Brisbane in romp as Panthers wilt 48-12

Brisbane Broncos crush Penrith Panthers 2008 NRL Round 1What can we say other than Brisbane had a party at Suncorp Stadium and the Penrith Panthers were the clowns; as a new look Broncos with Darren Lockyer back on deck cruised to an easy victory that will get them rolling into the 2008 NRL season with good confidence. Brisbane thrashing the Penrith side 48-12.

The new age Brisbane Broncos, look like remaining a force regardless of the new faces – as their new mobile forwards combined with the existing crop of players to crush the life out of the mistake riddled Panthers. While the Broncos may have lost new prop and former Panther Joel Clinton to a knee injury early on, it didn’t stop them getting over the top and around the bigger, heavier Penrith forwards.

The forward packs from these two sides couldn’t be more contrasting. The Panthers boasting big boppers in Petero Civoniceva, the Puletua boys and giant Frank Pritchard all weighing in at well over 100kgs. For the Broncos, it was a sleek looking Asthon Sims and Joel Clinton joining the pack; both looking to have dropped weight and existing front men Corey Parker, Ben Hennant and Sam Thaiday all looking very mobile as they worked their opponents around.

With Darren Lockyer starting from the bench, the Penrith Panthers had the chance to work into the game and get a start before the world’s best player was unleashed. That was a good plan in theory, but in reality the Panthers started 2008 where they left off last year – with a penalty inside 90 seconds of the game. You could forgive them and put it down to enthusiasm maybe, but it just kept happening. From all corners, the Panthers just couldn’t remain disciplined.

Penrith struggled to find cohesion in their halves in this match, new recruit Joe Williams having a poor kicking game and while Sammut didn’t start the match, his injection did build any successful links or combinations for the team – having a retreating forward pack and little possession didn’t help either.

The Broncos first try came off the back of a Panthers penalty, committing those cardinal sins again – Brisbane worked one of their old school double second man plays, to give Darius Boyd enough room on the wing to score comfortably and give Brisbane good confidence from early on.

Penrith really seemed to look lost after the early try. There was little taking amongst players and they really went into their shells; trying to gain confidence as they started running one out from the play the ball and bunching up real tight centre field.

Joel Clinton had a nervous start against his old team after a few mistakes and gift penalties and eventually succumbed to a knee injury; leaving after only a few minutes and missing the match.

As Penrith started from scratch, they began to find a little bit of rhythm just shy of the 20m mark. Mounting some pressure finally and getting some passes to stick, the Panthers looked certain to score on a few occasions but were guilty of not finishing off. The penny finally dropped for the Panthers when a hard running Nathan Smith was setup by Joe Williams from 10m out. A good second man play, where Wesser and Waterhouse sucked in the defence as dummy runners gave Smith the room and he didn’t disappoint. A proven performer in 2007, he again looks passionate for the Panthers and needs some of his energy to rub off on team mates.

This was the time for Penrith. They hit back and started to get some metres through Petero, as others started to chip in. Luke Rooney got busy, looked for work and the Panthers looked up for the contest.

Enter Darren Lockyer.

While starting half Peter Wallace was doing well for the Broncos, the injection of Lockyer gave the side so many options. Wallace and Lockyer looked to be a slick pairing immediately and not only worked off each other smoothly, but split the ruck and gave Penrith so much to worry about.

The first to crack for Penrith was Luke Priddis. Luke has achieved plenty in the game, but he really has lost that edge he had out of dummy half. His play seems very one dimensional and Luke rarely scampers out of the play the ball these days and to compound this – his discipline is shocking for Penrith. Priddis wasn’t playing smart football, there were errors compounded by penalties and in the blink of an eye Penrith went from challenging to having no chance.

On the attack, the Panthers grubber into the Broncos in goal and somehow – even with 5+ chasers manage to let Darius Boyd run out of the in-goal into the field of play and through frustration they work him over, give up a penalty – Broncos march downfield and score from the next play. This is Penrith 2007 all over again.

And it was the man Penrith said they didn’t want that really made them pay. Launching a towering bomb, Peter Wallace sent some work Michael Jennings’ way and without protection a scrambling Jennings spilled the beans and gifted Greg Eastwood a try to set the scene for a long day at the office for the visitors.

As halftime neared, the Panthers discipline got so bad – I stopped writing that D word down on my game report. Are these guys serious? I am dumbfounded how professionals can squander that much ball from infringements. I don’t know how Matt Elliott can deal with it.

The heart was ripped from Penrith right on the stroke of half time, as one of their few attacking raids was snuffed out, as Darius Boyd shoveled up an intercept to race 80m to score putting the Broncos well out of reach.

Apart from poor ball control and penalties against, the Panthers were being run around by a smart Brisbane forwards gameplan. On most plays the likes of Hennant and Sims were running and passing before the line which kept turning around the Penrith big men – really taking petrol from the tank that burnt them in back end.

The second term began much like the first. Either Matt Elliott used sign language in the dressing rooms or the players put headphones on during the coaches speech, as the first kick from their starting set of 6 sailed out on the full, immediately putting Penrith on the backfoot and setting the tone for the half.

Seconds after this kick failure there were more penalties. This was getting painful and I really felt for Panthers fans. Brisbane grew and grew. They kept accepting the gifts and began to really get confident, Darren Lockyer feeling his way into the game nicely to setup Justin Hodges for a wide gap running try on the Panthers left edge and new hooker PJ Marsh getting in on the action too, running to the line and finding those danger men again – the stepping Karmichael Hunt and Jusin Hodges to put on another hot try.

Even with Penrith managed a complete set without error or infringement, their final options were average at best. Any kicks were poorly directed and most were being defused by former Panther Peter Wallace as he read the plays that may have come from the 2007 playbook.

It was most certainly a long day at the office for the visiting side, Penrith needing to re-think their game almost immediately for this year or risk not improving on the last. The Brisbane, their new-look side probably got the best start possible. Being played into form and giving them time to softly ease Darren Lockyer into the fray and gel some combinations of new players.

Wallace looked immediately at home in the halves and should blossom now he feels wanted by a club. His combination with Lockyer should be a sight to see in a few weeks time. The makeshift hooking rotation of PJ Marsh and Shane Perry was also a plus for the Broncos who may have been worried at losing Michael Ennis late in the piece.

The most promising of all is the new Broncos forward pack. Their fitter, stronger and faster forwards could be the key to the 2008 NRL season. All heavy runners and hitters, that are fully mobile and possess all the skills in terms of offloads and game nous. No wonder big Dave Taylor can’t get a run – these Broncos look bulletproof in the forwards.

Wests Tigers lose Benji and win 24-16

The Wests Tigers played smart NRL football to outpoint the St George Illawarra Dragons, despite the loss of their no. 1 playmaker Benji Marshall after only 3 minutes. Marshall went down after just a basic tackle and immediately pulled up lame in the knee, latest reports suggesting posterior cruciate problems and possibly 6-12 weeks out for the luckless five-eighth.

On a hot Sydney day, the Tigers played the smarter game – keeping their plays simple and tight centre field and then picking the right times to expand and run the angles. Possession and control ultimately giving Wests the advantage, rather than any flashy or overly skillful play.

For St George Illawarra it was Groundhog day, or should we say Groundhog year – because they strolled out onto the SFS like it was 2007 all over again. Failure to secure possession, unforgivable forward passess from dummy half, stupid penalties and failure to find touch – everything that could go wrong did, and they didn’t know how to stop the rot.

For the Tigers, apart from having a smart game plan of starting simple then building on it; they actually stuck to their guns and didn’t force the pass. If a set move wasn’t on, they simply took the tackle and tried it again a set later. They compensated perfectly for the loss of Benji Marshall and there are many that feel in some ways the Tigers are a better team when they don’t simply rely on Marshall to do everything. Each player lifted a gear and in particular John Morris steered the team around beautifully and capped it off with some solid and accurate kicking.

Morris was aided by constant good kick chase enthusiasm and this spilled over into the defence line as well, Wests consistently rushing up in the face of the Dragons and bustling them. The heavy trial game loss to the Gold Coast Titans might have been the big wake up call the Tigers needed – as they came out playing for their lives. Todd Payten was particularly busy, getting through big chunks of work and was at his crafty best laying on offloads, hit and spins and desperation in defence and scrums.

For the Dragons, they were lucky it wasn’t 40 points that were put on them. Several times, they only just hung on as the flood gates were about to open. Jamie Soward the two Chase boys; Rangi and Stanley were lone rangers as the Saints forwards probably didn’t give them enough metres up front. When Jason Ryles tucked the ball under his wing running hard and straight he usually succeeded; however he seemed too intent on pre-meditating an offload or even kicking in some situations when it wasn’t on.

The Dragons game plan obviously involved attacking the Tigers right hand edge, specifically targeting Peni Tagive who not only passed the test in the air but was totally sound on the ground as Matt Cooper failed several times to get on the outside of his man. When St George Illawarra switched the play and attacked on Gasniers wing, they found the Tigers wanting and scored at the first opportunity – but for some reason, they didn’t send any more traffic down that edge. Mark Gasnier only touching the ball twice in the second half and that was from his own ambitious dummy half assistance.

A fitter, leaner Corey Payne was performing well for the Wests Tigers and naturally wanting to get one up against his old team. He remained busy and gave the Tigers good thrust in the middle. The architect of the Wests Tigers success was that man Robbie Farah, we were originally concerned he may have been carrying an injury after the Titans trial game or was possibly a yard short of fitness – but he really came good today, regularly probing, taking the right options and keeping the Dragons guessing in defence – which gave Farah’s players so much time.

Soward was the man most likely to get the Dragons out of jail in this match. Continually crafty and having to do more on his own due to the lack of platform from the forwards; he remained busy and got the Dragons on the board after a smart switch play from Matt Cooper who drew several Tigers defenders on their right hand edge but threw the ball back in centre field for Soward to run through unmarked as the Tigers were guilty of over committing to the edges.

Soward continued to work hard to get his team back into the match, as did the Chase men – Kirk Reynoldson put his hand up in the forwards and as a good reward, got a hot try off the back of a Rangi Chase move where he dummied and ran 2 or 3 times to find a flying angle running Reynoldson who ran in from 15m out untouched.

All of a sudden it was possibly game on. Saints had eaten away at the Tigers nice lead and Wests were probably guilty of getting a touch jittery on occasion. As the game hung in the balance for a few sets, the new boy for the Tigers Tim Moltzen was really putting his hand up. Looking very comfortable in the top grade, the debutant getting himself a try late in the match and certainly making Tim Sheens sit up and take notice of him for future starts.

As the Dragons looked their final chance right in the face, they fell over again. Constantly standing flat footed in attack, refusing to attack the side where they had all the success and then compounding it with a forward pass from dummy half. It really was crazy stuff. I think the thing with the Dragons is; they have such an array of naturally gifted talent but they lack a side controlling, experienced figure that has the personality to dominate and keep his team on the straight and narrow. I think they have lacked this kind of person since Barrett left and it continues to haunt them.

As Phil Gould cursed them and willed them home at the same time; even suggesting the Dragons were a hot tip on BetFair even with them being 14 points in arrears – the miracle was never going to happen today and you’ve really got to feel Nathan Browns pain.

The Dragons committing suicide and the Wests Tigers playing well enough to take advantage of their mistakes and get over the line for their first NRL Results of the 2008 NRL Season.

Play by Play:

7 min; Liam Fulton goes into score for the Wests Tigers off a nicely directed John Morris kick.

14min; Mark Gasnier stepping beautifully, weaves and shimmies – beating 4 Wests Tigers defenders from around 15m out to score a top solo try. Classic Gasnier.

17min; Tigers hit back quickly. Chris Lawrence the try scorer running hard and fast onto a very slick John Morris 2 man cut out ball. A very Ricky Stuart like spiral cut out pass it was, setting up Lawrence to score on the Saints right hand edge defence.

24min; All Robbie Farah. The classy hooker, back to his scheming best today. Runs from dummy half, shows it, dummies and goes alone to score. Ben Creagh left in his wake not even looking in the right direction.

51min; Tim Moltzen scores on debut for the Wests Tigers. Getting his hand to a smart little Robbie Farah grubber kick, well positioned that found the Dragons wanting – lazy in defence or simply poor positional play again.

56min; Jamie Soward in to score for the Dragons. Certainly deserved this try – had been trying all day. Looked eager and was on the end of some of Matt Coopers tidy work out wide, as Coops drew in plenty of Wests players and switched the ball long and back to centre field. Soward galloping into big space to score from 7 metres.

69min; Kirk Reynoldon a.k.a ‘Man from Snowy River’ or ‘Bush Tucker man’ as his beard is back in place – steam rolled through a gap off a hot Rangi Chase pass, after Chase did a Benji Marshall/Scott Prince style dummy and go, dummy and go, release. The short hip pass hitting Reynoldson on the chest and no one was ever going to stop this try. Saints got a sniff here, but weren’t good enough to go on with it.

Final Score; 24-16

Mason and Anasta caught in ‘Bra Boys’ Brawl

Willie Mason Bra Boys FightSydney Roosters players Willie Mason and Braith Anasta were caught in the middle of a brawl at the Coogee Bay Hotel, as the famous Bra Boys got rough with others at the troubled Eastern Sydney location.

It doesn’t get much unluckier for the two NRL stars, Willie Mason still reeling from death threats and a Kings Cross flare up only weeks ago – this time he finds himself and team-mate Braith Anasta right in the middle of a pub brawl.

Apparently the action happened quite early in the night, which helps keep the Roosters out of the spotlight. No doubt had it occurred later in the evening or in the early hours of the morning the luckless NRL guys may have been targeted by gossip mongers and the like.

Surprisingly the Coogee Bay Hotel came in 2nd on a list of the most troubled pubs last Tuesday ranking the worst licensed venues in NSW for assaults.

Mason, 27, a new recruit for the Roosters in 2008 has always been around the big headlines off the Rugby League field: “I know all the Bra Boys and they are all good guys. They have respect from me and I have respect from them.

“It had nothing to do with me and them, I was just getting caught in the crossfire.”

Mason and Anasta both former Bulldogs, said he had no idea what caused the brawl.

“Me and BA [Anasta ] were just having a beer and we were in the crossfire so we walked away,” he said. While because of his initials Anasta is known as BA, big Willie was probably is the one more reminiscent of the former A-Team man – BA Baraccus [aka Mr T] – with Mason wearing just as much bling and cruising in a similar fashion to the former TV icon.

“I was just an innocent bystander. The security guards were unbelievable. They got in there and got everyone out, they did a great job.

“It wasn’t my problem, so I got my girl to get me the hell out of there.”

Mason and Anasta moved on to the Golden Sheaf Hotel, Double Bay. Anasta, 26, who plays pivot at the Roosters, said he was not involved in the Coogee Bay incident.

Police were called to the hotel at 6.40 pm after reports of a brawl and a police spokesman said two people were injured in the violence.

FOI info shows there were 41 assaults at the Coogee Bay Hotel last year putting it behind the Mean Fiddler Hotel at Rouse Hill where there were 51

Sharks rock solid, upset Manly 16-10

Greg Bird Cronulla Sharks NRL 2008Even we had our doubts about Ricky Stuarts men in 2008, but after tonights gutsy win – the Sharks have proved their defence based brand of football will be a force this year, after their raid at Brookvale proved successful; ending at 16-10 over the highly fancied Manly Sea-Eagles.

In a spiteful game that will come under the watchful eye of the match review committee, the Sharks lost Ben Ross early after heavy head collision with new Sea Eagle Josh Perry. Ross old cold for several minutes and rushed to hospital for tests immediately.

With Manly having the better of the possession early on and enjoying several penalties; they could only muster a lone try to Anthony Watmough and struggled for attacking spark for a lot of the game. While the Sharks deserve credit for frustrating the life out of the Sea Eagles, there is no question that they missed Michael Monaghan tonight. So often when they needed something creative to get them points, they looked flat and devoid of ideas.

Fortunately for Manly, things could have been worse had the referee not disallowed a try to Brett Kearney that could have gone either way. In a brisk movement the Sharks David Simmons found a flying Kearney and setup what initially looked to be an impressive try.

The Sharks quickly came again, using their possession smartly and Bryson Goodwin getting over the line and Luke Covell adding the extras for n 8-6 lead at halftime. The age-less Luke Covell looking busy for a lot of the match and proving his value as he not only continued to slot 2 pointers but went centre field and regularly aided a tiring forward pack.

As Manly struggled for creativity, halfback Matt Orford was off target with the boot – relieving pressure on the visiting Sharks at several key moments and allowing them to build in confidence and belief as the game wore on.

Ricky Stuart coached sides are always noted defenders and while the Sharks continue to look good in this department, Stuart has obviously pushed for the team to employ more second phase play to help solve their scoring problems. The Sharks pushed passes like no tomorrow in the hope of sparking some linebreaks and the return of Brett Kearney to their ranks helped their cause no-end, taking the pressure of Kimmorley and proving a handful all over the park.

The other aspect where the Sharks impressed was from their set plays. Another of Ricky’s handiwork, Cronulla employed some nice pieces that looked slick and showed they will be a force in the 2008 NRL season. Everything was tied together nicely with a precise Brett Kimmorley kicking game, getting good metres and finding open space on the majority of kicks.

Manly improved in patches, but as they failed to crack the Sharks frustration grew and resulted in a stream of penalties that probably broke the home sides back. High shots and lazy marker play hurting the Eagles, who really needed someone to stand-up and take charge in this match. New buys Josh Perry and David Vaealiki both performed well without being outstanding and usual broken play specialist Steve Bell was kept very quiet as Cronulla watched him heavily.

Manly’s last throw of the dice came late, when flanker Michael Bani went into the corner to score off some ad-lib play that saw the ball go through several hands and give them a chance of stealing an unlikely victory.

It wasn’t to be, the Sharks nervously hanging on in the end to record a historic upset win – only the 3rd time in 20 years the Shire men have managed to come away from Brookvale Oval with a win. In contrast to that statistic however, coach Ricky Stuart hasn’t lost an opening round NRL game since he started coaching with the Roosters several years ago – a stat that remains in tact tonight after his underrated troops prove they have something to show in 2008.

Sharks v Manly Match Review Video Round 1, 2008 NRL

Knights too good for Canberra 30-14

Danny Buderus Newcastle Knights beat Canberra Round 1 NRL 2008The re-designed Newcastle Knights look to be taking a step in the right direction after a hard fought and promising win over the Canberra Raiders by 30 – 14. In a match where both teams struggled for handling security and battled the referee at various points, it was the Knights who looked most willing and certainly came out of the blocks well after what must have been a strong pre-season.

The Newcastle Knights might have had several new faces who slotted in nicely, but it was the experienced duo of Adam McDougall and Kurt Gidley that turned on the after-burners early. Both backs looking sharp and showing good speed to threaten in the first 5 minutes. Mad Dog looked to be particularly quicker than previous seasons and combined with the raw pace of Vuna – the Knights boast some serious weapons on the fringe.

As both teams struggled with last tackle options and simply ball security early on, it was the Raiders who weathered the early storm to put on first points through Lincoln Withers. The crafty dummy half sneaking over for a soft try from a metre out of dummy half.

The Raiders started to build some momentum from there and looked to be setting a good platform with some strong forward play and quick ruck speed from Withers. The Knights were helping their cause by giving away penalties and turning over possession frequently during this period; but somehow the Knights kept their defence together and scrambled well when needed – Brian Smith and his staff obviously working hard to stop their leaking line from last year.

The strong defence from the Knights was frustrating the Raiders, forcing them to push passes and ultimately leading to them turning over possession themselves. Jarrod Mullen then got the Knights back onto a roll with strong kicking, directing at the corners and getting strong metres for his team. Newcastle eventually started to get some cohesion in the halves after a late team change forced Mullen to pivot.

Around the 21m mark Lincoln Withers suffered a chest injury for the Raiders and the impact on his team was a big one. As Withers struggled to continue, his side started to really lose the momentum and missed his thrust from the play the ball. Allan Tongue and Scott Logan worked hard for the Raiders, but they were too one-dimensional in their attack for most of the match.

The Knights had come with a plan to attack the Raiders right hand defence and after busting it so many times with good runs from Corey Patterson and Cooper Vuna, Newcastle simply just couldn’t put the final pass together and literally went inches short several times.

In the 25m mark the Raiders got an extremely lucky call when referee Tony De La Heras made an absolute shocker of a call after Gidley shoulder charged a surrendering Phil Graham that lay on the ground. A totally legal tackle, Terry Campese took offence to it and started a scuffle that should have immediately been a Knights penalty. Somehow the officials got it wrong even after video review and the Raiders were let off lightly.

Canberra continued to struggle during this period and even though their impressive bench of Neville Costigan and Michael Weyman were injected into the game, it was the Raiders defence that was keeping them in the game. The Knights started to punch holes in them on both sides of the field but the Canberra men kept scrambling well.

What also helped the Radiers was the Knights taking wrong options in attack. As Newcastle made linebreaks all over the park, many through Kurt Gidley and his lightning speed somehow the Knights kept failing to take the correct final option. Seemingly starting to panic as the try line neared, Newcastle passed the wrong way and ran away from their support at times.

It seems Brian Smith has worked had to introduce more offloads into the Knights game with the majority of their forwards looking for second phase and this did give them more creativity in attack. It was the opposite for the Raiders tonight, continuing to play one-out single dimension football they kept their forward runs tight and close to the ruck and began to be picked off in big numbers by the Knights defenders.

Late in the first half, the Knights finally got the confidence boost they needed, a quick succession of tries firstly to Wes Naiqama who was a solid performer all night and then a late effort by Cooper Vuna got the Knights into overdrive.

Possession was now really favouring Newcastle as the strode into the sheds and the Raiders defence was cracking, missed tackles starting to really creep up for them at the halfway mark.

Neil Henry should have pushed his men to feed more ball to their outside backs in the second term, with limited touches new buy Joel Monaghan always looked confident and threatening and added some strike power out wide – but the Raiders simply didn’t feed him enough ball. It was the same for the likes of Purtell, who didn’t see the ball until too late in the game.

As the second half continued both sides dropped in intensity and struggled for precision as early season fatigue, reduced interchange and several injury problems crept in. Full of penalties and stop start play, neither side could get an upper-hand. The Knights continued to have more of the ball but failed to capitalize until a towering bomb was left to bounce by the Raiders allowing a second kick by Knight McManus which eventually allowed Danny Buderus to trail through and cleanup an in goal fumble by Alan Tongue who makes the first shocker mistake for 2008. Tongue simply having to ground the ball, but chose to roll the dice and try the pickup gifting the Knights a 4 pointer.

With Newcastle out in front, the game looked over until Todd Carney got the Raiders back into the picture with two try assists that looked like action replays of each other. Cutting out two men, Carney found a running Purtell who strode into the Knights left hand corner untouched. Newcastle compressing their defence and paying the price on the edge as the Raiders finally worked out the right play.

With Purtells second touchdown, it was 18-14 with 10 minutes to play – giving the Raiders a chance to steal an unlikely away win.

But it was more of the same for Canberra, silly penalties and lack of patience saw them allow the Knights downfield and pin-point kicking from Newcastle allowed a bullocking Danny Wicks to notch up a match winning try for his new club and the big man picked up the rebounding ball off the sticks and pounce over.

Obviously both teams wanting to get a crucial early season NRL Result, but also grab some confidence that will erase memories of their poor 2007 seasons. The Raiders probably looked too similar to 2007 and continued their one-out tight forward runs for too much of the game, when they expanded late in the piece the spoils were there for them. Withers and Zillman both had high quality games before getting injured and putting aside the handling errors the Raider forwards were tireless for much of the match.

For the Knights, if they can continue to grow in confidence they could leave their mark in the 2008 NRL. They were making all the breaks, but didn’t know how to score at times. Corey Paterson, Kurt Gidley and Danny Buderus all had big showings for the Red and Blues.

There were a few injuries to come out of this one; Raiders full-back William Zillman suffered concussion and Queensland State of Origin forward Neville Costigan re-injured his thigh. Knight Steve Simpson has a likely grade two tear to his knee, forward Cory Paterson suffered a knee knock and Cooper Vuna a dislocated finger.

Eels awake to claw back Dogs 28-20

Parramatta Eels Feleti Mateo 2008 NRLTo win an NRL game you mostly need the ensure the following: possession, completion, discipline and field position. Never were these age old messages more true than tonight at ANZ Stadium as the Eels and Bulldogs squared off and played two opposite halves of Rugby League. With the Eels eventually getting away winners 28-20 after being down 20-0 at half time.

The Bulldogs started superbly. Full of confidence and aggression, they were like caged animals as they pushed the Eels back in defence and made metres without the ball. Sonny Bill Williams back to his damaging best as he put on hits and caused nightmares from his first touch.

The plan was working. Steve Folkes must have be elated as months of frustration was unleashed and the Bulldogs forced the Eels to consistently turnover ball. After only a few minutes, the Dogs went into score through Lee Te Maari after a bad read from Joel Reddy and the Eels failing to number up on their left edge. Te Marri benefiting from a superb Ben Roberts passed that was laid on nicely from out 5-7 metres out.

The Bulldogs continued to look the goods, keeping the momentum going and forcing the Eels to drop ball on virtually every occasion, it was simply astounding how much ball the Eels put down – it happened on early tackles in front of goal posts and everywhere else in their half.

The Dogs took full advantage, their 2008 halves combination of Daniel Holdsworth and Ben Roberts looking good, with Roberts in particular pushing some nice short balls and creating plenty for outside runners. New buy and former Eel Justin Tsoulos was keen to impress against his old club, getting his workrate right up but probably being guilty of overdoing things as he gave away a stack of penalties to the Eels – one in particular a coach killer when he failed to play the ball correctly.

The majority of the first half was played in the Eels territory, the Bulldogs kicking accurately and forcing Parramatta to work it out from their line most sets. The pressure told again on Parra when debutant Taulima Tautai spilled a ball in front of the posts and the Bulldogs pounced to send Willie Tonga in on the next play. Tonga and the Dogs exposing the problems with the Eels right hand edge, with Eric Grothe and others sometimes tending to race up out of the line too early.

Just when things could get any worse for Parramatta, when they finally did receive a penalty they failed to find touch. It simply didn’t look like the Eels team from 2007 and with the likes of Tim Smith, Ben Smith, Jarryd Hayne and Chad Robinson all missing from the lineup there were new faces everywhere. Things might be the same next week, as exciting outside back Kris Inu seemed to cop an ankle injury early in the game and continued on albeit restricted, during the match.

As the Eels fought to find completions to their sets, the Bulldogs worked another nice play in the 35 min and used Sonny Bill Williams as a dummy runner to attract two defenders which allowed Hazem El Masri to score untouched right in the corner as Eels rookie Taulima Tautai was caught in two minds. The Bulldogs had sharpened their defence for this season too, even when the Eels managed a rare line break the scrambling defence from the Dogs quickly shutdown any raids – putting them in good stead for the season ahead. Every tackle from the Dogs had venom. Notably Lee Te Maari and Ben Roberts led the way here, showing how it’s done as they chased down kicks and pressure the Eels at every occasion. Forcing the ball loose several times.

The Dogs were feeding off the momentum. As substitutions began to take the field late in the first half, a rejuvenated Kane Cleal was running the ball hard for the Bulldogs – making massive metres and sending the Eels skittling on impact. On the flip side, when Eels new buy Joe Galuvao took the field at the same time – he could only manage a drop ball from his first touch.

As the teams checked in for half time, the vision from the dressing rooms told the same story. The Dogs anxious to get back on to the paddock and in the Eels sheds, the players didn’t really seem interested. First half stats reading the Bulldogs completing 19/27 sets and the Eels 10/19.

The Eels aren’t known for comebacks, their biggest ever was against the Raiders in 1989 when at Parramatta Stadium the Eels fought back from 22 points down. Their was zero evidence this was happen tonight against a new born and fiercely agressive Bulldogs side.

As the second half got underway an early tackle on Bulldog Sonny Bill Williams changed the course of the game. After 3 to 4 Eels tackled SBW in a regulation tackle the blockbusting backrower gingerly got to his feet and you instantly knew their was a problem. Bravely staying on the field, both his team mates and more importantly the opponents knew he was gone.

That single event seemed to give the Eels hope. All of a sudden sets were completed, Parramatta started to build pressure and for the first time the new look Dogs started to have some old wounds opened. After their first repeat set for the match, the Eels finally got on the scoreboard with Eric Grothe leaping high to take a pinpoint Brett Finch bomb and touch down safely for 4 points.

Halftime and the SBW injury were immediately weighing heavy on the Bulldogs minds. Suddenly penalties and and field position was all favouring the Eels and they had a massive possession swing their way.

Only minutes after the Grothe try, a run to the line by acting half Brett Finch drawing 3 Dogs defenders in – saw the Eels work it through several hands close to the line and as the Dogs couldn’t wrap up the ball the offloads got Parramatta a quickfire try through a diving Mateo. In minutes it went from all Dogs at 20-0 to all Parra and 20-12.

It was the first time the struggling Eels looked like running down the Bulldogs and even the Dogs of war looked nervous.

The interchanging of hookers by both teams proved crucial. Mark Riddell was subbed for rookie Matt Keating and Corey Hughes changed for Michael Sullivan the former Sharks and recent UK Super League rake.

Both contrasting in styles, Sullivan tried hard to get things going but behind a retreating pack and with little ball – he was quickly tiring and was notably blowing at several times. For the Eels; Keating was solid without being brilliant, he played a simple game of service to his runners and this did the trick.

In this period as the Eels got the ascendancy over the Dogs, Brett Finch really came to life. Virtually non-existent in the first half as the Eels had no ball, all of a sudden he was outpointing the previously impressive Roberts and Holdsworth.

The Dogs finally got some possession and rhythm back for a period around the 55th minute mark and really needed to make the most of it. Looking certain to score, the Dogs worked a slick left hand side movement and found the Eels short of numbers yet again. A rampaging Matt Utai taking and inside ball 5m from the line but somehow a floating Brett Finch managed to stop the mini-giant. This single play summed up how the game had changed – simply a massive turn of fortunes on the back of possession and completion.

In the final period of the match it was intense, the Eels always looked like running in stronger but the Dogs weren’t giving up without a fight. The Bulldogs tried the rough stuff and while they copped a few penalties for it – Eel Joel Reddy came off worse for wear with a shocker of a black eye, looking more like Popeye or a Heavyweight Boxer after a title fight. Somehow the partially blind Eel managed to climb up and take not one but two accurate Brett Finch bombs to send the Eels into the lead for the first time.

As the Eels clung to a two point lead with 10 minutes to go, the Bulldogs were digging deep to get some back. Being such an early season game, the majority of players were breathing hard and the 10 man interchange rule simply made this harder.

The Bulldogs looked good whenever they swung the ball to the flanks and the started pushing it to Tonga and El Masri which nearly paid dividends as they found space and nearly scored off a neat El Masri chip. Eel Kris Inu in a similar fashion to SBW remained a passenger and was hobbling for most of the match, but the Dogs simply couldn’t capitalize on this in the 2nd half.

As the Eels tried to run down the clock, a smart move by Brett Finch with only a minute to go saw him fake a field goal and throw a shortball back to Feleti Mateo which rebounded off Mateo’s face after getting a Bulldog touch allowing the Eels to sneak in a late try to seal the game.

Certainly a tale of two halves and one that would have Bulldogs coach Steve Folkes feeling like he is the unluckiest man on earth. The Bulldogs coming out with such focus and controlled aggression but unable to sustain it for the full duration. The Bulldogs seem heavily hinged on Sonny Bill Williams probably more so this year after Willie Mason and Shrek departed. It was almost instantaneous as he went down hurt, the whole game changed.

Eels v Bulldogs Round 1 2008 NRL Game Review Video:

Taylor: It was a cheap shot on Wing

Jason TaylorSouth Sydney coach Jason Taylor labeled it a “cheap shot” and one that will see Souths key signing Craig Wing off the field for some time. Wing was flawed by Riley Brown only minutes into the 34-20 win by the Sydney Roosters at the Olympic Stadium tonight.

The return of Craig Wing lasted only 7 minutes before he was targeted by new Roosters recruit Riley Brown, who ironically took over from Wing at Bondi in the hooking position this year.

Jason Taylor was scathing in his criticism of what he saw as a pre-meditated attack. Never one to hold back, Taylor remained adamant that the Roosters plotted to take Craig Wing out in tonights season opener.

“They purposely held him up so the third man in could get him with a shoulder charge to his back,” Taylor said.

“If you watch the replay you can actually see his eyes light up saying to the other bloke ‘I’ve got him, I’m holding him up, get him’.

“There’s a lot been talked about cleaning up the game … he got held up so someone else could smash him.”

“It was a cheap shot.

“I’d imagine that would be something that they train for and they did it well.”

Roosters coach Brad Fittler dismissed Taylors line of thinking, saying “that’s his opinion and he’s entitled to it, but I didn’t think it was a cheap shot”.

Skipper Craig Fitzgibbon added Riley Brown “Was well within his rights to attack Wing, even though it had appeared his momentum had already been stopped.”

“It was a good hard hit and there was intention in it, he saw Wingy’s back open so he probably tried to put a shot on him and he did and it worked,” Fitzgibbon said.

“Fortunately for us it took Craig out of the game because he’s one of their better players and he would have been a handful tonight.”

It leaves the door open for a spicy rematch between the two sides, the Roosters obviously delighted at the fact Wing was escorted from the field and while the hit is deemed legal in the rule book, it’s something thats not seen often and many felt that it wasn’t in the interest of the game.

Titans christen “Temple of Boom” to beat Cowboys

The new Titans home at Skilled Park, Robina – dubbed the “Temple of Boom” by Titans marketeers, was home to a sell-out crowd of 26,974 that watched the Coast run in six tries to three after jumping out to a 22-12 lead by halftime.The lifeless Cowboys could have done with Indiana Jones to crack the whip on some weak defence – an unwanted early season worry for coach Graham Murray.

Rumours of Thurston’s surprise appearance a month early from double shoulder surgery sparked a betting plunge mid-week, with bookies standing to take a bath if the star playmaker had guided his side to victory.

He did his best – crossing twice – but it was his brilliant Titans nemesis Scott Prince (six goals) and 24-year-old Atkins who made sure the Cowboys didn’t ruin Skilled’s grand unveiling.

Atkins, who hails from Toowoomba and was plucked from feeder club the Burleigh Bears, crossed twice in the first half before torching the Cowboys for two more in the second to come from the clouds in the season opener.

“I expected maybe a couple of scoots from dummy half and that was it,” a shocked Atkins said after the match.

If the scoreline wasn’t bad enough, Cowboys lock Luke O’Donnell faces possible suspension after he was placed on report for his 64th minute high shot on Titans reserve Josh Graham.

Thurston crossed twice but failed to impose himself on the game in the fashion fans have come to expect from the Queensland and Kangaroos halfback.

If his panel beaten shoulders were giving him cause for self-doubt, Thurston was showing no outward signs as early proceedings unfolded.

Sporting the unfamiliar 25 on his back, he made the opening tackle of the night to fell charging Titans prop Michael Hodgson, before almost putting Ashley Graham over after five minutes, only to be held up by Preston Campbell.

While Thurston was using smarts to confound the Coast defence, Titans co-captain Luke Bailey went for a more agricultural approach when he carried two defenders over in the 11th minute to deflower Skilled Park’s virgin in-goals and make it 6-0 after Prince’s conversion.

The capacity crowd was wide awake but the Titans’ left-hand defence found time for a nap to blow the early advantage six minutes later.

Ben Harris’s diving try out wide was converted by Thurston to level the scores before Atkins blew the game open with two tries in four minutes to give his side an 18-6 lead.

The first was a regulation effort, sprinting away from a Brett Delaney draw-and-pass to dive over in the 21st minute.

His second was anything but run of the mill. Atkins leaped above the pack to grab a Prince cross-kick before his finger-tip grounding – as he was launched into touch by Mark Henry – was the beneficiary of a generous video refereeing decision by Tim Mander.

A simple Anthony Laffranchi try through some worryingly weak Cowboys defence advanced the score to 22-6 soon after before a crisply worked backline move had Thurston strolling over out wide in the final minute of the half, with his curveball conversion giving his side a faint sniff at 22-12.

A sniff was all it was. Prince’s early penalty extended the lead before that man Atkins was in for his third, finishing off a stunning Titans try with a bolt down the right flank.

Atkins was saluting but he owed Delaney, who floated a beautiful pass over the heads of the Cowboys cover defence to set up the 51st minute special that all but sealed victory at 30-12.

Thurston crossed for his second with seven minutes remaining but fittingly Atkins had the final word, cantering over for his fourth with just minutes to play and put an unforgettable stamp on the 36-18 victory.

The only other player to score four tries on debut was Tony Nash for Canterbury in 1942.

GOLD COAST 36 (J Atkins 4 L Bailey A Laffranchi tries S Prince 6 goals) bt NORTH QUEENSLAND 18 (J Thurston 2 B Harris tries J Thurston 3 goals) at Skilled Park. Referee: Shayne Hayne. Crowd:  26,974.

Titans dazzling in 36-18 win over Cowboys

The return of North Queensland skipper Johnathan Thurston was upstaged by new winger Jordan Atkins’ stunning NRL debut as the Titans ran out 36-18 winners in their NRL season opener on the Gold Coast.

Thurston may have had top billing after making a remarkable comeback from injury but Atkins stole the show with a thrilling four-try haul.

The only other player to score four tries on debut was Tony Nash for Canterbury in 1942.

The Titans only learned an hour before kick-off that Thurston would definitely return from two shoulder reconstructions and play more than four weeks earlier than long expected.

However, the spotlight was soon firmly on 25-year-old Atkins of Stanthorpe.

Atkins became the first player off the club’s local talent production line to make his NRL debut and his heroics helped seal a fitting christening to the Titans’ new $160 million Robina home, Skilled Park.

Thurston tried to carry the Cowboys on his reconstructed shoulders, scoring all but four of North Queensland’s points including a two try haul but it was all to no avail.

The sellout 26,974-strong crowd booed Thurston when he ran out in the unfamiliar No.25 jersey.

And Cowboys coach Graham Murray didn’t have to wait long for Thurston’s shoulders to be tested.

The two-time Dally M medal winner chimed into the first tackle of the match on Gold Coast prop Michael Hodgson.

The Titans jumped to a 22-6 first half lead by piling on four tries including two in five minutes by Atkins.

Atkins’ second in the 25th minute was contentious.

He flew high to snaffle a Scott Prince cross field kick but appeared to lose control as he crashed down to earth.

However, video referee Tim Mander gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Just when the Titans threatened to run amok, that man Thurston scrambled over to score right on halftime to cut the deficit to 22-12.

After the Gold Coast led 22-12 at halftime, Atkins completed his hat-trick in the 50th minute thanks to a clever overhead pass by Brett Delaney.

Thurston crossed for a solo try in the 70th but Atkins was not to be outdone – his fourth four-pointer was confirmed by Mander in the 76th.

The Cowboys’ Test backrower Luke O’Donnell is on report for a 64th minute high shot on Titans reserve Josh Graham.

Fittler’s new-look Roosters belt Souths 34-20

With plenty of buildup and fan fare as the NRL kicked off it’s Centenary Season, 2008 got underway at ANZ Stadium tonight with the Sydney Roosters getting a win over the highly fancied South Sydney Rabbitohs outfit 34-20. While the promise of the David Kidwell and Willie Mason explosion didn’t eventuate, there was plenty of fireworks in a game where Souths lost key playmaker Craig Wing.

With much expected from new season signings on both sides, it was the Rabbitohs new recruit Craig Wing who was the centre of attention early. After 7 minutes the former Rooster was hit hard in an awkward position by a shoulder charging Riley Brown, the hit dislocating Wings shoulder and putting him out of action for the night and possibly a long stint on the sideline after his shoulder was reportedly damaged heavily.

The Sydney Roosters didn’t need any encouragement, with the new look Bondi brigade looking eager early on. As predicted Willie Mason started from the bench and the starting pack looked strong and extremely mobile as the Roosters got the much better platform laid early. Other Bulldog acquisition Mark O’Meley had a steady but uneventful start and slotted into the lineup without too much fuss.

The Roosters got on the board first through Sa, after a precision kick from Mitchell Pearce that had Amos Roberts flying high to take a bomb and flick a nice pass to Sa to score in the corner. The usually bulletproof Souths defence looked a little out of order as the left hand edge failed to give each other protection during the Pearce bomb. The Roosters looking very slick for such an early season game, their passing and kicking was exceptionally good.

Continuing the momentum, the Roosters were soon in again. This time a rejuvenated Nate Myles scored a soft try after dragging 3 Souths defenders over the line to reach down and score. Souths remained shell shocked and continued to look lost after their playmaker Craig Wing was relegated to the sidelines. Myles looked to be grabbing his starting spot with both hands, after a sluggish 2007 – he really put in the big ones tonight.

As the kicking game of Mitchell Pearce allowed the Roosters every advantage, the same couldn’t be said for Jeremy Smith. Several times Smith made wrong decisions and executed poorly as he kicked for touch within 25m of his opponents try line, kicked out on the full and found the Roosters defenders on the full also. Souths looked to be missing the creativity and steady hand of Ben Rogers as the make shift halves pairing continued to fail behind little if any go forward early on.

Fortunately for South Sydney, livewire hooker Issac Luke was on the pace. Some scampers from dummy half and energetic defending saw Luke wrestle some of the momentum back from the Roosters. Aided by some solid running by prop forward Michael Greenfield, the two were able to get some nice offloads away to get Souths on the scoreboard through Nathan Merritt. It seemed like the giant had finally awoke with the possession starting to even out and Souths generating some confidence.

The swing was short lived for the Bunnies, with a rampaging Anthony Tupou running off a staggeringly beautiful short ball from a Roosters set play. In a stylish move, the Roosters sucked several Souths defenders in and found a close running Tupou to go in untouched. Lopini Paea providing a superb short ball after faking the longer pass and confusing everyone except his team-mate.

This try tore the heart out the Bunnies and they struggled to hang on as half time neared. Souths continued to let themselves down with poor hands, particularly out wide with Vagana having an off-night and rarely threatening. The new look Roosters continued to have such a balanced look, Braith Anasta was under less pressure as team-mates assisted with the set plays and provided options on both sides of the park.

In the second half it looked to be more of the same, with Souths continuing their poor kicking game and the Roosters scoring plenty more points early on. Anthony Tupou continuing his strong game with more gap running off Anasta to put himself into score and soon after the Rabbits found themselves down 34-4. The Roosters looking keen and executing sharply to really give their fans some excitement for 2008.

With the game obviously gone, the concern for the Rabbitohs was a massive dent in their confidence should they lose by such a big margin. With the scoreboard heavily in their favour, the Roosters were probably guilty of clocking off a bit as they sat back and through some ill-discipline let South Sydney get back into the game with a couple of quick tries.

As he did all night, the passionate Issac Luke worked hard for Souths and was easily the best player in the losing side – generating some nice attacking movements and forging a late fightback for his side.

In the end it wasn’t enough, recovering from 34-4 to get to 34-20 was enough to restore pride to Souths, but the praise and promise remains with the Sydney Roosters. The new look side seems to have the balance to become a regular threat this year, with their set plays really looking sensational and their strong mobile forwards laying a great foundation for the likes of Amos Roberts and a healthy Anthony Minichiello.

Both Amos and Mini looked at their classic best, with Minichiello breaking tackles and regularly looking dangerous with the ball in his hand. Roberts proved a handful for Souths whenever he attacked the ball in the air or got some space and Fittler looks to have his interchange setup nicely, with Willie Mason coming in at the right time and statistically beating all the other Roosters forwards in terms of workrate vs gametime.

Roosters fans, things look good. While the team lacked a little bit of match fitness which is to be expected and thus they clocked off early – you look to have a solid chance of making the finals this year. For Souths, while disappointing – the problem was in the loss of Craig Wing early on and the fact that limited troops would make things hard. The fightback and amount of points scored by the Bunnies in a short period remains a highlight and shows they have corrected some problems from last year.