Manly maul stunned NZ Warriors

The Manly Sea Eagles showed their style and credentials to cruise past an NZ Warriors side tonight, setting up a repeat of the 2007 NRL grand final with the Melbourne Storm, in the end it was 32-6 with the Warriors only hanging on for a period of around 30 minutes before wilting under the precision of the Manly side.

The strong showing not only gets Manly a shot at redeeming themselves against the Melbourne Storm – it sends a strong message that the Sea Eagles are ready to roll in the big show

The Sea Eagles showed their stuff in front of 32,095 fans at the SFS -slightly more than last nights game but still short of the grounds capacity of 40,000, with a completion rate of over 90% everything the Sea Eagles did was precise.
Injuries could be the only hurdle for the Manly men, with Matt Orford suffering an ankle complaint. But any down time by Orford was quickly covered by the in form Jamie Lyon. The oft maligned Lyon running, kicking and passing to perfection throughout the night to put his hand up for man of the match honours.

The Dally M Medallist said he “should” be fit to tackle the Storm in the season decider.

Leading 12-0 at halftime, the Sea Eagles were up 22-0 after 51 minutes and the Warriors’ season was as good as over.

Seven minutes after the break, Jamie Lyon outleapt Warriors fullback Wade McKinnon to regather his own bomb and sent a miracle offload for Orford to score.

The floodgates threatened to open when Lyon sent Glenn Stewart over in the 51st minute and did when winger Michael Robertson sprinted 40m after collecting a superb one-armed offload from centre Steve Matai.

Hasler replaced Orford in the 68th minute but that did nothing to stall the Sea Eagles’ momentum when another Matai bust sent fullback Brett Stewart over for his second try and a lead of 32-0.

The halftime lead had come courtesy of four-pointers from tryscoring machines Brett Stewart in the 12th minute and Steve Menzies (34th), and a Harlem Globetrotters-like pass from fullback Stewart to Matai a minute before the break.

Stewart bagged his 21st four-pointer of the year when he flew onto a deft pass from Orford before Menzies, the game’s most prolific tryscoring forward, made the most of a great ball popped from interchange forward Mark Bryant.

Stewart then turned provider in the final minute of the half with a miracle between-the-legs ball for Matai to touch down.

The scoreline might have been worse for the Warriors had Orford booted more than his one from five.

The Warriors could find no way through the stifling Manly defence during the first half and only managed a 75th minute consolation try to winger Aidan Kirk.

Their dream run from eighth, during which they downed minor premiers Melbourne and eliminated the Sydney Roosters, ended in bitter disappointment for retiring prop Ruben Wiki.

But, after two farewells at Brookvale Oval, Manly champion Menzies will now get the chance to be sent off with a premiership and to equal Canterbury great Terry Lamb’s record of 349 first grade games in a grand final.

MANLY 32 (B Stewart 2 S Matai S Menzies M Orford M Robertson G Stewart tries S Matai M Orford goals) bt NZ WARRIORS 6 (A Kirk try L Hohaia goal) at Sydney Football Stadium. Referee: S Hayne.

NRL fines Storm bosses $50,000

Craig BellamyStorm coach Craig Bellamy and club boss Brian Waldron were today slapped with a whopping $50,000 fine by the NRL after the pair cut loose on the NRL and it’s judicial system following their 28-0 preliminary victory over Cronulla last night.

Bellamy used the press conference following his sides win over the Sharks to take aim at the NRL and the fact they have ousted Melbourne captain Cameron Smith for the Grand Final.

NRL chief executive David Gallop was in disbelief over the outbursts from Bellamy and Waldron calling the pairs comments “an unprecedented premeditated attack on the NRL and its judiciary system.”

“The accusations that they made were irrational, baseless and at times bordered on hysterical.

“Those accusations attack the integrity of the NRL and its judiciary system and for that reason on Monday they will receive a breach notice for the sum of $50,000.”

The fine handed down to the Storm was a record amount, the highest ever dished out by the NRL.

The reactions from Bellamy and co. seem quite amazing considering the fact that Cameron Smith was clearly at fault over his head attacking actions. The rule is quite simple, you cannot attack the head or neck of an opposing player – the Storm have flirted with their tactics for some time now. When you fly close to the wind, you must be prepared to wear the circumstances.

The tactics imposed by the Storm have won them a premiership and could possibly secure them a second premierhip in 3 years. They have been the best team for the most part of 3 years, but during that time they have developed tactics that in some cases are illegal.

Cameron Smith clearly broke the rules when tackling Sam Thaiday. End of story. He already had ‘loading’ against his name from a conviction in Round 1, 2008 – hence the longer suspension. End of story.

But coach Bellamy was stinging in his outburst against the code’s administration over their handling of Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith’s grapple tackle suspension.

“I don’t think Cameron Smith got a fair go,” Bellamy said in his post match press conference.

“Cameron Smith, ten minutes after the game last week, was hung out to dry.

“The press conference … got hijacked by some of you guys in the media that had him hung out to dry straight away and then it continued for four or five days.”

“There’s some sections of the media that seem to have an agenda against Melbourne and certainly the grapple tackle.

“It’s my player that misses out on a grand final opportunity and I think he’s been hard done by here.”

Bellamy has reportedly retracted his initial comments regarding the situation, however he remained insistent that Smith had not had a fair go.

“The other thing that was very smelly about the whole lot was when I saw in the paper on Wednesday morning and there’s a betting market – $1.18 he’s going to be found guilty, $4.25 he’ll be found innocent.

“That’s a fair spread in a two horse race.

“Bookmakers and betting agencies, they don’t guess, they’ve got good information – take that as you may.

“As soon as I saw that on Wednesday morning … he was thousands.”

Waldron was critical of the system which allowed Sharks coach Ricky Stuart to make comments about Smith’s tackle on Brisbane forward Sam Thaiday, as he was adamant those words influenced the judiciary.

“Opposition coaches, opposition officials, other officials in positions of responsibility of the game should not be commenting before the judiciary,” Waldron said.

“It doesn’t happen in other sports … it questions the integrity of our game at the core and we need some leadership to fix it.

“To allow Ricky Stuart to make those comments is an absolute disgrace and a blight on the game and we need to address that.”

Storm shut out Sharks, soldier on

Matt GeyerMelbourne has shown they’re still a force to be reckoned with the 2008 NRL premiership, showing remarkable determination to shut out the Sharks 28-nil tonight at the Sydney Football Stadium, moving into their third straight Grand Final.

A battered and bruised Storm outfit condemned the Sharks to another year of premiership oblivion, on the back of a virtuoso performance from stand-in skipper Cooper Cronk, who firmly stamped himself as a future leader of the club.

It took the diminutive half just four minutes to put his stamp on the game.

Cronk sliced open some flimsy Sharks defence open inside his own half, before providing a precision kick to the corner for Steve Turner to open the scoring in the fourth minute.

The occasion clearly got to the Sharks, and if their first half effort wasn’t their worst of the season, it was certainly in the semi-finals.

The Sharks coughed up plenty of cheap ball, and Cronk continued at his scheming best, delivering a crisp short ball for Israel Folau to crash over in the 24th minute.

Turner was on the money with the conversion attempt, and the Storm were up by ten.

Frustrations boiled over late in the half when Misi Taulapapa lashed out at a shoulder hit from Anthony Quinn, but the Storm kept their minds on football, and continued to put the Sharks to the sword.

Adam Blair forced his way over for Melbourne’s third try in the 35th minute, and when Turner slotted the extras to make it 16-nil, the Storm had one foot in the grand final.

The only negative to come out of a stunning first half, is that judiciary may again be looming.

Brett White was placed on report for a forearm to the head of Ben Ross, Matt Geyer also incurring the wrath of referee Tony Archer for a grapple tackle on Fraser Anderson, and Cronk was involved in a lifting tackle.

The Sharks needed to score first in the second half to be any chance, but couldn’t crack a determined Melbourne defensive line, despite a glut of possession.

The Storm iced the contest in the 65th minute, and again it was Cronk who initiated the attack.

The Melbourne half delivered a sharp second man ball for Billy Slater, and he in turn found Turner, who stood up Kearney pointlessly to grab his second.

The fleet-footed winger comfortably added the extras, giving the reigning premiers a 22-nil advantage.

But it wasn’t over yet.

Slater carved through some more paper-thin Sharks defence in the 74th minute, before linking up with Matt Geyer to ice a memorable victory.

MELBOURNE 28 (S Turner 2 A Blair I Folau M Geyer tries S Turner 4 goals) bt CRONULLA 0 at Sydney Football Stadium. Referee: T Archer. Crowd: 27,570.

NRL: Sydney Hoping to Score

NRL TrophyIn recent years, it’s been regional teams that have starred in the major games at the back end of the NRL season. The Broncos, Cowboys and the ever present Storm side.

But while the NZ Warriors and Melbourne Storm are still poised to spoil a Sydney party, the battle of the beaches seems to be a possibility. Last years bridesmaids Manly, who many say still have a ‘choker’ tag wrapped around their neck in big games in recent seasons can possibly take comfort out of the fact that the Sharks are officially the biggest chokers of all time – failing to have ever won a Rugby League premiership since entering the competition in 1967.

So while locals are heading to Sydney’s beaches as summer sun arrives, they might be quickly flocking back to ANZ Stadium if the Sharks and Sea Eagles secure their pathes to the big game next weekend.

Not since 2005 has a Sydney team lifted the NRL statue, and the thought of a Melbourne v Warriors grand final is about as bad as it gets. However, such is the dislike for Manly in local circles – that a large defacto Warriors support crew is reported to be jumping on the bandwagon to join the large ex-pat Kiwi population in and around Manly who will no doubt journey across the harbour to cheer on their cuzzy bro’s.

It’s also a scenario far from the thoughts of Matt Orford and Brett Kimmorley.

With a coveted grand final berth just 80 minutes away, Kimmorley has called upon the Shire to carry his team on a wave of support. Orford has called upon the legends of old.

They can call all they like – the ‘battle of the beaches’ will go down as one of the greats.

“The trophy hasn’t been in Sydney for a few years now With Melbourne (2007) and Brisbane (2006) winning it,” Kimmorley told News Limited.

“It would be a great grand final build-up if it was Cronulla and Manly – north versus south.

“Brisbane say they are now the home of footy so it would be great to get two full houses to show how much Sydney loves its footy.

“I hope the city really gets behind both sides. I’d love to see a Cronulla – Manly grand final. There is history there as well with the 1978 grand finals and the 1973 decider.”

After 41 seasons in the top grade, the Shire has never tasted the sweet pleasure of a premiership – and it’s a stat every other fan just loves to rub their noses in.

They came within a point in 1978, drawing the decider with none other than Manly – before falling in the grand final replay 16-0.

Not even in the Super League spin-off competition could they break the duck – slumping badly against the Broncos in 1997.

But Kimmorley insists the Sharks are circling.

“The Shire is getting more and more excited,” said the departing veteran playmaker.

“I have felt the whole area lift this week. But I’m not saying we’re there yet – we have a huge game ahead of us.”

Orford – Kimmorley’s body double from the north – agrees neither team can get ahead of themselves.

“We’ve got a massive hurdle in front of us first,” Orford told News Limited.

“But if we can get through, it would be great for both Sydney sides to get there. Maybe it’s time that Sydney got it on again and it would be great for the two beach sides to play in a grand final.

“We had a dinner earlier this year to play tribute to our 1978 side, which played Cronulla in that grand final.

“There is a great tradition between Cronulla and Manly.”

The Sharks will front up against the Storm at the Sydney Football Stadium on Friday night, with all eyes on rookie Blake Green. He’s stepping in for injured pivot Brett Seymour – and he could come up against a former Cronulla junior in Russell Aitkin – the man tipped by some to replace suspended skipper Cameron Smith.

The Sea Eagles will put their season on the line when they attempt to give the Warriors’ finals fairytale an unhappy ending on Saturday night.

NRL Finals Week 3 Predictions

Cronulla vs Storm
In what should a tough, physical match, the Storm now lose Cameron Smith their vital traffic cop from dummy half and team captain; however very little has been said about the fact that Paul Gallen has been struggling with niggling injuries and won’t be at 100% fitness for the clash. The Sharks do have an ideal opportunity to put the Storm to the sword, so long as the occasion doesn’t get the better of them.

Even without Cameron Smith, Jeremy Smith and Ryan Hoffman the Storm side still looks like a total representative outfit on the team sheet. But in terms of on-field desire and current form, the Sharks have been the benchmark all year.

Of most concern for Melbourne is the fact they don’t have a specialist back up hooker for Cameron Smith, unlike other sides who rotate a hooker during a game – the Storm have never done this and it will surely prove troublesome. Regardless of whether Matt Geyer or Billy Slater take on the no.9 role, the fill in player will have little chance to make an impact over 80 minutes as the hooking role has become increasingly specialised and requires bucket loads of endurance, something that increases every year – you can’t just jump into the role for a big finals game and expect to pull it off.

If Paul Gallen wasn’t in doubt with a corked thigh – it would be an easy choice to pick the Sharks in my books. But Gallen’s fitness is a huge concern because he is the glue that holds the Sharks together. He’s just as important to the Sharks as Smith is to the Storm and his players need him out there.

Having been rested for a week, the Sharks should win this game in a much different affair to finals games we saw in Week 2. The game should be played at a decent pace, but expect to see exceptionally slow ruck speeds – with both the Storm and Sharks experts at stiffling their opponents.

It’s been a low scoring finals series and Friday night should be another low scoring affair. Defence will be the name of the game with the winning side probably going to score less than 20 points, and I think that team will be the Sharks.

They say never tip against a champion team like Melbourne, but I feel the Sharks have shown a new level of desire and commitment this season that will again get them home. Sharks to win and book a much deserved grand final berth … even if Smith plays for the Storm.

Sea Eagles v Warriors
It might not be of concern to Des Hasler, but the Warriors must be addressing their previous poor stats when playing the Eagles. With such an emotional charge at this years finals, I think the Warriors should overcome any fears this time – their uptempo attack and defence have been impressive.

I don’t know how you can line up the form guide on this one? I’m tempted to say the Warriors are playing better than the Sea Eagles at the moment. The Kiwis have won 10 of their last 12 and most importantly are battle hardened.

The Sea Eagles on the other hand don’t really have a finals-like hit out under their belts after what was a pedestrian win against the Dragons a fortnight ago. The Warriors have just beaten the defending premiers, a feat the Sea Eagles haven’t looked like achieving, and I think that factor might play on Des Hasler’s men.

Manly look vulnerable to me and I just think the Warriors are playing with too much passion and commitment to be stopped at this stage. They’ve shown great resolve to come from behind twice in the last fortnight and I think the Warriors will again sneak home in a tough and bruising encounter.

So there you have it, I’m going for two upsets and picking the Warriors to meet the Sharks in the ’08 decider on Sunday week

Smith cops 2 match ban

cameron-smith-ban-2-match-melbourne-storm.jpgCameron Smith, the Melbourne Storm captain has been found guilty by the NRL judiciary tonight and banned for 2 matches which sees him sidelined for the rest of the season.

The decision is an enormous blow to Melbourne and their hope of successive premierships.

Smith faced the judiciary tonight being charged with a grapple tackle on Brisbane’s Sam Thaiday in last Saturday night’s match.

While Smith pleaded not guilty, the NRL judiciary believed otherwise, suspending him for two games.  A speedy decision, taking the judiciary only 20 minutes to pass judgment.  Smith will miss the final qualifier against Cronulla on Friday night and if Melbourne are victorious, Smith will also miss the Grand Final.

If the Storm are beaten on Friday night, Smith will miss Australia’s opening game of the Rugby League World Cup against New Zealand in Sydney.

Craig Bellamy is now left with the decision of who Smith’s replacement hooker will be.  His three choices being Billy Slater, Russ Aitken and Matt Geyer.

To make matters worse for the Storm, Ryan Hoffman was tonight also ruled out for the year after undergoing ankle surgery.  The ruling also omitting Hoffman from the World Cup.

Smith claimed his contact with Thaiday’s chin was unintentional.  He also claimed that as soon as he realised the dangerous position of his arm, he “immediately released” his grip.

Smith went on to tell the panel “the whole tackle took three seconds. Contact with his face was one second at most, if not less”.  “It is hard to rectify faster than that, I think.”

Prosecutor Peter Kite hit back claiming that Smith made two efforts to “yank” Thaiday’s head before releasing his grip.

Smith is now the third player since 2005 to be found guilty of a grapple tackle by a judiciary panel.  Teammate Hoffman was charged in 2005 and St George’s Jason Ryles was charged in 2007.  Both Hoffman and Ryles being banned for 2 weeks after being found guilty by the panel.

Friday night’s clash against the Sharks will be a huge test for the Storm as the minor premiers are now without captain Smith, Jeremy Smith (suspension) and Hoffman (ankle injury).

If Storm are successful against the Sharks this weekend, Jeremy Smith will at least be available to play in the grand final as he had earlier accepted a one-game ban for his chicken wing offence in the same tackle on Thaiday.

Hoffman out for the season

Melbourne Storm backrower Ryan Hoffman has undergone surgery on his ankle which will rule him out for the remainder of the NRL season and the rugby league World Cup.

Hoffman first sustained the injury in Round 23 against the Sydney Roosters at Olympic Park, and he subsequently missed the next two games.

He returned for the final home-and-away game against the Rabbitohs, and played in the qualifying final defeat to the Warriors, and the semi-final win over the Broncos.

However the high ankle sprain progressively worsened and in the end the decision was made for Hoffman to have surgery.

“He’s had the surgery and is recovering at home and the initial prognosis from his surgeon suggests the operation was a success,” said Storm high performance unit manager Mary Toomey.

“We will now monitor his recovery and we expect he’ll be right to return to pre-season training.”

SBW: Injured, Unwanted and Homesick

It seems karma has caught up with the contract breaking Sonny Bill Williams. The former League heavyweight, is reported to be extremely homesick and struggling to perform under injury and pressure from officials at Toulon Rugby Union.

Its a far cry from the Sonny Bill Williams that snuck out of the country and defiantly thumbed his nose at teammates and NRL officials, it seems as the reality settled in for Williams – the lure of big money hasn’t been his saviour.

The NRL and Bulldogs seemed to have closed the door on the contract breaking Sonny Bill Williams, certainly a smart move considering the fact that the National Rugby League has quickly moved on from the SBW drama, and currently basking in a sensational finals series and the continued growth of major stars Greg Inglis and Israel Folau.

Bulldogs chief executive Todd Greenberg has totally ruled out and re-negotiation with Sonny Bill Williams.

A homesick Sonny Bill Williams is said to be feeling the heat at Toulon and not happy with treatment and respect from millionaire club president Mourad Boudjellal. It certainly seems like Sonny is learning some life lessons pretty quickly, because naturally Toulon officials are not going to put up with SBW only playing 1 game every 4 weeks; especially considering his salary. Williams must be realising just how patient the Bulldogs were with his ever fragile body.

“We’ve heard those rumours as well and it’s not surprising at all for us that he’s homesick,” Greenberg said on air yesterday.

“Sometimes he got homesick when he was living back here in Sydney.”

Greenberg said there is no way SBW will be returning to the Bulldogs.

“If you’re asking me if we want him back, the answer’s no,” he said.

“We’ve had no contact from Sonny Bill or his manager.

“We’ve moved on and our suggestion is he do exactly the same.

“In my view this chapter’s over, it’s complete. Sonny made his choices some months ago, the reality of that is now he has to live with those choices.”

An expensive, unhappy and injured Sonny Bill Williams is sitting on the sidelines and that has angered Toulon boss Boudjellal.

“I think there’s some reality checks in that, it’s welcome to the real world,” Greenberg said.

“People expect a return on their investment and millionaires don’t become millionaires by making stupid decisions. Millionaires like this guy in France don’t give away money without expecting a return on the outlay.

“Some are more bullish than others and I’m sure this gentleman, by the sound of things, sounds a little bullish but my advice to Sonny would be put your head down and do your best. I’m sure he’ll be a great rugby union player.”

SBW had to cough up a $750,000 compensation package to the Bulldogs after illegally breaking his contract in the first 12 months of a 5-year deal in July, with David Gallop and the National Rugby League quickly banning him from ever playing Rugby League at the top level in Australia again.

Adding to the problems for Sonny Bill, it’s also reported that Toulon coach and close friend of SBW Tana Umaga is also reportedly under pressure with speculation former Wallabies boss John Connolly could link with the club. Umaga was instrumental in bringing SBW to Toulon and his sacking would have massive implications for Sonny staying on.

It’s news that many Bulldogs supporters would love hearing, struggling to cope with a long year and looking forward to some impressive recruits for 2009 – Canterbury supporters can take some heart in that the walk-out of SBW has helped them raise much needed funds for new blood and Williams now finds himself realising exactly what he walked out on.

NRL Teams, Finals Week 3 2008

NRL TrophyNRL Teams and Squad Lineups for Week 3 of the Telstra NRL Finals Series 2008. 

Melbourne Storm v Cronulla Sharks
7.45pm, Friday 26th September, Sydney Football Stadium

Storm: Billy Slater, Steve Turner, Matt Geyer, Israel Folau, Anthony Quinn, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk, Jeff Lima, Cam Smith ©, Brett White, Michael Crocker, Sika Manu, Dallas Johnson

Interchange: Aiden Tolman, Adam Blair, Scott Anderson, Antonio Kaufusi

Sharks: Brett Kearney, Misi Taulapapa, Ben Pomeroy, David Simmons, Luke Covell, Blake Green, Brett Kimmorley, Ben Ross, Isaac De Gois, Adam Peek, Luke Douglas, Fraser Anderson, Paul Gallen (capt).

Interchange: Danny Nutley, Bryan Norrie, Kade Snowden, Terence Seu Seu, Grant Millington, Mitch Brown (two to be omitted)

Manly Sea Eagles v New Zealand Warriors
7.45pm, Saturday 27th September, Sydney Football Stadium

Sea Eagles: Brett Stewart, Michael Robertson, Steve Bell, Steve Matai, David Williams, Jamie Lyon, Matt Orford (capt), Brent Kite, Matt Ballin, Josh Perry, Anthony Watmough, Glenn Hall, Glenn Stewart.

Interchange: Heath L’Estrange, Mark Bryant, Jason King, Steve Menzies, Adam Cuthbertson (one to be omitted).

NZ Warriors team: Wade McKinnon, Aidan Kirk, Brent Tate, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei, Michael Witt, Nathan Fien, Ruben Wiki, Ian Henderson, Steve Price (capt), Simon Mannering, Ben Matulino, Micheal Luck.

Interchange: Lnce Hohaia, Epalahame Lauaki, Sam Rapira, Grant Rovelli, Logan Swann, Evarn Tuimavave.

Wade McKinnon returns for NZ

Wade McKinnonNZ Warriors boom fullback Wade McKinnon was immediately reinstated for this weeks New Zealand Warriors team to face Manly in Saturday’s NRL preliminary final – coach Ivan Cleary pondering a tough call to inject the game breaking custodian into the side after replacement Lance Hohia performed so well in the last 2 weeks.

McKinnon has sat out the past three weeks after being found guilty of spitting at a touch judge in the Warriors’ home win over Penrith in the penultimate round of the regular season.

Utility Lance Hohaia, his replacement in the No 1 jersey in his absence, goes on to an expanded six-man bench.

McKinnon’s reintroduction for the sudden-death clash with the Sea Eagles at the Sydney Football Stadium for a place in the grand final is the only change to the Warriors’ starting 13.

NZ Warriors team: Wade McKinnon, Aidan Kirk, Brent Tate, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei, Michael Witt, Nathan Fien, Ruben Wiki, Ian Henderson, Steve Price (capt), Simon Mannering, Ben Matulino, Micheal Luck. Interchange: Lnce Hohaia, Epalahame Lauaki, Sam Rapira, Grant Rovelli, Logan Swann, Evarn Tuimavave.