Kiwi Test Squad Includes 3 Debutants

Kiwi Test Side for 2008 Centenary SquadThree players yet to make their debuts have been included in a 19-man Pirtek Kiwis squad for the Centenary Test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground on May 9.In line to play their first test are South Sydney hooker Issac Luke, St George Illawarra winger Jason Nightingale and Sydney Roosters utility Setaimata Sa.

Hawera-born Luke (20) graduates to the Kiwi squad after making his NRL debut for the Rabbitohs last June while Sydney-born Nightingale (21), whose parents are New Zealanders, first appeared at first-grade level last May. He has scored five tries in seven matches for the Dragons this season and 12 in 23 matches in all.

Sa (20), who hails from Christchurch, had his first taste of NRL football for the Roosters on Anzac Day 2006. Sa and Luke are both former Junior Kiwis.

While Luke, Nightingale and Sa are all new to the squad, several recent Kiwis have been recalled including 16-test fullback Brent Webb (Leeds), who missed all six tests last year. The only other player named from an English Super League club is Wigan halfback Thomas Leuluai, used in last year’s series against Great Britain and in the one-off test against France in Paris.

Centre Iosia Soliola, prop Nathan Cayless, loose forward David Fa’alogo and second rower Sonny Bill Williams are all back in the side after last appearing in the Kiwi jersey in the 2007 Anzac Test.

Melbourne prop Adam Blair is back after playing four times in the 2006 Tri Nations campaign but missing much of last season through injury.

Apart from Leuluai, other players retained from last year’s tour to Britain and France are Roy Asotasi (South Sydney), Dene Halatau (Wests Tigers), Lance Hohaia (Warriors), Simon Mannering (Warriors), Sam Perrett (Sydney Roosters), Frank Pritchard (Penrith), Ben Roberts (Bulldogs) and Jeremy Smith (Melbourne). Joining them is South Sydney veteran David Kidwell, who left the tour early for personal reasons.

Asotasi will again captain the Pirtek Kiwis after leading them in each of their six tests in 2007. The playing line-up will be confirmed when the team assembles in Sydney next week.

The full squad is:

ROY ASOTASI (Captain)
(South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Born: January 6, 1982
Height: 184cm
Weight: 103kg
Position: Prop
Junior Club: Marist (Auckland)
Other NRL Clubs: Bulldogs (2002-2006)
Tests: 22 (2004-2007)
NRL Games: 116 (2002-2008)

ADAM BLAIR
(Melbourne Storm)
Born: March 20, 1986
Height: 188cm
Weight: 106kg
Position: Prop
Junior Club: Northland Carvers (Northland)
Other NRL Clubs: Nil
Tests: 4 (2006)
NRL Games: 31 (2006-2008)

NATHAN CAYLESS
(Parramatta Eels)
Born: March 28, 1978
Height: 185cm
Weight: 106kg
Position: Prop
Junior Club: Wentworthville (Sydney)
Other NRL Clubs: Nil
Tests: 33 (1998-2007)
NRL Games: 192 (1997-2008)

DAVID FA’ALOGO
(South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Born: September 9, 1980
Height: 180cm
Weight: 104kg
Position: Second row
Junior Club: Mt Albert (Auckland)
Other NRL Clubs: Nil
Tests: 6 (2006-2007)
NRL Games: 101 (2003-2008)

DENE HALATAU
(Wests Tigers)
Born: January 27, 1983
Height: 178m
Weight: 90kg
Position: Hooker
Junior Club: North Ryde (Sydney)
Other NRL Clubs: Nil
Tests: 12 (2004-2007)
NRL Games: 93 (2003-2008)

LANCE HOHAIA
(Warriors)
Born: April 1, 1983
Height: 175cm
Weight: 86kg
Position: Utility
Junior Club: Taniwharau (Waikato)
Other NRL Clubs: Nil
Tests: 10 (2002-2007)
First-grade Games: 101 (2002-2008)

DAVID KIDWELL
(South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Born: April 23, 1977
Height: 188cm
Weight: 104kg
Position: Second row
Junior Club: Hornby Panthers (Christchurch)
Other Clubs: Adelaide (1997-1998), Parramatta (1999-2000),
Warrington (2001), Sydney Roosters (2002), Melbourne
(2003-2006)
Tests: 24 (1999-2006)
First-grade NRL Games: 209 (1997-2008)
* First-grade games includes appearances for Warrington in 2000-2001

THOMAS LEULUAI
(Wigan Warriors)
Born: June 22, 1985
Height: 176cm
Weight: 85kg
Position: Halfback
Junior Club: Otahuhu (Auckland)
Other Clubs: Warriors (2003-2004), London Broncos (2005), Harlequins
(2005-2006)
Tests: 11 (2003-2007)
First-grade Games: 98 (2003-2008)
* First-grade games includes appearances for London Broncos, Harlequins and Wigan 2005-2008

ISSAC LUKE
(South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Born: May 29, 1987
Height: 174cm
Weight: 80kg
Position: Hooker
Junior Club: Hawera Hawks (Taranaki)
Other NRL Clubs: Nil
Tests: 0
NRL Games: 18 (2007-2008)

SIMON MANNERING
(Warriors)
Born: August 28, 1986
Height: 190cm
Weight: 101kg
Position: Second row/Loose forward
Junior Club: Wellington Orcas (Wellington)
Other NRL Clubs: Nil
Tests: 11 (2006-2007)
NRL Games: 57 (2005-2008)

JASON NIGHTINGALE
(St George Illawarra Dragons)
Born: September 20, 1986
Height: 183cm
Weight: 91kg
Position: Winger
Junior Club: Renown United (Sydney)
Other NRL Clubs: Nil
Tests: 0
NRL Games: 23 (2007-2008)

SAM PERRETT
(Sydney Roosters)
Born: May 14, 1985
Height: 182cm
Weight: 92kg
Position: Fullback
Junior Club: Burleigh Bears (Queensland)
Other NRL Clubs: Nil
Tests: 4 (2007)
NRL Games: 51 (2004-2008)

FRANK PRITCHARD
(Penrith Panthers)
Born: November 3, 1983
Height: 189cm
Weight: 109kg
Position: Second row
Junior Club: Campbelltown City (Sydney)
Other NRL Clubs: Nil
Tests: 13 (2005-2007)
NRL Games: 90 (2003-2008)

BEN ROBERTS
(Bulldogs)
Born: July 8, 1985
Height: 180cm
Weight: 90kg
Position: Standoff
Junior Club: Narellan Jets (Sydney)
Other NRL Clubs: Nil
Tests: 5 (2006-2007)
NRL Games: 34 (2006-2008)

SETAIMATA SA
(Sydney Roosters)
Born: September 14, 1987
Height: 190cm
Weight: 101kg
Position: Centre/Standoff
Junior Club: Papanui Tigers (Christchurch)
Other NRL Clubs: Nil
Tests: 0
NRL Games: 33 (2006-2008)

JEREMY SMITH
(Melbourne Storm)
Born: April 14, 1980
Height: 184cm
Weight: 100kg
Position: Second row
Junior Club: Runaway Bay (Queensland)
Other NRL Clubs: Nil
Tests: 5 (2007)
NRL Games: 47 (2004-2008)

IOSIA SOLIOLA
(Sydney Roosters)
Born: August 4, 1986
Height: 190cm
Weight: 100kg
Position: Centre
Junior Club: Ponsonby (Auckland)
Other NRL Clubs: Nil
Tests: 6 (2006-2007)
NRL Games: 57 (2004-2008)

BRENT WEBB
(Leeds Rhinos)
Born: November 11, 1980
Height: 175cm
Weight: 83kg
Position: Fullback
Junior Club: Cairns Kangaroos (Queensland)
Other Clubs: Warriors (2002-2006)
Tests: 16 (2004-2006)
First-grade Games: 137 (2002-2008)
* First-grade games includes appearances for Warriors 2002-2006 and Leeds Rhinos 2007-2008

SONNY BILL WILLIAMS
(Bulldogs)
Born: August 3, 1985
Height: 191cm
Weight: 105kg
Position: Loose forward/second row
Junior Club: Marist (Auckland)
Other NRL Clubs: Nil
Tests: 6 (2004-2007)
NRL Games: 68 (2004-2008)

Benji Breaks Down… Again

Benj Marshall Injuries West TigersImagine buying a late model Ferrari only to have it sit idle with mechanical problems 3 weeks in every 4? Spare a thought for Tim Sheens and the Wests Tigers, as this is the situation they face with superstar Benji Marshall. They have the talented Marshall in their ranks, yet are rarely able to utilize him.
Everyone knows what Benji is capable of in attack, the fleet footed half has the best step in the game and his creativity naturally gives the Tigers the edge in many situations. Wests have been extremely patient with the young star, after taking the Tigers to NRL Premiership Glory in 2005 – injuries saw the playmaker register only 25 games in 2 long years.

When it was contract renewal time, Marshall was originally looking at throwing himself on the open market and seeing if he could fetch the high dollar. Fortunately, common sense prevailed and the Kiwi star agreed to terms with the Tigers – the agreement probably saving Benji’s career at this stage as once again he is spending the majority of his time on the sidelines.

After making a comeback this week against the Cronulla Sharks, it was hoped Benji Marshall would gain some match fitness, confidence and some strength in his problematic knee. It seems coach Tim Sheens could probably become a doctor after he retires from NRL coaching, such is talk and discussion around Benji and his injuries. In almost every press conference, Sheens must have flashbacks to his days as Brad Clyde’s mentor – as he gives excuses as to why the frail Benji Marshall continues to break down and how long the estimated recovery time is.

Marshall pulled up sore from the Sharks game and will now miss this weeks clash with the Broncos, the Centenary Test and fortunately the Tigers have the bye following this week – meaning additional recovery time.

Such is the Tigers luck, as they unearth a player with similar talent and strike power to Benji – Robbie Farah, he too is struck down with on-going injury problems. Fortunately, Tim Sheens and the Wests Tigers scouts are consistently recruit ing and promoting well. With the continued rise of Wests junior Chris Lawrence ensuring the Tigers have a strong attacking weapon on the edge and the fact that Matt Head was added to the books in the off-season proves how the joint venture club is covering all bases these days.

But imagine how much more intimidating the Wests Tigers look with Benji Marshall consistently in their line-up? After more hiccups, it is beginning to look more and more unlikely the star could ever regain his appearance consistency. Spare a thought for the accountants at Wests Tigers, they must get heart palpitations every time they look at how much Marshall takes up under the salary cap.
The devastated Marshall had to convey the latest injury problem to Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney after doctors confirmed torn scar tissue around his injured left knee today.

“Knowing that this Test match was coming up he sort of gave himself an opportunity of playing at the weekend after five or six weeks out, and things didn’t go as well as he thought. Kearney said.

Marshall’s absence not only reduces the Kiwi’s strike power, but it also takes away the pulling power of the much hyped Centenary Test Match.

It will also raise fears the SCG clash could be another massacre similar to Australia’s 58-0 mauling of the Kiwis last October.

Kearney, though, insists his side will be competitive, despite Marshall’s omission following injuries to Krisnan Inu and Manu Vatuvei and doubts over the availability of English-based pair Brent Webb and Thomas Leuluai.

“From our perspective, all we can do as a coaching and management staff is provide the team with the right information and what we think is going to make us competitive against Australia,” Kearney said.

“All I can ask for the players is that they perform as good as they can, and if they do that I certainly think we’ve got the personnel to be competitive.”

While Bulldogs pivot Ben Roberts would appear to have the inside running on the No.6 jersey, Kearney said the Kiwis had a few options – although not “a heap”.

“There’s a couple of options we have, Thomas Leuluai from Wigan in the Super League, and then Benny Roberts, he’s playing well at the moment … we’ve got a couple of options, not a heap but a couple.

“But I’m super confident whoever wears the No.6 jumper will certainly play with a lot of intent and the right attitude.”

After missing five weeks since injuring his knee in round one, Marshall is now not expected to return to action until the Tigers’ round 10 clash with Newcastle on May 18.

The club plays Brisbane this weekend and have the bye the following week.

“Benji has seen the doctor and he’s torn some scar tissue which has leaked a little bit of fluid so he’s been needled and he can’t do anything until Friday,” said Tigers assistant coach Royce Simmons.

“It’s only a very minor thing; we don’t want to make a big deal out of it.

“The doctor said he needed another week off, it was only scar tissue which caused a bit of fluid to get under the knee.

“There’s still a lot of rounds to go.

“Benji could play this week, without any doubt, but at the end of the day it’s a long way to go.

“We’re in the Melbourne Cup, not the Golden Slipper, we tend to make sure he comes back 100 per cent.”

Marshall has long said he would rule himself out of the Test if he didn’t feel up to the task after admitting he came back too soon from a shoulder injury to play in last year’s Anzac Test.

In terms of his national aspirations, he will now target the end of year World Cup.

With Marshall’s availability settled, the biggest question around the Kiwis team announcement will likely centre on whether Webb and Leuluai will be included.

Both players are believed to be facing resistance in gaining a release from their Super League clubs, with Leeds wanting Webb for their Challenge Cup match against Harlequins on May 10, and Wigan wanting Leuluai to stay and prepare for their match against Warrington on May 16.

NRL Teams Round 8

NRL Teams Round 8The NRL Teams and Squad Lineups for Round 8 have been announced, with the City vs Country Origin game on Friday Night, NRL games will commence on Saturday Evening.

SATURDAY

NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v GOLD COAST TITANS at EnergyAustralia Stadium, 5.30pm

KNIGHTS: Kurt Gidley, James McManus, Wes Naiqama, Keith Lulia, Cooper Vuna, Chris Bailey, Jarrod Mullen, Danny Wicks, Danny Buderus (capt), Jesse Royal, Chris Houston, Cory Paterson, Zeb Taia. Interchange: Matt Hilder, Ben Cross, Daniel Tolar, Cameron Ciraldo, Junior Sau, Adam MacDougall (two to be omitted).

TITANS: Preston Campbell, Ben Jeffery, Luke O’Dwyer, Brett Delaney, Matt Petersen, Ashley Harrison, Scott Prince (capt), Michael Hodgson, Nathan Friend, Brad Meyers, Anthony Laffranchi, Mark Minichiello, Josh Graham. Interchange: Aaron Cannings, James Stosic, Gavin Cooper, Brenton Bowen, Luke Swain, Kris Kahler, Ian Donnelly, Matt Cross (four to be omitted).

Referee: Gavin Badger

PENRITH PANTHERS v PARRAMATTA EELS at CUA Stadium, 7.30pm

PANTHERS: Rhys Wesser, Geoff Daniela, Michael Jennings, Brad Tighe, Michael Gordon, Maurice Blair, Jarrod Sammut, Tony Puletua, Luke Priddis, Petero Civoniceva (capt), Frank Pritchard, Joseph Paulo, Nathan Smith. Interchange: Keith Peters, Frank Puletua, Junior Moors, Matthew Bell, Luke Lewis, Luke Rooney (two to be omitted).

EELS: Luke Burt, Taulima Tautai, Joel Reddy, Jarryd Hayne, Eric Grothe, Feleti Mateo, Brett Finch, Nathan Cayless (capt), Mark Riddell, Fuifui Moimoi, Nathan Hindmarsh, Daniel Wagon, Chad Robinson. Interchange: Matthew Keating, Brendan Oake, Weller Hauraki, Junior Paulo, Kristopher Keating, Todd Lowrie (two to be omitted).

Referee: Ben Cummins

WESTS TIGERS v BRISBANE BRONCOS at ANZ Stadium, 8.30pm

TIGERS: Brett Hodgson (capt), Taniela Tuiaki, Dean Collis, Chris Lawrence, Shannon McDonnell, John Morris, Mathew Head, Bryce Gibbs, Dene Halatau, Keith Galloway, Todd Payten, Chris Heighington, Liam Fulton. Interchange: Stuart Flanagan, Danny Galea, Corey Payne, Ben Te’o, Rocky Trimarchi, Ryan Tandy, Luke Harlen, Shannon Gallant (four to be omitted).

BRONCOS: Darius Boyd, Denan Kemp, Joel Moon, Justin Hodges, Reece Robinson, Darren Lockyer (capt), Peter Wallace, Ben Hannant, Michael Ennis, Sam Thaiday, David Stagg, Ashton Sims, Tonie Carroll. Interchange: Joel Clinton, Nick Kenny, Greg Eastwood, David Taylor, Derrick Watkins (one to be omitted).

Referee: Tony Archer

SUNDAY

NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS V CANBERRA RAIDERS at Mt Smart Stadium, 2pm

WARRIORS: Lance Hohaia, Michael Crockett, Brent Tate, Ryan Shortland, Aidan Kirk, Michael Witt, Grant Rovelli, Sam Rapira, Nathan Fien, Evarn Tuimavave, Simon Mannering, Logan Swann, Micheal Luck (capt). Interchange: Ian Henderson, Russell Packer, Epalahame Lauaki, Wairangi Koopu.

RAIDERS: Bronx Goodwin, Colin Best, Adrian Purtell, Joel Monaghan, Brett Kelly, Terry Campese, Todd Carney, Scott Logan, Lincoln Withers, Troy Thompson, Marshall Chalk, Nigel Plum, Alan Tongue (capt). Interchange: Michael Dobson, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Joe Picker, Dane Tilse, David Milne, Ben Jones (two to be omitted).

Referee: Sean Hampstead

SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS v NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS at ANZ Stadium, 3pm.

RABBITOHS: Nathan Merritt, John Tamanika, Nigel Vagana, Beau Champion, Germaine Paulson, Dean Widders, Issac Luke, Manase Manuokafoa, George Ndaira, Roy Asotasi (capt), David Kidwell, David Faalogo, John Sutton. Interchange: Beau Falloon, Shannan McPherson, Luke Stuart, Eddy Pettybourne.

COWBOYS: Matthew Bowen, Mark Henry, Ashley Graham, Ben Farrar, John Williams, Justin Smith, Johnathan Thurston (capt), Ray Cashmere, Aaron Payne, Carl Webb, Steve Southern, Ben Harris, Jacob Lillyman. Interchange: Anthony Watts, Sam Faust, Matthew Bartlett, Dayne Weston, Ben Vaeau (one to be omitted).

Referee: Shayne Hayne

Souths: As the Crowe Flies

Russell Crowe Souths Sydney NRL 2008As Souths continue to lurch from one crisis to the next, stand-by for Russell Crowe to get directly involved to try and get his team moving in the right direction.

From poor NRL Results, on-field coaching breaches, salary cap fines and now players on the drink on the eve of training – the woeful start to 2008 simply won’t be tolerated by Russell Crowe. While the in-experienced Jason Taylor is doing his best to get things happening and club boss Peter Holmes a Court is talking it up at Souths, expect to see some interaction from the ‘hands-on’ Crowe very soon.

The incredibly successful Russell Crowe is simply not the kind of guy to sit back idly and watch things compound, such is his nature – he will get involved somewhere to try and spark the struggling club back into life. While gone are the days of Russell telling players like Adam McDougall “Which lines to run”, expect to see more motivational or rewarding type events organised by Crowe for staff and players.

Such a driven and committed person, Crowe has achieved so much through sheer tenacity. Whether it be in his acting, his music career or his passion for Rugby League – he has strong ideas and is rarely afraid to voice them.

Perhaps Russell could work on a second South Sydney Book, a follow on from his creation last year?

Volume 2. The Book of Myths – Where Crowe could put to bed all the negative talk surrounding South Sydney, scoffing at suggestions the club could go through the 2008 NRL season winless. Maybe the comment Russell made about Souths winning the comp in 2008 can also be addressed in this book?

What about Dean Widders? The big fella has been struggling with form of late, a yard short of pace and devoid of ideas on the fringes. Maybe Russell needs to ‘re-connect’ with the former star and tell him “I love you Dean Widders” – because it’s been almost 12 months since Rusty declared his love for the player and maybe Dean is feeling a little cheated.

Maybe the Bunnies could get back on track with some fashion tips from Russell? Crowe was heavily involved with the re-design of the logo, arranging new jerseys and formulating street wear style jackets. Perhaps Russell could design a new NRL jersey for the Rabbitohs which gives them an element of camouflage, making them harder to tackle – this might help them score more tries at a time when they simply can’t seem to get over the chalk.

Being serious for a moment, the intervention of Russell Crowe certainly can’t hurt South Sydney at the moment. Russell might be a little bit edgy with some of the stunts he pulls, but his personality and undeniable passion for Souths could really help the players and regardless of how he gets involved – chances are pretty good that it will do more good than harm.

So stand by, expect to see Russell Crowe come to the aid of his beloved team soon. As they say, “All we need is love!”

Grubber: Australian Team Selection

NRL Centenary Test Team 2008 Squad Players and LineupWith the Kangaroo lineup selected for the NRL Centenary Test Match – the Grubber runs his eye over the players and gives his opinion on their selection for 2008 representative duties.

Kanagroo Centenary Test Team:

1. Billy Slater – A walk up start, simply had to be picked. Quite possibly the form player of the NRL in the past 3 rounds

2. Israel Folau – Another easy choice, with a lack of quality centres in the NRL today especially on the NSW side of the equation – Folau virtually picked himself.

3. Mark Gasnier – While Gaz has the best shimmy and one of the most potent sidesteps in the NRL, his form hasn’t been great and with recent injury keeping him out of grade – some may have felt he was underdone. Rarely disappoints however at test level.

4. Justin Hodges – The maturing bad boy continues to improve, virtually getting back to his original Roosters form before the major leg injury – he has the step and the strength to have a big impact in what will be a physical match.

5. Greg Inglis – Another Storm addition, Inglis has quickly found his feet since returning from a long layoff. Is playing better on the fringes and growing in confidence.

6. Darren Lockyer – Still ice-cool in the tight situations, even if only 75% fit – Locky just had to be there. Will not let anyone down in this historic match.

7. Jonathan Thurston – Pushed hard by Scott Prince, but always had the no. 7 jersey covered. It’s not just his skills and trick bag that he brings, the passion and desire from this man is something from yesteryear – a la Wally Lewis.

8. Brent Kite – Probably lucky to get a run, has been in only average form and would personally admit he is far from his best. Can be predictable at times, his one-dimensional runs making him easy pickings for opposing teams.

9. Cameron Smith – If Mike Hussey is Mr. Cricket, then Cam Smith is certainly Mr. Rugby League. Possessing a smart football brain, he will guide the team around well from dummy half. Tough, calm and a handy backup kicking option in play.

10. Petero Civoniceva – Surprised many by gaining selection. While not playing poorly, Petero certainly hasn’t set the world on fire. He always gives 110%, but really – if the team was picked on form, Petero should not have retained his spot.

11. Paul Gallen – Obviously the coaches player. No doubt Ricky Stuart would have had a big say in getting Gallen on board. While playing good footy, competition for backrowers is ultra tight and it’s probably Gallens physical nature that won the selectors over.

12. Ryan Hoffman – The workhorse rarely disappoints, gets through a stack of dirty work and will be the one chipping away should things get tough. He is the new age Nathan Hindmarsh.

13. Greg Bird – A talented ball playing forward that adds good utility value. Has worked hard to cut the dirty tactics from his play and has curbed his aggression well. A credit to coach and player for cutting the crap out, shouldn’t disappoint anyone on game day.

14. Kurt Gidley – Was always going to get a start somewhere, as he will for NSW. Blinding pace, probably the best acceleration over 10m when compared to any other player. Punches well above his weight and is rarely hurt.

15. Willie Mason – Will breathe a sigh of relief after a couple of average matches. His presence alone will distract the Kiwi’s and big Willie will be looking to get one up on David Kidwell after that hit.

16. Carl Webb – The enforcer was added for his aggression. While he won’t play big minutes, his addition will give Ricky Stuart confidence knowing that should things turn nasty he can unleash the beast.

17. Anthony Tupou – A great impact player from the bench and will be ideal in this situation. When starting players start to tire, the explosive injection of Tupou will be a healthy shot in the arm for the Australians. A smart choice by the selectors.

NRL Power Rankings Round 7

1. Gold Coast Titans – The NRL’s new boys are still flying high. Have blown everyone away with their impressive form and consistent results given some missing stars. Question marks still remain over the depth for the whole season, but with their current attack anything is possible. The maturing of Nathan Friend continues to the cog that is silently driving this new force on the Coast. Power Ranking 9/10

Grubbers Comment: Likelihood of the Gold Coast Council awarding Titans CEO Michael Searle the keys to ‘Cocktails and Dreams Nightclub’ if the Titans win the comp? 5/1

2. Brisbane Broncos – Another sublime performance by the new look Brisbane side. Full credit must be given to coach and squad, the team remains a force even with various illness and injury in the ranks. Look to have a perfect full depth squad that is required to win the comp in these long NRL seasons. Power Ranking: 8.5/10

Grubbers Comment: Odds that Darren Lockyer was going to make the Australian Centenary Test Side, even if he required the aid of a zimmer frame to take the field? 2/1

3. Melbourne Storm – We all know how good this Melbourne Storm side is, but their ability to grind out the hard games this year has been a new element to their impressive resume. Showing a toughness they previously didn’t have, coach Bellamy would be happy with their tough away win. Still boast enough depth to field 2 x first grade sides and look to be travelling well so far. Power Ranking: 8/10

Grubbers Comment: Odds that Billy Slater will be crowned ‘toughest man in the NRL’ at years end, after copping the three stooges poke to the eye – but retiring early. 150/1

4. Wests Tigers – Came from the clouds to steal this game at Shark Park. What was most impressive with the Tigers was their defence. Repelling Cronulla for several sets and still having enough petrol to get out of jail was a real gutsy effort by Wests. Matt Head looks to be the man to take them to the next level and the likes of Chris Lawrence and Keith Galloway continue to rise in the playing ranks as they become the next batch of genuine NRL superstars. Will be a real darkhorse this year, capable of beating anyone on their day. Power Ranking: 7.5/10

Grubbers Comment: Estimated amount of pace Chris Lawrence would gain if he trimmed down his ‘Dawn Fraser’ haircut? 7-8 kph

5. North Queensland Cowboys – The Cowboys while losing this close contest, have well and truly recovered from their shocking season start. Jonathan Thurston remains fit and is getting back to his career best form and things look to be on the up for the Cowboys. Coaching musical chairs may yet cause a problem, but if they can keep away from any more slumps – the sky is the limit. Power Ranking: 7/10

Grubbers Comment: Odds that any journalist had the courage to ask Carl Webb if he really did cry after making the Australian Centenary Test team for 2008? 250/1

6. Manly Sea Eagles – The Eagles have again won without being totally in control. While Des Hasler won’t be ecstatic with the form, at least the Manly boys have reversed their early season poor results and are able to grind out a good hard win. Are improving each week and their only concern would probably be the injury dramas around their ranks. Will be their come show time at seasons end. Power Ranking: 7/10

Grubbers Comment: Chances of Matt Orford making NSW Origin this year. 500/1

7. St George Illawarra Dragons – Fired up on ANZAC Day and showed what their playing roster is capable of when they get it right. Some impressive attacking moves and a clear message they will be more than just walkovers this year. Soward and Hornby look to be a good combination in the halves, as the forwards finally did their job. Power Ranking: 7/10

Grubbers Comment: Likelihood of Jason Ryles having a future at the ‘Red Vee’ post 2008, after talk of trades, off-loads and back room deals continues to abound. 100/1

8. Cronulla Sharks – Were shown up in their own backyard and realised they won’t be able to win every game on just their defence. Brett Kimmorley tried valliantly and ran at the line regularly, as did Brett Kearney – however their attempted second phase passing blitz brought them undone with too many lost balls. Unable to even manufacture attacking moves, let alone generate natural offensive raids. Power Ranking: 6/10

Grubbers Comment: Chances of the Sharks ending the season with a positive points difference, regardless of NRL Competition points? Slim to none.

9. Bulldogs – Surprised many with their opening assault at Brookvale, coming out all guns blazing. While they did cop some poor referee calls, the Dogs don’t look to have the experience or the stars to keep them in the mix this year. Still lack pace in various quarters and obviously have the coaching cloud hanging over their head. However, a fair performance all things considered. Power Ranking: 5.5/10

Grubbers Comment: Likelihood of Steve Folkes telling Bulldogs players not to worry about coming to training for the rest of the year and just ‘having fun’ for the remainder of 2008?

10. Sydney Roosters – Went missing and record their second win on the trot, committment must be a concern for coach Brad Fittler as the Roosters are finding it hard to lift for the less important games. While Braith Anasta and Anthony Tupou played well, the same couldn’t be said for several other of their team mates. Surprisingly the Roosters attack hasn’t come easily in the past few weeks – the Bye next week might be a handy one for them to take stock and re-focus. Power Ranking 5/10

Grubbers Comment: Odds that Brad Fittler will need to take out an AVO against Nick Politis or enter witness protection – if he goes through a Chris Anderson like slump at the Roosters? 2/1

11. NZ Warriors – Still having a tough time travelling and felt the wrath of the new ‘Temple of Boom’ at Skilled Park, Robina. Look disinterested at times and with injury now setting in – they need to get some points in the bank or they can start planning an end of season trip. While Michael Witt was a beaming light in a beaten side, the Warriors need to cut the simple errors from their game before considering themselves a weekly force. Power Ranking: 5/10

Grubbers Comment: Chances of the NZ Warriors Premiership Odds firming strongly now that Manu Vatuvei is out for 4-6 weeks with a broken leg? Strong to certain.

12. South Sydney Rabbitohs – Looked eager in the first 10 minutes, but passion alone can’t get you the cookies. Made basic errors and confidence continues to plague even their more experienced stars. Simply can’t afford to be in such a hole so early, will be fighting themselves soon let alone the opposing team. Real worries in Refern after this 7th consecutive loss. Power Ranking: 4/10

Grubbers Comment: Chances of the Rabbitohs results improving if coach Jason Taylor delivered the team instructions in several different pacific languages? 5/1

Titans break records, beating NZ 36-24

Gold Coast Titans NRL Round 7 2008The Gold Coast Titans continue to prove their NRL winning ways aren’t just based on good luck, with the newest Rugby League franchise recording a club record 5th NRL win on the trot as they remain atop the NRL ladder after 7 rounds in 2008.

The win 36-24 over the Warriors at Skilled Park was made even more remarkable considering that the club remains without prominent prop Luke Bailey. With such a strong home base, a good batch of young talent mixed with experienced stars – the Titans are looking to have the ideal nucleus for a genuine premiership assault. With their current start to the season, they are covering well should they hit injury problems mid-season – as they do have a good stack of points in the bank now.

The Titans, in control for most of the afternoon, ran in six tries converted by half-back Scott Prince who turned in another dominant performance as the home side claimed their fifth consecutive victim at their new Robina fortress.

The contest was all but over after 30 minutes, when the Titans led 24-6 after full-back Preston Campbell produced some magic to score a dazzling 40-metre solo try. Campbell sliced through a yawning gap before side-stepping past three confused Warriors defenders for the try of the match.

Campbell almost scored again just before half-time, but he was dragged down two metres short following another blistering run.

Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei scored off a great cut-out pass from five-eighth Michael Witt to narrow the margin to 24-12 and give the vistors some hope, but that was as close as they would get.

Versatile Gold Coast forward Anthony Laffranchi said after the match that the Titans were starting to resemble the Wests Tigers premiership winning team of 2005.

The combination of Prince and Campbell, in particular, had Laffranchi comparing the side with the surprise title winners from three years ago.

“I spoke to Princey about it earlier in the year and it’s kind of got that feeling about it,” said Laffranchi, who played with Prince at the Wests Tigers in their premiership year.

“Princey is definitely in that mood and form (from 2005). He may even be better. He lifts everyone around him and blokes all know their roles. He’s a real class act. You just run where he wants you to be and, if he he gives it to you, there’s always an opportunity because defenders hang off him.”

While Campbell’s exhilarating attack invites comparisons with lightweight Tigers full-back Brett Hodgson, Laffranchi couldn’t help but talk up the similarly underrated forward pack.

“The quality of forwards we’ve got in Brad Meyers, Michael Hodgson, Mark Minichiello and even Nathan Friend and the blokes off the bench, we’re all working hard for each other,” Laffranchi said after grabbing his fourth try of the season.

The Titans, who lost both games to the Warriors last season, reproduced the hot start with which they stunned Brisbane last weekend, rushing to a 12-0 lead through converted tries from five-eighth Ashley Harrison and winger Ben Jeffery.

Warriors five-eighth Michael Witt did his best with two tries and four goals for a personal tally of 16 points, but the visitors were forced into playing catch-up football.

“We’re just gifting too many points early against teams that make you pay,” Warriors coach Ivan Cleary said.

“I thought we showed a lot of fight to get back in the game and still be in the game up until their last try.”

Titans coach John Cartwright admitted that he had been concerned about taking on the Warriors.

“They’re the type of side that troubled us last year and they gave us two touch ups,” he said.

“They’re pretty big and physical and we struggled against those sides … I was really keen to see how we aimed up physically, and we did.”

Tiger Tough, Wests get over Cronulla 20-16

Wests Tigers NRL Round 7 2008The Wests Tigers have not only got themselves back on the front foot and re-started their winning ways, but they look to have a well balanced team unit with the likes of Matt Head, Keith Galloway and Chris Lawrence forging a new frontier for the young club. Getting over the Sharks by 20-14 was impressive enough considering it was in the Shire, but whats even more gobsmacking is that the Tigers can play much better – but they still got the win.

Chris Lawrence continues to confirm his arrival as the next NRL superstar, the young gun remains an explosive outside force and has gotten the Tigers out of trouble on several occasions now. With the experienced Matt Head recovering each week from major injury – his coolness under pressure and a deft kicking game has really helped the Tigers become a force this year and with every win the confidence continues to bubble over for the joint venture side.

Benji Marshall made a safe, but low impact return from injury. Coach Tim Sheens confirming this morning on the Big Sports Breakfast that he is awaiting medical assessments on the status of Marshall’s knee and hinting that he may rest Benji this week for the Broncos game – depending on the report from his medical staff.

The Sharks dominated the early passages of play yesterday but paid dearly for their inability in attack as the Tigers out-scored their hosts four tries to two.

Lawrence bagged his second try of the game in the 76th minute to give the Tigers their fourth win of the season after Cronulla seemed to have secured the two points when Luke Covell kicked a penalty goal to give the home side a two-point lead.

Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens was at a loss to explain just how his side had claimed their ninth consecutive victory against Cronulla, but “filthy” Sharks captain Paul Gallen was soon on hand to enlighten him.

“We beat ourselves,” Gallen said after the Sharks blew a wealth of scoring opportunities in the first half to slump to their second consective defeat at Toyota Park after beginning the season with four wins from five games on the road.

“I’m just filthy.

“We’re a good team and … I think the three games we’ve lost, I don’t think the other team’s played better than us.

“We just killed ourselves. It was something I thought we learned from last year, but today and last week it showed we’ve fallen back a little bit.”

The Tigers were woeful in the opening 30 minutes despite the return of Benji Marshall from a five-week knee injury lay-off.

Yet they somehow held the misfiring Sharks to just one try before scoring two themselves in the final eight minutes to claim a surprise 8-6 half-time lead.

Brett Kearney opened the scoring for Cronulla, after a break from Brett Kimmorley, but the expected avalanche failed to materialise and Chris Heighington got the visitors on the scoreboard when he tunnelled over from dummy-half in the 32nd minute.

The visitors then went ahead three minutes from the break when full-back and captain Brett Hodgson sent Lawrence striding 40 metres untouched to the line.

Covell slotted a penalty goal to level the scores soon after the break, but Hodgson gave the Tigers the lead again, in the 54th minute, when he dummied his way through some disorganised Sharks defence to score.

Cronulla half-back Brett Seymour did likewise for Cronulla to tie the game again, at 14-14, before Covell’s penalty goal in the 68th minute out the Sharks ahead.

But just as the Sharks appeared set to claim their fifth win of the season by six points or less, Lawrence touched down a tidy Mathew Head grubber for his second try of the match to seal victory in the 76th minute.

“I don’t know how we won that game to be quite honest,” the bemused but delighted Sheens said.

“We won it, lost it, did some silly things. Everything that could happen, did happen. The ball hit the crossbar and bounced back. We hit the upright twice (from conversions). You name it, it happened.

“But the guys showed courage and, at the end of the day, winning ugly is still winning isn’t it?

“It’s still two points and they’re two vital points, particularly in back-to-back games for us.

“Last year we would have lost these games, so for us this was probably back to ’05 (when the Tigers won the premiership).”

Sheens was concerned, however, with his team’s slow start, just a week after spotting South Sydney a 10-point advantage before running down the Bunnies.

“Like last week, we just didn’t start well so it’s a concern,” Sheens said.

“I don’t want to start poorly against the Broncos next week, I can tell you.”

Melbourne Storm win Cowboy arm-wrestle 12-10

MELBOURNE have ended North Queensland’s early season revival with a dour 12-10 win which saw in-form flyer Billy Slater forced from the field midway through the first half.

Slater lasted just 22 minutes at Dairy Farmers Stadium after being accidentally hit in the eye by North Queensland halfback Johnathan Thurston.

He spent the rest of the match icing a cut under his right eye.

Slater’s condition will likely be closely monitored by Test selectors but, if fit, he is expected to get the nod ahead of Manly No.1 Brett Stewart when the Kangaroos team is announced tomorrow night for next month’s Centenary Test against New Zealand at the SCG.

With defence dominating, both sides struggled to find any real rhythm in attack and both were guilty of poor handling at certain stages throughout the game.

Israel Folau ended any hopes of the Cowboys extending their winning streak to four when he crashed over, taking two defenders with him for an eight-point lead midway through the second half.

Melbourne had a 6-0 lead at the break, making the most of the limited first half opportunities with makeshift fullback Greg Inglis crossing in the fifth minute.

They were unlucky not to go further ahead when an Inglis try was disallowed by video ref Bill Harrigan for obstruction.

To the joy of the 24,053-strong crowd, the Cowboys had begun to show some signs of attacking life after the break with reserve hooker Anthony Watts making inroads into the Melbourne defence before Thurston rubber-stamped his Australian selection by putting Mark Henry over in the corner.

Thurston also showed his class by playing a hand in setting up North Queensland’s first try of the match, combining with Bowen out wide to put John Williams over in the corner.

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy was quick to allay fears Slater’s injury was serious.

“He wanted to go back on at the end but he could only see out of one eye and it is really puffed up,” Bellamy said.

“But there is nothing major so hopefully he will be right to play in the next couple of weeks.”

Bellamy was proud of his side’s ability to handle the short turnaround after Monday’s victory over Canberra.

“I was just so happy with their effort. We prepared the best we could with the short turnaround.

“With an 11-2 penalty count against us it was pretty tough going so I was really happy with the way the guys hung in there and I thought they showed a lot of guts out there tonight.”

Cowboys mentor Graham Murray was able to find some positives out his side’s first loss in four weeks.

“Defence has been a really good part of our last four weeks but tonight it was really good,” he said.

“We just need to sharpen our attack a bit more but it was a good effort by us.

“I thought we had a chance but we probably just didn’t have enough completions at their end of the field to mount enough pressure.”

Manly get home at Brooky 30-22

After a patchy start, the Sea Eagles pulled it together to run down the Bulldogs at Brookvale Oval. The Sea Eagles scored 30 straight points to come from 10-0 down early and claim their fourth win of the season.

Fullback Stewart was forced from the field with a head injury in the 30th minute, but returned in the second half to put the Sea Eagles in front for the first time with his 45th try in 46 games at Brookvale.

The Bulldogs had led 10-0 after 15 minutes, and were still well in the contest at 10-10 at the break.
But they were made to look second rate for much of the second half as Manly skipped out for a 30-10 lead before the visitors scored two consolation tries in skipper Andrew Ryan’s 200th game.

Matt Orford, who set up Stewart’s try with a pin-point kick, again pulled the strings for the home side in a timely performance ahead of the announcement of the NSW City-Country teams.

Orford is facing stiff opposition from Sydney Roosters youngster Mitchell Pearce and Brisbane’s Peter Wallace for the City Origin No.7 jumper.

Stewart’s final 35 minutes was also strong – after a largely unhappy opening 30 – but will still likely not be enough to keep his Australian fullback spot ahead of Melbourne’s Billy Slater when the Kangaroos’ Centenary Test team is named this weekend to play New Zealand.

Steve Bell scored his first try of the season to level the game at 10-10 late in the first half, with Sea Eagles forwards Glenn Stewart, Glenn Hall, and Adam Cuthbertson also bagging four-pointers.

Bulldogs winger Heka Nanai opened the scoring in the 10th minute, with Sonny Bill Williams giving the visitors a surprise 10-0 lead soon after.

The Dogs let Manly back into the game with a series of errors, and after they dominated the opening 15 minutes, rarely troubled the Manly tryline for the next hour.

Dogs centre Tim Winitana eventually claimed a late consolation try seven minutes from fulltime before fullback Brent Crisp, a 21-year-old from Western Australia who reportedly ditched a burgeoning AFL career to pursue rugby league, scored perhaps the try of the game.

Crisp, who replaced in-form fullback Luke Patten (back) before kick-off, leapt high over Manly winger Michael Bani to claim a cross-field kick and then plant the ball with his feet just in play.

He also booted three from four conversions in a memorable debut.

Dogs hooker Hughes may come under scrutiny by the NRL match review committee on Monday for a late shot on Orford while kicking for Stewart’s try.