Key Roosters playmaker signs new deal

Mitch Pearce

A favourite of many Sydney Roosters fans and perhaps the key to their finals hopes in 2017, it is cheering galore in Bondi tonight with the announcement that Mitchell Pearce has re-signed until the end of the 2019 season.

The new two-year extension is a welcome boost for the Roosters just days out from the start of the NRL season.

Still only 27, Pearce is set to play in his 11th season of NRL and staying at the club was a no-brainer.

“The Roosters mean a lot to me. The Club has been a big part of my life, and there’s been a lot of loyalty,” said Pearce.

“There’s such a good group of people at the Roosters and I’ve made some of my closest mates here. I’m proud to represent the Club, and I feel like I’ve got unfinished business,” he added.

I’m proud to represent the Club, and I feel like I’ve got unfinished business,” he added.

Just as pleased is coach Trent Robinson who knows how crucial the halfback is to the Roosters side.

“Mitch is a Rooster and this is his home, so its great news for our Members and everyone at the Club to know that he will continue to play his role with the Roosters in the coming years.”

English forward joins Titans as part of player swap

Joe Greenwood

With Zeb Taia headed to England as part of the player swap, Joe Greenwood is the man joining the Gold Coast Titans. Initially agreeing to a deal for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, the two teams came to an agreement about an immediate swap.

Whilst the St Helens side are disappointed to lose a promising player like Greenwood, they had no intention of standing in his way should he want a move.

“We wouldn’t want to stand in the way of any player wishing to ply their trade elsewhere and Joe has been given a good opportunity at the Gold Coast,” said St Helens coach, Kieron Cunningham.

“It’s always difficult to lose a homegrown player and personally I will be sad to see him leave. I’ve worked hard with Joe to develop his game and help him grow as a person – and he has done just that.

They are hopeful that one day later on in his career, Greenwood will opt to return to the English side.

“Hopefully, one day after a successful NRL career, he will pull on the Red V again,” he added.

As for the Titans, Chief Operating Officer Tony Mestrov is pleased to have it all done and dusted.

“We were excited about Joe joining us for seasons 2018 and 2019 but to be able to do a deal and have him at the club this season is a good result,” Mestrov said.

“He adds some size to our forward pack and will provide some good impact on the edges.

“Hopefully we can get him here relatively quickly and he will be pushing for an NRL start in the near future.

Veteran Titans back-rower signs with St Helens

Zeb Taia

In what will be a player swap – although the Joe Greenwood to the Gold Coast Titans transfer is yet to be confirmed by the Titans – Zeb Taia has headed in the direction, signing a deal with English side St Helens effective immediately.

The veteran back-rower signed a deal until the end of the 2019 season and has experienced at both the NRL level and the international level.

Initially making his debut for the Parramatta Eels, Taia then moved to the Newcastle Knights. Following that, he signed with Super League side, the Catalan Dragons, and became a different player whilst he was there.

Upon his return to the NRL, Taia signed with the Gold Coast Titans and enjoyed a successful 2016 season which, in the eyes of some, makes the decision to sell him even more interesting.

With more than 200 first-grade games to his name, that experience is what Saints coach Kieron Cunningham hopes to draw upon throughout the season.

“We’re delighted to have signed a player of Zeb’s calibre and he will bolster our squad immediately,” said the St Helens coach.He is powerful, possesses a great offload and like our other signings this season, will bring big game experience to the Saints.”

“He is powerful, possesses a great offload and like our other signings this season, will bring big game experience to the Saints.”

In the end, despite his departure from the Titans, the club applauded Taia’s efforts at the club.

“Zeb wanted to prove last season that he was still able to perform in the NRL and he certainly did that, playing in every game except the finals fixture,” Henry said.

“He was a regular mainstay in our starting 13 last season and he provided great leadership both on and off the field.

“I’d like to wish Zeb, Nikki and their young family all the best for the future. I’m sure he will be a strong addition to the St Helens playing roster.”

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 10: Melbourne Storm

A perennial powerhouse of the NRL for the better part of a decade, many have made the argument that the Melbourne Storm are the most consistent side during that period. As we look to 2017, however, there are some question marks around the team and the make-up of it. Will it affect them for better or for worse? Will their players adapt to shifting positions? 

Perhaps the major question on everyone’s lips is whether or not Billy Slater will actually start the season. The last 18 months for the entertaining fullback has been dogged with shoulder injuries and surgeries, obviously limiting both his time on the field and his time at training.
To the untrained eye, one might believe that because he is yet to feature in a trial game for the Storm, that it might mean he will miss the start of the season as he continues to recover. The NRL is a funny game, though, and if he and coach Craig Bellamy believe he can handle the rigours of the game once more, he may yet return for Rd 1. To find out, we will have to wait until team lists are released for Rd 1 which is a couple of weeks yet. Should he not play, you would expect that Cam Munster will continue in the role that he performed so well in last year.

With that in mind, though – and this brings us to the next point on the Storm – is that Cam Munster has been slated with a move to 5/8 for the 2016 season. A gifted runner and playmaker in his own right, many believe that Munster would make a seamless transition into the role and support elite halfback, Cooper Cronk. Of course, he is not the only option that is available to the club or coach Craig Bellamy. Gaining traction is young gun Brodie Croft who has impressed many with the effortless nature to which he has come into the first-grade arena via trials and the Auckland Nines.
Looking comfortable in the roles given to him, Croft has been slated as a starter for a while now and if he gets the nod, there will be no better halfback to play alongside to develop his game and nurture than Cooper Cronk.

Another interesting aspect of the Storm setup in the 2017 season is finding the direct replacement in the back-row for Kevin Proctor. The first name that springs to mind is Kenny Bromwich. Playing as the impact back-rower off the bench, he has made himself known as a solid player that runs hard and provides punch and power. With a chance now ahead of him to start and increase his minutes, he looms as the favourite to move into the role and based on his first-grade experience, you would expect him to get the nod.
One other surprising candidate whose name has emerged is Joe Stimson. Having come through the Storm ranks, he knows the expectations of the club and how he has to perform and to date, he has done that well. A key player in every team he has so far played in, he is a tremendous line-runner and is even a smokey for a bench role. Should his opportunity not come at the start of the season, it is just a matter of time before Stimson does get one and in the eyes of Storm fans, it will be just desserts.

In the end, you would expect, as usual, that the Storm will have a solid season and end up in the top four. Such is the nature of their side with the likes of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Jesse Bromwich, as well as the emergence of Cam Munster and other players, the Storm side is well equipped to deal with whatever might be thrown their way. With coach Craig Bellamy’s ability to extract the best out of his players, their consistency levels remain at a high and more often than not, they always find a way to win and perform.

Best buy: Signing mostly depth players, the one signing that stands out is that of Josh Addo-Carr. A tremendously pacey winger, Addo Carr is nicknamed ‘the Fox’ and has a chance to not only get an opportunity but to hold down the fort and retain that wing spot for many games to come. Tigers fans were disappointed to see him go and it was the Storm who acted the swiftest, knowing that they needed a winger to replace the equally impressive Marika Koroibete. Whilst a different player from the Fijian, they both have their own spark and x-factor that can help the Storm side moving forward and do something that they do well in rugby league – scoring points.

Best Young Talent: Patiently waiting his turn to make an impact in first-grade, Joe Stimson has a great opportunity to get a start at some point in 2017. Everywhere he has played, whether it is for the Storm’s Holden Cup side or for their feeder teams, he has performed consistently and the head honchos at the Storm have noticed.
There has been some talk that he might start the season but given the form and faith in Kenny Bromwich, Stimson may have to bide his time. A great line-runner, Stimson knows how to hit the gap and how to create the break to lead to a sound attacking play. Storm fans know how good he is and very soon, the entire NRL will as well.

2017 gains: Josh Addo-Carr, Jahrome Hughes, Ryley Jacks, Vincent Leuluai, Justin Olam & Brandon Smith.

Our predicted Storm line-up at full strength:

  1. Billy Slater
  2. Josh Addo-Carr
  3. Curtis Scott
  4. Will Chambers
  5. Suliasi Vunivalu
  6. Cam Munster
  7. Cooper Cronk
  8. Jesse Bromwich
  9. Cam Smith (C)
  10. Jordan McLean
  11. Kenny Bromwich
  12. Tohu Harris
  13. Dale Finucane

14. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
15. Tim Glasby
16. Christian Welch
17. Felise Kaufusi

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 9: Newcastle Knights

A team mired with off-field turmoil and poor results on the field – not from a lack of trying or being committed, though – the Newcastle Knights are well and truly a team rebuilding at present. In the eyes of many, however, they are slated to win a second successive wooden spoon.

The question must be asked, though, are they really that bad? Whilst they may not have the overall team to make the top eight, they do have heart, spirit and determination, due to the nature of coaching employed by Nathan Brown. A coach who enjoys rebuilding a team to get them up to his standards, a lot of the older, veteran players have departed, replaced by talented, upcoming youngsters. Whilst some of the youngsters have proved themselves more than others, the investment in them is the best part as they look to develop for the future.  Furthermore, is it a technique that usually works or does a team need enough experience to balance out their youth and to help them grow and develop.

The make-up of their halves will look different in light of the positive drug test by Jarrod Mullen. Whilst his experienced will be sorely missed, many Knights fans believe it could be a blessing in disguise as it will give one of their younger halves a chance to enjoy a prolonged period in the first-grade line-up. That likely player is Brock Lamb, a young half who is highly rated by Knights fans and has an astute knowledge of the game. Whilst Trent Hodkinson will steer the ship, Lamb’s role will be to control his side of the field and produce solid link-up play to his outside centres and wingers.

With a team that possesses so much youth, the key is to help bring them all together and produce methods to draw out their talents for the betterment of the team. Whilst they may take time to both gel and come into their own as young players, their own individual belief in their abilities and the way the coach perceives them and nurtures them will be the big challenge for the Knights young guns this season.
In the end, many are writing off the Knights and perhaps on form and their roster, part of that is justified. However, if rugby league has taught fans anything, it is that the game is unpredictable and the mix of the youth and experience plus a coach that has high expectations of his players, they will work hard, play hard and remain competitive.

Best buy: Needing experience and versatility desperate, an astute addition for the Knights will be Jamie Buhrer. A versatile second-row forward that can cover hooker and centre if need be, his style of play and solid defensive efforts are just what the doctor ordered for an inexperienced Knights forward pack. Impressive during his time at Manly, Knights fans will be hoping that he can emulate that type of success. He looms as a key player on the fringes for the club, as they look to rebuild and get themselves off the bottom of the ladder – by the expectations of many, at least.

Best Young Talent: With a spot in the halves up for grabs, one of the Knights talents that has a chance to prove his mettle and hold down a spot is young gun, Brock Lamb. A talented half that has had Knights fans raving for a few seasons now, he has excelled in the Holden Cup for the club. With a steeled half in Hodkinson by his side, Lamb has all the tools to provide the perfect foil for him and carve out his own path. If he performs strongly enough, the Knights may have found the half that they can build their side around moving forward.

2017 gains: Jamie Buhrer, Mitch Barnett, Jacob Gagan, Rory Kostjaysn, Ken Sio, Josh Starling & Joe Wardle.

Our predicted Knights line-up at full strength:

  1. Peter Mata’utia
  2. Ken Sio
  3. Dane Gagai
  4. Joe Wardle
  5. Nathan RossSa
  6. Brock Lamb
  7. Trent Hodkinson
  8. Daniel Saifiti
  9. Danny Levi
  10. Josh Starling
  11. Sione Mata’utia
  12. Jamie Buhrer
  13. Mitch Barnett

14. Rory Kostjaysn
15. Jacob Saifiti
16. Anthony Tupou
17. Sam Mataora

Storm’s Fijian flyer re-signs

Suliasi Vunivalu

When you think of Fijian flyers and the Melbourne Storm, you might be inclined to believe that it refers to the now departed Marika Koroibete. However, there is a new Fijian flyer in town and that is Suliasi Vunivalu.

Bursting onto the scene in Rd 7 of the 2016 season, he scored 23 tries in 23 games, a remarkable strike-rate. In those 23 tries, he scored four tries once, two hat-tricks and five doubles.

Moving to Melbourne after being spotted by the Storm recruitment staff playing in Auckland, he played in their U20’s team before moving to the Queensland Cup to play for the Storm’s feeder sides.

There was no hiding the excitement in re-signing Vunivalu by those involved with the Storm setup.

“We are thrilled to have Suli recommit to the Club for another season,” said the Storm’s Director of Football, Frank Ponissi.

“He had an outstanding 2016 for a player in his rookie NRL season – not only to finish as the competition’s leading try-scorer but to also play in our Grand Final side.

“Suli is a wonderful athlete and a smart player who is looking forward to the challenge of going into his second season with a focus on continuing to improve his game.”

Roosters utility signs new contract

Ryan Matterson

One of their unheralded players in the recent Auckland Nines success, Ryan Matterson’s NRL form has also been good enough for the club to make a decision to re-sign him until the end of the 2019 season.

The 22-year old joined the club from the Parramatta Eels and played mostly off the bench for the Tricolours, a team he is enjoying playing with.

“I’m really proud to be a Rooster. Since day one, everyone at the Club has made me feel at home, and this is where I want to build a career,” said Matterson.

“I know that there’s still a lot of improvement in me, and I’m looking forward to continuing to learn from Robbo and the coaches, and hopefully secure my opportunity to play some good football for the Club,” he added.

Head coach Trent Robinson praised Matterson’s work ethic on the field and his conduct off the field.

“Ryan’s energy and enthusiasm is contagious, and with his great work ethic, I have no doubt that he will only continue to grow over the coming seasons,” said Robinson.

“Away from football, Ryan is also a terrific person, so it’s great news for the Roosters to have secured his services for another couple of years,” he added.


Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 8: North Queensland Cowboys

A team regarded by many as their second favourite, the North Queensland Cowboys captured their elusive premiership in 2015 and are on the hunt for another. With virtually the same team at their disposal yet again, you can bet your house that they will challenge for the title once again. That task is always made more comforting when you have the world’s best half in Johnathan Thurston at your disposal.

As for their team, as mentioned above, there has been little change. The one major change, however, and a big talking point among the fans is the prop rotation. With the departure of James Tamou, a spot has opened up on the bench for a talented Cowboys youngster to cement it, make an impression and convince Paul Green that they are the man for the job. Whilst it looks likely that Scott Bolton will move into the now vacant starting role, the battle for the last couple of bench spots heats up.

Last year, John Asiata and Patrick Kaufusi were both in and out of first-grade and it is expected that they will be the two that battle it out for the vacant spot. Both hard running forwards in their own right, they have a big task ahead of them to fill the shoes of the impact off the bench that was Bolton. Not beyond them, the pre-season trials will be indicative of just how well accustomed they will be to making the next step. A smokey for the spot and one that is perhaps less talked about than the aforementioned to is Sam Hoare. A talented forward in his own right, his opportunities have been somewhat limited but not due to ability, rather injury. Fully fit, he now has the chance to make a claim of his own, as the Cowboys so desperately search for an impact forward.

Without question, the biggest talking point out of the Cowboys camp and among their fans and NRL fans in general is, what will the club do with Kalyn Ponga in season 2017? The NRL world knows that he is off to the Knights in 2018 but what to do in the meantime is the thought on everyone’s mind. His talent has been on display since he made his NRL debut in the back end of the finals series last year and again during the recent NRL Auckland Nines tournament. However, with Ponga stating that he is not expecting to start Rd 1 and coach Paul Green saying that Ponga will not be starting, just how much of the talented rookie will we see in season 2017?
Is it worth the Cowboys playing him and helping him to gain the match fitness and the game time, knowing full well that in 2018, he will no longer be with the club? With their side full of experience and set in stone, fans may want Ponga in the team regardless but at present, you would have to imagine that he will only play if there are injuries or suspensions.

With a team like the Cowboys, much of their chances for premiership success hinge on the success, form and consistency of star playmaker Johnathan Thurston. However, much like the success of their 2015 premiership win, they have the right amount of balance to make a serious tilt at the title once again.
We saw that determination through the likes of Jason Taumalolo, who enjoyed a career-best season last year that saw him as the joint winner of the Dally M Award and the Lock of the Year.
His form will have to be much the same and the others will have to step up and play their role if the Cowboys are to emulate their 2015 success.

Best Buy: The Cowboys have not recruited too many new players but the one standout as best buy on their list is Ben Hampton. A genuine utility, Hampton is a nifty, crafty player that had flashes of brilliance to produce good form. With a bench utility spot for grabs, it is a chance for Hampton to gain some consistent form and cement a spot in the side for the majority of the season. That seems a mere formality if the reported sides are to be believed but the selections come Rd 1 will be the ultimate factor, once Paul Green decides on the precise make-up of his squad.

Best Emerging Talent: To date, we have only seen him at Nines games and trials but it is just a matter of time before Gideon Gela-Mosby makes an NRL debut. A quick, pacey winger, aptly referred to as GGM, many Cowboys fans see him as the club’s future on the wing. A gifted player, he make the most of the opportunities he does get, illustrating his desire and love for the game and for the Cowboys club to try and earn that spot. Whilst the winger spots at the Cowboys are set in stone at present, should an injury arise, he may well be first cab off the rank in light of Ponga’s departure next season. He has been highly rated by Cowboys fans for the last few seasons, ever since he broke the Holden Cup record for most tries in a season.

2016 gains: Ben Hampton, Shane Wright & Corey Jensen.

Our predicted Cowboys line-up at full strength:

  1. Lachlan Coote
  2. Kyle Feldt
  3. Justin O’Neill
  4. Kane Linnett
  5. Antonio Winterstein
  6. Michael Morgan
  7. Johnathan Thurston (C)
  8. Matt Scott (C)
  9. Jake Granville
  10. Scott Bolton
  11. Gavin Cooper
  12. Ethan Lowe
  13. Jason Taumalolo

14. Ben Hampton
15. Coen Hess
16. Patrick Kaufusi
17. John Asiata

Young Dragons centre signs new deal

Euan Aitken

One of the club’s top centres and highly rated among the fans, the morning has started well for the St George Illawarra Dragons after they announced the re-signing of centre Euan Aitken.

Coming onto the scene and making an impact, Aitken has held down a spot at the Dragons club for a couple of seasons now and is a player that actively excites the fans.

The new deal will see Aitken remain at the club until the end of the 2020 season and in the end, it was an easy decision to stay for the Scottish international.

“The St George Illawarra Dragons have been a good club to me,” Aitken said.I’ve been here through all my junior years and come through the ranks to now first grade,” Aitken said.

“I’ve been here through all my junior years and come through the ranks to now first grade.

“It was an easy decision to re-sign for a further three years, I really enjoy it here and I really like the direction the Club is heading and I want to be a part of it”.

A Holden Cup representative at the Dragons, he has played in 45 NRL games to date and the club know how important a player he is to the make-up of their side.

“It’s always exciting when one of your own re-signs, especially a player and person like Euan,” said Dragons Director of Rugby League Pathways, Ian Millward.

“He’s only a young man who in two years has made his representative debut. He’s a player that everyone loves playing with and he’ll only improve.

“He’s also one of the fittest players in our club and a player who we see will lead the way in future years. We’re very excited for Euan.”

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 7: Parramatta Eels

Layered with turmoil on and off the field in 2016, the Eels will be looking to put that behind them and will be hoping for a change in fortunes in 2017. With star players out and about getting into trouble, the mass salary cap saga that implicated several administration employees and so much more, it was a year to forget for the Parramatta Eels, a club with a rich history and a proud brand. 

Whilst things may seem on the up and up in 2017, there are still some questions that remain over the make-up of their side as well as whether they can put the past behind them and focus on the goal that all clubs chase – premiership success.
As a club, the Eels have had their ups and downs in recent years and whilst they have possessed talent sides, many players have failed to live up to the expectations placed upon them and as a result, the Eels have missed out on finals footy for quite a number of seasons now.
As the 2017 season nears closer, fans are quietly optimistic that a top eight spot is within their reach. With Brad Arthur at the helm, a fair yet imposing presence as a coach, who wants the best out of his players and helps them achieve their on-field and off-field goals, the Eels are in a good position and fans have full faith in Arthur to deliver consistency, potential success and hopefully a finals berth.

A major talking point by many Eels fans and even rival fans is the make-up of their halves. Some believe that the Eels should have made a play for an elite halfback to play alongside Corey Norman but the Eels and coach Arthur had other ideas. Impressed with the performances of Clint Gutherson at five-eighth towards the back end of 2016, Arthur has made a decision to continue with him in the role with the aim to form a sound combination alongside Norman. Shifted around somewhat as a player in his Eels career, Gutherson found his home first at centre and then at five-eighth, and Eels fans will be hopeful that he can continue to perform in that role.

To follow on from that point is Corey Norman himself. Forced to take on the dominant half role after Kieran Foran was injured and had his off-field issues resulting in his departure, up until he himself was suspended for an off-field incident, he seemed to perform relatively well and control the game.
Though 2017 will be made tougher for him given that there is added pressure to perform. As the dominant half for the Eels in their setup, he will have to dictate terms, call the shots and become the focal point of the club’s attack on virtually every play, much like Thurston or Cronk are for their respective clubs. Dealing with such a burden is not something all players respond to but if Norman can harness that pressure and turn it into confidence and consistency, it could be just what the doctor ordered for the Eels.
Brad Arthur has put the faith in the duo to perform, the question is – can the duo of Gutherson and Norman justify their coaches faith in the halves.

Perhaps the player that is under the most pressure at the Eels in season 2017 is Bevan French. A technically gifted player, French as the finesse, the speed and the agile nature, that complements his individual style of play so well. As he prepares for a permanent move to fullback, though, how will the added expectation of playing there week in and week out and having the fans counting on you to perform affect his overall performance? Whilst he performed strongly in the final two games of the 2016 season at fullback, there was little pressure there. Fast forward to Rd 1, 2017, and there will be high hopes of him that he can perform and do so consistently.

With a new season in tow, the expectation on the Eels team as a whole is high. With a side that represents that in which coach Arthur wants and one that fans believe can go places, their form on the field is crucial if they are to challenge the top sides. In their own right, they have the personnel to perform well and coupled with their new signings and the existing players, they will be expected to be consistent and get the best out of each other.
Overcoming the numerous factors that stand in their way will be no easy feat but with Brad Arthur at the helm to draw the very best out of his players, you can bank on the Eels being competitive in games and pushing teams all the way.

Best buy: If his form at the Nines was anything to go by, the Eels and their fans will look forward to having Suaia Matagi at their disposal. Finishing up in the Auckland Nines team of the tournament, Matagi is a power runner in the forwards and constantly gets over the advantage line. Hard to stop on the frontline, he powers ahead and makes strong metres with each carry. Just the sort of forward that the Eels need, Matagi can be the perfect foil for metre-eating forwards such as Mannah and Moeroa.
Matagi’s style will punch inroads in the defence and create quicker play the balls and more opportunities for the attacking players to do their jobs. Eels fans expect a lot of Matagi and his form, at this stage, is exactly what they are expecting of him.

Best Young Talent: Compared to Tim Mannah by many, the Eels have a young prop that could make an impression if given opportunity in 2017 – Alex Twal. Whilst the club have strengthened their forward pack, the youngster is highly rated by coach Brad Arthur. Tall and lanky, he has the heart of a lion and a motor to boot, throwing himself at the defence in search of as many metres as possible. Whilst he might be a touch down the pecking order given the signings the Eels have made in the forwards, he will be closely watched by Arthur and his coaching staff as an option to consider if things get tough or if there  is nothing to play for in the season. For now, he bides his time with the Eels feeder club, Wentworthville. Though Eels fans will be watching him closely to see if he can perform well there as a prelude to what might see him earn a first-grade spot.

2017 gains: Kirisome Auva’a, Nathan Brown, Jamal Fogarty, Josh Hoffman, George Jennings, Suaia Matagi, Marata Niukore, Frank Pritchard, Will Smith & Siosaia Vave.

Our predicted Eels line-up at full-strength:

  1. Bevan French
  2. Semi Radradra
  3. Michael Jennings
  4. Brad Takairangi
  5. Josh Hoffman
  6. Clint Gutherson
  7. Corey Norman (C)
  8. Suaia Matagi
  9. Issac De Gois
  10. Tim Mannah
  11. Beau Scott
  12. Manu Ma’u
  13. Tepai Moeroa

14. Nathan Brown
15. Kenny Edwards
16. Siosaia Vave
17. Frank Pritchard

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