Round 4, 2013
Manly Sea Eagles versus Wests Tigers
8.05 pm, Thursday, 28 March
Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford
Anyone but Manly
There are few worse teams in world sport to lose to than the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles. I’d rather see my beloved Wests Tigers lose to an Osama-inspired Al Qaeda than any squad led by Geoff Toovey. And, to sit there and watch on as the once mighty Tigers put on one of their more insipid displays since the merge, it hurt. It cut really deep, man.
It’s Round four and the Tigers headed into the match with a 2-1 record, in the top eight and confident following a strong Round three effort, albeit against a rubbish Parramatta side. But it was a start, and a reasonable one at that. It was one that had me prepared to sit back and let all the Braith Anasta-haters, all the this-Tigers-pack-is-too-small nay-sayers and the Tim Sheenius lovers eat their words. We looked good, baby, and I was loving it.
And so it started that way in Gosford, too. Playing at Bluetongue Stadium up in what’s destined to be Bears territory one day, the Tigers dominated for the opening 20 minutes. We should have, too. Wests generally play well up on the Central Coast, even against Manly.
The black and golds were winning the territory battle easily and Manly made the pill look more like a cake of soap than a footy. The only problem? The Tigers didn’t make the most of their wealth of possession in attack. Sure, Manly’s defence was good, but a side boasting Farah, Marshall and co. should post some points with that sort of ball, surely. The lack of execution and potency would prove to be a problem lasting much longer than the opening quarter of the match.
As soon as Benji Marshall lined up a penalty goal attempt – not a tough one, probably about 30 metres out just to the right of the uprights – I knew we were in trouble. Right on cue, and as only Benji can, he sprayed it. I’ve see fat blokes on The Footy Show nail the same kick. Fortunately, Benji kicked it long, the ball went dead and the Tigers got it back from the ensuing 20-metre drop out. But that was the end of us, right then and there.
Then, and I don’t think madness like this has been seen since Jack landed in the cuckoo’s nest, Farah was taken off. At nil-all our best player was riding the pine. And for Masada Iosefa! It’s like knocking back Jen Hawkins and having a crack at Susan Boyle. Mick Potter must have been drunk. If it wasn’t bad enough before, the referees should have stopped the fight after that.
As it happened not long after, on their first venture to the Tigers’ red-zone, Manly kicked for Jamie Lyon. He missed it but so too did young James Tedesco, allowing Tom Symonds to pounce to open the scoring. On a slippery night following incessant drizzle, Lyon missed the goal and the score remained 4-0 until halftime.
In the second period, David Williams managed to bag a brace, even though one was off a Lyon pass Eli Manning would have been proud of. Steve Matai scored and, in a tale of the tape, Daly Cherry- Evans touched down for a bizarrely lucky length-of-the-field effort, completing the 26-0 rout and digging the dagger ever so slightly deeper.
I hate Manly, so I can’t blame the refs for this one. I would normally be right behind Farah and the media when they go on a pitchfork wielding witch hunt looking for Daniel Anderson and his obstruction interpretation. Not this time. It’s all erroneous. Manly are annoyingly good. They have been for a long time now. Sonny Bill Williams has more fans at Belmore than Manly have outside the peninsula, but the Sea Eagles thrive off of it. They love the hate. And we love to hate them.
I just hope the Tigers manage to re-group, Potter sobers up and Iosefa gets the punt before we play Manly next time. It could be another long night otherwise.
Manly 26 (Tries: Williams 2, Symonds, Cherry-Evans, Matai Goals: Lyon 3/5)
Wests Tigers 0
Referees: Matt Cecchin, Luke Phillips
Votes: 3 Cherry-Evans (Man), 2 Symonds (Man), 1 Lawrence (Tig)
Canterbury Bulldogs versus South Sydney Rabbitohs
4.00pm, Friday 29 March
ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Time will tell
On the 7th of May 2005, students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology held the one and only Time Traveller Convention. There was only one as any time traveller that knew about it would be able to come from any previous or future time to attend. Besides, the event and its co-ordinates were advertised in notes written on acid-free paper and left in various library books for future folks to find.
This Round four NRL clash had a huge cloud of hypothetical time travel hanging over it. A resounding ‘What if?’ hung over the last clash between these two sides. If only the result of this game could itself change the course of time – and the result of the match on the exact same co-ordinates 182 days earlier. On that day, 27 minutes into the match, Souths halfback Adam Reynolds pulled his hamstring. At the time his side was leading 8-4 and looking like progressing to their first grand final since 1971. But from that moment forth, the Bulldogs scored 28 unanswered points to win 32–4.
The Good Friday crowd was big, record-breaking big. It was the biggest in Sydney for a regular season game since 1967. While the Royal Easter Show raged next door, barely a whistle blew or much more than murmurs were elicited from the 51,686 in attendance as a grippingly tense game unfolded. Ben Barba was back for the Dogs, while Michael Crocker was sensationally given the rocket despite being the club captain of the Rabbitohs. Tolerance works both ways.
The Bulldogs were rock solid, completing their first six sets of six. They piled the pressure on the Souths goal-line after receiving the first penalty of the game, then forcing a repeat set. A spilled kick, a scramble and the corner came before the cover defence for Mitch Brown to score. The whole stadium seemed to explode en masse in one blue and white expulsion of breath and noise.
Souths were looking dangerous with the ball in hand, yet Sutton bombing Barba time and time again saw their sets end exasperatingly. The time had come for Adam Reynold’s redemption. Two precise kicks condemned Canterbury to two consecutive goal-line dropouts. After doggedly defending for two sets, the pressure mounted. Another Reynolds grubber saw a third repeat set in succession.
Something had to give. The ball was given to Roy Asotasi on the boil, hurtling head-long back into the fray. He cannoned full throttle into Michael Ennis who, with his head slightly askew, was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was out cold before he hit the ground. The pressure soon turned into points as George Burgess bullied his way over from short range. It was six apiece after 34 minutes. Incredibly, there was only one handling error apiece in the first half and barely a penalty.
The second half began with another gripping spell of scorelessness. My lovely partner, watching her first ever NRL game, innocently asked “how are they expected to try when there are so many players to run past?” It took another piece of Reynolds astuteness to break the deadlock with a piece of play so polished, it could be on Antiques Roadshow. Play went right from the ruck, then the Souths number seven cut back inside and darted back left, took the pass and chipped with a cross-kick so perfect Nathan Merritt didn’t even have to break stride to catch it and score without a finger being laid on him. With that, Merritt became the tenth highest try-scorer in rugby league history while the Reynolds conversion made it 12–6.
The Rabbitohs resisted as the Bulldogs, in particular Barba, tried gamely to break their line. A particularly nasty, almost text book definition, spear tackle – hand up the clacker, dropped on their head – by Krisnan Inu on Greg Inglis had the stands howling and a subsequent ‘What do you have to do to get sent off?” debate raging. The ensuing penalty put Souths on attack and Inglis chimed in to help put Merritt on a dash to the line. The desperate Bulldog defence managed to stop his charge but not his arms, and he squeezed a pass out for Goodwin to score the sealer. A late field goal capped off a sterling effort by Reynolds and an even later try to Barba was just reward for a valiant return.
The present day win answered a question: a Rabbitohs side with an uninjured Reynolds can beat the Bulldogs. The “what if’s” had become “if onlys”. Can the Rabbitohs take it one step further this year? Only time will tell.
South Sydney 17 (Tries: G Burgess, Merritt, Goodwin Goals: Reynolds 2/3 Field goal: Reynolds)
Canterbury 12 (Tries: Brown, Barba Goals: Inu 2/2)
Referees: Shayne Hayne, Alan Shortall
Votes: 3 Reynolds (Sou), 2 S Burgess (Sou), 1 Asotasi (Sou)
Brisbane Broncos versus Melbourne Storm
7.05pm, Friday, 29 March
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
When I relocated from Melbourne to Brisbane almost 15 years ago, I quickly learned that here, if you follow footy, you follow the Broncos. Well, that’s usually the case. My six-year-old son Harry is different. He barracks for the mighty Melbourne Storm.
Since watching Melbourne conquer the Bulldogs in last year’s Grand Final from a lounge room in Wodonga, of all places, he’s been talking them up. He calls them his team. He likes Cameron Smith. But like me, Harry is new to this game. This Round 4 match at Lang Park would be his first. As an Aussie Rules devotee it would be only my third appearance in the stands at the Cauldron. I decided to go with the majority, albeit half-heartedly, and claim allegiance to the Broncos.
As we wandered down to the ground, past the rush of traffic along Hale Street, Harry was abuzz with the prospect of our pending rivalry. I sensed he liked the idea of being able to rib me if his Storm defeated my Broncos. And while he was as confident as any six year-old should be, I still wasn’t sure they were my Broncos. But I’d give it a go.
As we made our way to the upper echelon of the Western Stand, Bucky the horse did a lap of the stadium to the Bonanza theme song. A little odd I thought but the Broncos fans seemed to appreciate it, especially the kids. A voice thundered over the loudspeaker, “Let’s go Broncos, make some NOISE”!
There was plenty of that. It felt like a big crowd and I marvelled at the intimacy of the stadium. While the Melbourne players received a reasonable response from the crowd upon entering the field, the roar for the Broncos was deafening, aided in part by a burst of fireworks above the arena.
With no opening siren, the game had started before I realised it. Harry was surprisingly pensive as I tried to focus on the play, knowing I had the responsibility of educating the boy on the intricacies of this game as I learned on the job.
The Storm did all the attacking, though Brisbane’s Sam Thaiday had an early sniff. And while the crowd cheered each time Brisbane moved the ball forward, I soon found myself urging on the Storm. Perhaps my heart still lies in Melbourne.
Storm colossus Junior Sa’u scored the opening try only minutes in, followed by another to Billy Slater who raced the ball over the line in impressive style. In both cases, the try was awarded only after confirmation from the video referee, something Harry and I found perplexing. Captain Cameron Smith failed to convert on both attempts while I failed to explain to Harry how the scoring works in this still foreign game.
“Let’s go Broncos,” boomed the voice over the loudspeaker, urging the Brisbane supporters to start a ‘towel rally’, something I found equally perplexing. (Only a few maroon towels were waved in response).
Soon after, Slater scored his second try, the third for the Storm and the third time the video referee had to earn his evening’s pay. This time Smith converted to give the Storm a 14-nil lead. Harry was all smiles. So was I.
Brisbane finally responded with a try to a hard-working Josh Hoffman. But as the first half progressed, Melbourne edged further away to lead 20-6 at halftime.
While the voice over the loudspeaker had a negligible impact on the Brisbane crowd, perhaps the players took heed because once the second half got underway the Broncos looked a different side. Hoffman and Jack Reed were on fire, combining to score a total of three tries in about 10 minutes, one of which prompted Dave Dobbin’s Slice of Heaven over the loudspeaker. The crowd loved it, me included.
Despite Scott Prince missing what I thought was an easy conversion the Broncos were suddenly in front, 22-20. The crowd were on the edge of their seats and I was now officially behind the Storm. We can win this.
Then the Storm hit back hard with two tries in quick succession, including Slater’s magnificent third to give Melbourne a 10-point buffer, 32-22. Harry was grinning again. The Broncos mounted a last charge and succeeded with a try to Alex Glenn, the conversion slimming the margin down to just six points.
For a brief moment it felt like the Broncos had enough time to win it but after a Sam Thaiday fumble it was all over, Melbourne getting home it what was a genuine thriller, even for a couple of greenhorns like Harry and me.
As we made our way out of the stadium and back up Hale Street, we attempted to analyse the game. Harry reckoned Melbourne converted better (he actually said that). Behind us there were more fireworks, this time for the visitors. I was converted too. Go Storm!
Melbourne 32 (Tries: Slater 3, Duffie 2, Sa’u Goals: Smith 4/6)
Brisbane 26 (Tries: Hoffman 3, Reed, Glen Goals: Prince 3/5)
Referees: Adam Devcich, Jared Maxwell
Votes: 3 Slater (Mel), 2 Hoffman (Bri), 1 Duffie (Mel)
Cronulla Sharks versus St George Illawarra Dragons
7.30pm, Saturday, 30 March
Sharks Stadium, Sydney
Dear Steve Price,
Allow me to start by pointing out that I wasn’t one of those calling for your head on a pike last season. As soon as that Bennett guy left town I planned to give you a year’s grace, a season to find your feet and get things headed the right way. I figured that was the right thing to do for any new coach – especially one following the guy who gave us the premiership we’d been waiting decades for.
So while others wanted you out the door before the 2012 season was over, I stuck to my promise. Oh, it wasn’t always easy – there were some diabolical performances in that season with the team’s incredibly frustrating habit of lifting for a highly-rated opponent only to put in an ordinary effort the week after against a lowly side. And when others were calling to ‘‘Slice Price’’ after we didn’t make the finals, I didn’t join them but chose to wait until next year.
And hey, guess what, Steve? It’s next year and that grace period is officially over. Which is why, after that terrible effort against the Raiders in Round three (I would have forgiven you for so much if you’d just given us a win against the Raiders in Canberra) I’d decided that was it. I’d had enough of watching a side that would have the ball just metres from the tryline yet couldn’t work out how to get across it. I’d had enough of watching your players throw the ball to each other like Under 8s in the hope that someone would do something.
So I threw my lot in with the Price-cutters. I figured that what I was seeing was a team that had been given no attacking strategy – or at least no attacking strategy that worked. (And no, that left-side sweep play the Dragons have been using for the last three years is not an ‘‘attacking strategy’’, not on its own).
Then, just a week after adding my voice to those caterwauling for your head, the team did something totally out of left field. They beat the Sharks, scoring 25 points against what is traditionally a miserly side. And that’s just eight points less than what we scored in the first three rounds put together.
What’s even more confusing for me is that they did it while showing off a completely different attacking strategy, that is, one that worked. Rather than relying on Plan A (aka ‘‘left side sweep play’’) and, if that didn’t work, going to Plan A again, the Red V threw the ball around, tried different things and generally looked absolutely nothing like the Dragons of previous weeks. Hell, even Jamie Soward looked like he wanted to be there this time.
What the hell is going on? You weren’t asking them to attempt any trick plays in the last few weeks, so were the first three rounds – and the entire pre-season – just a waste of time? Did you realise things weren’t working and decided to go with something completely different? Or maybe you said to the players, ‘‘Look, I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing. So you guys go out there tonight and just do whatever you want. Hey, it could hardly be any worse, right?’’
Whatever it was, it worked this time. But you should know that the win hasn’t won you a reprieve – I still want you gone by the end of the season. See, such a radical change in a game plan doesn’t exactly instil me with confidence that you know what you’re doing. If it was a good idea now, why weren’t we playing that way from the start of the season?
Before I go, one last thing. We’re playing the Raiders again in Round 20 – make sure we beat them this time.
St George Illawarra 25 (Tries: Nightingale 2, Soward, Fien Goals: Soward 4/4 Field goal: Soward)
Cronulla 12 (Tries: Robson, Fifita Goals: Gordon 2/2)
Referees: Phil Haines, Ashley Klein
Votes: 3 Merrin (Dra), 2 Nightingale (Dra), 1 Soward (Dra)
Penrith Panthers versus Gold Coast Titans
3.00pm, Sunday, 31 March
Centrebet Stadium, Sydney
Hair of every description
I can’t remember the last time that the topic of hair dominated the commentary on a game of rugby league. Everyone will have their favourite memory of hirsute players past and present. Geoff Robinson immediately springs to mind, as do Ian Schubert and Russell Fairfax, the early version of Willy Mason and the recent Bunny, Matt King. Terry Lamb had a pretty good mullet going for quite a while, as did Balmain’s Kevin Hardwick. You might have your own favourite.
In this particular game we saw the whole range, from the bald/shaved pate of Luke “Bull” Bailey via the seemingly Brylcreemed (or was it Californian Poppy-ied) presentation of referee Gavin Morris (not a hair out of place at the end of the full 80 minutes), the cute curls of Beau Falloon, the rug of Kevin Gordon and the dreadlocks of Jamal Idris to the extensive disarray of Ryan James, and everything in between.
But the pieces de resistance were sported by David Mead and Greg Bird. Perhaps they were supporting a particular charity but their peroxide blonde domes certainly made them stand out from the pack. In the case of Bird, it simply amplified his best-on-ground performance.
Now, as a Queenslander, I can’t stand Greg Bird. On this side of the Tweed, we loathe him as a consummate cockroach. We wish he’d enter our fair State via the old tick gates at Wallangarra where, I’m sure, he’d be put through the full treatment and exterminated as a pest. He ranks alongside the likes of Peter Kelly, Steve Roach, Benny Elias, Paul Gallen and Michael Ennis as Public Enemies par excellence.
But, as I’ve written elsewhere, wouldn’t you love to have him on your side? To use a rugby league cliché, Bird never leaves anything out on the field. In another sport, Steve Waugh would have chosen Bird to fight alongside him in the trenches. He refuses to give ground, he refuses to give in, he refuses concede anything to his opponents. Bird simply tears into it from go to whoa in both attack and defence. By and large, he has eliminated from his game most of the silly penalties that he used to give away all too frequently and all too senselessly. Making him Titans co-captain this season has been a masterstroke by coach Cartwright.
This match typified Bird’s efforts. Halfway through the first half, after a strong start in attack and as Penrith’s Luke Walsh stepped and swerved his way through the Titan’s defence, Bird chased and caught Walsh within a couple of metres of the line, knocking the ball from his grasp just as it appeared that a try was certain. Less than ten minutes later, after Gold Coast received a penalty close to the Penrith line, Bird tapped quickly and charged through some flimsy defence to score a clever try.
Another truism to emerge from this match was that the team that makes the most of its opportunities will come out on top. In the first half, Penrith had more of the ball, better field position and several genuine try-scoring chances but, somehow, managed to come up empty handed. After 25 minutes, Sterlo commented, “How are the Panthers on zero?” By contrast, the Titans got the business done when they got down the other end, firstly through a classic, flowing backline movement that saw Mead score in the corner and, secondly, through Bird’s spontaneous charge from close range.
Penrith dominated the first 15 minutes after halftime but only had a converted Naiqama try to show for it. But as soon as Gold Coast got to the other end in the 60th minute, Michaels finished off another team effort to put the match out of reach.
Apart from Bird, the Titans were well served by Idris who was fearsome in attack and in the right places in defence, Sezer whose kicking game was spot on, and their twin hookers, Srama and Falloon. Penrith’s best were McKendry who put in a tireless effort up front, Naiqama who looked dangerous every time he handled the ball and reserve Segeyaro who was as dangerous as his Titans counterparts.
But today it was all about the hair. Looking ahead (writer’s licence), what will they make of Gordon’s samurai look later in the season?
Gold Coast 28 (Tries: Gordon 2, Mead, Bird, Michaels Goals: Sezer 4/5)
Penrith 10 (Tries: Naiqama, Humble Goals: Naiqama 1/1, Walsh 0/1)
Referees: Gavin Morris, Jason Robinson
Votes: 3 Bird (GC), 2 Idris (GC), 1 Sezer (GC)
Newcastle Knights versus Canberra Raiders
6.30pm, Sunday, 31 March
Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
Waiting for Campo
Williams goes himself
Comes out the other side
Gets it to Croker
Bounces away from a would-be tackle by de Gois
Puts a kick out wide looking for Sandor Earl
And Earl is in again
Oh hahahahaha stop it, it’s starting to hurt
Rugby league … rug-by league
(Ray Warren, 10 September 2012)
I’m not really sure how I ended up a Raiders fan. I certainly can’t recall any particular decision. I grew up near Richmond, New South Wales, played some junior footy in the Penrith comp and supported Easts. All I know is that sometime after moving to Canberra in the mid-1990s I started to care (and care quite a lot) about whether the Raiders won or lost.
Why, though? The Raiders (like the city of Canberra itself) are generally either maligned or ignored outside the capital, creating interest only when they make the final eight or following yet another piece of off-field madness. They’re treated appallingly by free-to-air television. Even within Canberra, the Raiders compete for respect with Australian Rules and rugby union. Canberra’s Australian Rules fans in particular delight in asserting the cultural superiority of their game over “that bogan sport”.
And it’s not as if the Raiders are particularly easy to follow on the field, either. They are the anti-Melbourne. While Melbourne’s rugby league is brilliantly constructed, efficient, consistent and cool, the Raiders are all over the place. A rousing, transcendent thrashing of a team above them on the ladder is as likely as not to be followed by an inept, heartless implosion against a team from below. A disastrous beginning to a season (“Sack Furner!”, “Sack the Halves!”, “Sack the Board!”) can just as easily be redeemed by an implausible late season charge to the finals.
Would I swap the experience of last season’s home final win against the Sharks on that brilliant, sunny Canberra spring afternoon for a Storm-like Grand Final win? Look, probably. But I’d think about it.
And so to Round 4 and the Newcastle Knights. Two almost comically-awful floggings on hot Sunday afternoons at Penrith and the Gold Coast followed by a committed win on a cooler Canberra Sunday evening. Where to now?
I’m with my family in the Blue Mountains for Easter. We’re having dinner with my wife’s sisters and their partners and kids at the Lapstone Hotel. Predictably, I begin to withdraw from conversation as the television shows the Raiders and Knights receiving final instructions in the sheds. Sensibly, everyone heads home, leaving me to watch the game with my brother-in-law, Ben, an Eels fan.
The game is the usual catalogue of Raiders early season disasters: dropped ball, unstructured, insipid attack, lumbering forwards, bad reads in defence, poor fifth tackle options. There’s an abominable performance by the referees, too, the worst example of which was an unpenalised shoulder charge on Blake Ferguson by aspiring ‘collision coach’, Danny Buderus. Ferguson’s resulting cheekbone injury is expected to keep him out of the next 4-6 games. Referees’ boss Daniel Anderson’s later admission that the refs had stuffed up (both were dropped from first grade) wasn’t much consolation.
And yet, the Raiders seem to be a hope through much of the match. Newcastle is OK but beatable. After being down by two tries, the Raiders lead the game 12-10 at half time following tries by Joel Thompson and Josh Papalii. Ultimately, though, the second half sees the Raiders continue to scrabble about, going nowhere. The Knights do enough to win, putting the Raiders out of their misery with a sharp second half try to Tyrone Roberts and a double to Adam Cuthbertson.
Raiders fans are left wondering what happened to the promise of that afternoon last September. Maybe following the Raiders has come down to just enjoying those moments when they arise. It looks like anything good to come from 2013 will have to await the return of Terry Campese.
Waiting for Campo. Nothing to be done and so far we are doing nothing very well.
Newcastle 28 (Tries: Cuthbertson 2, Uate, Quinn Goals: Roberts 2/2, Gidley 1/2)
Canberra 12 (Tries: Thompson, Papalii Goals: Croker 2/2)
Referees: Gerard Sutton, Brett Suttor
Votes: 3 Snowdon (New), 2 Roberts (New), 1 Fensom (Can)
New Zealand Warriors versus North Queensland Cowboys
6.00pm, Monday, 1 April
Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
Out of proportion
I said in an article in last year’s Almanac that the Warriors’ performance during recent seasons has been in inverse proportion to the general pre-season consensus from media and fans alike as to how they would go.
The Warriors were not given much hope prior to the start of this season by anybody and, based on the logic above, I thought they would at least sneak into the top eight despite the horrid run of form at the back end of the 2012 season and a new coach in Matt Elliot who, to be fair, doesn’t really have any decent southern hemisphere success on his resumé.
Three weeks in and the season is looking shaky. The Warriors look like favourites for the wooden spoon and that’s saying something when a Ricky Stuart coached Parramatta Eels is in the same competition.
For this match, in what is one of the world’s true Rugby League outposts, I am Sri Lanka enjoying my honeymoon. There isn’t a lot of talk from the locals regarding Rugby League because their attention is on the cricket and Bangladesh’s tour of Sri Lanka. This lack of league interest suits me well considering the Warriors’ current run of form and the nine month losing streak they are on. I decide I’d be happier kicking back by the pool in the Kandian Highlands amongst the tea plantations blissfully unaware of league proceedings many miles away.
But curiosity gets the better of me and eventually I reach the lounger of the hotel pool and the Wifi allows me to get the final score without actually having to experience the anguish of listening to another Warriors loss. This is an ideal scenario.
I open up the Rugby League app on my phone and slowly scroll down to the Warriors’ match. The scrolling becomes slower as I reach the Easter Monday afternoon game. The top of the numbers appear on my screen and something seems to be wrong – the number next to the Warriors is higher than the number next to the Cowboys. It’s difficult to tell as I can only see two pixels vertically of the four digits. I decide to throw caution to the wind and with one swipe of the screen the score is there, right in front of my eyes: Warriors 20 Cowboys 18. The losing streak is over and the Warriors are on the board for 2013. How good is this?
Apparently, the Warriors showed some real character as well, which is more than a little surprising. Down by two tries early in the game after Kalifa Faifai Loa acrobatically scored in the right hand corner and the former Warrior Brent Tate scored in the same area. Importantly, the Warriors scored just before the break through Elijah Taylor to put them in a good mental space.
The second half was highlighted by a bullocking Konrad Hurrell try with the ubiquitous kiss to the camera, and a gutsy last stand by the Warriors to hold on with 12 men for the last part of the game due to a diminished substitute/injury permutation. Faifai Loa also cost his team a victory after a horrible drop over the line and with it his slim chance of Kiwi selection in the Anzac Test went out the window.
The Cowboys are certainly not playing as well as media and fans thought they would this season. In fact you might say their form is in inverse proportion to expectations. More important than personal theories, the Warriors are back into winning ways. Long may it continue.
New Zealand 20 (Tries: Hurrell, Johnson, Taylor Goals: Johnson 4/5)
North Queensland 18 (Tries: Faifai Loa, Tate, Winterstein Goals: Thurston 3/4)
Referees: Gavin Badger, Henry Perenara
Votes: 3 Locke (NZ), 2 Taylor (NZ), 1 Thurston (NQ)
Sydney Roosters versus Parramatta Eels
7.00pm, Monday, 1 April
Allianz Stadium, Sydney
One way signs
50-0. Who would have picked it?
Well, my mate Dave did, around about the second Roosters try. “Fifty!!!!” he screamed at us as the ref pointed to the spot and blew. We all laughed. The “fifty” call is a running gag amongst us in Bay 13 at the SFS. Well, it’s one of Dave’s running gags, along with his invitation to hit the post match celebrations back at the Easts Leagues Club anytime a home ground victory looks even remotely possible.
“Leagues Club?” he asks, all mock-stern faced. And, sure enough, it always gets a laugh. Monotony and predictability (or intellectual depth, for that matter) aren’t any barriers to our brand of at-the-game humour.
Back to Dave’s fifty call. Sure, we scoffed at first but then the Roosters really started to click and to pile on the points.
Sydney’s big men, led by Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Big Sam Moa (yes, ‘Big’ is now officially his Christian name, Sam his middle name), were steamrolling the hapless Eels defenders. On came Marty Kennedy who followed suit with some damaging charges. He was followed by monster Isaac Liu whose spirited debut appearance was followed by a spirited debate amongst us whether his surname was pronounced Lew, or Luey, or Lee-oo. We decided on Lew and settled back to watch him also rip the Eels defence apart.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck then started scoring tries that were so spectacular they were bordering on the ridiculous – almost as ridiculous as fellow hyphen Sean Kenny-Dowall bombing a try by passing to RTS when he should have just gone himself. As someone observed, it was perhaps the first try ever blown due to an act of generosity.
Things were only getting better: Sonny Bill Williams was dispatching sublime offloads at impossible times and from impossible positions while machine-like Boyd Cordner was running everywhere, tackling everything and generally just playing great. Then there was the completion rate – near perfect, which over recent years has been near impossible for the Roosters. Not to mention the penalties – we were actually winning the penalty count and, pinch me, Ben Cummins even gave us a penalty. Miracles do happen in footy.
The scoreboard read 22-0 at half-time, a big lead, but still a long way from 50. Then Ben Roberts came on. We cheered him louder than we cheered our own. As if on cue, Roberts threw a shocking pass which was never going anywhere other than to the ground around Darcy Lussick’s ankles. A few minutes later, the Eels finally worked themselves into some good field position and, this time surely on cue, Roberts knocked on from dummy half.
The Roosters took advantage and more points came, their fans delirious. Some even started a “Ricky’s a wanker” chant, aimed at Coach Stuart who sat forlornly on the sideline near the players’ tunnel stoically ignoring the taunts. But if his twitching neck and sweat patch on the back of his shirt was anything to go by, he was clearly distressed. As someone observed, the poor bloke was starting to look like Andy Sipowicz from NYPD Blue, which surely can’t be a good thing. But, hell, did that make us laugh.
We could only wonder what the ‘Game’s Greatest Thinker’ was actually thinking at a time like this as he watched his former side rip apart his current side. This was followed by nominations for our all-time favourite Ricky moments during his time in charge at the Roosters. There were many but the unanimous winner was his confining bench player Charlie Tonga to the sideline exercise bike for the full eighty minutes one time back in the days of his crumbling empire during 2005-06.
When the Roosters hit fifty, Dave was ecstatic. He’d got it right, but I think he was happier because he thought some of us were actually going to accompany him back to the League’s Club for once.
No one made it back to the club but, collectively, we were a very satisfied bunch of Easts fans. It was still early days and, unlike Souths fans who always seem to claim a premiership in February, way too early for any bold predictions. But there were positive signs for a good season ahead.
Sydney Roosters 50 (Tries: Tuivasa-Sheck 3, Waerea-Hargreaves, Williams, Jennings, Mortimer, Tupou, Cordner Goals: Maloney 7/9)
Referees: Ben Cummins, Chris James
Votes: 3 Williams (Roo), 2 Waerea-Hargreaves (Roo), 1 Cordner (Roo)
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