so than the norm, skating close to the disciplinary wind on many occasions. He then witnessed his brother exit the field on a medi-cab with a steely resolve before resuming his emotion-filled game. To top it off, he scored the match-winner and had the ball in the final seconds and was not quite sure how to celebrate.

Manly v. Sydney Roosters

While most games over the round were close, this game was played at the highest level, despite a number of high-profile absentees on Origin commitments. Manly was led by an inspired Anthony Watmough, but often looked overmatched by the Roosters who brought physicality and a very open style of play.

Manly responded to each burst of Rooster intensity/slick passing with strong defence/points. Their two-try burst either side of halftime suggested they’d be in front, one way or the other, when the final siren sounded, but this was a very good game. The Roosters have lost quite often lately but are becoming increasingly difficult to beat.

Disappointing: While much of the post-match attention focused on the video referee’s somewhat pedantic but probably correct ruling on the elbow by Brad Takairangi to disallow the try to Daniel Mortimer, there was no attention given to Anthony Watmough’s pathetic attempt at exaggerating contact in order to gain a penalty. He fell to the ground, holding his face or neck area but clearly looking at the referees and when no intervention looked likely, Watmough quickly got up and ran back in defence. Watmough’s adversary here and for much of the afternoon, Martin Kennedy, seemed to give Watmough a dismissive wave as their paths crossed again.

Interesting: No-one is suggesting that Liam Foran is as good a prospect as his brother Kieran but Liam played another solid game on Sunday. In particular, he showed the value of the simple yet effective attacking kicking game. Not every attacking kick has to be aimed within one centimetre of the dead-ball line or on the chest of a flying fullback making a precise run; just put it in space near the try-line and as long as there is a good chase, anything can happen. It’s not hard.

St George Illawarra v. South Sydney

Poor Saints had a tough task on Sunday – taking on one of the biggest packs in the NRL with almost their complete first-choice pack unavailable. However, as often happens in the NRL, the underdog fired up and Saints dominated the first 20 minutes, enjoying the majority of possession and jumping to a 12-nil lead.

Slowly but surely, Souths came back. They didn’t panic and as possession evened up, their forwards started to dominate the younger Saints pack. After halftime, Saints got their second wind and re-took the lead but again Souths came back and probably should have won inside the 80 minutes and in a more comfortable manner than they did.

Instead, there was a host of field-goal and penalty goal attempts before extra time and the eventual winner by the ultra-cool Adam Reynolds. Sandow might have knocked the field goal over – if he didn’t lose his marbles completely after falling behind early that is – but it would have been much too soon. The Tuesday Roast will lose a pillar of comedic value if Souths keep getting non-hilarious players in their team.

Disappointing: It was somewhat of a surprise that Saints didn’t knock a field goal over or score from an attacking cross kick given that Jamie Soward had the Great Wall of China pretty much blocking any chasers from pressuring his kick.

Granted, Saints have been using this tactic (where they get several big boppers to stand along side the man playing the ball who then block chasers) for years, but it seemed extraordinarily blatant yesterday and not just when Soward was spraying his field goal attempts late on.

The first half Soward cross kick which came after an injury time out gave Soward the chance to pretty much get his boppers to lie on top of one another and apply the cement! It couldn’t have been more deliberate, yet there was no suggestion of a penalty.

Interesting: The NRL put the kibosh on Canterbury’s James Graham’s attempts at ‘gamesmanship’ by outlawing his excessive Vaseline use, but sneakiness on the rugby league field still lives, as seen by Jake Marketo’s play on Sunday. Late in the first half, Marketo, whilst on the ground in the tackle as Souths attacked, sneakily ankle-tapped Issac Luke from an offside position, forcing Luke into error and avoiding a penalty. This is very hard to get away with in modern rugby league with two referees and cameras everywhere; well done Jake.

Canterbury v. Cronulla

The final club game of the first Origin-shortened round was a bit of a fizzer. The Bulldogs were clearly fired up after their poor performance against the Gold Coast last week but they were not at their best and Cronulla had several good opportunities to make a game of it in the first half. Unfortunately for the neutral, Cronulla stuffed them all up and the game was pretty much over by half time. The second half was little more than a kick around.

Disappointing: Cronulla’s Jeff Robson had enjoyed an excellent start to season 2012, but without Todd Carney to lead the attack for Cronulla, Robson had to do it on his own. Thing is, he didn’t really ‘do’ very much, certainly not successfully anyway. His butchering of a massive overlap in the first half was quite amazing to watch. It possibly should have been a penalty to Cronulla (although he likely took his advantage) but he didn’t even complain about this after he was tackled. To be fair, the tackle by Vaso Graham left him wondering what number that bus was and not whether he should have received a penalty.

Interesting: On yet another dull night game at ANZ Stadium, it was interesting to see two good match races in the first half. Early on, Ben Barba took off and looked set to score another length-of-the-field try but incredibly Colin Best caught up to him (even fighting through Josh Reynolds’ attempts to hold him out of the play). Then it was Best’s turn to be run down as the man once known as the Colin Best Express was stopped short of a long-distance try by Luke MacDougall.

New South Wales v. Queensland

After the goose of a Victorian Sports Minister accidentally referred to State of Origin as being between ‘Queensland and New Zealand’, acknowledged the NSW captain as ‘Paul Callen” and called it the “State of the Origin” (I bet he asks his kids to ‘look something up on the Google for me’), doubts were raised again as to the legitimacy of taking an Origin game to Melbourne.

Last night’s game would not have done the job of attracting people to the game in the most captive of potential markets. NSW had the desire and some potential game-breaker athletes but no rhythm, Queensland had combinations but looked sluggish and took their ‘just do enough to win’ maxim to new highs. The result was perhaps the worst Origin ever.

The terrible video referee decision which pretty much ended the game was, in some ways, what such a horrid game deserved and capped a dreadful night for the officials. The game’s first try was incorrectly allowed, there were a number of ‘club game’ penalties mixed with ‘Origin’ refereeing, the sin-binning of Jennings, while deserved, was over-the-top and deciding that Robbie Farah deliberately played at the ball with his foot was, quite simply, a baffling decision.

Disappointing: Queensland looked sloppy and looked underdone. Perhaps the flu knocked them around badly but they were a shadow of their normal selves. Luckily they had their combinations to fall back on which gave them three tries, as well as the idea which paid off very well to start push-and-shove in the first half when NSW was by far the better side.

On the NSW side, Jennings’ decision to run into what was little more than the line at a busy nightclub and throw an awkward punch was just stupid. The selection and then use of 14-year-old boy Jamie Buhrer was strange. He played 5 minutes, stumbled on his only run, threw the ball to Williams instead of a playmaker on a last-tackle play deep in attack then was replaced. Speaking of Williams, his size was a concern – to his cankles; the poor pass from Buhrer made Williams bend down awkwardly which inflamed his gout. Not a great night for the Manly bench players.

Interesting: The final siren rarely sounded sweeter to millions of viewers; finally that rubbish came to an end! It will be interesting to see whether Civoniceva will retire before being asked nicely to step aside. Petero was certainly not the only Queenslander to look underdone, but Petero probably wouldn’t have looked much better even if he had no flu symptoms. Queensland need some spark in the forwards and Petero, humble champion he is, needs to make way.

Finally, it was a rare moment of entertainment from last night when, after a strong tackle by Greg Bird took the player just past the horizontal line (which strictly meant a penalty), a NSW player asked rookie Origin referee Matt Cecchin “Is this your first Origin?”. Cecchin, like all referees, answered robotically but honestly but at the same time must have wondered if the referees really need to wear a functioning microphone at all times.

See you next week.


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Round 10 – Players That Only A Mother Can Love

The biggest story in the NRL this week – and quite possibly for some time – was the demotion of Penrith centre Michael Jennings to the current day version of reserve grade.

Jennings had not broken any team rules for off-field behaviour nor had he committed any illegalities or been accused of doing so. His offence was one that happens fairly often across the NRL but is rarely mentioned in public: Jennings simply wasn’t putting enough effort.

Usually, players such as Jennings would be given much more leeway for poor performances because of their superior talent level and the possibility that raising such a potentially volatile issue could prompt an ego-centric star player to want to leave the club.

While few players can get away with not putting enough effort in, coaches and players across the NRL rarely engage in public displays of highlighting any instances of poor performance. In the rare instances when this is done, it is almost done in a collective context (i.e. we were rubbish in defence today).

The far more common outcome is one where the offending player is spoken of in delicate terms, where great care is taken not to say anything that could possibly embarrass or disrespect.

This is not dissimilar to a mother’s blind love towards her children, where she will not hear of any suggestion that they have done wrong.

Here’s a look back at Round 10 in the NRL with the main offenders in each game being staunchly defended by their mothers.

Brisbane v. Manly – with thanks to Corey Parker’s mum

“Oh yes I know Corey missed a few shoots at the goal but bless him, he knew I accidentally traded him out of my Supercoach team this morning and he promised me he’d wouldn’t have one of his usual amazing games because of this. What a darling son!!”

Incredibly, the usually reliable Corey Parker missed four shots at goal on Friday night, all in a very similar way (to the left side). This was the first time a kicker missed four straight attempts on a Friday night since Lachlan Coote in his debut match for Penrith in 2008[1].

There were few other mistakes in a brilliantly played game where the winner was not going to be who played best, just who was lucky enough to be in front at the end of 80 minutes. After a slow start, Brisbane played an excellent attacking game, a combination of up-tempo with a victory for the most part in the battle of the forward packs.

But Manly stayed close enough and cashed in on relatively few attacking chances. Their go-to play with their right-side attack must be the most difficult to stop in the game today; teams know where Manly will go but are usually unable to stop them.

In the end, Manly’s Steve Matai made up for a tough night defending Corey Norman’s cross kicks with the line break which ultimately led to David Williams’ match-winning try.

Canterbury v. Gold Coast – with thanks to Bryson Goodwin’s mum

“What are you talking about? Bryson had an excellent game. He did the best he could given that everyone else in that so-called team was sh!t. It’s not his fault he had to do all the defending all the time. And if Steve Turner didn’t slip and do an owww-y then Bryson wouldn’t have to be trying to kick the goals. I told Des he’ll do it if he has to but he’s a much better team captain.”

This game, the second of the Suncorp Stadium double-header, was nowhere near as good as the first game but not as bad as some may have expected. A slow first-half, where the Bulldogs perhaps cruised a little, gave way to a livelier second half, where Gold Coast tries woke the Bulldogs from their slumber.

A Bulldogs comeback ensued but they had left themselves with too much to do; Gold Coast was the worthy winner in this one.

New Zealand v. Sydney Roosters – with thanks to Braith Anasta’s mum

“Braith’s such a good boy, he did that ad where he said all nice things about me, he dumped that b!tch Erin McNaught after she cheated on him and then he backed it up with an inspirational effort on Saturday night. I mostly loved his passion when speaking to that pathetic excuse for a human referee. He stood up for his mates and laid down the law! Then he deliberately missed those goals so as to challenge his team-mates to lift their game and they almost won!”

Both of these teams have improved markedly in recent weeks; not surprisingly, this game lived up to expectations. It was evenly fought for much of the time and while they were never out of contention, this one always had the feeling of a game the Warriors would win. But that didn’t mean any fall-off in the entertainment levels, with plenty of big hits, soaring, swirling bombs and athleticism on display.

The game ended on a somewhat sour note with the Roosters’ comeback coming to an abrupt halt after Anthony Minichiello was temporarily dazed in a (legal) tackle and played the ball much like Martin Bella tried to in the 1994 grand final. The game deserved a better finish, not the whinge-fest which started in the ensuing scrum and continued in the post-match media conference.

Newcastle v. North Queensland – with thanks to Darius Boyd’s grandmother

“I’m still so proud of Darius that he got so involved in last week’s game against the Roosters that his emotions got the better of him. He’s such a loyal boy, he’ll do anything that’s needed, he’ll for fight wars for…..ummmm”

“His team-mates?”

“Yes Wayne that’s right. Wayne Benson his coach. Wayne took him first off in his Toastmasters class in Brisbane many years ago now and how they’ve grown together! Not sure how he performed tonight but Darius sounded pretty positive but couldn’t elaborate, he had to go to the post-match function where he said he was going to get players’ player again!”

Newcastle’s Darius Boyd had perhaps his best game of the season against North Queensland on Saturday night – but his cry-baby display during last week’s game against the Roosters (which largely escaped attention until midway through last week) had to be brought to attention.

Newcastle as a team also had their best game in sometime here, but it was nowhere near good enough to match it with the Cowbores. The Cowbores always looked in control, even though the score remained tied into the second half, and eventually finished strongly for a comprehensive win.

Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett has never lost to Brian Smith in a grand final and obviously didn’t want to lose to him in the whingeing stakes (to divert attention from his team) on Saturday night. He launched a bizarre rant about players simulating injury in order to attract a penalty. While this topic is worthy of discussion, it barely featured in this game where his team was soundly beaten. Much like his rant about wrestling, Bennett is the master at picking at sores in the game, knowing the attention they inevitably receive will mean less on his struggling team.

Canberra v. Parramatta – with thanks to Chris Sandow’s mother

“Ah yeh Gday everyone oh hahaha d’ja see that how farking funny oh what a pissa, yeh umm so Chrissy played again this sarvo and CMON CMON get home you mongrel dog CMON THE 5 CMON THE 5!!! Oh crap, shuda gone the each-way, ok kids no food until next Thursday, you shouldn’t have let me have access to your accounts again haha suckers. Who are you? Oh yeh Chrissy that’s right, well his team had to play on Mothers Day, I told him to ask why couldn’t play in Sherby, it’s as a much of a sh!thole as Canberra is and oh yeh hang on mate, yeh two schooners of XXXX and I’ll have a burbi and coke as a wedge for the long walk back to the table cheers mate…..what do you mean I have to pay, just put it on my tab cheers so yeh Chrissy played against Canberra and he starred, he set up stacks of tries, scored one himself but they just lost apparently, I dunno I didn’t see the final score myself, 80 minutes apparently the game is, a bit long for me that is, I can only do 10 minutes at a time……unless I’m at the pokies, hang on, might be on to something here……SCORE!!!......yeh ok kids, I’ll collect in a sec…..gimme another…..just one more…..geez, you’d think you really need to eat or something!!!”

Chris Sandow is a very easy target at the moment (his last-minute attempted tackle on Jack Wighton was nothing short of pathetic) but the attention span of ALL players (not just Sandow-now) in this game was awful. Both teams have talent, as evidenced by passages of excellent attacking play, but the bursts of points surrendered during the game would not have been out of place in Toyota Cup (or in a bad Super League game 15 years ago).

You know it’s a bad game when Fox Sports mouthpiece and almost universal promoter Laurie Daley refers to the commitment of the teams as “atrocious”. He tried to be polite, initially calling the game “weird” (while colleague Matt Russell called it “remarkable”) but Wighton’s last try was the final straw for Daley.

Cronulla v. Melbourne – with thanks to Billy Slater’s mother

“Yes yes, I know William had to go in the sinners bin but he has done so well to control his anger. I think it comes from his father’s side, he has a horrible temper. He does two hours at home every day to control after he stamped out like a horse against John Skandalis’ face in 2006. I know it’s given him a voice that sounds like he’s inhaled helium, but really that’s a small price to pay. I was just disappointed Paul Gallen couldn’t play because people don’t notice Billy’s grubbiness when Gal is playing”

With both of these teams accumulating wins in recent weeks, this game was looming as a top-of-the-table clash. However, with Souths’ win over Cronulla on Monday, which looked to have been a physically taxing game but also resulted in an injury to Paul Gallen, the consensus opinion swung dramatically in favour of a Storm victory.

During the week, Gallen suggested he might be able to play but in his exclusive tipping preview for Round 10[2], Tuesday Roast believed Cronulla’s chances in this game were better if Gallen did not play. The reasoning here being that Cronulla would be more likely to be motivated to win if the consensus opinion was that they had little chance, while Melbourne would find it a little more difficult to get prepared for the game knowing Cronulla did not have Gallen in their team.

(That said; Tuesday Roast gave Cronulla no chance either way, based on the low chance they could play well after Souths bashed them on Monday).

Cronulla started well. Melbourne looked the better side, but Cronulla was right in the contest physically, which was really all they could hope to do. They were down 4 at half time, but lifted the pressure on Melbourne early in the second half and a Jeff Robson grubber into an empty in-goal area forced Slater to foul Robson off the ball and spend 10 in the bin.

The in-goal area was empty, but the kick looked long and Cooper Gronk was ahead of Robson – in other words, Slater’s act was incredibly stupid and unnecessary. There was an argument that the sin bin could be avoided but an act borne solely out of frustration deserved to be punished.

Still, Cronulla’s effort never really looked like amounting to points. Melbourne calmly defended their feeble attack, even with one less defender, until Jeremy Smith (Gallen Lite) had enough. Smith’s run from dummy half tied the game and Carney’s conversion gave Cronulla the lead for good.

Penrith v. St George Illawarra – with thanks to Mitch Rein’s mother

“You know it’s funny, I was watching the game with Bev Vidot and Bev’s son Darren was jumping around so much, I was quite impressed and told Bev so. It was also pretty good how he made it look like he was looking into the lights every time he dropped the ball when none were shining on him. Then Mitch put down a try and Saints almost won! He went very well young Mitch. I know he’s very keen to impress Mr. Hornby the captain and his big effort in tackling this guy saw Mr. Hornby give Mitch a big pat on the back! I gave Bev a big hug and cried at this point! Unfortunately I had to put coins in the meter and missed golden time but I assume Mitch kept playing well, he’s such a star!”

It was quite the battle in this game between Daniel Vidot and Mitch Rein as to which Dragon had the worst game. Vidot’s early blunders under the high ball were not as crucial after the Dragons’ late comeback, but while Rein scored the try which tied the game, he gave up two penalties late in regulation time (one of which led to Hornby pushing Rein in disgust) and botched a last-tackle play sandwiched in between. Penrith was very enthusiastic in this game, but they still are the least talented team in the NRL for some years, so they were unable to punish Rein’s errors.

Golden Point was decided by another penalty, with a quick Penrith play-the-ball forcing Trent Merrin to make the tackle while offside. A few plays later, Lachlan Coote hit the winning field goal.

It was good to see Penrith’s big-hearted effort rewarded and their decision in shaming their superstar to be vindicated, but it left a sour taste in the mouth for the Golden Child aka Coote to receive the Man of the Match award in this game[3]. Coote was solid, but Kevin Kingston has made the difference for Penrith after coming back last week, while Josh Mansour was excellent in only his second game. Also, Mansour didn’t try a field goal two minutes from full-time as Golden Child did which travelled about 35 millimetres and gave the Dragons excellent field position. The commentators glossed over this for the most part, of course.

One wonders what might have happened at Penrith if Tim Sheens rejoined the club as coach. With Teflon as coach and the Golden Child as star player, who would get the blame for poor form? One thing is for sure, Michael Jennings must be wondering how Coote can be such an ordinary player yet still be regarded so positively in Penrith’s abomination of a season. You’d imagine Jennings will be doing this wondering at another club next season, just like Michael Gordon and Jarrod Sammut, other victims of the Golden Child.

See you next week.

[1] I do not know if this is true; someone may have missed four straight kicks on a Friday night apart from Coote but I just wanted to bring up Coote’s train-wreck of a debut (which won him the greatest charity Man of the Match award in history) again.

[2] This was so exclusive in fact that no-one received it. In saying that, ‘preview’ does sound better than saying ‘hastily typed informal email’.

[3] Just as the man of the match award in his debut game was wrong. Quite amazing that footnote 1 and much of the Roast was written before last night’s game, yet life provides another example of this.


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Round 9 – Roast Not About Bl**dy NSW Origin Team

Ongoing discussion about the possible composition of the NSW Origin team has reached plague proportions, with every eligible player who shows any inkling of potential mentioned by inane media types as a chance of making the team. In the first of a four-part series (including mid-week editions), this week’s Roast will sort the wheat from the chaff and rate all 375 eligible players……

Ahem: nobody (with the possible exceptions of certain annoying News Ltd. journalists looking to attract website hits and sell papers) is interested in this.

Instead, this week’s Roast will get about as far away from Origin whilst still talking about the game itself: here are some interesting stats from each game in Round 9.

Parramatta v. Canterbury

Some were concerned coming into this game that Parramatta’s incredible 30-point outburst at the end of last Sunday’s game would feed into this game. This did happen – like last Sunday’s game, Parramatta looked very good for about 15 minutes. The rest of the time, the opposition walked all over them.

The Geigh-FL may be on to something here… – Friday’s game at Homebush attracted a crowd of over 28 thousand. Despite the pathetic form of the Eels, this is well above the capacity of Parramatta Stadium. Parramatta has shifted home games against the Bulldogs to the much-larger ANZ Stadium since 2008 and in only one of these games would the crowd have been able to fit into Parramatta Stadium. Given the rubbish form some Eels (and Bulldogs) teams have served up during this time, it indicates the strong level of support for these teams and their games need to be played at larger stadiums.

Ultimately, the same will be realised by many of Sydney’s other teams and the gradual shift towards the Melbourne AFL model (two major and one minor stadium/s for all teams) will be seen. However, there are some factors in Sydney which will extend and complicate this process (e.g. Shire and Manly residents not wanting to cross Tom Ugly’s/Captain Cook or Spit/Forestville Bridges (respectively)). But in the end, the money will talk (to all clubs).

North Queensland v. St George Illawarra

The combination of the Cowboys bouncing back from the poor start to their last game and the emotional come-down for the Dragons after their amazing comeback win on ANZAC Day meant this contest was only ever going to go one way. North Queensland halfback Feral Thurston again disgraced himself and the game of Rugby League with his second-half head-butting of Matt Prior’s forearm. Prior was certainly frustrated, but (rugby league cliché alert) “it’s not his go” (has it ever been anyone’s go? Ever?). Prior may ask out of the Dragons’ next trip to Townsville; in 2009, he cost the Dragons victory with a poor pass in the dying seconds.

Cowboys’ bounce-back-ability – Since the start of last season, the Cowboys now have an 11-2 win-loss record coming off a loss. This could be interpreted in several ways: they are good at establishing where they are not playing well and rectifying this quickly, or that they lose too many games for a team with such talent.

Long turnaround between games – This was one of three games in Round 9 where there was a difference of 3 or more days between the two teams’ turnaround between matches. Before this season, of the 58 games played since 2007 between teams with a 3-plus day difference in their turnaround (not including teams coming off a bye), it was 29-all.

But before Round 9, the 6 games in 2012 where one team had 3 or more days of rest compared to their opposition had all been won by the rested team. While the well-rested Melbourne and the Roosters won in Round 9, the Dragons became the first loser this season to have 3 or more days of rest greater than their opposition.

For some reason, teams with 9 days of rest (as the Dragons had) fare have fared rather poorly against teams on 6 days of rest (as the Cowboys had) since 2008. The 9 day-rested teams now have just a 9-14 win-loss record over the 6 day-rested teams during this time.

New Zealand v. Brisbane

After falling behind midway through the first half, the Warriors blitzed Brisbane with three tries to before halftime. Brisbane fought back, but Peter Wallace’s injury in the first half meant Brisbane’s last-tackle options were, to put it nicely, rubbish in the second half, hampering their comeback hopes.

Warriors’ dominance over Brisbane in Auckland – with this win, New Zealand has now won 8 of their last 11 games over Brisbane in Auckland. The Warriors weren’t quite as vicious in this game as they were in several famous wins over the more star-studded Broncos in the early 2000s, but they weren’t far off.

Gold Coast v. Wests Tigers

Gold Coast was equal or ahead of the Tigers until the game’s final play: a tough way to lose and they probably deserved much better. Wests were well off their game and took some time to show signs that they cared, let alone do something constructive.

Somehow the Tigers lucked their way into extra-time (which seemed highly unlikely after Benji Marshall screwed up yet another attacking opportunity when he encouraged the almost-exhausted Murdoch-Masila to try and run another 30 metres after just having run 60) and a Gold Coast mistake early on gifted the Tigers the win.

Home Sick Home – after this loss, the Titans have now won 1 of their last THIRTEEN games. They had won 29 of their first 42 games at Skilled Park. At least they seem to have uncovered a new halfback in Aidan Sezer, who tormented the Tigers with an excellent kicking game. This means they could try and flog off Scott Prince in their asset sale. He is on the nose, but he has more than scrap value. Lote Tuqiri on the other hand…. stick a fork in him, he’s done.

Golden Point points – There have been 1752 NRL regular season games since the introduction of the golden point in 2003; 62 of these have now gone to golden point. That works out at one golden point game every 28 or so games. How many games had passed since the Tigers choked against Souths (i.e. the previous golden point game)? 28 – amazing! Get the house on Warriors v Storm in Round 13 to go beyond 80 minutes…

Also, Robbie “semi foinals!!!!!!!!!!!!” Farah became the 10th NRL player to win multiple golden point (regular season) games. He joins this elite club with others such as Jarrod Sammut and Chris Sandow-Now.

Penrith v. Melbourne

While Penrith probably have the least talent of any NRL team, they, unlike the Eels and Titans, are heading in the right direction. Led by the tireless Luke Lewis (who leads Penrith in runs, offloads, tackles and whinges), they put in a big effort against Melbourne. They still lost heavily but they were not embarrassed.

Home Sick Home Part 2 – this loss was Penrith’s 8th in a row at home – a club record. Still, it’s probably not as bad as their putrid run between August 2006 and July 2008, when they won 5, drew 1 and lost 16. That team had far more talent than this one does.

The way to beat the Storm: score more than 20 – Penrith had the right idea early on with their expansive attack looking many times better than it did in previous weeks. Still, they only managed 10 points. Under Craig Bellamy, Melbourne’s win-loss-draw record when keeping their opponent under 20 points or getting to 20 points first is 167 wins, 21 losses and 1 draw (for a win percentage of 88%). When Melbourne has conceded 20 points or not gotten to 20 points first against an opponent under Bellamy, their win-loss record is 2 wins and 55 losses (win percentage of 3.5%).

Manly v. Canberra

A decent-sized Manly win looked on the cards on Sunday, but Canberra, in spite of so many injuries, was surprisingly resilient and if not for some dubious refereeing decisions in the final 10 or so minutes, might have taken this game to extra time.

Manly held on for the win, but looked to really need the typically strong Brookvale Oval support. It seems that in their current injury-and-suspension-hit state, putting back-to-back games together is something of a reach.

Hard to bounce-back away from home – Canberra was looking for their second away win (after losing at home) this season, but (not including 2010) they had lost their previous 13 attempts at doing this dating back to 2007. Their record since 2007 in trying to win away after losing at home is 6 wins and 14 losses.

Any chance of revenge? – Canberra has had a few wins at Brookvale in recent years but many more losses. However, they have had very few chances to make life tough for Manly on a freezing cold night in Canberra. Manly again missed out on a game in Canberra in 2012; this makes only 2 of the past 7 seasons where Manly has played Canberra in Canberra (with one of these (2008) being a sunny Sunday afternoon).

Sydney Roosters v. Newcastle

The Roosters figured to be primed for a big game after having victory stolen from them late on by the Dragons on ANZAC Day. However, it took a while longer than many expected for this to eventuate; the short-handed Knights proved quite stubborn, although without Buderus and Gidley, they missing much of their guidance in attack and rarely looked like scoring.

50/50s – so much of Rugby League is about ‘50/50s’, be it difficult calls, the split of possession or the win-loss record of about half the teams in each year’s competition. Both the Knights and the Roosters came into this game with 50% win-loss records, Newcastle in a strict loss-win pattern (which continued with this game) while the Roosters would have done the same if they had beaten the Dragons. Why is rugby league so accepting of such mediocrity, such inconsistency?

Interestingly enough, the previous 12 games between these teams were split, 6 wins each.

South Sydney v. Cronulla

This was a cracking game to finish the round. Two big, physical but also skilful teams, with a bit of niggle thrown in and just enough mistakes to make it very entertaining. Fast, intense and exciting (even for the neutral supporter): everything the hype-fest, the ultimate letdown between the Bulldogs and Manly wasn’t. I apologise to ANZ Stadium; it turns out good games can be played there.

Despite the closeness throughout and their great effort even though they had some considerable obstacles in their way, this never really felt like a Cronulla win. Souths took an early lead and more importantly, won the early physical battle. Cronulla was unaccustomed to this and Paul Gallen’s Inner Grub almost emerged after over a year of lying dormant.

Ultimately, Gallen was able to contain his Inner Grub but went away from the best parts of his game a little too often and tried to do too much to help Cronulla come back. An injury ended a sour night for him.

Souths had a number of good players, including Burgess (back from injury) and Reynolds (who again wasn’t Chris Sandow-Now; Souths’ supporters couldn’t be happier), but Inglis starred. However, they never put Cronulla completely out of the game and Todd Carney was excellent in keeping Cronulla close.

Inglis dominance over Cronulla – Greg Inglis has now defeated Cronulla in all 6 games he’s played against them. It’s not quite up there with Dallas Johnson’s dominance over Canberra (15 wins and 0 losses) or Michael Crocker (who hasn’t lost to Parramatta since mid 2001) but it’s pretty good. Tonight’s 3-try, 1-assist and countless defensive play effort will give Cronulla supporters nightmares when the next Souths game nears.

See you next week.


Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Round 8 – Lame of the Year

After Des Hasler’s sensational departure from Manly only weeks after delivering the second premiership under his watch, all parties involved – not to mention numerous media outlets – waited anxiously to see when the match-up of Hasler’s new and old teams would take place.

It was to be Round 8. Even though this round contained the ANZAC Day clashes, the Canterbury-Manly clash was the one many supporters of the game would be waiting to see.

Media hype was noticeable; only a select few games in recent years (such as Willie Mason’s first game against the Bulldogs in 2008, several Manly-Melbourne games and perhaps the Parramatta-Melbourne game after Melbourne’s cheating was uncovered) have seen such attention.

Not surprisingly, Channel Nine was all over it, having the game as their game of the round, having Danny Weidler’s ugly head in shot of interviews with various parties in the lead-up and using the game as a vehicle for various egregious promotional pursuits even more so than the normal disgracefully high level.

When it became apparent the game was not going to be the spectacle many believed (or hoped) it would be, things became desperate and the Channel 9 commentators used every trick in the book to breathe excitement into what became one of the more boring games of recent times.

In this week’s Roast, here’s a closer look at the disappointment that was Canterbury versus Manly.

First though, some general comments about both teams and the game itself. Despite their solid start to the season, Canterbury is very much a work in progress. Hasler has pretty much inherited someone else’s team and indications are that he wants to remodel the team over coming years.

However, Hasler is certainly not about to give up on a season and has done a very good job at getting the most out of his marginally talented team.

The adjective ‘marginally’ is deserved if only because of the starting halfback for Canterbury at present: Kris Keating. Keating is, admittedly, the reserve halfback and only in first grade due to Trent Hodkinson’s unavailability, but Hodkinson would have to be pretty happy watching his replacement be generally unable to lead a team in attack, generally unable to put in any time of kick that worries the opposition and basically run around in circles when he gets the ball (ok, a slight exaggeration there).

Along side Keating is Josh Reynolds, who drew much praise on Friday night for…..trying hard as far as I can tell. If you only read one sentence of this Roast, read this: any game where a big-hearted but lightly-talented player like Reynolds comes very close to winning the Man of the Match Award is not a game worth watching.

Reynolds is the terrier amongst the Bulldogs, annoying the opposition, making the extra effort in chasing downfield, getting to the next tackle etc. Thing is he isn’t very good. No wonder Hasler wanted to pay a small fortune to get someone to play in Reynolds’ position for next season.

The praise flowed freely for Reynolds as he made some ankle taps and shouted at his team-mates and the crowd, but funnily enough there was no mention of his missed tackle on Brett Stewart which gifted Stewart an easy try at the start of the second half.

Similarly, much was made of the Canterbury forward pack and their tendency to pass the ball quite often before being tackled. It looked nice and this passing didn’t lead to any mistakes but it certainly didn’t worry the Manly defence, who had little trouble containing Canterbury.

A big part of this was probably that the Canterbury forwards’ passing game had very little variation. Manly’s forward pack and defensive line in general is solid but hardly has a reputation as being defensive masters; they are no Melbourne Storm. Yet, despite being well behind in terms of possession (especially in the first half), Manly’s defence was quite comfortable.

Then there’s Canterbury’s dummy half Michael Ennis, for whom much has been made of his injury battles. He hasn’t missed a game for Canterbury of late but continues to soldier on, arguably to the detriment of his team. The strengths of his game – intensity, kicking game, annoying the opposition – are all missing at present. At one point, Manly’s Anthony Watmough started chasing after Ennis following an Ennis tackle but couldn’t be bothered and gave up.

Despite these faults, Canterbury had the better of the forward battle and the field position battle in the first half and Manly rarely saw the better side of halfway. Manly is missing some size at present but they knew they needed something extra in this department and sent for George “Muffin Top” Rose. Despite Rose looking like he still had a few weeks of preseason training left, Rose ultimately played an important role in Manly getting the better of the forward battle.

In general, while it became obvious in the game’s later stages how much this game meant to Manly, it took them quite some time to play near their best. It is difficult to identify exactly what isn’t right with Manly. They have been dominated in stages of many games this season, but they have been quite resilient. Injuries to some big names have certainly played a part, as has a lack of depth, especially in the forwards. They were almost back at full strength in this game, but as is often the case when players return from injury, they are not quite at their best immediately.

While Manly’s collective effort was strong, individually some of their key players had moments to forget. Jamie Lyon botched a try and very nearly allowed a try when waiting far too long to dispose of the ball behind the dead ball line. Jason King, one of the smarter players (both on and off field) in the game, made a dumb decision to offload early on, which surrendered possession.

Another factor explaining the less than attractive display on Friday night was ANZ Stadium and the changing of the seasons. After unseasonably warm weather and mild nights for a few weeks in April, a cool snap last week meant this game was played on a slippery surface not dissimilar to what is often seen in winter. Also, the ANZ Stadium surface…. I don’t know what it is, but something makes it heavier and slower than other stadiums. Maybe it is the high number of games across various codes played there? Whatever it is, Friday night’s game just looked…slow.

When the makeup and the form of the two teams, as well as the conditions, are considered, it is not really surprising we saw the game we did on Friday night. The media had built it up to be Manly players full of hate against Hasler against Canterbury players full of love for Hasler and the fight over Hasler would be bitter and furious. This was never going to be the case, not in the era of professional rugby league anyway.

After the game’s first 10 minutes, which included a mistake from the kick-off and a long-distance Ben Barba try, things were progressing well enough for Channel Nine’s liking. Manly was under pressure early on and field position suggested Canterbury could have extended their lead.

Apart from a play where a well-judged cross-kick bounced the wrong way and prevented a try to Steve Turner, Canterbury never looked like scoring for the next hour or so. They followed their rules well though. The forwards ran strongly and passed before the line often. The outside backs made good metres from dummy half when required. They made few mistakes and conceded few penalties, giving Manly little opportunity for easy attacking possession.

Yet when it came time for a significant last-tackle play, Canterbury pretty much had nothing.

This, however, wasn’t the opinion of Channel Nine’s Phil Gould who believed that Manly “went through hell in the first half after Canterbury gave them all they could handle”. Gould’s rubbish at the start of the second half was merely the start of Channel Nine’s testing how flexible they could be with the truth.

This was seen again when Glenn Stewart dispossessed Canterbury’s Corey Payne after a solid tackle early in the second half. Payne saw Stewart moving up quickly in defence and took his eye off the ball, never catching it before coming into contact with Stewart. Stewart’s ensuing tackle was solid, but certainly was not worthy of the ecstatic reaction Gould gave it.

As the second half dragged on and the level of play (not to mention the scoreboard) did not change, Gould and Ray Warren felt obliged to pump things up a bit more. Both talked of what a ‘tough’ game that was being played, how these teams were ‘two of the best we have’ and then ‘how mouth-watering September will be’. As these hollow comments were being spoken, supporters were treated to highlights such as Reynolds missing the mark with his short attacking kick by several metres and Wolfman Williams dropping a relatively simple bomb.

After a Brett Stewart run where a yawning gap opened up (but Stewart ultimately squandered possession by forcing an unnecessary pass), Gould remarked how excited he was by Stewart’s turn of speed (which was not nearly as fast as it was before his many injuries, by the way).

Throw in Channel Nine’s in-game discussions (not five-second monologues) about Toyota, the Olympics and James someone-or-other, the Block and the Voice and you had a rather unsettling experience for everyone not supporting either of the two teams.

Hasler is well-known for his working the media in order to gain favours from various officialdom: it would not be surprising if his next aim is to free up the rules surrounding quick taps to restart play (both from penalties and 20-metre restarts). On perhaps three occasions in this game, Canterbury was prevented from taking a quick restart due to minor but correct rule breaches. With current focus on making rugby league more entertaining, Hasler’s likely campaign could gain traction within the NRL community.

The game ticked towards fifteen minutes to go and while many viewers wondered how it wasn’t already midnight, Gould’s rubbish producer was set to high when he remarked “There’s only 16 minutes to go, I can’t believe it, the game’s gone so fast!” A Reynolds 40-20 kick finally provided a reason for excitement and Gould took it with both hands, anointing Reynolds the best player on the field and screaming about Reynolds’ passion. Unfortunately, this was followed up by a dropped ball from Frank Pritchard (welcome to the game, Frank, such inconsistency and errors just isn’t the same without one of the best!)

By this stage the errors were combining, resulting in high entertainment. Jamie Lyon watched Ennis’ kick hoping for far too long that it would roll dead of its own accord. Bryson Goodwin reached the ball but was in absolutely no position to score a try. But according to Rabs, we were “watching two of the best in the comp”.

The game finally came to life in the dying minutes. George Rose’s sidestep (yes, you read that correctly) and offload set up Steve Matai before a short kick-off led to Jamie Lyon being further embarrassed on the win when Kris Keating chipped the ball past him to Bryson Goodwin for a try.

Finally, fittingly, a Canterbury mistake ensured Manly would get the win but the post-game stories telling of a thriller should be reported to the Press Council. This game, for the many reasons already discussed, was one of the worst seen on Channel Nine in prime time in non-pre-State of Origin rounds for many years and fully deserving of “Lame of the Year” status.

In other Round 8 action, ANZAC Day saw a cracker between St George Illawarra and the Roosters. The Roosters looked to have the better of this one before an incredible last 15 minutes which saw a host of amazing/controversial plays and a finish of two tries in 4 minutes for an incredible Dragons’ comeback win. The other game saw the Warriors again trouble Melbourne for an hour before three late tries saw Melbourne run away with this one.

The other Friday game saw Brisbane dominate the Titans in the first half, while on Saturday night, South Sydney dominated the Cowbores for the first 20 minutes. The Cowbores never really felt out of the game though and came back strongly in the second half, ultimately falling just short.

On Sunday, Cronulla recorded their best win of the season in thrashing Canberra. Their dominant forward play was, as always, present, but their attack was excellent; they scored more in the first half than in any game so far this season and in any game since Round 16 2011. In the other game, Wests Tigers were on their way to easily winning and holding another local rival to zero…until Parramatta scored five consolation tries. The Tigers won in a bizarre game.

The round ended last night as Penrith finally broke their point-scoring drought but Newcastle was still much too good. The Knights were so easily in control that they were able to rest Danny Buderus for the second half and pretend his ‘injury’ was bothering him. Either that or he has what will be a career-ending injury. One or the other.

See you next week.


Monday, 16 April 2012

Round 7 - 100 Years of Hate

Yesterday marked 100 years since the sinking of the much-vaunted passenger liner the RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage.

Few events in recent centuries resonate with people today as much as the Titanic’s sinking does. Its place in popular culture, in metaphor (perhaps only exceeded by anything ending in ‘Gate’ in terms of over and misuse in this area) and in general knowledge is almost unparalleled. A recent survey revealed that only Elvis, Hitler and LOL@50uff$ were more widely known 20th century phenomena.

However, any good feeling that was held towards the Titanic was obliterated upon the release of James Cameron’s three-hour-long extended-middle-finger to the general popularity of motion pictures. When this was combined with James Horner’s abomination of a soundtrack, you pretty much had the worst ever movie and song ever made. If both men approached the metaphorical blank canvas several hours after eating a particularly spicy curry, pulled down their pants and let fly, the outcome wouldn’t have been as bad. Certainly it would have been less time-consuming for footy-loving men dragged along to this movie or forced to endure a social occasion with the soundtrack as background music.

Supporters of Rugby League have their favourite players and teams, but they also have players, coaches, media personalities, administrators who they love to hate as much, if not more so, than anything in a DVD or CD with the word Titanic on it. To be honest, the hate probably sells more tickets, papers, pay television subscriptions and beers in a pub on a Friday night than the support.

As a tribute to one hundred years (plus seven) of hate in Rugby League (and fifteen years for the awful film), this week’s Roast has a look back at Round 7 and those in the game hated by so many.

St George Illawarra v. Newcastle

While Newcastle has had their moments this season and will likely develop into a team which can contend for the 2012 premiership, they were lucky to stay close to the Dragons for the second time this season. Unfortunately for anyone looking for any excitement, the Dragons’ excellent defence and inability to do much more with the ball than move it beyond half way and then kick it to Brighton Le Sands after getting an eight-point lead meant this game was rather boring.

“I’m the King of the World!” – Darius Boyd would probably earn the most hated selection of many from this game. Despite being part of some very good teams during his time in the NRL and in representative rugby league, his standoffish, anti-social attitude and complete lack of loyalty to anyone apart from his grandmother, Uncle Wayne and the green (not in that order) are major turnoffs for most rugby league supporters.

Newcastle’s Chris Houston would be close behind Boyd. On the field, Houston is an excellent player, capable of big hits, speed and power in defence and playing in multiple positions and for 80 minutes. But really, he is very lucky not to be representing the Long Bay XIII in the back-row with fellow drug-dealer Danny Wicks.

Brisbane v. Canberra

Canberra’s elusive search for consistency will continue for at least one more week after Brisbane – minus Peter Wallace and Ben “Shoulders” Te’o – easily defeated them in Friday’s other game. A highlight was Joel Thompson's swinging arm which missed its target and instead hit a teammate. Thompson was still put on report.

“My Hearrrrrt Willll Go Onnnnnnnnnnnnnnn” – It is tempting to nominate the entire Brisbane club (for benefiting so much more than other teams with the scheduling of matches) and possibly the entire Canberra player roster (for being coached by someone with the least talent but most job security in the game), but it’s even easier to just say Justin Hodges. Hodges is highly talented and remains one of the game’s best over a decade after making his debut but has led a charmed life, always finding himself on loaded teams and has rarely ever had to worry about his big mouth and bad attitude getting him into trouble on the field (since he starts conflicts then lets others fight for him). Honourable mention goes to Sam Thaiday for his consistent niggling tactics (not to mention his role in late 2008 in letting rugby league supporters know how large the toilets in Brisbane are).

Melbourne v. Canterbury

This was another tight, low-scoring game but not quite as tough to watch as the Dragons – Newcastle game. It wasn’t far off though; the Bulldogs were a committed and intense group in this game, but with Kris Keating at halfback, it was almost as if they were playing with one arm tied behind their back.

Still, Melbourne had to work harder than usual for this win and was somewhat fortunate not to be tied with the Bulldogs inside the last 20 minutes but for the unfortunate placement of the goal post pad stopping Josh Reynolds from scoring.

“I’m the King of the World!” – Canterbury coach Des Hasler has built his team in a similar way to the 2005 Manly team. He knows they are little chance competing with most teams in terms of skill and talent but hopes to win enough games by his players working harder and being more intense than their opponents. In the case of Josh Reynolds and Corey Payne, Hasler hopes to niggle and annoy opponents into worrying about Reynolds/Payne and not their game.

Reynolds has somehow made it to first grade with negligible talent hence his game basically revolves around being a pest. This backfired somewhat on Saturday when Reynolds snapped at similarly competitive Michael Ennis after a bad pass, but Reynolds also annoyed Billy Slater; anything that can be done to possibly take the brilliant Slater out of his game is a success. Payne is a weird player who combines intelligence and deft skills with an irrational tendency for conflict and starting fights in bizarre situations. Look for more of the same from Reynolds and Payne in 2012 until Hasler and the Bulldogs buy much better players.

(Of course, most people hate the Storm but that is a bit dated now, with the possible exception of Sika Manu and his ‘rolling pins’ and other tackles which push the boundaries of the rules. Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy would hope for Manu to tone down his act as the Storm search for their first premiership since 1999).

Manly v. Gold Coast

The under-strength Sea Eagles faced another challenge on Saturday night. They had to back up just five days after a strong win over Penrith and do the same again with no players coming off their lengthy injured list and against a struggling but very physical opponent looking to break a long losing streak.

The challenge proved too much; the Gold Coast Titans remarkably recorded their second win at Brookvale in three seasons.

“My Hearrrrrt Willll Go Onnnnnnnnnnnnnnn” – despite mellowing somewhat as he approaches (rugby league) old age, Steve Matai remains deeply unpopular with opposition supporters for his volatility and random bursts of aggression, but also that he plays for Manly (a fact that really shouldn’t contribute anymore since Manly are not rich, do not cheat and rarely receive anything that resembles favouritism from officialdom).

However, the other reason for Matai’s unpopularity was seen late on when howls of laughter were heard across the country after a gust of wind next to Nate Myles’ shoulder gently brushed Matai’s head. This zephyr supposedly inflamed Matai’s ‘ongoing’ ‘neck and shoulder’ ‘injury’. The far more likely scenario is that Matai thought he could play hurt and receive a penalty after the incident in question and had to continue to look injured until a decision was made. Clearly, though, Matai has cried wolf far too often; by this time, punters’ laughter became tears of hilarity as Matai’s play-acting went on almost as long as the Titanic.

Sydney Roosters v. North Queensland

The Cowbores’ pattern on loss-win-loss-win continued on Saturday night, although they would have been doing cartwheels when they heard the Roosters wanted to play them in hot and humid Darwin (instead of in Sydney). This made their task much easier (although everyone suffered in the conditions) and this game was over by half time.

“I’m the King of the World!” – This game featured long-time favourite hated player of the Tuesday Roast Johnathan “Feral” Thurston; so any discussion of hate must start with this vile human being. From his role at Coffs Harbour to his petulant and offensive (to all five senses) outbursts when things don’t go his way to his truly bizarre pre-goal kick rituals involving his headgear and facial tick, Feral Thurston, despite his obvious talents, remains a target of hate and will do so as long as he runs on to a field.

But the Roosters are usually well-represented in this department. The latest players here include Jared Waerea-Hargreaves-Enforcer (he might as well have a third name thanks to lazy media reporting but surely the likes of Peter Kelly, Paul Harragon and Shane Webcke would be having a laugh at how far the entry standards have dropped in this club) and Mitchell Pearce (not so much for any qualities of his, but more so that he seems to be a favourite of the media and representative selectors despite having about 3 good games since 2008).

New Zealand v. South Sydney

This was a high-scoring game, a feast of attacking rugby league. The Warriors don’t often lose these games although, for the most part, Souths played quite well, staying in the contest until the final 10 minutes. Warriors’ five-eighth James Maloney had an excellent game, setting up a number of tries and giving NSW State of Origin selectors much to consider (like a zillion other players apparently).

“My Hearrrrrt Willll Go Onnnnnnnnnnnnnnn” – Issac Luke is the easy answer here. Luke’s penchant for grubby, niggling play (including ‘cannonball’ tackles) and notoriety for exaggerating the tiniest amount of illegal contact make him one of the least popular players in the NRL.

Cronulla v. Parramatta

Some teams, no matter how poorly they are playing, always seem to play well against certain teams or at certain grounds. Parramatta almost always produces a strong performance at Toyota Stadium and did so again yesterday. Meanwhile Cronulla again played well; this was one of the more entertaining games of the season so far.

Parramatta’s forwards lifted to match Cronulla’s pack, while Jarryd Hayne had a hand in their three tries, scoring two and setting up another with an incredible flick pass. However, Cronulla held on for the win, thanks to some desperate defence and Parramatta giving away too many penalties and squandering numerous attacking chances in the second half.

“I’m the King of the World!” – If it was up to Nathan Hindmarsh, his answer would surely be Jeremy Smith, who enraged the Eels legend with a series of knees aimed his head in a tackle in the second yesterday. Hindmarsh’s response to the referee – “If he’s f**kin gonna knee me in the head again like that and f**kin carry on like a f**k-wit…..” – was both shocking and memorable (and joins the Parra players’ outbursts Hall of Fame with Tahu “The dog bit me!” and Riddell “See ya Fat Boy!!!!!” both from 2007).

However reports in yesterday’s papers suggest Smith is guilty of tactics no doubt learned at the Melbourne Storm in test match tackles against the Aussies in recent years (so much so the Aussie players refer to him as “The Grub”). Smith must be thankful for having Melbourne Storm players then Paul Gallen as team-mates over so many years (so his quiet personality means he avoids much scrutiny for these much-hated acts).

Penrith v. Wests Tigers

These teams have delivered some memorable games over the years, but yesterday’s game will not join them. Penrith doesn’t have much talent anyway but to lose their creative dummy half and speedy centre before the game meant they were always going to struggle. Wests scored early and jumped to a 12-nil lead and did little more than what they had to over the remainder of the game for an easy win.

“My Hearrrrrt Willll Go Onnnnnnnnnnnnnnn” – Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah attract more than their share of hate from opposition supporters and rightly so too. Marshall, once a prodigy, remains a highly inconsistent player not yet capable of deciding when to go for the big play and when to play conservatively. But he is the ultimate media hero, especially of Channel 9, who worships the ground he walks on. To rub salt into the wound for supporters, his “exclusive” story on Channel 9 news was nothing more than a shameless plug for his girlfriend’s TV show. Meanwhile, the thin-skinned, dour Farah has long since shed the happy-go-lucky personality of his first few seasons in the league. In its place is a surly figure that rarely smiles and is often angry (under the guise of being ‘motivated’).

But most supporters have increased their hate levels for Channel 9 this season due to the significant fall in quality of their Sunday rugby league shows and the replacement of the popular Andrew Voss with the right-wing shock-jock Ray Hadley. In addition, yesterday it was revealed that Channel 9’s recent announcement that they will now be showing games live in non Rugby League states on their GEM channel is in fact only a temporary measure; this will end on April 30th. It could have been secured for much longer, but the petty, bitter Channel 9 executives will not extend this initiative if they have not secured broadcast rights for 2013 and beyond. Channel 9 deserves Titanic-like hate for this pathetic ploy from rugby league supporters everywhere.

See you in two weeks.


Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Round 5 – Easter Eggs

Instead of a standard recap, this week’s Roast will take the form of eight generous helpings of Easter goodness – the annual Easter Eggs, designed to stimulate thought, encourage debate and…..who am I kidding, it’s just easier to do than a normal Roast. Enjoy, good tipping and see you next week.

‘Paul Gallen doesn’t travel to away games; the Earth rotates on his command’

Saturday’s twilight game saw another extraordinary performance from Paul Gallen, who again played the whole 80 minutes (mostly at prop) but also filled any number of other roles for Cronulla. Chuck Norris would have been proud (except Chuck Norris does not get proud, because he expects everything).

Gallen does have more help this year than at any time since 2008 but the salary cap and alcohol-fuelled cultures at other clubs have probably played a greater role than Gallen in driving the fortunes of this year’s team. Recent signings De Gois, Carney, Gibbs, Fifita, Graham, Best, Robson and Ross were all rejected by their previous clubs.

However, Gallen is without doubt the best big forward in the game at the moment. There is no one who could perform all the tasks with the excellence and consistency that he does.

'Jarryd Hayne: a million monkeys typing on a million typewriters STILL couldn’t explain him’

Jarryd Hayne is one of the most gifted athletes in the NRL but trying to understand what makes him tick is impossible. At times on Saturday night against Manly, Hayne was at his best, putting in maximum effort and able to do what he wanted when he wanted.

However, at most other times, he barely broke out of a jog and appeared to favour his recently hurt knee. But there seemed little pain or discomfort, merely efforts to emphasise the strapping around his knee and tell whoever was watching that he did have a sore knee and it might not yet be better (just in case he or the Eels had a bad game).

Such behaviour could be permitted on the soccer field (especially with a lazy, goal-poaching, egocentric striker) but is almost unheard of in rugby league, where constant collisions and impact require maximum effort and intensity from the moment you step on to the field. For most people anyway. Hayne’s limited effort was still better than most would have been, but you can understand the rumours suggesting his team-mates disapprove of his approach to performance.

‘More troubles on the home front’

Once again, it was another sub-par week for home teams, but even more tellingly, Penrith, the Gold Coast and Canberra all lost at home. For Penrith, this was their 6th home loss in a row – their worst run in 30 years. For Gold Coast, they have now won one of their last 11 at home, while Canberra has won only 4 of their last 15 at home.

However, even more incredibly for Canberra, they have only won 2 of their last 10 games at home as the favourite. In contrast, they have won 2 out of 5 as the underdog during this same time.

For the Tigers, they have several home grounds, but Sunday’s defeat to Souths was eerily similar to their last game at the same venue in last year’s semi-finals and also Souths’ late victory over them at the SCG in 2009.

‘Waerea-Hargreaves: Grade 3 Tissue Slapping’

In Saturday night’s Roosters v. Warriors game, Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves charged towards the attack. Warriors forward Ukuma Ta’ai saw JWH coming and stepped but JWH put a hand out and brushed Ta’ai’s face.

Ta’ai stopped in his tracks, slumped to the ground and waited for medical attention and the video referee to confirm JWH had in fact touched his stubble.

After Ta’ai’s play-acting, everyone involved did what was required of them (after all, no official is going to suggest play-acting with the possibility of legal action should this diagnosis be incorrect), but if the NRL does not introduce a system whereby players are punished somehow (in a post-match review of these incidents) then the game will suffer heavily.

‘The goalposts should be shifted – literally’

Sunday’s Gold Coast – Canterbury game featured the incredibly rare sight of TWO kick-offs rebounding off the goal posts.

Granted, this does not happen often, but is there one good reason why it should happen at all? In other words, why are the goal posts allowed to interfere with play, either from a kickoff, a kick in general play or as interference in attack or someone trying to escape from the in-goal area? The answer ‘Because it’s always been like that’ is not a good reason.

In the not too distant past, grounds (and specifically in-goal areas) of different sizes would have meant pushing the goal posts to the back of the in-goal area would have been awkward, but with new/upgraded stadia around the NRL, this should be little trouble. Put the posts on the dead ball line and take them out of play.

‘Benji Marshall is the best anyone has ever been at anything, ever’

The Wests Tigers gave a far better account of themselves on Sunday afternoon than they had in previous weeks, especially considering the injury to forward leader Gareth Ellis and the suspension of Robbie Farah.

However, the Channel 9 commentators had eyes for only one Tiger: Benji Marshall. Sure, he played a key role in what looked like being a Tigers win but the praise of what were not much more than run-of-the-mill plays for a half-decent playmaker was excessive, porcelain-bus drivingly so.

It is understood that media wants to promote stars of the game, but their praise is so widespread, appears for the most routine of plays while criticism or errors are ignored. Marshall led the Tigers to easily and unnecessarily surrender position just before Souths’ comeback started.

Meanwhile, for Ben Barba, another media darling, while his run out of the in-goal area on Sunday was impressive, the media missed his forward pass to Morris for the undeserved length-of-the-field try. There was also the cheerleading from all in the media of his basketball-bounce try late last season.

‘It’s all fun and games until somebody ambushes Robbie Farah in the eye’

The rugby league media also came under inspection again last week after Robbie Farah’s ‘interview’ with Matthew Johns. Johns asked some questions that would not normally be asked of a player in the media (unless that media member wanted to be ostracised by players) but the questions were entirely consistent with his previously stated views and those of many supporters.

Despite being made aware of the questions one hour in advance, Farah reacted tersely to John’s questions. There was the possibility that Farah’s outrage was staged but this seemed less likely after Farah complained of being ambushed soon after the interview on Twitter.

Farah is either trying too hard to seem upset or has the thinnest skin ever seen on a professional sportsman. But despite positive feedback to the interview, it seems unlikely that a show featuring NRL players would risk ongoing censure by the game and/or the players for asking questions other than ‘So mate, how’s things looking for the weekend, should be a hard game?’ For that, we are all poorer. Players are, for the most part, juiced-up sound-bite machines – who needs them? Just get some good opinions, preferably who have no relationship with players and let them loose.

‘Hindy, thanks for the memories and one from the archives on Saturday night’

Finally, it is the retirement at season’s end of Nathan Hindmarsh, the popular tackling machine of the Parramatta Eels. It is somewhat sad that he will retire without winning a premiership but that he will also retire probably having not lived up to his potential as a wide-running back-rower. Instead, due to lazy team-mates and poor recruiting, he often had to tackle for 3 and this became a habit.

This usually meant his tackles were rarely of the intensity of, say, a Tariq Sims but he inspired the Eels to a rare win on Saturday night with two bone-crunching tackles in the second half. It feels like a long time since Hindy has fired up in a way that hasn’t involved chasing down a speedy outside back (which is also good to watch but not quite the same as a big hit).

See you next week.