Roosters players want Willie

Senior players at the Roosters are right behind Willie Mason writes Dave Moyso; with skipper Braith Anasta declaring the big forward must stay at Bondi.

With some sources hinting Mason is on the outter and was offered a parachute for 2010 – players feel the profile and ability of a fit Mason can lift them to the lofty heights they are desperate to achieve.

Newspapers report a decision on the future of Big Willie could come as soon as next week.

The Sydney side is scheduled to return to training under new coach Brian Smith next week.

“As players we all respect and like Willie,” confirmed Anasta.

“For us to win, we need Willie. He is a leader. It’s up to him to get back to his best but I am sure he can.

“I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes but he will be there on Monday when we return to training with the rest of the team. We need guys like Willie there to help get us off to a flyer next season.

Mason’s player agent has already been scouting overseas opportunities for the high profile player, given his salary would likely decrease if he was to join another NRL club.

Officials at the Roosters fear the impact someone like Willie Mason has on younger players. While they say this privately, its hard to believe they didn’t realise this when they lured him from the Bulldogs several seasons ago. The problems not just around Mason, but the core group of senior Bulldogs was widely known.

“Willie is a mate, I am in the same position as him. I don’t know what is going on” confirmed Anasta.

First talk of Mason getting the boot came last week, but this was scuttled by Roosters chief executive Steve Noyce, who said: “Willie has a contract to run for the next 12 months.”

Australian Kangaroo side named

Australian Kangaroos 2009 SquadThe Australian Kangaroo side for the 4 Nations Tour of Europe has been named with some surprising selections. While veteran Nathan Hindmarsh was recalled and consistent prop Petero Civoniceva retained his position – many were left scratching their heads as to how Paul Gallen could make this squad?

Gallen; considered by most to be the dirtiest player in Rugby League has toiled hard in 2009, but seemed to be nowhere near the top crop of players – certainly in the back half of the season.

David Shillington was the surprise selection in the Kangaroo Squad for late 2009. The former Roosters prop, showing some good form for the Raiders – being rewarded with the National Jersey.

The other concern may be Israel Folau. While there is no questioning the attacking ability of this outside back, his defence was really exposed by Melbourne during the 2009 finals series and this could pose a serious threat to the Australian side when opponents attempt to exploit it.

Full Squad:

Australian squad named for the Four Nations rugby league tournament in Europe: Petero Civoniceva (Penrith), Cooper Cronk (Melbourne), Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers), Israel Folau (Brisbane), Paul Gallen (Cronulla), Kurt Gidley (Newcastle), Ben Hannant (Bulldogs), Jarryd Hayne (Parramatta), Nathan Hindmarsh (Parramatta), Justin Hodges (Brisbane), Ryan Hoffman (Melbourne), Greg Inglis (Melbourne), Michael Jennings (Penrith), Darren Lockyer (capt, Brisbane), Luke Lewis (Penrith), Josh Morris (Bulldogs), David Shillington (Canberra), Billy Slater (Melbourne), Cameron Smith (Melbourne), Sam Thaiday (Brisbane), Johnathan Thurston (North Queensland), Trent Waterhouse (Penrith), Anthony Watmough (Manly), Brett White (Melbourne).

Storm too good for Eels in GF

Melbourne Storm 2009 Grand FinalMelbourne Storm have won their second NRL premiership in three seasons, defeating Parramatta 23-16 in the grand final at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.

The victory saw the Storm elevate their standing to sit among the greatest rugby league clubs in history, but they had to withstood a furious Parramatta finish to deny the Eels a fairytale finish to cap their run to the decider.

This Storm machine was at its best in the decider, grinding the opposition into the ground before unleashing Greg Inglis and Billy Slater.

Not even the relentless defence of Eels veteran Nathan Hindmarsh, who made 62 tackles as he threw his body about in a desperate bid to erase the memory of his 2001 grand final heartache, could keep Parramatta in the contest.

The Storm took an early vice-like grip on the contest, and they held on tight as they buried the memories of last year’s record loss to Manly. But the Eels made the Storm sweat as they scored two tries inside the final 10 minutes to close within a converted try.

Parramatta surged with the support of the vast majority of the 82,538 crowd – the biggest since 2001, when the Eels reached the premiership decider - Joel Reddy scoring off a Jeff Robson bomb before Fuifui Moimoi trampled over several defenders to cross out wide.

“I was going to call for the trainer to get a change of Speedos,” Storm captain Cameron Smith said when asked about his feelings when the the game became so tight at the death.

Slater then dropped the ball near his own line, presenting the Eels with another invitation, only for Todd Lowrie to be left with the ball on the last tackle when any other option would have been better.

The Storm, on the back of a controversial stripping penalty against Moimoi on Slater, regained their composure before erupting in a series of hugs and high fives as Inglis kicked a field goal to all but secure the result with three minutes on the clock.

“This is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” said Storm five-eighth Brett Finch, who was shown the door by the Eels after four games this year.

“If I did not do it, I would have had something sitting in the bottom of my guts for the rest of my life.

“It doesn’t matter who we beat, I said that all week.”

Having snowballed their way into the grand final on the back of 10 wins from 11 matches, the Eels went to water on the biggest stage - the Storm scoring after just five minutes through Ryan Hoffman, who ran over Robson in defence.

Having been brilliant against the Bulldogs last week, Robson was a target in defence - and it seemed to affect his attacking game, with the Eels let down by poor last-play options.

The Storm were having no such trouble, and it was no surprise when Cooper Cronk put Adam Blair over for the 10-0 lead they took to half-time.

The Eels came out strongly after the break, Moimoi leading the way with punishing defence, and winger Eric Grothe scored a deserved converted try to reduce the margin to 10-6.

But Melbourne weren’t about to give the game away, and they hit back with a double blow through Inglis and Slater after sensational lead-up work by Cronk.

The Eels left their best until last – much as they had done in the season as a whole - but they were unable to finish the job,

Storm, Eels Match Preview

NRL Grand Final Tips and Preview Eels Storm 2009The Storm are short priced favourites for this Sunday’s NRL Grand Final, a wealth of experience, some real game breakers and a dream run into the GF. The Eels on the other hand have been the fairytale of the season, overcoming a horror start to 2009 to roar into contention and knock off teams Ranked 1,2 and 3 in their run to the final.

For Melbourne, it’s widely known they are possibly the best drilled and most regimented team in the NRL. Well coached, in recent weeks they have executed almost perfectly to blow both Manly and the Broncos off the park.

They did however enjoy a weeks break which while freshening them up – may work against them if this match turns into a long, drawn out battle.

What will concern coach Craig Bellamy is the fact that the Storm have faced a Manly side that were down on form and confidence, and after a weeks rest they played a Broncos side missing it’s main rudder in Peter Wallace and a batch of youngsters that really never tested the Melbourne outfit.

The Storm did work Israel Foloau over very well, they targeted their former player who lines up in the centres for the Broncos and exposed his still inexperienced defensive methods. Melbourne shattered the confidence of the Broncos early and will no doubt be looking to do a similar job on Eels flanker Eric Grothe Jnr who regularly flies out of the defensive lines – at times coming up with thin air.

Melbourne’s advantages are surely on the fringes, they have a unstoppable force in Greg Inglis – hitting form at the right time. You count on Inglis to bag at least one try and the rangy back defends extremely well.  Then you have the lightning injection of Billy Slater, who will regularly chime into their backline and is more than comfortable grubbering or chipping ahead for himself.

Do not discount the speed of Slater, his chase on the back of a Cronk or Finch kick is almost League fastest. Timing is almost always perfect with Slater.

The Storm have changed their attack formation in recent weeks, Bellamy has their line set much deeper – giving much more time for the outside men to create doubt in the opponents mind. Their deeper style gives them more options in terms of a kick behind the line or harder to read second man plays.

If Melbourne get too flat in their attack, expect the likes of a Luke Burt or Eric Grothe to try and pluck an intercept – especially from a Finch or Cronk cutout pass.

Brett Finch has been much talked about this week – but he really could hold the key for his former side. Finch too has his defensive problems especially when he is caught defending his line close to the centre middle of the field. A hard runner or inside ball at pace to a Moi Moi or a mobile Lowrie could pose a serious problem for the little Storm no.6.

The Storm face their biggest test in the forwards. While they have a bigger pack than the Eels with more than enough big game and representative honours, they haven’t been consistently on top during 2009. Their outing against Manly in the finals was much more impressive, they withstood the ‘heat’ applied by the Eagles – who literally tried to bash them out of contention.

Big men like White, Lima and Hoffman didn’t get frustrated – they kept working for each other and continued to do the little things right. This is such a crucial element in most NRL games but obviously the Grand Final. A simple dropped play the ball while being pressured, trying to play it ‘too’ quick or gifting a penalty – possession and completed sets are oh so valuable.

Nothing you don’t know there, however if both teams are near perfect in their completions and penalties given away – it’s going to take an offload or something special to get field position or points.

This is where the Eels could have their success. They are certainly up against it, the Storm have class virtually everywhere – but their recent spate of off-loads has opposition teams unable to prepare for them defensively.

The mobile Eels forwards can hit and spin, at times offloading highly risky passes – but if they stick, it really throws the opponents defence into two minds. It’s easy to say ‘wrap up the ball in the tackle’ or hit harder to floor the attacker, but after some offload success, the defender can get too concerned with wrapping up the ball and attacker busts the arm tackle, or the defender is more concerned about keeping on his feet to make a secondary tackle if needed.

It throws doubt into the defence, and game plans are quickly forgotten.

The brut force and roll of Fui Fui Moi Moi gives the Eels such an edge. If the battered and bruised prop can generate his force, it almost provides the Eels an extra forward. It allows their other prop Nathan Cayless to enter a more ‘ball playing mode’. If Moi Moi is eating metres and the hookers are able to get out quickly and run direct, a secondary running Cayless can be less concerned with metres, the mobile prop can optionally hit, spin and offload – creating more doubt.

Injuries are playing a part for the Eels, their wounded props could buckle in high intensity battles midfield. The Eels will need Grothe to continue his recent mid-field assistance, the hard running winger has taken pressure off his big men, especially against the Bulldogs when they lost Cayless early – but coming centre field and hitting up with force. Grothe is another player than can throw a ball from any position, but his lower percentage offloads could hurt his side.

While Grothes concerning defence has been much talked about, he could hold an advantage for the Eels in the air. His height could prove very handy against little man Steve Turner – but this could be cancelled out by the small Luke Burt matching up against Dane Nielson.

The Verdict:

It’s hard to go past the Melbourne Storm in this match. Their endless experience at this level will be invaluable, combined with their recent good form and injury-free run through the finals they should have too much in the tank. Disciplined and boasting a good bench roster, they’ll be primed to get back what was taken from them by Manly last year.

The Eels will have a big Sydney crowd on their side and play an exciting brand of football with their young brigade of backs. Their 12 weeks of magical football is beginning to take it’s toll, with injuries creeping in – the Storm however, must deal with the pressure of being expected to win. Any hint of early nerves from the Melbourne side may open the door slightly, and this young Eels outfit won’t die wondering.

Melbourne by 12.