2013 NRL Season – Round 2
Parramatta Eels versus Canterbury Bulldogs
8.05pm, Thursday, 14 March
ANZ Stadium, Sydney
The Golden Ticket
It was like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I had been handed the Golden Ticket, at least one that gets the juices flowing for a rugby league nut like me. An all-access pass that would last the entire season. Any game, any time, Tedeschi would be there.
I had recently joined the employ of Tom Waterhouse as his NRL Editor and part of my deal meant travelling to Thursday and Friday night games, riding the sideline and making sure all went well. If I ignored Twitter, the Fairfax press and the Australian government (two of which were well into their death throes – and we all know that Twitter is beloved across the world), it seemed I was doing a bang-up job.
The giddiness was still plastered all over my face when Round 2 hit and the Eels and Bulldogs did battle at ANZ Stadium. I arrived three hours before kick-off and enjoyed the chit-chat with the faithful: club officials, keen media, legends of the game.
Andrew Johns was already there and we yakked about the betting on the weekend’s slate of games. Joey declared Manly and thought the Cowboys were a good show. And he was in good form – he liked the Cowboys-Eagles double in Round 1. He is a good judge, Joey. I shouldn’t be surprised. He is, of course, an Immortal.
Joey is a fair judge of television, too. He recommended Tom adopt a Ron Burgundy catchphrase to boost his support among the faithful. “Who loves ya, Sydney?” was his best.
Midway through the NYC, it was on to make-up. We were waiting a while. Karl Stefanovic was in the chair. Brad Fittler was waiting too. He thought Tom needed an electric tan. He reckons Joey loves them. I reckon Karl is the one that loves them.
After the colour is on, we slide past Rabs tucking into a chicken drumstick. Nobody cares more about parking than Rabs. He gets the best spot in every city. He is the Wilt Chamberlain of parking spots at football grounds.
Down on the sideline, Tom is ushered by the powers-that-be at Nine to the mark. Rattling off some numbers, Tom is soon asked for an autograph and mercilessly taunted all at once.
The Bulldogs and the Eels are getting ready to run out. It is an Eels home game but there is unquestionably more Bulldogs support. It is a different view, looking all around, seeing the faithful in the stands, yelling, screaming, desperate, happy, anxious.
This is a must-win for the Bulldogs. It is only Round 2 but a loss to the Cowboys and consecutive games against Melbourne and South Sydney mean the Bullies are staring down the barrel of a 0-4 start. Ben Barba is watching on from rehab. Jimmy Graham is paying the price for getting the munchies last October. Sam Kasiano and Frank Pritchard are both keeping the medical men busy.
Even with that kind of personnel blow though, the Bulldogs jump favourites. Backable favourites, too. I’ll happily lay just 3 ½ points against this rotten mob. Maybe it’s the heart speaking. I hate these bastards. But the numbers don’t lie and it hasn’t been too often that these milk drinkers have made the number. Ricky Stuart doesn’t fill me with too much faith. Never has. Never will.
The Bulldogs bound from the box. I shuffle up to the media box under some pretence of work. I’m more trying to get to the sausage rolls before Mascord and Tim Gilbert. No dice. And when Tim reappears, he does so to chants of “Stephen Dank, Stephen Dank”. The Nine sideline man does bear an uncanny resemblance to the maligned sports scientist.
By the time I get an egg sandwich and a coke, the Bulldogs are in twice. The rout looks on. Better, I’ve had a little throw at Josh Jackson for the first try. Cha-ching. The Eels fight back though. Ryan. Blair. Blair again. Reynolds goes the distance for the Bulldogs. Sam Perrett falls over for four. The 20-16 halftime score is not looking good for those of us on the under 38.5 total points.
But then a Rugby League miracle, at least for the desperates like me. Work was done. Tom was off home. I was cheering though, cheering every scoreless minute, every Parramatta error. There was some cursing – usually directed at Tony Williams. But 40 minutes, no points and there was a smile from ear to ear. When the lady in charge of catering brought around free ice creams, I emerged from the hard scrabble scrum with a choc mint Cornetto. Bingo!
Not a bad night at the factory, all in all.
Canterbury 20 (Tries: Brown, Perrett, Reynolds, Jackson Goals: Inu 2/5)
Parramatta 16 (Tries: Blair 2, Ryan Goals: Sandow 2/3)
Referees: Shayne Hayne, Alan Shortall
Votes: 3 Reynolds (Bul), 2 Jackson (Bul), 1 Sandow (Par)
St George Illawarra Dragons versus Brisbane Broncos
8.05pm, Friday, 15 March
WIN Stadium, Sydney
The greater the distance, the less the pain
It was early evening in Los Angeles when I did my sums and realised it would be 2am local time the next morning when the Dragons v Broncos clash kicked off at WIN Stadium in Wollongong. Knowing the following day would push me to the edge of my physical and emotional limits (we were taking two kids under six to Disneyland), I didn’t for a second contemplate getting up to follow it online. I’d just have to settle for reading about it in the morning, no doubt opening my laptop just a crack and peering into it anxiously as if into a box from which a strange rustling is emanating.
But given my longstanding passion for the Red and Whites, it shames me to admit that the game slipped my mind as the sun rose over California. Indeed, such were the frantic preparations before leaving for Disneyland, such was the concentration-demanding drive between Brentwood and Anaheim along the treacherous multi-lane goat track called Interstate 405, that the outcome of the match didn’t come to me until mid-morning. By this time I was in Pixie Hollow contemplating how Tinkerbell had a bigger bust than I would have thought (had I given it any thought, which I hadn’t…well, not much).
Now I don’t know why I remembered the match at the precise moment Tink bent over to hug my daughter but it could have been that her décolletage from such an angle reminded me of Nathan Hindmarsh’s rear cleavage which, in turn, reminded me of rugby league and, thus, ultimately, the Dragons and their fortunes. “The game!” I suddenly thought. “Who won?”
Despite living in the digital age the answer, frustratingly, wasn’t immediately available. My partner’s smartphone was out of juice (not smart enough, clearly). My prehistoric phone’s technological capabilities top out at text messaging and, having seen all her movies and not heard her mention the greatest game of all so much as once, I didn’t even bother asking Tinkerbell.
So I spent a 12-hour day at Disneyland oblivious to the fact that the Broncos beat the Dragons 22-6 despite the Dragons enjoying better field position, considerably more possession and having to make noticeably fewer tackles. I spent the entire day standing in queues, riding in tea cups and watching creepy animatronics sing paeans of propaganda that even the North Korean government would consider over the top, unaware that the Dragons, though committed, were “hapless” and “impotent” (as described by AAP) in losing their second straight match to begin the season. In fact, by the time I did find all this out it already felt like yesterday’s news, which it pretty much was.
The interesting thing about all this is that while I was disappointed with the result it was fleeting – just as it was the previous week when I was in New York as Melbourne put the cleaners through the Dragons as they are wont to do. It echoed for me the pre-internet age of 1996 when I lived in the UK and missed the entire season, including St George’s grand final loss to Manly. The loss would have killed me had I been at home but I read the match report in TNT magazine as if it were an old love letter I’d kept in a shoebox under the bed for years. My heart was wounded but not torn asunder.
Of course it’s much easier today to stay abreast of news and sport from home. Nevertheless, being overseas was providing me with not just a physical remove from the game but a mental one, too. It’s not that I suddenly didn’t care for the Dragons, rather just that distance, time differences and new places to explore had inured me, like a mild sedative, from feeling the game like I would at home.
However, given the way the season was shaping for the Dragons it wasn’t such a bad thing and, as the kids slept like the dead in our Anaheim hotel room (sucked dry by Mickey Mouse and his bloodless brethren), I entertained the fantasy of not returning home until the season had well and truly ended.
Brisbane 22 (Tries: Norman, Hoffman, Hannant, Stagg Goals: Prince 3/4)
St George Illawarra 6 (Try: Weyman Goal: Soward 1/1)
Referees: Jason Robinson, Gavin Morris
Votes: 3 Hodges (Bri), 2 Hannant (Bri), 1 Merrin (Dra)
North Queensland Cowboys versus Melbourne Storm
6.30pm, Saturday, 16 March
1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville
March of the Melbourne Groundhogs
Ok, I have to admit, it’s difficult to muster up the will to write the report on this game. It feels like Groundhog Day. Storm strike early and with clinical authority. Opposition retaliates with inspired attacking flair. Game is for the most part a fast-paced, high-quality and entertaining struggle in the middle that the Storm eventually win due to – you guessed it – impeccable defence and ruthless exploitation of not-so-good defence of opponent at crucial times towards the end of each half. Melbourne Storm win. Again!
Churlish flippancy aside, as a Cowboys fan I did note some glimpses of light that pushed their way through this dark, well-worn script. The tactic of maddeningly quick plays of the ball, early kick dispatches on the fourth (and sometimes even third) tackles to secure repeat sets or lock down the return behind the 20 metre line, and pin-point passing out wide by the best in the business, Johnathan Thurston, did appear at times to be an inspired strategy to wear down the formidable Storm defence. Particularly for most of the second half, these tactics afforded the Cowboys the weight of possession, and wave after wave of relentless and freakishly quick attacking raids gave the impression that it was only a matter of time before the ragged Storm defence would fray at the edges.
And fray at the edges they did – but only once. In hindsight, it was almost as if the Storm gave us a consolation try, if only to get the crazed-juggernaut little terrors of Thurston, Matty Bowen, promising English signing Scott Moore and Ray Thompson off their backs for just a minute or two.
But it is at these crucial moments – when the opposition appears to be making inroads through a back-pedalling and tiring defence to claw their way back into the contest – that the Melbourne freaks show time and again why they are thoroughly deserving of their team-to-beat stature. To rally after such a prolonged assault to not only maintain composure across the park, but to concede just one try and then calmly exploit some admittedly-woeful defence to counter with two tries of their own, really is the stuff of a champion side. The frustration I feel in typing this is, I imagine, similar to the frustration that NSW fans have felt for… Seven. Long. Years.
And it is even more frustrating for this Cowboys tragic to concede that it is the questionable defence of the afore-mentioned little terrors that was a telling factor in our ultimate demise. Glancing over the missed tackle stats on the NRL website is painful – Thurston three, Bowen four, Moore six. Against the reigning premiers, that’s simply not good enough.
Same old story. Melbourne too good. Cowboys [to be fair, you could insert any other team here really] just not good enough. Groundhog Day.
Melbourne 32 (Tries: Chambers 2, Cronk 2, Hoffman, Hinchcliffe Goals: Smith 3/5, Widdop 1/1)
North Queensland 10 (Tries: Graham, Linnett Goal: Thurston 1/2)
Referees: Gerard Sutton, Brett Suttor
Votes: 3 Cronk (Mel), 2 Chambers, 1 Thurston (NQ)
New Zealand Warriors versus Sydney Roosters
7.30pm, Saturday, 16th March
Eden Park, Auckland
Now that’s a losing streak
It’s tough to remember the last time the Warriors won an NRL regular season game. As it turns out it was July 7 2012, Round 19, away to the Titans. Coming into this week’s game against the Roosters, the team has lost nine on the trot. Eight in a horror finish to 2012 and one to start 2013, just picking up where we left last year.
This got me thinking, by no means did I believe that this current losing streak would be record-breaking, however it sure as hell feels like it. What other losing streaks in sports history have loyal fans been made to endure?
When it comes to Rugby League, this unwanted record is held by University. The Sydney side lost a mammoth 42 games in a row stretching from Round two 1934 to round 14 1936. This is 17 games clear of the second worst streak endured by Easts from 1965 through 1967 and unlikely to ever be threatened let alone beaten.
In the NRL era, Wests holds the record of 14 consecutive losses during the 1998 – ‘99 seasons but, following last week’s horror loss to Parramatta to open 2013, this record is very much in the firing line for the Warriors.
These records, however, pale in comparison to the feats of a university based in Southern California, USA. The California Institute of Technology (or Caltech for short) obviously does not rank highly on the wish list for students possessing even the slightest hint of Athletic talent. Caltech holds not only one, but two mind-blowing records for consecutive losing streaks. From 1995 to 2007, the Caltech basketball team lost 207 consecutive NCAA basketball games. That’s 12 years! (As a side note, the school also lost 310 consecutive conference games.)
You have to wonder at the legitimacy of the sports program the school was running as, not to let their basketball fellows have all the “glory”, the Caltech men’s baseball team clocked up 228 straight defeats dating back 10 years. Their streak-snapping win was not a conference game, however, where their losing streak currently sits at 463 games. I hate to think what sort of crowds these sides were pulling, it wouldn’t have been pretty.
So, I needn’t have worried. Sitting on nine losses and facing the prospect of a double figure count is a piece of cake compared to the long-suffering fans of Caltech.
To the game itself, Warriors v Roosters: it was billed as Eden 3, the third year in a row that the Warriors have opened their “home” season at Eden Park. Eden Park is a rugby ground. No NZ league side, NRL or International has ever won a game at Eden Park. That’s a nice wee streak in itself!
The other big draw card was the return of Sonny Bill Williams. SBW was returning to New Zealand where only 17 months earlier he had helped lift the Rugby Union World Cup for the All Blacks on this very ground.
The only reason Eden Park is used for league is for its capacity. Over 30,000 turned up on this wet Saturday night, surprising given the Warriors’ previous form and the Kiwi penchant for only supporting winning sides.
As it transpired, the home support didn’t get the boys home. The Roosters took an early lead that they would never relinquish. The home side showed a bit more fight that the previous week’s spineless performance and came to within a conversion of leveling the scores. Unfortunately, Shaun Johnson butchered the conversion in one of the worst attempts at goal in recent memory.
So, another loss at Eden Park and that streak, now at 10, is still alive and inching ever closer to the NRL era record. Only 218 to go to catch the Caltech baseball side. I think we may be safe on that one.
Sydney Roosters 16 (Tries: Minichiello, Kenny-Dowall, Aubusson Goals: Maloney 2/3)
New Zealand 14 (Tries: Tupou, Johnson, Godinet Goal: Johnson 1/3)
Referees: Ashley Klein, Phil Haines
Votes:3 Minichiello (Roo), Johnson (War), 1 Jennings (Roo)
Gold Coast Titans versus Canberra Raiders
1.00pm, Sunday, 17 March
Skilled Park, Gold Coast
Who’s The Boss? (It’s not Josh Dugan)
The concert started with a 63-year-old man crowd surfing during the first song. The same 63-year old danced on a piano, electrified the audience with his guitar and vocal solos, and ran around a packed arena high-fiving fans while holding the microphone and never missing a note. He held us in the palm of his hand.
That man is Bruce Springsteen. And he’s still The Boss.
Springsteen has surrounded himself with some of the most talented musicians in the world in the E-Street Band. It was clear that balmy Sydney night that The Boss was part of a team and he knew it. While the crowd came for Springsteen, what they were given was a virtuoso, rousing performance by more than a dozen musicians who came to play and play hard.
At one point, lead guitarist Tom Morello – of Rage Against the Machine, joining the E-Street Band for this Australian Tour – played a searing solo reminiscent of Hendrix. He even played part of it with his teeth – his teeth!
Springsteen has said that he and his team try to keep to a “tradition of showmanship and professionalism”. He’s one of the hardest working men in music; he’s got commitment, heart, and he loves what he does.
Which brings us to Josh Dugan.
Josh Dugan grew up in Tuggeranong, Canberra. Bruce Springsteen was born to a working class family in New Jersey (where he still lives to this day). Tuggeranong isn’t Jersey but it’s not really the right side of the tracks either – it was, after all, nominated by The Punch website as one of the top ten bogan places in Australia. (Full disclosure: the author was also raised in Tuggeranong.)
And the Canberra Raiders is a not wealthy club. They need to grow their talent locally for the most part and, with varying degrees of success, this is exactly what they have done over the decades. They find skilled youngsters from Canberra and the region and build them into first-class players.
That’s what the Raiders did for Dugan. Like The Boss, Dugan was a preternaturally talented youngster from the wrong side of the tracks. But that’s where the comparison ends. Josh could have been The Boss, if he’d wanted it: a champion written into the history of the Green Machine alongside the likes of Daley or Clyde or Stuart.
But if Dugan has the heart or professionalism of a champ, I haven’t seen it. According to recent media reports, neither have his team mates or coach. Dugan has been accused of missing training, feigning injury to miss training and ignoring team rules and coaching staff. He’s been in trouble with booze on a number of occasions. He’s been heckled by opposing players for being soft.
Many of his team mates were sick of him. I don’t blame them. The highest paid member of the Raiders – reportedly on around $650,000 a year – found it difficult to even turn up to training.
Canberra United skipper Ellie Brush, expressed the frustration of professional sports people everywhere when she said, ”[Dugan’s] salary would pay for our entire season budget and we would have to be twice as committed as him”.
Well, with the level of commitment to both game and home shown by Josh Dugan, I think it’d be great if he went and played Rugby Union in France. He could earn the big bucks in a soft game in a place he has no connection with. That’d suit him down to his bones.
On Monday I saw Jersey Boy Springsteen raising his fist in the air, guitar in the other, while leading 20,000 fans singing “Thunder Road”.
The week before I saw Josh Dugan with a Vodka Cruiser in his hand, middle finger raised at the camera and every one of his fans – giving the finger to the town that raised him, the team that nurtured him, and the community that hung their hopes on his talent.
He’s gone now. Good riddance.
By the way, the Raiders were walloped 36–0 on the weekend by the Titans. The Dugan debacle has clearly damaged team morale.
Gold Coast 36 (Tries: Kelly 2, Srama 2, Gordon, Bird Goals: Sezer 6/7)
Referees: Adam Devcich, Henry Perenara
Votes: 3 Zillman (GC), 2 Bird (GC), 1 Kelly (GC)
Wests Tigers versus Penrith Panthers
3.00pm, Sunday 17 March
Campbelltown Stadium, Sydney
Way out west
Last week, from the heart of Rooty Hill, Prime Minister Julia Gillard directed the nation’s focus to Western Sydney. At the time it was referred to as “The Western Sydney Experiment”, “Mini Election Campaign” and “Stunt”. The people of Australia were bemused while comedians and commentators had a field day. The notorious “THE PEOPLE OF WESTERN SYDNEY ARE NOT SECOND CLASS CITIZENS” line from the PM will go down in history, as will the response from the people of whom she was speaking: “Um, who said we were?”
Perhaps she had a point. Between seasons 2000 and 2005 I could barely acknowledge the Western half of my beloved Balmain Tigers. I accepted it begrudgingly but was still entrenched in the mentality of Them and Us. “Them” would be the toothless, hairy, VB-swilling, mullet-wearing, wrong-end-of-the-gene-pool, Magpie-hailing citizens of Campbelltown. Meanwhile, “Us” would be drinking lattes on Norton Street, sipping imported beer in Balmain, having our dentists and hair stylists on speed dial and riding in our limos to the hallowed grandstands of Leichhardt Oval.
But the epic Grand Final win of 2005 changed all that. Our distant black and white cousins became brothers in arms. We cherished them for their toothless grins as we pulled lovingly on the locks of their flowing manes and shared a local tinny or 10 as we marched as one, hand in grimy hand, wherever OUR team may lead. Call them second class citizens and you call us second class citizens, and that sort of thing.
Thus the scene is set for today’s battle of the west – a place acknowledged not just by the PM but by the AFL and the A-League as Rugby League heartland. It’s here that the people throw down the gauntlet to prove that they are not first, second or third class citizens, but quite simply in a class all of their own.
It’s the Wests Tigers v the Penrith Panthers; Campbelltown v Penrith. And they are facing off in front of a toothless, singlet-wearing, rum-swilling, big cat loving crowd of the hardest, loyalest, fiercest rugby league fans known to mankind. MULTIPLIED BY TWO. The best thing about football in Western Sydney is that its citizens provide as much entertainment off the field as the teams provide on it.
(Btw, “Western Sydney” is a vast, vast place. The tag is thrown around a lot but when you realise it takes nearly 45 minutes just to travel from Penrith to Campbelltown, you get a sense of how big a task Kevin Sheedy was taking on, and just how much shit Julia Gillard was pushing up Rooty Hill.)
Anyway, it’s Penrith that opens the scoring five minutes in and the Panthers faithful howl in approval while the Tigers fans let fly with some choice expletives. Twelve minutes later, the crowd is at the business end of their second can of VB as they watch Benji do it all to level the score at 6-6. The citizens settle into their seats and crack their third VB – they have a game on their hands.
When Tigers whiz kid Jacob Miller puts them ahead 12-6 before the break, the home crowd pulls off their wife beaters and waves them as flags in the air while the visiting crowd switches to rum.
The second half sees the Farah and Marshall brilliance of old and the combination of Jim Beam, beer and dazzling play helps remove the unpleasant memory of last week’s shellacking. Aaron Woods scores two, Koroibete scores one and Benji makes two from three to deliver 28 hard-earned points.
A mini-resurgence from the boys in black gives a small pause but ultimately the Tigers fans can breathe as easily as their raw lungs (screaming or Winnie Blues, doesn’t matter) will allow with a final score of 28-18.
There was abuse hurled, referees insulted, countless F words, C words, MFC words and hearts in toothless mouths. But, most importantly, there were jerseys of black, gold and white marching as one back to their hotted up utes and looking forward to next week’s trek to Leichhardt. Meanwhile Panthers fans were on the M7, tails between their legs, ready to dull the pain at Hooters.
Not second class citizens but avid, diehard footy fans that are second to none.
Wests Tigers 28 (Tries: Woods 2, Marshall, Miller, Koroibete Goals: Marshall 4/5)
Penrith Panthers 18 (Tries: Manu 2, Simmons Goals: Walsh 3/3)
Referees: Matt Cecchin, Luke Phillips
Votes: 3 Woods (Tig), 2 Farah (Tig), 1 Marshall (Tig)
*No citizens of the Western Suburbs of Sydney were harmed by the gentle ribbing in this article. The same cannot be said for any Prime Ministers or AFL coaches.
Manly Sea Eagles versus Newcastle Knights
6.30pm, Sunday, 17 March
Brookvale Oval, Sydney
Selection table games
This NRL game comes as a welcome distraction from the carnage India is wreaking on out national cricket team in Mohali. But not for long as this footy game unerringly follows the same script – there are a couple of moments of individual brilliance but, in totality, it’s a one-sided dud of a game. I’ll take a Manly win any time I can get one but a 32-blot score line offers little enjoyment. Manly was cruel and unrelenting. Newcastle seemed to be still wandering around in a post-feast stupor, dreaming of the snow angels they’d made in Wests Tigers’ blood seven days earlier. A week’s a long time, etc.
I start flicking between the two channels looking for glimpses of entertainment. I find little. So I start making my own. Here’s a hypothetical discussion you can have with Nads, Chopper and the bloke sitting in the corner down at your local pub next week: If you had to pick a test team of cricketers from current NRL players, who would you select? I started having some genuine fun with it. So much so, I email fellow cricket/NRL tragics Wrucky, BD, Stu and Ram Jam to ask them the same question. I was impressed with the collective enthusiasm for the exercise. Here, in batting order, is the team that we came up with:
Jamie Lyon – cut from the same cloth as Mark Taylor, Lyon is unpopular with Joe Public but digs in and gets the job done. Great hands at first slip. He’s an old school, no-nonsense cricketer who despises ponces and hair gel.
Johnathan Thurston – a run scoring machine, Thurston is all about style, grace and poor interviews.
Paul Gallen (c) – not since AB has Australia had a captain this good and this grumpy.
Cameron Smith (vc) – like Simon Katich, Smith brings an ability to shore-up the middle order and a strong dislike for shaving. Smith also leads the team in “Under the Southern Cross I Stand.” He has a strained relationship with his captain, especially around Origin time.
Cooper Cronk – the best name in sport. So he goes in everything.
$onny Bill Williams – the all-rounder. He bats as well as he plays footy. He bowls as well as he boxes. And like Fawad Ahmed, Julia Gillard will cut through red tape to get him naturalised ASAP.
Daly Cherry-Evans (wk) – he’s unorthodox but effective. ?Sometimes.
Adam Reynolds – easily excited, Reynolds often gets one to rip the other way.
Anthony Watmough – Choc is deceptively quick and better than you think. Think Rod Hogg.
Darius Boyd – he’s tight with the coaching staff, Boyd toils away for little reward. Frosty relationship with teammates and the talk out of the camp is that he might walk away from the game to foster his love of jazz.
John Sutton – new ball specialist.
Blake Ferguson (12th man) – a misunderstood booze hound, he’s here purely to challenge David Clarence Boon’s drinking records on long haul flights.
We’d also take these boys as part of the touring squad:
Sam Burgess – this new ball bowler is a Pom and Poms basically kill it at cricket. Just ask Michael Vaughan.
Michael Ennis – annoying little gnome in the Justin Langer mould.
Gareth Widdop – a top order batsman, he’s a compact number four. Gillard’s going to be busy…
Todd Carney – he’s just here for his skin art. He’s got a better sleeve than Mitchell Johnson.
Sandor Earl – he’s just here for his hair. He’s got a better peroxide job than Shane Warne or Watson.
The bowling coach is John Hopoate. He’s a master of finger spin with an innate ability to hit the cracks.
The batting coach is Royce Simmons. A low centre of gravity a la Sachin Tendulkar. His big game experience and after match drinking capacity will be invaluable.
The manager of the team is a controversial selection. Liam Botham is given the nod because all Aussie teams obviously need an overseas bloke in charge and Liam’s actually the most credentialed cricketer and league player alive today. Not to mention he can call on his godfather, one IVA Richards, to come and give inspirational pre-match team talks and styling tips. He just pips Mario Fenech at the post. Rumour has it Mario’s swimsuit round during the interview process cost him dearly with the judges.
John Inverarity, take note. I’m coming for your job.
Manly 32 (Tries: Taufua 3, Lyon, B Stewart, Watmough Goals: Lyon 4/6)
Referees: Ben Cummins, Chris James
Votes: 3 Watmough (Man), 2 Taufua (Man), 1 Lyon (Man)
South Sydney Rabbitohs versus Cronulla Sharks
7.00pm, Monday, 18 March
ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Sharks succumb to sloppy Souths
It was a match that could have been anything. Three days after the full time whistle was blown, pundits are still trying to work out what they saw. The record books will forever read South Sydney Rabbitohs gain victory over the Cronulla Sharks 14-12 at ANZ Stadium, but the performances by both teams are an enigma in themselves.
Souths came into the game off the back of a strong performance in Round one where they flexed their premiership muscle – and showed some of that potential – in a 28-10 thumping of the Sydney Roosters. Cronulla also came into the contest off the back of a first up win but in completely different circumstances. After an effort the Spartans of Thermopylae would be proud of, they held out for a tough 12-10 win over the Titans.
Enter Round two.
Souths started the game the same way they played last week. They controlled the match, possession, field position and posted two converted tries in the first 15 minutes. The first try came in just the fourth minute when boom halfback Adam Reynolds spotted an open Andrew Everingham. A pinpoint cross field kick in behind the defence landed in Everingham’s arms and he made no mistake in putting the ball down to score.
Reynolds’ boot featured again in the second try as he put Dylan Farrell over at about the 15 minute mark. Reynolds took the line on as he did with the first try but placed a grubber straight through the defensive line for Farrell to fly in from nowhere to score. The man who could be the next NSW Origin halfback, Reynolds converted both tries.
They had the Cronulla defence grabbing at shadows and could easily have gone on to post a cricket score. But whether it was the effects of an 11 day turnaround or they simply believed the match was already won, the Rabbitohs let Cronulla off the hook.
Cronulla’s attack seemed to click in parts and only desperate defence held the Sharks out. They started making massive metres when they had the ball and forced the Rabbitohs to earn every inch – which they didn’t do easily.
The Sharks struck back only three minutes later when fullback Michael Gordon sliced through the defence. Gordon, who is potentially the most valuable recruit in season 2013, managed to slip through the tiniest of gaps in the Rabbitoh defence to put Cronulla on the board. His conversion made it 12-6 after 18 minutes.
From there the points dried up and the arm wrestle began. Heavy hitting saw the ball dislodged before the fifth tackle, the referees warmed their whistles up and either indecisiveness or desperate defence forced several turnovers. A penalty on the stroke of half-time for holding down saw Reynolds extend the lead to 14-6, the last time in the match the Rabbitohs troubled the scorers.
Simple errors cost the Rabbitohs any momentum in the second half. What momentum they did have – which ended in two disallowed tries – was squandered due to simple mistakes. Merritt seemingly sealed the game at the hour mark until the video referee noticed an obstruction in the lead-up play. The penalty count drifted up against the Rabbitohs and Cronulla put themselves in the box seat for an assault on victory. Countless attacking raids saw the Rabbitohs defence muscle up and repel the invaders while others contributed to the Sharks’ lofty error count (which ended up at 18).
The Rabbitohs somehow got themselves into an attacking position and had a chance at more points in the 65th minute. That was until a wayward pass hit the deck and was scooped up by Sharks flyer Beau Ryan who raced 92 metres to put his team within striking distance. Gordon’s conversion made it 14-12 and set up a grandstand finish.
Souths rekindled their relationship with the video referee when Adam Reynolds looked to have scored a match-sealer. Replays showed Isaac Luke interfered with the marker and the try was disallowed. With full-time called, Souths remain one of only three undefeated teams in the competition while the Sharks have made a home of mid-table.
Some commentators have suggested these close, scrappy games are the ones that premiership contenders have to win to make the big dance. While the performance wasn’t ideal, Souths can take solace from the fact they managed to secure the win, even if on the back of what fans would hope is their worst performance of the year.
The Sharks can take many positives as they continue to play under enormous pressure, thanks to the ASADA investigation, but will be concerned they couldn’t score – or handle the ball – on the back of superior possession.
South Sydney 14 (Tries: Farrell, Everingham Goals: Reynolds 3/3)
Cronulla 12 (Tries: Gordon, Ryan Goals: Gordon 2/2)
Referees: Jared Maxwell, Adam Gee
Votes: 3 Luke (Sou), 2 Gordon (Cro), 1 Gallen (Cro)
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