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Individual NRL Team and Club News

Parramatta Eels to push Storm in 2008

Parramatta EelsKings Cross shootings and other off-field dramas aside, the Parramatta Eels head into the 2008 NRL season with quite possibly their best chance of winning the competition since 2001 when their impressive squad went within 6 points of winning the Grand Final against a rampaging Newcastle Knights.

With new coach Michael Hagan well settled in and having a tremendous blend of experience and talented youth at his disposal, many predict the Eels to challenge the Storm as they did in 2007 and push for a Grand Final appearance after long last.

The Eels still have one of the few backlines possessing the strike power to trouble the likes of the Melbourne Storm and Manly Sea-Eagles, and with old heads Cayless and Hindmarsh leading a pack full of experience, the signs are there that Parramatta will be on the money in late September. With attacking weapons Hayne, Inu, Grothe, Burt, Mateo and Tim Smith in the side, nothing less than a top 4 finish will be expected. The other X-Factor for the Eels comes in the form of: Joe Galuvao. The former Panther and Bunnie could prove a dynamic asset if the Eels and their coaching team can get the former charger into his vintage form.


Widely regarded as having one of the strongest junior competitions in the league, Parramatta’s premiership hopes will again rest with a bunch of local young guns. While the likes of Krisnan Inu, Jarryd Hayne and Feleti Mateo burst onto the NRL scene in ’07, coach Hagan is again set to unleash a new batch of talented rookies in season ’08. Weller Hauraki, Junior Paulo and Matt Keating are just some of the young stars that Hagan will provide more game time with this season, and combined with the long term signatures of Ben and Tim Smith, the Eels are set to remain a force for seasons to come. The other advantage for the Eels is their ability to gain a penalty when required, in 2007 Parramatta got more penalties than any other team by a long shot and seem to be able to fight for a quick play the ball more than other sides in the NRL.


Having lost eight experienced players over the off-season, the Eels may well struggle if hit with injuries. The major concern for the Eels is their forward depth, mostly at prop – where they don’t possess a long line of backups should injury or suspension hit them. Their success this season will also largely depend on the availability of their precocious half Tim Smith – if he can again find his best form after an off season marred with controversy, then the Eels could indeed go all the way. Also of concern is the defence of Tim Smith and his partner Brett Finch. Both combined fairly well in 2007, but when targetted by opposition attackers in the line – they regularly require assistance to pull the big men down.

2008 Likely NRL Starting Side:

1- Luke Burt
2- Krisnan Inu
3- Ben Smith
4- Jarryd Hayne
5- Eric Grothe
6- Brett Finch
7- Tim Smith
8- Fuifui Moimoi
9- Mark Riddell
10- Nathan Cayless
11- Nathan Hindmarsh
12- Chad Robinson
13- Feleti Mateo

14- Josh Cordoba
15- Joe Galuvao
16- Weller Hauraki
17– Todd Lowrie

NRL Pre-Season Trial Matches:

22/02/08 v Penrith Panthers @ Lavington Oval, Albury
01/03/08 v Sydney Roosters @ Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford

2008 Acquisitions and Departures:

Joe Galuvao (Souths), Ben Raftery (Cronulla), Ben McLennan (Grafton)


PJ Marsh (Brisbane), Timana Tahu (Super 14 Rugby), Blake Green (Cronulla), Aaron Cannings (Gold Coast), Justin Tsoulos and Nathan Tannous (Canterbury), Richard Fa’aoso (Newcastle), Ian Hindmarsh (retired)

Eels finally move to clean up image

Michael Hagan Parramatta EelsParramatta’s recent track record with player behaviour has certainly blown out of control. While many complain about the Bulldogs and their on-going problems, the Eels have quickly built up a long list of unenviable events. There was the original drinking sessions of Mark Riddell and Tim Smith, then Smith got himself into trouble several times with the bottle, and lashing out at locals and each time the Eels sat back and watched, well this week it has all come to a head with the Jarryd Hayne drive-by after a late night in Kings Cross.

While no NRL player deserves to be assaulted or shot at; Jarryd Hayne and his team-mates still had a chance to walk away from the flare up before things got too heated and yet they still remained in the dangerzone and have come off second best.

The Eels after consulting with senior players have decided to ban Hayne, Paulo and Hauraki from Round 1 of the NRL and have slapped each with a $2000 fine. Probably a good start and a move towards keeping players in line, but the Eels and other NRL clubs know that if they go all the way and sack players – other clubs will quickly swoop in and pickup the player and the merry go round starts again.

The NRL itself probably needs to step in and set some boundaries to assist clubs to keep their players in check. We know that no-one is perfect, but as many have said – Kings Cross at 4am is sure to bring trouble for anyone, let alone a high profile star.

The loss of Jarryd Hayne will no doubt hurt the Eels in their season opener with the Bulldogs. While Parramatta have been solid in their trial form, the Bulldogs will be itching to avenge last seasons finals defeat and will be keen to launch and early season raid to get some revenge and give their coach some breathing space before the vultures come knocking.

With Hayne banned, the opportunity comes knocking for Joel Reddy. The promising outside back has been a solid backup for the Eels in the past and has more than served his apprenticeship after 2 reserve grade premierships. Competition will remain strong in the outside backs for the Eels, with Luke Burt assured of the custodian role and the likes of Kris Inu, Ben Smith, Joel Reddy, Jarryd Hayne and Eric Grothe Jr fighting it out for centre and wing spots.

Will the Cowboys remain a force?

North Queensland CowboysThe Cowboys are set to lose coach Graham Murray at the end of this season, the NRL coach who has taken them from easy beats to consistent performers, peaking with a Grand Final appearance in 2005. The North Queensland Cowboys have also been plauged by player misbehaviour in recent times; with several big names including Jonathan Thurston getting into strife. So will a team in coaching limbo still remain a force in 2008 NRL?

The Cowboys have managed to retain the majority of the team that went within one game of making the premiership decider in 2007, the talented squad will be striving to take that next step in 2008. Despite losing some notable players during the off season, the Cowboys have recruited smartly. Former NRL and Canterbury centre Ben Harris returns to Australia to replace the retired Paul Bowman, and the halves pairing of ex-Manly pivot Travis Burns and Johnathan Thurston could see the Cowboys host one of the most lethal halves combinations in the competition.

For mine, the only thing stopping the Cowboys from cementing a top four position, will be the unavailability of Thurston for at least the first month of the premiership. North Queensland are notorious for bursting out of the blocks at the start of each year, but without the world’s best half steering them around, the Cowboys could well be behind the pack cum Round 6 (Thurston’s expected return).


The Cowboys seemingly possess talent in every position, and it would be a real shock to see them miss the top four. North Queensland have speed to burn in the outside backs, a creative set of halves, bullocking props and workaholic backrowers – they are pretty much a coaches dream.

The modern day Cowboys continue to play an exciting and expansive football, in recent times the Cowboys have had the ability to lay on a try from anywhere on the field. The blistering temperatures of Dairy Farmers Stadium, North Queensland is yet another major advantage for the Cowboys, with visiting rivals often struggling to overpower the acclimatised home team.


The Cowboys attacking qualities of 2007 certainly overshadowed their defensive abilites, Graham Murray’s men ending the year as the 13th worst defensive unit. Injuries playing a big part last year with several big name forwards unavailable at crucial times, but seven of the Cowboys ten season losses were against fellow semi-finalists. The Cowboys will need to improve their defence if they hope to compete against the top sides.

2008 Likely NRL Starting Side:

1- Matt Bowen
2- Ty Williams
3- Ashley Graham
4- Ben Harris
5- Ben Farrar
6- Travis Burns
7- Johnathan Thurston
8- Shane Tronc
9- Aaron Payne
10- Carl Webb
11- Steve Southern
12- Sione Faumuina
13- Luke O’Donnell

14- David Faiumu
15- Jacob Lillyman
16- Ray Cashmere
17– Matthew Scott
2008 NRL Pre-Season Trial Matches:

16/02/08 v Brisbane Broncos @ Browne Park, Rockhampton
23/02/08 v Gold Coast Titans @ Barlow Park, Cairns
01/03/0/8 v Canberra Raiders @ Brothers RL Club, Mackay

2008 Acquisitions and Departures:
Travis Burns (Manly), John Williams (Sydney Roosters), Ben Harris (Bradford), Dayne Weston and Anthony Watts (Cronulla), Anthony Perkins (Melbourne)

Paul Bowman, Scott Minto and Jason Smith (retired), Brenton Bowen (Gold Coast), Justin Smith (released), Shane Muspratt (QLD Cup), Neil Sweeney (Macquarie, Newcastle)

Craig Bellamy names starting 13 for WCC

Melbourne Storm 2008 World Club ChallengeMelbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy has trimmed his squad to 19 for the World Club Challenge clash against Leeds Rhinos at Elland Road on Friday night (England time). Of interest is Russell Aitken getting a starting spot at pivot along side Cooper Cronk, his performance obviously will go along way to determining the halves pairing in the 2008 NRL.

Starting Team:

1. Billy Slater
2. Steve Turner
3. Will Chambers
4. Israel Folau
5. Anthony Quinn
6. Russ Aitken
7. Cooper Cronk
8. Jeff Lima
9. Matt Geyer
10. Brett White
11. Jeremy Smith
12. Ryan Hoffman
13. Dallas Johnson

Interchange from:

Antonio Kaufusi, Adam Blair, Sam Tagataese, Sika Manu, Ben MacDougall, Aiden Tolman

Can the Warriors win on the road in 2008?

NZ Warriors 2008 NRLThey came home strong last year and managed to get themselves a coveted home semi final. However after surpassing all predictions last year – the New Zealand Warriors will be looking to improve on their respectable year of 2007. Continued improvement is evident under new coach Ivan Cleary and the previously erratic Warriors showcased a newfound confidence and structure,  finally regaining some respect after three disappointing years.

Confidence and consistency was instilled by the acquisition of workhorse prop  Steve Price and his steady, yet guiding influence remains the foundation to the Warriors continued success. The Warriors again possess a talented blend of size and skill, which should see them remain in contention to compete in semi-final football. However, the season ending knee injury to fullback Wade McKinnon will hamper the Warriors attacking game, as much of last season’s success can be attributed to the robust runs of the dynamic custodian. Only time will tell how the loss of McKinnon will affect the Warriors chances, with many bookmakers already slashing their prices on the Warriors ability to reach the semi-finals.

If the Warriors can rectify their traveling woes, and find a reliable replacement for McKinnon, then there is no reason why the New Zealander’s can’t again challenge for a top four position.


Aside from possessing the biggest forward pack in the competition, the Warriors real strength is their ability and instinct to switch to their exhilarating style of ad-lib, Polynesian attacking football at the drop of a hat. With their size, pace and skill, the Warriors have the ability to produce tries from anywhere on the paddock, and have proven in recent history that they are never dead and buried in tight contests.


Despite finishing the season in fourth spot, the Warriors still had trouble winning matches away from Mt Smart Stadium. Seven of their twelve season losses were recorded on the road, with the continuous traveling over the Tasman probably contributing to the New Zealander’s loss of focus midway through the season.

Expect a change in how the Warriors prepare and travel to away matches this season, as coach Cleary identified the amount of traveling as of his team’s main weaknesses last season.

Likely 2008 NRL Starting Team:

1- Patrick Ah Van
2- Michael Crockett
3- Brent Tate
4- Simon Mannering
5- Manu Vatuvei
6- Michael Witt
7- Grant Rovelli
8- Steve Price
9- Nathan Fien
10- Sam Rapira
11- Ruben Wiki
12- Logan Swann
13- Michael Luck

14- Epahalame Lauaki
15- Evarn Tuimavave
16- Wairangi Koopu
17– Ian Henderson

Pre-Season Trial Matches:

15/02/08 v Newcastle Knights @ North Harbour Stadium, Auckland
29/02/08 v Manly Sea-Eagles @ Kawana Waters

2008 Acquisitions and Departures:


Brent Tate (Brisbane), Ian Henderson (Bradford), Ryan Shortland (Melbourne)

Tony Martin (Wakefield), Todd Byrne (Hull), Louis Anderson (Warrington), George Gatis (Huddersfield)

By Peter Roy

Bennett not happy with Broncos line-up

Dave Taylor Brisbane BroncosBrisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett has seemingly been unimpressed with the trial form shown by the Broncos, demoting several players including boom prop Dave Taylor from the first grade squad. Such a bold move could only mean lack of focus at training or potentially even off-field incidents that have gone unreported.

Anticipation of the big clash between Dave Taylor and former Broncos mentor Petero Civoniceva in the round 1 blockbuster against Penrith have nosedived following the 19-year-old’s shock demotion to Rockhampton-based Central Comets.

Taylor has paid the price for a lacklustre display against Canberra at Orange last weekend, with Sydney imports Joel Clinton and Ashton Sims chosen in the front row for the club’s final trial against Redcliffe at Dolphin Oval on Saturday night.

Nick Kenny is the other prop in a 19-man squad that will be captained by second-rower Corey Parker in the absence of injured stars Darren Lockyer and Justin Hodges.

Another captaincy candidate, Karmichael Hunt, will start at five-eighth for the first time with Darius Boyd at fullback.

Taylor, who recently signed a 12-month contract extension with the Broncos, has been widely tipped to play State of Origin for Queensland as early as this year.

But the Broncos are not going to rush the 115kg Blackwater product, who can expect to play regularly for the Comets until he improves his consistency.

How far Taylor has fallen in the pecking order is highlighted by the fact Ben Hannant will miss the Redcliffe game with a sternum injury.

The Broncos’ lack of depth out wide has also been exposed by the naming of a three-quarter line that includes only one player with NRL experience – centre Steve Michaels.

The other centre is 17-year-old Gerard Beale, who is expected to play wing in the round 1 clash with Penrith at Suncorp Stadium. The wingers are Cronulla signing Reece Robinson, 20, and rugby union recruit William Tupou, 17.

Three members of the club’s NRL elite squad – Denan Kemp, Nick Emmett and Craig Frawley – were overlooked and are set to play Queensland Cup this weekend.

St George Illawarra wing recruit Tom Hewitt has been named on the Broncos bench which also includes Joel Moon who has been quiet in earlier trials.

Moon, 19, has been regarded as one of the most talented youngsters in the NRL but he could not find a place in the Broncos backline despite the absence of Lockyer, Hodges and halfback Peter Wallace (hip).

Test fullback Hunt said yesterday his selection at five-eighth could be a sign of things to come.

“I guess playing five-eighth is something that could happen down the track and I see this as a perfect chance to gain more experience at taking control of a game,” he said.

Corey Parker said it was a “big challenge” captaining the side and that he was keen to retain his goal-kicking role after finishing the club’s leading points scorer last year with 106 from 45 goals and four tries. Lockyer and Michael Ennis were the other kickers.

Mark O’Meley to make Roosters debut

Prop Mark O’Meley will make his debut for the Sydney Roosters this Saturday night against the Parramatta Eels at Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford. A regular site on the sidelines in recent times, the talented O’Meley and the Roosters would certainly hope that Shrek doesn’t remain a candidate for the most injured player of the year. 

O’Meley is excited at the prospect of playing his first game in the tricolours, especially in his home town.

“I’m from the Central Coast so I am really looking forward to this game,” he said after getting the nod to play from Brad Fittler.

“It’s been a big pre season and I am looking forward to having fun with the boys on the field. It’s a great coincidence that the game is in Gosford, it’s going to be good.”

After spending the majority of the pre season in the club’s injured group with head physio Tony Ayoub, O’Meley is confident that his problematic Achilles will be right to go on Saturday night.

“I’ve had the Achilles problem for a while but once it is warm it is fine. Being in the rehab group is mainly a preventative measure and I am still running several times a week with the boys.”

O’Meley’s addition will be the final piece in the puzzle for the for Roosters forward pack, with Danny Nutley also starting on the bench after missing out on last week’s Foundation Cup.

Penrith bet the farm on Jarrod Sammut

Jarrod Sammut Penrith PanthersThe Penrith Panthers have today re-signed rookie flyer Jarrod Sammut for the next 2 years, blocking any chance of the NZ Warriors snaring the fullback to replace the injured Wade McKinnon for 2008.

It’s a big compliment to the young Jarrod Sammut. Only 21 years of age and having all but a few games of NRL under his belt, while he impressed greatly during 2007 – are Penrith placing too much emphasis on a player that while talented hasn’t really been proven over a long period?

Ok, so what has Sammut shown us in 2007? Strong positional play, good speed of foot and a knack for backing up and finding the try line. All good credentials, sure. But moving from fullback to the halves is a huge jump, not only in the fact he will guiding the team around the park, but will take on a massive defensive role and have to posses a much higher tackle count each week.

Penrith were able to do something similar with Preston Campbell, the small livewire fullback turned half was able to use his creative flair to lay on tries and provide attacking impetus – but on the flip side, his size and defensive problems probably cost the same amount of tries as well. This is why the Gold Coast Titans have looked to move Campbell back to fullback to prevent any centre field defence leaks.

The Panthers may have been right to step in and stitch Sammut up before any poaching took place, but the move to the halves and the installment of Sammut as the ‘great white hope for Penrith’ will obviously place pressure on the kid and may see him carry too much on his shoulders this season. The halves have been a problem for Penrith for some time, while they were able to win the Premiership way back in 2003 – it was on the back of a polished all round squad with attacking flair. While Gower was always a solid halfback and tough competitor, he really was a hooker at heart and probably wasn’t the best halfback in the world – but was virtually the best available to Penrith and even NSW at times.

While Penrith have showed their hand and committed to Jarrod Sammut for at least the mid term, they would be wise not to change one of their only successes in 2007 and that was Sammut playing at the custodian role. Matt Elliott might be searching for a killer punch or a dynamic edge in the halves, but lets not forget they have a proven performer in Joe Williams of South Sydney fame waiting to take up the reigns in the middle.

Sometimes you don’t know what you have, even when you’re staring it in the face – lets hope the Panthers and their coaching staff don’t get too tricky and beat themselves in the NRL 2008 season.

By John Chelsea 

Greg Inglis in Brisbane Bar Brawl

Greg Inglis Melbourne Storm BrawlThe Melbourne Storm have this morning confirmed that high profile NRL five-eighth Greg Inglis was involved in an altercation outside the Normanby Hotel while in Brisbane on Sunday night. Apprently trying to play the role of a peacemaker, Inglis was struck and received minor injuries during the scuffle.

Since the incident Inglis has received medical treatment and it has been confirmed he has sustained no serious injuries. As a result he is expected back at training tomorrow.

The club has reviewed the incident with all relevant parties, including staff from the Normanby Hotel and the Queensland police.

Whilst it is clear Inglis attempted to play the role of peacemaker in the incident, the fact he was there has angered Storm CEO Brian Waldron.

The Melbourne Storm who usually run a tight ship in terms of player control, expressed their disappointment through CEO Brian Waldron that Greg has been involved in an incident like this.

“We continue to remind all of our players to act in a socially responsible manner and to refrain from placing themselves in potential high risk situations.”

“It is clear in this situation Greg has acted irresponsibly and outside the boundaries of what is expected from anyone associated with the Melbourne Storm.”

CCTV footage of the incident, which is in the hands of Queensland police, clearly shows Greg was not the instigator. However, he put himself in a situation he shouldn’t have been in and that is why we are so disappointed.”

Police have confirmed no charges will be laid against Inglis, and reports of serious injuries to anyone involved in the incident are false.

Newcastle Knights a darkhorse in 2008

After a shocking first up season at the helm of the Knights, experienced coach Brian Smith will be hoping that his new squad of Knights will bring unsatisfied Newcastle supporters back to Energy Australia Stadium to support their club this year. Season 2007 saw Brian Smith cop tonnes of criticism from many corners, including local Newcastle business owners and the likes of John Singleton and Jack Newton in one of the darkest periods in the Knights history, and Smith will know that his team must perform to earn the regain the respect from the disheartened Knights fan base.

While the Knights have bolstered their ranks with several new signings and cleaned out a whole raft of players, it will take time for the new squad members to settle in and form combinations with each other. Of more concern is the harmony between remaining 2007 Knights players and Brian Smith, with the very public Danny Buderus feud threatening to tear the club apart. We should have a clear gauge on how Newcastle will fair by Round 10, as the new look Knights will face off against five of last years semi-finalists by then.

If Newcastle can stay healthy and build early confidence, than the Knights may well be an outside chance of capturing a semi-final position.


Having been given permission to clean out ‘the dead wood’, coach Smith and his recruitment team have managed to obtain a host of talented individuals to fill their void. The addition of Naiqama and Lulia more than compensates for the departure of Carmont and Thaiday, while props Wicks and Cross are adequate replacements for Perry and Woolnough. Matt Hilder will takeover Daniel Abraham’s utility role, and Ciraldo and Fa’aoso will replace the flair that Hinton and Reynoldson provided.

Coach Smith has replaced a host of middle aged players with a group of talented youngsters, and while you may not see the best of the seasons from the Knights this year, look out for them in season ’09!


Given the massive player turnover throughout the club, it will take the Knights a few weeks before combinations start to gel. With so many new faces, and games against NRL heavyweights Manly, Parramatta, New Zealand, Brisbane and the Roosters all preceding their Round 7 bye, coach Smith and his players may well behind the eight ball in terms of confidence and table position.

2008 Likely NRL Starting Team:

1- Kurt Gidley
2- Cooper Vuna
3- Adam McDougall
4- Wes Naiqama
5- James McManus
6- Jarrod Mullen
7- Luke Walsh
8- Ben Cross
9- Danny Buderus
10- Danny Wicks
11- Mitchell Sargent
12- Steve Simpson
13- Cory Paterson

14- Terrence Seu Seu
15- Daniel Tolar
16- Matt Hilder
17– Chris Houston

2008 NRL Pre-Season Trial Match Schedule:

15/02/08 v New Zealand Warriors @ North Harbour Stadium, Auckland
01/03/08 v Cronulla Sharks @ Cessnock

2008 Acquisitions and Departures:


Wes Naiqama, Danny Wicks and Keith Lulia (St George-Illawarra), Matt Hilder (Gold Coast), Ben Cross (Melbourne), Cameron Ciraldo (Cronulla), Richard Fa’aoso (Parramatta), Sione Finefeuaki (Manly)


Adam Woolnough and Brad Tighe (Penrith), Kirk Reynoldosn (St George-Illawarra), Josh Perry (Manly), Riley Brown (Sydney Roosters), Daniel Abraham (Central Coast), Kade Snowden (Cronulla), Nathan Hinton (Newcastle Wests), Milton Thaiday (Charlestown), David Seage (QLD Cup), Reegan Tanner, Trent Salkeld and George Carmont (released)