Almanac Rugby League – The Rugby League Almanac 2013 on-line: Round 3

SHA_Shamrock Civil_Hor_Logo_PMS


Round 3


Melbourne Storm versus Canterbury Bulldogs
8.05pm, Thursday, 21 March
AAMI Stadium, Melbourne
Chris Sammut

The hard yards

I imagine Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Craig Bellamy and my wife to be the same personality types. Since they were six and a half, they’ve never doubted what they wanted to do with their lives. They constantly expanded then refined their skill sets until they became streamlined arrowheads fizzing unwaveringly through the air toward their targets.

Me, I think I’m like Bryan Norrie. I have a record store and spent the first few years getting repeatedly concussed and dropping the ball before getting to the point where I can get hit with a crowbar and not feel it anymore.  It took me and Noz a few years to become vital members of the team and we don’t get paid as much but we add a bit of humour and self-deprecation. We’re well liked, especially after putting in the hard yards (mowing the lawn, painting, demolishing the bathroom, etc.).

Today, Billy Slater kicked a guy in the head while taking a bomb, got put on report and everyone in NSW went hysterical. It looked accidental to me. Last time these teams met, in the Grand Final a few months ago, Billy got throttled by David Stagg and bitten on the ear by James Graham in the space of thirty seconds and still scored a try five minutes later. I admire that kind of resolve. Footy is full of life lessons.

Storm took a handy lead but they looked a bit off to me. Ryan Hinchliffe scored from a nice Cooper Cronk pass. I didn’t know Hinchy could run so fast, after all he looks like he’d be more comfortable wearing blue bib-and-brace overalls. Fonua scored a nice one in the corner. There’s no middle ground with that bloke, rocks or diamonds. Sam Perrett scored for the Bulldogs. He’s not too annoying, I guess.

Then Cronk put up a nice kick for Matt Duffy to jump and score. Nice one. I’m enjoying watching Duffy evolve from a fresh faced kid with a permanent look of concern wondering what the boss is yelling about into a war ravaged piece of granite held together by bolts. Lagi Setu came back from a Mormon mission and scored a try, too. I imagine he has a very nice family and they’re very happy right now.

Then Inu scored for the Dogs and did his annoying smiley thing when converting. Josh Morris, who is pretty cool I suppose, made a break and Kris Keating scored off it and it’s like the ultimate insult really. Now it’s 22-18 with four to go and I’m not talking to anyone in the house.

Why does Des Hasler hate us so much? The Bulldogs have half their team out injured, they’re running on pure hostility and almost getting over us. You bit OUR guy’s ear! Like me, the Storm look like they want to debate this inverted morality, not comprehending the arse about anger directed at them rather than standing and slugging it out.

We hang in there, Michael Ennis doesn’t win the game for his team, and life is OK. Does Des Hasler like Ennis? Cameron Smith openly admitted to liking him once, or maybe he liked the fact he was NSW hooker and they lost. I imagine he could be disingenuous like that.

It’s a weird, complicated life. Sometimes you’re better off just putting your head down, making the hard yards and not thinking too much. It was Ryan Hoffman’s 100th game tonight, and I’m sure he’d agree.

Melbourne 22 (Tries: Hinchcliffe, Fonua, Duffie, Setu  Goals: Smith 3/4)
Canterbury 18 (Tries: Perrett, Inu, Keating  Goals: Inu 3/3)
Ben Cummins, Chris James
Crowd: 11,923
3 Cronk (Mel), 2 Smith (Mel), 1 J Bromwich (Mel)



Wests Tigers versus Parramatta Eels
8.05pm, Friday, 22 March
Leichhardt Oval, Sydney
Mitch Dale

This is suburban rugby league

The air is thick with the smell of burning onions and sausages, and the narrow streets that crosshatch through Leichhardt are abundant with black and gold clad humanity. Indeed, these lanes are more clogged than a Biggest Loser contestant’s arteries.

It’s Friday night at Leichhardt Oval. The spiritual home of the Tigers. The spiritual home of suburban rugby league.

You find the source of the aroma – one of the hotdog vendors that dot every corner. You order one with the lot. Interesting fact: as a boy, Wayne Pearce sold hotdogs before Balmain games on these very corners. Actually, that’s not an interesting fact at all – every Tigers fan worth his salt should know that.

I’d like to think that if such a place as Tigers heaven exists, on arrival there you would be greeted by Laurie Nichols who would ask, “Which former Balmain skipper once sold hotdogs at Leichhardt?” You’d answer, “Junior”, thereby proving yourself a Tigers tragic, and Laurie would throw a couple of uppercuts, then swing open the black and gold gates and let you in.

If Leichhardt is the home of suburban rugby league, then surely Nichols – the singlet-wearing, shadow-boxing Balmain fan – would have been King when he was still with us. Favourite Laurie Nichols story? It would be the one about the time he boarded a packed train and approached a lady whose cat was taking up a seat. Laurie asked if he could sit there only to be told the seat was for the cat. Without blinking, Laurie said, ‘Rat-a-tat-tat, say goodbye to your cat’, picked up the moggy and hoicked it out the window of the moving train. It is more than likely urban myth but those who knew Laurie swear anything was possible with him. And it is a great story . . . unless you are a cat-lover.

But I digress. Back to Leichhardt and, hotdog in hand, we proceed into the ground.

I’m here with two mates, both named Dave. To avoid confusion, I will call one Irish Dave and the other Fat Dave. Irish Dave is Irish. Fat Dave is not really fat. He was starting to get some love handles a while ago, so he became known as Fat Dave. Naturally, Fat Dave is not happy about the moniker. Fat Dave will be less happy when he sees it used in print.

Fat Dave’s greatest claim to fame is that he played juniors with Mick Weyman in Moruya. He is adamant he was a better defender than ‘Horse’ back then. While Mick went on to play for the Raiders, Dragons, NSW and Australia, Dave went on to captain the Petersham rugby union first grade side before returning home to Moruya with his wife and kids to play for the Sharks at the oval named after Mick’s dad, Ack.

Irish Dave knows rugby union like the Pope knows the Bible. But he knows not Australian sports like rugby league and cricket. While watching a game of cricket last summer, Irish Dave turned to me and asked, ‘If the ball bounces over the fence, is it a six?’ True story.

So what better way to indoctrinate Irish Dave in the ways of the NRL than a trip to the home of suburban rugby league?

Having waited a painfully long time for a beer, we find a patch of grass on the hill and take in proceedings.

The Tigers jump out to an early lead courtesy of a double to Chris Lawrence. And while Lawrence rolls over Chris Sandow effortlessly for his second, he is still not the same player he was before that dislocated hip. The explosive speed isn’t quite there, neither is the sharp step. And you send a prayer up to Saint Laurie Nichols and ask that those traits come back to Lawrence soon.

A Blake Ayshford try makes it 18-blot to the Tiges at halftime. When Benji Marshall catches Parra napping with a quick tap (taken with his shin) from a penalty and sprints 70 metres to score in the 50th minute, I remark to Daves Irish and Fat, “It’s gonna be a long year for Parra fans”.

Parra grab two late tries to make the final score a more respectable 31-18 to the Tigers. It’s a match that never reaches any great heights, apart the performance of Robbie Farah who was head-and-shoulders above everyone else.

As Robbie collects his man-of-the-match award from Freddy Fittler, we head for the exit, Fat Dave banging on about winning the best tackler trophy in the Under-12s and Irish Dave asking why everyone on the hill groaned when Benji kicked out on the full.

A fine night had at the home of suburban rugby league.

Wests Tigers 31 (Tries: Lawrence 2, Ayshford, Marshall, Moltzen  Goals: Marshall 5/6  Field goal: Miller)
Parramatta 18 (Tries: Morgan, Toutai, Loko  Goals: Sandow 3/3)
Shayne Hayne, Alan Shortall
Crowd: 18,326
3 Farah (Tig), 2 Lawrence (Tig), 1 Mannah (Par)




Gold Coast Titans versus Manly Sea Eagles
4.30pm, Saturday, 23 March
Skilled Stadium, Gold Coast
Lindsey Cuthbertson

One perfect day

In many ways rugby league isn’t just a game to me but also a conduit through which I can travel back in time and re-encounter versions of my former self. Through modern-day renditions of matches etched into my mind I can teleport back to any moment I wish.

And out of all my memories of matches that will stay with me for life, a Titans-Sea Eagles match on the Gold Coast is probably one that is most vivid in both recollection and nostalgia. As a 10-year old boy from a small New South Wales town, the game between the then-Gold Coast Chargers and Manly at Carrara in 1998 was the first NRL match I ever attended.

The match fell just after my tenth birthday and, as my grandmother had promised to buy me a Sea Eagles jersey as a present, I had written to Cliff Lyons – one of my favourite players – a few weeks beforehand asking if some of the Manly players would be able to sign it at the game. The letter was sent away and, in my life of school, backyard footy and BMXing, quickly went to the back of my mind. My birthday passed and my jersey had not arrived due to a delay in getting a number printed on the back. I was excited about going to my first match and simply assumed that my letter would not get a reply.

It didn’t receive a written reply; instead my home received a phone call the Friday morning before the game. One of my parents answered it and passed the message on to my school to call them back. I jogged up to the office wondering if something bad had happened. As I quickly discovered, the exact opposite had happened.

Cliffy had called asking if I was still coming to the game. When he was told I was, he asked if I had received my jersey for my birthday. When told I hadn’t, he responded by offering to organise a jersey himself and getting the entire team to sign it. He also said that if I was to come to the Manly dressing room 30 minutes after the game and mentioned my name, I could come in and meet the players. I don’t think I paid attention to anything for the rest of the day. My mind was consumed by excitement and the kind of pure joy that only the young possess and the older reminisce about.

That excitement turned to impatience on the two-hour drive up to the Gold Coast. In the darkness the trip felt like an eon; the walk from wherever we parked to the stadium itself felt even longer. Once we had sat down at our seats, however, the impatience reverted back to excitement.

That first match of mine went by in a blur. Manly won in convincing fashion. My brother and I ate buckets of hot chips to stave off the winter cold and we bruised our heels stamping on the metal flooring beneath our feet in unison with the crowd each time something thrilling happened.

But it was what happened afterwards that is a well-preserved reel of memories stored inside my head, reminding me of how we were ushered into the dressing room by Cliffy himself, his hand on our shoulders as he introduced my brother and me to his teammates one by one and how, in turn, they ruffled my hair and made me feel like the most special kid on the face of the earth. I can hear how they laughed as I pulled a wad of footy cards out of my pocket and politely asked “Mr Toovey”, “Mr Menzies” and “Mr Fulton” for their autographs. I can see Cliffy presenting me with my new jersey, adorned with the players’ signatures, and I can feel its fabric in my fingers as I clutched it in the back seat of the car all the way home.

This match may have been a defeat for my team but the memories it conjured up made it a whole lot easier to bear.

Gold Coast 16 (Tries: James, Mead  Goals: Sezer 4/4)
Manly 14 (Tries: Taufua 2, Symonds  Goal: Lyon 1/3)
Matt Cecchin, Luke Phillips
Crowd: 13,168
3 Myles (GC), 2 Sezer (GC), 1 Watmough (Man)





Sydney Roosters versus Brisbane Broncos
7.30pm, Saturday, 23 March
Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Michael Grosvenor

Bondi boys are bonding

The Roosters used to always play the Broncos on Good Friday. Not sure why…maybe the NRL felt it appropriate given how the refs have been crucifying Easts in the penalty count year in year out. Whatever the reason, Roosters fans always knew where and when the three most important club games of the year would be played well before the draw was made – Souths home or away in Round One, Broncos at the SFS on Good Friday and Saints at the SFS on Anzac Day.

These games are more than just Round games – they are events that tend to attract supporters from other clubs knowing they are going to get a great game of rugby league. Even though the Roosters had an ordinary time of it last year, they still figured in three of the best matches of the year. The first match of 2012 against Souths is always a standout. This was no different with the Roosters coming from nowhere to blouse the vermin on the bell. Of course, they would go on to do exactly the same thing to us later in the year. And the Anzac Day match was more of the same with Saints somehow stealing victory by scoring 12 points in the last three minutes.

The Good Friday games also used to be down-to-the-wire pearlers that the Broncos would invariably win. So it was with some disappointment that the regular Good Friday match against the Broncos was scrapped last year. And it doesn’t look like returning with this year’s match against the Broncos coming early in Round 3. The Broncs always seem to perform well against the Roosters regardless of when and where the match is played. Since Brisbane entered the comp, we’ve played them 38 times for only 14 wins, which includes a loss in the 2000 Grand Final.

This encounter promised to be a close affair. Both teams entered the match with a win apiece and the Roosters’ big buys of Sonny Bill Williams, James Maloney and Michael Jennings, while yet to fully gel with their new teammates, showed promise. Brisbane folded badly last year but have too many good young players to do the same again. The Roosters firmed to favourites, however, just before kick-off when Justin Hodges was ruled out and replaced by speedster David Stagg.

In the first two weeks, it appeared the only attack Brisbane had was through Justin Hodges. And the proof was in the pudding. Although Brisbane had plenty of the ball to start the game, they had no real attacking ideas and struggled to break the Roosters’ impressive defensive line. When their only potential attacking options, Scott Prince and Corey Norman combined close to the line, poor ball security saw them stuff what turned out to be their only realistic try scoring chance for the night. Conversely, when the Chooks started getting more of the ball after the 20 minute mark, it seemed a matter of time before they scored, and it was the two new boys SBW and Maloney who combined for the latter to score in the 30th minute. Halftime 6-0 to the Chooks.

The second half was a Scott Prince-Peter Wallace clinic on how to achieve repeat sets without looking like scoring. Wave after wave of Broncos one-out running followed by deft in-goal kicks was the Brisbane method. And why not, they figured they would fatigue the Roosters out of it rather than rely on a non-existent attack to win them the game. But these Chooks are made of sterner stuff under Coach Robinson.

The Roosters repelled seven repeat sets to start the second half and, when done defending that, got down the other end quick smart through a Michael Jennings break. Although the set only ended in a James Maloney penalty conversion, the extra two points were enough to see the Chooks defend their way to an 8-0 victory, the first time they had kept an opposition scoreless in five years.

Sydney Roosters 8 (Try: Maloney  Goals: Maloney 2/2)
Brisbane 0
Referees: Gerard Sutton, Brett Suttor
3 Waerea-Hargreaves (Roo), 2 Williams (Roo), 1 Thaiday (Bri)



Cronulla Sharks versus New Zealand Warriors
2.00pm, Sunday, 24 March
Sharks Stadium, Sydney
Andrew Smith

The streak continues

For all you Almanackers out there who were lucky enough to get your hands on the 2012 edition, the following may seem familiar to you. In fact, if you dig out your 2012 edition and flick to Round 22, Warriors v Sharks at Mt Smart, you could copy my review from that day and paste it into today, Round 3 of 2013, with the only difference being the venue, which this time is Shark Park.

On that fateful Sunday in August last year, Cronulla blew the Warriors off the park. As it transpired, this was during the early days of a record losing run which saw the Warriors lose their last eight games of the season. Unfortunately, the streak continues to this day and stands at 10 losses in a row. It was hard to know that day whether the Warriors were beaten by a decent side or were just so appallingly bad that even the Otara Under 7’s would have given them a hiding.

Now, the Sharks are embroiled in a drugs scandal. Reports of unacceptable behaviour from club staff members, dodgy dealings by a sports scientist, covert trips by players to dealers’ houses and supplements being administered out of trunks in the parking lot are all rumours that have done the rounds recently. The club is without their head coach and four other support staff who were either stood down or sacked as part of the ongoing investigation.

Warriors fans could be forgiven for thinking there was no way a club in such a dark place could put together a decent performance. No way, the two points were in the bag and the record streak would end right here, right now.

Well, how wrong were we. As it was at Mt Smart in 2012, the Warriors were thumped. Not quite as heavily as the 45-4 thrashing handed down that day, however the score line of 28-4 was probably flattering to the Warriors as they were bloody pathetic.

This time it was clear that the Warriors are rubbish, a laughing stock even. Thrashed by a club so deeply mired in crisis; beaten so heavily with such a listless performance. Each loss seems to be getting worse. We are heading in the wrong direction at pace.

New Coach Matt Elliot is only three games into his tenure at the club and already fans are screaming for his head. While that might be a bit tough on the coach, who was not wanted by players in the first place, common sense should see him get a few more yet to prove himself.

The game itself was over as a contest by halftime. A try to John Morris in the ninth minute got the Sharks off to a great start which was consolidated by Michael Gordon in the 33rd minute and Beau Ryan in the 38th minute.

An 18-nil lead at halftime was always going to be insurmountable for the Warriors and it proved so as Sam Tagataese and Geoff Robson killed off the game well and truly. Only a late 75th minute try from centre Konrad Hurrell got the Warriors on the board.

For the Sharks, the forward pack laid the platform for the dominant performance. Paul Gallen was at his brilliant best with 198 metres, 19 tackles and two offloads. He was supported by a blockbusting performance from Andrew Fifita whose early season form is putting forward a strong case for further honours later in the season. Fifita chalked up 160 metres and 29 tackles. New recruit Chris Heighington chipped in with 156 metres, 19 tackles and two offloads.

On the other side of the field, the only bright spot was the performance of teenage rookie Ngani Laumape. Laumape led the metres for the Warriors with 116 and showed up his more experienced teammates with an 80-minute effort, showing maturity beyond his 19 years. Laumape will be one to watch and provides a glimmer of hope for the future amongst the ashes of the underperforming club.

So we have to wait another week to stop the rot. The club needs to seriously pull its finger out to turn around such an abject performance. Maybe returning home to Mt Smart next week for the first time in 2013 will provide some much-needed inspiration.

Cronulla 28 (Tries: Morris, Gordon, Ryan, Tagataese, Robson  Goals: Gordon 4/5)
New Zealand 4 (Try: Hurrell  Goals: Johnson 0/1)
Adam Devcich, Henry Perenara
Crowd: 12,183
3 Gallen (Cro), 2 Fifita (Cro), 1 Laumape (NZ)



Penrith Panthers versus South Sydney Rabbitohs
3.00pm, Sunday, 24 March
Centrebet Stadium, Sydney
Paul Dalligan

Rabbitohs reach a not so Rocky Mountain High

They say if you can’t do it at that ‘Vegas of The West’, the sprawling Panthers’ Leagues Club, then you can’t do it anywhere.

Well, on a blistering Sunday afternoon in Penrith at the foot of the Blue Mountains, the Rabbitohs may finally have managed what for so long proved elusive: they won the type of game that for so many years they would have let slip. Losing the unloseable, that used to be the South Sydney way but maybe, just maybe, this Rabbitohs team may have what it takes to reach the Holy Grail for the first time since 1971.

Early on the Rabbitohs were more in control than Tom Cruise in Top Gun, scoring almost at will from every attacking raid they launched. The Panthers have come under fire of late with some critics questioning whether any family would want to spend hundreds of dollars to go to see Tom Humble and Luke Walsh in action. But any NRL fan knows there are no givens in this game and that a win at Panthers Stadium can prove as difficult as trying to win a jackpot in the pokie palace next door with only a dollar coin in your pocket.

Souths quickly raced to a 12-nil lead thanks to some bustling work from the much improved John Sutton. Before the game Coach Maguire showed he meant business by sacking the previously untouchable Roy Asotasi, with some Rabbitohs fans concerned the coach was taking inspiration from the Australian Cricket Team and its infamous rotation policy.

Those doomsday fears were quickly shelved, however, when the Bunnies surged to a 28–12 lead with the Dally M winner in waiting, Greg Inglis (Cooper Cronk will look good in silver), breaking the line almost as easily as he is scooping up Dally M votes this season.

But like a pokie player thinking the free spins would last forever, the game suddenly turned against the Rabbitohs as the locals built momentum with a try to David Simmons reducing the deficit to 28–16. It took that man Greg Inglis to restore the Rabbitohs’ lead again after some fine lead-up work from Isaac Luke and the possibly-soon-to-be NSW Number 6 John Sutton with the score out to 34–16 at halftime.

With any other team but the Rabbitohs, such a lead would usually be safe but the Mountain Men had other ideas. After a marathon defensive effort where they repelled the Rabbitoh raids for five complete sets on their own goal line, Dean Whare and Tom Humble combined to reduce the deficit to 14 points with the scores at 34–20. Then, when the very impressive ex-Cowboys recruit James Segeyaro did it all himself to reduce the lead to 8 points, you could almost hear the ripple of excitement surge through the ground and maybe even a few pokie players next door rushed out to get amongst the excitement. Or maybe not. But who cares, they can keep their free spins as this game was spinning up a Sunday afternoon 14-try football feast of its own.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man and Greg Inglis decided to step up again – only to be denied in an inspiring defensive effort by the suddenly not so humble (forgive me) Tom Humble. After that heroic effort, this Rabbitohs tragic was fearing a Scott Sattler style inspiration to bring the home team back from the dead, particularly given Sattler’s place in the Panthers’ Hall of Fame.

And when that man Segeyaro starred again, combining with Luke Walsh and Wes Naiqama, the insurmountable Rabbitohs lead was suddenly cut down to two points at 34–32 with eight minutes to go.

Any Rabbitohs fan who said they were not nervous at that point was either lost in the ‘World of Entertainment’ next door or is built of much sterner stuff than this writer. If the worst was to come true it would have surely ranked right up there amongst the biggest leads ever clawed back in the NRL, somewhat appropriate if it was to be a Panther doing the clawing.

Images of a rabbit run down by a panther would be appealing only in a David Attenborough documentary but there would be no late carnage today as two Panthers mistakes ensured the Rabbitohs got the spoils 44–32 after late tries to Ben Te’o and Nathan Merritt.

It was a case of no mountain climbed yet for the Rabbitohs but, in winning a game they used to regularly lose, maybe the Chinese were a year early in declaring The Year of the Rabbit in 2012.

South Sydney 44 (Tries: Merritt 3, Sutton, Everingham, Goodwin, Inglis, Te’o  Goals: Reynolds 6/8)
Penrith 32 (Tries: Simmons 2, McKendry, Tighe, Segeyaro, Naiqama  Goals: Walsh 4/6)
Ashley Klein, Phil Haines
3 Inglis (Sou), 2 Merritt (Sou), 1 Segeyaro (Pen)



Canberra Raiders versus St George Illawarra Dragons
6.30pm, Sunday, 24 March
Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Marty Spencer


Competing priorities, including the preparation of a presentation on Kant’s theory of the aesthetic, ensured I would be unable to venture out to Canberra Stadium to watch the mighty Dragons explode the mythology of ‘hoodoo’.

With a cheeky Tatachilla shiraz and some Mersey Valley cheese and water crackers to keep me company, I was ready to watch St George beat Canberra at home for the first time since 2000. In that match, which I attended, the Dragons had to overcome an 11-2 penalty count to score five tries to the Raiders’ four to squeeze home 30-20. That was before the Sydney Olympics, before September 11 and back at a time when Dave Furner and Laurie Daley were playing, not coaching. Not only is Canberra the beneficiary of a staggering home ground advantage, but they have beaten the Dragons on 14 of their last 15 outings, a real thorn in the Dragons’ side.

But what constitutes a hoodoo and can it become self-fulfilling? In the English Premier League, West Ham travel to the Scouse fortress of Anfield on 6 April – a ground where they have not won since 1963. In American baseball, the Curse of the Bambino saw the Boston Red Sox, after selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees, fail to win a World Series for more than eighty years. But when does a hoodoo constitute a choke? The fact of the matter is that the Raiders manage to lift for the Dragons match even when their own season is on the skids. Conversely, St George seem unable to play at the required intensity week in and week out, and Canberra is just another hurdle in what will be a long season for the Dragons and their faithful supporters.

The first 15 minutes of the match suggested the game might be a dour struggle with neither side prepared to show their hand early. However, when the Dragons scored first from a deft little Nathan Fien cross kick to the flying Brett Morris (who continues to be one of the best finishers in the game), things were looking promising for the Red Vee. Despite the early promise, the Raiders bounced back with tries to Josh Dugan’s worthy replacement, Reece Robinson, who scored on either side of the break, with Sowie managing a solitary field goal on the halftime siren.

Despite being in this match until the Raiders put it beyond doubt with Jarrod Croker’s second try of the half at 77 minutes, the Dragons were a shell of the side which won the premiership in 2010 under Wayne Bennett. Under Benny’s guardianship, the Dragons won the title with a solid amalgam of discipline, defence and desire – three facets sadly missing from the 2013 St George Illawarra Dragons. Their completion rate was 65% which is clearly second rate.

Last year I covered Round 22 for the Almanac, which was the 2010 Grand Final replay between the Dragons and the Chooks. I wrote in relation to that loss, ‘The real cause for concern is the Dragon’s inability to convert scoring pressure into tries. A lack of imagination in attack and failure to execute at crucial times cost the Dragons on a number of occasions.’ Sadly, nothing has changed. Soward’s insistence on low percentage plays such as mid-field bombs must be eliminated. On Sunday he made just three runs for nine metres and his game has become predictable and ineffectual. The injury to Kyle Stanley makes the argument persuasive – Josh Drinkwater to halfback, Nathan Fien to five-eighth and Sowie to the bench.

Price might also consider taking a leaf out of Des Hasler’s coaching manual and giving B Moz a centre spot like his brother – he can do no worse than Nightingale and might actually spark something in attack. I look forward to a long season of hand-wringing and a great gnashing of teeth. Bloody hoodoo.

Canberra 30 (Tries: Robinson 2, Croker 2, Earl  Goals: Croker 5/5)
St George Illawarra 17 (Tries: Morris, Vidot, Fien  Goals: Soward 2/3  Field Goal: Soward)
Jared Maxwell, Gavin Badger
Crowd: 12,115
3 Croker (Can), 2 Robinson (Can), 1 Morris (Dra)
























Newcastle Knights versus North Queensland Cowboys
7.00pm, Monday, 25 March
Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
Mark Shannon

Bennett and “The Boss”

Cyclone season in Queensland runs from November to April. Huge tropical storms sweep in from the Coral Sea bringing destruction and bucket loads of rain to places like Cairns, Townsville and Mackay. As these meteorological beasts make landfall and head south they gradually lose intensity and peter out into rain depressions, pale imitations of their former selves.

It sounds a lot like the North Queensland Cowboys in general and their performance on Monday night against the Knights in particular. They began like Cyclone Yasi for the first 15 minutes, dominating play and scoring first through Gavin Cooper before losing intensity and disappearing faster than a Xavier Doherty full toss into a Mohali grandstand. The result: Newcastle 34, Cowboys 6.

Cowboys fans have seen it all before. Tremendous, intense performances at home followed by meek capitulations on the road. I have seen it more times than I have seen Steve Matai get up holding his neck. The coach, ‘King’ Henry, has seen it all before, too. The solution has so far eluded him and his predecessors as frustratingly as premiership success used to elude Wayne Bennett.

There is something brewing down in the Hunter as well.  The Knights are building slowly like a thunderstorm in the distance. It looks a fair way away at the moment but eventually it may arrive. The man in the eye of the gathering storm is none other than the great Wayne Bennett. Since he began his senior coaching career in Ipswich in the 1970s he has truly experienced it all. Demoralising grand final defeats with Souths in 1979 (26- 0 to a Strudwick-led and Lewis-inspired Valleys) and 1984 (42-8 to Wynnum-Manly, Lewis again) book-ended an unsuccessful stint at Brisbane Brothers. From all reports, Bennet could coach but success remained elusive. He was like a kid with a Rubik’s cube that could get all the sides the same colour bar one.

March 31, 1985: Bruce Springsteen played QE2 Stadium in Brisbane.  Many, who saw the show, including myself, rated it the best they had seen. The Boss had well and truly arrived as a rock music superstar.  In September of the same year, on the other side of town, Souths defeated the great Wynnum team 10-8 in the BRL decider, one of the great grand finals of all time. At last, Wayne Bennett had arrived as a Rugby League coach. To bend some of Springsteen’s lyrics, “at last the bad lands had started treating him good.”

The winning Souths side featured players of the quality of Belcher, Jackson and Meninga. John Elias was the man of the match and Norm Carr scored the only try. Gary French kicked 3 goals. Wynnum Manly had Lewis, Miles, Dowling, the French brothers, Scott, Coyne and so on. Arguably, the two strongest teams ever to contest a Brisbane grand final.

Wayne Bennett is now 63 years old, the same age as Bruce Springsteen. A lot has happened since 1985 but both men are still going strong. I saw The Boss play last week at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre. Top show, too.  He may have “lost a yard or two” in the voice department but he can still entertain an audience.

Entertaining an audience has never been a priority for Wayne Bennett. Winning football games and premierships is his go. Since those bitter defeats in the BRL (and another as assistant coach at Canberra in 1987), Bennett has somehow discovered the winning formula. A twist this way, a twist the other way and, like the kid with the Rubik’s cube, everything fell into line. Once the puzzle had been solved, there was no stopping him. Since 1987, Wayne Bennett is 7-0 in grand finals.

Now he is putting the band together for what might be his farewell tour. He may not succeed this year but don’t count him out over the next couple of years. As for the Cowboys, they will get there in the end. ‘King’ Henry could do worse than sit down with Wayne Bennett and have a yarn about persistence or, better still, give The Boss a ring and find out the secret to performing well on the road. He sure has the answer to that.

Newcastle 34 (Tries: Uate 2, Roberts, McKinnon, McManus, Boyd  Goals: Roberts 5/7)
North Queensland 6 (Try: Cooper  Goal: Thurston 1/1)
Jason Robinson, Gavin Morris
3 Roberts (New), 2 Uate (New), 1 Cuthbertson (New)



Leave a Comment