NRL Teams / Lineups Round 18

In selections this week, Manly will trim two from their bench with former Parramatta forward Jack Afamasaga named in the extended lineup. New boy Baeu Ryan retains his starting spot for the Tigers. For the Broncos Darius Boyd and David Stagg are the new centre combination with Hodges and Tate now out for an extended period.

For Penrith – Richie Rich moves into the halves, partnering Craig Gower and Michael ‘Flash’ Gordon starts at fullback. The Bulldogs only make one forced change with Morrin in for Kane Cleal who was injured last week. Phil Graham returns for the Canberra Raiders. Former Roosters half, Anthony Watts retains his halves spot at the Sharks after an impressive game last week as does fellow Shark and former Eel Henry Perenara.

The Eels welcome Timana Tahu back into the centres for Ben Smith (knee wound) and Joel Reddy comes into the side for Luke Burt. South Sydney are fielding an impressive lineup, Shane Rigon comes in for the suspended Issac Luke. Cooper Cronk is back for the Storm, as is Dallas Johnson. Newcastle name the same side that smashed Parramatta and have Jarrod Mullen on an extended bench this week.

Here are the announced NRL teams and lineups for round 18 of the NRL competition (all times AEST):

FRIDAY NIGHT
MANLY SEA EAGLES v WESTS TIGERS location: Brookvale Oval, 7.30pm
MANLY SEA EAGLES: Brett Stewart, Michael Robertson, Steve Bell, Steve Matai, Chris Hicks, Jamie Lyon, Matt Orford (captain), Jason King, Michael Monaghan, Brent Kite, Anthony Watmough, Glenn Stewart, Luke Williamson. Interchange Bench: Glenn Hall, Mark Bryant, Steve Menzies, Travis Burns, Jack Afamasaga, Adam Cuthbertson
(two to be omitted).
WESTS TIGERS: Daniel Fitzhenry, Beau Ryan, Dean Collis, Paul Whatuira, Chris Lawrence, John Morris, Robbie Farah, Todd Payten (captain), Dene Halatau, Bryce Gibbs, Taniela Tuiaki, Chris Heighington, Ben Galea. Interchange Bench: Liam Fulton, Stuart Flanagan, Bronson Harrison, Keith Galloway, Shannon McDonnell (one to be omitted).
Referee: Steve Clark

NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS v BRISBANE BRONCOS at Dairy Farmers Stadium, 7.30pm
NTH QLD COWBOYS:
Matt Bowen, Ashley Graham, Scott Minto, Paul Bowman, Ty Williams, Jason Smith, Johnathan Thurston (captain), Shane Tronc, Aaron Payne, Carl Webb, Steve Southern, Justin Smith, Sione Faumuina. Interchange Bench: David Faiumu, Ben Farrar, Jacob Lillyman, Ray Cashmere, Matt Scott (one to be omitted).
BRISBANE BRONCOS: Karmichael Hunt, Steve Michaels, Darius Boyd, David Stagg, Craig Frawley, Darren Lockyer (captain), Michael Ennis, Ben Hannant, Shaun Berrigan, Petero Civoniceva, Corey Parker, Dane Carlaw, Tonie Carroll. Interchange Bench: Greg Eastwood, Dave Taylor, Brad Thorn, John TeReo, Nick Kenny, Nick Emmett (two to be omitted).
Referee: Sean Hampstead

SATURDAY
BULLDOGS v PENRITH PANTHERS at Telstra Stadium, 5.30pm
CANTERBURY BULLDOGS: Luke Patten, Hazem El Masri, Daryl Millard, Willie Tonga, Cameron Phelps, Ben Roberts, Brent Sherwin, Mark O’Meley, Corey Hughes, Willie Mason, Sonny Bill Williams, Andrew Ryan (captain), Reni Maitua. Interchange Bench: Adam Perry, Nick Kouparitsas, Brad Morrin, Jarrad Hickey.
PENRITH PANTHERS: Michael Gordon, Geoff Daniela, Michael Jennings, Maurice Blair, Nick Youngquest, Richie Williams, Craig Gower (captain), Joel Clinton, Keith Peters, Bryan Norrie, Frank Pritchard, Tony Puletua, Nathan Smith. Interchange Bench: Frank Puletua, Matthew Bell, Peter Wallace, Luke Lewis, Paul Aiton (one to be omitted).
Referee: Tony De Las Heras

SYDNEY ROOSTERS v CRONULLA SHARKS at Aussie Stadium, 7.30pm
SYDNEY CITY ROOSTERS:
Amos Roberts, John Williams, Joel Monaghan, Mitchell Aubusson, Sam Perrett, Setaimata Sa, Craig Wing, Nate Myles, Heath L’Estrange, Danny Nutley, Anthony Tupou, Craig Fitzgibbon (captain), Braith Anasta. Interchange Bench: David Shillington, Lopini Paea, Danny Williams, Ashley Harrison.
CRONULLA SHARKS: David Simmons, Mitch Brown, Ben Pomeroy, Fraser Anderson, Misi Taulapapa, Greg Bird, Anthony Watts, Luke Douglas, Isaac De Gois, Craig Stapleton, Paul Gallen, Lance Thompson, Reece Williams. Interchange Bench: Henry Perenara, Jacob Selmes, Brett Kearney, Kevin Kingston.
Referee: Ben Cummins

SUNDAY
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS at Mt Smart Stadium, 12pm
NZ WARRIORS:
Wade McKinnon, Michael Crockett, Todd Byrne, Simon Mannering, Manu Vatuvei, Michael Witt, Grant Rovelli, Ruben Wiki, George Gatis, Steve Price (captain), Louis Anderson, Logan Swann, Micheal Luck. Interchange Bench: Nathan Fien, Wairangi Koopu, Epalahame Lauaki, Sam Rapira, Evarn Tuimavave (one to be omitted)
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS: Ben Hornby (captain), Jason Nightingale, Chase Stanley, Matt Cooper, Josh Morris, Rangi Chase, Jamie Soward, Justin Poore, Simon Woolford, Dan Hunt, Beau Scott, Chris Houston, Ben Creagh. Interchange Bench: Adam Peek, Ben Ellis, Lagi Setu, Corey Payne.
Referee: Jared Maxwell

CANBERRA RAIDERS v GOLD COAST TITANS at Canberra Stadium, 2pm
CANBERRA RAIDERS:
William Zillman, David Milne, Phil Graham, Colin Best, Bronx Goodwin, Todd Carney, Michael Dobson, Troy Thompson, Lincoln Withers, Scott Logan, Nigel Plum, Glen Turner, Alan Tongue (captain). Interchange Bench: Ryan Hinchcliffe, Dane Tilse, Marshall Chalk, Michael Weyman, Joe Picker, Trevor Thurling (two to be omitted).
GOLD COAST TITANS: Preston Campbell, Matt Petersen, Luke O’Dwyer, Brett Delaney, Smith Samau, Josh Lewis, Scott Prince (captain), Luke Bailey, Nathan Friend, Ian Donnelly, Gavin Cooper, Mark Minichiello, Luke Swain. Interchange Bench: Matthew Hilder, Daniel Conn, Kris Kahler, David Myles.
Referee:
Paul Simpkins

PARRAMATTA EELS v SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS at Parramatta Stadium, 3pm
PARRAMATTA EELS:
Jarryd Hayne, Joel Reddy, Krisnan Inu, Timana Tahu, Eric Grothe, Brett Finch, Tim Smith, Josh Cordoba, Mark Riddell, Fuifui Moimoi, Nathan Hindmarsh (captain), Feleti Mateo, Chad Robinson. Interchange Bench: PJ Marsh, Ian Hindmarsh, Weller Hauraki, Aaron Cannings, Todd Lowrie (one to be omitted).
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS: David Peachey, Nathan Merritt, Nigel Vagana, Shannon Hegarty, Paul Mellor, Ben Rogers, Jeremy Smith, Peter Cusack (captain), Stuart Webb, Roy Asotasi (captain), Luke Stuart, David Faalogo, Dean Widders. Interchange Bench: Shane Rigon, Yileen Gordon, Manase Manuokafoa, Jaiman Lowe.
Referee: Tony Archer

MONDAY
MELBOURNE STORM v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS at Olympic Park, 7pm
MELBOURNE STORM:
Billy Slater, Steve Turner, Matt King, Anthony Quinn, Israel Folau, Matt Geyer, Cooper Cronk, Ben Cross, Cameron Smith, Brett White, Jeremy Smith, Ryan Hoffman, Dallas Johnson. Interchange Bench: Jeff Lima, Adam Blair, Clint Newton, James Aubusson, Sam Tagataese, Garret Crossman (two to be omitted).
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: Kurt Gidley, James McManus, George Carmont, Adam MacDougall, Cooper Vuna, Daniel Abraham, Luke Walsh, Mitchell Sargent, Danny Buderus (captain), Adam Woolnough, Steve Simpson, Zeb Taia, Reegan Tanner. Interchange Bench: Michael Young, Cory Paterson, Jesse Royal, Kade Snowden, Brad Tighe, Jarrod Mullen, Josh Perry (three to be omitted).
Referee: Gavin Badger

NRL Power Rankings Round 17 – The Grubber

The Grubber gives us all his thoughts on NRL Round 17. He is a happy man this Round as his team bounced back into the winners circle. Here’s all the info direct from the NRL’s most informative and sometimes most ruthless man – The Grubber:

1. Melbourne: Demonstrated their status as number one side in the competition with a come from behind win against the enthusiastic Rabbitohs. Absolutely the benchmark in this competition and will rightly deserve their minor premiership. Power score: 9/10, Odds that Melbourne will unearth another 6’4″ outside back: 2-1.

2. Canterbury: Like Melbourne managed to win despite clocking off in the first half. Coming home with a wet sail and provided they can keep players on the paddock they should be aiming for a top 4 finish. Power score 8.5/10, Odds that Ben Ross will be mysteriously unavailable for selection next time Cronulla play Canterbury: 4-1.

3. Brisbane: Came home strongly against the Gold Coast despite the absence of several stars and are looking more and more like the defending premiers. Will be eager to build on recent consistency with a victory in the traditional Queensland derby this Friday night. Power score: 8.5/10, Odds of any commentator (other than Ray Warren) ever risking saying Karmichael Hunt’s full name again: 100-1.

4. Wests Tigers: Were made to look ordinary in the first half however by the second 40 minutes they managed to discover their attacking flair and played the ball from sideline to sideline. Chris Lawrence is really starting to look like something special. Will be good chances this Friday against Manly. Power score: 8/10, Odds that Chris Lawrence visits the same barber as Dawn Fraser: 2-1.

5. Manly: Orford and Lyon combined well enough for both players to post their best performances this season. Face a tough ask against the Tigers but certainly have the defence and fitness to match them. Power score: 7.5/10, Percentage decline in police numbers at Brookvale Oval last Saturday night as compared to Bulldogs game: 1000%.

6. Souths: Brought their resolute defence to the Central Coast and almost came away with a win. Slight lapses against decent opposition have cost them so far this season and unfortunately Saturday night was no better. Will back themselves against the Eels on Sunday. Power score: 7.5/10, Odds of Ben Rogers ever being able to pull off that pass again (even in training): 300-1.

7. North Queensland: Probably lucky to get away with a win against the Warriors and will be again thankful for another home victory decided by a dodgy obstruction call (see vs. Manly in Round 7). Top 4 hopes looking good although Thurston will need to be 100% fit. Power score: 7/10, Odds that North Qld would permit Graham Murray to coach Origin again (if they even wanted him): 10-1.

8. New Zealand: Seem to have the stinging defence, forward pack and offensive production of a top 4 side, but so rarely manage to put it together at once. Power score: 7/10, Number of reasons that New Zealand and Cronulla now have to hate each other (just this season): 3 (Cleary bitching about Stuart coaching diving, dodgy Covell goal, and Steve Price thuggery against Kimmorley).

9. Newcastle: Really managed to get it together in scrappy affair with Parramatta. Will consider themselves a realistic top 8 chance but it would be surprising if they managed to do much beyond that given week to week inconsistency. Power score: 6.5/10, Likelihood that Brian Smith didn’t mention “the ‘P’ word” as claimed: Extremely unlikely.

10. Parramatta: Top 4 aspirations still very much alive but credibility has taken a nose dive with inept display against Newcastle. Evidently still suffering the curse of Brian. Power score: 6/10, Odds that Denis Fitzgerald will call Brian Smith and beg for forgiveness: 100-1.

11. Gold Coast: Will hope that draining golden point game doesn’t affect their performance this weekend. Their best performance of the season may now be behind them after Friday night and face an uphill battle to the eight given their injury woes. Power score: 6/10, Odds of Titans fielding Queensland Cup side by the end of the year: 20-1.

12. St George-Illawarra: Were devastating against the woeful Raiders and Soward-Chase seem to forming a useful scrum-base combination. Have the potential to upset some of the competition high flyers before the end of the year. Power score: 6/10, Odds that Nathan Brown will resign in Chris Anderson fashion: 1000-1.

13. Cronulla: Severely lacking attacking potency at the moment and loss of Kimmorley and Ross could be fatal to their top 8 campaign. Need to turn things around urgently if they are to avoid a slump in the manner of 2006. Power score: 5.5/10, Anticipated crowd this Saturday night at SFS against Roosters: under 5,000.

14. Penrith: First half was a false dawn for the Panthers and once the Tigers offence kicked into gear the mountain men had no answers. Season is now a write off and Matt Elliott has effectively acknowledged this with efforts to blood young talent. Power score: 5/10, Number of players in first grade whose contracts aren’t in jeopardy right now: Probably like 4 or something.

15. Canberra: Luck finally ran out against the Dragons and were outplayed in every statistic worth recording. Get the opportunity to put things back on track this weekend at home to injury decimated Titans. Power score: 4/10, Odds of snow falling during a Canberra home game this year: 2-1.

16. Roosters: Could do nothing right against Manly and will be hoping that the coaching hand-over has the same impact that Jason Taylor’s appointment did last year at Parramatta. Power score: 3/10, Odds of Roosters storming into the top 8 in the same fashion as Parramatta in 2006: 100-1.

Yours in League,
The GRUBBER

Chris Anderson Quits Roosters

Sydney City Roosters head coach Chris Anderson has fallen on his sword, or may have been pushed by Roosters power broker Nick Politis tonight as the turmoil continues at the inner city NRL club. Anderson has himself cited medical reasons for his departure; stress and the need for a younger coach at the helm.

Anderson was apparently bed ridden the day after the heavy loss to Manly and after previous heart problems in 2001 did not want to continue on the current path.

Former Roosters playmaker and current trainer – Brad Fittler will takeover as head coach for the remainder of the 2007 NRL season. NRLnews.com hinted at Fittler taking over some weeks ago at the Roosters and it seems the mail was right on the money.

The horror loss to Manly on the weekend was the straw that broke the back of Anderson, the 2-time premiership winning coach was always going to be a target from here on in. Sources began fueling the fire, suggesting Anderson may be past his prime and may not have the touch to rebuild the young and shattered Roosters.

While Politis and the Roosters try to get some creditability back at Bondi, one person sitting back in amusement would be Ricky Stuart. The former head Rooster was sacked last year after poor results and was left in the cold after previously taking the Roosters to a premiership in 2002. Stuart eventually finding a happy home at the helm of the Cronulla Sharks and putting together some impressive results and has seemingly improved an NRL side with limited big names in the roster during 2007.

It will be interesting to see the change if any in the Roosters playing style with Freddy Fittler at the helm, one would imagine some Phil Gould influence would be a part of the Fittler coaching mold – purely through time the two have spent together in NRL circles – we may even see visits and coaching tips from the experienced Gus Gould at Roosters sessions.

Another party that would be happy about the Rooster headline would be the Parramatta Eels. The woeful Eels would be happy to have media attention diverted from them after a poor showing against the Knights in Monday night football.

Thanks for the memories Denis – B.Smith

Newcastle Knights 34 def Parramatta Eels 10

A focused and faultless Newcastle Knights side razed the Parramatta Eels in their own backyard tonight in a comprehensive display from the Brian Smith led team.

It was oh so sweet for former Eel Boss – Brian Smith and as he played down the emotion in the press conference; there would have been plenty of waves and smiles from Smith as he passed Dennis Fitzgerald on the way home – the man who put him to the sword in late 2005.

Someone was always going to lose out in the battle of the coaches; but this time it was Smith and his Knights who were to celebrate in style, in a win that could really launch their second coming of the NRL 2007 season. Led by their veterans, the Knights lifted across the park behind Danny Buderus, Steve Simpson and Adam McDougall.

Right from the outset the Knights looked eager and were on the board early through a soft defensive lapse from the Eels. There was nothing fancy from the Knights, understandable in the conditions that were extremely slippery and slow underfoot and their smart play continued to pay dividends with more tries and a 20-0 scoreline at halftime.

The waking moment for the Eels never came, with errors and continual poor last tackle options turning the ball over easily to the Knights who played good field position for most of the night. In the absence of Jarrod Mullen (late injury withdrawal) – Knights half Luke Walsh was rock solid in his organization of the Knights in attack and was faultless in defence. The Eels ran some traffic at the small Novacastrian but he answered every call.

The Knights kept the Eels line breaks below 3 and improved their previously shoddy defence, which is currently the worst in the NRL. Danger signs for the Eels, unable to score many points against the worst defence in the NRL will have Hagan asking questions this week.

The Eels loss was made much worse by some major injury concerns; Luke Burt the NRL 2007 leading point scorer was taken from the field after a sickening tangle with Danny Buderus – the Eels fullback dislocating his knee cap and experiencing possible medial ligament damage. Eels centre Ben Smith also played 60% of the match with a knee injury and was to be rushed to hospital after the game for scans. Daniel Wagon also left the field at half time with suspected broken ribs and will be another attendee in the casualty ward for the Eels.

It was a swapping of fortunes tonight, as the Eels tasted defeat and experienced deep injury woes for the first time in 2007 and the previously unlucky Knights getting their first big win (over 6 points) and not having any casualties from injuries.

The Knights are attendees on Monday Night NRL again next week, facing the NRL Table topping Melbourne Storm and the Eels face former coach Jason Taylor and his rock solid Bunnies.

Tonights War in the West

Parramatta Eels vs Newcastle Knights

Don’t let anyone tell you tonights game between the Eels and the Knights means nothing more than 2 points on the NRL table.

This is a Monday night match laden with passion; with two coaches desperate to get a win for their ego and NRL players who want to prove a point to their old masters.

A little bit has been said in the media about the match up with both coaches and players hosing down suggestions of a ‘get square.’

While obviously Brian Smith and Michael Hagan can’t take the field, both these experienced coaches will want the win plenty, to prove to their former bosses that the decision to sack them was wrong.

Take Brian Smith for instance, at Parramatta for near enough 10 years and shown the door in tumultuous circumstances in late 2005. When 2006 came around Smith limped along for a few tough months and eventually jumped off the cliff.

If your employer sacked you, tell me you wouldn’t love coming back into your old place of work and smacking everyone in the face? That will be Smiths plan tonight; to bring a young and injury ravaged Knights side into Parramatta Stadium and walk away with pride and the 2 points.

For the easy going Michael Hagan, so far in 2007 at the Eels it’s been happy days. Leveraging the system put in place by Smith over the past decade. The best facilities in the NRL, a junior talent pool full of stars in waiting and a position on the NRL table that others are envying.

Still, Hagan wants this one bad. He never saw it coming – when sacked from the Knights. The Knights management, some of them close friends of Hagan sent him packing early last year in a decision that shocked the NRL world. Hagan will want to really give the Knights a hiding so he can smile back at his old club and give the management the message he has moved on to bigger and better things.

The other angle tonight is the players. For the Eels, several players privately did not like the strict style of Brian Smith. They continually talked of the harmony and relaxed atmosphere when Smith left and Taylor took over last year – a change that saw the Eels go on a 7-0 run to make the NRL top 8.

So there is a portion of Eels players that will want to spank their old coach big time. There was a small group of Brian Smith supporters in Nathan Hindmarsh, Daniel Wagon and Nathan Cayless – but for many of the others, it was eerie style of Brian Smith that drove them nuts. SMS text messages before big games, mind games and never knowing where you stood – were some of the complaints from Brian Smith coached players. So this is more than enough reasoning for the Eels to get some back on their former principle.

For the Knights players it’s a different reasoning. Tonight we see plenty of young stars on show for the Newcastle side. These players will be thankful for Brian Smith giving them a start over the ‘old boys club’ at Newcastle. The ‘old boys club’ that Michael Hagan and his easy going personality let run the Newcastle club at times in the past. The Knights youngsters will be keen to reward their new coach and send a message to their old coach – that held them back for too long.

It all makes for great theatre and with the weather in Sydney closing in, it means it will be a tight contest with close quarter ruck battles. Just the type of match to light the fuse for all of the flammable portions we’ve talk about.

Bring it on.

Dragons awake to slay Raiders

A reborn St George Illawarra has won back-to-back games for the first time in 2007, and after crushing the Canberra Raiders 58-16 at WIN – amazingly the Dragons are only 4 points out of the NRL Top 8.

The St George Illawarra Dragons skipped out to a 22-10 lead early on – after getting plenty of ball and running with a strong breeze at their backs in the first half, before tearing away late; with a six try second-half romp – bringing back memories of years gone by where the Dragons were able to rip through teams with ease and put on plenty of points.

The Raiders have had their problems with injuries and were without injured Queensland enforcer Neville Costigan as well as workhorse captain Alan Tongue, and they soon lost forwards Scott Logan and Josh Miller to injuries during the first half.

Canberra actually took the lead for a time early on, when a hole opened up for badboy Todd Carney to sneak through under the posts. Carney converted his own try to give the ACT men a good platform at the start.

More sloppy defending, this time from the Raiders – allowed St George Illawarra to draw level, as Simon Woolford linked up with Justin Poore who in turn sent fellow prop Dan Hunt in for his first try of the season. Woolford pumped to get the jump on his old club.

Jamie Soward continues to impress for the Dragons since relocating from the Roosters. The Roosters must be frustrated that all their halves (Soward, Lewis and Watts) are all in first grade at other NRL clubs and all playing well.

Soward got a try of his own after 20 minutes, capitalising off a neat run-around play to create space in the Raiders line and touchdown for the Dragons.

The Raiders were continually put under plenty of stress and at one stage having to defend three straight sets on their own line, and they eventually cracked as Chase Stanley took full advantage of a perfect kick from Ben Hornby to score in the left hand edge.

The Dragons then scored a great team try, with the ball going through eight sets of hands as the ball was sent wide to the left and then the right before Ben Ellis crossed beside the posts.

The first half finished in controversial circumstances, as Canberra’s Ryan Hitchcliffe scampered over from dummy half and was awarded a try despite the halftime siren actually sounding before the play-the-ball.

The Raiders went on the attack early in the second term but it was the Dragons who pushed further ahead, with Soward grabbing an intercept and sending speedster Josh Miller clear to run 80 metres and to the line.

Carney then scored his second try in style, passing to a hard-running Marshall Chalk who made a bust before throwing the ball back inside to the unmarked halfback.

The Dragons held a commanding 34-16 advantage when Ellis threw a great ball to a charging Poore close to the line.

The scoreline blew out as Beau Scott scored a long-range try after a great break by Hornby, and pivot Rangi Chase found the line twice before Matt Cooper crossed to complete the thrashing.

Dragons 58
Tries: Chase 2, Hunt, Soward, Stanley, Ellis, Miller, Poore, Scott, Cooper
Conversions: Soward 9

Raiders 16
Tries: Carney 2, Hitchcliffe
Conversions: Carney 2

Bulldogs catch the Sharks

Bulldogs 14 def Sharks 12

It was a game with two very different halves of football. In period 1, the Cronulla Sharks were doing everything right. They were ferocious in defence, really muscling up against the usually physical Bulldogs and the Sharks did all the little things right. They looked totally enthused.

On the back of their 9th minute try and 3 penalty conversions, the Sharks at 12-0 looked like they would coast it in against the tired looking Bulldogs.

In almost identical fashion to the Souths v Melbourne game last night, the Bulldogs came out of the sheds after half time and threw everything back at the Sharks.

While Paul Gallen and Greg Bird were dynamic early for the Sharks, now it was the Bulldogs turn. Steve Folkes replaced Sonny Bill Williams and Mark O’Meley with Jarred Hickey and Nick Kouparitsas – the change worked well. The lively Hickey was buzzing around the ruck and causing problems for the Sharks, and Kouparitsas pulled off one of the plays of the game – when he shoulder charged Reece Williams big time, spewing the ball out and getting possession for the Dogs.

Cronulla had marked SBW so well, everytime he got the ball – 3 Sharks would swarm. When SBW was replaced, it was like Cronulla didn’t know what to do. Suddenly the replacements were getting the line breaks for the Dogs and Cronulla had no answer.

The praise for the Bulldogs must go to Luke Patten, Cameron Phelps and the replacement forwards. The usual suspects of Sherwin, Mason and SBW – weren’t the powerhouses today and really the Dogs were lucky to win.

Cronulla have achieved great brick wall like defence under Ricky Stuart but the Sharks cannot score points. 1 try in 80 minutes of NRL is no where near enough. De Gois was a good choice to start at dummy half and proved a solid platform for the Sharks side and Bird/Gallen continue to get better every week – it might be that they don’t have enough pace out wide. Luke Covell is a safe winger and kicks plenty of points, but the former Tiger really only trots at Clydesdale pace and is no where near the likes of NRL greyhounds Merritt, Hayne and Hicks.

Covell did get injured late and a change me be required for the Sharks out wide – the difference will be interesting.

The other talking point to come out of todays game was the performance of referee Shane Hayne. This could be close to the worst referee performance of 2007. Maybe Hayne was trying to keep up with Steve ‘Terminator’ Clarke?

Hayne missed blatant knock-ons (O’Meley on the try line), marker interference twice (Watts on one occasion and Pommeroy on the other), professional foul / penalty try to Dogs (Gallen taking Patten out) and calling held too early which may have cost the Sharks the game (Stapleton when tacklers fell off him and he continued).

These aren’t 50/50 calls – they were seriously obvious mistakes. No one’s perfect, but really Hayne should spend time in reserve grade after this shocker.

The NRL Table is really getting interesting now, prior to tomorrow nights Eels v Knights clash – the Bulldogs now join the Top 8 and the Sharks are in danger territory – with plenty of teams around the 14/16 points mark. The Sharks also have some tough games in the 3 weeks ahead. Apart from an easy game against the Roosters, the Sharks have some big names to face in weeks 2 and 3.

So after round 17, the big movers are the Bulldogs and the Broncos – both locking into the Top 8 as they race up the NRL Table in 2007

NRL Results Super Saturday Round 17

Melbourne Storm 12 def South Sydney 8

Well NRL News couldn’t get the hot tip prediction right, but we certainly were close. Plenty of mail for South Sydney in this game and they didn’t disappoint. It was 2 tries a piece in the end, with goal kicking the difference (Merritt missing 2 attempts) – as the Bunnies led for 70 minutes of the game.

Melbourne missing some stars and backing up from Origin – the Bunnies were the dominant side, with Melbourne struggling with tackle 5 plays. The Storm kicked to the Bunnies on the full almost 70 percent of the time which is rare for them. On the other hand, the Storm rarely make handling mistakes with a virtually clean sheet in terms of sets.

Ben Rogers was the early hero for Souths, having a good game through dynamic kicking and a whirlwind try assist to Buddy Gordon. An around the back basketball style pass by Rogers was close to the ‘try of the year’ in terms of flashiness this had it all.

Another try on half time to Merritt in the corner and Souths looked like winners. Paul Mellor was in vintage form, the giant winger out sprinting Steve Turner of all people to hold him up over the line.

It was an arm wrestle in the second half as both teams belted each other, the defence of Souths again superb as they had to defend over 70 tackles more than the Storm during the game.

Melbourne remained calm and to their credit they score two late tries and converted them to just sneak away with the points. Melbourne did extremely well without some stars, but I feel Souths have shown the way to beat these guys with rushing in your face defence. The punishment frustrated the Storm and made them hesitant at times.

Souths badly needed the points and will need a strong run here to the finals to guarantee a spot in the money period.

Manly 56 def Roosters 0

It was a training run over at Brookvale with Manly flying back into form over the Reserve Grade standard Sydney Roosters.

Some early fumbles and 2 horror calls within the first 5 minutes from Gavin Badger really opened the cracks for the Roosters and they were never able to fight back.

Manly were ‘on’ and their promising side finally showed the attack they have craved. Slick passing movement, good commuincation and organisation by the halves was key. Matt Orford celebrated the return to form with a triple bag of tries in front of 10,000 at Brooky.

This is the big win Manly needed and may just be the launchpad for the semi finals. Manly have got their losses out of the way and could be nicely placed come final time.

Concern for fullback Brett Stewart who continues to limp occasionally, not doubt their is a problem with his leg and he may be playing with injections as the same happened at Origin level – he was having discomfort at times in the match.

Jamie Lyon continues to be a passenger for Manly, the former UK Super League legend has simply not been able to have an impact in NRL or Origin this year. At pivot and at centre, so it doesn’t seem to be a positional issue.

The Roosters can officially kiss 2007 good bye, with simply no chance of making the finals now. Nick Politis will have aged 10 years this season and will be just about ready to swing the axe over at Bondi.

Cowboys 18 def Warriors 12

North Queensland remain firmly entrenched in the NRL top four after holding out the previously in-form New Zealand Warriors 18-12 in a lacklustre match in Townsville tonight.

But the win may have come at a cost, with Queensland Origin hero and playmaker Johnathan Thurston leaving the field early in the second half with a hip flexor injury.

Looking troubled throughout the match, Thurston handed over goalkicking duties to Ashley Graham after forward Sione Faumuina scored a brilliant match-sealing solo try seven minutes after halftime.

The Cowboys captain, who earlier spent periods in the first half defending on the wing, left the game for treatment minutes later, returning to the Cowboys bench for the remainder of the contest.

Coming off the bye and with Thurston, forward Carl Webb and fullback Matt Bowen returning from Queensland’s successful State of Origin defence, the Cowboys led 18-0 after 47 minutes and looked set for a comfortable win against a fumble-prone opposition.

But tries to Warriors wingers Patrick Ah Van (62nd minute) and Manu Vatuvei (74th) sent a scare through Dairy Farmers Stadium, as the Cowboys repelled several late Warriors raids to clinch their 10th win of the season.

Earlier, the Cowboys made the most of poor Warriors ball control to post a 12-0 halftime lead, with tries to Graham and Webb, his first for the season.

The loss breaks a three-game winning streak for the Warriors (7-9 win-loss), who have had an extended stay in Queensland, opting to remain in the country instead of flying home after last weekend’s game on the Gold Coast against the Titans.

Penrith Panthers: Truth comes out

By Peter Roy

The sad story of the Penrith Panthers in 2007 continued last night as the bottom placed Panthers were eventually blown away by the Wests Tigers in Friday night NRL.

Plenty of speculation has been bandied around as to why the Panthers aren’t performing. Reports on Craig Gowers behaviour affecting the team, Luke Priddis being burnt out, Tony Puletua over the hill and Reece Wesser out of form?

The other angle was Matt Elliott coming to town. Plenty of NRL pundits said that Matt Elliott may have had a negative effect on the Panthers and his style of coaching might not be suiting the 2003 NRL premiers.

It seems this latter angle was right on the mark. Luke Priddis when interviewed this week about being on the outer at Penrith, dropped a bombshell. Priddis said “several playmakers had been told in the pre-season to reel in their natural games under Matt Elliotts style.”

“At the start of the year, the more creative players were told that we need to put our tricks away in our bags in order to try and get the structure Matty wanted us to play,” Priddis said.

This pretty much explains why such a creative and attacking team has struggled for most of 2007. We caught a glimpse of what the Panthers can do against the Bulldogs in Round 3, but it seems coach Elliott has really hamstrung the key players in the team.

It’s not the first time a coach has told certain players to tone down their ad lib play, Brian Smith and Steve Folkes are noted for their hard nosed approach to ‘unplanned’ play.

The problem for Matt Elliott and the Panthers now is that it’s almost impossible to revert back to their original style and be successful quickly. You hear it so many times, winning and losing are habits. The Panthers are in such a rut, that even if they give guys like Wesser and Pritchard licences to thrill – the belief factor simply isn’t there and mentally the team is shot to bits.

As Craig Gower exits to France next year, Luke Priddis and Tony Puletua have been told to look for other clubs so their on-going contracts can be trimmed – is a player clean out really the answer?

Maybe for the first time in a while, the coach is probably guilty just as much or more than the players. The Elliott style of play just might not suit the Panthers and yet the merry go round for Penrith players seems to be cranked into overdrive already.

Elliott is not guilty of sitting idle, the former Canberra Raiders coach has tried everything to get the Panthers firing. From bringing in Ryan Girdler this week to assist, to getting Matt Adamson highly involved and even spending plenty of time with Panthers management – thrashing out ideas.

But lets get one thing straight though, sacking and alienating premiership winning players probably isn’t the smartest move to get your team on the road to recovery.

Wests Tigers tame Panthers

Wests Tigers 43 def Penrith Panthers 26
It turned out to be a game of touch football at Telstra Stadium tonight. A display by two of the NRL’s best touch footy exponents.
The Penrith Panthers put on some form from 2003 and came out firing early in the match, racing out to a 20-4 lead not long before half time.

Matt Elliott with help from new staff recruit Ryan Girdler watched from high in the stands as their side showed massive improvement early. Former Dragon Richie Rich got his first grade start at fullback and while he made some errors – the young buck was dynamic when he ran the ball. Williams line broke at least 3 times in the match and twice the Panthers scored soon after.

Peter Wallace was back and showed he really deserved to be in first grade with some magic short passes on the line to set the Panthers up early. Wallace was slotted in at the unfamiliar role of hooker and still put in a huge showing.

Firman and Gower in the halves weren’t brilliant and still need time to develop. The two seemed to be playing either side of the ruck rather than together. The Panthers seemed to miss Paul Aiton tonight, even Keith Peters couldn’t get the roll going at dummy half for Penrith. Wallace handled the job well considering he isn’t a hooker, but the Panthers need some sort of stability and can’t keep changing the structure every week.

Big Tony Puletua was outstanding in the first period, proving hard to stop and throwing everything into his game. The possession flowed the Panthers way early and read 70% at one stage, the referee calls and even the bounce of the ball went to Penrith in period 1.

Penrith looked like certainties.

Then half time came.

Tim Sheens must have had some chat in the sheds, because he unleashed the Wests Tigers of old. It was the beast from 2005, with not only plenty of points – but sheer excitement as the Tigers stepped, wove and flick passed their way to the line to roar back from 20-4 in arrears to 32-20. The Tigers did target the Penrith edges, more specifically Brett Firman in the Panthers line.

Chris Lawrence running over the small Penrith pivot to score initially and the young flyer getting another length of field try soon after to take his freakish try scoring tally to 12 from 10 games in 2007. Todd Payten even got in on the act, the big prop finishing a stunning movement where 6 sets of Tigers players interchanged passing on the right hand edge – finishing with Payten dummying inside to score around fullback Richie Rich. Payten would have been a 1000/1 to get a double, but the Tigers bookend was there again to collect a Farah grubber off the posts to score untouched.

And so the Tigers machine rolled on, they became more confident and even arrogant as they kicked on tackle 0 at one stage and threw outrageous passes to belittle the struggling Penrith Panthers. Even the tears from Matt Elliott couldn’t make the Tigers stop as they crushed the mountain men and moved up into the NRL top 4.

Penrith obviously have the problems but are simply a side that has forgotten how to win. They had the game all but sewn up, but its hard to break a losing habit – not even a tonne of talent can break a habit. The Tigers look to have made the right decision in using Robbie Farah as a ball player. The slick hooker wasn’t out of place at no.7 and combined well with John Morris. Morris certainly works better as the second option rather than the go to man.

The Tigers win sets up a juicy Round 18 clash, where the Wests Tigers travel to Brookvale to take on highly rated Manly in what should be a blockbuster

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