Category Archives: NRL Editorials

Editorials on the big issues in NRL Rugby League

Souths: Time is the Enemy for Taylor

Jason Taylor South Sydney CoachJason Taylor started his coaching career on the ultimate high, after taking over the reigns from Brian Smith at Parramatta – Jason Taylor went on to win a stack of games in succession and drag the struggling Eels into the NRL finals series.

Such an explosive start for Taylor, saw him quickly snapped up and upgraded to head coach at South Sydney. Already signed as an assistant for the following year – Taylors success saw him immediately placed ahead of Shaun McRae as bomber was pushed aside and forced to look elsewhere for work.

The good times continued for the hard working Taylor, the Bunnies bristling with talent for the first time in ages and riding the wave of headlines generated from new owners Peter Holmes a Court and Russell Crowe. The Rabbitohs would sneak into the NRL Finals for the first time in 15 years – Taylor guiding the team into a new era and high expectations.

Even the off-season was productive for them, Souths were now an attractive option for players. Suddenly the likes of Craig Wing and Luke Lewis were keenly interested in joining the new globetrotters of the NRL. Things couldn’t be better, overseas exposure, high membership growth and constant headlines – it was perfect.

Even days before the season kicked off, Souths kept their sponsorship asking price high – much higher than other teams and still secured a lucrative deal with the NAB (National Australia Bank) for home sponsorship. They were the envy of the league.

Then the 2008 NRL season started.

It’s almost like someone had a voodoo doll out, pricking and prodding at the helpless Rabbitohs. From the moment they took the field there were problems. Everyone saw what happened to Craig Wing, their star signing immediately injured and shelved for a few months.

Confidence took a hit right away. They lost the hyped match to high profile neighbours the Roosters and their star half was written off.

You know the script, things continued to get worse. After a few more lossess, their young hope Issac Luke was forced to the sidelines with injury. What about Nigel Vagana? No one really knows what happened there. His form was only average earlier in the year, he certainly looked a few yards off the pace – was he asked to sit aside? Did they rest him from first grade, but spare him the humiliation? Only the inner-sanctum really knows. Either way, he returns this week as the Bunnies try their upteenth halves combination.

As it is for the team, time is also critical for Jason Taylor. Amazingly, should the Bunnies continue to remain winless – Souths have no choice but to review his position. For all his work ethic and seemingly bright future, these days NRL is a business and ultimately the buck stops with Jason Taylor.

No one has dared even mention the sacking of Jason Taylor, major media outlets have chosen not to tread on that ground yet. It’s widely known that Souths have been wining and dining the Sydney media and possibly this has something to do with the coach remaining out of the glare?

To Taylors credit, he has not shyed away from the problem. Facing the media recently on the NRL Footy Show on Channel 9 to discuss the siutation and answer questions put to him.

The pressure is still taking its toll on the young Taylor, seeing him run down from the coaches box against the Sharks and give his team an on field gee-up shows just how much he is feeling the heat. While some tried to spin this in a positive light, this was a real step backwards for Jason Taylor. Previously he had shown maturity much beyond his years, by dropping his bundle and desperately approaching his team on the sideline – he immediately drew comparisons with Nathan Brown and the slapping incident. His only previous blemish was the blow up with Michael Hagan at Parramatta Stadium, Taylor unable to resist firing some barbs at the new Eels coach within earshot of the media.

Is it the beginning of the end for Jason Taylor? Quite possibly. In these tough times of NRL – it’s pure business. Should the Bunnies remain winless over the next few weeks, anything is possible. It’s interesting to note the New Zealand media are already calling for a scalp – that shows just how kind the Sydney press have been in recent weeks.

It’s more than D-Day for Souths tonight as they face the might of the Broncos – they need this badly. The only person that would be smiling at the moment would be George Piggins – the former head of Souths would be rubbing his hands with glee as the new owners of Souths stumble at the helm.

Maybe the Bunnies should investigate whos holding that voodoo doll? Is it George Piggins or Nick Politis?

Cronulla: Don’t be Noddies!

Sitting well near the top of the NRL ladder, the Cronulla Sharks are reportedly looking to offload Brett Kimmorley in a potential trade deal with the St George Illawarra Dragons. Not only is the deal being sought out – if successful, the trade would commence immediately and impact on both teams current 2008 campaign.

For St George, things couldn’t get any worse – so the appearance of Noddy in their line-up cannot be a bad thing. Struggling for cohesion and experience, the Dragons would love to have him on board. Why on earth Simon Woolford is on the outer I will never know, the experienced Woolfood is the kind of passionate player the Dragons need – yet Brownie seems reluctant to let Woolford run his own race.

Anyway, back to those Sharks. Even if the situation between Ricky Stuart and Brett Kimmorley isn’t ideal and the guys don’t agree 100% on how the side should be run, things seem to be going swimmingly at the moment – why rock the boat? Especially when the Sharks are smashing through all expectations!

We talk about how important a coach is to an NRL side, but just as important is smart planning and networking by a club CEO. A quality CEO has the forsight to be planning for the future, looking for players on offer and ensuring talented lower graders are being looked after and getting their chances, before they get too impatient.

You have to respect Wayne Bennett and Peter Doubst in this situation, as the power brokers for the Dragons, they are plotting a course for a true assault on the NRL premiership in 2009 – ensuring the likes of either Brett Kimmorley or Trent Barrett are on deck, planning and strategising well in advance.

I don’t think you can say the same about the Sharks. While there is no doubt Ricky Stuart is doing things right and new CEO Tony Zappia has good credentials – why one earth would they be offloading the reliable and experienced Brett Kimmorley. Sure, he doesn’t come cheap and Noddy takes a fair chunk of the salary cap – but as he steers them successfully around the park and keeps the results coming in, surely you wouldn’t want to brush him?

The other advantage of Brett Kimmorley is that he is durable. Rarely injured, battle hardened – he is the ultimate competitor. In exchange the Sharks want Jason Ryles, now this makes even less sense. Ryles was once the ultimate forward in the NRL – a strong, metre eating forward that had a quality offload. With respect, Ryles has been hampered heavily by injury and has lost his aura. Playing little football, he lost his confidence and has been playing at well below his best in the past few seasons.

If this trade should occur, it’s all upside for the St George Illawarra Dragons and mere stupidity for the Cronulla Sharks.

So as the Sharks sit favourably on the NRL table, it seems they just can’t see a premiership winning side when it looks them in the face. Yep, should this deal come off – everyone at Cronulla will end up looking like Noddies.

The Grubber: Power Rankings Round 5

NRL Power RankingsWith the Grubber only falling one game short of a perfect round, he has his finger well and truly on the pulse after 5 Rounds of the NRL in 2008. You can bet he will make South Sydney pay dearly for costing him a perfect round, so expect to see the Rabbits remaining in the wilderness on the Power Rankings ladder.

1. Brisbane Broncos 9/10: Impressed with some sublime attacking movements in a game that Newcastle tried their hearts out in. Winning these away games proves the Broncos are really set to ruffle plenty of feathers this year. Continuing to look good without Darren Lockyer. You get the feeling they are building for the “Win it for Benny!” NRL Premiership year.

Grubbers Comment: Odds of Brisbane sending Kurt Gidley a thank-you card for his goal kicking performance? 4/1

2. Sydney Roosters 9/10: With the top 4 teams all winning away from home and locked on 8 points, differential came into this weeks power rankings. The Roosters braved an early onslaught from Penrith and were patient while they were starved of quality ball. Mitchell Pearce and Braith Anasta are growing better with every game, their combination and understanding is class leading. Confidence bubbling out of control and they seem to have decent depth in the forwards now.

Grubbers Comment: Chances of Craig Fitzgibbon getting plastic surgery to shave a few years off his life and increase his chances of a new deal at Bondi? 10/1

3. Gold Coast Titans 8.5/10: Nabbing an away win was a major milestone for the young club, the Titans have a good roster and with Mat Rogers slotting into pivot well – they are looking mighty good for the Top 8. Form of Nathan Friend is especially good for the Gold Coast boys. Even Preston Campbell is playing with additional confidence and good hands, will continue to hold their high spot on the ladder barring any injury crisis.

Grubbers Comment: Chances of the Titans ever winning a fashion award, after playing is possibly the wimpiest looking pale blue strip ever seen in the Rugby League world? 1000/1

4. Melbourne Storm 8.5/10: The Premiers were back with a bang after hammering last years Grand Final opponent. Played stylish football and used a physical style in the forwards that left Manly really limping away from this loss. Desire looks to be coming back and with some minor positional changes will be back to their best. Greg Inglis could be better served away from the pivot role.

Grubbers Comment: I refuse to call the guy Cam Smith. It must be a gee-up, there is no way anyone could be that precious – could they Cameron?

5. Cronulla Sharks 8/10: Ricky Stuart’s rag-tag bunch of tackling machines did it again. They are winning the close contests in 2008 and while their points differential is hard to swallow at -3 they Sharks deserve their spot and possess a desire and attitude that many other NRL teams just don’t have. Their style of game really suits semi-final standards and should they hobble into the Top 8 (which they should, come years end) they will really be a good dark horse.

Grubbers Comment: Likelihood of the NRL approaching the Cronulla Sharks and threatening to kick them out of the competition if they don’t start embracing a more enjoyable style of Rugby League? 15/1

6. NZ Warriors 7/10: Bounced back superbly to take down the Bulldogs at home. Showed much greater depth and structure in attack and proved they are still the real deal, even without Steve Price and Wade McKinnon in the ranks. Manu Vatuvei still gives everyone heart problems, but his aggressive attack is hard to resist and many teams simply cannot tackle him. Are still vulnerable to kicking with Vatuvei and even Lance Hohia not possessing the height or skills to ward off the top teams.

Grubbers Comment: Odds of Manu Vatuvei having more gold in his teeth than Mr-T had around his neck? 3/1

7. Canberra Raiders 7/10: Never say die. Simply an amazing comeback and topped off with a champagne performance from Todd Carney. Somehow manage to keep finding players, even with injury problems and the suspended Weyman the Raiders still field a strong team. Hold huge advantages on the edges with tall, rangy and fast men – will catch a few more teams napping this season. Defence must also be commended.

Grubbers Comment: Chances of Raiders management telling the players to “Win it for Neil Henry this year!” 5000/1

8. Newcastle Knights 6.5/10: The Knights sneak in above the Cowboys after performing valiantly against the might of the Broncos. Despite a young and newly combining team, they seem to be improving quicker than many other teams and possess a good amount of belief. Brian Smith must surely deserve some praise for his efforts, after copping plenty of sprays in recent times. Will come into their own around Origin time if Danny Buderus isn’t picked for hooking duties and they could catch some undermanned teams napping.

Grubbers Comment: Odds that Cooper Vuna is somehow a distant blood relative to Manu Vatuvei as they both possess similar handling skills? 4/1

9. North Queensland Cowboys 6.5/10: Pulled off a nice raid on the lacklusture St George Illawarra Dragons and managed to come away with the tough victory at WIN Stadium. Probably were below their best and miss the speed and creativity of Matt Bowen. Forwards are starting to do their job and making things easier for Jonathan Thurston, however Ty Williams is costing them at times with poor decisions in defence and attack.

Grubbers Comment: Chances that Graham Murray is able to safely run ‘boxing’ drills at training, with the likes of Carl Webb and Luke O’Donnell in the ranks? 50/1

10. Bulldogs  6/10: The Doggies fought bravely against the NZ Warriors in Round 5 of the NRL, even with little possession they kept hanging in there. Need a feature player in the halves to set them apart, when their forwards are on top – they lack the genuine creativity from a prominent playmaker to get them ahead. So while they are fighting above their weight at present, I can’t see them consistently performing at this level.

Grubbers Comment: Chances of the Bulldogs taking their family club slogan to new heights, by inviting the ’60 Minutes: Father and Daughter Couple’ to be their no.1 ticket holders for next season? 10/1

11. Wests Tigers 6/10: The injury riddled Tigers still looked like heavy weights in the first 3/4 of their match against the Raiders. Come to think of it, I still don’t know how they lost! Attack looked well structured and Matt Head slotted in very, very well – kicking and passing astutely. Bryce Gibbs looks heavier but more potent in attack but it seems most likely that fitness is hurting the Wests side. They seem to lose not only concentration, but also potency in the back end of games.

Grubbers Comment: Odds that Tim Sheens will revert to a Jason Taylor style sideline rant if the Tigers blow another big lead again? 3/1

12. Parramatta Eels 5.5/10: Surprised everybody with a rare loss at Parramatta Stadium. While Tim Smith has copped a trashing in the media over his role, the real problem is the Eels defence – which is the worst in the NRL. Feliti Mateo and Brett Finch might help spark some attack, but they will need more go forward from the hooker. With Piggy not 100% and the Eels losing PJ Marsh, the dummy half play has been their quiet killer too.

Grubbers Comment: Odds of Parramatta management holding an inquiry into the influence of Andrew Johns on their halves? 5/1

13. Manly Sea Eagles 5.5/10: Are quickly gaining the tag ‘chokers’. Fizzled out badly under the blow torch and many of their big names were the worst culprits. Matt Orford and Anthony Watmough went missing and the Sea Eagles were barreled out of contention in the blink of an eye. While they can produce good defence and attack at times, their ability in physical arm wrestles remains to be seen. Hard to see how they will evolve this year.

Grubbers Comment: Odds that Matt Orford killed off those vicious rumours about him failing in big time matches? 100/1

14. Penrith Panthers 5.5/10: Probably a little hard done by in the rankings this week, but the Panthers still managed to lose a game at home – even to the highly ranked Roosters. Had enough ball in the early periods of this match to put on more points but just couldn’t do it. The mental state of the players at the Penrith is a real concern, they have been losing for so long now – they probably could do with a full clean out to rid the players of mental scars. Matt Elliott might have the coaching ability, but does his personality affect team morale and performance?

Grubbers Comment: The likelihood of Luke Priddis playing for the Panthers beyond 2008? 10,000/1

15. St George Illawarra Dragons 5/10: The Dragons found yet another way to lose an NRL game and even playing at their usual WIN Stadium stronghold couldn’t help them. Rumour has it that almost every other NRL team considers the Dragons a ‘soft’ side and holds no fears playing them. Their problems evolve from the forward pack, key forwards have been cherry picked over the years and they remain lifeless up the middle. Nathan Brown must be starting to look forward to leaving the sinking ship by the look of it.

Grubbers Comment: Percentage of Dragons players remaining at the club under Wayne Bennett? 10%

16. South Sydney Rabbitohs 4/10: The pressure really told on the Bunnies. Jason Taylor emulating Nathan Brown during his junior years and approaching players on the sideline. The usually calm and calculating Taylor buckled under the pressure and exposed his in-experience at the highest level. Souths are probably guilty of trying too hard, they had plenty of ball yet still couldn’t get over the stripe. When you think back to last year, they still only won games with their defence. Need to decide on the best possible halves pairing and stick with it through thick and thin. Dean Widders is out of sorts and possibly needs a spell, Issac Luke can’t come back fast enough.

Grubbers Comment: Odds of Jason Taylor taking his coaching even closer to the action and donning a jersey in the weeks ahead? 5/1

Ricky Ricardo: Sharks doing enough to win

Cronulla Sharks beat South Sydney Rabbitohs NRL Round 5 2008The South Sydney Rabbitohs had the chance to get off to the perfect start in tonights match, missing a strong early chance – in the end, this turning out to be the story of their night; close but no cigar for the misfiring Rabbitohs. Despite a gallant effort from co captains Roy Asotasi and David Kidwell, the Rabbitohs could not deliver the knockout punch to steal victory from the gritty and determined Cronulla Sharks.

It was obviously the battle of two teams who struggle to turn on the entertainment in attack, while the overall closeness of the contest was enjoyable – it was simply a matter of the Sharks doing enough to win and the Rabbits struggling to string more than 2 passes together after the most dummy half running we have seen from a team since Manly in 2005.

Brett Kimmorley and Brad Seymour both having strong games for the Sharks, using a smart kicking game, forcing the Rabbitohs backline to work hard to get the ball out of their own in-goal area. The Sharks through sheer weight of defence, let the Rabbitohs back into the game when they scored 10 unanswered points. However the robust, scrambling defence of the Sharks got them home. Kimmorley playing a vital role in his sides win, playing strongly without overdoing it and certainly keeping his chances for Origin in good stead.

Brett Kearney also stood out thanks to his goal-line defence and blistering runs out of dummy half wreaking havoc for the Rabbitohs. Kearney has been such a weapon for Cronulla in 2008, injured for much of last season his acceleration is comparable to that of Kurt Gidley and the two custodians are not dissimilar in their classy efforts from the back.

The Sharks opened the scoring in the 13th minute courtesy of a Greg Bird try as Brett Kimmorley signaled his intentions early with some excellent last tackle options. Some poor ball handling skills by the Sharks just before half time, gave the Rabbitohs a glimmer of hope. The Rabbitohs chipping aways at the Sharks line until it finally cracked right on half time, big John Sutton crashing over to give his side some hope in the second term.

Overall in a mediocre affair, the Sharks were impressive in their defence and coach Ricky Stuart would have been happy with their effort especially in the second half. Coach Stuart acknowledging in the post game interview that he is still happy with the Sharks performances despite still struggling to score points.

The Sharks remain at the top of the NRL Ladder joining the likes of the Broncos, Roosters and Titans as early pace setters. Only time will tell if the no-name Sharks can maintain their early form and keep up with the larger squads of the Roosters, Storm and Broncos.

As for the Rabbitohs, despite a spirited performance, they remain winless after five rounds. The pressure will keep mounting on the club as well as on coach Jason Taylor. He also risks a fine for the controversial on field gathering of players during game time. But in a game of boring, tight football – it was certainly a case of the Sharks, doing just enough to win. Something they are managing to do more consistently in 2008.

The Real Deal: NRL Contenders

Braith Anasta Sydney Roosters 2008 Grand FinalWe are into 5 Rounds of NRL for 2008, the elder statesman of NRL News Peter Roy looks over who he thinks can realistically win the Grand Final.

While it is only early days, there are several patterns emerging that do give us an idea of who is a genuine chance of taking Rugby Leagues biggest prize.

Almost all of us are biased towards own our teams, however you would have to think at this stage that the Melbourne Storm or the Sydney Roosters are the only genuine chances to take this years prize. Think about it this way, if you had to pick a winner and put your house on them – who would you pick?

There are so many factors to consider now; obviously injuries are a key component – staying healthy vital to winning consistently. As such, warm downs and recovery sessions are now mandatory for the majority of NRL teams. Take St George Illawarra for example, well known as the most injured side in the NRL competition – regularly having millions of dollars worth of talent sitting idle on the sidelines.

Apart from these factors, many of the leading teams feature different styles of games. Take for example Ricky Stuart and his Cronulla Sharks. The Sharks don’t have a roster with many superstars, they have the likes of experienced campaigners Brett Kimmorley, Lance Thompson and Luke Covell along with some promising youngsters thrown in – but it’s their unique grinding defence based style of NRL that’s getting them over the line each week.

For the Melbourne Storm, coach Craig Bellamy places the utmost importance on the ruck. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that Melbourne focus completely on the wrestle. From chicken wings to broken wings, they pull, probe and twist to slow their enemy down.

What about the Bulldogs? Bash and barge? Yep, you guessed it. For years the Dogs charge up the middle – hard and straight. Winning the game through strong forward platforms. The hard nosed Bulldogs have regularly won on physical domination and heavy collisions.

Tim Sheens likes his team to play expansive, almost a touch football brand of Rugby League. Quick passing, light stepping and fit mobile forwards are the order of they day. They will generally frustrate and run rings around their bigger slow opponents and with all their playermakers on deck they are capable of cutting anyone to pieces.

In addition to the various styles, possession is now the absolute key to winning the game. With some many areas that referees can award penalties now, a drop of focus for a second or maybe hanging on to a ball runner for more than 100 milliseconds in a tackle could cost you and your team a penalty. If you make errors or give away penalties, more often than not the opposing team will score from that ensuing set – lack of possession will tire you our and the pressure builds usually unable to be stopped unless you get some luck coming your way. While most of us know this, the critical nature of ‘having the ball’ is now more important than ever and continues to get more valuable every year in the modern game.

Harmony in your teams front office also seems to play a part in the success of your team. With the mental factor of the players just as critical as their ability and fitness, a boardroom showdown or staff changes in the office can distract and worry the players. You even see the mental pressures on players as they travel long distances to and from away games now, a small drop in their mindset can see them get blown away on the park. Not just beaten, but if you don’t turn up on the day – the opposition could possibly put 40 points on you before you know it. Such is the closeness and intensity of todays NRL.

A few recent examples of this have been with the Dragons, Bulldogs and Cowboys. All suffering a bashing in the media and experiencing coaching changes – their NRL Results at the same time have been very inconsistent.

Ok, so get your checklist out; Healthy Players, Sound Game Plans, Study the Opponent, Office Harmony, Well Coached and you need to throw in 1 or 2 superstars to really complete the list. Not much to ask is it?

With all these elements considered, this is why *any* team can win on their day. There have even been some Cinderella Stories in recent years – just look at the Panthers in 2003, Wests Tigers in 2005 and more recently the South Sydney Rabbitohs making the Top 8 in 2007.

While anyone can have their day, the value of the superstars in your side cannot be underestimated. You absolutely must have a game breaker or two, along with their experience to get you over the line in the biggest games.

A Cameron Smith 40/20 kick will turn a game.

A Benji Marshall side step or flick pass will change things too.

Sonny Bill Williams offloading with 13 defenders trying to tackle him helps too.

If you look at this element, you instantly see why the Wests Tigers can’t win without Benji Marshall or Robbie Farah. You can understand why guys like Jonathan Thurston and Scott Prince are so critical to their teams each week. Probably the biggest example is Andrew Johns, considered one of the best – the minute he didn’t play, his side generally had no chance.

So when you look over the teams for 2008, the only real NRL contenders that can win the big prize at this stage look like either the Melbourne Storm and the Sydney Roosters. Both having a great blend of experienced superstars, promising young talent, smart coaching and a good religious manager in their team to say weekly prayers for safety from injury, a friendly bounce of the ball and generous referee calls.

So with Melbourne at $3.50 and the Roosters at $6 to win the NRL Grand Final – providing they stay healthy, it’s worth throwing a few dollars on each of them because at this stage – they are the only real contenders.

Will NRL become a Chest Fest?

As the NRL continues it’s clampdown on striking, recently slapping Canberra Raiders hardman Michael Weyman with a 5 week ban for punching Daniel Conn and giving Weyman a further week for his defensive elbow during a tackle – does this lead the game into dangerous territory?

Certainly stamping out foul play is important as the NRL looks to impress junior players and their parents as they decide which sport kids will play – ensuring Rugby League has a strong local breeding ground it critically important.

However, has the NRL gone too far and made the game soft?

In each game we see probably 1 tackle in 10 penalised for something illegal, in many cases the contact being very minor and the player on the receiving end generally not in any danger of injury.

While those changes are bearable, the real concern is around the outlawing of striking. Each striking charge needs to be assessed on it’s own merit. There is no doubt a ‘king-hit’ or brutal one-way attack should be totally outlawed, there is no place for this in the game. However on occasion where two players are engaged in a heated exchange, a quick spurt of striking shouldn’t see the players outed for weeks on end. The absolute real risk here is the NRL could become a carbon copy of the AFL. After totally outlawing striking, the game of Australian Rules (AFL) has the embarrassing situation where arguing players are reduced to ‘chesting’ each other in one of the funiest and most embarrassing of Australian sporting situations.

On the current path, the NRL could seriously end up in the same situation. It would be a very sad day for Rugby League and many could possibly walk away as spectators all together.

The answer is to examine each striking case on its merit. We firstly need to clear up what a ‘king-hit’ is. There is much confusion over what a ‘king-hit’ actually means, if you look it up in the dictionary you will get the following varying explanations from various dictionary brands;

a. A hit from behind

b. A hit without warning

c. A knock-out punch

Very much an Australian term, the real meaning of king-hit is to hit someone from behind. While many say a king-hit is a punch delivered when the other person is not ready, this cannot be the case – in many fights or striking situations there is always one party not ready for contact. Striking first does not constitute a king-hit.

In the case of Michael Weyman and Daniel Conn, this was certainly not a king-hit. Weyman attacked Conn once he had risen to his feet and while Conn may not have expected a full frontal attack – he was looking at Weyman directly.

Even in the Brett White case, while he did hit Ben Ross while the Sharks prop had his arms pinned – this too is not a king-hit. Certainly considered an unfair blow, as the player was unable to defend himself – but too many confuse the king-hit term.

The NRL need to tread very carefully as they get tough with strikers. Sure, keep the game clean and outlaw the king-hit. A classic case of a king-hit was when former Melbourne Storm forward Danny Williams brutally attacked Wests Tigers forward Mark O’Neill while the Tiger was looking completely in the other direction.

So go ahead and stamp the king-hitters out of the game, but please don’t send the NRL down the path of the AFL, where we see a bunch of grown men throw their chests at each other in a seriously embarrassing situation.

The Shoulder Charge, should it be banned?

NRL Rugby League Shoulder Charge

Today we introduce Ricardo Ascenso, who gives his opinion on the shoulder charge in the current NRL format. Ricardo is the newest member to the NRL News team. A promising Rugby League analyst, we look forward to adding his opinion to our team. With the Grubber there to mentor him in the ways of NRL writing, Ricardo is set for a big future in the Rugby League media.

The Shoulder Charge, should it be banned? 

There has been much debate as to whether or not the shoulder charge should be banned following several instances in the early rounds of the NRL season.

Are shoulder charges really that dangerous? Do they really pose a threat to the attacking and defensive players? Craig Wing and Braith Anasta would most likely argue yes they do following the injuries they sustained from such tackles. Wing now on the sidelines and unavailable for his struggling team for up to 2 months due to a dislocated shoulder. Braith Anasta suffering a badly broken nose after a Karmichael Hunt shoulder charge gone wrong.


Do we need changes? Or are we changing the game too frequently?


What the NRL needs to consider is that the shoulder charge is one of the most important parts of the game. Every player has attempted at least one shoulder charge whether it’s the fullback or a prop and they will tell you themselves that its just part of the game.


If the NRL takes away the shoulder charge, you’re destroying the attacking flair of players such as Sonny Bill Williams, Willie Mason, Josh Perry, Brett White and all the other robust forwards who go in for a good shot. Take it away and there won’t be any big tackles during the game, we lose a big spectacle – most fans enjoying the clash of the shoulder charge and the positive effects it has on their team.


A heavy hit from someone like Sonny Bill Williams can change a game. Knocking the ball loose, boosting his teams morale – it has a huge bearing on the game and that’s what the fans love.


Shoulder charges must remain part of Rugby League. We are already seeing less exciting NRL games due to the wrestle and slower ruck play, the unpredictable shoulder charge leads to mistakes and that generally leads to tries – the whole game benefits. Just look at how many tries are scored from a change of possession, be it a penalty or error in 2008.

This leaves David Gallop and the NRL with an important decision to make. Does he outlaw the use of any shoulder charge when there is more than one player involved in the tackle? Or does he let the game flow as it should.

Many past players and current commentators including Phil Gould, Peter Sterling, Matthew Johns etc, all believe that the shoulder charge in all instances is perfectly legal and that it is what makes the game great. Former Penrith coach John Lang believes the shoulder charge should be banned because he says ‘it provides more trouble then its worth.

“I don’t think it’s the cure-all, but you gain some things and you lose nothing,” Lang said. “It’s not going to be the be-all and end-all. It’s not going to stop every controversial incident, but it stops a few. We lose the shoulder charge out of the game. So what?”

Lang went on to say “I don’t think it takes any talent to shoulder charge.” You’re getting something that’s not good out of the game. They don’t have it in rugby union and I don’t think it suffers because they don’t have a shoulder charge.”

West Tigers Captain Brett Hodgson is the first prominent player to advocate banning the controversial tackling technique.

“To be honest I think they should outlaw the shoulder charge,” Hodgson said. “The majority of injuries these days happen in incidents where people are going in trying to hurt people with the shoulder.”Also for kids, thinking about playing the game later on, if mothers see such incidents they’re not going to want their little boys to play it.”

Mr. Gallop must also consider the consequences of taking away such a crucial element of the game. Without the shoulder charge, there are no bone crunching tackles and no heavy contact.


The NRL is unique in that it’s one of the few sports that change its rules very regularly, it’s a positive thing – the game of Rugby League is always being improved and refined. Sometimes they can get things wrong  as is the case with the ruck wrestle at the moment, let’s just hope they don’t make the same mistake with the shoulder charge.


Wests Tigers: The Missing Ingredient

Robbie Farah Wests Tigers 2008 NRLThe Wests Tigers burst out of the blocks this year writes John Chelsea, but have they got what is takes to be a consistent force in the 2008 NRL and finally crack the semi-final Top 8 series for the first time since they won the competition in 2005?

If you spoke about them last week, anyone would tell you the Wests Tigers are going to be a force in this years NRL. Knocking off St George and the Cowboys in Townsville, many had thought the Tigers minus Benji Marshall could still be a serious threat and had a perfectly balanced squad.

Fast forward to now. Injuries to key men Robbie Farah, Dean Collis, Taniela Tuiaki and Brett Hodgson have thrown a spanner in the works. While Hodgson isn’t missing any game time, the little fullback has copped such a battering in recent weeks that he could be forgiven for thinking he was cast in the movie ‘Face-Off’.

Farah is no doubt a key player for the Wests Tigers, his metres and creativity from dummy half are well noted. Many speak of him in NSW Origin calculations, but injury has been a demon for Farah and threatens to hamper his and the teams rise in 2008. What makes things worse is that the injury is back related, a part of the body that doesn’t generally heal too fast and it’s an area where you can’t take any risks.

The Tigers have a good balance in their squad, they have some extremely talented young guns coming through the likes of Dean Collis, Beau Ryan, Tim Moltzen and Chris Lawrence and then you have the proven performances of Dene Halatau, Liam Fulton, Todd Payten and Bronson Harrison. Without Benji Marshall in the side, Robbie Farah has quickly become the X-Factor for the Wests Tigers side – quickly rising in the NRL ranks to be regarded as a genuine star, Farah was not only helping the Tigers win games with his skill – his new stature was giving them the belief and that star power they needed to be mentally ready for games.

Thats the unwritten rule of guys like Farah and Marshall. For all their skills, they also provide benefits to their team from the confidence they give their teammates. Young guys like Chris Lawrence and Beau Ryan see a Benji Marshall or Robbie Farah running out with them and suddenly they think they are playing with the harlem globetrotters. It can have adverse effects too, some players feeling that a Farah or a Marshall might be worth 10 more points in a game and suddenly you have teammates resting on their laurels watching the big stars do it alone.

For the Tigers to take the next step in 2008 and regain their finals position this year, they badly need the X-Factor of a Benji Marshall or Robbie Farah on a weekly basis. While they absolutely have the talent and ability without these two big stars, its more a case of belief and mental strength that the side gains when either of these two big names are around. When Wests won the premiership back in 2005, they had several big names to call on. The likes of Scott Prince, Pat Richards and even John Skandalis to some extent – big game players who had experience and confidence in bucket-loads. To be honest, I think the Wests Tigers have even more talent at their disposal now, they just need the X-Factor that the mere presence of a big star brings on a weekly basis.

Paul Gallen: The dirtiest NRL player?

Paul Gallen, Cronulla Sharks. Is he the dirtiest player in the NRL? Have your say.There aren’t too many dirty players in the modern NRL game. Certainly nothing like 20 or 30 years ago where you had the odd thug or two running around looking to kill someone on a weekly basis.

A dirty player these days is considering so on a different basis. Unable to get away with stiff arms, spear tackles or fighting – the dirty men have to be a bit more covert to get away with their unruly tactics.

Paul Gallen with his performance against the Gold Coast Titans on the weekend has probably come as close as possible to being the dirtiest player in the NRL. After the head clash between Paul Gallen and Anthony Laffranchi – the attempt by Gallen to scratch at the wound and cause more grief to Laffranchi is a pretty sad effort. What would it achieve? Ok, so Laffranchi had to leave the field again for a few minutes as blood poured out and the Sharks may have enjoyed a minor rest from a solid Titans forward.

Was it worth it? Absolutely not. Already skating on thin ice, it immediately portrayed Gallen as a poor sport and showed everyone how low he would stoop to get one up on his opponent. Do players not realise that there are over 20 different camera angles at NRL games and 99.9% of the action is captured? You’d have to be David Copperfield to get away with foul play these days – forget it!

To make things worse, Gallen was also captured performing a ‘squirrel grib’ on a Titans player. Resenting a tackle, Gallen rises to his feet and reaches at the crotch of the Gold Coast player. Bringing back memories of ‘John Hoppoate’ and the infamous ‘Gold Finger’ epsiode where he poked opposing players bums – this Gallen brain snap is unforgivable and doesn’t just make him look stupid, but embarresses everyone in the NRL.

What must the AFL and Rugby Union codes be thinking? Squirrel Grips went out years ago, there is no room for them in our game.

When you think of dirty players in the NRL in recent times a few names spring to mind, the likes of Shayne Dunley, Brad Morrin, John Hopoate, Steve Matai and on a lighter scale Justin Smith from the Cowboys.

These guys would throw elbows into tackles, swing stiff arms, bite their opponents and generally do anything they could during the ruck wrestle to get one up.

Apart from Hopoate and his outrageous actions, Paul Gallen’s latest brain explosions rate pretty highly on the dirty scale. If you cast your mind back to last season, Gallen also raised eyebrows when he ‘faked’ injury after a high shot and was caught out by TV cameras winking at his opponents after a penalty was given.

No one likes to admit who the dirty players are, but at the current rate Paul Gallen is climbing the charts with a bullet.

Who do you think is the dirtiest NRL player? Comment below or send an email to

Sonny Bill: I’ve lost respect for Mason

Sonny Bill Williams Footy Show Interview 2008 NRLIn a three-part interview on the NRL Footy Show this past few weeks, Sonny Bill Williams has spoken candidly with Phil Gould and shown a side to himself not yet seen in public. The usually shy SBW spoke extremely well and highlighted his desire to move ‘out of his comfort zone’ and become more vocal on Rugby League issues; willing to spend more time in the media and in front of the cameras.

The major bombshell dropped in the interview related to Willie Mason. When asked about his relationship with former team-mates Mason, Braith Anasta, Roy Asotasi, Mark O’Meley, Nate Myles and Brent Sherwin – who all left the Bulldogs in recent years. SBW singled out Mason and voiced his disappointment at big Willie’s departure, “I’ve lost some respect for Mase.” SBW said. Williams angry that Mason had previously convinced him to stay at the Bulldogs and to disregard the offers of up to double the salary elsewhere and remain ‘loyal’. In the end it was all for nothing, SBW watching on – as Mason packed his bags for the Roosters. It sets the scene for an explosive clash between the Bulldogs and Roosters in the weeks ahead.

Sonny Bill also touched on the recent Bulldogs management turmoil and how it affects the players. SBW explained how the headlines and uncertainty makes things uneasy even at playing level; “Some players can disregard all that, but for me I like to know the club is performing well at all levels” Williams said. SBW did point out that he felt the club was now united and certainly heading in the right direction, something Bulldogs fans will be happy to hear.

Discussed in depth was the Polynesian influence on the NRL and Rugby League in the current era. Sonny Bill Williams is the child of a Polynesian Father and White European Mother and SBW feels that the Polynesian group of players is at times being exploited – being signed to cheaper deals and not having a voice, their personality being a humble, quiet one and making them easy pushovers by club management. It’s this particular issue that has prompted Sonny to come out of his shell and move more into the media spotlight, giving himself and fellow Polynesians a greater voice in the community. Coming out of this topic, was the fact that Sonny Bill Williams and other Polynesians are unable to represent at State of Origin level. While representing NSW and Queensland at under 19’s – the jump to first grade and subsequent Kiwi representation at international level, means no Origin honours for the likes of SBW and co.

View the interviews below, in three parts – simply click the play icon on each video to view. (Email readers, you may need to visit the site to view these videos)

Phil Gould and SBW Interview – Part 1 of 3[youtube:]

Phil Gould and SBW Interview – Part 2 of 3


Phil Gould and SBW Interview – Part 3 of 3