Category Archives: NRL Editorials

Editorials on the big issues in NRL Rugby League

Worrying Signs for Wests Tigers

 

Trial results aren’t always an ideal gauge as to how an NRL team will perform and for the year ahead Tim Sheens and his coaching staff must have some concerns after some major defensive leaks by the Tigers at various stages against the Gold Coast Titans last night and more worries around Benji Marshall’s defensive techniques.

 

 The Wests Tigers started very positively and looked spritely in attack early on, but as the game wore on against the Titans, their defensive line especially around the ruck was the worst I have seen from them in some time. The Tigers have always relied on smaller mobile forwards and usually have good foot speed around the ruck, but this was no where to be seen last night.Ok, so it is only early season and maybe their preparation isn’t as far along as other NRL sides – but the way the Gold Coast cut the Tigers up would concern any Wests fans in my eyes. The Titans did enjoy a better percentage of possession and this worked against the Tigers, but their fitness certainly looked below par – at various stages Robbie Farah was taking 2 tackles to reach the dummy half position and only Keith Galloway could manage any forward runs that produced meters for his team.In my eyes, the addition of Corey Payne and Matt Head can’t come soon enough. Firstly, the Tigers are in dire need of muscle in the forwards, even more so now that Ryan O’Hara and Todd Payten are unavailable for the first part of the NRL 2008 season and slotting Matt Head into halfback will take pressure of Benji in attack and provide a more natural no.7 solution than the workhorse John Morris. On another positive note, new winger Nick Youngquest was a strong performer on the fringes for the Tigers – running the ball strongly, regularly assisting centre field and looking extremely fast when in space.Current half John Morris is no doubt a tireless worker and a useful player, but certainly not a natural halfback. When Head is available for selection, the potential combination of Robbie Farah and John Morris at his original hooking position looks to be a juicy partnership that could be a major drawcard for the Tigers.

This is all well and good for strong attacking options, something the Tigers usually have no problems with – as they are known for their unstoppable attacking prowess. But it’s defence where the real black hole remains. Unlike last year where Benji Marshall defended on the wing, last night Tim Sheens had him defending as 2nd man in from the left edge, just outside Chris Lawrence who was obviously instructed to assist and protect Marshall where possible– but this failed to stop traffic coming his way or getting past. The additional risk here is burning fuel in the Chris Lawrence tank and reducing his attacking capability. Lawrence was a standout for the Tigers last night, looking big and fit – regularly proving a handful for the Gold Coast defenders.

While you expect opponents to bomb the likes of Marshall on the edge, or run big men directly at him – it was the one on one failures that raised real concerns. Several times, Benji looked to have his opposite man covered and was left clutching air less than 10m out from his own try line and all this from a Titans backline that was virtually of a reserve grade standard as Chris Walker, Preston Campbell, Matt Petersen and Brett Delaney were all not playing for the Gold Coast last night.

Where does all this leave the Tigers?

It certainly makes the Top 8 look like a big ask for the side this year. They have recruited smartly for NRL 2008 and they have a strong tactical coach in Tim Sheens, but how on earth do they hide or protect Benji in the defence line any more than they already do?

They have worked hard to increase forward bulk, with Corey Payne added to the likes of Todd Payten and Ryan O’Hara for this Rugby League season but injuries have put paid to that plan at present and the smaller mobile forwards in Bryce Gibbs and Bronson Harrison remain holding the fort.

While all this will concern any Tigers fan and their coaching staff, the only positive to take away is that maybe it’s a good thing that all the problems were evident in this early preseason trial period where NRL results aren’t on offer. Copping a hiding might just be the best medicine for the Wests Tigers and give them more focus at training before the NRL Premiership kicks off for 2008 in around 2 weeks time.

      

Noad unsure what went wrong at Dogs

He may have walked before he was pushed but Malcolm Noad is still in the dark over the agenda which led to his resignation as Bulldogs chief executive.

Noad made the termination of the final year of his $400,000 a year deal official on Monday, more than a week after initially offering his resignation when a rebel ticket seized control of the Bulldogs board.

The rival group had put their dissatisfaction with Noad’s performance at the top of their agenda, a stance which still perplexed Noad.

“It’s one of the things I’ll probably walk away wondering – I’m not really sure,” Noad said.

“It’s like a political campaign, but I’m not going to walk away and lose any sleep in the next few months wondering about it.”

The rebel ticket, of which Andrew Farrar, Paul Dunn, Barry Ward, Anthony Elias and Ray Dib won seats on the board, claimed the club had not done enough to retain their stars.

Representative players Willie Mason, Braith Anasta, Johnathan Thurston, Steve Price, Mark O’Meley, Nate Myles, Roy Asotasi and Brent Sherwin have all left the club during Noad’s four-year term at the club.

But Noad said there was no way all those players could have been retained and the club stay under the cap.

“I suppose people are largely ill-informed about how difficult it is to retain players,” Noad said.

“Look at the Broncos in the last 12 months, they’ve lost five international players after winning the grand final in 2006.

“We had the added pressure of a salary cap scandal in 2002 … I think we’ve done as well as we can.

“You look at the players we’ve retained – Sonny Bill Williams twice, Andrew Ryan twice, Matt Utai twice, Hazem El Masri twice.

“I don’t think we could have done it differently unless we wanted to become a club where you dump players before their contract’s up.

“For arguments sake we could have dumped Mark O’Meley to retain Roy Asotasi … but we don’t think that’s what our club should stand for.

“We think loyalty is a major factor in our organisation.”

Asked why he walked away, Noad said he didn’t want to stand in the way of progress.

“The campaign that the majority of the new board members waged was about the need for change and I don’t think that they would be able to make the changes they want with me there,” Noad said.

“They deserve the opportunity to make whatever changes they want unencumbered by the existing CEO.”

Noad will remain in the post for the next couple of weeks, overseeing the club’s move to their new headquarters at Homebush.

Bulldogs chairman George Peponis, who asked Noad to re-consider his resignation at the board elections, said he had received assurances from the new board that Noad had their support.

But it wasn’t enough to change Noad’s mind, with Peponis admitting he had not yet given any thought to a successor.

“We’ve got no-one in mind,” Peponis said.

There are suggestions that Graeme Hughes, the former Bulldogs backrower behind the rebel ticket, is lining himself up for the chief executive hot seat.

Peponis, who stated before the board elections that he would find it hard to work alongside Hughes, dismissed suggestions his former teammate was in the running.

“I think that’s probably something that’s way out there at this stage so I’m not even going to consider that option,” Peponis said.

“And it’s a decision for the board, not mine.”

AAP

Willie wants Roosters captaincy

As expected, the debut of Willie Mason in tri-colours was a huge affair. The big man is rarely able to stay out of the headlines, even under the watchful guard of Roosters management – he still managed to drop his pants recently, relieve himself and manage to get caught by a snooping member of the public.

Off-field problems aside, Mason took to his task at the Roosters will focused enthusiasm. Playing around 60 minutes for the Roosters, Willie was highly involved – solid runs, heaps of team talk and encouragement plus a knockout hit on Todd Payten.

The team talk and encouragement is the thing that probably took most Rugby League insiders by surprise. We all know Willie is a big talker and was always gee’ing his team mates up at the Bulldogs – but to slot into a new team so comfortably and possess enough confidence to consistently talk, encourage and direct the team around was very interesting. It confirms two things, Willie Mason must be a happy man at his new Bondi club and his comments about wanting to captain the Roosters one day man be very serious.

Would Willie make a good captain?

Our thoughts are surprisingly yes. Once again, off-field problems aside – Willie Mason is a strong enough player to lead by example on the field, but it’s his passionate encouragement and sledging that make him a prime candidate as a team leader. His vocal interaction on the NRL field is probably more similar to the heady days of the 80’s where chatter was constant and evident every week. Guys like Wally Lewis were full of passion, emotion and led with their skills and mouth on the field. Willie fits this mould perfectly.

At the age of 27, Willie should probably mature more off the field in the next 2-3 years and may put himself in a better position to lead a club should injury and disaster stay away.

When you look at a guy like Willie Mason, his obvious gigantic frame and occasional offload make him a damaging player in any situation. There has been the rare time that Willie has been a tad lazy on the field and I can imagine there was plenty of training sessions, where the big man was more worried about practical jokes or telling stories about his nightclub tours of the weekend  – rather than focusing on football. Thats the scary thing – Willie has probably only been applying himself 90% of the time or less, yet is still an Australian Representative with the world at his feet.

Chances are good he still has a lot left in the tank and if the Roosters can man manage Mason into the future, mould him and nurture him even more – this guy could get better and as he does, he might just take the Roosters to the lofty heights that boss man Nick Politis and Brad Fittler expect.

The only thing standing in Willie Mason’s way is himself and maybe a brutal affair with the Bulldogs that could leave him battered and injured, but I am sure Willie himself is looking for some revenge there too – all making for sensational theatre.

Grapple Tackle version 2.0?

So much was said about the grapple tackle during NRL season 2007, with the Storm using the tackle and hold technique to become the masters of the ruck. While they deny focusing specifically on this area, there is no question they pioneered it and every other club rushed to either play catch up or cry foul.

After much press in relation to the grapple tackle and the crusher tackle which followed, the NRL moved quickly to stamp out the technique giving referees more power and looking to put an end to it before serious injury followed. As we approach kick off for the 2008 NRL season, rumours are doing the rounds that a club has developed a new technique nicknamed the ‘pinner’. While only speculation at this stage, the mail suggests that at least one club is looking to get multiple players in to tackles to exploit pressure points and joint locks to reduce movement or completion speed of the tackle.

With one or two players tackling and holding a ball runner, a third defender could wreak havoc but exploiting pressure points or restraining joints into a lock position. The closest we have seen to this ‘pinner’ tackle was in the 2007 NRL finals series, when Melbourne played Parramatta in the Grand Final Qualifier – Nathan Cayless was caught up in a horrific situation during a tackle. As Cayless was tackled and held down by an initial Storm player, Melbourne forward Jeremey Smith pulled and pinned Cayless’ arm back behind him. The attempted tackle slowdown was successful and you can see on the video footage Cayless resenting the joint lock and chasing Smith in back play. On this occasion Cayless actually suffered a minor injury, but didn’t have to back up the next week after a loss.

While injury, no matter how serious is the major concern for clubs and supporters – it’s only natural that clubs look for an edge to give them the upperhand in season ahead. Any minor advantage can prove so valuable as results are always tight in modern day NRL.

As speculation grows about the new tackling concepts, NRL enforcers: referees boss Robert Finch and chief operations officer Graham Annesley are aiming to be proactive about the possible outbreak of any dangerous new trends and believe the referee’s have ample room to police any developments under the contrary conduct rule.

How much potency will Manly lose in 2008?

Michael MonaghanThe Manly Sea Eagles are a common choice amongst NRL tipsters as a Top 4 contender in 2008. After a stunning season in 2007, apart from failing in the Grand Final – the Sea Eagles pretty much did everything right. They had a good playing roster, well balanced, decent depth and were well coached.

Manly have let several players go after 2007, most notably Michael Monaghan.

While other quality players such as Travis Burns have been released, few could argue the at times maligned Michael Monaghan will be a pivotal loss to the Eagles.

It was a unique scenario out Brookvale way, almost everyone in the NRL universe could see how good Michael Monaghan was except those inside the Manly bunker. As Monaghan continued to excel and at times win Manly games on his own, the power brokers at the Eagles seemed hell bent on casting him of. First he was moved aside for Matt Orford, only a last ditch insistence from Manly backer Max Delmege saved Monaghan from being cut very early on.

While Manly chased the big name signings in Matt Orford, Jamie Lyon and Steve Bell they still didn’t realise they had a match winner in their own backyard already. After the consistency they experienced in 2007, I think Manly are in for a rude shock this year. The dynamic, probing attack of Monaghan is long gone – as is his passion and contagious energy.

For anyone at Manly unsure of Monaghan’s value, they only need look at his first appearance in the UK Super League last night. Trotting out for the Warrington Wolves who have been average at best in recent times, Monaghan took the man of the match honours and instantly brought creditability to the Warrington line up. Sea Eagles fans will also be interested to know that Monaghan’s partner in crime was Chris Hicks – the former Eagles winger also putting in a classy showing and bagging a try in his maiden appearance.

While the Sea Eagles might be happy with commendable new signings David Vaealiki, Heath L’Estrange and Josh Perry – with respect, none of these buys can replace Monaghan. So as NRL kick off nears for 2008, maybe Manly might finally realise what the rest of the Rugby League world already knows – Michael Monaghan was an out and out match winner and the Eagles rarely if ever treated him with the respect he deserved.

Smith exits, Australia vulnerable in Club Challenge again

World Club Challenge 2008 (WCC 2008)It remains one of the toughest road trips in Rugby League folklore. Ever since the UK Super League has had the rights to the World Club Challenge; the chips have been heavily stacked against the Aussie side that heads over to take on the Super League’s best.

In the latest setup for the Australian based Melbourne Storm, skipper and star rake Cameron Smith has pulled the pin on his tour of duty – as his partner is about to give birth to their first child. Totally understandable in Smith’s case – the underdone Storm will look to inject veteran utility Matt Geyer into the important role of hooker in their showdown.

The World Club Challenge is February 29th of this month and prior to that, the Storm will have had a few local hit outs in trial matches and a single warm up match in England against Halifax a few days after arriving.

The Leeds Rhinos will have had several regular season games under their belt and will be rising to peak performance. Littered with stars, the Rhinos have already accounted for the Rabbitohs in the USA and opened their Super League account with a patchy win over the Hull Kingston Rovers.

The 2008 World Club Challenge will feature some of the best world wide talent, such a shame that Golden Boot winner Cameron Smith won’t be playing against the likes of Scott Donald, Jake Webster, Brent Webb, Clinton Toopi, Keith Senior and quite possibly one of the best big men going around Jamie Peacock.

There is no questioning the talent at the Melbourne Storm, however with such a lopsided setup – they will need the likes of Cameron Smith and every ounce of luck to topple the best of the UK.

While the mismatch might frustrate some, on offer for the Australian side if they win is the unquestioned worldwide respect by beating massive odds. While it certainly would be nice to see the WCC (World Club Challenge) in Australia in future years; without the home advantage the UK sides would likely struggle more than the NRL team when it plays away.

If anyone is up to the almighty challenge it’s the NRL’s finest; the Melbourne Storm. No doubt coach Craig Bellamy would have planned long ago for the unavailability of Cameron Smith and they will certainly represent the NRL well in what should be a cracker game.

Bulldogs and Roberts saved by Bennett

Ben Roberts bashed in Wollongong - NRL 2008The Bulldogs and Ben Roberts must be thanking their lucky stars. The timing of the Wayne Bennett announcement has virtually lifted them from the front page of every media outlet on the east coast of Australia.

As the dust begins to settle on the Ben Roberts bashing in Wollongong; more news is surfacing as to the events of the night at the Glasshouse nightclub. According to reports from the Bulldogs camp, Roberts was attacked by employees of the Glasshouse after initially refusing to leave the premises when drunk.

Witnesses have said Roberts and his party were partially intoxicated, however weren’t particularly disturbing the peace at the popular nightspot. When security has tried to usher Roberts on, he has apparently got into a heated exchange with the employees and they are alleged to have taken him outside and beaten him severely.

Bulldogs teammate Lee Te Maari was apparently thrown into the fray when he felt his mate was being bashed senseless. Upon trying to stop the melee, Te Maari apparently copped some treatment for his interruption.

If events had played out this way, Roberts made a bad mistake in returning to the scene of the crime. It looks bad enough as it is, however his continuation of the events have certainly put him in hot water and regardless of how the Bulldogs or anyone try to spin this, drunk footballers will always be a target in situations such as this. Surely with so many previous instances of trouble, not only from the Bulldogs but from many other clubs – can’t players keep out of the spotlight?

It’s been suggested here at NRL News previously, that players who want a big night out should possibly pay the inexpensive air fare and fly to Melbourne or Adelaide for the night. It might sound extreme, but for less than an hour flying time and the price of a night on the town – they can party in peace and safety. However after David Fa’logo somehow found trouble on the other side of the world – maybe no where is safe.

At least this time, the Bulldogs have found themselves lucky to escape the headlines so quick. But for a club they call Dogs of War; after recent off-field events such as the Salary Cap Affair, the Rape Case, Supporter Rioting, the SBW Toilet Saga, the SBW Drink Drive, the Reni Matuia Drink Drive and thousands of big Willie cases from drugs to ADD – they should really be called the Homebush Houdini’s – because they are amazingly still able to dodge bullets on a weekly basis.

Wayne Bennett Quits Broncos

Wayne Bennett leaving Brisbane BroncosAs broken by NRL News over a week ago, Wayne Bennett today officially confirmed his exit from the Brisbane Broncos at the end of 2008. The father of NRL in Brisbane and greater Queensland – the legend after 21 seasons calls it a day.

Bennett used his usual media tactics in his latest announcement, giving away as little as possible as to his future and where he may coach.

Interestingly, Bennett confirmed he is still interested in coaching and it seems Sydney may not be totally out of the question. With UK based Daniel Anderson confirming his preference for a Sydney based NRL role, we could see some changes for next season. Certainly the likes of Nathan Brown, Brian Smith and Matt Elliott would be sleeping a little less easy after the past 24 hours.

Love or hate Wayne Bennett – his record at the Broncos is simply stunning. Not only has he brought the club 6 titles in their short history. Bennett is undefeated as a coach in every single Grand Final appearance. Only Tim Sheens shares such a long and experienced CV at the highest level of NRL.

Someone of this calibre shouldn’t be out of a coaching job for too long.

Ben Roberts Inflicts more Dog pain

Ben Roberts BulldogsAnother week and seemingly another problem at the Bulldogs. If it’s not their players boozing, fighting or missing training – it’s in-fighting from within their management infrastructure.

Belmore is well and truly under siege now after their New Zealand half Ben Roberts was mixed up in a large scale brawl in Wollongong last night. The seriousness of the drama is certainly a concern, the well known Roberts was reportedly knocked unconscious and taken to hospital by friends after he was hit and kicked repeatedly by another party.

Amazingly it seems that rather than go to Police, Ben Roberts and his group of friends returned to the scene of the crime to seek out the instigators and this is where the real trouble began. Heavily intoxicated and refusing to move on, Police became involved and it’s alleged that Roberts resisted arrest and attempted to punch one of the assisting Officers. From there, capsicum spray was used and Roberts was subdued and subsequently charged by Wollongong local Police.

Now even if Roberts was an innocent party in the first scuffle, surely him or his mates would use common sense and seek out the authorities? The potential of this situation to get heavily out of hand was always there – yet Roberts and his crew went back into the danger zone and caused more havoc – it’s simply unbelievable.

The timing couldn’t be worse for the Bulldogs and probably the NRL as a whole. Continued public incidents are marring what is set to be a huge year for the game of Rugby League. Hot on the heels of Tim Smith and Jonathan Thurston battling the booze, Roberts has quickly stepped up as the next bad boy in line. The Bulldogs in particular have a problem with a party culture and players not towing the line – it’s been a disease rotting their core for many years now and refusal to come down hard on the guilty parties will simply not stop the rot.

If the Dogs did come down hard on Roberts and actually sacked him, the problem is another NRL club would probably pick up the scraps and throw Ben Roberts a lifeline – totally ignoring the problem and re-igniting the chance of it happening again.

The Dogs now have several hard decisions to make before the kick off of NRL in 2008 or they will almost certainly see themselves in a whole world of trouble. The problem is the NRL themselves are in the same predicament, if they too don’t fight fire with fire – they are going to have more than few bushfires on their hands in the years ahead and the damage to the games image will be unrepairable.

NRL edging out Rugby Union

Centenary of Rugby LeagueThey have been warring codes since the beginning of time. Rugby League and Rugby Union, the breakway game that is League has been long remember as the little brother. Union boasting widespread international support and an enviable Super 14 Tournament that throws up the best from several continents against each other regularly.

Had it not been for the Super League / ARL war in the mid 1990’s – it’s quite possible that will its growing strength and nationwide expansion that League couldn’t have really buried Rugby Union for the most part.

Up until now, Union has enjoyed good widespread growth and even the poaching of big name players from League as they build their arsenal. However it seems the tide is well and truly swinging back the other way. Recently reappointed head of Rugby Union, John O’Neill only last week flagged trouble with the ARU coffers in dire need of topping up – as previously lucrative corporate sponsorships continue to dry up.

While Union has good high level support for their international tournament, the same can’t be said for their club Rugby offering in Australia. Crowds that number less than a few hundred and non-existent corporate sponsorships make for dire viewing. They like to think Rugby Union is a running game, but whenever I have watched it – I tend to find any excuse to get away from the stop start, penalty fest I usually see before my eyes. It’s impossible for this local competition to even compete against the professionalism of NRL on a weekly basis.

The Union crowd however have been able to dodge the shambles that is club Rugby in recent years on the back of Super 14 success. However, even this charade is starting to cave in – at least in Australia. Poor results for several of the State teams and consistently poor Wallabies results are seeing the crowds and the big backers in the corporate world pull away – leaving massive holes.

While the chips are down in Union town, Rugby League needs to strike while the iron is hot. The NRL must work overtime in what is their Centenary year to really jump ahead in the on-going code war. Strong promotions and smart partnerships where possible to ensure larger and consistent crowds are a must and most importantly individual club memberships must be increased in a similar vain to what South Sydney are trying to do.

Relationships with strategic corporate partners need to be established now as the game becomes more attractive and profitable through growing TV and screening rights deals.
The NRL fan day today at ANZ Stadium is another step in the right direction, ensuring grass roots production of League talent and the early establishment of a connection between young fans and future supported clubs.

So as those Super League / ARL war wounds are finally starting to heal, the game of Rugby League has the chance to really get ahead of it’s no. 1 rival Rugby Union. The NRL needs to grab this opportunity with both hands, because while they might play Union in heaven – there will never be any doubt that Rugby League is “The Greatest Game of All”