Category Archives: NRL Club News

Individual NRL Team and Club News

Manly to unleash Zimbabwe flyer

Gideon MzembeIn a testament to their impressive recruitment staff, the Manly Sea Eagles are set to unleash a 22 year old Zimbabwe born winger in their trial game against the Melbourne Storm. A former war refugee, Gideon Mzembe is a name that NRL fans are going to be hearing a lot more about.

Lightning fast, the Broncos did their best to keep hold of the young gun but Manly eventually got their man and will seek to replace the speed lost with Chris Hicks after his departure to the UK Super League.

You won’t mistake Gideon Mzembe when you see him, featuring one red boot and one blue boot the slender winger stands out in a crowd. I suppose one has to be fast when he is dodging bullets as a youngster and Mzembe has left behind a life of death and destruction and now gets his chance to shine in front of Manly boss Des Hasler.

Born in Zimbabwe of Malawian parents, Mzembe only had a tiny taste of NRL football with the Brisbane Broncos over the past three seasons. He was 18th man in several matches last season including the Broncos clash with Manly at Brookvale Oval during State of Origin time. Mzembe went to primary school in Brisbane at Kalangur before attending secondary school at Ipswich Grammar where he played rugby union. Younger brother Pacharo has recently graduated from Nida and is a budding actor of great promise.

Mzembe has teamed up with exciting winger Michael Bani at the Sea Eagles and can relate to Bani’s rise in the NRL last season.

“I’m grateful to Manly for the opportunity and I’m pleased to be thrown in the deep end against a side like Melbourne – I can’t wait for kick off,” Mzembe said.

Mzembe will travel with the Sea Eagles squad to Ettalong before the game where the team will rest up before the 7:30pm trial against the Storm.

Don’t underestimate the Raiders backline

The Raiders are always written off as ‘also-rans’ before each NRL season commences, but by the look of their sharp and speedy backline this year certainly some opposition teams could come away with their tails between their legs. A name that will continue to rise out of the wilderness at the Raiders is pure speedman William Zillman, the young fullback who made a name for himself last year is rumoured to be even quicker and is arguably the quickest man in the NRL.

With the Raiders squad not having the luxury of a high profile name to guide them around the field, head coach Neil Henry will again be forced to call upon on the exuberance of the youngsters to give Canberra an edge against teams seemingly better off in terms of recognizable talent.

With a backline full of attacking brilliance and blinding speed, the Raiders season will hinge on whether they can rectify their woeful goalline defensive lapses of last season. Always tough to beat on their home soil, coach Henry will also need to rectify his charges poor traveling record for them to seriously challenge for a Top 8 position.

While Henry has a determined and willing team at his disposal, his young Raiders will struggle to continuously keep their intensity at the optimum level in what will be another close season.

Advantages-

A number of the Raiders youngsters will be better for the experience gained last year, so expect Canberra to cause a few upsets against some of their more fancied opposition. Coach Henry has some of the best young talent at his disposal, with William Zillman, Bronx Goodwin, Terry Campese and Todd Carney looking to kick on from successful debut seasons.

The enthusiasm of the younger brigade is sure to inspire the older guys, and Canberra Stadium is yet another advantage – most teams dread the road trip to play in Canberra’s freezing cold conditions.

Concerns-

One of Canberra’s strengths is also their greatest weakness – inexperience. Only Alan Tongue, Colin Best, Lincoln Withers, Scott Logan and Colin Best have played 100 top grade career games, with the average age of the Raiders top 17 being only 24 years. If the Raiders are hit with injuries, than coach Henry will be forced to blood youngsters from either the Raiders under 20 Toyota squad, or from the local Canberra competition.

Canberra Raiders likely 2008 Starting Squad-

1- William Zillman
2- Colin Best
3- Joel Monaghan
4- Phil Graham
5- Adrian Purtell
6- Todd Carney
7- Michael Dobson
8- Scott Logan
9- Lincoln Withers
10- Troy Thompson
11- Dane Tilse
12- Neville Costigan
13- Alan Tongue

14- Josh Miller
15- Michael Weyman
16- Marshall Clark
17– Tom Learoyd-Lahrs

Trial Matches-

16/02/08 v Gold Coast Titans @ Briggs Rd Sporting Complex, Ipswich
23/02/08 v Brisbane Broncos @ Wade Park, Orange
01/03/08 v North QLD Cowboys @ Brothers RL Park, Mackay

2008 Gains and Losses –

Gains – Joel Monaghan (Sydney Roosters), Matt Smith (QRL)

Losses – Andrew Dunemann and Jason Williams (QRL), Brad Cross (West Belconnen), Matt Bickerstaff (released), Josh McCrone (Penrith)

Cowboys hang Murray out to dry

Graham Murray North Queensland CowboysIn the latest round of coaching bombshells, the North Queensland Cowboys have today announced that Graham Murray’s existing coaching contract will not be renewed beyond 2008.

In a surprising move, the Cowboys have closed the door on the coach that pretty much took them from cellar dwellers to NRL heavyweights during his reign as head coach. The move seems directly aimed at securing Wayne Bennett as head coach for the club for 2009 and beyond. Many insiders felt that Bennett would consider Sydney as first option to be closer to family, however the current movement by the Cowboys suggest they are going all out for the long term Broncos coach.

It also adds another element of uncertainty to Sydney based clubs, with Graham Murray sure to be desired in some corners depending on local results. St George, Newcastle and the Bulldogs being big candidates if their years start poorly. It also looks likely the former Warriors coach Daniel Anderson will be the front runner for the Broncos job, meaning Murray will get a decent shot at securing a Sydney club.

It’s a move that will leave a bad taste in the mouthes of Cowboys supporters, Graham Murray having led the club out of the wilderness only to be hung out to dry during their prime years. While most NRL heavyweights have the utmost respect for Wayne Bennett, it remains to be seen whether the award winning coach still has the desire, ability and longevity to succeed outside his well known Red Hill Walls.

One things for sure, if Wayne Bennett accepts the role he will be walking into a team bristling with talent and if he can’t succeed with a crop like that, it’s certainly time to hang up the clipboard.

Melbourne Storm name squad for Manly game

Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy has named his squad for this Friday’s 1st pre-season trial game against the Manly Sea Eagles. The game will be played at Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford, NSW from 7:30pm.

 

The first-grade clash will be preceded by a NSW Rugby League Cup clash between Central Coast Storm and Manly at 5:30pm, and an Under-20’s game between Melbourne Storm and Manly Sea Eagles from 4:00pm.

 

The first-grade game will be divided into three 30-minute periods, with the Storm fielding a young team for the opening period, with a full-strength team taking to the field in the second period. The make-up of the team for the third period will be decided on the night.

 

Due to Cam Smith’s unavailability for the World Club Challenge against Leeds Rhinos on February 29, he will play in the first 30-minute period, with Matt Geyer taking the number 9 jersey for the second period.

 

Antonio Kaufusi will make his long-awaited return to action in the front-row after suffering a season-ending knee injury during the 2007 State-of-Origin series.

 

Former Brisbane Bronco Clifford Manua will get his first chance to impress in the front-row alongside Kaufusi in the first period.

 

After leaving Melbourne in 2004 and spending three years playing rugby in Scotland, Ben MacDougall will don the Storm colours once again when he lines up in the centres during the first period.

 

With Greg Inglis out injured and not likely to return to action until at least Round 3 of the NRL season, Russell Aitken gets his chance to impress in the five-eighth spot when he takes to the field during the second period.

 

Squad for Friday’s game:

 

First period starting team:

1. Jade Williams

2. Russell Webber

3. Ben MacDougall

4. Dane Nielsen

5. Joseph Tomane

6. Alex Moore

7. Liam Foran

8. Antonio Kaufusi

9. Cam Smith

10. Clifford Manua

11. Lucas Miller

12. Kevin Proctor

13. Sinbad Kali

 

Interchange:

14. Regan Tanner, 15. Aiden Guerra, (remaining interchange players selected from Central Coast Storm team)

 

Second period starting team:

1. Billy Slater

2. Steve Turner

3. Will Chambers

4. Israel Folau

5. Anthony Quinn

6. Russell Aitken

7. Cooper Cronk

8. Brett White

9. Matt Geyer

10. Jeff Lima

11. Jeremy Smith

12. Ryan Hoffman

13. Dallas Johnson

 

Interchange:

14. Sam Tagataese, 15. Adam Blair, 16. Sika Manu, 17. Aiden Tolman

 

Third period starting team:

Players will be selected to play during the third period on the night

 

Coach: Craig Bellamy.

Eel scare: Nathan Hindmarsh to go under knife

Veteran Eels and State of Origin forward Nathan Hindmarsh is set to urgently go under the knife before the start of the 2008 NRL season after a knee complaint concerned Eels officials during last weeks training.

Hindmarsh consulted Eels staff after hearing a click with his knee and the Parramatta training staff didn’t want to take any chances with their valuable forward and booked him in for an arthroscope immediately. “No big deal” the affable Hindmarsh said, playing his usual cheeky self. “Just a clean up, more than anything” he said.

To someone like Nathan Hindmarsh, a category 4 cyclone bearing down on Parramatta Stadium in his mind would be just a gusty wind. “She’ll be right mate, just a bit of wind” he would say.

In any case the Eels forward is set to be back for the first round of the NRL season, with coach Michael Hagan hinting he would rest Nathan Hindmarsh as long as possible to ensure a strong healing of the operation.

Hagan continues to focus his efforts on reducing the workrate of Hindmarsh for the NRL 2008 season, after continuing concerns last year the busy tackling machine is becoming too much like Craig Fitzgibbon and tiring himself out too much in defence, hence reducing his attacking power.

Brisbane Broncos no easy beats in 2008

Brisbane Broncos pre-season training for NRL 2008Forget the illusion that the retirement of Wayne Bennett may cause the Brisane Broncos to derail during NRL 2008. In what promises to still be a big year for the Queensland side, they have replaced several old heads with some astute buys that should plug the gaps nicely for their NRL campaign this year.

With experienced stars Karmichael Hunt and Darren Lockyer returning from long layoffs, fresh and ready to be unleashed and the acquisition of boom Panthers half Peter Wallace, Eels Hooker PJ Marsh and Panthers big man Joel Clinton coach Wayne Bennett has an array of options at most positions. Add into the mix the fact that Broncos players will want to send Uncle Benny out on a winner and the likelihood they will have a less demanding player involvement in the Origin series, look for the Broncos to be a real threat in NRL season 2008.

The Broncos will employ one of the premierships most lethal hooking duos in 2008, with former Eels rake PJ Marsh returning to the Sunshine State to share the dummy half role with incumbent hooker, Michael Ennis. With attacking dynamos Justin Hodges and Karmichael Hunt feeding off creative halves Darren Lockyer and Peter Wallace, the Broncos will be one of the most dangerous attacking units in the competition.

Despite losing the experience of Civoniceva, Thorn, Berrigan and Carlaw up front, the Broncos have lost nothing in power, with Joel Clinton, Ashton Sims, Sam Thaiday and Corey Parker set to provide the muscle in the engine room.

Rookie flankers Darius Boyd and Steve Michaels should get first shot at the two starting wing positions for the Broncos Round One match against the Panthers, but will be under immense pressure to perform with the likes of Denan Kemp, Tom Hewitt and new boy Rodney Davies waiting in the wings.

Gone are the days where the Broncos utilised powerful wingers like Wendall Sailor and Lote Tuquiri as extra forwards, with the diminutive Brisbane wingers of last season often targeted under the high ball. If the successful aerial assaults continue, than both Boyd and Michaels will be playing alot of Queensland Cup this season.

Looking at the possible starting squad below for the Brisbane Broncos, their halves combination immediately looks like a match winning duo. The likes of Lockyer and Wallace working their wonders behind that pack of forwards will be a sight to behold.

Broncos possible 2008 starting squad:

1- Karmichael Hunt
2- Darius Boyd
3- Justin Hodges
4- David Stagg
5- Steve Michaels
6- Darren Lockyer
7- Peter Wallace
8- Joel Clinton
9- Michael Ennis
10- Dave Taylor
11- Corey Parker
12- Sam Thaiday
13- Tonie Carroll

14- Ben Hannant
15- Ashton Sims
16- PJ Marsh
17 – Nick Kenny

Trial Matches-

16/2/08 v North QLD Cowboys @ Browne Park, Rockhampton
23/2/08 v Canberra Raiders @ Wade Park, Orange
01/03/08 v Melbourne Storm @ Dolphin Park, Redcliffe

2008 Gains and Losses-

Gains – Joel Clinton and Peter Wallace (Penrith), Ashton Sims and Tom Hewitt (St George-Illawarra), PJ Marsh (Parramatta)

Losses – Petero Civoniceva (Penrith), Shaun Berrigan (Hull), Brent Tate (New Zealand), Dane Carlaw (Les Catalans), Brad Thorn (Super 14 – Canterbury), Ian Lacey and John Te Reo (sacked), Andrew Lomu (released)

Rooster Rumble in Wollongong

Shaun Kenny DowallWell it seems Wollongong is the new hot spot for NRL players after a second brawl involving Rugby League players in the space of 7 days occured in the Southern NSW beach side city. This time is was Sydney Roosters players Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Setaimata Sa who went toe to toe with locals over an alleged theft of $100.

After a night on the town with Sa, Rooster Kenny-Dowall is reported to have left his wallet behind after leaving a fast food outlet towards the end of the night. After realising he had forgotten the wallet, Kenny-Dowall returned to the restaurant and allegedly confronted a group of males who had supposedly taken the wallet. After Kenny-Dowall, flanked by Sa was eventually able to get the wallet from the group of locals – it seems they had pocketed the cash totalling $100 from the wallet before returning it. This is when things got heated …

Heavily outnumbered the two Roosters players put in a good showing for themselves and went the knuckles with up to 10 males. Both coming away uninjured, the Roosters who were already breaking their team curfew then set about reporting the theft to team officials and local authorities.

In any case, you can understand the frustration of Kenny-Dowall and him wanting his wallet and money returned; but the promising Rooster was already breaking team curfew and by going the biff with locals, it certainly wasn’t a smart move considering recent NRL headlines and player problems.

The breach for the Roosters is a concern, after seemingly having a strong pre-season and firming as a strong force in NRL 2008 – this will be a wake up call for coach Brad Fittler and club boss Nick Politis. With the likes of Willie Mason now at the club, they would want to keep very short leads on their squad members and make sure they focus on footy and not which nitespot to attend each week.

The overall problem of player misbehaviour is a growing concern for the NRL, as the profiles continue to rise of Rugby League players – it certainly seems they are being targetted more and more by locals looking for a prize scalp. In wake of this incident with Shaun Kenny-Dowall and more particularly the Ben Roberts case, it’s only a matter a time before a player is seriously injured or possibly killed in a large scale brawl.

Warriors urge Wiki Retirement

Only weeks after claiming he was keen to play NRL Rugby League for several more years, veteran Warriors forward Ruben Wiki has suddenly announced his retirement from NRL at the end of this season.

Such a massive backflip from Wiki suggests the Warriors have obviously consulted with the former Canberra Raider and New Zealand representative and urged him to reconsider his position with the Warriors in the years ahead. As recently as late January 2008, Wiki went to air on New Zealand television stating his desire to continue on with the Warriors for several more seasons if he could arrange a contract.

After retiring from test football in 2006 after a world record 55 internationals – the only player in the game’s history to reach the 50-test mark, when questioned about his decision to retire from the NRL; Wiki said “Its time now to make the hard decision to retire from NRL level as he eyed his fourth season with the Vodafone Warriors.”

“It was emotional making the decision but I want to leave the NRL on a good note,” he said.

“I’ve loved playing in this competition and it’s been an honour being with the Vodafone Warriors and also with Canberra but this is the right time to move on from the NRL.

“I wanted to have it sorted out before the season started so I could get on with giving everything I can to the cause for the team here at the Vodafone Warriors. As well as that, the fans have always been great to me here and I’ll be dedicating the season to them – what a ride it will be!

“I’ve had the first proper off-season of my career and I’ve loved every minute of it, being able to train with the boys throughout the summer. I feel like I’m in the best condition I’ve been in.”

While Wiki said he was set to leave the NRL, he told the Vodafone Warriors he also wanted to play in the English Super League.

“That was a big part of the decision,” he said.

“I’ve toured England lots of times and plenty of my Kiwi team-mates have joined clubs there. I have always had an interest in playing there at some stage.

“In the past I’ve had offers from clubs in England but I’ve always resisted. Now it’s the right time. My manager Jim Banaghan is going to the United Kingdom next week to talk to three Super League clubs that have expressed interest.”

He added his decision was very much a family one. Wiki’s wife Santa said she was just as keen to see him make the switch to the English Super League.

“It’s important to us that Ruben makes the right decision for both himself and us as a family,” said Santa.

“It was a big move at the time leaving Canberra to come back home but it’s certainly been worth it on all levels. We’ve been back among family and Ruben has loved his time with the Vodafone Warriors.

“But he has always had a desire to play in England as well and now is the right time to do it.”

While he was moving on from the NRL, Wiki said he was keen to have a role with the Vodafone Warriors in the future.

“I’ve been studying to get my qualifications as a trainer and would like to get into that side of things when I finish playing. I want to come back to this club,” he said.

Wiki, who has consistently been rated by his peers as one of the hardest players in the game throughout his career, needs just 12 more appearances to become only the 10th player in history to achieve the milestone of 300 games in the premiership.

Vodafone Warriors coach Ivan Cleary said Wiki’s influence in the side and around the club would be impossible to replace.

“Ruben has brought so much to this club as a player and as a person. You can’t put a value on it but his contribution has been huge,” he said.

“It’s been a privilege for everyone who has been involved with him but it’s not all over yet. He has trained brilliantly throughout the off-season, he’s in great condition and he has set himself for a big year. We’re expecting a lot from him and he expects a lot from himself. He always sets high standards.”

Vodafone Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah echoed Cleary’s sentiments.

“People like Ruben Wiki are rare. We’ve been so lucky to have him because he has contributed so much to the success of the Vodafone Warriors in all ways,” he said.

“It’ll be sad when the end comes but there’s a full season to go before that and we’ll certainly be looking at opportunities to celebrate Ruben’s career along the way.

“And once Ruben stops playing, we would love to have him involved in the club in a new role.”

In his debut season with the Vodafone Warriors in 2005, Wiki was named the club’s player of the year. He received the ONZM (Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit) for services to rugby league in last year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours and he was also awarded the Ken Stephen Medal last year as the NRL player who made the most outstanding contribution to the community through rugby league. He also captained the All Golds in their commemorative match against the Northern Union last year, an event that marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of international rugby league.

RUBEN WIKI

Born: January 21, 1973
Birthplace: Auckland, NZ
Position: Prop/second row
Height: 186cm
Weight: 104kg
Junior Clubs: Otara Scorpions, Otahuhu Leopards
NRL Debuts: Canberra: v South Sydney, Bruce Stadium, June 6, 1993 (Round 11)
Vodafone Warriors: v Manly, Ericsson Stadium, March 13, 2005 (Round 1)
Club Number: 123 (Vodafone Warriors)
NRL Career: 288 appearances, 1993-2007
Canberra: 225 appearances, 1993-2004
Vodafone Warriors: 63 appearances, 2005-2007
NRL Points: 284 (71 tries)
Canberra: 240 points (60 tries)
Vodafone Warriors: 44 points (11 tries)
International Career: 55 tests for Kiwis (world record), 1994-2006
60 points (15 tries)
Kiwi captain 18 tests, 2003-2006
All Golds captain, 2007
Kiwi Number: 655
Educated: Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate (Auckland)

Souths sign their future over to Western Sydney

Souths sign with ANZ Stadium for 10 yearsHampered by constant red tape and on-going political road blocks at their inner Sydney base, the South Sydney Rabbitohs have today walked away from Redfern altogether and have agreed to forge their playing future at the former Olympic Stadium, Homebush ; now known as ANZ Stadium.

Seemingly fighting for years to have Redfern rebuilt as a traditional suburban fortress; even with the heavy backing of Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court – the Rabbitohs were unable to push their case through, to have the old ground redeveloped and established as a strong base in close proximity to their newly developed Leagues club.

Seemingly with few options, the Rabbitohs pushed on with their Homebush partnership and today they signed with ANZ Stadium to host the majority of their home games at the former Olympic site for the next 10 years. A bold commitment and one that Souths say favors them in terms of statistics. According to reports from the Rabbitohs, their home crowd support grew 48% in 2007 and they attribute a lot of that to the Homebush base relocation.

While Souths realistically had few options when the Redfern redevelopment turned sour, if management think that Homebush was the answer then they are sadly mistaken. The Crowe and Holmes a Court management have pretty much done everything right since taking over from the old guard nearly 18 months ago.

Much improved on field results have been the real reason for the crowd boost, not the shift in home ground. Sure, ANZ Stadium may have nice neat locker rooms and have swanky bars, along with promising Souths the world – but in all honesty, NRL teams playing at Homebush weekly give away as much as 6 points to opposition sides because it can’t be considered a real home ground. The home supporters sit a long way back from the playing ground, unable to truly get into the game and apart from the sound of the repetitive South Sydney drumming squad – on-field players can rarely feel the roar of the crowd in low key games.

A great stadium for big time matches such as Origin and the Grand Final, at times when it’s only partially full the Homebush Stadium becomes extremely quiet and devoid of atmosphere for regular season rounds. Teams such as the Bulldogs have been trying to camouflage this fact for years, as do the Wests Tigers. While financially viable for NRL clubs, the reality is that playing games at Telstra hurts them on the scoreboard.

While Souths had limited alternatives, signing the next decade over to ANZ Stadium wasn’t really the answer. With the smarts and financial backing of Crowe and Holmes a Court, I felt Souths may have seen the value in redeveloping a suburban ground and really cementing their rise to the top in the mid to long term.

Panthers place trust in Trent Waterhouse

Trent Waterhouse Penrith PanthersSome positive news today for the 2007 NRL wooden spooners the Penrith Panthers. Former Australian backrower Trent Waterhouse signing on the dotted line for another three years. Its a much needed boost for both the Panthers and Waterhouse, with Trent struggling in 2007 with a horror injury that saw him sit out most of the year.

They are a funny team the Penrith Panthers, they are either unbeatable and winning the comp or on a hiding to nothing and accompanying the cellar regularly. It’s all or nothing with the Penrith boys and 2008 should be an interesting one for them. With new signing Petero Civoniceva seemingly the guiding light, his consistency could be just the medicine.

With access to the likes of Trent Waterhouse, coach Matt Elliott will be hoping the Panthers can improve their competency at carrying out instructions on the field; something they rarely did in 2007 as they tried to play too much adlib Rugby League.

The Panthers were also the NRL’s bad boys last year. Constantly committing infringements, they rarely gave themselves a chance to compete in many games. Looking to atone this year, Elliott arranged several sessions for the Panthers with the NRL referees – a smart move to try and curb their hurtful trend from last season.

So we wait with interest as the mountain men try and take a different approach in 2008 NRL. Certainly this confidence shown in Trent Waterhouse marks a step in the right direction, his consistency and cool head will be called on regularly as the Panthers try to keep their dream and their coaches alive for a few more years yet.