Former Queensland great Chris Close has sent out a heartfelt appeal to all Queensland and Maroon supporters to get behind the Titans in their game against the Roosters this weekend.
Close to 30,000 tickets have officially been sold after just two days of ticket sales, and Close has asked all Queenslanders – Broncos supporters or other QLD supporters – to fill Suncorp Stadium to its capacity to get behind the Titans in a game that sees a QLD and NSW team going head to head thus re-kindling the old rivalry between the two states once more.
â€œI’m challenging all Queenslanders to stand up and be counted and get behind the Titans â€“ the last remaining Queensland side,” said Close, who now works as the Jetstar Titans Business Development Manager.
â€œIt doesn’t matter which team you follow, let’s sell out Suncorp Stadium and put NSW to the sword one more time.
â€œIt’s the last NRL game in Queensland for 2010 so get a ticket, get to the ground and barrack for the Titans to show them what Queensland’s all about.”
Close who wasÂ a member of the now defunct Gold Coast Giants and Seagulls from 1988-1991, said he strongly believes that the Titans have a fantastic opportunity to make the grand final, but only if they had the entire state of QLD behind them on the night.
â€œI honestly believe that if we play to 100 per cent of our ability and they play to 100 per cent of their ability we will win the game but to do that we need to have every Queenslander standing behind us showing their support,” he said.
â€œThey can’t do that from their lounge rooms, they can only do that from coming to Suncorp Stadium, filling it up and cheering for the Titans.
â€œThis is a real chance of a Queensland team joining the Broncos and winning the NRL grand final.
Making the grand final would be a fantastic achievement for a Titans side who are not only brimming with confidence, but they have progressively been getting better each year.
Penrith cult figure Craig Gower is prepared to make a shock return to the NRL with the Canberra Raiders and the Parramatta Eels being rumoured as possible clubs.
Gower, who is now a dual international having played Rugby League for Australia, and Rugby Union for Italy, is the latest in a long line of experienced halves that has been linked with both the Eels and Raiders.
Both the Raiders and the Eels have said that they are seriously considering an experienced half to nurture and guide their younger halves in Josh McCrone and Daniel Mortimer respectively.
“Craig is having a great time in France but he and his wife have been away for three years now and are thinking about coming home,” 32-year-old Gower’s manager Greg Willett has told Rugby League Week.”
“The guy is still playing good footy over there and is in good shape physically.
“There is a lack of experienced playmakers in the NRL at the moment and he’d be great for a club for 12 months.
“He would also be good in a mentoring role for a club like Canberra or Parra who have young halves in their ranks.”
The only negative for Craig Gower should he return to the NRL would mean that he would miss out on representing Italy in the Rugby World Cup.
It’s always easier for NRL teams when they don’t have the weight of expectations. Be that fan expectations or short odds with the bookmakers, no NRL team wants to be labeled ‘the good things’.
Thats why Penrith could be this seasons darkhorse.
Just look at their juicy odds at present with the bookmakers, odds that probably won’t be so good for too long.
Rugby League analyst Greg Alexander might be a little bit biased to his club, but the astute Fox Sports caller has predicted the Panthers can finish as high as 4th in this years NRL.
But apart from the likes of Alexander and their diehard fans perhaps, no one is really expecting Penrith could go all the way.
The Panthers have however, recruited extremely well.Â They look to have a dynamic halves combination now after pairing Luke Walsh with the livewire Travis Burns. Former Sea Eagle and Cowboy – Burns, has been possibly the clubs best player in pre-season and looks set to have a massive year at the foot of the mountains.
The Panthers also have the luxury of good depth at the club. Just looking at the team for Round 1 of the Premiership, the likes of Jarrod Sammut and Daine Laurie aren’t even in the side, yet it looks a good balanced squad for Game 1 against Canberra.
A first up Game against the Raiders will have the mountain men very confident at home. And jumping off to a positive start will only help their cause as they fight to make the Top 8 for the first time in many years.
Staying injury free is key to any side, but for the Penrith forward pack who have been so unlucky with injuries – the likes of Petero Civoniceva, Luke Lewis and Trent Waterhouse all need to be kept on the park this year for the side to have any chance.
The continued growth of Lachlan Coote and Wade Graham has been a massive positive for the club, again bolstering the depth levels out West.
Here is the Penrith Panthers side for Round 1 at CUA Stadium against the Canberra Raiders:
Barnstorming Wests Tigers flanker Taniela Tuiaki has continued making a miracle recovery from his ankle injury after recent surgery had some medico’s suggesting he could miss at least half the season in 2010.
Recent fitness tests show that Taniela Tuiaki could be ready for a come back in around 8 weeks, which is a much better prospect that originally thought.
The value of Tuiaki to the Tigers is massive, with the 105kg powerhouse proving a try scoring sensation in 2009 and at times proving impossible to tackle by opposing players close to the try-line.
It was no coincidence that when Taniela Tuiaki was struck down with injury the Wests Tigers late charge for the semi-finals started to come off the rails. Tuiaki was on-track to become the seasons top try scorer but was pipped at the post after he sat out with injury.
The prospect of Taniela Tuiaki on one side and Lote Tiquiri on the other is a mouthwatering prospect for Wests Tigers fans as they also welcome the likes of Jason Cayless into their forward pack to join the talented and hard-working Gareth Ellis who shot to stardom last year for the club.
In a boost for the Dragons club, promising half Jamie Soward has signed a deal to stay with the St George Illawarra outfit until the end of 2013. The no.7 has continued to raise his profile since coming from the Roosters and has blossomed under the guidance of super-coach Wayne Bennett.
Only 25 years old, Soward has a big few years ahead of him and it’s hard to believe former coach Chris Anderson marked him ‘unwanted’ during his tenure at the Roosters – a move that still haunts the Bondi club until this day.
Soward continues to grow in confidence and representative jerseys await the talented half, with his 2009 season proving a real clinical one – after he guided the Dragons to the Minor Premiership and bagged a tonne of points along the way.
The signature comes at an ideal time for the red and whites, with the season set to kick off on Friday night with their blockbuster clash with the Eels at Parramatta Stadium. Having his own future confirmed and also a platform for the club to build on is a great scenario for the Dragons to be in.
2010 is shaping as the return of the bad boys in the NRL. Some people might call it second chances, some people call it allowing criminals to channel their aggression on the sporting field. Either way you look at it, there are a bunch of guys with criminal convictions, dubious acquittals, pending trials and a raft of off-field transgressions that are back playing NRL this year.
The Warriors have a former badboy in halfback Brett Seymour. The guy is a talent and by all accounts has been on the straight and narrow since arriving in Auckland. To be completely honest, their season hinges on whether or not he performs. He was sacked by the Sharks for constantly getting pissed and was sacked by the Broncos previous to that. Who is to say he wonâ€™t do it again?
No one, but the guy must know by now that if the Warriors sack him then no one else in the NRL will go anywhere near him.
Iâ€™ve read a few articles written by some â€œexpertsâ€ as to the Warriors chances. Some idiot today said they would get the wooden spoon. I think anyone who has even the tiniest but of Rugby League knowledge would probably give that dishonour to the Knights. Two of their players are now in jail for drug supply and trafficking. Not exactly the intro to the season that you want. What about the Cronulla Sharks? This side cannot notch up points in attack. Ricky Stuart and his merry-men would struggle to score in a ‘you-know-what’.
In actual fact, the Warriors hopes hinge on the fitness and form of Steve Price and Brent Tate. We won the first two games last year. Tate and Price played. Tate got injured in the third game, we lost. Price only managed 14 games last year. Enough said.
Jerome Wopati (Iâ€™m glad Peter Wopati got the sack) needs to step up. He had a terrible season but like it or not he is the best we have got. His hands let him down and when you have the likes of Vatuvei and Locke outside you then your handling skills are imperative. Expect big things from him.
Finally, Mannering is captaining the side. Price apparently didnâ€™t like it but to be honest I donâ€™t think it is going to change too much. There looks like there is a management-type group in there with Michael Luck in there as well. Iâ€™m sure it will allow Price time to focus on getting himself right and playing well. Hopefully his body will hold and he will go alright. Jacob Lillyman was less than impressive last year. He has Origin experience and what we got from him last year was mediocre. Expect him to feature heavily this year or Iâ€™m pretty sure he might have to start looking elsewhere.
Warriors wont win it, but I think they will go close.
In other NRL news, the Tigers will go alright, they have signed Lote Tiquiri who I think will waltz straight back into State of Origin and an Australian jumper. He played his last game of Union for Leicester last weekend and is expected to take his place on the wing for the Tigers next weekend. Heâ€™ll take a couple of games to get back into the swing of things and eventually move into fullback. Pretty exciting stuff.
Other bad boys with second shots â€“ Todd Carney has been picked up by the Roosters and while being groomed as a fullback by coach Brian Smith will more than likely end up playing in the halves there with Mitchell Pearce. Probably wonâ€™t be enough to get them from the bottom of the table. I think theyâ€™ll finish 14th.
The Titans have got Greg Bird after he successfully navigated through 2 court cases. He is still a good player and will be handy for the struggling NSW Origin side as well.
Daine Laurie has been released by the Tigers and picked up by the Panthers. He has plenty of potential, but snitches report that he is at short odds to misbehave and cause trouble once more.
Timana Tahu makes a return from Union to bolster an already formidable Eels outfit. Expect them to be there or there abouts near the end of the season.
Expect a fall from grace for the Dragons, knocked out early in the playoffs last year after such a good year, they have lost players like Justin Poore, Chase Stanley, Micky Paea and the ever-present Wendell Sailor and I think their depth could be challenged if injury strikes.
Finally though, I think it will be hard to go past Melbourne for the premiership. I think they look too strong. They have Inglis, Slater, Smith, Cronk, Blair, Lima, Hoffman, the list just goes on.
Iâ€™ll leave you with some predictions for how the table might look at the end of the regular seasonâ€¦
4. Gold Coast
9. North Queensland
10. South Sydney
12. St George
14. Sydney City
Oh yeah, Warriors playing a home game against the Roosters in Christchurch in Round 16. Expect a huge and very vocal Canterbury crowd. We donâ€™t get much down here but one day we are going to make the big men sit up and take notice of the huge crowds we get!! Canâ€™t wait!
The Parramatta Eels are struggling to come to terms with the big expectations of 2010, after the squad came from no where in 2009 to nearly take out the Grand Final.
In Round 19 last year, the Eels were sitting near last on the ladder but went on an undefeated run prior to the last Round of the competition to snare 8th spot in the finals.
But with the purchase of big names Justin Poore and Timana Tahu, the expectations have been huge. Bookies placing Eels as tournament favourites and fans expecting plenty of positive results come kick off.
So far in 2010, it hasn’t been an ideal ride for Parramatta. While trial form is never an ideal guide, the club has lost all of their trial matches – to the Dragons, Penrith and the Roosters. Some of these games, the Eels were fielding their best squad and to top it off they came away with some frustrating injuries out of the preseason.
The big concern will be how the new recruits settle in Parramatta life and how they gel with the existing squad. For Timana Tahu it’s a return home, he knows and enjoyed previous time at the Eels and after a frustrating time in NSW Rugby Union he should be fine.
Tahu however will create a selection dilemna in the centres. The former NSW and Australian player will no doubt start when fit and is a potential game breaker on his day, able to score from anywhere. But who drops out of first grade? Probably Kris Inu. Given Joel Reddy’s strong allround game, he will stay in the starting lineup. Meaning Grothe and Burt should get the wing spots.
Another minor concern might be with with new buy Justin Poore. Homesick perhaps? Poore has hinted at his frustration at traveling to and training in the West. With Poore used to training in seaside air at WIN Stadium or Kogarah. Poore has also spoken of his reluctance to face some of his old teammates, a long term Saints boy – Poore isn’t keen to go toe to toe with his old mates.
Former Rooster Shane Shackleton has also received more attention since joining the Parramatta club. A young up and coming forward at the Roosters, since signing with the Eels the strong running backrower has received a profile boost and will face big expectations from club and competition.
Don’t forget the players that have moved on from 2009 also, which could create a small dent in the strong cohesion of last year. The likes of Kevin Kingston, Todd Lowrie and Joe Galuvao.
Probably the biggest difference in 2010 will be the response of opposing NRL teams. The Eels became easy-beats in 2009, with most opponents arriving expecting to beat the side. Now after their solid run and short odds for this year, they will be targets just like the Melbourne Storm have been for most of this decade.
Radio personality and former League/Union coach Alan Jones was invited by CEO Paul Osborne to give the Eels players a talk this week. The experienced and respected Jones had the players hanging off every word as he spoke about the challenges they face this season.
He spoke of:
* Harder work, pushing even harder in training
* The fact the Eels will not be taken lightly by opposing sides now
* Weight of public expectations
These might sound simple, but when they are delivered by the respected Jones – apparently the Eels players received the advice extremely well.
A positive start to the season for confidence is crucial, so taking advantage of their home ground advantage this Friday night against the Dragons will be the first focus.
South Sydney outside back Nigel Vagana has approached seniors players and staff at Souths and asked to be dropped from the Rabbitohs lineup for their game against the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Friday night.
Naturally taking Souths by surprise, key signing Nigel Vagana spoke of his on-going battle with injuries to his back and hamstring that have prevented him from being 100% fit and being able to give the Rabbitohs the strike power they needed from him out-wide.
Vagana has had to manage his back and leg problem during the pre-season and at 33 years of age the former Warrior, Bulldog and Cronulla Shark finds it that little bit harder to bounce back from niggles.
It’s a bold move from Nigel and certainly the right one, asking for 4 weeks out of first grade to get himself back to peak fitness – Vagana looked well short on pace and thrust in the game against the Sydney Roosters and ultimately in today’s NRL, anyone playing at even 95% will get found out and cost their team.
Souths senior players have backed Vagana and conferred with management before coach Jason Taylor chose to leave the representative centre out of the squad this week. Such is the interest in the club and players at Souths these days, immediately rumours swept around as to the playing future of Nigel Vagana.
Club captain David Kidwell doubts that Vagana will walk away from the club and the game he loves altogether.
“Nigel told the senior players he wanted to have a few weeks off to get over his injuries and get fully fit, and said we were OK with that,” Kidwell said. “It was a shock. We had no idea he was in that frame of mind but I don’t think he’s going to quit or anything like that. He just wants to get himself 100 per cent fit and we respect him for that because he’s put the team first.
“I think he just wants to get back to being the strike player that he has always been.”
Vagana joins Souths new recruit Craig Wing on the sidelines, the injured Wing set to watch for the 3 months after that horror shot from Roosters hooker Riley Brown.
The Raiders get a nice boost ahead of their clash with Newcastle this weekend, with former Bronco and Queensland rep Neville Costigan proving his fitness for the match along with flyer William Zillman.
Costigan and fullback Zillman both had last minute fitness tests as Canberra pushed to get the stars back into their line-up. The Raiders feed off the aggression and physical presence of Costigan and will also enjoy the pace and attacking prowess of the up and coming Zillman from the back.For Zillman it’s his first hit out since damaging his anterior cruciate ligament in round 21 of the 2007 NRL season, in other news flanker Adrian Purtell will also return after suffering from a DVT scare last season.
Coach Neil Henry confirmed Costigan trained well in the leadup, managing his comeback well and will take the field tomorrow night at Energy Australia Stadium.
Former Rooster Nigel Plum and Joe Picker still remain as shadow players for Costigan who has not played a single NRL Pre-Season Trial game this year.
Zillman achieved much in his impressive season last year, bursting onto the scene for the Canberra Raiders and ending the NRL year as the clubs top try scorer. The speedy custodian wants to get into the action early to get his confidence back and start 2008 where he started last year – full of action.
“While i’ve been on the sidelines for a little while – in reality it’s only 4 NRL games I missed” Zillman said.
“Playing in the trial game during this years NRL pre-season the other week gave me a touch of confidence and I am looking to build on that this weekend”
There is no doubt Knights no.7 Jarrod Mullen will send plenty of bombs in the direction of the Canberra fullback, but Zillman and flankers Colin Best and Purtell have prepared for it and will be ready to face the heat.
“Kicking remains a huge weapon to NRL teams these days, lots of points are scored from kicks.”
“I am sure we’ll be tested, and we’re confident we’re up to it” confirmed Zillman
Canberra remain underrated as they do every NRL season, but facing the new look Knights might be an ideal chance to get the season off to a good start with an early win. While the game is played in Newcastle, the Raiders seem confident about their chances of pipping the new Brian Smith coached side.
In the end, it seems talk of Todd Carney leaving Canberra was pure genius on behalf of his management team. The discussions Carney and his manager had with Manly and Penrith more than likely served his purpose beautifully as the deal he inked with the Raiders today was probably heavily inflated due to the chances of the star half leaving his homeland. The deal signed today between Todd and the Raiders is set to keep the promising player in the ACT until 2010.
Carney has an option in his favour for the 2011-12 seasons, the clause offering him an out after the 2010 season as uncertainty continues over coach Neil Henry’s future with the club.
Henry is contracted through to the end of 2009 but has been strongly linked with the Brisbane job which becomes vacant at the end of this season.
Carney says he rejected offers from other clubs because Canberra felt like home and he says he has a premiership and State of Origin jumper in his sights.
“At the end of the day my heart was here,” Carney said.
“Money doesn’t buy happiness and I feel I’ve got my happiness here.”