All posts by ricky

English utility back given the flick after testing positive to banned substance

Any rugby league player who gets involved with drugs has no-one but themselves to blame and the latest culprit is Zak Hardaker. 

Hardaker, who up until recently was a Castleford Tigers player, was sacked by the club for failing a drug test and testing positive to a banned substance.

That substance is believed to be cocaine, as the club released a statement confirming his sacking stemming from an incident after the 2017 Super League grand final.

“Castleford Tigers can confirm that Zak Hardaker has been dismissed from his contract with the club.

Hardaker was suspended by the club after a failing a drugs test in the weeks leading up to the 2017 Super League Grand Final, and currently awaits the outcome of his case from UK Anti-Doping Organisation.

Castleford Tigers will comment on this matter further when UKAD conclude their case.”

 

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 7: Melbourne Storm

Going back-to-back in today’s age of the NRL is far from an easy task. If any side was going to do it, however, the Melbourne Storm would be prime candidates. 

The Melbourne Storm are never a side to discount at any given time with their calibre of players and master coach and tactician Craig Bellamy, the competition always gets tougher every year.

Life Without Cooper Cronk

With Cooper Cronk, the Storm achieved many, many great things. In 2018, for the first time in forever, the Storm will enter the season minus their playmaking maestro.
As we all know, after tossing up whether or not to retire, Cronk made a decision to move to Sydney and take up a deal at the Sydney Roosters, one that shocked many.

After proving his worth across every arena on a consistent basis since joining the Storm, the club is left with the challenge of plugging the gap left by his departure.
That alone is no easy feat given just how good he was for them and how difficult it is to perform consistently at the NRL level for any player.

All hope is not lost, however, with one man seen as the front-runner for the role. That man, is Brodie Croft, a young playmaker who, in the eyes of some Storm fans, believe he is a Cooper Cronk clone.
They may not be far off the mark either, given the abilities and skills he possesses, as well as his consistency when playing for feeder sides and in the NRL.

As always, his relative inexperience will be the main factor that everyone points to should he not perform well. With that in mind, he is expected to be the man that Bellamy turns to and more often than not, the kids that Bellamy puts faith in end up succeeding.
Croft will not have to go to war on his own, however, with Cameron Munster coming off a career-best season by his side to help him through the trenches.

The Return of the Hoff

A favourite son among many, the veteran forward has returned for a second stint at the Storm and it could not come at a better time.
With the departure of Tohu Harris to the Warriors, the club lacked a hole-runner on that edge but have found it with the return of the veteran.

Although he is not getting any younger, his experience and leadership will be the key the Storm need to continue their consistency. Alongside fellow back-rower Felise Kaufusi, who is coming off a career-best season, the two are expected to perform regularly.

Equally important in Hoffman’s return is that he will be able to nurture, guide and help develop the club’s next generation of back-rowers. Particularly that of both Kenny Bromwich and Joe Stimson, who although talented, are yet to take their games to the next level.

Under the leadership and guidance of a seasoned premiership-winning veteran in Hoffman, the pressure can come off the other leaders and coach Bellamy, as Hoffman potentially takes the duo under his wing.

The Flying Wingers

Finding one consistently good winger is hard enough but to find two of them and have them performing consistently is no easy feat. Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr are without question, two of the top wingers in the league right now for various reasons.

Quick, deceptively strong, speedy and consistent, the duo have established themselves as the elite wing pairing, leaving other wing pairings in awe of their abilities.
Together, they are try-scoring machines, each with their own tremendous talents.

Addo-Carr, nicknamed ‘the Fox’ is regarded as one of, if not the fastest player in the NRL right now and any time he is open space, he flies like the wind. Faster even. Whether it is created from nothing in the backfield or whether he produces an opportunity himself, Addo-Carr has the speed to burn and no-one can keep up.

Although quick in his own right, Vunivalu’s greatest attribute comes in the air. With kicks of pinpoint accuracy directed towards the corner, Vunivalu often soars like Superman through the air, making a leap, catch and put-down seem easy.

If the duo can emulate their 2017 exploits and efforts, they will cement their spot as the elite wing duo and the Storm will again go a long way towards back-to-back premierships.

Gains and Losses

Gains: Sam Kasiano (Canterbury Bulldogs), Sandor Earl (drug ban), Ryan Hoffman (New Zealand Warriors), Patrick Kaufusi (North Queensland Cowboys), Ryan Papenhuyzen (Wests Tigers), Cooper Johns, Kayleb Milne, Junior Ratuvu, Lachlan Timms & Billy Walters.

Losses: Jesse Arthars, Dean Britt, Cooper Cronk, Charlie Galo, Slade Griffin, Tohu Harris, Jeremy Hawkins, Vincent Leuluai, Jordan McLean, Nate Myles, Mark Nicholls, Robbie Rochow & Jake Turpin.

Player to Watch

The successful teams are always on the lookout for players that are similar to their stars and the Storm are one of the best at it.
When you think of Cameron Smith and the mastery to which he plays the game and how he controls it, finding such a similar talent would be rare.

The Storm believes, however, as do their fans, that they have found a player capable of emulating that sort of success to some degree in Brandon Smith. Blessed with the same toughness and awareness as his namesake, Brandon Smith will go far in rugby league if his early appearances are anything to go by.

Crafty, nifty and a genuine pocket-rocket in and around the ruck, his ability is display regularly. When you watch him closely, it is easy to see the comparisons that some are making with Cameron Smith. An Ironman in his own right, Cameron Smith will eventually have to retire and when he makes that decision, Brandon Smith will be there waiting in the wings and waiting for that regular opportunity.

Predicted Line-Up

  1. Billy Slater
  2. Suliasi Vunivalu
  3. Will Chambers
  4. Curtis Scott
  5. Josh Addo-Carr
  6. Cameron Munster
  7. Brodie Croft
  8. Jesse Bromwich
  9. Cameron Smith (C)
  10. Tim Glasby
  11. Ryan Hoffman
  12. Felise Kaufusi
  13. Dale Finucane

14. Sam Kasiano
15. Kenny Bromwich
16. Christian Welch
17. Ryley Jacks

Coach: Craig Bellamy.

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 6: Manly Sea Eagles

After somewhat of a solid year under Trent Barrett, the Manly Sea Eagles will look to make finals yet again in 2018. Although knocked out early in the 2017 finals series, the talent is there to make a push for another finals berth.

Do Manly have the consistency, though, to go toe-to-toe against the elite teams of the competition?

The Turbo Brothers

Arguably the best brotherly duo in the NRL at present and even in the last several seasons in the eyes of many, the two very different players loom as crucial players for Manly.

Tom Trbojevic, a lanky, speedy yet nifty fullback, has come into his own in the role since Brett Stewart’s retirement. Very similar in some ways to the man they called ‘Snake’, Tommy Turbo possesses all the skills with the ball in hand, positioning and silky passing to produce opportunities.

He is undoubtedly one of the crucial elements for this Manly side if they are to perform consistently in 2018, particularly given the likelihood of a young, inexperienced half to partner Daly Cherry-Evans.

Onto his brother Jake Trbojevic, a very different yet equally effective player. A lock forward who is coming off a career-best season, Jake Trbojevic is on the precipice of elite status and likely honours for NSW if the cards fall his way in 2018.

A hard-running back-rower with a tremendous work-ethic, Jake’s impact on the side is equally imperative to that of his brother’s Tom. Together, along with a relatively talented spine, the Sea Eagles are shaping as somewhat of an underdog side in many ways as they look to stake their claim for the 2018 title.

The Daly Effect

If there was ever a season for Daly Cherry-Evans to step up and be the leader and organiser Manly fans want and need him to be, 2018 is that season. With the likelihood that he will be playing alongside a younger, inexperienced half such as Lachlan Croker this season, his talents will prove crucial for Croker’s development.

Another motivating factor for the man nicknamed DCE is a potential Origin berth for QLD.
With the potential unlikelihood that both Cronk and Thurston will not be playing this year, his possible good form could lead to a recall to the Queensland side. Whether that would lead to a starting berth or not, the chances and opportunities are there for him to make his presence felt.

Manly’s hopes of any premiership glory hang on the performances of DCE as well as his experience and leadership in guiding the younger players coming through. Is he ready to take over that mantle and assume the responsibility or will the lack of another solid half alongside him hinder his style in 2018?

Salary Cap Turmoil

As the Manly football club battles alleged salary cap breaches, the question must be asked; just how will it affect their on-field performances?
In the past, teams have rarely been consistent during similar ordeals but with this saga set to continue on into the start of the year, are the club and its players well equipped to deal with it.

Although the players and coach may say that it has no effect on the team as they focus on the footy, the lingering effect is enough to cripple even the most seasoned veteran. With so much riding on the season and the expectation so high, the Sea Eagles need a good start or it could be a long season.

They are not the first club to be involved in dramas of this nature and certainly will not be the last. Dealing with the issues of it all, however, is no easy feat. Can Manly be the ones to buck the trend and produce consistent form despite off-field upheaval?

Gains and Losses

Gains: Lachlan Croker (Canberra Raiders), Toafofoa Sipley (New Zealand Warriors),  Kelepi Tanginoa (Parramatta Eels), Jack Gosiewski (South Sydney Rabbitohs) & Joel Thompson (St George Illawarra Dragons).

Losses: Pita Godinet, Blake Green, Brenton Lawrence, Jesse Martin, Steve Matai, Nate Myles & Brett Stewart.

Player To Watch

Traditionally, we would pick a young Manly junior for this part but a player that has a chance to make their mark in 2018 is Lachlan Croker.
Joining the Sea Eagles from the Canberra Raiders, an opportunity exists for the young half to make a name for himself and perform well alongside Daly Cherry-Evans.

A talented half, Croker was a consistent performer in both the Holden Cup and the Intrust Super Premiership, culminating in a first-grade debut for the Raiders.
With the potential to be so much more, injuries robbed Croker of further opportunities and the chance to prove himself.

With that chance now arising at Manly given the opening in their halves, he will learn alongside DCE as he looks to become an efficient player. Crafty with the ball in hand and versatile with his ability to play fullback, this is a chance for the lesser-known Croker to stake his claim and show the NRL what he is all about.

Predicted Line-Up

1. Tom Trbojevic
2. Jorge Taufua
3. Dylan Walker
4. Brian Kelly
5. Akuila Uate
6. Lachlan Croker
7. Daly Cherry-Evans
8. Martin Taupau
9. Apisai Koroisau
10. Darcy Lussick
11. Joel Thompson
12. Curtis Sironen
13. Jake Trbojevic (C)

14. Lewis Brown
15. Lloyd Perrett
16. Addin Fonua-Blake
17. Frank Winterstein

Coach: Trent Barrett.

Cartwright released by Penrith effective immediately

Bryce Cartwright

In a move that has perhaps caused a few shocks, the Penrith Panthers have released back-rower Bryce Cartwright effective immediately.

The Gold Coast Titans are set to sign the reportedly disgruntled Penrith back-rower.

The reported deal is one for four years at the Titans, as the Panthers wished Cartwright their best wishes in his new endeavours.

“It’s obviously disappointing to be releasing a player like Bryce Cartwright, however, we appreciate his desire to seek such a change,” Panthers Executive General Manager Phil Gould AM said.

“We hope this move proves successful for Bryce, both on and off the field.

“Hopefully sometime in the future, he finds his way back to the Panthers.

“We wish Bryce and his young family the very best.”

The Gold Coast Titans have confirmed the signing of Cartwright and someone who knows him well is new coach Garth Brennan.

Having worked alongside Cartwright for many years, he is excited to bring him to the club.

“I’ve known Bryce since he was 17 and I’m so pleased that we can work together again,” Brennan said.

“I’ve seen him develop over the past seven years and I believe he is one of the most skilful players I’ve seen on a football field.

“He is a massive signing for the club and I look forward to seeing him in Titans colours.”

 

Dave Taylor returns to Australia after sacking from Toronto

Dave Taylor

Just days after parting ways with the Toronto Wolfpack for twice breaking curfew, Dave Taylor is back in Australia and headed back to where it all began.

At 29 and his career at somewhat of a crossroads, Taylor will link up with his former schoolboy mentor in a bid to resurrect his career.

With the two-year deal all sorted – the second year of which is an apparent option in the club’s favour – Taylor’s schoolboy mentor Terry Hansen hopes that Taylor uses this contract to get his career back on track.

Originally from the Rockhampton region, the move suits Taylor as it puts him closer to family and friends.

Additionally, the man they call ‘the Coal Train’ will have the chance to work alongside schoolboy mentor Hansen once again who coached Taylor at St Brendan’s College in Yeppoon.

Hansen wants to see Taylor succeed and knows that if he is to do that, he has to believe in himself first.

“It all depends what he does with this opportunity,” Hansen said.

“He is only 29 and has another four or five years left in him if he gets fit and gets fair dinkum.

“I just want to see him do his very best and get himself another crack at an  NRL contract and finish his career on the right note.”

With a chance to prove the doubters wrong, Hansen believes the influence of his family and of his mother could be the push Taylor needs to succeed once again.

“Dave has been easily led in the past and now he needs to stay out of trouble, but [living back at home]  could be his way back because the one person who can have a big influence on his life is his mother,” Hansen continued.

 “There are plenty of players in the past who have been in strife and turned it all around and I hope Dave can be one of them.”
The club is pleased to have Taylor on board and are hopeful that he can make the most of the chance in what is a coup and a boost for their squad.

“Obviously it’s huge for the whole region to have Dave back in town and representing the region he grew up in and the area he went to school in as well,” CQ Capras coach Kim Williams said.

“He trained with us just before Christmas in preparation for the season ahead and as things have turned out he’s ended up back here and obviously we’re welcoming him with open arms.

“It’s a massive coup for our club to have a player of his quality on board and I think with our squad we’ll see some huge benefits.”

Live-wire Dragons fullback signs contract extension

Matthew Dufty

Hugely talented and highly rated by St George Illawarra Dragons fans, live-wire fullback Matthew Dufty has signed a contract extension with the club.

Off-contract at the end of this upcoming season, the Dragons made the decision to re-sign Dufty until the end of the 2019 season, a 1-year extension.

After making his debut in Rd 20 of the 2017 season, Dufty featured in all of the remaining Dragons games and right now, there is no place he would rather be.

“It’s great to be here for another year. I thought being at the Dragons was the best opportunity for me moving forward in my rugby league career,” Dufty said.

 “Last season was a big milestone in my life and moving forward to 2018, I’m very excited about the position I currently find myself in.
A local junior, Dufty is excited to continue his tenure with the club.

“It means the world to be where I’m at now,” Dufty continued.

“Coming through the St George ranks and being a local junior, it’s great to be able to remind kids that you can play for the team you dreamed of playing for.”

Equally pleased are the club, who knows how talented Dufty is and how crucial he is for the club moving forward.

“It’s always good news when a local junior re-signs. To lock him in for another 12 months is really good considering the number of young kids we have in our squad,” Director of Rugby League Pathways Ian Millward said.

“Anyone who is a Dragons fan would know that Matt is one of the most exciting Under-20s players we’ve ever had.

“Last year he made the step up to the NRL and he’s had a fantastic pre-season so far.”

The club also looks forward to seeing Dufty establish himself as a genuine part of their spine.

“There is now an opportunity for Matt to establish himself as a fullback with the other outstanding members of our spine in Gareth Widdop, Ben Hunt and Cameron McInnes,” continued Millward.

“It’s exciting for us because if he does step up to the mark as we expect him to then we could have a spine that plays together for a very long time.”

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 5: Gold Coast Titans

After the 2017 season they had, 2018 cannot be any worse for the Gold Coast Titans, right? Their fans will hope not but they have recruited well as they look to make amends in 2018.

Despite some solid, astute buys, many opposition fans still have the Titans as potential spoon contenders. Under new coach Garth Brennan, they will be looking to avoid that likelihood.

Stairway to Brennan

A new coach can mean anything in the NRL. Good form, poor form, some consistency but not always. In his first major coaching position as an NRL level coach, Garth Brennan was a man touted for such honours even a few years back.

His track record speaks for itself as he led numerous Penrith Panthers sides across the lower grades to several titles. A major talking point from his successes was the way in which players spoke of him. Of his ability to extract the best of their talents and of every player being painted with the same brush.

Although he is new to the NRL coaching world, that sort of relationship with players is often exactly what they are looking for. In a team that has struggled in years past to find any sort of cohesion, Brennan’s arrival could be the kick in the backside they need to be consistent.

The Chosen One

Ash Taylor. A young half full of promise, potential and hope, shapes as the key figure to lead the Titans to the promised land. Of course, that is no easy feat given the stern test that each side presents but he represents the Titans best chance to do so.

Bursting onto the scene a couple of years ago at the Brisbane Broncos, there were faint glimmers there before he was injured in his first game.
Fast-forward to his time at the Titans and you now have a cool, collected and composed young half who could be on his way to reaching the NRL elite for halves.

Although he has some way to go to reach such magnitudes, his progression and ability to perform on a struggling side is something worth noting. He looms as the man that he is going to lead the Titans and he will have no better chance to do it than under the tutelage of new coach Garth Brennan.

With something to prove to himself, his new coach and the Titans fans, Taylor is in line to have a big year. Pressure comes with potential success, though; is he ready for that added pressure? Or will he struggle to deal with it as the season progresses?

A Rebuilding Time?

In the modern day of rugby league, a new coach often signifies a rebuild. The question is; just how much of a rebuild do the Titans need?
In recent years, having lost the likes of David Mead, Greg Bird, David Taylor, Nate Myles, Luke Bailey and several others, finding quality replacements have been, at times, hard to do at the Titans, thus drawing the ire of fans.

As they reshape their squad around several young players in their side now such as Ashley Taylor, Kane Elgey, Max King and other budding first-grade hopefuls in Phillip Sami and AJ Brimson, the Titans are building a good, young core.

As you do with any side, though, ensuring a balance between the young and old, inexperienced and experienced is equally crucial. Achieving such methods as you seek out the right players makes that task difficult but Titans fans are optimistic that the side can add those necessary pieces.

Gains and Losses

Gains: Jai Arrow & Keegan Hipgrave (both Brisbane Broncos). Brendan Elliott and Jack Stockwell (both Newcastle Knights). Moeaki Fotuaika (re-signed), Michael Gordon (Sydney Roosters), Leilani Latu & Mitch Rein (both Penrith Panthers). Brenton Lawrence (Manly Sea Eagles) & Brenko Lee (Canterbury Bulldogs).

Losses: Tyler Cornish, Chris Grevsmuhl, Jarryd Hayne, Chris McQueen, Ben Nakubuwai, Agnatius Paasi, Nathaniel Peteru, Leivaha Pulu, Tyrone Roberts, Dan Sarginson, Paterika Vaivai, Daniel Vidot & William Zillman.

Player To Watch

With some uncertainty still surrounding the true make-up of their halves, the Titans have a talented prospect waiting in the wings should they choose to go down that path.

In the past, Garth Brennan has shown that he is not afraid to give young kids opportunities at higher levels and many are excited at the prospect of AJ Brimson.

Brimson, a talented half, was impressive for the Titans in the 2017 Holden Cup season, and put his talents on show every week, catching the eye of fans, the Titans coaching staff and other suitors.

Although Elgey and Taylor are the likely halves duo to start the season, Brimson’s named will continue to come up at the Titans and across media outlets, particularly if one or both is not performing as they should.

Predicted Line-Up

  1. Michael Gordon
  2. Anthony Don
  3. Konrad Hurrell
  4. Dale Copley
  5. Brenko Lee
  6. Kane Elgey
  7. Ashley Taylor
  8. Leilani Latu
  9. Nathan Peats
  10. Jarrod Wallace
  11. Ryan James
  12. Kevin Proctor
  13. Joe Greenwood

14. Mitch Rein
15. Max King
16. Morgan Boyle
17. Keegan Hipgrave

Coach: Garth Brennan.

 

Wests Tigers release talented centre Moses Suli

Moses Suli

In an interesting move by the Wests Tigers but one they see as the right one, the club has opted to release Moses Suli from the remainder of his contract. 

With the discussions surrounding the release of Suli to the Canterbury Bulldogs, the club appreciates the understanding of Suli’s agent Mario Tartak.

“Moses is an exceptionally talented player,” said Wests Tigers CEO, Justin Pascoe.

That’s why over the last 12 months our coaching and personal development staff have dedicated so much time and energy to supporting Moses with his challenges, both on and off the field.”

Tartak praised the Wests Tigers for the way they handled the situation with professionalism.

“While it’s always disappointing to see player part ways with a club, the Wests Tigers have been completely transparent, professional and empathetic throughout this process,” said Tartak.

Although the club are disappointed to have to release Suli, in the end, the club values and culture are more important than any one player.

“We are working really hard both on and off the field to build something special here at Wests Tigers,” continued Pascoe.

“That includes building a culture and set of standards that cannot be compromised.

Despite the reasons behind their decision to release him, Pascoe and the Tigers wish Suli the best in his rugby league career.

“I am sure If he’s willing to take responsibility, be a team player and commit to the demands of being a professional athlete he has the potential to have a successful career in rugby league,” the CEO said.

With reports suggesting that his work ethic was not up to scratch, Suli hit back at those claims saying it was the best decision for him moving forward.

“It was a big call for me, but I thought it was the best for myself and the club,” Suli said.

“It was really tough for me and I didn’t think it would come to this, but I guess it’s what’s best for my footy career.

“The ankle is going really well. I had surgery, but I have recovered well. I have been given the all-clear and I’m ready to get back on the field.”

A key reason behind his decision to join the Bulldogs was his close association with their recruitment manager Warren McDonnell, who recruited him to the Tigers.

“I have known Warren since I was 15 and he has helped me a lot,” Suli continued.

“I’m willing to go to the Bulldogs and get back to playing the football I know I can.

“I’m excited for the move to Canterbury and I’m prepared to face every challenge that comes my way.”

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 4: Cronulla Sharks

Loyal fans, an ageing team but a committed one. That, in a nutshell, sums up the Cronulla Sharks.

After winning a maiden premiership in 2016, the Cronulla Sharks were flying high. Their fans were jubilant and the club, after all the turmoil, was on top of the world.

Although 2017 was certainly no failure given their finals appearance, the Sharks would have expected more. Was it the ageing squad that caught up with them? Or had they simply taken a backwards step as other teams leapfrogged ahead of them?

The Gallinator and his replacement

You have to wonder just how he does it but Paul Gallen is set to go around yet again in season 2018. He might be ageing but he has lost none of his spring or step, producing consistently good numbers for several seasons on end now.

As he winds down, however, the question Sharks fans will ask is just who will be the man to replace him? Will Gallen be a mentor to them as his own minutes decrease? Or will the replacement be thrust into first-grade and expected to stand on their own two feet?

Many Sharks fans and media pundits believe that the replacement will be Billy Magoulias. Gallen-line in many of his traits, he has all the skills in his arsenal to succeed. However, as we all know, many great young players have come and gone, unable to cope with the NRL and its physicality. Is Magoulias the man to replace Gallen?

The Fullback Conundrum

Depth in rugby league is good but can you have too much depth? Can multiple players vying for one spot in the eyes of many be a detriment or a hindrance rather than a good thing?
If there is one thing that the Sharks are blessed with for 2018, it is an abundance of fullbacks. Valentine Holmes, Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan.

Although the decision already seems to be made as per reports from numerous media outlets and Sharks coach Shane Flanagan, bare with us in this during this section as we dissect the three primary candidates.

If we start with Matt Moylan. Joining the club from the Penrith Panthers for this season, Moylan is a player that many NRL fans have a love-hate relationship with. You quite literally either love him or you hate him.
His ability is uncanny and he has impressed many fans over the years as a result of it. His ball-playing skills have allowed him to accrue countless try assists and line-break assists over the years, more than the other two fullback candidates.

You certainly can’t go wrong with Moylan at fullback and he has had success there in the past. However, in a team that needs to replace the departure of James Maloney, it may be better suited to play him in the halves despite his dominance over the others at fullback.

If you move onto the likes of both Dugan and Holmes, whilst they are sound fullbacks in their own right, the consensus is that neither has the required ball skills to be successful in the role.

Whoever you do pick, all three are capable players and all three have showcased their skills in the past.

Flanagan’s Island

Shane Flanagan. The coach that led the Cronulla Sharks to the promised land once. Can he do it again?
The long, tough journey started at the back end of the 2010 season. Thrust into the role after the resignation of Ricky Stuart, the early going was tough for Flanagan.

Slowly but surely, things improved. By 2012, the Sharks were back in the top eight and they were consistently building with several shrewd signings. Then, as we all know, the big moment came in 2016. The crowning glory, the creme de la creme, the greatest achievement. A maiden Cronulla Sharks premiership.

Putting that aside for a second, however, what about the man himself and his conduct as Sharks coach? Winning a premiership is as much about the coach as it is the players but what makes him a good coach or the right coach? Alternatively, what makes him a polarising figure that many opposition fans simply do not like?

Is it really worth the effort to publicly lambast and criticise a refereeing performance? Such outbursts drew the ire of many opposition fans who felt it was unnecessary and unjustified. With that in mind, is the honesty refreshing? Is Flanagan simply taking a leaf out of the coaching manual and voicing his view on how something panned out?

The consistent results of late more than speak for themselves despite some potentially insensitive outbursts, it is easy to see why Sharks fans love him as their head coach. He is able to galvanise his players and have them all playing the style of footy that suits the team, just like he is able to steer the ship and lead from the front.

Is he good enough to lead the side to glory yet again and furthermore, is the club good enough to attain the glory yet again? Time will tell but you would have to be a brave better to say that the Sharks will not push for the title yet again in 2018.

Gains and Losses

Gains: Scott Sorenson (Canberra Raiders), Matt Moylan (Penrith Panthers), Braden Uele (North Queensland Cowboys), Aaron Gray (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Josh Dugan (St George Illawarra Dragons) & Ava Seumanufagai (Wests Tigers).

Losses: Gerard Beale, Jack Bird, Fa’amanu Brown, Manaia Cherrington, Adam Clydsdale, Jordan Drew, Chris Heighington, Jeremy Latimore, James Maloney, Daniel Mortimer, Sam Tagataese, Jayden Walker & Tony Williams.

Player to Watch

This one is likely to be a no-brainer and despite our earlier wraps on Billy Magoulias above, he is not the man we are set to mention here.
Sharks fans would guess it straight away and the player on the tip of their tongues is Kyle Flanagan.

The son of coach Shane Flanagan, the live-wire and enigmatic half is coming off a year to remember. Although his Holden Cup side was unable to go the distance and win the premiership this year, his numbers were truly remarkable as was his consistency.

Just to put it in some perspective; he broke a long-standing Holden Cup record for the most points scored in one season with 20 tries and 140 goals totalling 360 points.
That is not even mentioning his exorbitantly high try assist and line-break assist tallies in 2017, proving that he was the catalyst for the Sharks attacking fortunes.

His stellar 2017 aside, many Sharks fans have him pinned as the next long-term half for the club and so they should. His ability is remarkable and although he faces further tests should he move into the Intrust Super Premiership ranks, Sharks fans are confident that he can excel at that level also.

Although a first-grade opportunity may not beckon straight away, he is too good to keep out long-term and if injury strikes, he is likely to be the first cab off the rank. That will be a proud moment for Sharks fans and particularly for coach Shane Flanagan.

Predicted 2017 line-up

  1.  Valentine Holmes
  2. Sosaia Feki
  3. Josh Dugan
  4. Ricky Leutele
  5. Jesse Ramien
  6. Matt Moylan
  7. Chad Townsend
  8. Andrew Fifita
  9. Jayden Brailey
  10. Matt Prior
  11. Luke Lewis
  12. Wade Graham
  13. Paul Gallen (C)

14. James Segeyaro
15. Ava Seumanufagai
16. Kurt Capewell
17. Braden Uele

Coach: Shane Flanagan.

 

 

 

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 3: Canberra Raiders

2017 was a year to forget for the Canberra Raiders but the only way is up for the green machine in 2018.

Despite boasting an array of talent, on-field performances were lacking from the team in the nation’s capital.
Their plight in 2018 does not get any easier either, particularly with English international Josh Hodgson out for much of the season with a knee injury.

Just what can we expect from the Raiders in 2018? Can they overcome the loss of Hodgson and perform? Can they produce consistent attacking stats to get themselves ahead in games? Or is it too much for the side, despite their impressive roster?

Austintatious

Ah, Blake Austin. A man who shone ever so brightly when he joined the Raiders. Only to then see his form fade and thus drawing the ire of Raiders fans for much of the last eighteen months.

Not to fear, as 2018 is another year. A chance for Austin to recapture that form and show why he can make such an impact on a weekly basis in the NRL. His halves combination with Aidan Sezer has drawn plenty of criticism in the last couple of seasons, particularly for their lack of attacking kicks to culminate in repeat sets.

Just as Austin shoulders a large role in leading the Raiders’ attacking raids, so too does his halves partner Sezer. The weight of expectation and pressure will be upon them but are they good enough to live up to it? Or will it, unfortunately, get the better of them and have the Raiders on the back foot early in 2018?

Leipana Films

Name a more iconic duo in the NRL? Go on, we dare you?! Of course, we’re kidding. Plenty of iconic duos have made their presence known in Australian rugby league and Leipana is just the latest.
Joseph Leilua and Jordan Rapana have formed a seemingly telepathic-like bond based on the way they seem to always link up in attack, even via uncanny means.

If we back-track to 2016 just for a minute, it was in this season that the term was coined. Such was the fluid, dynamic play of the duo, that the name Leipana was coined. It suited, too. Together, they seemed unstoppable and inseparable and with no end in sight.

Like all good things, however, it came to an abrupt end. Not wholly, merely temporarily. For as good as Leipana were in 2016, by their own admission, they were not as good in 2017. Initially striking fear into their opponents, their effectiveness in 2017 waned as both Leilua and Rapana struggled for consistency.

With the start of the 2018 season, however, comes a chance to start afresh. A chance to rekindle the always blossoming bromance. Raiders fans will certainly hope that is the case, as the two loom as key players if the club is to have any chance of finals footy and consistency.

The Hodgson Blueprint

His ability and effectiveness to the team cannot be understated but the Raiders will be forced to start the season without Josh Hodgson.
The star English hooker who enjoyed a solid World Cup injured his knee, suffering an ACL injury, a huge blow for the Raiders.

A nifty, live-wire player from dummy half, Hodgson takes a lot of pressure off the halves in that he can essentially play like one. In the Cameron Smith mold of hooker when on-song, his loss leaves a huge hole in the Raiders hooker department.

With vision and creativity to boot, the Raiders will have to rely on a couple of more part-time hookers to fill the void.
Both Craig Garvey and Siliva Havili are decent players in their own right. However, neither has had much of a chance to prove their worth with any great consistency.

Havili showed glimpses of what he can do at the World Cup and Garvey at club level but is it enough? Can either step into the hooker role and take the pressure off the halves if need be? Or is that a bridge too far? One thing is for certain, they will need to or the Raiders could struggle to control the ruck regularly.

Gains and Losses

Gains: Brad Abbey & Craig Garvey (both Canterbury Bulldogs), Charlie Gubb (New Zealand Warriors), Michael Oldfield (Penrith Panthers), Siliva Havili (St George Illawarra Dragons), Sam Williams (Wakefield Trinity), Liam Knight (Sydney Roosters), Cooper Bambling, Kalani Going, Stefano Hala, Corey Horsburgh & Sebastian Kris.

Losses: Kurt Baptiste, Lachlan Croker, Brent Naden, Clay Priest, Zac Santo, Scott Sorenson, David Taylor & Jordan Turner.

Player to Watch

Blessed with plenty of good forward talent, the swashbuckling Jack Murchie will have his own opportunity to shine in 2018.
2017 season saw him named in the Holden Cup Team of the Year and play for both the Junior Kangaroos and NSW U20’s. His ability playing on the edge and to play consistently impressed many Raiders fans and Raiders staff.

Like any young player, he is far from the finished product. However, the Raiders are pleased with his development, particularly in attack. With bits and pieces still to work on, his work ethic and desire will be at the forefront of his mind as he looks for a first-grade berth.

A local player, Murchie loves the Raiders and the club as a whole. Opportunity for him would cap off a dream he has had for quite some time. With that chance not far off, he could be the next big star out of the Raiders after the success of Nick Cotric.

Predicted 2017 line-up

  1. Jack Wighton
  2. Nick Cotric
  3. Jarrod Croker (C)
  4. Joey Leilua
  5. Jordan Rapana
  6. Blake Austin
  7. Aidan Sezer
  8. Junior Paulo
  9. Siliva Havili
  10. Shannon Boyd
  11. Josh Papalli
  12. Elliott Whitehead
  13. Iosia Soliola

14. Craig Garvey
15. Joseph Tapine
16. Charlie Gubb
17. Luke Bateman

Coach: Ricky Stuart.