Storm grind a win over Broncos

Melbourne Storm 14 def Brisbane Broncos 6

The Melbourne Storm again failed to truly click into gear today; as a spare parts Brisbane Broncos side pushed them all the way at the graveyard in Melbourne.

The last 3 weeks haven’t been the best for the Melbourne Storm as they rest players in their roster and try and find some motivation – as they sit high atop the NRL Table.

The desperate Broncos toiled hard today; with little play making ability centre field – they didn’t trouble the score sheet too much; but grit, passion and rigid defence saw them frustrate Melbourne all day.

In attack the Storm are tending to move the ball too quickly to the edges, probably relying on skillful men such as Issy Folau or Matt King too much. Melbourne rarely rumbled through the middle, however when they did – Cameron Smith and Co. were able to get their nice role going and the whole side looked more dangerous.

Wayne Bennett and his Broncos deserve high praise for fielding a highly committed and eager outfit; given their horror injury toll at present. The Broncos face a tough run home in the race to the NRL Finals and they already know how dire the situation is.

The positives for Melbourne remain their impressive defence also. The Storm may have struggled for ideas and line breaks in attack; but their defence right across the park is worthy of high praise. They edge defenders snuffed out a few dangerous Broncos raids and their line speed and communication is good; always working as a single line.

The concern for Craig Bellamy would be his teams overall mental feel as the finals approach. Previously smashing teams by big margins, the Storm are struggling to put teams away now and can’t seem to adapt to arm wrestle type matches. When teams are physical, dirty and in your face – Melbourne struggles. A Bulldogs match up in the finals would seriously be the worst outcome for the Storm – as their brutal style would least suit the Storm.

The tests will continue to come for Melbourne; they face the Eels, Bulldogs and Titans in the weeks ahead. All mammoth encounters for supposedly the even money favourites for the NRL Premiership in 2007.

Today’s result would give Brisbane an inkling of hope, that they could make stagger into the finals in spot no. 8 – if results go their way. The Broncos have 2 home games coming up; the Bulldogs then Raiders and they travel away to meet the Eels in the final round of NRL 2007. They should take 2 points from remaining games at least – giving them an outside chance.

Bulldogs crush Raiders Spirit

Bulldogs 52 def Canberra Raiders 4

Sonny Bill Williams was at his unstoppable best today, proving too much in attack and defence for the Raiders, knocking Canberra out of the NRL finals race as the Bulldogs smashed the Raiders 52-4 at Telstra Stadium.

In another match-winning display by the Kiwi superstar, Williams scored three tries and led almost every statistic before he was replaced in the 60th minute to a standing ovation from the 12,127 fans.

The Bulldogs claimed a 10 tries to one victory, scoring 52 unanswered points after an early try to Canberra‘s Todd Carney.

Dogs centre Daryl Millard and winger Cameron Phelps both scored two tries but the day belonged to Williams.

Williams crossed twice within four minutes to kick start the Bulldogs scoring spree and followed it up with a massive shoulder charge on Dobson that catapulted the Canberra halfback into mid-air in a frenetic opening 20 minutes of the game.

He completed his hat-trick in the 55th minute, carrying the ball one-handed as the Canberra

Bulldogs coach Steve Folkes called Williams to the bench in the 60th minute – ending an afternoon of 23 tackles, three linebreaks, three offloads, 10 hit ups and 145m gained.

The Bulldogs scored two tries with Williams on the pine to register the club’s biggest victory over Canberra, surpassing the 46-4 win in 2002.

The win lifts the Bulldogs to fifth place on the NRL table and gives their points differential a valuable boost and ends Canberra‘s chances of making the finals.

The Bulldogs will continue their push for a top four finish when they play Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on Friday while Canberra will host New Zealand Warriors on Saturday.

MATCH SUMMARY:

BULLDOGS: 52
Tries: 10
Sonny Bill Williams(3), Reni Maitua, Hazem El Masri, Daryl Millard(2), Cameron Phelps(2), Ben Roberts
Goals: 6
Hazem El Masri (6/10)

RAIDERS: 4
Tries: 1
Todd Carney
Goals: 0
Michael Dobson (0/1)

South Sydney flex muscles

South Sydney Rabbitohs 24 def St George Illawarra Dragons 14

South Sydney fought back in style tonight, winning for the first time in nearly 2 decades at WIN Stadium against the toiling Dragons.

A reshuffled South Sydney Rabbitohs lineup did the job tonight, coach Jason Taylor calling up Jeremy Smith and Joe Williams back into the halves combination in the hope of more attacking football and the change was a crucial one.

Joe Williams is playing for his NRL life and he certainly showed his coach and everyone else again what he can do in the top grade. Williams kicked astutely for most of the night and earned himself several try assists from the boot and hand.

Souths did most of the little things right tonight, looking like a gritty, finals bound NRL side. When the pressure was applied, the Bunnies dug deep and never looked headed. Season 2007 has taught Souths how to win the close games, they’re able to stick solid and grind out the win when needed.

Nathan Merritt again showed his value at fullback, defusing several dangerous situations and pulling off one of the try savers of the year – a ball and all tackle in the final 15 minutes to stop what looked like a certain Dragons try. The ageless Paul Mellor continues to look evergreen; using his height well in attack and apart from some minor poor reads in defence he adds experience and starch to the fringes for the Bunnies.

The Dragons are still on the improve and looked in the game all night; they are certainly playing much better football than earlier in the season. Injuries again hurting their main men at crucial times, Matt Cooper struggling tonight with what looked like shoulder problems and Ben Creagh hurting his knee – a constant problem with the Dragons for what seems like an eternity. When the Dragons scored through Rangi Chase – they looked like they might sneak home in front of the massive local WIN Stadium crowd of 18,300. The Rangi Chase try amazingly awarded by video referee Phil Cooley; how this was a try amazed everyone in the stadium and watching around the country. Chase losing control clearly and fumbling the ball over the line. How video referees continue to come up with left field calls is mind boggling – one week they seem to red light every try – the next week they award tries, that never should have been given. NRL News will take a look at video referees in more depth through the coming week.

Tom Hewitt was a standout for the Dragons, bagging two tries and proving a handful all night – Hewitt is certainly a star on the rise and will surely be a regular in the Saints lineups moving forward. Patience was probably lacking for the Dragons tonight; several times the red and whites went for the killer play rather than just building pressure – they also needed to target Joe Williams on the fringes more; with Gasnier or Cooper rarely getting the little man one on one.

With tonights gritty win; the South Sydney side are well and truly in the hunt for the NRL Top 8 finals. With the Wests Tigers and Parramatta Eels losing this weekend; it surely gives the lower Top 8 hopefuls a boost – showing there are still spots on offer this year.

Souths also look to have good depth, with Shane Rigon and Issac Luke interchanging well and boom juniors Buddy Gordon and John Sutton back in nice form for the Bunnies. Souths are blessed with big bulky outside backs and an iron clad defence – both good ingredients for a real finals challenge.

Cronulla get first win in 2 months

Cronulla Sharks 25 def Parramatta Eels 24

The Parramatta Eels were humbled tonight by the enthusiastic Cronulla Sharks at Parramatta Stadium. A very lethargic Eels outfit seemed uninterested as the willing Sharks kept chipping away to eventually get the lead, finally winning in golden point extra time.

The Cronulla Sharks, winless for the past 2 months were really up for the clash – vibrant and willing in the forwards; making massive inroads through the Eels middle all night.

The Sharks won the ruck battle from the start; pressuring referee Jason Robinson all night and getting away with a very shallow 10m in defence. Cummins fresh from reserve grade struggled to keep the two sides apart and the ensuing arm wrestle suited the Sharks perfectly.

Cronulla executing some nice set pieces in the first half to score impressive tries; Ricky Stuart doing very well with tactics against the highly rated Eels. The Eels were out of character in defence tonight; currently rated 2nd for the least missed tackles per game – that went out the window tonight with the Eels missing around 40 tackles in total.

The thrust from the Sharks Origin duo of Greg Bird and Paul Gallen really helped the Shire side get on top of the Eels. Parramatta missing Nathan Hindmarsh and Luke Burt; drastically needed the inspirational duo – as tonight Jarryd Hayne and Feliti Mataeo in particular looking extremely lethargic with every touch of the ball.

The poor showing from the Eels forwards not allowing Tim Smith and Brett Finch to put together anything exciting. Timana Tahu and Mark Riddell the only Eels showing a willingness to compete – Tahu scoring a brilliant individual try and hitting hard in defence and Riddell scoring twice, injecting his usual passion.

Cronulla now move away from the wooden spoon and leave Penrith safely anchored at the bottom of the NRL Table. The Sharks finally getting rewards for weeks of unlucky football – after taking the Melbourne Storm to the limit and missing by a single point; it was their turn to get the upper hand and it is a nice reward for a strong effort all night.

Ricky Stuart bubbling with emotion after the win, dancing around the coaching box and tapping on the glass several times to let Parramatta fans know how happy he was.

Coach Ricky Stuart also amazingly attacking referee Jason Robinson in the press conference over the 11-7 penalty count loss by the Sharks. Stuart used the 2 minutes of his press conference to voice his disapproval of the refereeing and nothing else – leaving quickly as he feared a $10,000 fine if he continued talking. The outburst from Ricky Stuart is simply astounding; considering Cronulla successfully employed ruck slowing tactics and a very skinny 10 metres for most of the match. The Sharks were smart enough to test the patience of referee Robinson and they won the overall battle; ultimately winning them the match. Ricky Stuart should be praising his players for a gutsy win; not focusing on the referee.

The inconsistent Eels will rue this loss, as they face the power of Melbourne next week and had the chance to sew up a top 4 spot tonight with an expected win over the Sharks.

NZ Warriors continue hot streak

NZ Warriors 30 def Gold Coast Titans 6

A huge crowd of 20,609 watched the Vodafone Warriors power to a 24-point win in tonight’s NRL clash against the Gold Coast Titans at Mt Smart Stadium. The brute strength and new age ball control the ingredients for the new Warriors of 2007 – helping them 1 step closer to a top 4 NRL Table spot.

The crowd, the club’s biggest since 2003, was in raptures as the home side opened with a double for halfback Grant Rovelli inside 14 minutes. Rovelli looking red hot with a nice in and away to race around Preston Campbell to score. The Warriors putting together a perfect first 20 minutes – to race away to a decent lead.

The Titans struggled to put points on with their limited chances at the offensive end – they hung in as best they could tonight; but not many teams could have held the impressive Warriors back in this frame of mind.

The Warriors possessing all the skills in most categories – bullocking forwards, creative halves, skill in the air on both sides and constant in your face defence. On the flip side, the Titans have a team of 13 hard workers – but probably not enough creative flair to go on with things.

With the victory, the Vodafone Warriors have now been unbeaten in their last five matches and have lost only one of their past nine games. Of 18 points on offer, they have picked up 15 to vault to 25 points on the ladder, giving them ownership for now at least of fourth spot.
Match details:

At Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland:
Vodafone Warriors 30 (Grant Rovelli 3, Jerome Ropati 2 tries; Michael Witt 5 conversions).
Gold Coast Titans 6 (Anthony Laffranchi try; Brett Delaney conversion).
Halftime: 18-0 Vodafone Warriors.
Referee: Ben Cummins.
Crowd: 20,609.

Slick Manly inflict more pain on Knights

Manly Sea Eagles 50 def Newcastle Knights 16

The Manly Sea Eagles showed no mercy over the rudderless Newcastle Knights; giving the NRL public a taste of their skills as they broke the shackles and proved their offensive punch in season 2007.

A Manly side missing Michael Monaghan withstood an early arm wrestle with the Knights to break free and score some breath taking tries in a 9 tries to 3 performance.

It’s difficult to single out Manly players for praise, they all played individual roles perfectly – Brett Stewart scoring two tries as did Jamie Lyon. The outside backs for Manly proving their power and truly stepping up a level; with some skillful and graceful tries. Des Hasler would be extremely happy with the showing only weeks out from the NRL finals, already proving their worth in defence – this week they pulled all of the attack tricks out of the bag.

Unfortunately for the struggling Newcastle Knights – it made them look almost like a reserve grade team; several young chargers looking lost as the Manly juggernaut rolled through them like a steamroller. Coach Brian Smith copping some hard questions at the press conference and hinting the effects of recent weeks are more hurtful to his family than himself. For Newcastle, the mandate from the board of directors to clean the playing ranks out must be seen through – if it fails, they really need to sack themselves for poor vision.

The mostly Newcastle home crowd at Bluetongue Stadium; tried valiantly to get the local side going – but Manly were relentless. Steve Menzies injected at five eighth looking a good directional move for the Sea Eagles, his partner Matt Orford showcasing some sublime short kicks and going to the line himself; scoring on one occasion from a tough effort.

With Steve Menzies at pivot, Jamie Lyon is allowed to showcase his wares – proving a nightmare for Newcastle on the fringes. At centre, Lyon is always dangerous and looks to be shaking off his ‘overrated’ tag for NRL 2007. This is surely close to Manly’s best lineup; with Monaghan coming back into the team – they look formidable and will be quietly confident.

The positives for Newcastle, young halfback Scott Dureua ably performing in the no. 7 role. The debuting half looking confident and doing his best to wind up the Newcastle attack. Dureua didn’t have much support tonight, Kurt Gidley probably guilty of trying too hard – the classy fullback spilling some ball and adding the low confidence level.

The Newcastle Knights will be praying for the end of 2007, as will coach Brian Smith – as for Manly, their only enemy might be themselves. They are playing quality football and look capable of beating anyone (including the Melbourne Storm) if they don’t get the jitters they might just take the NRL prize in season 2007.

Roosters Revival hits Fever Pitch

Sydney Roosters 26 def Wests Tigers 22 (Golden Point)

The Sydney Roosters have continued their unbelievable revival tonight; it was golden point for the 2nd consecutive week for Brad Fittlers men – this time the Roosters getting away with a gutsy win over the highly fancied Wests Tigers.

The Roosters simply look like men possessed these days; the forwards are exploding at the line and looking almost gladiatorial – several Roosters big men streaming with blood and serious injury as the game wore on. However, it looks to be the Roosters halves pairing of Braith Anasta and Craig Wing that have given the previously struggling club – the injection of direction it needed.

The fact that the Roosters backed up only 4 days after their 90 minute match against the Warriors was astounding in itself, but to go into golden point for the 2nd time in 4 days was simply a marathon.

Flowing attack plays in the first half saw the Roosters attack the Tigers left hand edge. Amos Roberts getting two tries and boosting the confidence of his side. The Tigers coughed up plenty of ball and their opposition was capitalizing with near perfect completion rates. The Wests Tigers getting a much needed try on the stroke of half time.

After both sides went try for try in the first half, it was a sloppy misguided 2nd half from both sides. The momentum swung from side to side, no one taking advantage of the possession. The Roosters especially just couldn’t pierce the Tigers line after several sets and looked to have missed their window.

The Tigers were hit hard when Robbie Farrah was injured midway through period 2. Farrah hurting his hip and heading off for 10 minutes as he received pain killers for his injury. The Tigers missing him badly when he was off the field. The Rosters just couldn’t use the chances they were given during this middle period.

Patience paid off for Wests, when the Tigers scored a sublime try 12 minutes from fulltime, off a Brett Hodgson round the corner pass – it looked to be all over.

The Roosters, as they have done so often in previous weeks – didn’t lay down. A Braith Anasta bomb gaining the Roosters a penalty off Chris Lawrence – and the Sydney City side crashed over in the corner to tie things up, and making the conversion to go 2 points ahead.

When Liam Fulton was felled minutes before fulltime, the Tigers took the 2 points and tied things up – enforcing golden point.

The Tigers again looked all at sea during golden point. As they have done in the past, they panicked – missing a crucial tackle 6 call and handing possession to the Roosters on half way, a mistake that would cost them the game.

Braith Anasta continuing his superb form, running the ball on tackle 4 and flick passing for Roberts who found Monaghan to score. The Roosters are well and truly back – winning impressively, handing their coach another victory and extending his reign as a record holding caretaker coach.

If the Wests Tigers didn’t have confidence issues before, they now have a serious case of the jitters. Benji Marshall having a night he would rather forget, dropping several important defensive bombs and lacking focus as second phase passes came his way. Apart from the spark Brett Hodgson gave them tonight – the Wests Tigers looked to be just going through the motions and waiting for a team mate to make something happen. Keith Galloway was again their stand out forward, but he had little help – and the Tigers plan to throw plenty of second phase in tonight failed badly. Tim Sheens smartly trying to burn the Roosters out with plenty of ball movement after their 90 minute game last week – but the Tigers just couldn’t focus enough to pull it off.

The Roosters have now seriously shattered the Wests Tigers final hopes, even if the Tigers can scramble into the Top 8 – they aren’t showing the form thats needed to trouble the top sides. Unless something dramatic happens they are heading for a very early mad Monday.

NRL Late Mail

Some NRL late mail tonight – a video featuring; Roosters and the Freddy Fittler factor, the Wests Tigers injury concerns and finally the St George Illawarra Dragons discuss their up coming battle against the South Sydney Rabbits.

Also NSW Origin coach Graham Murray has resigned with Craig Bellamy the obvious choice – however Tommy Raudonikis has also applied for the job. Stay tuned to NRL News all weekend for game reviews along with all the ‘NRL Table’ talk late on Sunday – every week now oh so critical on the final bearing of the ‘NRL Table’ as we move towards NRL final time.

Harness the Suburban Power

As we move towards the NRL Top 8 finals series, every single match takes on significant importance – even the teams out of the NRL Finals mix such as the Penrith Panthers and Cronulla Sharks can have a huge impact on the final NRL Table structure.

One of the big factors helping some NRL teams to big wins – is the power of the suburban home ground. Not to be underestimated; old school, close combat grounds such as: Brookvale Oval, OKI Jubilee and Leichhardt Oval are the last remaining grounds where the fans are crowded in virtually on top of the players – creating a ‘snake pit’ atmosphere for enemy teams. Brooky being confirmed today as the official home venue for the Sea Eagles come finals time.

The interesting point here is, that only one of the NRL teams having access to these grounds – uses their home ground permanently. The Manly Sea Eagles make fortress Brookvale their own, their fans answering the call and helping them to a bumper home season in NRL 2007.

The St George Illawarra Dragons after years of basing themselves out of Aussie Stadium – finally went back to their spiritual Kogarah home as well as WIN Stadium several years ago. Their predicament is understandable given they are a ‘merged’ team and need to share the home ground love.

For the Wests Tigers – they too have some home ground power; Leichhardt Oval a seriously powerful ally for the Tigers, their players suggesting the value to them is around 12 points when they play there. Campbelltown Sports Ground is also not too shabby, but probably falls into the ‘mid range’ home grounds – of which we will touch on shortly. The Wests Tigers for financial reasons; continue to use Telstra Stadium for some home games – probably costing themselves huge advantages over enemy teams. When Parramatta faced the Tigers at Telstra earlier this year, they laughed all the way to the bank, as Eels fans walked across the road to turn it into their own fortress; crushing the Tigers in the Telstra wasteland.

Suburban Stadiums, the next category – are the home grounds still sitting amongst the home NRL teams suburbs but are facilitated with extensive seating, grandstands and a new age viewpoint. Parramatta Stadium, Toyota Park (just), Olympic Park, Dairy Farmers Stadium, Mt Smart Stadium, Gold Coast Stadium (Carrara), Bruce Stadium (Canberra), Energy Australia Stadium, CUA Stadium (Penrith).

The suburban stadiums still give their home side an edge, provided the crowds are decent – the ground is familiar to the players and the vibe will generally give them an advantage of at least 4-6 points. Ideally this is the setup most NRL teams want.

Super Stadiums and Homeless Teams – the worst category for NRL teams (apart from Brisbane) is this kind of home Stadium. Teams such as The Roosters, Bulldogs and Rabbitohs are at a massive disadvantage to all other teams in the NRL. Playing out of massive stadiums (SFS and Telstra) these teams can rarely hear their home fans and are virtually playing on neutral turf every week. Souths understandably were desperate to rebuild Redfern Oval and get their own fortress back; the value is priceless. Sadly for the Canterbury Bulldogs – the chances of them ever getting back to Belmore Oval are non-existent. While it’s been hush, hush – the security risk of holding games at Belmore these days is extreme to severe – virtually impossible to secure and police – Belmore remains a ‘no fly’ zone.

Looking ahead for your NRL team in 2007, let’s hope you don’t have to visit any of NRL fortress ovals (Brooky, OKI or Leichhardt) – the value of the suburban oval is there for all to see; NRL clubs should measure the value in on-field points before they demolish and rebuild.

Tigers must stand up tonight

In tonights Friday Night Football match-up; the Wests Tigers face the resurgent Sydney City Roosters at Telstra Stadium.

Obviously all matches from here until the end of the NRL season are of critical importance to nearly all teams – but putting the NRL table aside for a moment; this is truly a big test for the Wests Tigers.

While the Sydney City Roosters really have nothing to lose; playing enthusiastically for 80 minutes and enjoying their football under Brad Fittler – the Wests Tigers have lost 4 of the their last 5 matches. The heavy win over the North Queensland Cowboys probably masked where the Tigers are realistically at on their NRL 2007 quest.

The power of the suburban homeground, especially in a Monday night match this season cannot be questioned. A large crowd at Liechhardt Ovarl roaring the Wests Tigers home in a big win, with Benji Marshall and Brett Hodgson back. Having Robbie Farrah back at hooker gave the Tigers a huge directional boost, the creative value of Brett Hodgson also blatantly obvious – he was sorely missed last week. Was it purely Liechhardt that got the Wests Tigers the recent big win?

In 2007, it once again seems that the Wests Tigers forwards may be the missing piece in their puzzle. Individually the Tigers forwards all have unquestionable talent. Bryce Gibbs, Bronson Harrison both young big men playing good footy and guys that have tasted success at a young age. Coach Tim Sheens has Keith Galloway making massive metres and the former Cronulla bookend has cut the ill-discipline and the poor percentage offloads from his game.

Its the Wests Tigers forward pack as a group that struggles to make centre field dents in opposing teams. While their smaller frame forwards can have success on the fringes or use angled runs to maximise impact – this only gets you so far. When the Tigers faced the Gold Coast Titans pack last week – their faults were were seriously exposed. Facing premier NRL forwards in Luke Bailey, Anthony Laffranchi and Mark Minichiello, the Titans were able to dominate their smaller Wests Tigers opponents – thus nullifying the impact from the Wests Tigers outside men.

Against the Sydney Roosters tonight, the forward battle will be intriguing. Up until last week, even though the Roosters were winning – you couldn’t say their forwards had totally dominated an opposing pack. Full credit to them, the Roosters have been pumped and got the job done over the last month.

In their effort against the Warriors – the Roosters did really earn their stripes. Their forwards stood the ultimate NRL test. Facing the Warriors giant men and coming away with a sharing of the points.

The desperation of the Wests Tigers should see them have enough petrol to outlast the carefree Sydney Roosters. The Tigers not only need the 2 points on offer – they badly need to build a form run into the finals; otherwise they will be cannon fodder in the early weeks to the likes of Melbourne or Manly.

I don’t want to knock the Sydney Roosters; for they have been so impressive in the past month. Their enthusiasm has been unmatched by any other NRL team over the same period, tonight however the individual skills of the Tigers should end the Bondi Boy’s run of wins.

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