Pressure on Craig Gower Mounting

As the men from Penrith struggle with 2 back to back lossess – the Penrith Panthers supporters have turned nasty on the teams website. It seems fans are unhappy with the form of Gower at the start of 2007 and believe the talented Penrith halfback’s heart may not really be in it for his club anymore. The Panthers Interactive website has had many posts specifically about Gower, his current form and the halfbacks approach to NRL in the past season.

After an off field incident earlier this year and last years Pearce family disaster – Craig Gower had the Penrith captaincy taken away from him and many believe this has seen the drop in form and subsequent loss of interest from the no. 7

It’s never easy for the headline players to constantly face the scrutiny of fans and media when their team is losing, but Craig Gower can thank the Roosters for taking the limelight away from him and the Panthers. The winless Roosters again came up without the goods in Canberra, after being torn apart by the boom youngster Todd Carney.

Gower has faced all this before, and it may be a case of water off a ducks back – but Penrith must be flush with cash to spend under the salary cap and it will be interesting to follow developments in this area as the year progresses. If Craig really isn’t happy doing what he is doing, we may see some mid season movement at Penrith, which only a few weeks ago seemed a happy and cheerful place under Matt Elliot after some nice wins. Once again, just a week of football can change it all – as it really is such a long time.

Stay tuned later tonight, as NRL News examines the team line ups and reports on who’s in and who’s out.

NRL News

NRL News
No substitute for Brute Strength

By Peter Roy

Rugby League has evolved a lot in the last ten years with fitness and athleticism more valuable than anything else. Sometimes a good footballer can take a backrow seat to a highly tuned athlete who can play more minutes, make more tackles and be fit for the following week.
Looking at some of the skill and flair of players like Karmicheal Hunt, with his huge step or Benji’s hop skip and jump – these are certainly crowd favourites.

As much as this is exciting to watch, nothing gets fans more pumped up or vocal than a massive defensive hit. Even todays fans, who see a more policed game and less physical intent – still love to see the big hits and rough stuff come into play. (Who can forget Ray Warren’s famous words “Awwwwww CRUNCH”) – it’s not just heavy hitting in defence – but also brutal front on aggressive attack is also loved by the NRL fans. A Grothe style run where the tackler gets flattened or Carl Webb running like a wild mad man and knocking defenders over like ten pins.

In the Monday night game in Canberra, as Todd Carney stepped the defence and scored his team’s first try – he actually had a teammate push him and tail him over the line. While Carney did well to score a nice try, NRL these days see’s a lot of softer stuff such as team mates pushing and driving in offence to help their own player make ground. Sure, they want to help the team in every play – but really, I would be embarrassed if a team mate had to help push me to gain metres? Imagine big Mark Geyer having Steve Carter PUSH him up the field? No way.

Take for example Anthony Watmough. A very talented player and an asset to Manly who pushes through the line well. Compare this to – Anthony Tupou who will smash, fend and bash his way through the defence and lay on an offload for a team mate. Always intense and exciting and much preferred by the NRL faithful.

Well in Round 5 it seems we may have unearthed a player with the bash and barge of yesteryear. Surely it has to be the Tigers new boy Taniela Tuiaki. His run in the second half taking it up the outside and beating 4 or 5 defenders was inspirational. He was like the incredible hulk as he fended half the Cronulla team off like rag dolls. The roar from the 17,500 Campbelltown fans was proof of its popularity, the way this guy is going – they’ll need an ambulance to cleanup the aftermath of one of his runs. I didn’t expect half the Cronulla team to get up after they were flattened by the runaway train.

Another example is the exciting backs, such as Bowen or Wade McKinnon – these guys have pure speed and quick stepping talent and regularly beat their defenders. When you compare to a Nathan Hindmarsh bash and barge line break, Piggy or Sonny Bill Williams – the heavy, intensive stuff gets the juices of NRL followers flowing.

Guys built like Mack Trucks, Shane Webcke – simply irreplaceable – his loss is being heavily felt by the Broncos as they battle away at the NRL cellar in 2007. And love him or hate him – on his day big Willie Mason has the ability to run over the top of opposite players like a steam roller.

So while the backs are pretty to watch and get the accolades, we all know “the forwards have to lay the platform ” so the bacline can look slick.

Imagine being a player, you have the ball in your hand ready to attack, you look up and two metres in front of you is Rueben Wiki charging at you to take yo down, he has steam coming out of his ears and looks like a wild animal. This is the difference between beautiful backs and heavy hitting forwards. The fear factor!

Now I’d be thinking about staying alive , rather take my chances with a beast such as Wiki.

As we make rule changes and try our best to keep the game clean, exciting and fair – we must never forgot – the game cannot be without ‘Brute Strength’

Sonny Bill Williams and Candice Falzon in Toilet?

Dunny Bill Williams!?

The aftermath of the Sonny Bill Williams and Candice Falzon toilet saga is a sad Falzon going into hiding with her parents to escape the intense media spotlight. What really was an innocent photo snapped in the mens cubicle at the Clovelly Hotel has turned into a nightmare for Sonny Bill and Candice.

Candice spoke for the first time about the situation, and in tears the sportswoman said “I’ve made a mistake and I am very sorry about it”.

“Nothing happened, it’s been blown out of proportion” Falzon pleaded.

Some of the Bulldogs squad, including Williams, Willie Mason, Ben Roberts and Reni Matua, chose to have some quiet beers at one of their regular spots – the Clovelly Hotel, which was pumping at the time due to a large influx of customers trying to escape the rain.

Falzon has a history of sports stars in her life; and it’s been reported she had flings with: Braith Anasta, Matt Henjack, David Carney and possibly Daniel MacPherson of Neighbours fame.

It was also reported that Falzon had also spent time that night with Bulldogs half Ben Roberts, and spent some time on the dance floor and got very up close and personal with the Doggies rookie.

Sonny Bill Williams is also in damage control, trying to keep his relationship with Kiwi girl Gemma Shaw in tact after the photos from Clovelly went public.

It’s a shame for Sonny Bill Williams to have been brought into the spotlight again, as all reports from the Clovelly hotel suggest he is always friendly and polite and never gets rowdy when drinking. Sadly in this age, anything of interest will well and truely spread like wildfire – and so we have DunnyGate or Dunny Bill Williams!

NRL Results and Updated NRL Table
by NRL News

This weekend has seem NRL tipsters go crazy, after some topsy turvey results. Here are Sundays and Mondays results: Click HERE for updated NRL Table and Points Ladder.

Canberra 37 def Roosters 28 The Raiders again showed how brutal in attack they can be at home. After a bad, ill-disciplined start – once the Raiders got some ball they showed some flair across the park. Carney is a future rep player, this guy at the age of 20 oozes class and the outside backs aren’t scared to throw it around. The Roosters are so close to clicking they can smell it, still committing silly errors – but trying so hard. Braith again best on field for the Roosters and their next win is only around the corner. Really need more in the forwards.

Wests 14 def Cronulla 12 A very dour affair at Campbelltown stadium, really the Tigers were lucky to snatch this game. They enjoyed more possession and simply couldn’t produce a try – mainly through poor last tackle options. They didn’t build pressure and went for the kill too early. Cronulla are slugging away and were unlucky not to bag the win, their defence must get a wrap and Kimmorley is playing with confidence – Greg Bird still unstoppable – this could be a good year for the Sharks.

Newcastle 23 def Souths 22 Heartstopper on the Central Coast, Newcastle performing very well after losing Joey. After a shaky start and a poor call from officials on a Souths no-try – this was just the ticket the Knights needed. Kicking away and snatching the win. The Knights are a team that can win most close games, if they get a sniff they will generally win. Be interesting to see how Souths bounce back after 2 losses on the trot.

Warriors 34 def Cowboys 14 NZ have really setup Mt Smart to be a graveyard this year. Playing amazing footy at home, NRL teams will be scared to travel there for sure. Beat the bench mark and maybe they can transfer the confidence into their away games. Witt and Crockett have been great buys and the forwards are still unstoppable.

NRL News
Mystery ex-player to return to NRL

As mentioned on the Channel 9 Footy Show by media man Danny Wiedler – there is mail around Rugby League circles that an ex-player is ready to return to the NRL. A very interesting comment indeed. NRL News put the feelers out this week and found the player most likely to return would be Brad Fittler. Apparently Fittler is in top shape due to his coaching role at the Roosters and he would easily slot into the top side without too much hassle. In terms of salary cap, if Fittler accepts match payments it would affect the Roosters situation. Fittler at pivot, Pearce at half an Braith at lock – it could be just the setup the Roosters need. Lets see if NRL News is right on the money with this one. Time will tell.

NRL Bulldogs – Manly Sea Eagles
Manly 16 def Bulldogs 14
Manly wins war at Telstra Stadium

A gutsy defensive effort by the Manly Sea Eagles allowed them to see off the fancied Bulldogs tonight in a grinding war of attrition at Telstra Stadium.

Manly: The Manly side of 2007 is still undefeated after a solid showing tonight, and interestingly they still have Orford, Menzies and Matai out injured. Manly saw plenty of ball in this match, due to the Dogs giving away the pill on early tackles and having to defend for long periods. I thought Manly really should have scored more points with the ball they had, very similar to last week when they played the Warriors – but full credit to them, they won the game with brutal and relentless defence. Monaghan continues to be the standout player for Manly, with creative attack and impressive defence – at one stage hitting Sonny Bill Williams with a jolting tackle and forcing the ball loose. Monaghan is not far behind the form of Jonathan Thurston, and that’s a big call. The Manly forwards tonight really contained Willie, Shrek and SBW – and full credit must go to them. Kite was pushing over the advantage line constantly and Choc Watmough was doing the same. Jamie Lyon marked SBW all night and rarely let him move, an impressive effort as SBW is such a handfull. Manly’s backs I felt were a little quiet, with Brett Steward not given much room to move and Chris Hicks making some poor decisions at times and coughed some ball. The kicking game from Manly was near perfect. Several times the Eagles were pinned in their own 30m area, and classy clearing kicks from Burns and Monaghan got them out of strife. This was also combined by an impressive short kicking game, proving the winner for Manly in the end – as Monaghan chipped over the top and regathered (Phil Blake Style) and sent Steve Bell in for the try. The Eagles face the Titans next week in what should be a great battle of defence vs attack.

Bulldogs: Too much dropped ball. I have rarely seen the Bulldogs surrender such ball, they turned it over often and on early tackles. In the first half the Dogs had less then 45% of the ball, and a completion rate of 50% – it was amazing they were still in the game, lucky they defended stoutly or it was shut the gate. Sonny Bill is still finding his rhythm, he looks stunning at times – but then goes missing or throws a silly pass. Willie was penetrating tonight, however Shrek was his usual aggressive self and always made yards and punished in defence. Ben Roberts is playing well at half, but found it hard behind the forwards tonight – I can understand why he is keeping Sherwin out of the top grade – Folkes is on to a future star here. But other then McCalwain the rest of the side were very average, even the General was a little quiet – the Dogs won’t walk away totally without confidence, which is lucky – as they face the inform Eels at Parramatta next week in what should be a top game.

Summary: Bulldogs gave away too much ball, and wasted too much energy in defence. The Eagles, while a little stunted in attack – did enough in defence and had just enough guts and spark to win the game. When the Eagles play at their best, it will be impressive. The Dogs won’t lose sleep over this one – big game next week against the Eels.

Manly 16 (M Robertson, C Hicks, S Bell tries; J Lyon 2 conversions)
Bulldogs 14 (D McIlwain, SB Williams tries; H El Masri 2 conversions, 1 penalty)
NRL News Rugby League

NRL Melbourne Storm – St George Illawarra Dragons
Storm 24 def Dragons 10
Melbourne do Dragons in 2nd Gear

The Melbourne Storm tonight took the 2 points from the trip to Oki Jubilee stadium tonight, but only after some tense moments as the young and out of form Dragons kept in the match until late in the back end.

St George Illawarra Dragons: Showed a more committed attitude tonight, and were much improved from their previous outing against the Cronulla Sharks. The forward pack showed more punch, with Poore and Payne really revving up and getting over the advantage line – a tough ask against the premier Melbourne Storm pack. Cooper really went looking for work tonight and assisted many times and was able to create room with his link ups with Hornby. Hornby was at his usual best, making the correct decisions most times and forcing the defence to hang back and wait his moves. Probably the negative in the Saints side at the moment is the defence of Ritchie ‘Rich’ Williams. While looking solid in attack, Ritchie Rich does plenty of arm grabbing in tackles and let the opposition through on several occasions. Some poor ball control really erased any chance the Saints had of winning, especially on a night where they COULD have won – due to plenty of Melbourne mistakes and gift penalties. You rarely get chances like that against the Storm. Severely missing Young, Gaz and Head – I felt dropping Head to reserve grade was a touch over the top and the Saints should have him at 7 and Hornbag at 6. Poor kicking game saw the Saints hand Billy Slater so much ball on the full, and they then had to try and stop him slicing through the broken defence line! Kudos must go to Josh Morris who had an impressive game at the back, nice positional play and supreme attacking raids as he chimed into the Dragons backline – bagging a try and outgunning Billy Slater for pace which is a rare feat.

Melbourne Storm: Wow, how many Melbourne Storm forwards can you name without reading their team line-up? I bet not many! These forwards aren’t household names in NSW and QLD, but they are putting in a massive performance each week. Guys like Hoffman, Johnston, Lima, White and Kafusi are playing power games and really are a handfull for opposition teams. I think when the Storm face the likes of the Bulldogs and Souths it will be such a tense forward battle – bring it on. Slater was slick again tonight, and the Dragons continued to kick to him on the full – bombing Slater failed badly and he cut the Dragons up very well in broken field. Matt Geyer had an off night dropping some ball and giving away brain explosion penalties that nearly let the Dragons get back into the game. Israel Falou continues to grow and grow, some punishing defence from the youngster and a dynamic kick regather try for the Storm is ensuring he has a role in the side for the future. The Storm still have room for improvement and when they click – the score could really be anything. A slight injury scare to Cameron Smith as his leg got buckled back in goal, more info through the week on this.

Summary: Dragons are simply not of first grade quality at the moment. Too many rookies means not enough experience, with their regular cast of thousands injured – it puts the Dragons in a rebuilding type phase and while they have some young guns – their time will be in 1 or 2 years from now. The Storm meanwhile are winning, but not even playing near their best. Belamy will hammer the Storm this week on their discipline and the next few games will see them really rise and rise.

Melbourne 24 (S Turner 2 I Falou, M King, A Quinn tries ; C Smith 1, S Turner conversions)
St George Illawarra 10 (W Naiqama, J Morris tries; W Naiqama conversion)
NRL News Rugby League

NRL Rugby League
Gold Coast Titans 28 def Brisbane Broncos 18
The Gold Coast Titans have defeated the Broncos at Suncorp in front of a big Queensland crowd. Many of the supporters being pro-Titans; the young side played extremely confidently and this win will certainly place them in good stead going forward. Now in the top 8 with 3 wins from 5 games, John Cartwright and his team look to have done a stellar job with the new side. The Broncos meanwhile stay in the cellar of the NRL 2007 ladder and things get worse as they lose several key players for rep duty this week.

NRL News Rugby League

NRL Parramatta Eels 27 – Penrith Panthers 14
NRL News

Eels on right side of see-saw Clash

At the request of some readers, we’ll be doing an overview of the teams individually rather than a minute by minute description of the game – which can generally be found anywhere on the internet.

Parramatta Eels: Had some forced team changes this week with Riddell and Robinson out with injuries and Tahu and Cayless coming back into the side after missing last week. Parramatta started very physically and aimed to outmuscle Penrith, but Penriths nimble dummy half running made it hard for the Eels to keep the hits coming. The Eels had the majority of possession in the first half through gift penalties from Shayne Hayne and finally started to show some promise in attack. Tim Smith was at his 2005 best, with some impressive selective passing and deft kicking. Parramatta were denied a certain try from a Smith kick with a Burt put down – very surprising call from the video ref. Burts support play was dynamic throughout the game and he is certainly in top form. The outside backs all played solidly, with Tahu dangerous 1 on 1, Ben Smith stretching out in attack for the first time in a while and Hayne showing experience beyond his years. Grothe was a little erratic at times in defence, dropping high balls on several occasions and tackling high at critical times to turn over possession. The Parra forwards really lacked punch as the game rolled on. While Cayless tried hard, it was really only Foi Foi Moi Moi that was able to burst through the opposition line. While not providing much dropped ball, the forwards really were average at best. The only major negative to come out of the Eels performance was the game of Brett Finch. Brett has been the centre of fan and media attention but did himself no favours tonight, kicking out on the full very early to set the tone for his night. Several dropped balls, poor pass selection and flakey defence will see pressure pile up on the Parramatta pivot – as Blake Green continues to shout out for his chance in the run on side. Green played off the bench in the alternate hooking role, and again showed patience and experience beyond his years. Green is doing everything right to get his chance. The Eels are now 3 from 5 games without playing the absolute quality of football they would have liked, this promise must have Hagan excited as they roll on.

Penrith Panthers: Erratic. That is word that best sums up the Penrith Panthers in 2007 and it was exactly how they played tonight. The Panthers looked more like the dominant side all night, even if the scoreboard didn’t show it. A massive effort from the Penrith forwards must be mentioned. Joel Clinton I thought played his best game in 12 months, he really stepped up and was physical in attack and defence – something at times lacking from Clinton in big games. Reece Wesser was the key for the Panthers and after scoring early he continued to look dangerous, at times like he had spiders on him – the Eels simply couldn’t grass him. Wesser is a deceptively strong player, he surprised with his ability to fend and push away several times tonight and had his team been more disciplined – he would be collecting the man of the match award. Discipline, Discipline, Discipline. It absolutely killed the Panthers. After spending the week with referees boss Robert Finch, Matthew Elliot must have been tempted to hook some players after constant re-offending. Hayne continued to warn Panthers captain Craig Gower, but the Panthers continued to hold down the tackled player and keep hands on the ball during tackles. It saw the Eels piggy back down field on so many occasions and basically allowed the Eels to stay in the game. With the Penrith forwards dominating so much, the Panthers needed to keep going forward and play through the ruck – however for some reason they kept spreading the ball and playing side to side – preventing them from scoring so much more points. Penrith have really blown a chance to get ahead on the NRL Points Ladder, as they face the NRL benchmark team – the Melbourne Storm at Olympic Park next week. A tough roadtrip for the Mountain men.

Summary: A typical example of see-sawing modern day NRL rugby league. A penalty can change the course of a game, as can a critical call from the video referee, as can a dropped ball or being pinned in goal for a restart. Never has it been so important to hold the ball and play field position. Teams are starting to learn that no matter how good their opposition are, if possession can be won – a grinding victory is possible. If the game is played in the opposing half – the opposition cannot score. I felt tonight that Penrith looked more dominant NRL side, it was their failure to keep posession and ill-discipline that actually cost them the game.

Parramatta 27 (L Burt (2), N Hindmarsh, I Hindmarsh tries; L Burt 4 conversions, 1 penalty; I Hindmarsh 1 field goal) Penrith 14 (M Gordon, R Wesser tries; M Gordon 1 conversion, 2 penalties) Crowd: 19,000 Referee: Shayne Hayne

NRL News Report

Matt Elliot and the Penrith Panthers
By Peter Roy

The Penrith Panthers face the Parramatta Eels tonight at CUA Stadium Penrith, and 2007 NRL has seen the Panthers play a new style – under the guidance of Matthew Elliot.

For as long as most of us can remember the Panthers backline played an adlib style of Rugby League that was regularly able to put on massive amounts of points – quickly.

The likes of Reece Wesser, Presto, Lewis and Rooney were popping up everywhere – trailing the big forwards and collecting the spoils.

After winning the NRL Grand Final in 2003, the Panthers struggled to be consistent in their usual fashion and we only see glimpses of their known brilliance. Obviously losing guys like Sattler, Lang and Girdler would hurt anyone. However there was a sense that the group as a whole was a little stale.

With a new direction needed, and Matt Elliot coming on board from the Raiders – it seems to have injected the lifeblood the Panthers needed. Full respect to John Lang, he is a well respected and experienced coach – but every team can do with change to freshen things up and keep sharp.

Many observers had Elliot pegged as an average coach as he battled away in Canberra with limited cattle, but the Penrith management saw the potential and swooped to sign Elliot up for 2007 and beyond.

Unlike many other coaches who spend hours studying the video of opposition teams, finding weaknesses and setting game plans to exploit this – Elliot is possibly in the mould of the older school mentors such as Jack Gibson and Warren ‘Wok’ Ryan.

Simple and effective tactics such as securing possession, “The Opposition Can’t Win Without the Ball” mentality and “Keeping the opposition pinned deep in their own half, means they can’t get near our tryline” – These old Gibson lines make plenty of sense in today’s game of inches. A penalty can absolutely change a match, just like a dropped ball, a charge down or poor kick can. They all relate back to ‘possession and field possession’. The best team in the world, cannot win if they don’t have the ball.

Elliot is also big on consistent trailing runners, and support play. If every person in the team does their job well, success will surely come – is his mentality.

With the Panthers showing some patches of ill-discipline in their games this year you can imagine the frustration of Elliot as he watches on. Unlike Wayne Bennett and Brian Smith – Elliot wears his heart on his sleeve and can be seen riding the emotion of the play on the sideline.

The ‘keep it simple’ style Elliot has employed has Panthers players relishing the new found structure and everyone understands their role and knows what to do and when.

This method is sure to be refined even further as the season goes on, and it looks to be an exciting time for the Panthers.

NRL News tips the Panthers to win the local Debry tonight.

Rugby league run by the fans for the fans