With only a few hours to go until season 2013 kicks off… hang on, what day is it? Oh. Ok. Right.
So, with only a few hours to go until the 2nd match of Week 2 of the 2013 NRL season, I thought there was no time like the present to dish up the 2nd annual TRIJS NRL season preview.
The 2012 preview, (which was released on time) didn’t actually steer readers too badly in hindsight. I correctly tipped six of the eight eventual finalists. The two teams I underestimated were Souths and Cronulla. Souths in particular I had badly underrated, placing them in my group of sides that had no chance of making the 8. My only defence in this judgement is that in large part I had thought Souths’ chances were slim due to the fact they had a rookie filling the crucial number 7 jersey. Adam Reynolds amazing season was hard to predict and was a big reason for Souths’ success. Two sides I tipped for top 4 did not make the 8; Wests Tigers and Newcastle. And while I tipped the Dogs to make the 8, I had them scraping into 8th spot, not running away with the minor premiership.
The triumphs from my 2012 crystal ball were having Melbourne and Manly correctly in the top 4, the Cowboys and Broncos correctly in the bottom half of the 8, and the Raiders, whom few had tipped to taste finals, just one spot off perfect in 7th. Finally, for no real reason other than the hunch they may have a letdown, I had the Warriors in 9th, which proved to be on overestimation of their success, not an underestimation as might have appeared likely this time 12 months ago.
I would be happy to be as close again this year, though I should point out that none of the above correct predictions appeared to assist me in any way whatsoever when punting or tipping last year!
On to 2013. I can honestly claim that although this is written midway through round 2, I have not changed any teams predicted finishing position that I finalise prior to round 1. The early form of the Eels, Warriors and Tigers is already threatening to make this list seem comical.
Blow that whistle, ref.
Will not make the 8
16. Parramatta Eels
2012 Prediction – 10th
2012 Result – 16th (6 – 18)
Expert Consensus – 15th
Note: All ‘Expert Consensus’ rankings are derived as the average of Big League, 2012 NRL Punter’s Guide and Daily Telegraph season preview rankings.
To say that 2012 was a poor season for Parramatta would be an understatement. Any preseason optimism generated by the arrival of high priced recruit Chris Sandow was quickly dispelled by a horror start which saw the Eels enjoy just 1 win from their first 11 games. The attack was disjointed and the NRL’s worst defence rarely kept the Eels in the game long enough for them to apply pressure to the opposition. The one positive to be taken from 2012 for the Eels is that their performance can at least partially be blamed on the absence of their talismanic fullback Hayne, who managed only 12 matches in the blue and gold last season. Parramatta did show some ability to spring an upset, with 4 of their 6 victories coming against eventual top 8 sides with a highlight being their home victory over eventual premiers Melbourne.
Very little has changed on the paddock for the Eels, with the retirements of Hindmarsh and Burt offset against the arrival of Darcy Lussick. Supporter’s hopes rest instead on the arrival of Ricky Stuart in the coach’s box. Stuart promises to improve a defence that couldn’t conceivably become much worse; however his current popularity as a coach is belied by his recent NRL record that saw him achieve a 40% win record over his last 6 seasons at the Sharks and Roosters. Stuart has shown an ability to get the best out of strong squads such as NSW and the 2002-04 Roosters, but lifting the Eels out of the cellar is a much different task and one that I believe will prove beyond him in 2013.
15. Penrith Panthers
2012 Prediction – 16th
2012 Result – 15th (8 – 16)
Expert Consensus - 16th
The Ivan Cleary era at Penrith began promisingly enough, with early season wins over the Roosters and Eels leaving the Panthers 2-2 after 4 rounds. That was followed by 5 straight losses, including back to back 30-0 defeats to the Sea Eagles and Tigers, which effectively ended their finals prospects by midseason. Penrith’s squad lacked the quality of many of their rivals across the park, and depth was tested by the early season injury to Michael Gordon, who was restricted to only 7 matches in what proved his final season at the foot of the mountains. Stalwart Luke Lewis missed close to half the year, while origin reps Tim Grant and Michael Jennings were out for vital stages as well. The season was notable for the sudden and unexpected departure of Luke Lewis to Cronulla, following an earlier controversial loss of the captaincy. On the bright side, in Blake Austin and Josh Mansour the Panthers unearthed two young players who look set to feature in the NRL for years to come.
2013 OutlookThis season again shapes as one of rebuilding for Penrith. The overt strategy has been to clear the decks of any large contracts, and to build depth for this season with mid-tier veteran signings which do not jeopardise long term cap flexibility. Overall the top 17 looks decidedly weaker than last year, with Lewis, Jennings and Gordon all departing – though none of those 3 played a full season. Perhaps the less explicable departure was that of young half Harry Seijka to the Warriors. The local junior would’ve seemed to fit perfectly into Penrith’s plan to promote local youth. Depth has increased through the arrival of Lewis Brown, Sika Manu and Dean Whare. The fact that much of the pre season excitement has been focussed on a possible superstar signing for 2014 is an indication that this season is viewed as a stepping stone to future glory by the Penrith hierarchy. Penrith will cause problems on their day but should fall well short of finals football.
14. Gold Coast Titans
2012 Prediction – 15th
2012 Result – 11th (10 – 14)
Expert Consensus - 14th
The Titans can take several positives out of what was an encouraging finish to the 2012 campaign. Their first half of the year was a disaster both on and off the field, with the side winning only 2 of their first 11 matches (including 0/5 at home… take that Gold Coast Suns!) and teetering on the brink of financial ruin. Whether player performance was impacted by the instability in the front office is a question for the sports psychologists; what the record shows is that the 2nd half of the year was much more successful, as a revitalised Scott Prince led the Titans back into playoff contention. Their hopes were finally snuffed out following a disappointing loss to also rans Penrith in round 25. Major positives were the form of Prince, especially after a poor 2011, the emergence of Aiden Sezer in the halves and the good form of recruits Nate Myles and Luke Douglas. A poor record of 1-4 in close games (decided by less than 6 points) ultimately cost the side which finished 2 games out of the 8.
The Titans prospects in 2013 took a sharp dive following foundation recruit Scott Prince’s move to Red Hill. Since their last finals appearance in 2010, the Titans have lost Matt Rogers, Preston Campbell, Nathan Friend and now Prince from the crucial playmaking spine. Young guns Matt Srama and Aiden Sezer have bright futures, and Albert Kelly is talented, but they don’t appear to have the quality and experience to steer the club to finals this year. The acquisition of Dave Taylor continues the trend of the Titans constructing their side as if to succeed at NRL dream team circa 2011 – namely to stack the side with as many backrowers as possible. In Bird, Harrison, Myles and Taylor the Titans back row rotation forces an origin player to the bench (though many will argue that is the natural place for the high impact Taylor) and Jamal Idris to the centres, where he does not appear a natural fit. The strength in the forwards leaves the side weaker out wide and a lot rests upon the young halves and hooker if the titans are to make any impact in 2013.
13. St.George-Illawarra Dragons
2012 Prediction – 12th
2012 Result – 9th (11 – 13)
Expert Consensus – 12th
With a rookie coach and ageing lineup, the Dragons performed largely to expectation in 2012. Their defensive standards remained high, allowing 4th fewest points and 5th least missed tackles. At Kogarah and Wollongong the record was an impressive 8-3. On the negative side, the attack failed to fire and could not produce the points required to win consistently, and the away record, even in Sydney, was poor. The Dragons were the first team in 5 seasons to finish in the top 4 defences and still miss out on finals football. The form of Brett Morris at fullback was a relevation and for such a poor attacking side the back 3 was an area of strength. The continued regression of Jamie Soward from his premiership winning form was the primary concern. Losing Weymann half way through the season was a blow, and while the dragons remained in the finals race until the final weeks they never seriously threatened to impact the playoffs. Highlight of the season for fans was probably the remarkable comeback to win the ANZAC day game in front of a well lubricated crowd of 35,000. The match had seemed over with 5 minutes to go but back to back tries including one from a short kick off saw the Dragons home.
The Dragons appear to be stuck in the decline phase that afflicts nearly all premiership winning squads not coached by Craig Bellamy or Des Hasler. Gerard Beale is the main recruit who bolsters an area of strength. Getting a full season out of Weyman will help though this may be an optimistic hope given his injury history. The departure of veterans Scott, Young and Hornby reduces depth and opens opportunities for juniors to step up. Perhaps the most exciting development for the Dragons is the recruitment of Josh Drinkwater, a star in U20’s with huge wraps on him. We have seen in the last two years that it is certainly possible for a rookie half to lift a side significantly. The fact that Steve Price has opted to start the season with Nathan Fien instead does not auger well for Drinkwater’s chances of emulating Cherry Evans or Reynolds however. The Dragons will once again be competitive however they lack the attacking firepower to trouble the top sides and will miss the 8 again.
May Make the 8
12. Canberra Raiders
2012 Prediction – 7th
2012 Result – 6th (13 – 11)
Expert Consensus – 11th
In many ways, 2012 was a typical season for the Raiders under David Furner. For the 4th year in a row they started slowly and were out of the 8 at the 2/3 mark of the season. In similar fashion to 2010, they stormed home from nowhere to make the finals on the back of a huge winning streak. Continuing the groundhog day theme, 2012 again saw a much awaited return by Terry Campese and another season ending injury, while Josh Dugan again missed time through injury. This is team that is inconsistent and seems to rely heavily on momentum and confidence, both within matches and throughout seasons. At their best they were unstoppable, beating the Minor Premier Bulldogs 34-6, Premiers Melbourne 40-12 at Aami park, and Cronulla 36-4 at Shark Park. They also lost 40-0 at home to the West Tigers in the wet. Major positives were the emergence of Josh Papalii, Jack Wighton, Reece Robinson as more than effective injury cover for Dugan and Sam Williams and Josh McCrone seizing the playmaking duties in the absence of Campese.
The Raiders return with an almost identical side in 2013, so the judgement on whether they will reach the finals seems to rest upon the question of ‘who is the real Canberra Raiders?’ Is it the team that started the year 4-8, or the one that finished 9-3? Yet again, the return of Campese is cited as a positive, but he struggled in his 7 matches last season and the side played their best football without him. The Raiders have plenty of talent across the park and at their best are world beaters but they are too inconsistent and prone to form slumps to be confidently tipped for finals.
11. Sydney Roosters
2012 Prediction – 14th
2012 Result – 13th (8 – 1 – 15 )
Expert Consensus – 13th
2012 was a bit of a year to forget for the Bondi glamour club. Individual players shined on occasion, and in Tautau Moga, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Daniel Tupou some exciting outside backs were unearthed. Yet for a side with so many exciting attacking players they often appeared bereft of ideas and directionless in attack. This is despite having the NSW halfback steering the side. Pearce’s inability to drag the Roosters into the finals reflects poorly on him when you consider the NRL record of recent blues number 7’s such as Brett Kimmorley and Andrew Johns, and may indicate that it is his continued selection in the NSW team that is the aberration. One team the Roosters did not seem to have trouble scoring against was the Tigers, whom they thrashed 42-28 and 44-20. The season was also notable for the amount of exciting and devastating finishes they were involved in. In round 1 they stunned arch Rivals South Sydney with two late tries. The tables were turned in similar fashion by the Dragons on ANZAC day, and Souths had their revenge later in the season in similar circumstances. All three finishes had to be seen to be believed.
The hype is huge for 2013 and on paper the Roosters have an enviable top 17. The NRL, not swayed by handshake agreements, has recently ratified and confirmed the return of Sonny Bill Williams to the NRL, a story which has dominated headlines in the offseason. Sonny Bill was a force of nature in his previous spell at the bulldogs, one of the most physically damaging players ever to play the sport. He will take time to settle in 2013 and expectations as to his impact may be too high. Malcontent Michael Jennings has arrived at Moore park and wasted no time belittling his former teammates. Jennings is a top class finisher and an upgrade over the departed BJ Leilua. The key to the Roosters though will once again be playmaking which is where James Maloney is expected to help. Maloney was ordinary last year at the Warriors after a strong 2011 season, and how much of his form slump was due to his already having signed for the Roosters is a question we should see answered this season (and is a question AFL fans sceptical of the NRL’s mercenary attitude with such dealings would no doubt believe is already settled). The Roosters are one of the most talented sides in the comp however major concerns remain in the areas in which they struggled last year – attacking structure and organisation and defence. Who do they go to on the 4th and 5th tackles in the red zone? SBW or Jennings? Pearce or Maloney? It is an advantage to have so many options but I wonder if at times this year the chooks will be running around headless. A lot depends on new mentor Trent Robinson. If he is as good as Michael Macguire he has the troops to achieve similar success to Souths last year, but with so many question marks I see the roosters missing the 8.
10. Wests Tigers
2012 Prediction – 4th
2012 Result – 10th (11 – 13)
Expert Consensus – 10th
About 30 minutes into last season James Tedesco’s knee went and it is tempting to declare the Tigers season never really recovered. While that would be overstating Teddy’s importance to the side, it was followed by an injury to key forward Keith Galloway and then a suspension to Robbie Farah, and by the time the captain was back the Tigers were in full crisis mode with a 1-4 record off the back of a devastating (yet somewhat familiar) golden point loss to Souths. A mid season seven game win streak pulled the side back into the 8 and they were in contention going into the final round against Melbourne, but in reality the Tigers never hit the heights expected. The Tigers were heavily hit by injuries. Gareth Ellis managed only 11 games in his final NRL season, Galloway missed 6 matches and Farah missed 8. The Tigers were not competitive without Galloway and Farah, the absence of the hooker in particular led to some gaping holes up the middle and huge opposition scorelines. The Tigers struggled to find a replacement for Robert Lui at halfback. Moltzen was ineffective, Miller was given minimal chance and the stop gaps trialled out of position did not provide support to Marshall who was left trying to do too much. The Tigers good patch of form coincided with Curtis Sironen partnering Marshall in the halves, before his season was ended by shoulder problems. Another positive was the superb form of Aaron Woods who stamped himself as a representative star of the future with his strong performances each week. Big name signing Adam Blair was hugely disappointing, further supporting the theory that Craig Bellamy coached forwards underachieve once they leave Melbourne. He has a lot of work to do in 2013 to regain the love of the Tigers faithful.
The Tigers side which contains NSW hooker Farah, NZ captain.. wait, former NZ captain Marshall, Galloway, Woods and Chris Lawrence still has enough talent to make the finals. The key issues are at Fullback and Halfback. Jacob Miller will be given a chance at half and the Tigers success this season will be closely correlated with Miller’s. Marshall is most effective when partnered with an organising half and it is here that Miller’s success (or failure) will manifest itself. Tim Moltzen had a poor 2012 and is the worst number 1 for kick returns in the league. Looking at the custodians for the top 4 sides last year it is clear the Tigers need more from this position and fans will be hoping James Tedesco is the answer. The backrow still seems undersized and understrength following the exit of Ellis and Heighington. A lot rests on the ability of Eddy Pettybourne to prove that he is deserving of a starting spot. The Tigers have potential for much better, but there are too many unknowns to tip them for finals.
9. New Zealand Warriors
2012 Prediction – 9th
2012 Result – 14th (8 – 16)
Expert Consensus – 9th
The Grand Final curse struck the Warriors hard last year. Like the Eels and Roosters before them, the Grand Final hangover was long and painful. What had been a poor season turned disastrous in the final 3rd of the year. The Warriors enter 2013 on the back of an 8 game losing streak, which included them throwing away three match winning leads against the Knights, Sea Eagles and Raiders and being thrashed by 40 points in back to back weeks against the Sharks and Cowboys. Alarmingly, commitment appeared to be missing and the reputation of the club and players took a battering due to their meek capitulation.
Hopes for 2013 largely rest upon the vast room for improvement available. The squad is not dissimilar to that which nearly went all the way in 2011. The Warriors are stacked with young talent all across the park – all that is required is for new coach Matthew Elliott to get the best out of them. Kevin Locke played a large part in the 2011 campaign and if fully fit this year he will provide a boost. Thomas Leiluai returns from the UK and should provide a steadying presence to complement the extravagance of Shaun Johnson. The Warriors were an abysmal 1-7 in close games last season. History shows that those results even out over time, so even a marginal improvement in overall performance will see the warriors hovering around the 50% win mark and the playoffs.
8. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
2012 Prediction – 2nd
2012 Result – 4th (16 – 8) – Eliminated Preliminary Final
Expert Consensus – 8th
At times during Manly’s injury interrupted 2012 campaign they looked the team to beat for the premiership. Many picked them to be the dark horse contenders entering the playoffs. However the strain of defending the premiership against motivated opponents week in week out proved too much, as it has for every premier since Brisbane in the 1990’s. (1998 or 1993, depending on your opinion of Super League). Manly hovered around the 50% win rate for much of the season with key players Glenn and Brett Stewart, Tony and David Williams and the oft suspended Steve Matai all missed chunks of time. Once the key players returned later in the year, the Sea Eagles hit their straps and entered the playoffs on a 6 match winning streak which had included impressive wins over the Rabbitohs, Cowboys and a thrashing of the Knights in which T-Rex was at his unstoppable best. For the 3rd time of the season they faced off against former coach Des Hasler’s Bulldogs, and that narrow loss effectively ended their season, by forcing them into a tough knock out semi against the Cowboys with a battered squad. The Sea Eagles were about to win that week, but were no match for a fresh and clinical Storm outfit in the preliminary final. Thus ended the best premiership defence since 2008, when the Storm made if all the way back to the Grand Final after winning in 2007.
Manly appear to be undergoing a period of decline that usually follows in the years after a premiership is achieved. While Tony Williams is the only top line star to depart this offseason, the additional loss of Lussick, Mauro, Oldfield and Whare leaves the 2013 squad thinner in depth than in 2012. At full strength, their top 17 is a match for any in the competition, halves Foran and Cherry Evans have their best football in front of them, and most of the key players from 2011 are still in place. The attack is very dependent on a healthy Glenn and Brett Stewart, and given history it seems unlikely both will get through a season unscathed. Glenn being out for round 1 is not a good start on that score. Manly’s success this season will be heavily correlated with the top 17 staying injury free. An average run with injuries should see them finish toward the bottom of the 8.
7. Cronulla Sharks
2012 Prediction – 11th
2012 Result – 7th (12 – 1 – 11) – Eliminated Finals Week 1
Expert Consensus – 7th
2012 was the best Cronulla season since 2008. New recruits Todd Carney, Jeff Robson, Bryce Gibbs, Andrew Fafita, Ben Ross and Isaac De Gois all justified their moves with strong seasons, complementing the existing core of Gallen, Graham and Jeremy Smith. Few in Cronulla missed the recently departed Douglas and Snowden. An early 6 game winning streak had them entrenched in the top 4, a recently unfamiliar position that they stayed in for most of the season. The Sharks were the first team to defeat the storm in 2012, and also tasted success against Manly and Souths. The season faded a little in the 2nd half as the inspirational Gallen struggled with injury post Origin, and a loss in their final home game of the season to North Queensland condemned them to a week 1 trip to Canberra to face the red hot Raiders. Despite the early finals exit, 2012 was a big step in the right direction for a club which had struggled in recent seasons. Shane Flanagan has built the squad nicely and their strong defence ensured the Sharks for competitive week in week out in 2012.
The 2013 Sharks outfit is the strongest on paper since the halcyon days of ET, Peach and the immortal Martin Lang. Gallen and Lewis are two of the strongest backrowers in the competition, Michael Gordon (when healthy) offers attacking class from fullback and Todd Carney is one of the key difference makers in the league. Goal line defence was much improved last year. Where the Sharks are lacking relative to the top sides is in attacking strikepower, especially in the centres. This was reflected in poor red zone conversion last year – the sharks were ranked 1st in metres gained but only 13th in points scored. Michael Gordon should help with this aspect of the game, but major improvement in attack is required if the Sharks are to be serious contenders come September, rather than in autumn.
6. Brisbane Broncos
2012 Prediction – 5th
2012 Result – 8th (12 – 12) – Eliminated Finals Week 1
Expert Consensus - 6th
The first season post Lockyer was a tale of two halves for the Broncos. After 8 rounds they were 7-1, and having finished 2011 with a 20-7 record, a return to super power status seemed imminent. Then, as it often has in the past, the representative period hit and hit hard. The Broncos won only 5 matches out of their remaining 17, and were blown away by the Cowboys in week 1 of the finals. When on song early in the year the talented and young side seemed to outskill their opponents all across the park, with everyone in the 17 playing their part. When struggling they appeared to really lack leadership, direction and that one superstar to step up and take control when the game was there to be one. In short, they missed Lockyer badly. After a strong start to the year the Wallace and Norman combination could not get the job done for the broncos and they were short of ideas and points as they slipped down the ladder.
Recruitment focussed on addressing the playmaking issues by bringing back to the club the familiar face of Scott Prince. When Prince ended his injury plagued Broncos stint by signing for Wests Tigers in 2003, you’d have received long odds that he would win as many premierships as the Broncos would over the next 10 seasons. Even at this late stage in his career, Prince will represent the best Broncos halfback since Langer if he can match his 2012 Titans form. Brisbane have lost some forward punch with Civoniceva retiring and Teo following the Dave Taylor route to South Sydney, however the pack remains an area of strength. This side has a habit of starting the year well and with Prince steering the side they should avoid last year’s fade out to make the finals. The level of improvement throughout the season of the younger brigade such as Hoffman, Norman, McCulloch, Gillett and Glenn will determine how deep the Broncos will play into September. Motivation should not be an issue after a poor finish to 2012 during which some reputations were damaged. This shapes as a crucial season in the careers of many Brisbane players.
5. South Sydney Rabbitohs
2012 Prediction – 13th
2012 Result – 3rd (16 – 8) – Eliminated Preliminary Final
Expert Consensus – 3rd
In 2012, Souths achieved their highest ladder position, only 2nd finals appearance and 1st finals win since the days when Mario Fenech was captain and George Piggins was coach. Coach Michael MacGuire proved an instant hit in the NRL. He made two critical selection decisions early in the year – Rookie Adam Reynolds would get first crack at the halfback spot vacated by Chris Sandow, and Greg Inglis would shift back to fullback. These two players rewarded the coach with monster seasons. Reynolds in particular was a revelation, as the playmaking area which had seemed a critical weakness for Souths turned into a strength. Inglis was destructive from fullback on a weekly basis, after a 2011 season which saw him too often isolated out wide while Sandow and Sutton monopolised the ball. MacGuire achieved drastic improvements in South’s defence and attitude and the results were plain to see. From 14th in points conceded and 16th in missed tackles in 2011 to 4th in points conceded and 1st in missed tackles. A side which was notoriously inconsistent and easy to put points on is now capable of playing tough football and grinding out results.
The stage is set for Souths to give the premiership a huge shake in 2013. The squad is as strong as last year, with the losses of bench forwards Taylor and Pettybourne offset by the arrival of Ben Teo from Brisbane and Jeff Lima from Wigan. Greg Inglis comes into the season fully fit for the first time in years and he is capable of exceeding the heights of last year. The forward pack remains menacing with 4 Burgesses, Asotasi and Crocker. The pack consistently sets a platform for Luke, Sutton and Reynolds to exploit. The one note of caution would be to note that in many ways the bounce of the ball favoured Souths last year, to an extent that may not repeat itself. Of 8 close games they contested in the home and away rounds they won 6, which indicates composure under pressure but also may hint that their 16-8 record was slightly inflated. Regardless, expect them to be thereabouts in the 2nd, 3rd and possibly 4th weeks of September 2013.
4. Newcastle Knights
2012 Prediction – 3rd
2012 Result – 12th (10 – 14)
Expert Consensus - 4th
2012 ReviewThe Knights were tipped for big things in 2012 with the arrival of Darius Boyd, Kade Snowden, Timana Tahu and the supercoach Wayne Bennett. Bennett had achieved instant success at St.George-Illawarra and most had expected similar dramatic improvement immediately for Newcastle. The fact that the Knights actually went backwards on the ladder was perhaps one of the biggest shocks of the season. A disjointed start saw them win just 4 of the first 13 games, essentially ruling out finals by midseason. Newcastle’s struggles in attack, particularly in utilising Boyd effectively, were much less surprising than their flimsiness in defence. At the Dragons Bennett’s coaching produced an immediate stark improvement in defensive structure and intensity, which did not occur at the knights. The cause was not helped by the mid season loss of captain Kurt Gidley. Nonetheless, the Knights did revive somewhat in the 2nd half of the year, winning 5 of their last 11, as they picked up two valuable mid season recruits at opposite ends of their careers. Willie Mason was thrown a lifeline by Bennett, one of the few coaches who could realistically deal with such a personality, and Big Willie rewarded him with strong play which belied the terrible form of his previous NRL stint with North Queensland. Dane Gagai was released by Brisbane due to off field issues. His on field form at the Knights could likely to have the Broncos regretting that decision in coming years.
The transformation of the Knights into a Wayne Bennett team is much closer to completion now that two more key players from the 2010 Dragons, Beau Scott and Jeremy Smith have arrived. They will add defensive starch up the middle. If the toughened forward pack can get on top up the middle, the Knights have oodles of pace and skill out wide to punish teams – Uate, Gagai, Boyd and Macmanus. A fit Gidley, possibly an optimistic hope, will also provide a big boost. The expectations of improvement in Newcastle this year are based on the improvements to the roster, the better form displayed over the 2nd half of 2012, and the belief that Bennett has now had time to fully implement his teachings. Before last year Bennett hadn’t missed the finals in 20 straight seasons – odds are against him making it two disappointing campaigns in a row.
3. Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
2012 Prediction – 8th
2012 Result – 1st (18 – 6)
Expert Consensus – 1st
Despite falling at the final hurdle, the Bulldogs were the Rugby League story of 2012. The Minor Premiers dazzled the competition with an exciting attacking style of football on their way to 18 regular season victories, 16 of those wins being by 7 or more, and were undefeated from late May until early August. They achieved these results with unique style of attack which is likely to be much imitated in 2013. Lacking a dominant playmaking half, Canterbury’s structure utilised ball playing forwards James Graham, Sam Kasiano, Aidan Tolman and even Frank Pritchard to instigate the attack and create room for their speedy outside backs. This interchange passing and variation within the forwards also neutralised the gang tackling and wrestling that has become omnipresent in the modern game, allowing the Dogs forwards to get one on one with defenders and achieve extra yardage and quicker play the balls than they otherwise would have. Once the space was created, Canterbury had the speed out wide to punish defences. The Dogs led the league in tries scored from within their own half, and in the average number of passes. These Bulldogs were the heirs to Ted Glossop’s Entertainers, with a dash of the defensive ability of Warren Ryan’s Dogs of War. Their achievements were a testament to the coaching ability of Des Hasler. The side which struggled in 2010 and 2011 was transformed in 2012 with minimal personal change. Frank Pritchard and James Graham were the key pre season signings, while Sam Perrett and Krisnan Inu were added for next to nothing during the season, moves that paid off handsomely for Hasler. The improvement in the remainder of the squad was huge. Ben Barba went from talented but unreliable to the undisputed Dally M winner. Josh Reynolds emerged as a contender for a NSW halves spot while Josh Morris reclaimed his place as the top left centre in NSW. Pritchard and Greg Eastwood both had career years, while Inu found a consistency of performance that had eluded him (to say the least!) at Parramatta and New Zealand.
2013 OutlookOn paper the squad is stronger than in 2012. On his day Tony Williams can tear defences apart, and Hasler will be expecting to get the best out of an enigmatic player. The likely return of Trent Hodkinson provides additional options in the halves. The key risks for the Bulldogs are the loss of James Graham for 9 weeks, the uncertainty over Ben Barba’s return date, the possibility of several of the stars of 2012 being unable to replicate their form in 2013, or that opposition defences will start to figure out the bulldogs attacking style. These concerns are minimised by the presence of Hasler, who to date has a proven ability to stay one step ahead of the pack and to keep his players highly motivated and focussed. Over the past 6 seasons Hasler has achieved 6 finals appearances, 4 Grand Final appearances and 2 premierships. It would be a brave man to bet against him adding a third in 2013. The Bulldogs could easily be premiership favourites, however due to the personnel who are out of action at the start of the season and the increased focus and expectation on them in 2013, I expect them to finish slightly behind the regular season pace setters.
2. North Queensland Cowboys
2012 Prediction – 6th
2012 Result – 5th (15 – 9) – Eliminated Finals Week 2
Expert Consensus – 5th
The Cowboys took a further step in the right direction in 2012, however ultimately the season finished on an unsatisfactory note. There were 5 strong clubs in last year’s competition, each vying for the top 4 and the 2nd chance in the finals system. By missing out on that chance, the Cowboys road to the grand final was made significantly harder, and the trip to Sydney in week 2 for a 2nd week of knockout football proved too great an obstacle to overcome. The fact that a week 2 finals exit was considered a major disappointment indicates how strong the season had been and how justifiably high hopes were that NQ could make the 2nd grand final in their history (a direct contrast to the other side who exited in week 2, Canberra, who were happy just to be there). Once again, co captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott led from the front, ably supported by a resurgent Matty Bowen and James Tamou, whose meteoric rise was capped with Kangaroos and Blues jerseys (to accompany the junior kiwis kit already in his closet). Perhaps the highlight for Cowboys fans was the rare 3-0 season whitewash of big brothers Brisbane, including a comfortable first week finals victory at Dairy Farmers stadium. Wins against the Broncos have been rare for much of the Cowboys history, so to best them three times in a year, and in the process extend their finals record against the Broncos to 2-0 marks 2012 as a banner Cowboys year in the history of the rivalry.
It’s time for the North Queensland Cowboys. Johnathan Thurston, arguably the best player in the game, is at the peak of his powers at age 30. He will remain at the club until 2017 however his window of opportunity must start closing in the next 2-3 seasons. The Cowboys squad is powerful across the park and has I believe the greatest depth of any in the premiership. Of their 25 man squad, only 2 players have less than 20 games NRL experience, and one of those is England international and NRL newcomer Scott Moore (The other is Joel Riethmuller). In contrast the Bulldogs have 7 players and the Storm have 5 with less than 20 games experience in their top 25. This means that the Cowboys are capable of fielding a strong and experienced team even on weeks when injuries hit during the season, and all players in the 17 have pressure on them to keep their spots. Players who did not make the cut for Round 1 2013 include Scott Bolton, Kalifa Fai Fai Loa, Clint Greenshields, Robert Lui, Anthony Mitchell, Michael Morgan (broken jaw) and Ricky Thorby. After their exit last year, the Cowboys must realise that securing a top 4 spot or ideally a top 2 spot is essential to them having any serious chance of advancing to the Grand Final. They have the squad to do it.
1. Melbourne Storm
2012 Prediction – 1st
2012 Result – 2nd (17 – 7) – Premiers
Expert Consensus - 2nd
After the devastation of 2010 and the disappointment of 2011’s preliminary final exit, the Storm could’ve been expected to enter 2012 somewhat dispirited and thinking their best chance at a title was behind them. Not a bit of it. Once again the formula of Slater, Cronk, Smith and coach Bellamy went about their work with a minimum of fuss, racking up wins with the usual blend of rock solid defence, excellent discipline and an increasingly slick and expansive attack. Over recent years there has been speculation of the Storm slipping as the likes of Greg Inglis, Israel Folau and Adam Blair have left for greener pastures. 2012 was the ultimate proof that the Storm’s player retention strategy has been aimed correctly, at the spine that has now seen them make 5 Grand Finals in 7 seasons and win 3 of them. The storm won their first 9 matches and 12 of their first 14 to essentially wrap up a finals spot by mid season. A slump coinciding with the representative season and an injury to Slater was arrested with a win over Penrith in Round 22. The Storm then went on to win their final 8 games to wrap up the premiership. Their dominance is perhaps best expressed by the fact that with a healthy Slater, Smith and Cronk on the park, their record last season was 19-2. Their defence was the stingiest in the league for the 4th time in 5 seasons (In the 2010 season, when they were playing for nothing, their defence slipped all the way to 2nd best in the league). Attack improved to 2nd in the league as the Storm attempted to blow sides away more quickly rather than grind them out. What a luxury! To adapt a playing style which was previously amazingly successful merely to improve the ease of victories and reduce the grind of the season on the players. Many other teams in the premiership attempt to reproduce the formula, but at this stage the Storm simply do it better than all of them.
Predictable as it may be, it is impossible to go past the Storm as favourites for season 2013. As long as the big 3 are fit and firing they have earned the right to enter the season on top. Some depth has again been lost over the off season with Lowrie, Sika Manu and Qld origin rep Dane Neilsen leaving, but reflecting on history there is little doubt that Bellamy will get the best out of new recruits Junior Sau, Lagi Setu and Junior Moors. Spinning gold from yarn is his specialty. Loyal soldiers Hinchcliffe, Hoffman, Finch, Widdop and Chambers should ensure there is minimal let down when any of the big guns miss through injury or representative duty. Canterbury, North Queensland, Souths and Newcastle have all reloaded for serous shots at the title, but once again the road to the premiership has to go through Melbourne.
“Why don’t you just change teams?” my wife habitually enquires, usually as I slip into yet another sulky stupor. My standard response is to gently remind her that it is far easier to change wives than teams.
In some ways I pity her, going about her daily life utterly oblivious to the lifelong endeavour of fanship. But then again, she isn’t the one hurling remotes at the TV, sitting hunched over in front of the laptop theorising about fictitious transfers or cursing referees like they’d violently slaughtered a herd of Unicorns (the correct collective noun is a ‘blessing’, but I couldn’t do it).
Much like a good marriage, fandom is based around loyalty although depending on which team you support, you may as well rewrite your vowels to say “in sickness and in hamstring injuries, through mid-table mediocrity and relegation dogfights, till administration do us part.”
But if Tottenham Hotspur were a wife, they’d be the type that takes up all your spare time, spends all of your hard earned and despite all the promises of a birthday romp, you wind up having to settle for a wristy when a timely migraine kicks in.
Okay, so maybe I’m overreacting. At least Spurs fans haven’t married an ex-stripper, all prone to bankruptcy and relegation, like the fans of Leeds United. But the fact the Tottenham faithful are still trading off the glory of the league/FA cup double some 50 years ago is a surefire sign that recent generations has had less than Russell to crow about.
Granted, we’ve seen some amazing players pull on the famous white jersey – the likes of Linnekar, Gazza, Klinnsman, Ginola & Anderton (wait, did I just type that last one?) to name a few, but the great teams have been as rare Cockerel’s teeth.
For a team that appears forever consigned to unwavering mediocrity, it is of little surprise that Spurs treat the race for 4th place like it is winning the Premier League. Not so much trying to climb Everest as content to scale the heights of Scafall Pike.
But not only are Spurs aiming low, they also seem to enjoy the kind of luck previously reserved for the Boston Red Sox after they dealt their Babe to the Yankees.
Take ‘Lasagne-gate’ on the final day of the season in 2006, where Spurs only needed to match Arsenal’s result to secure 4th place and the spoils that accompany it. Cue ten first team players hunched over an assortment of buckets and toilet bowls, a loss to West Ham and our season emphatically ended, rather poetically, in a sea of vomit.
But it hasn’t all been doom & gloom on the European front. In 2010-2011 we played in the Champions league, an event my Arsenal supporting friend described as ‘having his retarded brother follow him to the school disco’. But for a supposedly mentally handicapped side, Spurs played some very good stuff and topped the group giving defending champions Inter a belting in the process. That was followed up with a convincingly victory over AC Milan, but then the usual luck kicked in as we drew Real Madrid in the QF. Aaron Lennon got sick/nervous as the players were exiting the tunnel at the Bernabéu , Crouch got a soft red after just 15 minutes and there was no way back from there.
Last season, Spurs actually managed to finish 4th again, before lady luck (wearing Chelsea blue) scuppered our Champions League football yet again. To call Chelsea’s run to the trophy ‘arsy’ would not even begin to do it justice. From the late penalty to force extra time against Napoli, to the man-down-2-0 turnaround against Barcelona – Chelsea left even Cinderella and Euromillions winners feeling a little short changed in the luck department. But to top their unbelievable run, The Blues even managed to defeat a German team (who were playing at home) on penalties in the final, moving Spurs, for all intents and purposes, to 5th place. I mean c’mon!!!
But the fun for Spurs fans has not stopped there, so neither will I.
Tottenham didn’t just dip their toe in the transfer market this summer, they cannonballed off the 5 metre springboard. The first and most influential change came early in the summer as ‘Arry & the club parted ways. I, presumably much like Daniel Levy, had grown tired of the cliché fest that was Harry Redknapp – a man who the press adored for his ability to speak only in idioms, cockney riddles and constant sound bites, but who is yet to display any sense of footballing acumen in either a coaching or punditry role. But if he gave the club one thing it was stability. Something Spurs have seen only twice in the last decade, once under Martin Jol and again through Redknapp’s tenure, but both men felt the wrath of Daniel Levy and his distaste for 5th place.
Six managers over the past ten years (not including those in a caretaker role) has made coaching Spurs less desirable than drumming for Spinal Tap. But the steadfast rule to any managerial changes is before you wield the axe, you must have someone better lined up. Andre Villas-Boas was a failed experiment at Chelsea, who played favourites (particularly with fellow countrymen) and froze out senior players without the hint of an explanation. To put it mildly, he is the complete antithesis of stability.
There is already disharmony in the ranks with new signing, Hugo Lloris, already demanding sit down talks with the manager and he only joined the team 5 minutes ago. As the saying goes, hell hath no fury like a French keeper scorned, but it was the signing of Lloris that could have easily been deemed unnecessary to begin with. Despite his age, Brad Friedal has barely put a foot wrong between the sticks since he arrived at Spurs at the beginning of last season. Considering there is an £8 million pound reserve keeper (biggest impulse buy in history), Heurelho Gomes on the bench, as well as the artist formally known as ‘ the best stopper in world football’, Carlo Cudicini, sitting next to him, it could have been safe to assume that the money spent on Lloris could have been better invested elsewhere. There is no denying the French stopper is a talented keeper, but it seems most Spurs fans would have liked to see a sell-before-you-buy strategy undertaken here.
A surplus of keepers we can live with and I’m even willing to give AVB a chance to prove the naysayers wrong, but what Levy did to the midfield with the transfer clock winding down was unforgivable. To put it in its simplest terms, he took our best 2 attacking midfielders and replaced them with Fulham’s best 2 attacking midfielders. There is no better example of Spurs’ quest for midtable mediocrity than that. I’m not doubting Dembele could well transform himself into a club legend, but it will be some time before he is filling the huge boots left by Modric & Van der Vaart.
Hefty bans have been handed out following the A-League pre-season melee between the Jets and the Phoenix despite the aggressors presenting a highly plausible defense. During the hearing to decide the fate of those involved, the player that sparked the brawl, Manny Muscat, revealed that it was all just an elaborate welcome to the new FFA chief executive, David Gallop.
“Although it hadn’t been officially announced, news leaked into the dressing room before kick off that Gallop was the new boss (of the FFA). I had a quick chat with the players and we thought it best to welcome the man in the best way he knows how… with a big, pungent, steaming heap of controversy” Muscat revealed as the players faced the match review committee.
As he elaborated on the ‘welcome party’ it became even more apparent that the entire event was orchestrated by Muscat, and it was only through some quick thinking and the help of technology that he managed to get his opponent Tiago Calvano involved.
“We were trying to fire the Jets boys up in the tunnel to goad them into a bit of biffo, but I was struggling with Calvano as my Portuguese is more piss weak than Ronaldo following the slightest contact to his face. But then I was hit with some Gallop-spiration. I quickly borrowed Ricki Herbert’s I-phone and showed Tiago the infamous picture of Joel Monaghan and the dog with the blurry face. Turns out Calvano’s a real dog lover as they’re everywhere in Brasil. You could almost see the stream coming out of his ears… he was always going in hard. After that I just had to clock him one in the face, you know, as a congenial gesture to Mr Gallop.”
Despite his honest omissions, Muscat was still handed a 4 match ban by the FFA but was philosophical following the punishment. “Look, it’s only right that Gallop is immediately shown that suspensions & the name Muscat are synonymous in Australian football. I’m just glad I was able to make him feel at home in the A-League and get him up to speed.”
Other players involved, such as the Phoenix’s Ben Sigmund and Andrew Durante were also handed bans for charging in swinging during the incident that cleared both the benches. Durante’s defense was similar to Muscat’s as he explained his part in the fisty-cuffs. “For both teams to come running in like that is unheard of in the pre-season, especially after only 20 minutes or so. Plus there wasn’t even that much in the tackle. So i’d say it is pretty clear from the outside that this brawl was our way of rolling out the red carpet for the finest sports administrator in the country.”
Durante was probed further by the committee to try to reveal his motivation for this violent show of hospitality. “It was a momentous day” he states “I mean, the fact that Gallop can now say the word ‘football’ and it actually convey the correct meaning is landmark.”
When asked by the press outside what he believes Gallop might add to roundball in Australia, Durante said “well, we’ve got a new TV deal coming up and there are also mining magnates galore wanting their piece of the A-league, so there appears to be some cash money on the horizon for us players. So I dare say (Gallop’s) experience of being equipped to deal with a bunch of overpaid, uneducated, ultra-competitive morons who are generally a pretty thirsty lot with far too much time on their hands, might just come in handy.
But mostly i’m looking forward to a few rule changes. Maybe ’10 in the bin’ following a yellow card, or even tweaking the shoulder to shoulder contact law to also permit full-blooded shoulder charges. We do that, then the likes a SBW, Folau and Hunt might all be up for a code switch. I mean, another code switch.”
Muscat, Calvano and Sigmund were unavailable for comment following the hearing, as they were all off to the pub for a heavy session followed by a trip to the local tattoo artist.
It appears the welcome for David Gallop is only just beginning.
Axes are being sharpened, fingers are being pointed and the CSI-style dissection of the cadaver that is Australian sport has begun. Our Olympic success, or rather lack thereof, has been a constant hot topic around the water coolers & coffee pots of Australian workplaces. But as the debate rages regarding the medals we should have won, one gold we can certainly add to the leger is first place in snarky journalism.
The words ‘failure’, ‘disappointment’ and ‘under achievement’ have been ringing out ad nauseam depressing the masses faster than midnight pub curfews. It now appears that not only is the pen mightier than the sword, but the keyboard packs more brutal punch than a discus hurled 70 meters by a shirt-ripping German who fancies himself as a part-time hurdler.
This constant barrage of press negatively climaxed over the weekend when a team of 3 Fairfax journos (What price medals? SMH) pulled out their pocket calculators and worked out just how much each of our medals cost. They were throwing huge figures around and painting the taxpayer as some kind of trust-fund-chump that keeps bluffing off his stack at the poker table.
On first reading, figures such as $10 million+ per medal seemed as excessive as the Big Gulp I was slurping on at the time. But on closer examination of their argument, I’d have to say I stand against their entire premise and say I’ve got my money’s worth. Assuming the Australian population to be 22 million, the $310 million we’ve spent on our Olympic athletes between Beijing and London works out to be about $3.50 per Aussie per year.
Between all the international meets, world championships and now with the culmination of a captivating Olympics, I’ve got no qualms forking out the equivalent of a cup of coffee from my tax pile to our competitors in green and gold.
I certainly siphon far greater pride from some of the performances seen in London than I do from the toppled statue of a hunted dictator that came about partly due to my tax contribution to the $100 Billion spent on defense over the past 4 years.
But one cannot merely asses our sporting prowess and related expenditure without making a comparison with our rivals. So naturally, this economic masterpiece of an article compared us to Old Blighty and their spending.
There was no mention of the fact that with the Olympics being held slap bang in the middle of Britain, maybe they’d win a few extra medals due to home field advantage. This fact aside, the article stated that team GB’s haul “cost significantly less” coming in (at time of writing) at a miserly $7million per medal spent on their Olympic athletes over the past 4 years.
As the shock waves rung through me and I began to choke on my postmix mountain dew, it dawned on me that maybe these 3 Fairfax amigos hadn’t been so thorough with their calculations. Perhaps they had just taken the total cash spent between Olympics and the current currency exchange rates (with the AUD now at a near all time high against the GBP), completely ignoring the fact that in the last 4 years the British pound has been in the kind of slide that makes even Stuart Diver break a sweat.
Sure enough, the numbers were crunched using only the current exchange rate which paints the UK’s spending in a far more flattering light. I guess you could call it the silver lining to their cloud of economic capitulation.
If they had have calculated using the currency values from the year following the Beijing games, it would have made the GB medals even more expensive that the Australian ones. ‘What Price Medals?’ has been one of many articles whose chief objective was to take an Olympic sized dump on not only the Games themselves, but also Australia’s overall performance at them.
I’m surprised certain members of the press restrained themselves from accusing the Games organisers of reserving lane 1 of the athletics track for Boris Johnson had he chose to suit up at the last moment. Or that they haven’t complained that not enough athletic World records were being broken, despite every 2nd one being from 1988 which was the year the IOC stepped up their drug testing campaign. I even waited for the suggestion from the press that Leisel only swam at a decent rate of knots because someone told her the medals were edible.
None of these stories would have shocked me as others printed appeared to be in a vein of similar ridiculousness.
Now I’ll be the first to say our campaign should not come without any criticism at all. Steve Hooker looked like a guy who had let his twin brother, who had never even tried pole vaulting, compete in his place for a laugh. The Kookaburras let a couple of leads slip that were beyond laughable. And James Magnussen learnt the hard way that if you talk the talk, you best be able to swim the swim.
But there were others who, if you’ll excuse the pun, managed to turn the tide for Team Oz. Who’d have thought we’d ever hear the words “Thank bloody Christ for our sailors!” uttered from the Aussie working classes.
As the dust in London begins to settle, quite possibly in some kind of Boyle-inspired 5 ring formation, we look set to finish in the top 10 countries.
Hardly a catastrophe by any stretch of the Olympic dream.
It would not be a futile argument to suggest that with just a good slice of luck, the help of an alchemist or, if you believe the John Coates, about an extra hundred million bucks, we could have turned a few of those pesky silvers into gold and been pushing for top 5.
There’s no question in my mind that if the whole shebang cost me the price of a schooner, then that’s pretty great value for money. In fact if I ran into any of the Olympic team members, I’d happily buy them another round as with the treatment they’ve been given by the media, they’ll no doubt be looking to blow off some steam.
The regrettable urge of itchy thumbs that seems to supplant basic common sense in a footballer’s brain has yet again come under scrutiny in Premier League land. No, I’m not talking about Roo’s chubby opposers punching in the digits of some two-bit floosy from Bolton to arrange a booty call, but more of Rio Ferdinand’s fondness for Tweeting.
The controversy has stemmed from a somewhat convoluted chain of events that occurred during the trial of the Chelsea Grand Wizard, John Terry. Terry was charged with racially abusing the younger of the Ferdinand brothers, Anton, and during the trial, A$hl€y Col€ defended his Chelsea teammate in court. Around that time a Tweet was sent to the account of Rio Ferdinand, which said “Looks like Ashley Cole’s going to be their choc ice. Then again he’s always been a sell out. Shame on him.” Rio responded to this in a positive manner and even repeated the slur by saying “I hear you fella! Choc ice is classic hahahahahahha!!”
Now it doesn’t take the linguistic skills of Noam Chomsky to see that ‘choc ice’ refers to someone who is black on the outside but acts white in the inside. So it would appear for all intensive purposes that Rio thought it best to fight the racism fostered by Terry using some race based prejudice of his own.
Rio quickly backtracked by posting a follow up Tweet attempting to pass the comment off as nothing more than a reference to frozen desserts by stating “I’m more a cherry brandy man! Used to go for the twisters too back in the day! Classics” but no one was biting into that excuse for a second.
The English FA obviously got wind of the media storm the comments created and have now charged Ferdinand with improper conduct.
Sir Alex Ferguson is one manager who has made his views on Twitter clearer than the urine of a Chinese swimmer on a strict diet of masking diuretics. The fact that Ferdinand is a Twitterholic has never sat well with Ferguson who has described the social networking site as “a waste of time.” He has tolerated it thus far, but one must wonder how long Twitter will still be given the green light at Old Trafford if Ferdinand now receives a ban from playing.
The list of Twitter casualties continues to grow like the herd of disappointed British Olympians.
West ham’s Carlton Cole was fined £20K for suggesting that many of the Ghana fans watching the friendly at Wembley were illegal immigrants, Ryan Babel was hit with £10K for Tweeting a mock picture of Howard Webb in a Manchester United jersey and Jack Wilshere was handed a warning from UEFA for implying he bet on a teammate in a first goal scorer market. Despite this ever-growing list of whimsical cock ups, imposed Twitter bans from sporting teams are a rare occurrence, particularly at club level.
Rants on the social networking site can even lead to more extensive punishments. Swiss player Michel Morganella was even expelled from the Olympics for his racist remarks regarding South Koreans following Switzerland’s opening game loss to them.
Whilst his removal was perfectly justifiable, the question has to be asked ‘how much longer will clubs, managers and representatives, deem it appropriate for the thoughts of their players to be instantly beamed around the world?’
The players can talk up their newfound ability to connect with their fans all they like, but as soon as it is directly impacting in a negative manner on the team itself, then injunctions are sure to follow.
As for Ferdinand, well, he may soon be forced to count his ‘followers’ merely by the number of fans waiting outside for autographs. Not only has he Tweeted something highly inappropriate, but he has now found himself guilty of the very same close-mindedness that he took exception to in the first place.
The events of last season have highlighted how sensitive the racism issue in football is and Rio should have known better than to call the kettle black.
I’ve never been one to get too jazzed about an impending Olympic competition, as like the guy whose responsibility it was to castrate the eunuchs, I like my sport with balls.
Granted Handball, Ping-pong and possibly Shotput could all argue their way into my interests through technicalities, but they hardly induce the sporting salivary function like the State-of-O, a Rugby World Cup or a great summer of Cricket. And yes, even the greatest game of all has been an Olympic staple since 1900, but it now exists as some weird youth Football competition with a splattering of geriatrics and the fact it is Beckham-less makes it strangely even less palatable (excuse me while I scrub myself clean).
It has been this way since as long as I can remember. Even in the lead up to Sydney 2000 I can recall incurring the wrath of my Mother, someone whose passion for sport and unbridled patriotism makes the Olympics the highpoint of every 4 years, when I donned a homemade ‘F*** the Olympics’ t-shirt. It was crude, direct and lacked even the slightest hint of irony, yet at the time it was my only amour against the relentless hype that engulfed our nation in the weeks preceeding the Games.
But I stood there, happily corrected and considerably inebriated, as the Sydney 2000 party brought about some of the best memories of my late teenage years.
Juan Antonio Samarach’s proclamation of the ‘best ever Olympics’ resonated with me like a sublime Bill Hicks rant, and that was even before we knew that Sydney would be the last Olympiad in the pre September 11 era. As the Taliban turned on the West, little did they know that they would indirectly cause every subsequent Olympics to be held in some kind of ridiculous policed states, where one cannot even break wind in public without being surrounded by a pack of Special Forces Narco-beagles.
I imagine admission to Heineken House now required a strip search, a gold medal or a direct bloodline to Dutch royalty. Back in 2000, all it took was some blonde braids and a pair of clogs, which funnily enough was what I happened to be wearing at the time.
I was shifted from my anti-Olympic stance by Sydney and I get the strange feeling it is about to happen again. It seems as though the London Games is already in great form and it hasn’t even officially started yet.
I can’t quite come to grips with why I have this anticipatory smile on my face so crooked, the teeth are poking through like 5 overlapping rings of various primary colours.
Maybe it was that cheeky bugger at Olympics HQ who was responsible for putting the football national team videos together who decided to stir the Pyongyang pot.
It could even be the fact that the People’s Republic of China has been ousted in a government backed doping scandal just a day after I littered my Olympic tipping comp sheet with random Chinese athletes (in which the rules stipulate that no changes are made to points awarded after retroactive medal stripping).
But either was I am in to the bitter end, even though the pumbling we get from Team GB could just be one of Ashes proportions.
Even Craig Bellamy looks set to do his bit to add to the festivities, having already received a yellow card for mouthing off to the referee in tonight’s Team GB game against Senegal.
This next two weeks is sure to be full of surprises, it might just be like discovering the Pom’s ‘warm beer’ ain’t that bad after all.
So raise your ales to some quality Olympic competition, and let’s marvel at those riders who are trying to get their horses to moonwalk, applaud those divers who make a minimal amount of splash and wait nervously as we find out who gets the gold for being the world’s biggest BMX bandit. Giddy Up (yes, that is an Equestrian reference).
The Statue at the centre of the Parramatta stadium cover up saga has chosen to break his three year silence and speak out against the A-league’s new football franchise, the West Sydney Wanderers, or as The Statue referred to them “The Wog Sydney Wanker-Deros.”
With talk of him being covered up for Wanderers’ match days, the statue felt it was his best chance to go public since being unveiled in 2009 and speak out. “I am here immortalizing an Immortal of Rugby League and these cocky upstarts are going to come onto my turf and pretend I don’t exist?” he stated with the kind of lifeless, deadpan delivery only a statue and Wayne Bennett are capable of.
“People think being a statue is such a glorious existence. Let me tell you, apart from match days, it is a very lonely old time” Bronze Ray continued. “What’s worse is, I am stuck here representing a man that everyone referred to as Mr Perpetual Motion. I mean, I’m saddled with some pretty intense irony there. Fortunately for me, most Eels fans think irony is something their missus has to do when they get a job interview.”
As well as feeling like a bit of a loner, the Ray Price Statue has also been through some tough times with a health scare to the actual Ray Price some time back. “For me, the early warning signs were there, so when the Doctors said bowel cancer, I didn’t even blink. That’s largely because my eyelids are cast in immovable metal, but also because of the fact that I hadn’t taken a dump in years, if ever. There had to be problems in the pipeline.”
When asked for his thoughts on the current crop of players, The Statue of Ray said, “You know, they are a disgrace to the jersey, particularly that Jarryd Hayne. You know one time after training he climbed up and took a piss right on my head. I hope he was at Woolies handing out his resumé, because when the actual Ray gets the top job that’s where Jarryd will end up.”
It is not only the statue that the Wanderers intend on covering up, as there is a lot of talk of removing some of the famous Paramatta blue & gold for match days. “Un-fricken-beliavable” The Statue exasperated when told of this development. “To cover this place in North Sydney Bears colours? In the words of John McEnroe, who has quite inconceivably never been immortalized in statue form, ‘You cannot be serious!!’”
“These round-ball-kicking-leg-clutching-pack-of-schoolgirls can cover me up for all I care. I’ll still be here when their team in just a brief memo in the Parramatta Stadium history books. I am here to stay but their days are numbered. I’ll still be here when the A-league is defunct, when Jarryd Hayne is a checkout chick, when Stephen Kearney is no longer the Eels coach… actually, even the ball boys will be here when Kearney is moved on and they select them from the Under 9’s mini Footy side every year.”
When asked of any potential coping mechanisms to get through this tough time, the Statue informed us that he had reached out to others that had faced similar predicaments. “I rang my old mate, the King Wally Statue, for some advice as he has been through all this before. But it wasn’t very helpful as all he kept saying was ‘Stat-ue Ray?’”
Of all the jobs in the world, the one I’d give anything to trade with right now would be Arsene Wenger’s therapist. Assuming of course, he has one. But considering the loyalty being shown to him by players he has bought to Arsenal as virtual no names and nurtured into stars, then an hour a week waxing lyrical on a nice comfortable couch must seem like a pretty appealing prospect.
“Well, I believe that I have put in place a sustainable economic model whilst delivering success to the club, but many of the fans still question my abilities. I disagree with what they say, they are impatient and petulant. I delivered to them an undefeated season, is every fan suffering from dementia? As for my squad, well, I have developed these boys into men, given them a comprehensive football education and they want to leave me for more money as soon as it is offered. And as for the red cards, of course I saw them. I saw them all, I have eyes, no?”
You’d be hard up finding someone who wouldn’t sympathise with the revered manager, save for Spurs followers and restless ‘Gooners’ who are blood thirsty for some silverware after seven baron seasons. Wenger has every right to feel a bit sorry for himself. There is no doubting the intelligent Economics graduate has been the gunpowder that has helped fire Arsenal to a host of major trophies since he first took the reigns as a virtual unknown back in 1996.
Since that time, Arsenals involvement in the Champions League has been as assured as an Eastern Block accent on a London pole dancer. In fact, the Gunners having qualified for Europe’s top competition during every season with Wenger at the helm, with the exception of the first when they only missed out on goal difference.
But track record aside, some crucial developments last week have unearthed another man with apparently very little sympathy for the plight of his manager in the form of club captain Robin Van Persie. The Dutchman has refused to sign a new contract and openly slated his club for not providing him with a seat at the smorgasbord of ambition at which he longs to dine. This has all but signaled an end to his days in an Arsenal shirt as only 12 months remain on his contract forcing the club to either sell or lose any chance of a transfer fee.
There is no understating the enormous contribution RVP made to Arsenal last season scoring 30 of their 74 total league goals and assisting on a further 9. Theo Walcott, who also had considerable influence over recent seasons, is in a similar situation contract wise and may also follow his captain out the door. The loss of these key players, as well as the poaching of Nasi and Fabregas last summer, signals panic stations at Emirates Stadium as it is indicative of a club unable to adapt to the realities of modern day football.
The interplay between the major clubs in world football is changing. Whilst the main players still exist (Juve, Inter, AC, Real, Barca, Bayern, Man U, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal) and are highly active in the transfer market, a host of other clubs whose cogs are usually greased by black gold have entered the fray with bravado and the dollars to back it up.
The Rolex, Lamborghini & supermodel wife now all play second fiddle to the must have accessory of today’s billionaire – the football club, and many of these owners are just itching to pour their money into creating a team like they’ve just discovered Fantasy Manager.
The cream of Europe’s best footballing talent is now being enticed, not only by the usual suspects, but by Anzhi Makhachkala of Russia, as well as clubs in the Middle East, China and even to Ligue 1 to enjoy life in the narrow streets of the French capital. Even some Brazilian clubs have been shown to be capable of hanging onto young talent and coaxing aging stars home to pasture. But the Big Daddy of them all is Manchester City, who, in the same vein as the Chelsea sides of the mid 2000’s have shown that trophies can indeed be bought.
This new footballing reality leaves the likes of Wenger and his youth driven ideals between a rock and fourth place. Arsenal’s transfer policy and relatively frugal wage stucture is such that they will never be able to coax football’s top talent or even retain their best players, with few exceptions such as local boy Jack Wilshere who is as passionate an Arsenal supporter as there exists.
Much like Peter Crouch’s missus, Arsenal’s model was ogled at by the big spending clubs throughout Europe for a long time. Buy young, develop and sell on at a profit was their mantra, all the while maintaining a positive balance sheet and the ability to acquire trophies. But what was once the envy of the big spenders now appears to be the epitome of a small club mentality as the likes of City, Chelsea and United have shown the ‘value’ in purchasing the finished product.
Let us not forget, ‘Le Profs’ and his somewhat shallow pockets did manage to put together The Invincibles, the undefeated Arsenal side of 2003-04. He achieved this using his unique eye for spotting talent by acquiring lesser known, but very skillful players, at bargain bin prices (Henry £11m, Pires £6m, Viera £3.5m, Lehman £1.5m, etc). Although the chances of a team achieving similar successes in this fashion now appears impossible due to the extortionate salaries on offer from rival clubs and the extensive global scouting systems in place.
Arsenal are a club that is economically sound, yet as long as the notoriously stubborn Wenger is at the helm, they will not be upping the ante by paying large sums for established stars who could take them to the peaks of European football. Like a Catholic priest spouting the dangers of homosexuality, Wenger is at risk of becoming a manager who is grossly out of touch with the realities of the modern world.
If the mass exodus of their most prized assets continues, the future plans of Arsenal are left as broken as the tibia of Aaron Ramsey following a heavy challenge from Ryan Shawcross. And much like it was when the fans witnessed the horrific tackle on the young Welshman, the Arsenal faithful are sure to be left with a burning anger and the taste of sick in their mouths following the demise of their once glorious club.
At this summer’s European championships, UEFA have been faced with the near impossible task of dealing with constant volatility, but lead by their midfield general, Michel Platini, they have performed admirably drawing plaudits from a sway of human rights groups, fair play associations and most importantly, Sol Campbell.
Administrating this tournament was always going to like navigating a minefield, but UEFA’s hard line stance on the big issues, like branding on boxer shorts and entering on the playing field/arena, has sent a gallant message to the youth that follow The World Game.
When asked about their tough stance regarding ambush marketing, Platini stated “Children are highly vunerable and impressional creatures. That’s why it is important that we only pepper their subconscious with subliminal messages from UEFA approved conglomerates, not some faux Irish betting agency.”
So perhaps it was the gambling aspect that was the key issue that concerned UEFA in the Nicklas Bendtner’s Undies-gate case.
“We have no problem with sports betting provided it’s done through the correct channels, like the Italian FA” Platini stated with a face so straight, it could have been a bat that belonged to Geoffrey Boycott.
The Frenchman continued “UEFA have solid partnerships with many of our business friends who produce what we consider to be child friendly products. For instance, Coca-Cola and Castrol, although there was some confusion there initially as we thought those companies produced the same thing. McDonalds has a clown as their ambassador, so it’s more a less a, how you say, ‘gimme’ that it must be great for kids. As for Carlsberg, of course we do not condone underage drinking although we fully endorse the consumption of Carlsberg mid and low strength products for those under the age of 18.” ‘
Potential pitch invasion’ has also felt the heavy arm of UEFA, with the English FA being fined 5000 Euros for fans that ‘considered’ entering the playing arena following Danny Wellbeck’s goal against Sweden.
“We have trained out stewards impeccably in the lead up to this tournament, including lessons from Obi Wan Blatt-oni in Jedi Mind Powers. The steward in question was a telepathy specialist and was certain that the English fans had every intention of entering the playing arena, although they never actually got the chance.” Platini explained.
But UEFA must be applauded further for their attitude to officiating the matches, with the extra pair of eyes from the goal line assistant referee turning out to be a roaring success. “Sure, people will bring up the goal that wasn’t which destroyed the hopes and dreams of the impoverished fans from an already severely outclassed host nation. But replay technology offer no guarantees of the correct decision being made, at least that’s what my friends in Rugby League administration tell me.”
Other minor issues that have cropped up over the course of the Euro round matches have been that of the violence and racism variety. UEFA must be commended for sweeping these under the rug with in a swift manner with as little fan fare as possible. This way, the spotlight light has been shone elsewhere, meaning these footballing treasures have been allowed to fester without being eradicated.
“This is football and the sport just wouldn’t be the same without them.” Platini said of these two nuances that occasionally hinder football matches. “I don’t want it to get to the point where a child cannot bring a banana to a football match, I mean, it’s a piece of fruit. Like my great friend Sepp said, often these problems can be dealt with using a handshake, but maybe that is a little too lenient on the offenders. At UEFA we’re looking for something between a handshake and a slap on the wrists. A low-five perhaps?”
The tournament continues this week into the knockout stage, and there is little doubt that UEFA will continue on their noble quest to instill purity into the greatest game of all.
Despite the plane being full of leather clad Russians, all of whom were looking rather serious and sporting perfectly symmetrical, comb down fringes; as we hit the tarmac for the opening weekend of the Euros in Poland there was nothing but a smile on my face.
The irate-for-no-good-reason-Russians & I were greeted by a shiny new airport terminal, which matched the spanking new airport bus, which drove past the brand new stadium, which made it clear from the get go that the Polish were wearing their Sunday best for this greatly anticipated tournament.
Whilst the affable Poles did an admirable job of hosting, there was no shaking the Eastern Bloc feel of this Euros. Everything from the concrete render finish on the Miejski Stadion, to the military style friskings when entering the Fan Zone, to the curious tri colour salads that accompanied the massive slabs of meat; all bore the musty stank of a cold war hangover.
Before the opening match in Wroclaw (Russia vs Czech Republic), the atmosphere in the beautiful old town was brewing nicely and all were hoping that it wouldn’t boil over. It was a distinct possibility as the Russians marched around pumping out chants that were so militant, they would have made Che Guevara look like nothing more than a GP from Bueno Aires.
The Czech fans were far more relaxed as they went about their business of maintaining their status as the world’s leading consumers of beer.
UEFA’s concerns about ambush market clearly didn’t extend to the city centre, as there were enough promo girls floating around to have me believe the playboy mansion had installed a tunnel direct to Wroclaw. Three new credits cards, four new mobile phone contracts & a couple of carcinogenic- Eastern-Bloc energy drinks later, we decided to drag out sore necks out to the stadium.
As we began to make our way, the early game was in full swing and it was the hosts, Poland, in complete control at half time against Greece. Few could have predicted that just a week later, the Greeks would not only be going to the polls but finishing above them. Football is the most unpredictable beast and only time will tell if Zeus’ lightning can strike a second time and deliver Greece the most unlikely of tournament victories.
Not having tickets turned out to be no problem at all as we encountered an older Russian man on road out to the stadium who looked desperate to sell. Using his trophy wife as an interpreter, we offered him half price and as the rain started to get heavier, he begrudgingly took it. Little did we know, the old man must have had some serious UEFA connections. As we moseyed in to our seats right on the halfway line and rested out feet on the dugout just a few meters from the head of Russia’s Roman Pavlyuchenko, it looked as though the football Gods were smiling on four Aussies with an unwarranted interest in European football.
The quest for a pre-game beer lead us to a lengthy line serving Carlsberg. It was only after standing in the queue for a few minutes we saw the most deflating, un-Polish fine print imaginable. There in English, of all languages, written in the equivalent of font size 8 on a large beer sign were the dreaded words ‘Non Alcoholic’.
After consulting the ‘beer’ server who shamefully confirmed the lack of potency, we felt it only appropriate to inform the line full of Czechs and Russians looking to wet the whistle, before the whilstle, about UEFA’s fun police policy. This deterred barely any of them and one even turned to me, shrugged his shoulders and said in an accent that belonged to a bond villain “it is still a beer.” Well, actually Sir, no it isn’t. But despite this, they took the cold ones away a half dozen at a time and I even saw something resembling a beer snake later in the night, but minus the messy tribe you usually see in Bay 13 holding it aloft.
The game itself was a cracking affair with Russia dominating proceedings and looking very sharp. Alan Dzagoev, himself a victim of the uniform Russian fringe, looked highly deserved of the hype that surrounds him. Arshavin’s oversized rump seemed to stretch from the wing to the area behind the strikers but his creative influence was palpable. Pav scored a cracker, largely because I whispered in his ear before he went on that he should shoot on site, something Spurs fans will claim he was already fully aware of.
The Czechs were virtual onlookers although they did have a sniff after getting it back to 2-1 as Vaclav Pilar, ‘the Czech Messi’ according to the chaps next to me, found the net. Despite the goal, the only comparisons I could draw with Messi were the fact he was left footed and most likely needed growth hormones as a child.
Apparently this game was marred by violence against the stewards although we saw nothing of the sort and as we filed out, we high fived the Mr Tickets & his trophy wife who had, unforgivably, ended up with worse seats than us.
It was a fantastic match with goals a plenty and the ensuing party went long into the night. A perfect start to our time in Poland and a great taste of the best the Euros has to offer. Well, apart from the kiddy beer that is.