Spirited Eels fightback not enough

Aaron Woods

Very rarely in the NRL, if ever, do you see a team score 30 points in the space of 15 minutes. It is just one of those things that you are not expecting to have happen.

This afternoon however, that is exactly what the Parramatta Eels did to the Wests Tigers, as they piled on 30 points in the last 15 minutes of the game, to fall agonisingly short of a miraculous victory, at Parramatta Stadium.

A first-half Benji Marshall field-goal was the difference, as the Tigers won 31-30 in a high-scoring affair.

For the Tigers, despite their win, coach Tim Sheens was livid with the way his side switched off towards the back end of the game.

“We were very disappointed – 31-0 with 14 minutes to go and you let them score and get within a point,” Sheens said.

“It’s just rubbish.

“The only positive is the win.

“… It was attitude, for sure. We just clocked off – there’s no doubt.”

Despite that blip however, Sheens was pleased with the way his side played for the first 60 minutes, and believes the potential for a premiership winning team is there.

“Nonetheless, we look at the first 60-odd minutes and know we did something good, and played well and looked like some sort of a premiership side,” Sheens said.

“The last part of it, we looked like an A-Grade side.”

Tigers captain Robbie Farah also noticed the frustration his side exuded towards the end, and knows that they cannot afford such lapses.

“We had an opportunity there to post two 30-0 wins consecutively, which would’ve been great to get our season underway.

For the Eels, hooker Matthew Keating, who is enjoying a solid and consistent start to the NRL season – knows that the club has to put the loss behind them, and focus on the positives that came out of their fightback this afternoon.

“It makes you realise you’ve got to play for 80,” he said.

“We have to take confidence out of that last 20-minute block and take it into Friday night against the Dogs.”

With halfback Chris Sandow out, replacement halfback Casey McGuire was placed on report for two separate offences, as was prop Mitchel Allgood.

Sharks record sixth consecutive win

Ben Ross

The Cronulla Sharks are this years most talked about team, as they notched up their sixth consecutive win – moving to outright third after a 44-22 win over the Canberra Raiders, at Canberra Stadium.

Despite the win however, Sharks coach Shane Flanagan wants to ensure his side remains level-headed – labelling the Melbourne Storm and the Brisbane Broncos as the competition frontrunners.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said.

“We’re doing a real good job at the moment but the testing times are ahead, when blokes like Gal (Paul Gallen) and Todd (Carney) are in Origin, to get results (then) as well.”

Although Sharks captain Paul Gallen cannot quite pinpoint as to why the side is going so well, he says that they plan to make the most of their recent run of form.

“It’s been 10 years since we’ve won six in a row,” he said.

“Far out, I don’t feel that old.

“But we’ve got to make the most of it – I said to Shane that we’ve got to drum into the young blokes that opportunities like this don’t come around all the time.”

With the Raiders currently standing at a 3-5 record, Raiders coach David Furner believed that although his side had the chances to put points on the Sharks – it was the Shire based club that adapted to the conditions and situations better.

“If you are starting to defend well at the start of the game, teams are going to go to the air and we just didn’t handle that,” Furner said.

“Their kicking game was spot on and at 28 points there in the first half, it’s hard to get a roll on then and possession in the end was too much for us.”

In what was the Raiders first game since five-eighth Terry Campese was ruled out for the year – the Raiders just did not seem to click, even with the late inclusion of livewire fullback, Josh Dugan.

Although they only have 3 wins, Raiders captain David Shillington believes that the side can still reverse their fortunes.

“Defensively today we probably didn’t have the best attitude, but there was plenty of great attacking sets,” he said.

“If we were more consistent, I think that’s an attitude thing we can turn around in a week.”

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Tupou signs extension with the Warriors

Bill Tupou

When you think of Bill Tupou, you may not see the biggest winger, or the quickest winger – but you see a toiler, and a young man in the form of his career, looking to do his part for the Warriors in their quest for premiership glory.

Tupou, who was off-contract at the end of the current NRL season, with an option in the favour of the club – had a new deal negotiated by his manage Stan Martin, although specifics of the deal were not revealed.

The deal includes an option in the club’s favour, should they wish to extend Tupou’s contract at the end of 2014.

“Bill’s been offered a new extension for two years and he signed the contract this week,” Martin said.

“He’ll be staying with the Warriors until 2014 at least.

“I spoke to the Warriors at the end of last year and at the beginning of this year after Billy’s top performances during the play-offs. He also made the Kiwis squad for the Four Nations, let’s not forget.

“He’s improved quite a lot. I think the Warriors see him as a long-term winger and wanted to keep him at the club. He’s received some good rewards on the back of some impressive performances.”

Tupou is pleased to have his contract situation sorted, and is keen to play as well as he can.

“It’s great to have my contract sorted out and to know I’ll be staying here,” said Tupou.

“I’ve been around the Vodafone Warriors for a few years now and I’ve got a lot to thank the club for.

“I’ve enjoyed having the chance to play in the NRL regularly but I also know I have to work at my game and keep improving to hold onto my place.”

Brian McClennan, Warriors coach, said that Tupou deserved to be rewarded with a new contract, based on his form.

“Bill’s one of our most improved and reliable players,” he said.

“He has developed into a consistent first-grade player and, like so many in our NRL squad, he’s an example of what local players can achieve by coming through our development system.”

Hayne denies injury plays a part in poor form

Jarryd Hayne

With a magnitude of NRL figures and fans on his back for his somewhat inconsistent form this year, particularly stemming from the City v Country clash – Eels fullback Jarryd Hayne maintains that he is fit, and close to recapturing his 2009 Dally M form.

It got to the point where the Eels centre felt that he had to break the silence, given that the media and fans were constantly on his back for his inconsistent form.

“I am not sure where all of this is coming from with the injuries,” Hayne said.

“If anything, I was playing with injury last year and just trying to make it through. I feel that I am almost back to full fitness. I am four games back and each day there is something that I like about what I am doing and I am feeling good.

“My knee is fine and is almost 100 per cent. It is nowhere near as bad as it was last year. I was under a cloud last year, but I feel like I am at that point where I am going to take the next step and reach my peak.”

With a poor performance for City at five-eighth, there were calls for Hayne to come forward on his fitness – with his attitude also being questioned.

It is media and speculation with those things,” Hayne said. “I just have to roll with the punches. It obviously isn’t a good thing when people question my attitude, but there is nothing I can do.

“I would love for that stuff not to come out and it does get to you. I would love people to see the other side and what really goes on, but it is out of my control and sometimes you just have to bite the bullet.

“I just have to play football and worry about winning games. As soon as you start winning, those people go quiet. As soon as you lose and you are down, people start making things up and coming after you.

“It has been crazy this year, probably the worst it has ever been. There are so many debacles, so many rumours about the team.”

Hayne also admits that the team’s form has been sub-par this season, and said that if things do not improve, more players could find themselves at Wentworthville.

“I have enough pressure on me as it is,” Hayne said.

“The whole team is under the pump. It could be any of us. We all need to lift our game.”

With many believing that in the long-term, Hayne should be a five-eighth, for the man himself – he will play anywhere for NSW.

“When it comes to Origin, it is all about just getting a Blues jersey. From my part, I just need to get right. I need to play 80 minutes the best I can and get that rhythm and flow back.

“I think in patches I have been good but there are more things in my game that I can improve on.”

Jennings ready to take charge

Michael Jennings

With his club in an attacking slump at the moment, having not scored in 181 minutes of football – Panthers centre Michael Jennings is 100% ready to get out there, and turn the fortunes of the club, starting this week.

An ominous sign for the Panthers, is that no side has gone 3 consecutive weeks without scoring any points, and the Panthers will be looking to ensure that they are not the first team to fall into that category.

Jennings, who returns from a pectoral injury for tomorrow night’s clash with the Knights – says that he is ready to lead his the charge for his team, and come out all guns blazing.

“We’ve had two bad losses and have been stuck to nil,” Jennings said.

“I really want to get out there and help spark the attack. I think I can add something and it is really important to and get those two points.

“One win can turn around your season – it can put you back in the top eight. A win can restore our confidence and we can build from there.”

Jennings, who was in some good form before suffering an injury – is hoping to knuckle down and play good, consistent footy for both Penrith and NSW.

“It wasn’t bad, just a strain, but I had to take it easy just in case I ruptured it,” Jennings said.

The Penrith centre was a shoe-in for Origin, given his form – with Jennings saying that it came as a result of hard work off the football field.

“My form is a result of all the little extras,” Jennings said.

“I have matured more and worked on a lot of things. I know more about the game than what I have in the past. I just feel really good. Each player has their own barriers they need to break. For me, it was doing all the hard work away from the field when people aren’t looking. That is the most important thing for a person to succeed; you have to do the hard work when people aren’t watching.

“At home, no one is watching you, and that is where everything counts. You have to get your food right, do the extras, the stretching.

“It has given me confidence and now I want to lead the way.”

It was last year when he was involved in some indiscretions, that Panthers General Manager Phil Gould had him sell match tickets to fans – a punishment that Jennings says was embarrassing for him, and a wake-up call.

“I see that as a point of my life where I had to go forward. I know myself that I am disciplined, but it was a hiccup and a mistake I won’t make again. You can make a mistake, but you can’t make them twice,” he said. “It is how you approach the matter and I think I have responded well. I knew I stuffed up.”

With such incidents behind him, and having returned from injury – Jennings is keen to become the best football player that he can be for both his club, and his state.

“I still have a lot of work to do,” Jennings said.

“Ivan sees a lot more improvement in my game. I like the fact that I can improve and I need to work on things. I want to get those things Ivan wants right and I am looking forward to seeing where that takes me as a player.”

Merrin keen for Origin recall

Trent Merrin

He was axed from the side for Game 3 of the 2011 series, and it cut him deep – but now, St George Illawarra forward Trent Merrin wants back in the NSW Origin side, with the prop producing some great performances for the Dragons this year.

To illustrate the form that he is in, Merrin is averaging 16 hit-ups a game and 145 metres, with the former rep prop adamant that he has learnt from his mistakes, and is ready for another opportunity.

“If they want me involved at that level again, I’m not going to take a backward step,” Merrin said.

“Getting dropped is always in the back of my head just feeding me to try to make it back there.

“Each year you grow with the game and you mature a bit more. I love playing for my state, it’s something I’ve always wanted to achieve and it’s no different this year with the sky blue jersey.

“Once you get a taste of it you just want to be there in the trenches trying to beat Queensland.

“The speed and the mentality of the game is unreal and getting to play along- side blokes like Paul Gallen is unbelievable.”

Merrin has some heavy backers in his corner, with former NSW props Steve Roach and Glenn Lazarus in regular contact with Merrin – with the Tigers legend declaring that Merrin will come into contention for a jersey.

“Your face lights up when you see one of their numbers come up on your phone, they’re legends,” Merrin said.

“They’ve helped me out a lot, they tip me up on how I’m going and what I need to be working on.”

Manly confirm Foran re-signing

Kieran Foran

It was a case of will he, or will he not – but the Manly Sea Eagles have achieved their ultimate goal in the ongoing tussle with the Canterbury Bulldogs, in re-signing five-eighth Kieran Foran until the end of the 2015 season.

With former Manly coach Des Hasler keen to secure the services of Foran, the NZ representative made the decision to stay with Manly, and continue his partnership with current halfback, Daly Cherry-Evans.

For Foran, it was all about continuing his career at the club that first gave him his start.

“This has been the toughest decision of my life, but I love playing with my mates and playing with a club that has such a great culture and strong values.”

“I’d like to thank everyone for their patience during this process.”

Although he helped guide the Sea Eagles to the premiership in 2011, Manly coach Geoff Toovey believes that Foran has even greater heights to scale.

Kieran has a fantastic future at this great club.”

“Despite enormous outside pressure, he’s handled this process very professionally and it’s a great reflection of the club’s spirit, culture and camaraderie that he has decided to stay.”

David Perry, the Chief Operating Officer at the Manly club was also full of praise for Foran re-signing, saying that it was a huge boost for both the player and the club.

“Kieran is an important part of the Sea Eagles’ future and his combination with Daly is one of the best in the game.

“We’ve always wanted to secure him for the long-term and we’re glad he’s decided to stay.”

Grass roots is where McIlwrick’s heart lies

Matt McIlwrick

For any player from the area, it would have been a tough time to face the ordeal that was the recent earthquake in Christchurch – and for Matt McIlwrick, a boom Raiders hooker set to make his debut, it was the toughest ordeal of his life.

With the threat that was the earthquake, it has helped bring McIlwrick back to Earth as a player, as he prepares for his first-grade debut.

As a young player with nerves, it was the devastating effect of the Christchurch earthquake, that helped McIlwrick level-headed and focused on possibly making his first-grade debut.

“Just the loss of life, it’s a small home town to me, and to see that kind of stuff over the news was devastating,” McIlwrick said yesterday.

“I went over there and helped out [with the clean up] for a week, it opened my eyes a bit.

“A couple of my grandparents lost their houses and are rebuilding, but no one got hurt which is something I’m grateful for.

“Life’s pretty short and it was pretty scary to see my family so heartbroken, but they’re strong people.”

Invited to trial at the Raiders at just 16, by former New Zealand coach Frank Endacott – McIlwrick made an immediate impact, so much so, that he was invited by Raiders coach David Furner to stay in his house with his family for 2 years.

In order to improve his game, McIlwrick has been working with the player regarded as the Raiders last top hooker, in Simon Woolford – in order to become a more well-rounded player.

“He’s changed my game a fair bit,” McIlwrick said.

“If there was a quick play I’d just run, and now I’m thinking about different passing options.

“He’s been helping my passing and decision making, and that’s been a big plus for me.

“I used to just put my head down and run, but he’s shown me there’s different options I should be looking out for.”

Woolford believes that McIlwrick has earned his spot to have the chance to play first-grade, and has been a willing student.

“He’s a very dynamic player, a very good runner of the football and I guess the coaching staff are looking for him to spark them when he gets his opportunity [from the bench],” Woolford said.

“He knows when to run and is very good at it, [but we’re] trying to develop his game to find a pass every now and then and link to his halves.”

What also works in McIlwrick’s favour, according to coach David Furner, is that the young hooker has been playing for the Raiders feeder side Mounties in the NSW Cup – preparing him for the physical nature of the NRL.

“It isn’t the game speed of the twenties [Toyota Cup] or first grade, but he’s been playing against men and the physicality side of it won’t bother him,” Furner said.

“You have to put your body on the line in that competition [NSW Cup], and he’s been playing against [fringe] first graders down there as well.

“The first thing that struck me when I watched him do the beep test as a 16-year-old was he just stood out as a really fit athlete.

“I think Matty’s style will help us on the weekend.”

Inglis feels fitter following fullback switch

Greg Inglis

It was an idea that his former coach in Craig Bellamy believed could work, and it is finally coming into fruition – with Souths high-profile player, Greg Inglis, playing exceptionally well at the fullback position.

It was only a few months ago, that a lot of people considered Inglis to be overweight and not ready for the rigours of first-grade footy – but despite that, Inglis felt he came into his second season at the Bunnies in the best shape of his life.

What has made him an even fitter person, was his switch to fullback – as he now covers more ground as a fullback, than he ever has before playing any other position.

“I’m covering about nine kilometres a game now,” Inglis said.

“I don’t think I’ve covered nine kilometres a game since about six years ago.”

For a long time, ever since he first started playing first-grade, people had continued doubts about Inglis’s fitness, and how he would cope in a game as tough as the NRL.

“Probably, coming into the season it was the best shape I have been in,” Inglis said

“It’s good to see I am in this position … I have to keep at it. I am still up there. I have probably lost more fat than anything and gained a bit of muscle.

“I am back to 106 or 107 kilos. I have dropped the weight, not by much, but by a kilo or two.

“I haven’t changed much at all. It’s looking after my diet a bit more, just eating the right food at the right time. I cut all the fast food and that stuff out. [I eat] more of the good stuff.”

Although Inglis admits that playing fullback is a tougher task than what he is used to, he believes that he is slowly improving and maturing in the role.

“I come off feeling pretty fatigued and a bit flat,” Inglis said.

“We have things in place there for recovery to get our body right for the week after. I would say I’m the fittest I’ve been for quite a while – four or five years. Obviously I’m still looking forward to hitting my peak. I’m only 25 and I still think my best footy is yet to come.”

As he matures into the role of fullback, Inglis says that he watches top fullbacks like Billy Slater and Ben Barba, in order to learn more about the position.

“If you look at Billy Slater, you can see how much work he puts in,” Inglis said.

“I have really enjoyed the transition but I am picking up little things here and there. I will go back and watch Benny Barba, watch Bill play. Just picking up little things from different fullbacks.”

Broncos prove far too clinical for poor Titans

Peter Wallace

Brisbane have remained one of the competition’s front-runners, after a convincing 26-6 win over the Gold Coast Titans at Suncorp Stadium yesterday.

The Broncos stellar night was made all the more brilliant, by a potential candidate for try of the year – in a move finished off by fullback Josh Hoffman, off the back of brilliant skills from young half, Corey Norman.

The game just did not turn in the Titans favour, as the Broncos took a commanding 20-0 lead at half-time, and never looked like relinquishing their strong position.

Brisbane have become somewhat of a bogey team for the Titans, with the Gold Coast based club unable to beat the Broncos in their last 6 attempts – a streak spanning back to 2009.

Things were only made worse for the ailing Titans, with interchange forward placed on report for a high tackle.

Despite the win however, Broncos captain Sam Thaiday believes his side has improvement in them – as they have failed to play an 80-minute game all season.

“There a massive amount of improvement. We’re yet to play a perfect game, that’s a hard thing to get to,” he said.

There was a near injury scare for the Broncos, with Broncos coach Anthony Griffin at one stage worried about an injury to centre Justin Hodges – before confirming that it was nothing major.

“He just hyperextended his (left) knee but he’s alright,” he said.

“He’s got a cork though from his collision with Nate Myles which is of more concern.”

For Titans coach John Cartwright, the reason for the loss was simple. Too many mistakes – a point he made perfectly clear.

“Mistake, mistake, mistake, mistake,” he said.

“Very disappointing. We gave them an avalanche of football. It’s hard when we play 20 minutes of football like we did but they played very well.”