Sharks snatch victory over Eels

Sharks Eels Round 11 2009 NRL ReviewCronulla have snapped a 9 game run of losses, and snatched a 13-10 last minute win over Parramatta in a battle of the bore style NRL clash at a wet and windy Parramatta Stadium.

Trailing 10-6 for most of the second half, a late try and a Trent Barrett field goal with 4 minutes left gave Ricky Stuart’s squad their 1st win since Round 1 of the 2009 NRL.

A dedicated but small crowd of just over 7,000 braved the conditions and possibly the most boring football of the year as the sides ran one out for near 75 minutes of this match.

Touchdowns to Luke Burt and Joel Reddy had given the Eels a 10-6 lead at half-time with high flying Shark Covell going over for a try from a high kick, but when Mitch Brown crossed in the 69th-minute, the visitors remained calm at the death as Parramatta were made to pay for poor kicking and silly handling errors late in the piece. The Eels remained on the bad side of referee Ben Cummins, the whistle blower hammering the home side when he was in control of the ruck.

Ricky Stuart was elated to finally get a victory and heaped praise on his rookie halfback Scott Porter who was thrown in at the deep end. Porter remained calm and took good options when he had to.

The Eels too were well served by young debut half Daniel Mortimer and new half Jeff Robson had his best game yet for the Eels. The home side while not at their best, did enough to win this game and coach Anderson was furious with what he saw as ‘un-intelligent football’ in the final 10 minutes.

The Sharks took their chances, veteran pivot Trent Barrett only needed one shot at the field goal, snapping the one pointer from a wobbly shot from 20 metres out.  Barrett was only involved in patches tonight, at times playing on the edge with an injury seemingly troubling him.

Covell was busy and troubled the Eels whenever he lept for attacking kicks in their red zone. For the Eels, they badly missed Jarryd Hayne in attack and struggled in the back end with workhorse Nathan Hindmarsh injured mid-way through the match.

Cronk, Finch fined by Storm

Cooper Cronk Brett Finch Pee FineMelbourne Storm has today fined Cooper Cronk and Brett Finch $5,000 each for their part in a minor incident in Byron Bay last night.

The players contacted the club this morning and notified officials that they had been cautioned on the spot by NSW Police for urinating in a public place.

While neither player was found to be intoxicated at the time of the incident, Storm CEO Brian Waldron said he is deeply disappointed with the actions of both players concerned.

“This type of behaviour is unacceptable,” Waldron said.

“As such we have decided to send the strongest message possible to our players by imposing the substantial fines. “Our players must recognise that this type of irresponsible behaviour will not be condoned at our club. “We have notified the NRL of this incident and they are supportive of the disciplinary action imposed”.
The Melbourne Storm have a bye this round and players are not required back at the club until Sunday afternoon. The club will not be making any further comment on the matter.

Highway to Dell, Saints win well

Dragons Panthers NRL Round 11 2009 ReviewVeteran flanker Wendell Sailor answered his coaches call tonight, stepping up his involvement for the Saints in the absence of State of Origin stars, big Dell getting a double as the the Panthers were dusted 38-10.

The brave crowd at WIN Stadium were in shock early, as a fired up Panthers side started well and looked like they were ‘on’. But such is the knife edge momentum swings in Rugby League today, two quick fire tries to St George Illawarra against the run of play had them skipping out to a nice lead.

With both sides missing key men from up front, the likes of Civoniceva and Lewis for Penrith and Weyman, Poore and Creagh for the Dragons, it was the lesser known Dragons pack that put their hand up and gave the likes of Hornby and Soward to do their thing. Coach Bennett had no doubt instructed Wendell Sailor to come in-field and help where possible, big Dell highly involved for his side.

After the initial softening up period, the 2 tries against the run of play seemed to warm the Dragons up. Defensive monster Beau Scott continues to amaze, his driving, punishing defence continues to be near NRL best and he played a good role in offence tonight, scoring a difficult try for his side and getting into good position for the most part. Playmaker Soward was again at his best, his agility, certainly on the final tackle option gives the Dragons so much.

Several times the Panthers rushed Soward, only for the creative half to change direction easily and pick another option.

The other standout for the Saints continues to be Brett Morris, the potentially Belmore bound boy was irresistible when he touched the ball. His kick returns were lethal, generally busting the first and second tackles and getting massive metres.

The Panthers, while soundly beaten shouldn’t walk away too disheartened. They were missing key men tonight and really lacked a good bounce of the ball. Their early energy was good, but several final option passes just wouldn’t stick. Jarrod Sammut threatened several times early, only for the last pass to fall to ground as support arrived. Sammut was peppered early in defence, the diminutive fullback missing a bomb as Hornby flew through to score, but quickly made up for it when he stopped a certain try from the Dragons beside the posts.

Sammut smartly stripping the ball loose for his side, but injuring his hip shortly after and leaving the field.

Lachlan Coote was immediately slotted into fullback and did a good job for his team under constant pressure. New half Luke Walsh was quiet tonight and struggled off the boot, but this could be put down to a forward pack that was being pushed back in front of him. Wade Graham was highly involved and as usual, a key component to his sides offence.

Graham scoring points and breaking through the line when he ran direct.

So the Dragons continue their surge towards the NRL Minor Premiership with a solid victory in Wollongong, and the Panthers will quickly lick their wounds after a night where they couldn’t get a single thing to go their way.

Next week, the Dragons are away from home to face the Titans in Queensland in yet another test for them and the Penrith side will fancy their chances away to the Wests Tigers.

NRL Footy Show Review

Channel 9 NRL Footy ShowIt seems the Channel 9 NRL Footy Show is back on the skids after losing Matt Johns in recent weeks. Host Paul Vautin continues to struggle, poor old Fatty just can’t seem to get the blend of entertainment and serious Rugby League talk right. While starting strongly and covering some important issues, the old Hey Hey it’s Saturday skits sadly came flooding back.

Fortunately Gus Gould and Andrew Voss give us some insight into the Rugby League world. The panel spoke about Origin tonight, with the majority feeling that Queensland will have too much talent, experience and depth for NSW in 2009. Gus interestingly showed us vision of Jamie Lyon who may have a defensive inefficiency which was exposed by the Cowboys this year, Lyon seemingly lazy off his left shoulder in defence when playing on the fringe.

Gus also spoke of his recent bread breaking lunch with Ricky Stuart. The pair trying to patch up their hostile relationship. Gould confirming the pair spoke from virtually lunch time to midnight and after a few wines the pair were making progress which is good for all involved. Certainly for Stewart, he doesn’t need anything taking away from his prime focus of getting the Sharks back on track.

Remaining on the coaching front, the panel spoke with Brad Fittler live from Bondi. Freddy openly discussing his situation at the Roosters and confirming he won’t be walking away anytime soon. Fittler has been under pressure after falling out with senior players, some felt the club may ask Fittler to walk away, but according to the former NSW Captain he will be in control and has support for the rest of 2009. Freddy was candid about the situation and said he would not hold any grudges should he be sacked and will continue to remain a ‘realist’ about his situation.

When questioned about his decision to slot Anasta in at fullback, Fittler said he stood by the call – suggesting that lack of troops forced his hand and he was stuck for options all the way from the back to hooker.

The Origin camps have already sparked plenty of talk, with the NSW squad staying in 5 star accomodation down in Melbourne and the Queensland Maroons rumoured to be staying in a caravan park to keep them well and truly grounded.

Wendell Sailor was on the Footy Show Panel tonight and added quality commentary to the team. Always a likeable character, Wendell gave good insight into the recent Paul Gallen racism affair. Sailor feeling that while unacceptable, Gallen should be allowed to continue playing without any suspension. Big Dell did say he felt that while passionate, Gallen has too much ‘grubby’ tactics in his game and needs to get rid of them.

The debate around the Gallen affair has struck interest far and wide it seems. The allegations suggesting that Gallen called Mickey Paea “A Black C…”.

But where does this sit in the scheme of things? Former Sharks player Gavin Miller made an interesting suggestion, what about with American President Barack Obama – whom is called “The First Black President of the United States”? Is this racist? Or merely a descriptive term?

Vautin chimed in on the panel suggesting he was regularly taunted about his red hair, was this too considered discrimination?

What about if a player suddenly is called a “White C…”? Will this too see a similar fine?

While the NRL has earned praise in recent years for being proactive on everything from player misbehaviour, to recreational drugs to players sexual habits – they continue to set boundaries that could continue to haunt them for years to come. Racism is unacceptable and has no place in society, but Rugby League and the NRL need to becareful not to become the judge, jury and executioner in all these instances.

The Footy Show started strongly covering these topics, but then it all turned sour.

Viewers subjected to players throwing eggs at each other, holding their breath in bowls of water and then throwing the footy through the hole. Come on guys, it was like we were back at a Primary School Fair! Lets keep it real.

But just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, out comes a bouncing Keno ball in front of a chocolate wheel raffle that made viewers feel like we were at a pub in the 1970’s.

After starting 2009 with a new feel and giving us glimpses of hope, it seems the NRL Footy Show is still doomed to failure.

The NRL Flashback (2005)

NRL 2005 Review FlashbackHow quickly time goes in the NRL now. You’ve heard it before, a week is a long time in Rugby League – well what about 4 years? That makes for an absolute eternity. NRL News thought we would flashback to NRL as it was in July 2005 and what news was around the NRL traps and who was playing where:

The Eels and Dragons battled out a big Friday Night Football clash. A clash where Trent Barrett king hit PJ Marsh, Wade McKinnon scored a 70m try untouched for the Eels. There was a massive all in brawl and Parramatta backrower Dean Widders was at his unstoppable best.

All players mentioned are now gone from their clubs, Barrett and Widders spending time in the UK Super League, Marsh joining the Broncos and McKinnon off to the Warriors.

The Roosters were toying with their halves combination, slotting in Brett Finch and Craig Wing as their playmakers. Again, both players now long gone from their previous clubs. The Roosters, coached by Ricky Stuart were struggling to regain their position as one of the leading sides over the previous 3 years.

The Maroons were considering upcoming Storm coach Craig Bellamy as their State of Origin coach and future mentor. NSW had won the Origin series that year and Queensland were desperate for answers. Who knew what the future would hold, the Maroons now an unstoppable force.

Reni Maitua was making an appearance for City Origin.

Willie Mason was returning to the Bulldogs lineup after a long layoff with a foot injury.

Andrew Johns and Danny Buderus were both playing and trying to get the Knights off last place on the ladder.

Jamaal Lolesi just signed a deal with the Wests Tigers for 2 years.

Jason Smith was playing for Canberra and being chased hard by South Sydney for future services.

Roosters hooker Stuart Webb was a standout for his club and in hot demand, the Rabbitohs getting his signature in that year. Webb struggling to find his best form ever since.

Steven Bell playing with Melbourne agreed to a 3 year deal with Manly that year.

Craig Gower defied doctors orders to take the field for the Panthers, despite a concerning neck injury.

Stuart Raper was coaching the Sharks and decided to sack Paul Mellor mid-way through the season.

When we look at the NRL Table below in 2005 (July 9) its interesting to see where the eventual Premiers (Wests Tigers) were sitting at this time. Well out of the Top 8, they were set to go on an amazing run all the way to the top. Don’t forget, the Titans weren’t even born – hence the 15 teams!

1. Broncos 28 pts

2. Eels 26 pts

3. Cows 22 pts

4. Manly 22 pts

5. Sharks 22 pts

6. Storm 20 pts

7. Dragons 20 pts

8. Roosters 20 pts

9. Raiders 20 pts

10. Wests Tigers 18 pts

11. Bulldogs 17 pts

12. Warriors 16 pts

13. Panthers 12 pts

14. Souths 9

15. Knights 6

Glenn Stewart suspended, misses Origin 1

Glenn Stewart Suspended Origin 1 Manly NRL 2009Manly’s Glenn Stewart will now miss his debut Origin experience after the NRL judiciary suspended him on the grounds of a dangerous throw last night, consigning the bolter selection to the sidelines where he will be another onlooker as his teammates battle the Maroons.

It’s expected that the NSW Blues’ 18th man Luke Lewis will come onto the bench as NSW set about denying Queensland a record 4th straight series win. The drafting of Lewis was an interesting play, while there is no doubting the form of Lewis and certainly his utility value – the option of Anthony Laffranchi must surely have been thrown around the selection room.

An experienced campaigner with a tough game and all the ball playing skills would have been a nice addition to a Blues side filled with new faces.

Dragons snare Nathan Fien

Nathan Fien St George Illawarra Dragons NRLIt seems like a bizarre snub by the Warriors, unwanted utility Nathan Fien had any amount of talent and even proved himself at International level. However, it hasn’t taken one of the games smartest brains long to snap up possibly the bargain buy of the year – Wayne Bennett stepping in to secure Fien for the next 3 years at St George Illawarra.

A versatile player with all the skills, Fien has recently been playing in the halves for the Warriors but will fill the hooking role for the Saints under the guidance of Bennett and it seems the former Warrior and Cowboy couldn’t be happier.

“I nearly went to the Broncos earlier in my career and now I’ve got an opportunity to go and play underneath (Bennett),” Fien said.

Fien played 91 games for the Cowboys before switching to the Warriors in 2005.

Bennett spent time with Fien at International level during his time with the Kiwi’s and while the skill of Fien was obvious, Bennett claimed the tenacity and drive of the player were key components of the decision to snap up the unwanted Warrior.

A busy player, Fien has the experience to add plenty of value to the Dragons and will replace Luke Priddis nicely when he retires at the seasons end. Priddis has been a good servant of the game, but has struggled for several years now and was lucky to secure a final swansong season under Bennett.

You have to admire what Bennett has done at St George Illawarra, it’s been talked about plenty and such is the ability of the coach that the legend is starting to grow so big it’s hard to know what to believe.

He snaps up Michael Weyman who was playing park football for most of 2008, Weyman comes on beautifully and goes on to represent NSW. Even Darius Boyd, some knew of his ability, but most felt it was due to being on the end of the Broncos backline. Bennett knew. Some Dragons faithful cried foul when Boyd was slotted in at fullback, but it only took a few weeks before his potential was realised.

Suddenly Justin Poore is playing out of his skin, the ability was always there – but Bennett has tapped into the drive, motivating these guys on a weekly basis. From the promotion of Wendell Sailor, sure big Dell may have lost a yard of pace, but his presence alone offers this side so much. Even the bench rotation has been flawless by Bennett, the injury prone Matt Head has been inched along nicely, ready to be injected when needed without being overcooked.

We even had a source the other week mention that Wayne Bennett could be on a paypacket of around $800,000. At first it sounds absurd, but realistically, this guy brings so much to a footy team there would be clubs that would pay it without hesitation.

Bennett has again made a smart move by securing Nathan Fien.

If the Dragons win the competition this year, Bennett will prove that his success in Brisbane wasn’t purely because of a large nursery of juniors and he will instantly become the undisputed, greatest coach in Rugby League history.

State of Origin Selection Talk

State of Origin 2009 Series Teams Squads Lineups PlayersIt seems everyone has an opinion on the State of Origin selections; interestingly both NSW and Queensland have made a few selections that do raise eyebrows. The biggest being;

NSW – No Ennis, No Cooper, No Laffranchi

Queensland – The Inclusion of Nate Myles, Ashley Harrison and No Carl Webb.

For so long now, State of Origin hasn’t been directly about skills. The game is played at a frenetic pace and involves very few penalties. Because the referees are reluctant to blow penalties, each side creeps up inside the 10m range and the game always becomes a slog fest.

For years and years, NSW would name a star-studded side and too many cooks would spoil the broth. On the other hand, Queensland knew that hard-workers, big physical players and overall loyalty would get them through. And it worked a treat.

Only once recently have NSW realised that having a team of ‘hard men’ will get them through. Their team for Game 1 in 2008 included the ‘bash brothers’ – Paul Gallen and Greg Bird. Now regardless of what you think of these players, their physical presence and build is custom made for Origin. They take no prisoners, they can take a beating and they can surely dish out a beating too.

You see thats the other factor in Origin, it’s rarely spoken about, but players are rarely ‘cited’ or get in trouble for things that usually cost them dearly in the NRL. A small flurry of punches (a la Carl Webb on Luke Bailey in recent years) or maybe a tackle that is a monster, might get let through the gates.

This is the reason why you need to pick a team that can handle the physical nature and do the simple things right.

Sure, we see flashes of brilliance in State of Origin. Billy Slaters try where he chipped over the top was amazing, as was Jarryd Haynes and who could forget the Mark Coyne try off the back of thousands of passes from Queensland in the final seconds. There will always be these moments.

BUT, the majority of Origin is doing the simple things right, so no mistakes and doing them at a hundred miles an hour while copping a beating. Then you’ll need to turn around and defend and start dishing out the beatings. It’s that simple.

So, what are we looking at player wise?

Fit, fast, simple-things right and prepared to dish out some tough stuff!

Queensland have known and used this so well, however their selection of Ashley Harrison who has defence problems and can be rattled is quite interesting. Don’t be surprised if the Maroons move Mick Crocker in to start the game and they use Harrison off the bench.

For NSW, they simply had to have Michael Ennis in this side, even if on the bench. His hard-head, annoying nature would have frustrated the life out of Cameron Smith and others – Ennis regardless of creativity is a guy made for Origin. Sure, Farah is technically gifted and very creative, but Origin doesn’t need an endless supply of creative players, there are always plenty of those in the teams.

What about Laffranchi? He is a good blend of all characteristics for Origin. Fit, Fast, Tough and has the ballplaying ability. He will be missed.

And Cooper? Matt Cooper has been a rock for NSW for many years. He never fails in defence and his step remains untouchable from inside 10m of the opposition try line.

Our sideline eye Ricky Ricardo has thrown up some names of his own; here’s how he believes the State of Origin sides should have lined up:

RickyRicardo: NSW Origin

1. Kurt Gidley
2. Jarryd Hayne
3. Jamie Lyon
4. Matt Cooper
5. Joel Monaghan
6. Jarrod Mullen
7. Brett Kimmorley
8. Luke Bailey
9. Michael Ennis
10. Brent Kite
11. Anthony Laffranchi
12. Nathan Hindmarsh
13. Paul Gallen

14. Ben Creagh
15. Luke Lewis
16. Preston Campbell
17. Michael Weyman

RickyRicardo: Queensland Origin

14. Karmichael Hunt
2. Darius Boyd
3. Greg Inglis
4. Justin Hodges
5. Israel Folau
6. Darren Lockyer
7. Scott Prince
8. Steve Price
9. Cameron Smith
10. Petero Civoniceva
11. David Stagg
12. Ashley Harrison
13. Dallas Johnson

1. Billy Slater
15. Nate Myles
16. Sam Thaiday
17. Michael Crocker

Ricardo: NRL Team of the Week

Jarryd Hayne NRL Eels Player of WeekRicky Ricardo pens his NRL Team of Round 12 and sends a special hello to his biggest fan; Mr Mike Kingy who is loving every selection from the sharp eyes of Ricardo. But while Ricky has plenty of fans, he also has some critics, with some feeling he be may ‘one-eyed’ from time to time, letting his love of the Eels get in the way of selections. Stay tuned for Ricky’s Origin selections in the next few days –

So here goes, straight from the desk of the next Danny Wiedler; Mr Ricky Ricardo –

Ricky’s Top 17 for Round 12

1. Jarryd Hayne: Ah Hayne, you’ve done it again! Another terrific performance by the Eels fullback. Since moving to fullback, he has played his best footy all year scoring 6 tries in three games. What a strike rate!

2. Bryson Goodwin – Given another chance at the Bulldogs, the winger has taken it with both hands. Scored another try in the Bulldogs win and is proving to be a genuine speedster down the flanks for the Bulldogs.

3. Michael Jennings – Is there anything this man can’t do? He tore the Roosters defence to shreds scoring three tries in the second half and was rewarded with his strong performances with an Origin spot.

4. Peni Tagive – Making his first appearance of the year, Tagive showed he has what it takes to play in the NRL. Scored a try and played solid defence when called upon. Could retain his spot for the Tigers next game.

5. John Williams – Regarded as one of the best defensive centres in the NRL, he showed why with solid defence on the wing to deny the Knights tries on several occasions. Got on the scoresheet and is proving a real handful after improving on his game over the last few years.

6. Wade Graham – The young livewire 5/8 put in a solid showing scoring two tries in a dominant display. Has great vision and a strong attitude and for his age really knows how to direct his team around the park.

7. Matt Orford – Played solidly and looked to have the game won for the Eagles after kicking a field goal to go ahead by one. This was in vain however as he gave away a contentious penalty decision that cost the Sea Eagles the match. Strong game overall though. (Come on Ricky are you serious? Orford needs kicking lessons!. Editor)

8. Nick Kenny – The young gun from the Broncos stepped it up and showed what he is capable of with a barn-storming effort against the Tigers. Made strong metres and was very solid in both defence and attack for the Broncos. A player for the future.

9. PJ Marsh – Given the hooking role following poor showings by his previous team-mates, he has taken it in his stride putting in a few good weeks of consistency and his experience on the field is proving invaluable to the younger generation. Look for Marsh to step up during Origin weeks.

10. Matthew Scott – A relative unknown has stepped it up this year for the Cowboys putting in dominant displays and leading from the front in the Cowboys pack. With the help of O’Donnell and Webb, Scott has turned into a fine young footballer and was rewarded for his efforts, named as 18th man for QLD.

11. Tom Learoyd-Lahrs – About to have his second child, the monster second rower is focused on his football more than ever putting in a near flawless display against a lacklustre Warriors outfit. Strong runs, strong tackles, flawless. Unlucky to miss out on Origin.

12. Ben Creagh – One of the Dragons best all year. Hindmarsh like in his work-rate, the red-head forward always gives 100% and is always rewarded with his efforts. Got a spot in the 17 for NSW in Origin.

13. Luke Lewis – Near domination by the Penrith utility. Involved in every play and had a mammoth work-rate to go with it. Deserves an Origin spot and has been named 18th man.

14. Kevin Kingston – Given his first crack at the NRL this year following injury, the former Sharks hooker excelled in his first game. Great speed out of dummy half and very good vision, tearing the Rabbitohs defence to shreds.

15. Jeremy Latimore – Made his debut against the Rabbitohs and he is a giant of a man. His big frame doesn’t stop him running the ball hard however, he gets stuck in to it and is hard to tackle. A player for the future.

16. Terry Campese – Rewarded with consistency over the year and was named in Origin as 5/8. Kicking, passing, tackling, attacking, defending, all of nearly flawless. Should work well with Wallace for NSW.

17. Ashley Harrison – An integral part of a strong Titans team playing solid defence and providing strong service in attack. Once again rewarded for his efforts with an Origin berth for QLD.

NRL News Power Rankings Round 11, 2009

NRL Power RankingsNRL Round 11 Power Rankings, As we approach the half-way mark of the season, the Top 8 is starting to really take shape now. In the weeks ahead, we will dig out some old articles from our reporters at the beginning of the year to show just who picked who in regards to the Top 8 teams.

Here’s how the Grubber saw Round 11 of the NRL;

1. Bulldogs – Ranked 1st, only just edging out the Dragons. It has been both these sides for most of the year. Showed their depth, winning a big match up with Melbourne even after losing Noddy early. Defence is admirable and simply have so many talented players waiting in the wings if needed. Morris still sidelined, along with a host of first graders in the NSW Cup. Well positioned.

Grubbers Comment: Odds of a lightning striking a third time in 2009 to take another 2 points away from the Bulldogs? 15/1

2. Dragons – The physical domination and patience from St Geo Illawarra was highly impressive. Bennett continues to fine tune this team, they withstood the emotion from the Sharks on the big derby night and pounced beautifully with some well constructed attack with good depth. Have plenty of options with Soward, Head, Hornby who can all run the show. Priddis remains their only concern, the veteran probably lacks the potentcy of competing hookers.

Grubbers Comment: Chances of the Dragons making Steve Clark a life member of the club? Strong to certain.

3.  Broncos – Made hard work of their outing at Campbelltown, but did have some injuries and it was a tough road trip. Youngsters continue to build nicely, and if Dave Taylor can keep his mind on the job their forwards look much better. Have ridden their luck at times, but still have shown good enough consistency to remain at the pointy end of the NRLNEWS.COM Power Rankings.

Grubbers Comment: Odds of Darren Lockyer ever getting his hair cut that short again after aging 10 years? 50/1

4. Titans – Some may question the Grubber putting these guys at No.4, but they too have ridden their luck when needed. Still have that great blend of experience and youth in their team, Walker has been steady since returning and Kevin Gordon is a real talent. Will miss Bailey and Harrison during Origin, but keeping Prince and Laffranchi is a major coup for these guys. Are hardening up nicely in the close games and need more gritty wins as the semis approach.

Grubbers Comment: Truth in the rumour that all Titans players bought lottery tickets after their win against Manly? 5/1

5. Panthers – Along with the Knights, the Panthers have been the surprise packet of the 2009 season. Coach Elliott rode out the early storm, cleaned out problematic players and the results are now coming through. Their youngsters have plenty in their attacking kit bag, Jennings, Coote and Graham can hurt you from anywhere but their improving defence is what could see them sneak into the Top 8 this year.

Grubbers Comment: Wonder why Frank Pritchard suddenly wants to sign for life with Penrith after previously wanting out?

6. Cowboys – Had a big win Monday night, but were probably made to look better by the Newcastle side having an off night. Sure, improvement was there from the Nth Queensland forwards – with O’Donnell, Tronc and Southern all building to better form. There is still something missing from these guys, they will possibly struggle to make the Top 8 unless they really lift it up a gear. Aren’t travelling well away from home and when challenged they are going into their shells. Jury still out.

Grubbers Comment: Chances of Luke O’Donnell ever backing away from a fight again after resisting the urge to flatten Danny Wicks? 75/1

7. Raiders – Started slowly, but eventually burst to life on the back of Campese guidance. Their young speedsters finally reminded us of what they can do, their struggle so far in 2009 seems down to focus on gameday as they do have the ability and ‘graveyard’ style home ground. If they can string a few wins together, might ride that into the finals. David Shillington has been a real buy for these guys and continues his good work up front.

Grubbers Comment: Odds of the Raiders sending David Milne to finishing school to improve his TV interview skills? 18/1

8. Wests – The Tigers have been let down by conversion kicks several times in 2009, but apart from that, they remain upbeat and still look capable of making their mark on this competition. Injuries have crept up in recent weeks, but the Tigers have been resilient to say the least. Might be some question marks in defence under the high-ball, but can hurt most teams from anywhere on the park. Dark horse for the Top 8.

Grubbers Comment: Chances of Sorbent sponsoring the Tigers in 2010 after countless toilet paper rolls were thrown onto the goal posts at Campbelltown? 12/1

9. Knights – After some really impressive weeks of footy, finally stumbled. Coach Brian Smith wasn’t too worried, simply writing it off as a bad night at the office. Couldn’t catch a ball up in Townsville but this shouldn’t have too much effect. Will naturally miss Kurt Gidley and now McManus on Origin duty and do face the Bulldogs this week in what should be their big test as to how they are travelling.

Grubbers Comment: Odds of Knights talent scouts setting up base camps in Wales and Darwin? 45/1

10. Souths – A real disappointment this week, were expected to belt Parramatta but struggled to compete. Were gifted 2 tries and without those, they would have been soundly beaten. A draw was a good result considering, Jason Taylor glossed over things quickly – but there might be a mid-season focus lapse for these guys. While Sutto and Sandow are out, they have more than enough depth to cover and should remain competitive.

Grubbers Comment: Odds of the Bunnies snaring Brad Fittler as another consultant if the Roosters punt him? 18/1

11. Storm – Started the arm-wrestle well, but were given a lesson by the Noddy-less Bulldogs. The loss immediately showing coach Bellamy how far off the pace his side are. Their strength remains with Billy Slater kick returns, but finally opposition are kicking dead or for touch where possible. The Tigers showed this years ago, but NRL sides refused to do it against the Storm. Melbourne need to change their style to achieve more points.

Grubbers Comment: Odds of Craig Bellamy resorting to counseling for the team soon, to rediscover their mojo? 20/1

12. Manly – If they weren’t already panicing, then time to do it now. The Sea Eagles threw everything into this game, they were physical, committed and the desire was there to be seen. But simply, they couldn’t score enough points. Forget the controversy at the end, Manly should have been in front by much more. Orford’s kicking remains very below par, and without Brett Stewart – these guys look like shot ducks.

Grubbers Comment: Chances of Manly saviour Max Delmege going down in a Roman style back-stabbing? 15/1

13. Eels – A surprise showing from the wounded Eels, down to their third half-back and minus their captain and a host of others, they toiled hard to salvage a draw. Certainly not playing attractive footy, but showed enough desire to warrant the contest. Form of Jarryd Hayne remains near career best, the fullback has scored over a 1/3 of the Eels tries this season.

Grubbers Comment: Amount of field goal practise at Eels training this week? Plenty.

14. NZ Warriors – Have fallen away very quickly and coach Cleary has hit the alarm bell this week and has introduced several new faces. Will miss Steve Price big time during Origin and may want to reconsider shelving Nathan Fien.  Have now lost their last 3 matches, allowing Kevin Locke and Aaron Heremaia to get their shots. New blood could be the answer, just look a little stale.

Grubbers Comment: Odds that the Warriors will change airlines to improve their away game comfort levels? 10/1

15.  Sharks – Again tried hard, but just lack the talent. Smart move by Ricky Stuart to give Corey Hughes a spell, the veteran has just been lacking a touch of fire and creativity of late. Will miss the dominance of Gallen, but his consistent infringements may be having an effect on teammates. Gallen remains a talented player, but still the dirtest in the NRL. Won’t get a better chance to win than against the Eels this week, if they lose – they get an awfully bad all time loss record to boot.

Grubbers Comment: Chances of Paul Gallen keeping the Sharks captaincy after consistent screw ups? Slim to None.

16. Roosters – Really hitting rock bottom, boast enough stars to easily qualify for the Top 8 but it seems there is a lack of cohesion or harmony. Pressure building on Freddy who must be tearing his hair out. Decision to play Anasta at fullback was mind boggling? Were beaten in every department, probably not ideal to be having the BYE this week.

Grubbers Comment: Odds of the Roosters going to see the Wizard of Oz, to ask for a heart? 2/1