Steve Matai Judicary Win

Manly’s Steve Matai has tonight pulled off an amazing win at the NRL judiciary – escaping suspension over a headbutt in last Friday nights game against the Wests Tigers.

Only days after the NRL threw the book at players from the Sharks / Roosters brawl, somehow Steve Matai has escaped penalty for a blatant physical offence.

Manly officials took the approach that ‘Matai didn’t intentionally headbutt Chris Heighington, but rather braced for close contact with the Wests Tigers forward.’ The victory made even more staggering by the fact that Matai has already faced a headbutt charge earlier in 2007.

This is real Shawshank Redemption stuff here, Matai may have just pulled off one of the biggest judiciary escapes in NRL history.

A noted hardman; Matai regularly flirts with the judicial boundaries of the game and after recent comments and suspensions from the NRL in attempts to totally clean up the game – this decision is mind boggling.

Matai was cross examined by Judiciary counsel Peter Kite within the hearing and when asked if he considered his actions to be a headbutt? Matai said: “If I was going to headbutt him, surely I would grab him.

“I know what a headbutt is. If that was a headbutt it was pretty embarrassing.”

Lets get real here, a headbutt is a headbutt – whether intentional or not; thats what Steve Matai did.

Paul Gallen must be kicking himself for not fighting his headbutt charge at the judiciary. He could have tried to convince the judiciary panel that he was merely trying to ‘kiss’ Shane Shackleton and even he may have got off at this rate.

So, the decision has been made, and Matai is now free to play for the Sea Eagles against Cronulla as Manly try to end a 21 year winless hoodoo at Shark Park. It will be interesting to see the level of aggression from Steve Matai as surely the Manly staff will have told him in no uncertain terms to curb his borderline style.

Richie Williams vs Mark Gasnier

Former Dragons super sledger Richie Williams will face his old club and former teammate Mark Gasnier at pivot this weekend in what should put some interest back into the NRL cellar affair between the Penrith Panthers and the St George Illawarra Dragons.

Richie Williams hit the headlines in a big way when he gave Braith Anasta a huge sledging and came off with a loss; plenty has changed since then – with Williams finding a home at Penrith and working his way into the first grade pivot role.

The young prospect learnt a harsh lesson pretty quickly after the Anasta affair and naturally is a little sheepish with the media these days.

Tonights video has a brief interview with Richie Williams, featuring Craig Gower and Nathan Brown and finishes with the Steve Matai incident.

Cowboys snap-up Ben Harris

Former NRL and Bulldog young gun Ben Harris has been lured home from the UK Super League by the North Queensland Cowboys.

The talented, stocky built centre was a sensation for the Bulldogs before he joined the UK Super League team Bradford after winning the comp with the Bulldogs in 2004. The following year he tasted success again as Bradford took out the 2005 Super League tournament.

At only 23 years old, Harris has plenty to offer the NRL and the Cowboys – with the North Queensland side looking like geniuses in the recruitment department. After already locking up pivot Travis Burns from Manly, the Cowboys now look unstoppable if Harris can reproduce his best form.

With Paul Bowman set to retire; the new ball playing brigade of Thurston, Burns and Harris combined with the muscle of Luke O’Donnell, Carl Webb and Steve Southern up front may see the Cowboys start as 2008 season favourites.

Ben Harris has chosen to sign a one year deal with the Cowboys through his manager Steve Gillis. Harris has said he is keen to return and prove his form in the NRL first and foremost; then look at what offers he can attract locally in 2009 and beyond.

With the Cowboys looking like title contenders this year; with the new additions coming next year – they could really have a dynasty on their hands.

Tigers move to lock-up Tim Sheens

Wests Tigers CEO Steve Noyce said recently that Tim Sheens has been the best recruit the joint-venture club ever signed. The 7 year old joint venture club kicked off in 2000, with Sheens taking over control in 2003 and guiding them to Premiership glory in 2005.

“Tim Sheens is the best signing this club has ever made” beamed Noyce. “Tim Sheens is contracted to the Tigers until the end of 2008 and we hope he is here for a lot longer than that” added Noyce.

Noyce said any talk of signing to extend the Tim Sheens contract immediately are a bit premature; as Sheens has stated he is keen to leave the contract business until after the 2007 NRL season is over. Naturally the Tigers will be waiting with pen in hand to keep the coach locked up.

Sheens has recruited well himself, hand picking a stack of juniors early in his time and playing a patient game until the players were ready enough to take on the NRL’s best in the years to follow.

Aside from impressive recruitment and nurturing; Sheens instilled plenty of belief. Not only was there marriage problems for the new young club; with Tigers and Wests officials bickering at each other – both clubs had previously been strapped to the NRL cellar and needed a whole new culture to achieve any form of success.

It was this cultural change that really was stunning; the images of Tommy Raudonikis smoking in the coaches box for Wests and the former Tigers team training at an Oval in Leichhardt where the Grandstand was collapsing due to white ants – all forgotten in a new era under Tim Sheens and assistant Royce Simmons.

As the Tigers bid for a return to the NRL finals in NRL 2007; word is that Benji Marshall and Brett Hodgson are ready to return from injury. Coach Sheens stating that if this weeks game against the Warriors was a semi final – then he could probably inject Marshall and Hodgson back into the lineup. However, the two stars will be rested for another week and return for the Tigers match at home against the Cowboys.

John Singleton steps into 2GB war

The on air warfare between 2GB continuous call members Bob Fulton and Darryl Brohman looks to have been ended by 2GB supremo John Singleton today.

Singleton became involved as the saga continued on; with Brohman awaiting a personal apology from Bob Fulton over being called a ‘coward’ in his years of NRL and how he handled the Les Boyd elbow incident.

John Singleton has asked Darryl Brohman to put the issue behind him after Bob Fulton apologised on the the Ray Hadlee morning show earlier this week. Singleton suggested that after spending so much time together each week; it was only a matter of time before some of the Continuous Call team had arguments with each other.

It seems the source of Bob Fultons emotion over the issue stemmed from a phone call on air between Brohman and the wife of Les Boyd – Judy. In his eyes, Fulton believed that Brohman had crossed the line and acted inappropriately towards Judy Boyd with comments over the elbow incident from over 20 years ago.

With Fulton himself admitting he got way too emotional about the whole issue and was wrong to call Brohman a coward over the situation.

The war between the two men has probably been a beautiful little publicity spinner for the smart Singleton and his 2GB station. John Singleton the master of PR, has had this little bit of gold fall into his lap.

Personally I find the Continuous Call team on 2GB spend too many of their hours talking about each other and not the quality NRL on show – a decent alternative being the ABC coverage featuring: David Morro / Warren Boland / Warren Ryan – a combination for a more serious and in-depth approach to NRL.

NZ Warriors: Silent Assassins

The men from over the ditch continue to climb the NRL 2007 table; with the New Zealand side now winning 5 from their last 6 games – to blast out of their previous mid season slump.

The Warriors while not quite as fortunate as the Melbourne Storm; do enjoy a similar level of media exclusion to the leading NRL club. The Warriors continue to play second fiddle to the Rugby Union loving Kiwi’s – but should they continue their current NRL form in 2007; a premiership title and massive local interest could follow suit.

Once again Ivan Cleary has done an exceptional job in not only getting quality talent into the NZ Warriors squad; but running a highly processed and disciplined outfit. Previous NZ sides have rarely achieved consistency and focus for prolonged periods in the NRL.

The addition of Wade McKinnon at fullback has been a relevation. The former Eel running for plenty of metres and proving a dangerous strike weapon in attack; more than ably taking over from the exciting Brent Webb. The form of Steve Price has also helped the Warriors. The Queensland veteran has had a stunning year for club and state and has carried the team on his back at times.

While Ruben Wiki hasn’t had his best year, injury may possibly hampering the Kiwi international and he again moves into the second row this week. He just can’t seem to find his feet and achieve the thrust he usually has in his hit-ups; or strike fear into opposing teams with his defence that he was famous for.

Probably best evidence of the Warriors healthy position is how many quality players they have playing in Premier League. While other NRL clubs struggle to field teams; the Warriors have the following troops playing for the Lions feeder club: Todd Byrne, Louis Anderson, Patrick Ah Van, Lance Hohaia and Tony Martin.

The NZ Warriors have also have some impressive stats from the past 5 weeks. Scoring a total of 144 points and only conceding 56, pivot Michael Witt has now kicked 25 consecutive goals (only 10 short of the Hazem El Masri NRL goal record)and back rower Michael Luck becomes only the 2nd NRL player this year behind Craig Fitzgibbon to notch up 600+ tackles; as the impressive backrower notches up 42 consecutive games for the NZ Warriors club.

All this makes for happy times at the Warriors and should they do the job against the injury ravaged Wests Tigers this weekend, things look good for a finals berth and decent tilt at the NRL 2007 title for the Kiwi crew.

NRL Teams and Lineups Round 19

All the NRL teams and lineups are here for NRL Round 19, with many teams struggling to field a first grade quality lineup due to severe injury problems. Its money time in the NRL; as the Sharks, Rabbitohs and Raiders have a last chance to make their claim for the Top 8. The Bulldogs throw a 27 year old debutant from park football ‘Fred Briggs’ into their lineup – more info in the video below:


FRIDAY
SHARKS v MANLY SEA EAGLES at Toyota Park, 7.30pm
SEA EAGLES:
Brett Stewart, Michael Robertson, Steve Bell, Steve Matai, Chris Hicks, Jamie Lyon, Matt Orford (captain), Mark Bryant, Michael Monaghan, Brent Kite, Anthony Watmough, Glenn Stewart, Luke Williamson. Interchange: Travis Burns, Glenn Hall, Adam Cuthbertson, Steve Menzies, Jack Afamasaga. SHARKS: David Simmons, Mitch Brown, Ben Pomeroy, Fraser Anderson, Dane Nielsen, Henry Perenara, Brett Seymour, Luke Douglas, Kevin Kingston, Craig Stapleton, Cameron Ciraldo, Dayne Weston, Reece Williams. Interchange: Eddie Su’a, Jacob Selmes, Paul Stephenson, Isaac De Gois. Referee: Shayne Hayne

GOLD COAST TITANS v BULLDOGS at Carrara Stadium, 7.30pm
TITANS:
Preston Campbell, Jake Webster, Josh Graham, Brett Delaney, Smith Samau, Matt Hilder, Josh Lewis, Luke Bailey (captain), Nathan Friend, Ian Donelly, Gavin Cooper, Mark Minichiello, Luke Swain. Interchange: Daniel Conn, James Stosic, Kris Kahler, David Myles. BULLDOGS: Luke Patten, Hazem El Masri, Daryl Millard, Willie Tonga, Heka Nanai, Ben Roberts, Brent Sherwin, Jarrad Hickey, Corey Hughes, Chris Armit, Sonny Bill Williams, Andrew Ryan (capt), Reni Maitua. Interchange: Adam Perry, Nick Kouparitsas, Brad Morrin, Fred Briggs. Referee: Sean Hampstead

SATURDAY
PENRITH PANTHERS v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA at CUA Stadium, 5.30pm
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: Frank Puletua, Matthew Bell, Peter Wallace, Luke Lewis, Paul Aiton, Brendan Worth (two to be omitted). DRAGONS: Ben Hornby (captain), Jason Nightingale, Chase Stanley, Matt Cooper, Josh Morris, Mark Gasnier (captain), Jamie Soward, Dan Hunt, Simon Woolford, Jason Ryles, Beau Scott, Chris Houston, Ben Creagh. Interchange: Adam Peek, Rangi Chase, Lagi Setu, Corey Payne. Referee: Gavin Badger

NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v SYDNEY ROOSTERS at EnergyAustralia Stadium, 7.30pm
KNIGHTS:
Kurt Gidley, James McManus, Brad Tighe, Adam MacDougall, Cooper Vuna, Daniel Abraham, Luke Walsh, Mitchell Sargent, Danny Buderus (captain), Adam Woolnough, Steve Simpson, Zeb Taia, Reegan Tanner. Interchange: Michael Young, George Carmont, Jesse Royal, Matthew White, Jarrod Mullen (one to be omitted). ROOSTERS: Sam Perrett, Amos Roberts, Mitchell Aubusson, Iosia Soliola, Joel Monaghan, Braith Anasta, Craig Wing, David Shillington, Heath L`Estrange, Lopini Paea, Anthony Tupou, Craig Fitzgibbon (capt), Ashley Harrison. Interchange: Danny Nutley, Nate Myles, Setimata Sa, Shane Shackleton. Referee: Tony Archer

MELBOURNE STORM v CANBERRA RAIDERS at Olympic Park, 7.30pm
STORM:
Billy Slater, Steve Turner, Matt King, Matt Geyer, Israel Folau, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk, Ben Cross, Cameron Smith, Brett White, Jeremy Smith, Ryan Hoffman, Dallas Johnson. Interchange: Jeff Lima, Adam Blair, Clint Newton, Anthony Quinn, James Aubusson, Garret Crossman (two to be omitted). 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: Marshall Chalk, Dane Tilse, Josh Miller, Michael Weyman, Joe Picker. Referee: Jared Maxwell

SUNDAY
WESTS TIGERS v NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS at Campbelltown Stadium, 2pm
TIGERS:
Shannon Gallant, Daniel Fitzhenry, Dean Collis, Paul Whatuira, Chris Lawrence, John Morris, Robbie Farah, Todd Payten, Dene Halatau, Keith Galloway, Taniela Tuiaki, Liam Fulton, Chris Heighington. Interchange: Ben Te’o, Stuart Flanagan, Bronson Harrison, Ben Galea, Jarrod Saffy, Ryan O’Hara (two to be omitted). WARRIORS: Wade McKinnon, Michael Crockett, Jerome Ropati, Simon Mannering, Manu Vatuvei, Michael Witt, Grant Rovelli, Sam Rapira, George Gatis, Steve Price (capt), Ruben Wiki, Logan Swann, Micheal Luck. Interchange: Wairangi Koopu, Evarn Tuimavave, Epalahame Lauaki, Nathan Fien. Referee: Paul Simpkins

SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS v NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS at Telstra Stadium, 3pm
RABBITOHS:
Nathan Merritt, Fetuli Talanoa, Nigel Vagana, Shannon Hegarty, Paul Mellor, Ben Rogers, Eddie Paea, Peter Cusack (captain), Issac Luke, Roy Asotasi (captain), John Sutton, David Fa’alogo, Dean Widders. Interchange: Shane Rigon, Luke Stuart, Manase Manuokafoa, Eddy Pettybourne, Shannan McPherson (one to be omitted). COWBOYS: Matt Bowen, Ashley Graham, Scott Minto, Paul Bowman, Ty Williams, Ben Farrar, Johnathan Thurston (captain), Ray Cashmere, Aaron Payne, Carl Webb, Steve Southern, Justin Smith, Sione Faumuina. Interchange: David Faiumu, Jacob Lillyman, Matt Bartlett, Matthew Scott, Sam Faust (one to be omitted). Referee: Steve Clark

MONDAY
BRISBANE BRONCOS v PARRAMATTA EELS at Suncorp Stadium, 7pm
BRONCOS:
Karmichael Hunt, Steve Michaels, Darius Boyd, David Stagg, Craig Frawley, Tonie Carroll, Michael Ennis, Ben Hannant, Shaun Berrigan, Petero Civoniceva (captain), Corey Parker, Dane Carlaw, Greg Eastwood. Interchange: Brad Thorn, Dave Taylor, Nick Kenny, Nick Emmett, Joel Moon, Shane Perry (two to be omitted). EELS: Jarryd Hayne, Krisnan Inu, Ben Smith, Timana Tahu, Eric Grothe, Brett Finch, Tim Smith, Nathan Cayless (captain), Mark Riddell, Fuifui Moimoi, Nathan Hindmarsh, Chad Robinson, Feleti Mateo. Interchange: PJ Marsh, Josh Cordoba, Ian Hindmarsh, Aaron Cannings, Weller Hauraki. Referee: Ben Cummins

NRL Dangerzone – Total Fight Ban

The NRL today heads into very scary territory after the 2-week suspensions handed out to Cronulla Sharks players Anthony Watts and Misi Taulapapa for their part in the brawl with the Roosters last weekend.

Most of us know the circumstances from the Roosters vs Sharks game; but to set the scene – Shark Paul Gallen headbutts and then charges at Rooster Shane Shackleton; which turned into a larger brawl in which Watts and Taulapapa became involved.

The NRL got their decision on Paul Gallen absolutely correct. Gallen was the frustrated aggressor who initiated the whole thing and Shane Shackleton was right in being able to defend himself and was rightly not suspended.

Where the problem lies is with Anthony Watts and Misi Taulapapa, these guys becoming involved in the melee in an attempt to defend their teammate.

Now let me say first and foremost, I do not condone outright violence in the NRL. If someone lashes out and strikes someone, they should be penalised in the least. However when the NRL turns their focus onto the group participants in a brief melee and these participants are then charged and banned for multiple weeks – it sets a scary precedence for our premier competition.

The AFL some years ago went down a similar path and totally outlawed minor participants in any form of melee. The AFL bosses thought it would really enhance their game. Sadly for supporters of AFL, they now see incidents of push and shove or should we say ‘cat fights’ every week.

The AFL now sees: shirt grabbing, chesting, rolling around on the ground, slapping, hair pulling just to name a few – the AFL players will not strike; so they dance around like girls instead making the situation a laughing stock to all and sundry.

The melee that took place between the Sharks and Roosters is very rare these days, the players sorted themselves out very quickly. No one was injured and both teams got back to playing footy right away. The NRL is obviously a heavy contact sport; from time to time passion and emotion overflows and guys will let off steam.

I urge the NRL to tread very carefully with future citings in minor melees. Of course we want to see a clean and fair game for ourselves and our kids, but the path we are taking may lead us further down the path towards AFL and Soccer – in which the rate of ‘diving’ ‘simulation’ and general ‘softness’ is sadly evident regularly.

NRL Round 18 Power Rankings

By The Grubber

Some things never change; Melbourne continue to camp on top of the NRL Power Rankings and The Grubber continues to tell it how it is. This week has seen the Titans fall by the wayside, Cronulla left with no hope except the stats book and a Brisbane side perched up high but really to come back to earth after losing Locky. Here’s how the Grubber sees things after Round 18:

1. Melbourne: Simply brilliant in their win against the hapless Knights. Could do nothing wrong in scoring their 9 tries and will be hoping that this victory wasn’t the high point of the season for them. Probably the most dominant team in the last decade. Hand ’em the premiership now? Power score: 9.5/10, Odds that Cameron Smith will be the next Australian captain: 2-1.

2. Brisbane: Have taken a massive hit with the loss of Lockyer and therefore will take little comfort out of their excellent victory on Friday. Still boast a devastating forward pack though and their fate in well within their control heading into the crucial stages of the premiership. Power score: 8.5/10, Odds of “All Golds” now calling Brett Finch to replace Lockey: 1000-1.

3. Manly: Negative press reporting provided ample motivation against Tigers. Will be flat out securing second spot ahead of a fast finishing Parramatta and North Queensland though and have a tough stretch home. Defence solid and attack getting better with each game. Power score: 8/10, Odds of Manly overcoming the “Curse of the Cement Truck” and beating Cronulla at Cronulla for the first time since 1986: Slim.

4. Parramatta: Bounced back well from shock loss to Newcastle to record a good victory against a resurgent Souths. Look every inch a top 4 side and will back themselves to knock Manly out of second place. Power score: 8/10, Odds that Russell Crowe will challenge Denis Fitzgerald and Michael Hagan to a pub fight: 2-1.

5. New Zealand: Looking like a top 4 side at last and seem to be developing the consistency desired by all sides. Halves pairing will be key to their late success. Wade McKinnon is one of the form players of the NRL right now. Power score: 7.5/10, Odds that the Warriors will find some way to lose enough competition points to keep them out of the finals: 5-1.

6. Penrith: Took advantage of a Mason-less Bulldogs to show what their attack is capable of. May be able to claim a few big scalps before the season is over. Their forward pack can be devastating on their day. Power score: 7/10, Odds that Greg Alexander will take over coaching role in manner of Brad Fittler: 10-1.

7. Canterbury: Run home looks to have been slightly derailed with key injuries. Probably cannot win at the business end of the season without Mason. Still boast an excellent forward pack though and are far from out of this race. Power score 7/10, Odds that Canterbury will stage a miraculous run and wind up in the top 4 despite the injuries: 3-1.

8. Wests Tigers: Suffered a real setback against Manly and desperately need more experienced talents such as Marshall and Hodgson to return. Need to concentrate on setting up go forward first and then spreading the ball to the edges. Have an easy run home and should be able to take advantage of that. Power score: 7/10, Odds that Robbie Farah will continue at number 7 this season: 50-1.

9. North Queensland: Top 4 hopes still looking good despite loss to Broncos, however as mentioned last week Thurston will need to be 100% fit. Will be hoping for a resounding win against Souths this weekend to give weight to their premiership claims. Power score: 7/10, Odds that Russell Crowe will really struggle for something to insert into his “Book of Rivalries” before the North Qld clash: Pretty high.

10. South Sydney: Could have been flogged against Parramatta and were certainly well below their best. Completion rate needs improvement as does attacking flair. Halves don’t quite seem to be doing the job at the moment. A loss this weekend will have them battling to be in finals contention. Power score: 6.5/10, Odds of Brian Smith weighing in to ego battle between Hagan and Taylor: Would be great, but realistically, it ain’t gonna happen.

11. Roosters: Change of coach had immediate impact in terms of communication and attacking prowess. Not a finals chance (despite only being two wins outside the eight), but will look forward to belting a few high flyers, and the Bunnies. Power score: 6.5/10, Odds that there really were 8,000 people at Saturday night’s game against Cronulla: 100-1 (admittedly it was cold).

12. Canberra: Got things back on track with devastating victory. Could sneak into finals if they can continue to replicate home ground form however still have trouble backing up from wins and playing on the road. Power score: 6.5/10, Odds of Canberra winning in week 1 if they do make the finals: 10-1.

13. Cronulla: Really battling at the moment and current spate of injuries and suspensions has not helped their cause. Will no doubt get their season back on track this Friday night with a “backs-against-the-wall, season-deciding, haven’t-lost-to-them-at-home-in-21-years” victory against Manly. Power score: 6/10, Who is enjoying the Sharks slump more? Gus Gould or Stuart Raper: Tough call. Probably Raper.

14. Newcastle: Were woeful against Melbourne and never really looked like scoring. Will battle without Buderus if he isn’t fit and may need to consider recreating their premiership winning performance enhancing program from the mid to late 90’s. Power score: 5/10, Odds that Clint Newton’s family will probably need to leave Newcastle very shortly: 2-1.

15. Gold Coast: As predicted last week, the Gold Coast were understandably drained from last week’s golden point effort. Lack of depth is now hitting home and it is hard to see them claiming enough victories necessary to push into the 8. Power score: 5/10, Odds of “Remember the Titans” headline surfacing if losing streak continues: 2-1.

16. St George-Illawarra: Were as bad this week as they were good last week. Season is beyond salvation but will hope to form some useful combinations for next season when Gasnier returns. Power score: 6/10, Odds that the Dragons will still start the 2008 season premiership as favourites: 2-1, they always do.

Yours in League,
The Grubber

NRL Ladder and Points Table Round 18

The NRL table movers and shakers continue to be the Brisbane Broncos, now on 20 points and entrenched in the Top 8. The NZ Warriors also continue their late run up the NRL table – now on 18 points and with a healthy for and against.

The major losers this week on the NRL Table are the Cronulla Sharks and the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Both the Bunnies and the Sharks made things much harder by losing this week, remaining on 16 points and the Bunnies now have a sorry looking points differential.

For the Full NRL ladder and points table after Round 18 – Click Here

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