Category Archives: NRL Editorials

Editorials on the big issues in NRL Rugby League

Is it do or die for your NRL team in 2008?

nrl-trophy.jpgIs your club under the pump to perform in 2008? While every NRL club feels the pressure to perform in this current day and age, there is a trio of clubs that finished outside the NRL Top 8 in 2007 that will be under more intensity than most as kick off for 2008 approaches.

The Penrith Panthers, Newcastle Knights and new boys the Gold Coast Titans are the NRL clubs facing the acid test this year as all three clubs back-up from varying reasons of disappointment last year.

For Penrith, the taste of victory they had in 2003 seems light years away. Fast forward to now, the mountain men have a new coach and plenty of new personnel trying to put it all together and have the added baggage of a wooden spoon for their troubles last year. The addition of new coach Matt Elliott promised so much, yet all the Panthers felt all year was internal turmoil. Favourite son Craig Gower leaves the fold in humble circumstances, talented players Joel Clinton and Peter Wallace were let go and the only notable aquisition was former Bronco Petero Civoniceva who will have to carry the hopes and dreams of the West as he tries to lead his troops into battle. Coach Elliott will potentially wear more accountability in 2008 as he made some big changes since his arrival and another year of failure will leave him in a sticky position.

Up at the Gold Coast Titans, with the first season under their belt it now gets serious and the new boys have to perform under much more pressure. The Titans started extremely well and went within a whisker of making the NRL finals in 2007, however poor games towards seasons end saw them finish on less points than strugglers the Sydney Roosters – who in most peoples eyes had a shocker season. The predicted problem with the Titans of poor depth ultimately rang true and unfortunately for the young club, they still haven’t added a lot of starch to their overall squad. They have quality players, but should injury hit again and it usually does – the Gold Coast boys will be hitting the Cavill Avenue strip early and missing the finals yet again. The opening of their new stadium at Robina will be a healthy boost and coach John Cartwright isn’t directly under pressure – however the club as a whole must set the standard for future years and make this one count.

Facing a tougher task than anyone this year is the Newcastle Knights. Belted and dragged through the NRL 2007, they were the whipping boys of the Rugby League. Reports constantly sprung out of Newcastle that Brian Smith while talented, was simply not the personality for the job and many players revolted – leaving morale on the floor and created constant week to week floggings on the football field. With Danny Buderus seeming unhappy, the major cog in the Knights machine is certainly not well oiled and this may put a tonne of pressure on the rest of the crew. Struggling for talent, the Knights and Brian Smith personally face a major test of character. When A.Johns retired, his move to assist in coaching at other NRL clubs and not the Knights was a prime example that Newcastle wasn’t a totally happy or comfortable base.

The blow torch fires up in around a months time; will your club perform?

Bulldogs still not a happy home

Andrew Ryan might leave Bulldogs in 2009It seems life at the Bulldogs is still far from perfect, as the NRL club battles to keep current players happy, the problems arising after losing Willie Mason earlier in the off-season and experiencing several discipline issues with other players soon after.

While publically the players appeared to back the Bulldogs management in their stance against Mason, it’s looking increasingly likely that it was a forced front that wasn’t a true representation of the players morale. Luke Patten was the player to front the media soon after the Mason exit and explain it was Mason not the Bulldogs at fault – however, prior to this public statement and the eventual sacking, it seemed the majority of the Bulldogs players were backing their mate Willie Mason.

Speculation was rife over the weekend that Bulldogs club captain Andrew Ryan has spoken privately of his desire to return to the Parramatta Eels to escape the low morale of the Bulldogs in their current form and to like with old mate Nathan Hindmarsh in their final NRL years. If this proves to be true, it’s obvious the current state of affairs at the Bulldogs might be driving Andrew Ryan away from his once happy home. The other factor however might be the fact that Brian Smith no longer reigns over the Eels, the coach that continued to use Ryan as a substitute during his Eels days – with Michael Hagan at the helm it makes the possibility of the move more realistic.

The loss of Ryan for 2009 would be a huge blow for the struggling Bulldogs, already losing plenty of experience in recent times with the likes of Steve Price, Jonathan Thurston, Braith Anasta, Brent Sherwin, Mark O’Meley and Willie Mason all moving on. Price has grown an extra leg at the Warriors, Thurston is pressing his claims continually to be the best player in the world and the hard working Anasta is enjoying a senior role at the Roosters.

It seems that the players leaving Belmore are feeling much more engergized at new clubs and the old guard, including coach Steve Folkes might be due for a spring clean.

The timing of speculation isn’t ideal for the Bulldogs with the 2008 kick-off under 6 weeks away. In previous years they have responded admirably to critisim, however more recently they have buckled under the constant pressure and expectations of the media and their own fans.

The 2008 squad features a range of new faces which will take some time to gel; with the potential loss of Andrew Ryan and a high probability that Reni Matuia won’t be at the Dogs forever – there is some seriously tough times ahead for the Sydney based club. Ever growing pressure in the NRL market and new clubs such as the Titans are making it much more competitive for clubs and keeping their players happy is of the utmost importance.

It seems this time that the Bulldogs underestimated the pull that Willie Mason had amongst the players. He may have been a badboy at times, but his larrikin personality and years of experience may have been something that held the player group and the club in general together.

Luke O’Donnell a Loaded Gun

O’Donnell and PartnerRecovering North Queensland Cowboy Luke O’Donnell has been open about his anger towards the Wests Tigers and in particular Liam Fulton. The upcoming match between the Tigers and the Cowboys is shaping to be one of the biggest early season matches.

Put simply, O’Donnell is one of the few remaining true hard heads in the game. While some NRL players can pull the bluff about their biff and others assert their authority through physical defence, with Luke O’Donnell there is no mucking around.

For those that can remember a running battle O’Donnell had with Danny Nutley in 2007 you’ll understand the fierce timebomb that ticks inside Luke O’Donnell. After a stoush with Nutley, O’Donnell hunting him down and really had Nutley running for cover – something that is rarely seen from a tough man like Nutley.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Luke O’Donnell used to play for Wests Tigers and actually went to the same school as Liam Fulton, albeit a few years ahead of him. There is absolutely no doubt fireworks will erupt when these teams meet, regardless of coaches instructions to O’Donnell – he will be like a hunter in the woods, chasing the man that killed his mother.

Maybe it might be convenient for Liam Fulton to get an injury before the Tigers meet the Cowboys in Round 2? There would be no shame in that, because many a man has feared O’Donnell and this time he really wants no prisoners.

Bring on the League I say. This will be nice entree to what should be an awesome main course in 2008.

Manly Sea Eagles; No sign of wounds from 07

Deep into pre-season training, the Manly Sea Eagles don’t seem to be showing any ill effects from their punishing 2007 Grand Final loss.

While many say “You need to lose one before you win one!” – There has been many NRL teams that have gone within a whisker of winning the Grand Final and then disappear into the cellar in the years to follow.

Regardless of the talent on display at Manly in 2007, the crushing Grand Final defeat must have been hard for the squad to have forgotten. The Eagles have also lost some quality players from their 2007 squad; the likes of Michael Monaghan; easily the Eagles best player last year and livewire pivot Travis Burns have now moved on – but balancing the scales is some impressive recruits; the likes of which weren’t burnt by the heavy NRL Grand Final loss the Eagles received.

Josh Perry, Heath L’Estrange and former NRL flyer David Vaealiki all come on board with the Eagles for this coming NRL season and the depth across the squad looks impressive for Manly.

Will Manly be a force in NRL 2008? Well, they will certainly be a Top 8 team – however the loss of Michael Monaghan will severely hurt Manly. The creative and passionate Monaghan was an attacking genius for the Eagles; he was able to graft wins out on occasions and could always spark their impressive backline.

The other problem hindering Manly is the lack of a true pivot. In the loss of Burns, Manly will have to continue to use Jamie Lyon in the halves and while Lyon possess skills and ability – his dynamics simply don’t suit pivot in the modern day NRL game.

Having said all that, Manly will remain a power in 2008 NRL – however, they won’t repeat the 2007 feat of making the Grand Final.

Jarryd Hayne stays an Eel

Boom Eels rookie Jarryd Hayne has surprisingly stayed with his birth club in recent days; the result coming to light after South Sydney announced they were withdrawing from the race to sign the talented Rugby League back. With only a few years in the game, Hayne has become hot NRL property and has also attracted Rugby League interest from across the globe.

A deceptive and crafty winger or fullback, Hayne has been on a try scoring run that has seen him enjoy State of Origin success at an early age. However, the Hayne bloodlines do go back and intertwine with South Sydney.It’s been widely reported about Hayne’s father Manoa Thompson and his links with Souths, many feeling that Hayne would retrace his fathers steps and link with the rising South Sydney Rabbits Rugby League club. With the likes of high profile owners in Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court, and now an impressive playing roster over at South Sydney – it certainly seemed that the Rabbits had a chance of pulling off a big NRL Rugby League signing coup. In what is a vote for loyalty, which is rare these days – Jarryd Hayne looks to have stayed at Parramatta for less money than he could have earned at Souths or even overseas in the UK Super League competition. Hayne through his manager expressed thanks to the Eels for giving him his start and felt comfortable staying with the Parramatta club.

Surely the fact too that close friend and school mate Kris Inu remains at the Eels played a part in the decision. The Rugby League up and coming stars grew up playing footy together in the suburb of Minto, alongside fellow friend Israel Folau. The continued easy going influence of new Eels coach Michael Hagan must be having a positive effect on players and now with the injection of Andrew Johns to perform some skills work with the halves – the players must be happy as a squad in their current surroundings. The times of Brian Smith now seem a world away as his strict hardline approach has relocated to Newcastle.