NRL News on Saturday


As Andrew Johns continues to feature in headlines across the country, there is some Rugby League being played! Round 25 getting under-way last night and two upset victories set the scene for the final round of the NRL regular season.

The loss by the Wests Tigers puts an end to their 2007 campaign and the bizzare match in North Queensland eventually ending the Dogs hopes of a Top 4 finish.

What does it all mean for the NRL Top 8 outcome?

South Sydney are assured of their first finals berth since 1989. A long wait of 18 years for Rabbitohs fans as their time gets back into the big time.

The Brisbane Broncos are now assured of a Top 8 finals spot, the injury ravaged Broncos looked set to be bundled out this weekend with a hard game against the Eels in Sydney; however the Brisbane boys keep their record in tact – 16 years of consecutive finals appearances.

– With Newcastle winning, the Penrith Panthers must defeat the Warriors at CUA Stadium to avoid the wooden spoon. If the Warriors win, they can seal their own fate in the Top 4.

– If the Warriors lose and the Eels win, Parramatta can sneak into the Top 4 after a woeful run in the past few weeks.

NRL News

Wests Tigers in tatters after Knightmare

By John Chelsea

NRL Round 25, 2007
Newcastle Knights 26 def Wests Tigers 24

Tim Sheens described it as great entertainment for the fans, but it’s costing coaches and players their sanity. The unpredictable results of the NRL these days is simply amazing; the totally down and out Newcastle Knights somehow conjuring up a late charge to run down the Wests Tigers and derail the Tigers finals hopes. Possibly another candidate for upset of the year.

In reality it was a game of poor standards, dropped balls, penalties and limited free-flowing play. While the Wests Tigers held a 12 point lead with only 7 minutes to go, they never looked confident – missing a crucial field goal attempt and surrendering field position at critical times late in the game.

Benji Marshall was a hero and villain at the same time tonight for the Tigers – sparking some nice attacking raids, pinching a solo kick and chase try; but also leaking plenty of points down his ride side. Newcastle channeling plenty of traffic the way of Marshall and getting late success.

Newcastle were slugged heavily in the penalty count, at one stage the penalties running 2/1 against them. They also received some horror calls and did well to simply keep themselves in the contest.

The Tigers simply lacked the killer punch, they didn’t seem desperate enough in the dying stages and let the game slip away – with the toiling Knights fighting hard to avoid the wooden spoon.

With the scores locked and only seconds to go, a penalty against the Tigers gifted the Knights a shot at goal and a chance to win the game. The scenes of jubilation looking more like a team finals bound rather than a team hovering in the NRL cellar – weeks of controversy, tears and headlines all being forgotten as the players and coaching staff celebrated as one. The almost always super serious Brian Smith cracking a big smile as he embraced the players and forgotten man Kirk Reynoldson also joining in the celebrations as the Knights belted out their team song.

The Tigers will need to do some serious soul searching during the off-season. The talent of Benji Marshall is unquestioned, but without major improvements to his defence the Tigers will consistently leak points. The Tigers also see Ben Galea and Paul Whatuira move on to the UK Super League in 2008 and Wests will need to reinforce their shaky line. After reaching the heights of 2005, sadly the former premiers are yet to see NRL finals football again.

NRL News

Cowboys holster weapons too early

NRL Round 25, 2007
North Queensland Cowboys 38 def Canterbury Bulldogs 32

A big crowd packed into Dairy Farmers Stadium to farewell Paul Bowman tonight as the Cowboys hosted the Bulldogs. The visiting Bulldogs entering the game as hot favourites with the bookies as Willie Mason and Matt Utai returned for the Dogs just a week out from the semi’s.

Conditions were ideal in North Queensland, regardless of the fact it was a night game – the tropical climate ensured dry conditions and safer handling.

Early on however, both sides had difficulty holding the ball. Ben Roberts knocking on from the kick-off, then both teams trading errors as they struggled to settle down. The Cowboys testing the Dogs line on several occasions, with the Bulldogs shutting them out and counter attacking quickly.

After about 3 sets from the Cowboys in attack, it was obvious they were targetting Matt Utai on the edge – trying to draw him infield at every chance. It worked a treat on the second attempt, Jonathan Thurston sucking Utai in and setting up Ty Williams in the corner – the Cowboys winger touching down with virtually zero space to work in.

The Cowboys seized the momentum and were soon touching down again, another well worked play and successful kicking by Thurston allowing them to jump out to a 14 point lead. When the Dogs finally got some field position they started to threaten – however they bombed certain tries on several occasions, Ben Roberts and Brent Sherwin probably making the wrong decision on several occasions.

The Dogs did eventually get over the line, their attack trying to isolate Jonathan Thurtson – highlighting how the halfback will ‘rush’ and over commit to attackers coming on his left. The try from the Dogs was however scored through brute strength and repeat sets as opposed to the dangerous sweeping movements by the Cowboys when they were attacking.

The late first half try from the Cowboys gave them the upper-hand and the perfect finish to the first half. Buoyed by a massive and vocal home crowd it seemed the Cowboys could really skip away.

The second half initially proved just that, the Cowboys getting on a huge momentum roll and piling on the points. Similar to Melbourne against the Dogs last weekend, the Cowboys were killing the Bulldogs with quick play the balls and quick spreads to the edge – exposing the Bulldogs lack of speed in the centre of the field and even on the edges. When you consider the wingers for the Dogs – El Masri and Utai certainly aren’t the quickest men in the game and as the Cowboys got outside the likes of Tonga and Millard it was open season.

The Cowboys raced to a 20 point lead in the blink of an eye, Aaron Payne was dynamic and precise in his co-ordination from dummy half as the locals were treated to champagne entertainment in a stellar 25 minutes. With 20 minutes still remaining in the game, the Cowboys could have realistically reached 50, but within an instant it all changed.

Jonathan Thurston was benched by coach Graham Murray.

The single change saw the momentum turn in such a massive fashion, that I can’t recall a turn quite like it. As Thurston left the field, it was a signal for the Cowboys to clock off, the locals utterly falling apart and allowing the Bulldogs to run in 24 unanswered points in the space of 12 minutes.

The massive counter attack almost snaring the game for the Bulldogs in what would have been a record turnaround. However, all was not lost – with Canterbury saving what could have been a fatal points difference situation if they had of lost by 40+. The larger loss may have opened the door for another team to kick them out of the finals.

Regardless, the confidence will be leaking away from the Dogs as they lose their last two games and limp into the NRL finals. The Cowboys too will be disappointed with their closure of the game, proving they are simply a different team without Thurston.

Friday NRL News Pre-Game

The all important Round 25 kicks-off tonight with two bumper clashes – both critical for the outcome of the NRL Table and the Top 8 finish.

Game 1; North Queensland Cowboys v Canterbury Bulldogs
While being played in steamy Queensland conditions at Dairy Farmers Stadium, the Bulldogs are going into this game as the favourites. Rumours coming out of the Cowboys suggest they may rest some stars, as they are guaranteed 3rd spot on the NRL Table. The Bulldogs will be fired up despite the loss of Mark O’Meley and will look to make amends for the heavy loss last week. Bulldogs should win this one and set the scene nicely for their finals campaign.

Game 2; Wests Tigers v Newcastle Knights
The struggler’s of 2007 versus the most inconsistent side of 2007. If the Knights could somehow conjure up a win here; considering their horror year and now their king Andrew Johns admitting career long drug use – it would probably go close to the biggest upset of all time. The Wests Tigers have everything to play for and after last weeks slap in the face and a fitter Robbie Farah they should have the ammunition. If the Tigers get home, they face a long wait to watch other results.

NRL News

Johns drops career bombshell

“I took drugs during my 10 year League Career” – said Johns in an astounding live interview on the Channel 9 Footy Show tonight.

Interviewed by Channel 9 commentator Phil Gould, Andrew Johns spoke directly and at times nervously about his problem with recreational drugs and how it has been evident during his stellar 10 year career at the Newcastle Knights.

A clearly shocked Phil Gould continued his questioning as Andrew Johns revealed the seriousness of his habit. Johns agreeing that family, friends and his NRL club had an idea of what was happening behind the scenes.

An eerie silence hovered over the interview as the Footy Show crowd and Phil Gould struggled to comprehend the frank admissions by Andrew Johns.

Johns admitted to occasional mid-season recreational drug taking and at times feeling he may turn positive samples in. Citing a need to escape the pressure and constant demands on his life, Johns had used drugs and alcohol as his relief – at times to also combat bouts of depression and severe mood swings.

Tonights admission from Johns gives an insight to how tough things may have been at times for Newcastle with players and officials obviously feeling the wrath of Johns’ mood swings and possibly having some knowledge of Andrew’s personal problems.

Brother Matt Johns spoke briefly after the interview, and an emotional Matt Johns spoke of how he has known of Andrew’s problems and recklessness for some time. Holding back tears Matt Johns said how he first feared Andrew was dead when he received a late night call from the UK – former NRL star Brian Carney phoning Matt to explain the breaking headline about his brother and the drug possession.

The Johns family has obviously had plenty to deal with in private and maybe the public admission by Andrew may help them all beat the problems at hand.

While not escaping the blame, Andrew Johns was frank and apologetic throughout – explaining he is struggling with how to explain things to his young 7 year old son Samuel. Regardless of the crime, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Johns. While some many throw the book at him, its yet another example of how we are all flawed – his role as a high profile and extremely successful sportsman simply highlighting the example.

While Johns spoke of possibly helping juniors and other communities, warning of the dangers of drugs and his experiences – the only realistic long term option for Andrew Johns and his young family is to relocate to a place where they can escape the constant public scrutiny.

As NRL News mentioned earlier today, a move to somewhere such as the United States would allow Johns and his family to live out their lives in peace and deal with their issues away from the prying eyes of the media and fanatical fans.

Joey caught with pill in pouch

By Karina Lee

Former Newcastle Knights star and Rugby League icon Andrew Johns has been busted for drug possession in the UK. Andrew ‘Joey’ John’s was given an official caution by arresting police offers in the UK shortly after leaving an all day club believed to be The Church, the former halfback was found to have a single potion of the drug ecstasy in his pocket when police searched him. Andrew Johns claiming the ecstasy tablet was planted on him by an unknown source.

While certainly an embarrassing incident for Andrew Johns, his family and supporters. The Joey drug bust has certainly helped his former club the Newcastle Knights. With the Joey drug bust story breaking across all major Australian media outlets in the last 24 hours – Andrew Johns has singled handedly pushed his embattled Newcastle Knights club out of the news.

Brian Smith and the Knights board will be privately counting their blessings as they finally get a rest from the daily media tirade leveled at them and Kirk Reynoldson in the past month. The Andrew Johns drug bust taking plenty of heat off the Knights in the media as Joey hits the front pages for his drug possession.

For Andrew Johns, getting caught in possession of drugs in the UK – simply reminds him again of the power of his profile. The former Australian halfback seems to now crave a life with more privacy, but he simply won’t achieve that unless he moves to a location where Rugby League is an unknown word. While Russia and Alaska might be good options and nice at this time of year – Joey Johns might be better suited heading for the USA, a location where he can enjoy a life out of the spotlight and have a decent quality of life.

Melbourne Storm change finals approach

By John Chelsea

Leading Melbourne Storm players Billy Slater and Matt King have tonight explained how the Melbourne Storm are taking a different approach to this years NRL Finals and more specifically the NRL Grand Final in 2007.

After doing everything right in 2006 except winning the big one, Slater and King discussed how coach Craig Bellamy is keen to urge the players to enjoy and soak up the atmosphere much more this year. While cautious of the Storm taking a ‘carefree’ approach to the finals, Bellamy may be aiming to take away some of the nerves from the Storm game and try to keep the Melbourne style as near as possible to their regular season form. Slater also mentioned the lack of Grand Final build-up in Melbourne may see the Storm relocate to Sydney several days before the Grand Final to feel part of the event.

The Storm are sure to have learned from their single mistake last year and barring some serious injury or bad luck in the next 2 or 3 weeks – they are sure things to be competing in the big one.

Why Souths are winning off-field too

 

South Side Story episode 4 aired last night on the ABC at 8pm. For those that haven’t seen South Side Story yet – it is a 6 part series providing a true behind the scenes look at the South Sydney Rabbitohs since they were purchased by Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court last year. Tracking their off-field progress as well as their 2007 assault on the NRL premiership.

We have mentioned South Side Story previously on NRL News, however one particular scene caught my eye last night and I felt it was worth mentioning.

Undoubtedly the South Sydney Rabbitohs have achieved great success in 2007, regardless of the weeks ahead – the Bunnies have secured off-field sponsors, plenty of media attention and have finally become a true force on the Rugby League field.

The duo of Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court deserve recognition for getting the business back on the road, the infrastructure and support staff network around the players have allowed them every advantage and the players have upheld their end of the bargain – taking the NRL by storm.

In last nights episode of South Side Story, we found out that Crowe and Holmes a Court have been regularly treating the Rugby League media writers to fancy dinner and drink dates as they discuss and present the latest information around Souths. (Come on Russell and Peter, where is the invite for NRL News?)

Seriously, is this genius or what? Not only do Souths get to build a strong rapport with Rugby League media outlets, but they also develop an on-going ‘media-friendly’ relationship. Media writers would certainly be hesitant to cristise Souths in any way; be it on-field or in back office management – the regular meetings organised by Crowe and Holmes a Court have the Rugby League media eating out of their palms.

The Rugby League media obviously have a huge impact on the NRL, the fact that News Limited not only ‘own’ half of the NRL, but are also the prime publisher of NRL stories and information through their Daily Telegraph paper – means they have a huge influence on the game.

Just look at Newcastle, the drama at the Knights is not going away – almost daily, the media is publishing stories that put more pressure on the Knights to sack Brian Smith, we saw a similar push by the media a month or so ago to put pressure on ARL powerbroker Colin Love.

Why? Because the stories don’t only sell Newspapers – they can have a huge influence on what happens in certain situations. The media outlets obviously know this, and push their beliefs and agendas all the time.

This makes the move by Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court so much more impressive. Both smart operators, they used their understanding of the media power and their business nous to engage the Rugby League media writers early in 2007. By getting the media ‘in their pockets’ – Souths are one step ahead of everyone else.

The new owners of South Sydney are not only doing wonders for their own club, they are showing they way forward for other NRL teams off the field. The advancement and business talent at Souths is certainly good for the NRL collectively – as it will improve how clubs are managed, marketed and approached overall – taking the product we all ‘love’ to a new level.

South Side Story airs Tuesdays at 8pm on ABC for 2 more weeks, produced by Beyond Entertainment – South Side Story is as close as you can get to being part of a Rugby League team and seeing how it all works”

NRL Teams, Round 25 2007

Here are all the NRL Teams for the upcoming and final Round of regular season NRL for 2007. NRL Teams as follows: (Referee Bernard ‘Bernie’ Sutton makes his debut in the top grade, officiating for the Sharks and Raiders)

FRIDAY

NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS v BULLDOGS at Dairy Farmers Stadium, 7.30pm


COWBOYS: Matt Bowen, Ty Williams, Ashley Graham, Paul Bowman, Neil Sweeney, Justin Smith, Johnathan Thurston (capt), Matt Scott, Aaron Payne, Carl Webb, Sam Faust, Matthew Bartlett, Mark Henry. Interchange: David Faiumu, Jason Smith, Jacob Lillyman, Ray Cashmere, Ben Farrar (one to be omitted).

BULLDOGS: Luke Patten, Hazem El Masri, Daryl Millard, Willie Tonga, Matt Utai, Ben Roberts, Brent Sherwin, Mark O’Meley, Corey Hughes, Chris Armit, Sonny Bill Williams, Andrew Ryan (capt), Reni Maitua. Interchange: Adam Perry, Nick Kouparitsas, Jarrad Hickey, Willie Mason.
Referee: Shayne Hayne

WESTS TIGERS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS at Telstra Stadium, 7.30pm

TIGERS: Brett Hodgson (capt), Daniel Fitzhenry, Dean Collis, Paul Whatuira, Taniela Tuiaki, John Morris, Benji Marshall, Todd Payten, Robbie Farah, Keith Galloway, Ben Galea, Liam Fulton, Chris Heighington. Interchange: Chris Lawrence, Dene Halatau, Bryce Gibbs, Ben Te’o.

KNIGHTS: Kurt Gidley, James McManus, Brad Tighe, George Carmont, Cooper Vuna, Chris Bailey, Luke Walsh, Josh Perry, Danny Buderus (capt), Adam Woolnough, Steve Simpson, Daniel Abraham, Reegan Tanner. Interchange: Michael Young, Zeb Taia, Mitchell Sargent, Jesse Royal, Cory Paterson (one to be omitted)
Referee: Paul Simpkins

SATURDAY

SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS v SYDNEY ROOSTERS at Telstra Stadium, 5.30pm.


RABBITOHS: Fetuli Talanoa, Shannon Hegarty, Nigel Vagana, Yileen Gordon, Paul Mellor, Joe Williams, Jeremy Smith, Peter Cusack (capt), Shane Rigon, Roy Asotasi (capt), John Sutton, David Faalogo, Ben Rogers. Interchange: Issac Luke, Dean Widders, Luke Stuart, Michael Greenfield.

ROOSTERS: Sam Perrett, Amos Roberts, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Joel Monaghan, John Williams, Braith Anasta, Craig Wing, David Shillington, Heath L’Estrange, Lopini Paea, Anthony Tupou, Craig Fitzgibbon (capt), Ashley Harrison. Interchange: Danny Nutley, Nate Myles, Shane Shackleton, Mitchell Pearce, Anthony Cherrington (one to be omitted).
Referee: Ben Cummins

PENRITH PANTHERS v NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS at CUA Stadium, 7.30pm.

PANTHERS: Jarrod Sammut, Geoff Daniela, Michael Jennings, Maurice Blair, Michael Gordon, Luke Lewis, Craig Gower (capt), Frank Puletua, Luke Priddis, Bryan Norrie, Frank Pritchard, Trent Waterhouse, Nathan Smith. Interchange: Matthew Cross, Tony Puletua, Matthew Bell, Paul Aiton, Luke Rooney (one to be omitted).

WARRIORS: Wade McKinnon, Michael Crockett, Wairangi Koopu, Simon Mannering, Manu Vatuvei, Michael Witt, Grant Rovelli, Sam Rapira, Nathan Fien, Steve Price (capt), Ruben Wiki, Logan Swann, Micheal Luck. Interchange: Todd Byrne, Evarn Tuimavave, Epalahame Lauaki, Louis Anderson, George Gatis (one to be omitted).
Referee: Sean Hampstead

CANBERRA RAIDERS v CRONULLA SHARKS at Canberra Stadium, 7.30pm.

RAIDERS: David Howell, David Milne, Phil Graham, Colin Best, Brett Kelly, Terry Campese, Todd Carney, Trevor Thurling, Lincoln Withers, Scott Logan, Neville Costigan, Glen Turner, Alan Tongue (capt). Interchange: Ryan Hinchcliffe, Dane Tilse, Joe Picker, Michael Weyman, Ben Jones, Marshall Chalk (two to be omitted)

SHARKS: Mitch Brown, Bryson Goodwin, Ben Pomeroy, David Simmons, Luke Covell, Greg Bird, Brett Seymour, Eddie Su’a, Isaac De Gois, Craig Stapleton, Reece Williams, Luke Douglas, Paul Gallen (capt). Interchange: Ben Ross, Dayne Weston, Paul Stephenson, Kevin Kingston.
Referee: Bernard Sutton

SUNDAY

MANLY SEA EAGLES v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS at Brookvale Oval, 2pm

SEA EAGLES: Brett Stewart, Michael Robertson, Steve Bell, Steve Menzies, Chris Hicks, Jamie Lyon, Matt Orford (capt), Mark Bryant, Michael Monaghan, Brent Kite, Anthony Watmough, Glenn Stewart, Luke Williamson. Interchange: Travis Burns, Matt Ballin, Jason King, Jack Afamasaga, Adam Cuthbertson (two to be omitted).

DRAGONS: Josh Morris, Jason Nightingale, Mark Gasnier (capt), Matt Cooper, Chase Stanley, Rangi Chase, Jamie Soward, Dan Hunt, Simon Woolford, Ricky Thorby, Beau Scott, Corey Payne, Ben Creagh. Interchange: Adam Peek, Ashton Sims, Lagi Seetu, Ben Ellis, Chris Houston (one to be omitted)
Referee: Steve Clark

PARRAMATTA EELS v BRISBANE BRONCOS at Parramatta Stadium, 3pm

EELS: Jarryd Hayne, Krisnan Inu, Ben Smith, Timana Tahu, Eric Grothe, Brett Finch, Tim Smith, Nathan Cayless (capt), Mark Riddell, Fuifui Moimoi, Nathan Hindmarsh, Ian Hindmarsh, Feleti Mateo. Interchange: PJ Marsh, Josh Cordoba, Chad Robinson, Daniel Wagon.


BRONCOS: Justin Hodges, Steve Michaels, Nick Emmett, Joel Moon, Darius Boyd, Greg Eastwood, Shane Perry, Dane Carlaw, Mick Roberts, Petero Civoniceva (capt), Corey Parker, Brad Thorn, Tonie Carroll. Interchange: Sam Thaiday, Ben Hannant, Dave Taylor, Ian Lacey.
Referee: Tony Archer

MELBOURNE STORM v GOLD COAST TITANS at Olympic Park, 7pm

STORM: Billy Slater, Matt Geyer, Matt King, Israel Folau, Anthony Quinn, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk, Ben Cross, Cameron Smith (capt), Brett White, Clint Newton, Ryan Hoffman, Dallas Johnson. Interchange: Jeremy Smith, Steve Turner, Michael Crocker, Jeff Lima, James Aubusson (one to be omitted).

TITANS: Chris Walker, Jake Webster, Mat Rogers, Brett Delaney, Matthew Petersen, Preston Campbell, Scott Prince (capt), Anthony Laffranchi, Nathan Friend, Michael Hodgson, Gavin Cooper, Mark Minichiello, Luke Swain. Interchange: Daniel Conn, Ian Donnelly, Josh Graham, Luke O’Dwyer.
Referee: Jared Maxwell

NRL Teams listed by AAP