Storm Kids Beat Dogs

It might be a good sign for the future of the Melbourne Storm, with their young brigade easily beating the Bulldogs 23-12 at AAMI Park today – but Kevin Moore and the Dogs must be getting worried after now losing 8 of their 11 games in 2010.

The Storm under temporary coach Stephen Kearney marched out without Slater, Inglis, Smith and White – but it mattered little.

With former Dragon Chase Stanley taking Inglis’ spot and whizkid  Gareth Whiddop taking the fullback position – the Bulldogs were down 23-0 at halftime.

It was pretty much over.

While Canterbury did make some inroads in the second term and kept the Storm scoreless, it was always going to be an uphill battle.

For a side that nearly went all the way last year, many expected the Bulldogs to be a consistent force. They haven’t lost much in terms of personnel from last year, but obviously the attitude has changed or it might not be a happy home – as Hannant eluded to.

Coach Kevin Moore believes his side are simply trying too hard – down on their luck, they are overcooking it in attack and forcing errors.

Their Origin stars in Kimmorley, Ennis and Idris were all there – but it didn’t help them today.

The Dogs haven’t got a victory in Melbourne since 2005, they now face a mammoth task to try and make the 2010 semi finals.

Souths Stand Up Penrith

In a juicy heavyweight battle, the John Lang coached SOuth Sydney side has really stood up – with the Bunnies out pointing the Panthers 42-22 at ANZ Stadium.

It was the first time John Lang has achieved victory over his old club.

Helping him along was the timeless Rhys Wesser. The man they call Danny Glover was at his vintage best and repaid Lang for recent faith, after Wesser had some bad weeks.

But it’s the big bopper engine room for Souths that make them a genuine threat this year.

It’s been much talked about, and sure in this game Issac Luke and Chris Sandow were at their scheming best – but when the big Souths forwards rumble consistently over the ad-line, this side is almost unstoppable.

Penrith had some excuses, they got hemmed in traffic for hours with the M4 saga – several players only just making it for game time. This would have surely dented focus.

The Panthers were sorely missing Petero Civoniceva and obviously had others backing up from Origin.

But take nothing away from Souths. They came to play, after their recent big win over the Tigers – the amount of points they can score in attack is indication of how much they can hurt you when they are ‘on’

The Panthers were due a loss, they’ve been flying high for weeks now and in todays NRL it’s almost impossible to go so far without a loss.

Souths might be coming good at just the right time.

Its the halfway point of the 2010 season and the Bunnies boys are finally getting to know how each other plays.

This will certainly have other sides looking over their shoulders.

Is it really Money Bill?

Since illegally walking out on the NRL and his team-mates at the Bulldogs several years ago, Sonny Bill Williams has been criticised for chasing the mighty dollar above all else.

Now, of course most players in professional sport work to earn the most possible. Sure, there are the odd exceptions to the rule – people left playing more for passion, enjoyment and mateship, but these days the dollar is certainly king.

But is it really what Sonny Bill seeks?

When he was tracked down in France and interviewed over his contract breaking antics, Sonny Bill declated his life-long dream was to play for the All-Blacks.

SBW said the constant spotlight (not the poor form of the Bulldogs at the time) in the NRL was causing him too much stress and his reason to exit stage left was to fulfil a life long dream to eventually become an All-Black Kiwi Rugby Union rep.

Now it seems, it’s time to put up or shut-up for Sonny Bill Williams.

Currently back in Australia to fight on the Anthony Mundine undercard, SBW is at the cross-roads of his career again.

Does he sign a new, lucrative multi-million dollar deal with French Rugby outfit Toulon and possibly fulfil all his financial dreams – or does he accept an offer from New Zealand Rugby Union to link with a Super Rugby Team?

It’s believed that while the NZ Rugby Union can’t match the dollars of the Frenchies, privately the Kiwis are offering SBW a fast-tracked path to the All-Blacks side.

Adding to the attractiveness of the offer, naturally Sonny Bill Williams and girlfriend could return to his homeland of New Zealand and enjoy being closer to their family.

Williams even left the door open to a possible NRL return in the years ahead – when the bounty on his head by the Bulldogs expires in 2013.

So – lets see, will it be Sonny Bill Williams the All-Black or Money Bill Williams the French?

Cows Go Down Fighting Manly

Manly have hung on grimly to defeat the North Queensland Cowboys 24-20, but lost Jamie Lyon to injury during the hard fought game at Dairy Farmers Stadium.

While obviously the Lyon injury isn’t ideal for the Blues or Manly, the Sea Eagles were happy to get the win without the services of Keiran Foran in this game.

Manly have struggled recently without Foran and getting the hard away win without the talented half has seen them remain atop the NRL Ladder with the Panthers and St George.

Hasler threw in Dean Whare a Toyota Cup rookie who grabbed three touchdowns in his NRL debut.

The Eagles were leading comfortably by 18 at one stage, but they went to sleep in the backend with the Cowboys coming to life through Jonathan Thurston.

A flurry of tries got the North Queensland side within 4 – it could have been so much more, with several raids coming up short for the home side, the final pass just going astray.

2010 for the Northerners has left Neil Henry consistently scratching his head. The former Origin coaching guru seemingly cannot find answers up there.

Despite giving several youngsters their shot this year after some early failures, the problems still continue. Despite having Thurston, possibly the best, creative half in the game – this side cannot get themselves off the cellar floor with Cronulla.

Broncos Beat Sharks

The struggle continues at Crnoulla, with the Sharks going down to the Broncos 20-4 at Toyota Stadium in Sydney today.

It was seemingly more pain for NSW fans, as the mercurial Darren Lockyer again played a big part in dismantling his opponents.

Despite some good involvement from the exerperienced Trent Barrett – the Sharks were no match for the resurgent Brisbane side – who now leapfrog the Eels and find themselves in the Top 8 after a woeful season start.

What would be concerning for the Sharks was the poor showing from new recruit Tim Smith. The former Brisbane lower grader struggled with his decision making and kicked poorly to heap more pressure on his team in trying conditions.

Both Lockyer and Folau were backing up from Origin and turned in good performances for their team. Each getting a touchdown in todays game.

As the Sharks cleanout continues with club boss Richard Fisk resigning and Ricky Stuart hanging up the clipboard for next year – it seems some playing personnel need to be moved aisde too as the outfit continues to perform despite trying valliantly each week.

On the flip side, the Henjack coached Broncos were written off along with the rookie coaches career only a few weeks ago – but how things can change quickly, a few wins can mean so much as the NRL’s closely fought merry go round continues.

Dragons Thrash Eels

The clash of the two defensive heavy-weights proved to be just that in the first half,
with leading defensive side St George Illawarra hosting the Eels who are ranked third best
in terms of points conceeded.

But a late flurry from the St George Illawarra side buried the Eels 30-0.

A good crowd at WIN Stadium witnessed a major arm-wrestle early, with both sides literally playing
forcemans back – it was precise, simple footy for 5 tackles – then a quality kick from each team.

Parramatta lost Nathan Hindmarsh in the warmup, the veteran replaced by Mark Horo in the starting side
as Brendan Oake came onto the bench for the side.

This kind of grinding footy suits Hindmarsh more than most and the Dragons would have been happy the
backrower wasn’t on the field.

Boy did Parramatta miss Hindmarsh.

The Eels had the first shot at the Dragons, with their game plan to obviously put Tahu up against
smaller Soward on the Dragons right edge defence.

But as they do so well, the Dragons slide beautifully as a team – shutting the door on Tahu and BUrt
twice and forcing the Eels into touch.

The Dragons too were to have their shots from within the Eels red-zone, but the defence stifled any
raids and several times the Dragons turned it over cheaply.

The first points for the half came through the Dragons exciting left edge attack, deep in their own
half – Morris was on the receiving end of a smart blind side play, catching rookie Eels player Jon
Wright in no mans land and sending Hornby on a 40m scoot to score under the posts.

In the forwards, players from both sides were bashing it up – Weyman a standout for the Saints and
for Parramatta Tim Manah was doing a good job.

But it was the St George Illawarra backs that were the difference early, the elusive and speedy Morris
creating chances for his team and Queensland rep Darius Boyd was in a firey mood – returning on every
carry with super speed and a fearless charge into the defensive line.

Boyd knocking out Eels rake Jeff Robson after a huge collision.

After a late penalty goal, the Dragons went into the sheds at 8-0.

Stats were close, with possession and tackles almost even – but the difference was linebreaks, with
the Eels unable to spark any and the Dragons notching 3 in the first term.

The second stanza started with consistent Dragons thrusts, Wayman unrelenting as was Soward and Boyd
in space.

But it was the kicking, thrusting and shouting to the referee of Darius Boyd that earned a critical
peanlty. Darius worked hard for it and got it, Cummins blowing a penalty and the Dragons getting a
shot at a try from 40m out.

The Saints didn’t waste it.

A slick cutout pass to a flying Brett Morris, saw the winger leave Kris Inu lost and the Dragons getting
out to a 14 point lead with the successful conversion.

As good as they are when attacking, the Dragons prove just as strong in defence.

A quickfire Eels raid then a pinpoint Mortimer kick saw the away side certain to score through Burt
but waves of Dragons arrived and stopped the Eels inches short.

You could see the frustration building in the Eels – they just couldn’t puncture the Dragons line.

It would soon prove fatal, with the Dragons taking their chances at the other end.

After a period of some dropped ball by both sides, the Dragons hoisted up a huge bomb through Soward
the little no.7 positioning it perfectly and while Kris Inu lept highest – the spilt ball was pounced
on by rookie Kyle Stanley – another try to the home side.

The Dragons ahead 18-0, and sealing a strong win with so many stars backing up.

But there was more to come, the Eels throwing it around widly and eventually coughing it up.

The Dragons going down into Parra territory through back to back Ben Cummins penalties and posting
more points with minutes to go – some great work by Nightingale who continues his strong form.

But with the game gone, the Eels had well and truly thrown the towel in – Soward was ready to have
some more fun, kicking and frustrating any life left in the Eels.

The diminutive half slicing through from the scraps of a kick and scoring again.

The Dragons icing the cake – winning 30-0 and more importantly keeping the Eels scoreless.

So Much Riding on NSW

If the NSW Blues felt pressure in Game 1, imagine the furnace in Game 2 – Lockyer’s farewell in Brisbane.

On top of that, if NSW lose – it makes a 5th straight series loss, it means no fans will show up for Game 3 in Sydney and a real chance the concept loses its gloss in the years ahead.

Ok, so there are plenty of doomsayers around at the moment – but if the men from NSW go down, the sky might really fall. What hope have they left?

Ok lets get serious, NSW folk need not panic.

Leave Craig Bellamy alone, he’s the best we’ve got and he hasn’t lost the series yet. Don’t start chopping heads in the NSW squad, we have a good mix – we just need to get players in their right postions.

Matt Cooper didn’t have his best game but injury was hamerpering the experienced star. If he is fit, he should remain.

Noddy was shouldering too much work, as Lyon is not a natural five eighth. The Maroons ran plenty of traffic at Kimmorley at took plenty of petrol out of the no.7.

Noddy must stay. But bring Barrett a specialist pivot in to assist. Baz has trained with the team, and is a natural fit.

Leave Gidley at no.1 and leave Hayne on the flank. Given time and space, they’ll be right.

Push Lyon to the vacant Cooper centre spot (if injury reigns).

Questions were raised around Josh Perry and his limited minutes – but the Manly big man just needs a rocket up him prior to running on and he will fire up.

If there is niggle, it will bring Perry to life – NSW need him there.

While the Maroons deserved the win, NSW didn’t get much luck in terms of the bounce of the ball. They need to remain patient and this mob can get them home.

Now breathe and stop calling for mass sackings.

NRL Round 12 Preview

The Dragons and the Eels get Round 12 off and going with the status of their returning Origin stars crucial to this one.

The Dragons are in all sorts with injuries however, with Beau Scott, Dan Hunt and Cooper all in the medical tent.

Both are coming off losses to inferior teams last week when representative duties played havoc with their line ups, but the fact the Dragons have six players backing up might just give the Eels a chance to upset the competition leaders.

However, the grinding Dragons at WIN Stadium wont be a push over.

The Eels should just get the chocolates in this one, given the state of the Dragons squad.

The other match on Friday night sees the Tigers hosting the Warriors with the Tigers back on the winning list and keen to make it two in a row.

It’s all been positive in the past week for the Wests side. Signing McKinnon and getting back in the winners cricle.

While NZ have been surprise packets, away from home this task should be too tough.

Wests to win.

The Sharks take on the Broncos and with Ricky Stuart letting the cat out of the bag he will walk away at season end – could see a more relaxed Cronulla outfit.

This game is at Shark Park too – with all considered, the underdog Cronulla side should prevail here.

Sharks.

The Sea Eagles are favoured with bookies to beat the Cowboys despite it being in Townsville, although JT looked back to his best in Origin 1. If only his NRL forwards could give him that platform weekly.

Don’t count the Cows out of this one just yet. They are due and this is a tough road trip for the Sea Eagles.

Cowboys to win on back of Queensland confidence.

The Storm host the Bulldogs and owe their home fans a win after losing to the Broncos whenopening AAMI Park.

This will be an amazing game, the Dogs are getting to desperate stage – with the season half over.

The Storm are the benchmark side, but expect a physical Bulldogs side this week. Their defence has concerns however and the Storm may expose this.

Storm to win. Just.

The clash of Round 12 is on Sunday with the Bunnies meeting the Panthers. The Bunnies have won 4 of their last 5, the Panthers have won 6 of their last 7 and this a good test to see just how good the Rabbitohs are and whether they can match it with the top teams.

Penrith have a few stars backing up and might feel the heat in the backend of this match. The dominating Souths forwards might just get one up here, along with their fresh squad.

Souths to win.

Monday night sees the Titansface the Roosters but despite the return of Mitchell Pearce the Gold Coast will have too much fire power and experience here.

Hard to see the Chooks having enough points in them to outgun the Titans.

Titans to win.

Knights and the Raiders have a bye.

Origin: First Blood Queensland

Queensland have taken first blood in State of Origin 2010 – with the away side plundering the Blues in front of 70,000 at ANZ Stadium.

It was cold, wet and windy – with many expecting a low scoring game.

But as always, Queensland weathered the early storm to dominate in the middle and backend of the game to seal a 28-24 win.

The score doesn’t indicate the game, Queensland were much better than NSW – with two late tries to the Blues patching things up slightly.

Even with a 75 percent fit Jonathan Thurston, an aging Darren Lockyer and no Cameron Smith, Pirce, Hannant or Hodges – the Maroons were still almost unstoppable.

They should be immortals this mob.

JT was at his scheming best, Inglis created plenty of chances out wide and Billy Slater was superb in horrible conditions.

It is a testament to the skill level of these players given the amount of points scored in such wet, muddy conditions.

As predicted before the game, for NSW to win – they needed a few bounces to go their way. It didn’t happen for them tonight – Matt Cooper’s hands let the side down badly at least twice.

Jarryd Hayne selected out of position was struggling with his defensive structure on the wing and as the commentators said – so often the NSW players look for someone else to make the miracle player.

Queensland in Lockyer, Thurston and Slater – have talented guys with supreme mental strength. They love the clutch at the back end of the game – they WANT the ball and no exactly what needs to be done.

All too often NSW panic and resort to poor decisions, early kicks in attack or passing instead of going to the line.

Pressure tells.

While Queensland will be licking their lips at Game 2 in Brisbane, as always the NSW selectors will go into panic mode and make massive changes to the side.

Apart from Lyon and Hayne being selected out of position (a mistake on both parts) the only real change should be a forced one with Matt Cooper obviously not looking likely to be fit for Game 2.

If unfit, shift Lyon to the centres and bring in Todd Carney.

Queensland would be stoked with the form of forwards David Shillington and Nate Myles, both worked tirelessly and got some quality offloads away in tough traffic.

With Price and Hannant gone, the Maroons needed someone to answer the call and their new forwards did.

Referees Hayne and Archer had a tough night at the office, getting several calls wrong – going against both sides at various stages. However the wet track made the ruck area a nightmare and some lattitude should be allowed here.

Idris made a good first up showing for NSW and will no doubt be better for the run – his impact when introduced was amazing – the young buck smashing through would-be tacklers and sending big man Petero Civoniceva flying backwards.

The Queenslanders remain the absolute premier State of Origin Rugby League team – and with NSW staring down the barrell of a 5th straight lost series, the close battle fought every year is in danger of becoming a 1 horse race.

Now, will NSW be favourites again when they travel to Queensland? How in the world bookies posted them as favourites many will never know. They been on the losing side of the ledger for 4 years – yet remain favourites before most Origin games?

Ok, it’s off to Brisbane for First Blood: Part 2

Ricardo: NRL Team of Week

Ricky’s Team of the Week
Fullback: Nathan Gardner – The former Parramatta player had a strong performance against his old club getting on the scoresheet and slotting home the conversions for the Sharks. Hasn’t really had the chance to live up to the hype that was placed on him a few years ago, but he seems to be on his way there with the Sharks.

Winger: Michael Gordon – The man they call ‘Flash’, despite Gordon not being the fastest player on a team, amassed a total of 22 of the 31 points the Panthers scored. Scoring a hat-trick, and converting 5 tries, he seems to be well on his way to finishing with a huge points total at the end of his career.

Centre: Jerome Ropati – Often criticised for his poor performances, the NZ born centre had a strong outing scoring two of the Warriors tries in their narrow win. Having always been regarded as a player with a mountain of potential, he sometimes doesn’t seem to live up to that hype. Could this be a turning point for him?

Centre: Kyle Stanley – Getting a start in the NRL because of Origin week, the centre grabbed it with both hands scoring a try and playing out of his skin despite his young age. He’s a player for the future, and could very well be a replacement for Matt Cooper should Gasnier not return to the club.

Winger: Fetuli Talanoa – Another player who can at times be inconsistent, the Souths winger had one of his better games of the season with a two-try performance in the Bunnies narrow loss. Having bulked up, yet maintained his speed, at times, he can prove to be a real handful for opposition defences when he is on song.

Five-Eighth – Benji Marshall – Perhaps the most entertaining player in the game, he had a very good performance in the Tigers win over the Knights. Hot one minute and cold the next, you have to wonder whether he can maintain the form and steer the Tigers towards a finals berth.

Halfback: Tim Smith – They say that players seem to lift against their former clubs and Tim Smith did just that. He didn’t have an amazing game, but he did enough to ensure that the Sharks got the win, and he even got on the scoresheet himself with a sneaky dart from dummy half.

Prop: Russell Packer- A player of the future who has really come out of his shell in 2010, and is playing some very good footy. He is still young and has a great future ahead of him and he’ll only get better.

Hooker: Glen Butriss – One of the more under-rated players of the Canberra pack, the livewire hooker held his own, and took it to a weakened Dragons side with a stellar display in the Raiders win. Loves to find gaps in the defence and dart out, and is a good support player for the halves.

Prop: Tim Grant – Another under-rated player in some senses, but he has the potential to be a Petero type player with his similar running style and similar metreage. Definitely a player to look out for in the future.

Second Row: Nathan Hindmarsh – The fact this man wasn’t at Origin is a travesty in of itself, and he showed why that is the case with a strong performance despite his team’s loss to the Sharks .He tackles, makes good metres, gets offloads away and acts as a true spiritual leader for club, state and country.

Second Row: Gareth Ellis – The curse of the British has struck again. Whether or not it’s coincidence or simply a case of goodwill, both Ellis and Burgess always seem to have standout games on a regular basis. Ellis has really taken his game to another level and is becoming a very good player. Almost on par with some of the best second rowers in the game.

Lock : Paul Gallen – Perhaps another player unlucky not to be named in the Origin side. Whilst he does have a fiery temper and can give away incessant and needless penalties at times, there’s no doubting what he brings to a side with his tenacity, his ferocity to make metres and his ability to get offloads away. He should consider himself a bit hard-done by.

Player of the Week: Paul Gallen.