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Monday Night Fights for Storm and Saints

Melbourne Storm fight night St George Illawarra Dragons NRL Round 19 2008 Olympic ParkNRL Rugby League flashed back to days gone by tonight; with the Melbourne Storm and St George Illawarra Dragons turning on a passionate display resulting in a flurry of fists, binnings and send-offs at Olympic Park in Monday Night NRL. In the end the Storm proving an impossible mountain to climb for the Dragons, losing out to the home side 26-0.

It was the Dragons who had the run of early play, dominating field position and possession but unable to pierce the Storm defence line. St George Illawarra coming with a plan to attack the Storm in the forwards, turning the ball inside on most plays and resisting the urge to spin it wide. Nathan Brown had Jamie Soward playing on the wing in defence and the elusive half wasn’t always at first and second receiver as the Dragons tried to keep the Storm guessing.

Melbourne were first to register points in the match, against the run of play – the dynamic Israel Folau continues to impress, scoring a trademark try from a high ball despite the attention of two Dragons players. Even as Ben Hornby put on the sleepwalker play to interfere with Folau, the towering centre still took the ball on the full and escaped the clutches of the grounded Saints to reach out and score.

The cold Melbourne weather turned brutal and the rain closed in; Cameron Smith missing the conversion and the fireworks for the night were about to explode. With the Dragons getting another decent share of possession, they were getting frustrated by impeccable Storm defence – big hits and smart reads by Israel Folau and Cooper Cronk were causing the Dragons to cough up too much ball.

When Cooper Cronk buried Jamie Soward with a bell ringer – forcing the ball loose, Soward reacted badly and started what has probably been the longest fight in the NRL in recent memory. Players came running from every direction, Billy Slater getting heavily involved and having a decent square off with Jason Nightingale.

Slater was throwing them like Anthony Mundine as he set upon Nightingale and the rest of the pack picked a partner and followed suit. Adam Blair getting into a mismatch with Jamie Soward and giving it to him WWF style before Beau Scott came flying in with a few late haymakers. The politically correct brigade will try and sweep it under the carpet, but the blow up brought the Melbourne crowd to their feet. The locals are so used to seeing ‘Chesting’ style fights in the AFL, this melee between the Storm and Dragons was a whole new event.

When the dust settled, referee Gavin Badger dispatched Jamie Soward for 10 minutes for causing the initial boil over and the Storm lost two players, Billy Slater for being the first to throw a flurry of punches and Adam Blair for being an antagoniser.

With tempers still flaring, the Dragons deep in Storm territory had the best chance to build some pressure and start putting points in the bank. But even with the extra man, the Saints seemed to panic and continually turned the ball inside rather than finding the fringes where they could have caught the Storm short.

The plan was failing badly and to compound things, the Dragons coughed the ball up soon after to release the pressure valve altogether.

With a scrum soon following, there was sure to be more tension. This time it worked against the Dragons, with Storm prop Jeff Lima baiting Jason Ryles with some footsies in the scrum and the Dragons prop caught for retaliation and immediately sent off by Gavin Badger.

In hindsight, probably a tough call given that Jason Ryles was retaliating – but even so, Badger had to stamp his authority or lose total control of the game and the referee had to react, sending Ryles off for an early shower.

It was now mission impossible for the St George Illawarra Dragons, it’s hard to beat Melbourne at the best of times – but playing 1 man short for the entire match in wet conditions at Olympic Park a coming out on top was akin to winning a game of Twister with a broken leg and 12 bottles of beer under your belt.

The Saints were valiant as they tried to repel several sets of Melbourne attack, their rushing and scrambling defence was frustrating the Storm at times and it did take quite a while before the Storm got comfortable and started laying on the points.

While Craig Bellamy wouldn’t be overly happy with the stuttering attack from his side, the defence from Melbourne more than made up for it – keeping a clean sheet and putting a dent in the St George Illawarra Dragons for and against as they fight for a Top 8 spot.

Melbourne’s touchdowns in the second half were impressive, good hands and some good angles saw Jeremy Smith stride over under the sticks – the Storm lucky to still be given the try after a brain snap by Jeremy Smith. The niggling Smith is up there with Paul Gallen in the dirtiest in the NRL stakes and as he tried to improve the position of the try – a desperate Justin Poore hurled himself at the put down to force an error; Jeremy Smith rising and throwing the ball at Poore and sparking another flare up.

Referee Gavin Badger should have taken much harsher action here, if he wants to be consistent – after sending Ryles off for a minor incident, he simply had to send off Jeremy Smith for a ridiculous play – fueling the spite and almost setting up another melee in the match.

The Storm seemed to thrive on the tough stuff tonight, they coped with the pressure cooker tension so much better than the Dragons. A big wrap for the Melbourne Storm forward pack here, regardless of his dirty nature – the firey Jeremy Smith adds intimidation to the pack and followed up well by the likes of Jeff Lima, Adam Blair and Sika Manu – it was an irresistible force.

For the Dragons, Langi Setu was impressive – his defence brutal and the damaging Saints forward saved a certain try with his hit on Cameron Smith. It was hard to be too critical of the Dragons, with a send-off and things not going their way – they toiled hard in tough conditions. Hurting their cause were some silly penalties from Justin Poore and Beau Scott; the two Dragons giving away 90% of the Dragons penalties between them.

All told; a physical clash that sets the scene well for the upcoming finals. Both coaches would probably have liked the intensity and experience their players gained in the contest – an ideal lead up for the weeks ahead. The only concern would now be the review committee going over footage of the match and singling out offenders from the melee.

Next week the Dragons are at home to the Bulldogs and will fancy their chances against the out of form Dogs, sitting on 22 points the Saints need 3 more wins to ensure they make the cut for this years Top 8 finals series.

For the Melbourne Storm, they make another step towards a home semi-final and face another big test next week traveling to Auckland to face the in form NZ Warriors in what should be another physical encounter.

Wests Tigers click, bombard Bunnies 36-12

Wests Tigers defeat South Sydney Rabbitohs NRL Round 19 2008The Wests Tigers have snapped a poor run of form in the best possible fashion, beating the fancied South Sydney side with a barrage of skilful tries and even more impressive defence. Souths were never able to get started, Wests smothered them from the opening minutes and tackled as if their season depended on it; and in many ways it did.

They shattered the previous hotstreak Souths were on and Wests put their NRL campaign back on track finishing runaway winners 36-12 win at ANZ Stadium.

Led by a resurgent Benji Marshall, the Tigers returned to their trademark razzle dazzle footy to score 7 tries and only let Souths run in 2.

For Wests, young forward Dane Laurie remains an explosive figure. Raw and wreckless, the battering ram brings the crowd to their feet and he turned in a tireless performance for his side today – throwing himself into the match with amazing ferocity. Souths no. 7 Chris Sandow bore the brunt of the Laurie charges, copping the full brunt of the forward virtually everytime the man they call ‘Bob Marley’ ran the ball at the Souths line.

For Souths, they simply couldn’t get going. They had little luck and when they tried to hit the throttle the final pass would come loose or they would die with the ball. Credit must be given to the Tigers for their consistent defence, rarely giving the Bunnies room to move and quickly shutting down any attacking movements.

Despite the finals still being a mathematical possibility, September action now looks out of reach for the resurgent Bunnies who would need to win six of their last seven games to finish in the top eight.

A three-try burst either side of the halftime break handed the Tigers a comfortable 20-6 lead after 50 minutes, but Souths refused to give up and looked capable of mounting a comeback when prop Roy Asotasi slammed the ball down under the posts with 15 minutes remaining.

But as it had done all game, poor ball control cost the Rabbitohs and a John Morris chip kick for Beau Ryan’s second try sealed victory for the Tigers.

Chris Lawrence and Taniela Tuiaki completed their try doubles later and the Tigers moved just one point behind eighth-placed Penrith on the NRL ladder.

Marshall was back at his brilliant best as he grubbered behind the line for a Tuiaki try after nine minutes before the Tigers lost fullback Tim Moltzen to the sin bin for what referee Jason Robinson deemed a professional foul as he held on too long in the tackle after a Chris Sandow break.

Souths took advantage of his absence to lock it up via Jamie Simpson, and the Bunnies looked like putting more points on the board as they bombarded the visitors’ line.

But the Tigers’ goaline defence proved effective with Isaac Luke held up over the line by Bryce Gibbs before they went 100 metres downfield to take a six-point lead into the break when Ryan went over for his first.

A brilliant set play from the scrum involving Robbie Farah, who interchanged between halfback and hooker throughout the game, sent Lawrence on his way before Farah did it himself as he capitalised on some exhilarating football to duck over for a 20-6 lead.

Wests Tigers
36 (C Lawrence 2 B Ryan 2 T Tuiaki 2 R Farah tries B Marshall 4 goals) bt South Sydney 12 (R Asotasi J Simpson tries I Luke 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: J Robinson. Crowd: 21,818.

NRL Teams Round 15, 2008

Its back to a full round of matches this week, NRL Round 15 teams 2008 and squad lineups are listed below. Things get underway with the Brisbane Broncos meeting the Wests Tigers on Friday night in what is shaping as a critical match for both teams.


BRISBANE BRONCOS v WESTS TIGERS at Suncorp Stadium, 7.45pm
Karmichael Hunt, Denan Kemp, Darius Boyd, Joel Moon, Kaine Manihera, David Stagg, Shane Perry, Ben Hannant, Michael Ennis, Ashton Sims, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker (capt), Tonie Carroll. Interchange: Andrew McCullough, Greg Eastwood, Nick Kenny, David Taylor, Nick Emmett (one to be omitted)
TIGERS: Brett Hodgson (capt), Taniela Tuiaki, Dean Collis, Chris Lawrence, Shannon McDonnell, Benji Marshall, Mathew Head, Ryan Tandy, Robbie Farah, Bronson Harrison, Ben Te’o, Chris Heighington, Dene Halatau. Interchange: John Morris, Liam Fulton, Luke Harlen, Tevita Metuisela
Referee: Sean Hampstead

Brett Morris, Jason Nightingale, Mark Gasnier (capt), Matt Cooper, Josh Morris, Jamie Soward, Ben Hornby, Justin Poore, Dean Young, Jason Ryles, Beau Scott, Ben Creagh, Stuart Webb. Interchange: Lagi Setu, Dan Hunt, Chase Stanley, Rangi Chase, Kirk Reynoldson, Jon Green, Jarrod Saffy (three to be omitted)
PANTHERS: Rhys Wesser, Luke Rooney, Michael Jennings, Brad Tighe, Jarrod Sammut, Maurice Blair, Luke Lewis, Petero Civoniceva (capt), Keith Peters, Matthew Bell, Frank Pritchard, Trent Waterhouse, Nathan Smith. Interchange: Paul Aiton, Tim Grant, Junior Moors, Shane Rodney.
Referee: Jared Maxwell


BULLDOGS: Nick Youngquest, Hazem El Masri, Daryl Millard, Tim Winitana, Heka Nanai, Daniel Holdsworth, Ben Roberts, Jarrad Hickey, Corey Hughes, Brad Morrin, Nick Kouparitsas, Andrew Ryan (capt), Reni Maitua. Interchange: Frank Winterstein, Lee Te Maari, Fred Briggs, Michael Sullivan,
RAIDERS: David Milne, Justin Carney, Colin Best, Joel Monaghan, Bronx Goodwin, Terry Campese, Todd Carney, Troy Thompson, Glen Buttriss, Dane Tilse, Glen Turner, Joe Picker, Alan Tongue (capt). Interchange: Josh Miller, Ryan Hinchcliffe, Trevor Thurling, Michael Weyman, Ben Jones (one to be omitted).
Referee: Gavin Badger

Billy Slater, Steve Turner, Matt Geyer, Israel Folau, Anthony Quinn, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk, Jeff Lima, Cameron Smith (capt), Brett White, Michael Crocker, Ryan Hoffman, Dallas Johnson. Interchange: Jeremy Smith, Antonio Kaufusi, Sika Manu, Adam Blair, Aiden Tolman (one to be omitted)
COWBOYS: Anthony Watts, Mark Henry, Ashley Graham, Ben Harris, Ben Farrar, Chris Sheppard, Johnathan Thurston (capt), Ray Cashmere, Aaron Payne, Carl Webb, Sione Faumuina, Jacob Lillyman, Dayne Weston. Interchange: Sam Faust, Matt Bartlett, Scott Bolton, Shane Tronc
Referee: Bernard Sutton


Lance Hohaia, Aidan Kirk, Brent Tate, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei, Michael Witt, Nathan Fien, Ruben Wiki, Ian Henderson, Steve Price (capt), Simon Mannering, Logan Swann, Micheal Luck. Interchange: Evarn Tuimavave, Epalahame Lauaki, Sam Rapira, Ben Matulino, Grant Rovelli (one to be omitted)
SEA EAGLES: Brett Stewart, Michael Robertson, Steve Bell, Steve Matai, David Williams, Jamie Lyon, Matt Orford (capt), Brent Kite, Matt Ballin, Josh Perry, Anthony Watmough, Glenn Stewart, Luke Williamson. Interchange: Heath L’Estrange, Glenn Hall, Mark Bryant, Steve Menzies, Vic Mauro, Adam Cuthbertson (two to be omitted)
Referee: Tony De Las Heras

NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v SYDNEY ROOSTERS at EnergyAustralia Stadium, 2pm
Kurt Gidley, James McManus, Wes Naiqama, Adam MacDougall, Cooper Vuna, Chris Bailey, Jarrod Mullen, Steve Simpson, Danny Buderus (capt), Jesse Royal, Chris Houston, Cory Paterson, Zeb Taia. Interchange: Matt Hilder, Daniel Tolar, Richard Fa’aoso, Danny Wicks, Ben Cross, Mark Taufua (two to be omitted)
ROOSTERS: Anthony Minichiello, Amos Roberts, Setaimata Sa, Sia Soliola, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Braith Anasta (capt), Mitchell Pearce, Mark O’Meley, Riley Brown, Nate Myles, Willie Mason, Anthony Tupou, Craig Fitzgibbon. Interchange: David Shillington, Lopini Paea, Sam Perrett, James Aubusson, Brent Grose, Anthony Cherrington (two to be omitted).
Referee: Tony Archer

Mitch Brown, Misi Taulapapa, Ben Pomeroy, David Simmons, Luke Covell, Brett Seymour, Brett Kimmorley, Ben Ross, Isaac De Gois, Luke Douglas, Paul Gallen (capt), Fraser Anderson, Greg Bird. Interchange: Danny Nutley, Kade Snowden, Bryan Norrie, Terence Seu Seu, Blake Green (one to be omitted)
EELS: Luke Burt, Taulima Tautai, Krisnan Inu, Joel Reddy, Tony Williams, Feleti Mateo, Brett Finch, Nathan Cayless (capt), Mark Riddell, Fuifui Moimoi, Nathan Hindmarsh, Daniel Wagon, Chad Robinson. Interchange: Matthew Keating, Josh Cordoba, Weller Hauraki, Brendan Oake, Junior Paulo (one to be omitted)
Referee: Shayne Hayne


Luke Capewell, Nathan Merritt, Jamie Simpson, Beau Champion, Fetuli Talanoa, John Sutton, Chris Sandow, Scott Geddes, Issac Luke, Roy Asotasi (capt), Luke Stuart, David Fa’alogo, Ben Lowe. Interchange: George Ndaira, Shannan McPherson, David Kidwell, Manase Manuokafoa.
TITANS: Preston Campbell, Ben Jeffery, Luke O’Dwyer, Brett Delaney, Jordan Atkins, Mat Rogers, Scott Prince (capt), Luke Bailey (capt), Nathan Friend, Brad Meyers, Anthony Laffranchi, Mark Minichiello, Ashley Harrison. Interchange: Aaron Cannings, Michael Hodgson, Daniel Conn, Josh Graham, Michael Henderson, Luke Swain (two to be omitted).
Referee: Steve Lyons

Panthers the real deal, beat Cowboys 19-18

PENRITH have compounded North Queensland’s season of woe, consigning the Cowboys to a fifth-straight loss with a dramatic 19-18 golden point victory at Dairy Farmers Stadium.

Flamboyant winger Jarrod Sammut cruelled the Cowboys’ comeback, slotting a field goal, which ricocheted in off the upright with just over two minutes remaining in extra time.

The Cowboys sent the match into golden point when a late, controversial try to centre Ash Graham levelled the scores and Johnathan Thurston’s tough conversion attempt sailed wide.

Only moments earlier, Panthers centre Michael Jennings looked as though he’d secured the two points with a 90-metre intercept try.

The Cowboys were forced to finish the match with only 11 players on the field because Luke O’Donnell was sent off in the 56th minute, before Steve Southern suffered an arm injury and the Cowboys had used all of their allotted interchanges.

In a brutal contest both sides had to be separated several times, and there was one particularly nasty incident in the first half where punches were thrown between Carl Webb and Maurice Blair, causing an all-in brawl.

The most controversial moment of the match, though, was O’Donnell’s send off by rookie referee Alan Shortall for an apparent raised elbow on Penrith half-back Luke Lewis.

Lewis was forced from the field for treatment but returned to finish the match.

It was a tough initiation for Shortall, who failed to stamp any authority on the teams and the match threatened to boil over on several occasions.

On leaving the field, O’Donnell launched a verbal tirade at sideline official Russell Turner.

O’Donnell’s absence seemed to muster the Cowboys’ spirit and they finished the game the stronger, spending the majority of the second half attacking the Penrith line despite being a man down.

It was all Penrith in the opening exchanges, the visitors dominating ball and field position to race to a 10-point lead through tries to Luke Rooney and Brad Tighe.

The Cowboys fought back with Thurston and Travis Burns putting their stamp on the match.Penrith coach Matt Elliott believed O’Donnell’s send off was a difficult call for debutant Alan Shortall.

“The send off was a tough call but if you lead with your elbow into people’s faces you are eventually going to get sent off,” Elliot said.

“I know Luke, he is a good guy, but he left a stamp on Mick Monaghan in 2003 in similar fashion and he got Priddis earlier in the game.

“He is such a good player he doesn’t need that in his game, he really needs to look at his technique because someone is going to get hurt.”

On his Cowboys coaching debut, Ian Millward questioned whether Shortall made the right decision.

“I saw Luke’s palm come up first but I didn’t think it was intentional,” he said.

“Obviously it would have earned a penalty but a send off was a tough call, a really tough call.

“They turned up here with a really good attitude, tonight we were down to 11 men in extra time and the blokes showed a lot of courage.”

O’Donnell was placed off limits to the media after the game; while it is expected Steve Southern will spend a long period on the sidelines after suffering a serious shoulder injury.

Denis Fitzgerald: Can he get any worse?

nrl-news-logo.jpgThe players should take a paycut says Denis Fitzgerald, coming out with his usual monthly outburst that is beyond belief. Parramatta’s bumbling CEO is at it again as the NRL and Rugby League world sits back and laughs at his mindless comments.  

Meanwhile, Fitzgerald sits back on his annual $400,000 salary and has the front to ask players to take a paycut?

Fitzgerald tried to quickly cover his trails by revealing he had cancelled a Las Vegas junket in November because of Parramatta’s struggling financial position. How decent of him?

Fitzgerald went in search of headlines yesterday and called on the NRL to cut the game’s salary cap from $4 million back to $3.5 million. The only parties happy about his thoughtless outbust were the folks over at Souths who got a rest from the constant media headlines and probably the UK Super League, who would be rubbing their hands with glee as they could target NRL players for a cheaper price if the cap was cut.

The reduction in the NRL salary cap, Fitzgerald said, would ensure all clubs survive during recent financial hardships.

The Fitzgerald master plan involved the cap being dropped by $100,000 a year over 5 years to ease the burden on NRL outfits.

When asked if would take a pay cut himself to ease the financial strains, Fitzgerald said: “No. My salary didn’t treble when Super League hit 12 years ago.

“My salary is commensurate with the responsibilities of a business this size. I am CEO of both the Parramatta Eels and also the Parramatta Leagues Club.”

Well how sad for Fitzgerald, still holding a grudge that he couldn’t personally receive some of the lucrative money being thrown around during the Super League War. So as times get tough and belts need to be tightened, he’ll simply hit the players between the eyes and sit back on his leather chair and continue to lurch from one brainless outburst to the next; all on a salary of $400,000 a year.

Parramatta’s 7 directors have a yearly subsidy of $100,000 agreed by members for meals, drinks, accommodation, entertainment, transport, admission charges, conferences and conventions.

That grant will also remain in place for the likes of Fitzgerald.

With Parramatta Leagues Club another outfit being hampered by the NSW Government pokie tax and anti-smoking rules, Fitzgerald confirmed he will not visit the United States later this year for a proposed gaming convention.

“I have a clause in my contract that allows me to attend the Global Gaming Conference in Las Vegas,” Fitzgerald said.

“But because of our financial position, I won’t be attending the conference this November.”

Fitzgerald said a salary cap reduction may not automatically mean current players are hit financially.

“Reducing the salary cap doesn’t necessarily means individual players have to take a pay cut,” he said.

“We would honour all (existing) contracts but, in time, players leave, retire and younger players come through. We would keep within our means.”

Confidence coaching beats all

Brad Fittler the coach of the Sydney Roosters 2008Why has Brad Fittler been so successful so early in his reign as Sydney Roosters coach writes Adam Sucliffe? When you look at Fittlers coaching record he has an enviable 80% winning ratio and what makes it even more impressive is the fact that Fittler inherited a losing side – consistently being beat by big amounts.

After taking over from Chris Anderson when things were a mess at Bondi, what has really changed since Brad Fittler took control? Ok, so there are some big name players on deck in 2008. The likes of Willie Mason, Mark O’Meley and the refreshed Anthony Minichiello are back to help – but Fittler had the team winning without these guys late last year.

The real surprise came last year when Brad Fittler was able to coach his men to victory over the virtually unbeatable Melbourne Storm. With only 3 defeats in 2008, the Storm were a hugely prized scalp and Freddy’s men were one of the few to pull it off.

Fittler has been around Rugby League and NRL circles for a long time, he would have had a basic idea of how the coaching things work and close friend Phil Gould was only a phone call away. Gould truly being one of the modern day coaching geniuses, certainly a handy mentor to have in your corner.

The Fittler-run Roosters have some nice little set plays in their game, their defence seems pretty sound and scrambles really well – but forget the technical aspects for a moment and think about the mental improvement in this side. Whoever took over this team as coach needed to bring this side from a dark place, they still knew how to play Rugby League but were in such a losing habit they were ready to be admitted to the mental asylum.

Fittler created the right environment.

Enter the cheeky, easy-going yet confident Fittler and you had a squad of players sucking up the positive energy as Freddy walked through the gates. Even before he drew on a clipboard, kicked a ball or ordered a drill – Freddy was able to get this guys out of the mental scrap heap and feeling like world beaters.

This effect isn’t new, it’s happened before and it generally happens when a coach is sacked mid season and a new coach comes in. Teams with a new coach get a quick shot in the arm and are capable of pulling off a few upsets in the first few weeks under a new boss, but with Fittler it’s different – he’s managed to keep the momentum rolling into a whole new season.

This snowball effect has been helped by smart recruitment and some strong early wins. The confidence in the Roosters is now bursting at the seams and guys like Mitchell Pearce and Braith Anasta look like world beaters behind those rampaging forwards. Forget Willie and Shrek for a moment, what about David Shillington? The big man has grown an extra leg and become one of the most damaging big runners in the game. His hits against Melbourne were earth shattering and he has quickly built a new reputation in 2008. It’s a similar story for Nate Myles, apart from crashing into Fittler’s new BMW in the carpark at Roosters training – Myles has everything else well and truly in order. He went missing for most of 2007, but he has found his confidence and ability again and is helping the team do big things.

The Sydney Roosters under Brad Fittler look certain to crack the Top 8 this year. They always say, to win a premiership you need the top players in the 7,6,9 and 1.  Riley Brown is quickly developing at hooker and they have everything else covered; all the time behind some good forwards and some impressive athletes in the backs.

The Roosters have a real chance this year, but ask Freddy about it and you will just get that cheeky smile. Little does he know, thats one of the most powerful aspects of his coaching ability. Confidence coaching beats all.

Brownies Boys are back, beating Titans 30-12

Chase Stanley NRL Round 2 2008 DragonsThe Dragons have started with plenty of committment early in their Round 2, 2008 Monday Night Football match against the Gold Coast Titans. Play getting underway in slippery conditions, with rain consistant throughout the first half.

St Illawarra were rewarded for their eagerness early on, keeping more than their fair share of possession and getting several repeat sets through smart, pinpoint kicking by Jamie Soward.

Matt Cooper was the man to get the Dragons on the board in the 11th minute, after plenty of ball the Dragons worked it through the hands and went to their left, having immediate success against the Titans right hand defence. Cooper had plenty to do, getting the ball around 17m out from the Titans line and with the attention of two defenders he had enough speed and shimmy to get through and take the defenfers with him to touch down in the corner. Mark Gasnier potting a long range conversion from the sideline in tough conditions to get his team to a 6-0 lead. Cooper obviously enjoying WIN Stadium, the classy centre now bagging 8 tries from his last 8 games at the Wollongong Stadium.

It looked like it could be a runaway game for the Dragons, with so much ball and the forwards getting big metres on several occasions. Beau Scott was particularly busy during this early part of the game. The kicking game was also A1 for the Dragons, Jamie Soward getting nice reverse spin on his kicks and trapping the Titans defenders in goal several times. Even the kick chase was enthusiastic for the Saints, 4 and 5 defenders chasing every ball – on one kick chase, Dean Young chasing hard and slamming rookie Jordan Aitkens into the turf – topping it off with a shove and a heavy verbal sledging spray that showed how pumped the Dragons were.

The Gold Coast Titans eventually started to get some possession around the 20 miunte mark and were fortunate to only be 6-0 behind, after a line ball forward pass call against Gasnier stopped what was a certain try to the evasive centre.

Jason Ryles was injected into the game by coach Nathan Brown in the 21st minute – with all eyes on the under pressure Dragons forward. His intent was immediately clear, the big forward taking a fearless hit up at full speed and collecting old team mate Luke Bailey in a big collision. Bailey fouling Ryles with a high shot and the Dragons getting a penalty from the play.

As the possession continued to even out, the Titans finally got some good field position around the 23rd minute mark and the St Illawarra defence made their first mistake – letting a high bomb bounce and the Titans getting their first set back to back in good position.

The Titans immediately made good on their chance, scoring a hot try after throwing it through several sets of hands, with Nathan Friend smashing over from short range. Preston Campbell and Anthony Laffranchi heavily involved to set this try up. All of a sudden we have a ball game. 6-6.

The back end of the first half developed into an arm wrestle. While the game was fast paced and handling was fairly good considering the wet conditions, each side hurt themselves with some silly plays – flirting with the sideline on several occasions and getting slid into touch. Highlighted with Mark Gasnier running from a scrum play on tackle 1 and while getting his opposite 1 on 1 – Gasnier failed to beat Luke O’Dwyer and was slid into touch on the first play with coach Nathan Brown about to jump out of the box.

Gasnier hurt his team again, giving away a holding penalty on a livewire Preston Campbell. Campbell playing solidly and looking dangerous with the ball in hand.

The teams going into half time still locked at 6-6 and the game remaining anyones for the second half.

Nathan Brown must have had a good talk with his team at half time, the Saints coming out full of energy from the restart of play and were over the line in minutes. Jason Nightingale scoring, as the Titans let a Soward bomb bounce and paid the ultimate price. Jordan Aitkens getting lost in the traffic and caught up with Rangi Chase as the bounce sat up nicely for Nightingale.

The Dragons got the confidence start they needed and remained in control, as Mark Gasnier was next to cross – scoring off a nice deep attacking kick play from the Dragons. After a quick play the ball the Dragons swung it deep to the right at speed and Rangi Chase stabbed through a nicely angled kick for Gasnier to sprint through and ground untouched.

Things looking tragic for the Titans at 24-6 in arrears. To their credit the Gold Coast Titans didn’t fold, they remained busy and the likes of Ashley Harrison kept busy centre field with plenty of tackles. While busy, they were failing to wrap the ball up at times – the Dragons as they remained confident, stood in tackles and off-loaded far too easily.

The unusually quiet Scott Prince burst to life for the Titans in the final quarter of the game, running some nice attacking plays with Matt Rogers for the Titans to threaten – culminating in Anthony Laffranchi being held up in the 60th minute. The raids paid dividends, the Titans scoring off a Prince pin-point kick seconds after the Laffranchi charge.

At 24-12 and still 20 minutes to go the Titans got a bit of a sniff and suddenly had some momentum and with both sides boasting 100% completion rates up until this period of the half – it was still an open game.

A 64 minutes in, the Titans really hung themselves with a brain-snap penalty in front of their own posts. The defence rushing from the goal line, led by Matt Rogers – the Titans were clearly inside the 10m. The penalty kick giving the Dragons the advantage at 26-12, meaning the Titans had to score three times to grab a miracle win.

When you look at the stats, the missed tackles were where the Titans lost this one. Sure, the possession favoured the Dragons and thus taking petrol from the Gold Coast tank – but at 27 missed tackles the Titans were off the pace in defence. Matt Rogers in particular looking shakey in defence, a week after personally sledging Jonathan Thurston about his tackling in the media.

The Saints rounding out the game with some impressive defence, Chase Stanley looking particularly safe in the line and pulling off a nice late him on Matt Rogers to snuff out a possible try. Stanley looking like he has bulked up for NRL season 2008 and could prove a handy utility for the Dragons this season.

Capping of the good night off for the Dragons was a late Matt Cooper try off a magic kick from Jamie Soward. Cooper flying through under pressure from Jordan Aitkens to ground a tough chance and then amazingly slipping into a concrete wall at the back of WIN Stadium due to the wet grass. Luckily Coops getting up ok after what looked like a horror collision with the wall – WIN officials needing to install pads in that dead ball area urgently.

Can he or Carney be kept by Canberra?

Todd Carney Canberra Raiders Contract and Resigning talk for NRL 2009 and beyondAs the Raiders make a last ditch effort to retain in demand half Todd Carney, the Sea Eagles continue to firm as favourites for his signature for next season and beyond. Carney, who has only recently completed a stint of community service for his role in a Police persuit during his time at the Radiers – is set to be on par with the likes of Sonny Bill Williams and Matt Orford in terms of earnings.

While he hasn’t ever represented his state of country, at 22 years old – many have big wraps on the Canberra young gun who has proven his on field worth in only a few short years of Rugby League.

While it was initially thought Carney would stay in Canberra, the only alternative seemed to be Penrith where his former coach Matt Elliott was keen to link up with his former student and once again work their magic together. While Penrith still remain in the hunt for Carney with a lucrative offer already on the table – the Sea Eagles have waded into the signing war and have apparently offered big money to the sought after Carney.

Sources close to Carney say he is certainly ready to turn his back on Canberra, while the Raiders hoped their counter offer would help the casue – Carney is believed to still hold a grudge against the Green Machine for making him suffer after the very public Police Pursuit and punishment to follow. Carney spending a long period in reserve grade and having to start his career from scratch again, something he hasn’t forgotten.

While the Panthers were always keen for Carney to join them, even old coach Matt Elliott isn’t able to roll out the welcome mat like the Sea Eagles have. Manly currently possess a guaranteed Top 8 side that is buldging with talent across the park, for someone like Todd Carney to join their illustrious ranks – it could mean premierships, rep jerseys and consistent wins for the young gun who has always been in the background at the lowly ranked Canberra club.

So if you were a betting man, forget backing the odds of Carney staying in Canberra and at this stage the best money seems to be on him linking with the resurgent Manly Sea Eagles who are continuing to attract the best players in the NRL.

Storm heap more humiliation on Manly

Matt Orford ManlyIt may have only been a Rugby League trial game and the first one of 2008, however the young stars and future depth at the Storm continued to give the Manly Sea Eagles nightmares during their 56-10 romp at Gosford.

With the game divided into three 30-minute periods, both teams fielded their second string sides in the opening stanza, with the second period chosen as the term to unleash the first choice teams on each other.

The game got off to the perfect start for the Storm with local Central Coast Storm player Jade Williams scoring in the corner from their first set of six.

Cam Smith, playing at hooker in the first period due to his unavailability at the World Club Challenge against Leeds, scored two tries in four minutes to give the Storm a 14-0 lead, the second a typical burrow from dummy half one metre from the try-line.

It was then the turn of another local product five minutes later when Alex Moore scored under the posts after halfback Liam Foran had placed a perfectly weighted grubber kick in his path.

The second period saw both teams put out their full strength teams, and the grand final replay everyone had come to see was on in earnest.

Manly drew first blood when a cross field kick from former Storm halfback Matt Orford was spilled by Steve Turner, the balling falling into the waiting arms of Anthony Watmough who fell over the line to give the Sea Eagles their first points.

A wonderful piece of kicking from Cooper Cronk, who found Turner from 30 metres with the outside of his right foot, set up Israel Folau for a try. In taking the catch in mid-air, Turner flicked the ball out to Folau who had the easy task of crossing the try-line.

Orford was having a huge influence over proceedings, and it was another pinpoint grubber kick from the little halfback that wrong-footed Billy Slater, slipping to allow Michael Roberts to gather and score under the posts.

As if taking it in turns to score tries, it was Melbourne’s turn for the next four-pointer. Slater turned provider for Cronk to send the Storm in at the second break 32-10 leaders.

The third period saw both teams experiment with their line-ups, and it was the Storm who coped the best.

An inside ball from Cronk found Slater on the run, the flying fullback busting the last man’s tackle to cross, and three minutes later it was Sam Tagetaese’s turn to provide the inside ball for Slater with the result the same.

In the 77th minute, a dummy pass from five-eighth Russell Aitken saw him to break the line, while another dummy pass saw him send the fullback the wrong way crossing the try-line to extend the Storm’s lead to 40 points.

The scoring for the Storm was complete with two minutes remaining when young centre Will Chambers crossed in the corner, the Storm totally outclassing the Sea Eagles by 46 points.

STORM 56 (Tries: Slater 2, C. Smith 2, Williams, Moore, Folau, Cronk, Aitken, Chambers; Goals: Turner 4, J. Smith 2, Foran, C. Smith) def. SEA EAGLES 10 (Tries: Watmough, Robertson; Goals: Orford) at Bluetongue Stadium

Ruben Wiki keen for NRL at 40

Ruben Wiki NZ WarriorsIt’s a bold statement and one that would see him achieve a rarity in the modern game of Rugby League. NZ Warriors forward and former Canberra stalwart Ruben Wiki has announced publically that he is keen to keep playing in the NRL until the ripe old age of 40. At 35 years of age, Wiki has confidently predicted 5 more years in the big time of NRL – something that hasn’t been seen since the days of the ageless John ‘Chicka’ Ferguson who reportedly fudged his birth certificate to squeeze out a few more years in the game he loved.

Seemingly getting a new lease on life after his move across the Tasman from Canberra to Auckland – the experienced Kiwi forward has a new passion for the game and continues to enjoy the training and demanding weekly requirements NRL now places on players. It’s astounding to think that Ruben Wiki has been around for so long; he was actually playing with the Green Machine in their heyday along side the likes of Mal Meninga, Ricky Stuart and Brad Clyde at Canberra.

In reality, Wiki has battled harder against injuries than any foes more recently and his skills are regularly being pushed by younger more agile opponents. The biggest driver says Wiki, is the fact that his young Warriors team achieved so much in 2007 and he feels that the ultimate success is yet to come as his squad matures even more under the impressive coaching of Ivan Cleary.

Another driver for the likeable Wiki is his partner in crime, Steve Price. The aging Price is also in the twilight of his career, yet continues to pull off some of the best form of his Rugby League life – week in week out, setting the bar higher for his teammates. It’s a healthy competitive spirit between the two forwards and together the two experienced big men hold the key for the Warriors in 2008 – if they can remain on the field and guiding the younger stars around the park, the Warriors just might go 2 games better and take the NRL Premiership out this year.

For Wiki, the only concern must be his aging body. While training hard and continuing to keep his fitness at optimum levels – it’s the strains, breaks and aches that remains the only hurdle for the NZ star. If the NZ Warriors are wise and utilize Ruben Wiki in lower rotations during matches, there is a chance the front rower could still be around in a few years time – either that, or the Kiwi’s can try and ask the NRL to pass a rule to allow zimmer frames on the field.