The Office Hot Raiders

I have to preface this by saying that I started writing this article before James Tedesco signed with the Raiders and it is just an awesome coincidence that he is an example that I have used in here but was by no means the instigator for me to write this.

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So what am I talking about?

To explain it properly I have to go back almost 15 years to a time when I was still a teenager and first started working in an office.

Having only worked in bars and doing manual labour prior to this, it was quite a culture shock to start in an office environment and begin to see all of the little nuances that I have since discovered to exist in almost every office (Ricky Gervais has done a pretty good job of illustrating what I mean, so I won’t go into too much detail). The Friday afternoon drinks that start the following week’s office rumors. The sometimes staggering obesity. The institutional misogyny of high powered male bosses* and the general ‘slut shaming’ that it provokes on the office floor. But there was something else that took me a little while longer to understand.

I was about 6 months in when I realised that I had become infatuated with a girl in the office. My only interactions with her were in the kitchen or the elevator and no longer than 10 seconds at a time, but she seemed smart and funny (though I really had very little to go on there) and therefore the only other impression I could be left with was how she looked physically. In short, she was hot. She managed to keep a smile on my face most days that I had to work my shitty job and that is no mean feat. I didn’t really have the courage to do anything about it, and the more I waited the more attractive she got to me.

Then it happened.

I was out with some friends on a weekend at a place that she happened to be at, and at first I didn’t even recognise her. She actually said hello to me before I figured out who it was. This wasn’t because she looked drastically different to how she did in the office. In fact she looked pretty much the same. The problem was that out of the office environment, no longer surrounded by the misery, dullness and aforementioned obesity, she no longer stood out. It was a Saturday night and all of the other girls around were done up and looking their best. Trying to hide anything that they (mistakenly) think a prospective mate might see as a flaw. Sometimes they are just trying to look as good as they can to feel good about themselves for once. It really must suck to be a woman, and I definitely don’t envy them at all. The point is, in this environment, my office crush blended into a sea of pretty good looking girls. It was the first time that I discovered the phrase “Office Hot”**

A similar phenomenon happens in the NRL (and other sports too, I’m sure), but as far as I know it doesn’t have a name. So Office Hot it is.

From about 1990 to the time they were dismissed from the competition, South Sydney were The Office. They never finished above 9th. Supporting them was a nightmare. To make it worse, the Bunnies faithful kept getting glimmers of hope, and having them taken away. You see, on an outrageously average South Sydney team, a Craig Field could look like the next Craig Coleman. He was even named Craig! He was a young up and coming halfback, that with the right direction could go all the way. So teams would begin to circle, and eventually Manly were able to nab Field with the promise of finals football and big money. Of course once out of the ghetto and into the penthouse, all of his flaws began to show and he was shown to not be the talented half that he appeared to be at Redfern. Darrell Trindall was a standout for Souths and his fans could never understand why he wasn’t recognised – until they actually watched games not involving the Rabbitohs of course. In the late 90’s Craig Wing was far and away the best player on the Bunnies roster and while he continued to have a good career, he was never the best player on a team again after he moved on.

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There have been players like this at all sorts of clubs. Players that were given an opportunity at the next level – City/Country, State of Origin, whatever their next level was – and have failed, but for mine, since the turn of the century, the NRL’s biggest Office Hot breeding ground has been the Raiders.

For me their ‘patient zero’ is the halves pairing of Mark McLinden and Andrew McFadden. They came along not long after the demise of the Daley and Stuart partnership that brought a lot of success to Canberra, NSW and even the Kangaroos. They were young players who would show flashes of brilliance, and on a struggling Raiders team, were often praised as having the potential to do the same as the men they replaced. Of course the furthest that either of them got was a single Country Origin jersey for McLinden in 2001.

Next cab off the rank was Brett Finch. Had all of the same traits as the Maccas before him and all of the “potential” talk was there for him – so much so that the defending premiers Roosters brought him in to try and defend their title. It’s a feat he never achieved. Still, the powerbrokers in NSW saw fit to give him a couple of attempts at igniting an origin career, and in spite of kicking the winning field goal in one appearance, he never reached the heights that the early praise anticipated.

It is well known that the Raiders have struggled for the best part of 15 years to attract big name and quality players to the nation’s capital, or even to keep the good young players that come through. This is surely one of the contributing factors to the reputation I am giving them here. The players in Canberra actually DO get picked up by other teams, or occasionally given a representative jersey when the cries of the Canberra faithful and media become too loud, and actually have the opportunity to be exposed. Players like Craig Coleman may have ended up being exposed, but due to the era he played in, he never got a representative jersey, and he was a club legend at Souths who were able to hold on to him.

But when you start to look at a list of Canberra players over this period, you can see what I mean

Ryan O’Hara – Boom front rower that was expected to make an impact on the representative scene. Played one Origin match and was way out of his depth. His entire career never recovered from it.

Joel Monaghan – Unstoppable try scoring machine at the Raiders, who in spite of some David Bradbury representative honours, didn’t really make an impact on the game until he went to the dogs.***

Phil Graham – Speedy winger who was an integral part of the limited success the Raiders had and his career peak was when he got a Country Origin jersey in 2007, which says enough on its own, but he ended up at the Roosters and did nothing.

Terry Campese – Another player that was supposedly “full of potential” (which at Canberra I have come to realise just means ‘has some skill, prone to errors, wildly inconsistent’) and somehow managed to fail upwards. Was selected for the Kangaroos and had no impact, which gained him a NSW Country selection, where he again had no impact. This of course led to a NSW selection where he… you guessed it, had no impact.

Michael Weyman – Looked to be the great white hope when he emerged at Canberra and while he managed to pick up a premiership in his move to the Dragons, he never did anything to live up to the expectations that were placed upon him from his time in Canberra

Tom Learoyd-Lahrs – His work in a lime green jumper got him a call up to both NSW and Australia back in 2009-2010 and such was his non-existence and subsequent fall from grace, that I was genuinely surprised to see that he is still playing first grade

Josh Dugan – Undoubtedly talented, and almost certainly never going to be the star he was made out to be

Blake Ferguson – See above

Need I go on?^

In all honesty, it’s baffling how a player like Anthony Milford still manages to draw all the plaudits that he does. Has nobody been paying attention? I mean, it isn’t impossible for him to go on and become a star, but the truth is, the odds are firmly against him.

The Raiders have led the way in this department for a long time, but they are not the only ones. The Tigers have their own recent history with a string of players who were talked up for almost a decade since their Premiership in 2005 and mostly peaked in the City v Country arena.

From the Liam Fulton, Bryce Gibbs and Chris Heighington era to the unfulfilled potential of Chris Lawrence and Keith Galloway, they are in danger of looking to take the title all together if people don’t calm down on the largely unwarranted hype on players like Brooks, Sironen and particularly Tedesco, who has all the hallmarks of a Raiders player if ever I saw one^^

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Souths still have their own examples in the likes of John Sutton who while setting the record for the most games played for the Cardinal and Myrtle, never took the next representative step that he should have.

There are players all over the league that fit this description and the Eels have an amazing history with halfbacks that deserves a mention, but the question is, even with the mounting challenge of the Tigers, is it even possible for the Raiders to escape this cycle?

The system in place in Canberra seems to feed into this. They buy or breed young players with potential, give them plenty of first grade experience at a young age (where they get to show the Canberra definition of ‘potential’ that I previously mentioned) in the hopes of teaching them to become quality players by the age of 23 and getting almost a decade of play out of them. They supplement these players by bringing in some experienced heads on a higher salary (which they can afford due to having so many young players on smaller pay) to show the kids the way.

It is a solid model, so much so that the Panthers have taken it on board with their recently implemented strategy. But the most important part of the strategy is the part that the Raiders can’t seem to complete. They can’t keep the players that are good enough to produce for them once they get a bit of exposure unless they pay way more than the player is actually worth. This goes for the older players they bring in too. The higher pay packet brings unrealistic expectations for the young players and tends to lull the older players into complacency. It is a problem that Penrith shouldn’t have, but the Raiders probably can’t escape without winning a title or two and attracting players that way. But with this system in place, it doesn’t seem a realistic proposition.

But what other options do they have? This seems like it might be the only way for them to find limited success (which is exactly what they have had for the last 15 years) therefore leaving them stuck in a perpetual loop. At a club like Canberra, this may be all you can realistically hope for!

So spare a thought for the Raiders paying a frankly stupid amount of money for James Tedesco^^^ – He may be their Pam Beasley/Dawn Tinsley. The hottest girl in the office might be all that they want.

 

 

 

*Parts of this article are going to seem like misogyny, but I have confirmed with female friends that they feel the same way. You’ll understand when I get there.

**Urban Dictionary definition – Someone who is defined as hot, but only because of the lack of options enforced by your place of work. Being stuck in work tends to add 2 or 3 points in the “out of ten” rating system. ‘Cheryl is looking office hot today. If she was in the street I probably wouldn’t look twice tho’ – See, totally misogynist. That doesn’t change that it is a real thing though.

*** Eh? Get it?

^I have left plenty out because I could probably name about 20 and don’t have the time, but honourable mention to Todd Carney, who I couldn’t in good faith put on this list because he did have one streak that won him plenty of the games highest accolades, but has really never looked close to that player before or since

^^Again, I just want to re-iterate, that I wrote this BEFORE he signed with them. Sometimes things just work out too well.

^^^Obviously, this part was written AFTER the signing

 

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East meets West – We know which is best

ImageFor most teams, the NBA regular season is 3 games away from wrapping up, and if you read a lot about the game, you will spend a considerable amount of time over the next few weeks reading about MVP candidates, title contenders and all of the other award winners. Throughout the season much has been written about the abhorrent quality of the Eastern Conference, the powerhouse that is the Western Conference and the way the current system incentivises teams to bottom out and lose through the draft lottery and how it has been particularly exciting to have Adam Silver take over the front office of the league with some potential for exciting new ways to fix the problems that the league has. The few defenders of the current draft system point to the way it is designed to lift up teams from the bottom and over time, even out the league as a whole. But I am here to tell you that under the current system it cannot, has not and never will work.

For almost as long as I can remember the Western Conference has been significantly stronger than the East. But it has never been this bad. The three measurements I use for this are as follows –
Which Conference does the team with best record come from?
Which Conference does the team with worst record come from?
And by far the most important one,
Which Conference requires the higher record to make the playoffs?

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The reason that’s the most important one is because that’s what makes the West so much better is the teams in the middle. There might be a great side or two in the East and an abomination in the West, but the majority of both divisions sits in between these two and that is where the West dominates

The quantity of just how much better one conference is than the other is measured by where the 9th placed team in the good conference would finish if they were in the bad conference.

For example, if the season were to end right now, the best record belongs to the Spurs (West), the worst record belongs to the Bucks (East) and in the West a 59.5% winning record is currently missing the playoffs, while in the East a 45.6% winning record is making it to the post season. The West wins all three categories. And to quantify even further just how much better the West is, the 9th placed Phoenix Suns with their current record would not only make the playoffs in the East, they would be THIRD! Clearly a HUGE win for the West.

Last season, the best record was in the East, but so was the worst record, and the lower record to make the playoffs was also in the East. A 2-1 win to the West, and the 9th placed Jazz would have finished 7th in the East.

The season before had 2 wins for the West and a tie for the top record, with the 9th placed Rockets also 9th in the East

Going back through the years –
10/11 –9th placed Rockets would have finished 6th in the East
09/10 –Rockets to 8th in the East
08/09 – Suns to 5th in the East
07/08 – Warriors to 5th in the East
06/07 – Clippers to 8th in the East
05/06 – Jazz to 6th in the East
04/05 – Timberwolves to 6th in the East
03/04 – Jazz to 4th in the East
02/03 – Rockets to 7th in the East
01/02 – The 9th placed team in the East Finally had a better record than the 9th placed team in the West. That 9th placed team, the Bucks, still would have only finished 9th in the West.

We have to go back to the 01/02 season for a very minor East win.* Since then we have had 12 consecutive seasons of Western dominance coming to a head this year with over the top imbalance between the conferences.**

With the draft system supposedly giving a leg up to all of the terrible teams, you would think that something like this would be impossible, but it is clearly getting worse, not better. It is because the draft in its current form is actually contributing to keeping the West on top.

If we were to abolish conferences right now, the Suns would be in equal 11th in the league while the Atlanta Hawks would be in 18th. As it stands, the Suns are missing the playoffs, and will go into the lottery for the draft, while the Hawks will be cannon fodder in the East playoffs and regardless of how the lottery goes, would be picking after the Suns.***

So the clearly better team between the two gets the higher pick. How does that make sense if the point of the draft is an equalizer? A very good team in Phoenix gets the opportunity to improve before a very bad team in Atlanta does – and that is if we are just comparing their raw records and not taking other things into consideration.

Without trying to make things TOO much more complicated, even the teams in the East that have semi respectable records, only have those records because they play so many more games against other Eastern Conference teams.

At the time that I am writing this, almost all teams have played 49 games against teams from their own conference, and 30 games against teams from the other conference. So if it wasn’t already hard enough to make the playoffs in the West, it gets even harder having to play against great teams regularly. But it also means that teams that may seem better in terms of a raw win record probably aren’t.

Take the Charlotte Bobcats for example. They are currently in 7th spot in the East with a winning record of .506 – however this record is slightly boosted by their schedule. They have played 49 games against teams from the East winning 55% of them. They have only had to play 30 games against teams from the West winning just 43% of those games.

At the same time, the New Orleans Pelicans are currently all the way down in 12th over in the tougher conference with a record of .405. The Pellies don’t have the advantages of the Bobcats and have played 49 games against teams from the West winning just 27% of those games, but in their 30 games against teams from the East, they have done brilliantly and won 63%.

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So what if the Bobcats had to play 49 games against the West and the New Orleans got 49 against the East? I’m glad you asked. The Bobcats would have a winning percentage of .481 and the Pelicans would have .494 which certainly paints a different picture to their current positions in real life. At the least I would say that these two teams are fairly evenly matched. Under the current system, New Orleans would have a 98% chance of getting a top 10 pick and a 1.1% chance of getting a top 3 pick in the most loaded draft in a generation while Charlotte would have a 100% chance of getting about the 16th or 17th pick.^ Once again the West would get stronger while the East gets left behind.

There have been multiple calls from respected writers this season to abolish the archaic divisions within each conference due to just how pointless they are, but I see no reason at all to stop there. The Conferences need to be abolished and a more even competition schedule put together. If it means losing a handful of games a season to allow for extra travel then so be it. I don’t think we find out anything extra about how good or bad a team is in 82 games that we couldn’t work out in 75 or 76. The owners are rolling in money with even the worst franchises valued over $500 million. I see no reason that this can’t happen.

Over to you Adam Silver. It’s time for change.

 

 

*And even then, the top placed East team that year (Nets) finished with a record that would have gotten them only 5th in the West, so really not much of a win – But I had to stop somewhere.

** In that 12 year stretch, 11 times at least one team from the West finished with a 50% winning record or better and still didn’t make the playoffs. In the East that happened once.

***Just to clarify, I’m not taking into account any trades that have been made, I’m speaking idealistically.

^I am aware that unless the pick goes in the top three, the Pellies won’t get the pick anyway through trades, but again that’s not the point, the system would have it the way I described were it not for the trades.

Mr Referee or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Accept The Result

So, I got along to the pub on Saturday to watch the Dragons v Warriors match. A hardly convincing opener against the Tigers but with the amount of points we managed to pile on in the first round, there was cause for cautious optimism compared to how we fared last year.

It was a bit of a see-saw in the first half and as the match progressed I began to notice that, there was a guy sat on a nearby couch who had something to complain about in the way the match was being officiated on virtually every set of six: Warriors allegedly throwing forward passes, Warriors players being inside the 10, Warriors hands on the ball in the tackle, Dragons play-the-ball being slowed down. And every observation this guy made was coupled with an epithet directed towards Jared Maxwell. And we’re not talking simple remarks  like “You’ve got to be kidding ref!” that we’re all guilty of yelling at the screen when we think our team’s copped a bad call, but remarks like “F*ck off, Maxwell!”; “Bullsh*t, Maxwell! You f*ckin’ cheat!”; “You stupid Sh*re prick, Maxwell!” (how did he even know Jared Maxwell was from the Sh*re?). Based on the way the guy was carrying on, you’d almost think Maxwell had channeled Steve Randell and molested the guy’s children or something!

I know certain NRL referees have copped some serious stick over the years (I have to admit I always had it in for Steve Clark), but Jared Maxwell just struck me as a pretty neither-here-nor-there referee in the NRL.

A few days later, still puzzled and confused at this guy’s vendetta towards Jared Maxwell, I decided it was worth looking at results of matches where Jared Maxwell has officiated the Dragons:

·         Jared Maxwell has officiated 27 matches involving the Dragons since he became an NRL referee in 2006 until the present 2014

·         The Dragons have won 16 of those matches and lost 11, giving them a win-loss percentage of 59.26%.

·         In the same 2006-2014 period, the Dragons overall record as been 110 wins, 1 draw and 95 losses, giving them a win-loss percentage of 53.64%.

·         What can we extrapolate from all this? The Dragons are statistically more likely to win a match when Jared Maxwell officiates them than when he’s not!

I wonder what old mate down at the pub might have to say in relation to that? Numbers don’t lie.

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That is an email I got recently from my buddy Richard.

It’s an odd story, but aside from the Maxwell specifics, I bet it reminds you of someone you know, if not yourself.

It used to be me.

For a large portion of my life, most of the sporting teams I supported were fairly ordinary. For my teams to win, we needed almost everything to go our way, including the referee’s decisions. So I would scrutinise every call that went against us, make hypotheticals for what would have happened if those decisions hadn’t gone against us and rationalise why we had lost and why we would have won if the referees hadn’t been so blind. I hated all sports officials.

By the time I was 12 I knew the names of most of the referees in the (now) NRL. By 15 I would look at the team line ups in the Big League as much to see who was playing as to see who would be refereeing the game. At one point I was worried that if Souths got Bill Harrigan one more time I may have lost my right to go to matches anymore*

It transferred to other sports too. The names Mark Shield and Matthew Breeze still fire me up after a few beers from all of their arrogant incompetence in the A-League. Joey Crawford is widely accepted as possibly the most error prone official that the NBA has ever had, and I hate to see him refereeing a match. The referral system in cricket has shown just how much is missed by the umpires on the ground. The list really is endless. (But for the purposes of this discussion, I’m just going to focus on the NRL.)

Then one day – completely out of the blue – I had the sudden realization that it didn’t matter. The referee wasn’t biased, he was just awful. They all are.

The seemingly obvious theory is – The problem with being a sports fan is that a lot of the time all you want to see is when your team is slighted by the referee, but never when your team gets an advantage from the referee – Your passion for your team makes you blind to it. It is similar to the way a gambler remembers how much they have won in a particular night, but never how much they have spent to get there.

The best way to test this theory? What was the last time that you watched a game where your team wasn’t playing and thought the referee was biased against one of the teams, rather than all the bad calls evening out over the course of the match? And the time before that? And before that? If you are being honest and you can actually remember three occasions, I’m (a) impressed and (b) certain you have gone back at least three seasons. So really/statistically, what are the chances that your team is robbed by these clowns every week?

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Towards the end of the match between the Tigers and South Sydney the other week my Dad called me to complain about the referee’s bad calls – A missed knock on that the Video Referee didn’t overrule that would have stopped a Wests try. Bunnies players having the ball raked out and the referee calling it a knock on, at least one of which led to a try. A dodgy knock on call against Reynolds that denied the Rabbitohs a try. Not sending a Tigers player off for deliberately and openly attempting to knee a Souths player in the head while tackling him.**

The list was endless. I have no doubt that every point he made was valid. But I’m also certain that he didn’t see or didn’t want to see the poor calls that went against the Tigers. The refereeing was terrible, but that wasn’t his complaint. His complaint was that the refereeing was against Souths. In all honesty, I thought the Tigers did benefit from the refereeing a little more than Souths did, but the point is that the Bunnies weren’t good enough to win the match, regardless. They were awful. One of their worst performances in the last 2 years. They didn’t deserve to win. If South Sydney had performed better they would have won in spite of the refereeing.

In my referee hating days, I used to wonder why the coach didn’t come out and complain about the blatant refereeing errors that I had seen, and I now realise that the reason is because all it does is give the players an excuse for losing. The aim is to be good enough that the refereeing decisions aren’t enough to stop you from taking the match.

Now, this does not excuse the outrageously poor standard of refereeing that is in the NRL currently. Between two referees on the field, two touch judges and a video referee with adequate technology to review decisions, they get at least one decision blatantly wrong in every match. EVERY MATCH! Sometimes I wonder if I even know the rules any more while I am watching these games. Then I realise that is a very real possibility. The fault for that lies directly at the feet of the NRL themselves.

For some reason, every off season the NRL seems to find the need to change at least 5 or 6 rules for the next season. Some of them are big rule changes, some of them are small. But in a game where there are already an inordinate amount of rules to officiate on, changing them every single off season gives the poor referees*** no hope! Last year there were 8 major rule changes in the off season and I have no idea how many minor ones. If the NRL wants to arrest the continuing slide of refereeing standards, they need to put a moratorium on rule changes for at least a year. Unless there is a dangerous issue in the game, there should be no rule reviews at the end of this season and at the most they should only happen every 2 years.

To make matters worse, most of the rule changes that are brought in each year are a reaction to the tactics employed by teams the season before. The people that instigate these changes? The NRL coaches. Instead of having to out think the opposing coach, they can now go into the offseason with a plan to change the rules to stifle the ladder leaders. Then the changes that are made create new tactics that in turn generate more rule changes. I guarantee that if the rules were reviewed and changed only every 3 or 4 seasons we would see coaches find tactical ways to counter act their opposition’s strengths, and half of the rule changes that are made would be unnecessary. For the sake of both the fans and the officials, we need to stop with the changes.

But I digress.

Since having my epiphany about the referees I have found watching sport immensely more enjoyable. Mostly because half of the teams I support are still pretty awful, and taking the referee out of the equation makes it so much easier for me to accept a loss. Most of the time, my team simply didn’t deserve to win. I am able to analyse the team’s performance in a much clearer way. I can see the weaknesses in game plans and players^ and can accurately assess if the team is improving week to week.

I implore everyone else to try and do the same when watching your teams this year. When you lose, look at what the team could have done better, not what could have gone right for them. Stop complaining about the referees. They are terrible, but they are not against you. After all, when was the last time you felt like you had an intelligent conversation with someone about sport where they tried to convince you a referee was against them?

 

 

 

 

 

*Something that eventually happened to a friend of mine

** With all the furore over head contact I’m amazed that this one has gotten almost no attention. Noel Kelly would have been proud and that guy got sent off twice in one game!

***My 21 year old self is rolling in his grave at me using that term

^Possibly South Sydney’s greatest weakness right now is having 3 Burgess brothers as walk up starters in the team, and nobody is willing to admit it, but that is a point for another time.

7 Questions from 2 Rounds of the NRL

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Every year we see tipsters spend the first couple of rounds of a new season trying to figure out just how good, or bad each team actually is.

Sometimes we have teams providing false hope while others have slow starts, but we all know where they will be in September.

 This year the NRL has tried to schedule some blockbuster opening season clashes, pitting the dominant 4 teams from last season against each other in round one, and then again in round 2 for Souths and Manly. What this fixture scheduling has also meant, is that there are a lot of pretty ordinary teams playing each other in the first 2 rounds, leaving us with so many unanswered questions after 2 weeks of matches.

1. Are the Broncos finally going to take advantage?

For almost their entire existence the Broncos have had a severe advantage over most of their opponents*, but because it has been mostly of their own making it hasn’t been too big of an issue. They’ve earned that position, so it’s theirs to lose. However over the last few years, they have been given a severe advantage by the people at Channel Nine who run the NRL scheduling. Over the past few seasons, the Broncos have been handed an inordinate number of Friday Night matches. Far more than any other team in the league. Getting a consistent 7 day turn around between matches, puts them at a significant on field advantage as well as giving them the ability to gain even more in sponsorship dollars due to the extra guaranteed television exposure.

But lately they haven’t been able to take advantage of it, with only one Top 4 finish so far this decade. This year’s team though, looks to be a little less of the old fashioned, free flowing, fancy Broncos, and a much tougher team that is willing to get down in the dirt and fight for their points – a quality needed to be a top team in this competition.
With only matches against last year’s disappointments, the Bulldogs, and last year’s unlucky playoff side the Cowboys, it may seem early to jump to conclusions. But the fact that both of the Broncos’ opponents so far managed to win their other match this season shows that they aren’t pushovers. They should be there or thereabouts come September.

2.  Is Gareth Widdop really the second coming of Jesus or are Dragons fans just getting a little excited?

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To have a St George Illawarra fan tell it to you, you would assume that Widdop had single handedly won the first two games of the season against last year’s grand finalists, scoring every point, and has proven himself as the next immortal. In reality the Dragons played a poor Tigers team and a worse Warriors team, Widdop did well with the boot in general play and when kicking for goal (something the Dragons have needed admittedly), but is yet to score one of their 12 tries, and while he has shown the confidence to drive the team around the park, the Dragons haven’t been tested for more than a total of about 45 minutes combined in their 2 first matches. For the record, in those 45 minutes that they were tested, they were outscored 30-12. Regardless, they look a better side this year than last. Though that is no great achievement.

3. What is the answer for the South Sydney halves?

I have to admit, I’m not sure what the thinking is in Redfern when it comes to the halves combination. After falling one match short for the last 2 seasons, Souths had a dilemma on their hands. With boom young pivot Luke Keary coming through and demanding first grade football with his outstanding form, the Bunnies had to find a way to fit him into the side with both John Sutton and Adam Reynolds. The move that was decided was for Sutton – a mammoth for a number 6 – to move into lock where he could use his ball skills and his size, hopefully to good effect. The upside of the move was not only that it would give Keary his deserved starting spot in the side, but would also allow Reynolds (only just starting his third year in first grade remember) to build up a combination with him that could take Souths into the future. The downside would be that after having the best season of his career, Sutton would be moved to a new position, in an already loaded forward pack. I personally wasn’t sold that having a total of 4 years NRL experience (come finals time) between the number 6 and 7 was really the move to take the Bunnies that one extra step to a Grand Final, and possibly a title, but I at least understood the thinking behind it. Then during the Auckland Nine’s disaster struck and Keary went down with a long term injury that could potentially see him out for the whole season. Where most saw the aforementioned disaster, I saw opportunity. One more season for Sutton in the backs before a transition to the forwards for next season, where the depth of the South Sydney pack would surely be tested anyway with the loss of Sam Burgess. I genuinely thought that Keary’s injury gave the Rabbitohs a much better shot at the title. For some reason, Maguire has zigged when I would have zagged. He has stuck with the plan of keeping Sutton in the 13 jersey while moving Dylan Walker from the centre’s to the less familiar spot in the halves**. It all the disadvantages of the original plan with none of the advantages. But there’s a reason that Madge gets paid the big bucks and it is because he makes the big decisions. Only time will tell who was right. Me or him***.

4. Has Ricky Stuart made an difference in Canberra or Parramatta?

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Another year, another team for Ricky Stuart to try and turn around. After 2 games this year, both the team that Stuart left and the one that he has joined don’t look to have gotten any better or worse. The Eels started with a bang aganst a Warriors team that people were overestimating. Just like last year. Then they came crashing back to earth as they played a team with a bit of quality. Just like last year. On the other hand the Raiders look like they have a heap of young talent, and on their day could either beat the best teams, or lose to the worst ones. Just like the last 10 or so years. As I said at the start of the column, it is hard to get much from just the first two rounds, particularly given the chosen fixtures, but neither side seems to have any noticeable difference from last year^

5.  Are the Warriors that bad?

Yes they are. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone. I feel sorry for Warriors fans. Every year for a couple of months around June/July they become the team that they are capable of being. The rest of the time they are who they are. REALLY inconsistent. Poor decision making. Awful defensively. No ability to complete sets. Warriors. Last year in June and July the New Zealand side won 6 of their 7 matches and looked a real threat for the title given the opposition they were beating. Outside of those two months, their collective record was 5 wins and 12 losses. In 2012 it happened from May to mid-July where they won a less impressive 5 of 8 games. Outside of that? 3 wins and 13 losses. The year before the run was simply timed later in the season and the momentum saw them make a Grand Final that they were never any real threat of winning. As I said when they did fairly well in the Auckland Nines (at their home ground, playing a style of football that suits every one of their strengths, but still didn’t manage to make the final) I don’t expect the Warriors to be in finals contention come August. The question is, how does the media get pulled in by it year after year. People were surprised that they have looked terrible in their opening few matches, with a Coach that has proven his limitations, a squad that lacks hard workers but overflows with risk takers and a schedule that sees them travel internationally every second week. If the Warriors are to EVER be considered a real threat they need to change a lot.

6. Are Penrith ready to make a ‘leap’ this year?

Every few years a new team jumps to the upper echelon of teams in the competition (while another often drops out). Last year the top teams were clear cut. Storm, Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs and Roosters. That was the upper echelon. The Roosters made the leap last year, replacing the Bulldogs. Souths made the leap the year before. Melbourne and Manly have been up there for a long time. With very few exceptions, you have to be one of those upper echelon teams to win the competition^^. The Panthers have spent the last couple of seasons trying to build a team that can be in the upper echelon. Through giving extended playing opportunities to good local juniors and trying to specifically have the right experienced players around them they saw their long term plan begin to bear fruit with an unexpectedly respectable season last year. This year they look to have (so far) at least put their hand up to be a top 8 side. On paper they are only at one win and one loss, but the win came against Newcastle, who were one game away from the Grand Final last year, and the loss was by a single point, away, against perennial powerhouses Melbourne. But that isn’t the biggest indicator that they may be ready for the leap. It is the fact that they came out after that loss and said that it was no longer good enough to accept that they performed well but didn’t get the points. That attitude could see them ready to join the competitions elite a little earlier than anybody expected.

7. Will the Tigers’ kids get them to finals or the spoon?

I was vocal amongst friends last year about my opinion that the Tigers needed to move Benji to the bench or to another team in order to give their young halves more time to find their feet in first grade in a season that was already a write off. The Panthers model above was the precise reasoning behind it. It seemed that the Tigers felt the same way and let Benji go to collect some splinters in New Zealand. Curiously they have replaced him with an older player in Braith Anasta (at least while they shuffle the lineup for injury cover) and I don’t think it’s the worst idea ever. As is sometimes seen, throwing all of your inexperienced players out to gain experience and watching them lose every week can actually create bad habits for the players and they don’t get the development needed. AN experienced head like Anasta to help steady the ship in match situations could do more for the development of the players than letting them figure it out themselves. Either way, the Tigers’ season will hinge on the performance of the youngsters, and as is often the case with kids (and has been in just 2 rounds so far) it is either rocks or diamonds. If the Tigers get enough diamonds out of them (and can begin to avoid the multiple catastrophic injuries that have become commonplace around Leichhardt and Campbelltown) they may be in contention to jag a 7th or 8th spot. Too many rocks and I fear they may not be able to overcome the inevitable Warriors surge and end up with the spoon. This one is still up in the air at this point, but I wish them well. The diamonds are great to watch

 

 

 

*Having all of Brisbane to themselves, high membership numbers, money etc.

** He has played in the halves at other levels of the game, but the truth is, that is not the same, and he seems a stop gap half at best, but a good quality centre.

***Spoiler alert, it’ll be him.

^Interestingly, the same thing has happened with NSW. They went from almost winning before Stuart coached them, to almost winning while he coached them, to almost winning after he left.

^^Tigers in 2005 are a team to defy the odds. They did finish 4th that season, but it was on the back of a long winning streak that saw them still only just grab a top 4 spot. They finished the season on fire but were not a ‘top echelon team’ that year.

Bet of the Week Round 20

I finally had a big win!

It only took all season, but I had a $21.50 win last week by backing Sydney to beat Perth, and it has put the kitty at a much more respectable negative $9.89!

This week’s match of the week sees Perth host the Western Sydney Wanderers.

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Perth have been on a horror run and there are few things more humiliating in the A League right now than losing to Sydney FC. They have a full week to recover from their travels of the last few weeks and get to play at home again which should make them a little fresher heading into this match. The Glory lost to the Wanderers in Parramatta not too long ago to help the Wanderers out of a bit of a slump, but Perth away from home are a different proposition from when they play at NIB stadium. Away from home they consistently lose, but in the West, they are one of the competitions best at getting a draw. A scary proposition for travelling teams, I know. The Glory haven’t lost at home since round 7. Something to consider.

The Wanderers have only played 2 games since their last encounter with Perth due to their Round 19 game with the Victory being moved. I previously mentioned that Western Sydney’s win over the Glory in Round 16 helped them out of a slump. But that isn’t entirely true. Since that game they’ve had 2 draws, and overall since Christmas the only team other than Perth that they have beaten is lowly Sydney FC. In spite of all this, and due to the fact that the A-League is in a state of awfulness this season, they remain in a Champions League spot and are more than likely the 2nd best team in the league.*

So with all that information, and having a look at the odds, I am going to put $10 on a draw between these two (at $3.35)

A win here would see me in the positive for the first time this season!

Gamble Responsibly!

 

 

 

*By the way, ever since I wrote that article about there being only 3 good teams, Adelaide have emerged as not just the 4th best team in the league, but possibly the 2nd or 3rd best if they can keep this up.

10 Things I Liked or Didn’t Like at the Auckland Nines

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1. Considering the emergence of golden point as a more common end to games these days, I would have thought that maybe a half dozen people in the league might actually be able to kick a field goal. The total tally for the weekend was 76 conversions made from a staggering 164 attempts for a paltry 46%. There was even one attempt from directly in front that managed to hit both posts and miss.* If that many players can’t kick a field goal with as much time as they want and nobody running at them, I fear we may have a few draws this NRL season.

2. The Tigers can rest easy if they had any fear of the Australian Rugby Union looking to steal Robbie Farah away to play in the Sevens at the next Olympics. As arguably the most decorated player to be sent over for the tournament, Robbie had a shocker. Wests had a fairly poor tournament, and their only win came in a game where the opposition had a player sin binned, and Farah himself was sin binned in the late in the match. Known as a creative player, he led his team to a 0 scoreline in their final match to be one of only 2 teams to finish a pool match without scoring a point. In future it might be best to leave him at home to get some rest. Could help him AND the team.

3. The Eels continued the proud tradition of improvement after Ricky Stuart leaves a club. Having led them to the Wooden Spoon last season, Stuart moved on the Raiders. The Eels of course came out and finished day one as one of only 3 undefeated teams. When Stuart left The Roosters at the end of 2006 they were in second last. His replacement got them to within 1 point of the top 8 the next season. After he left the Sharks with the second worst record in the league in 2010 they were broke and almost folded as a club at one point. The next season only saw a marginal improvement given the financial dire straits that the club was in, but the following season (while still very poor) they were in the top 8. Heads up Eels fans, you should manage to avoid the spoon this season.

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4. I understand the idea of teams wearing some ‘one off’ jerseys for this tournament. I’m sure they sold enough of them at the ground to make it worthwhile, and I’m sure they will sell more at Peter Wynn’s Score and the like to come out ahead. But for the sake of peoples sanity in future, can we get someone that has any clue what they are doing to design them? Or someone that has ever watched Rugby League? Or even someone that has at least been told what the teams’ colours are? Some of these designs were god awful as it was, but we had The Bulldogs looking like the Eels and the Eels looking like the Bulldogs. In case you didn’t know, they have been fierce rivals for over 30 years. The Warriors who wear Black and Grey looked like the Titans who wear a bright Light Blue. The Cowboys, whose colours are Navy and Yellow, looked to like the Tigers whose colours are Orange and Black. It was an absolute mess. By all means, try some new designs, but at least get the colours right.

5. Every year in the first few rounds, as people start to notice that there have been plenty of dropped balls and some general sloppy play because of it, someone asks if there is a problem with the balls being used. Then the argument that the players are just rusty comes up and the football eventually improves and everyone forgets about it again until next season. Well this weekend has already disproven both of those theories. For a game that is meant to be wild and carefree, I saw multiple matches on the weekend where both teams had completion stats around the 80% mark. Passes were being thrown like it was touch football yet the dropped balls weren’t around. Could it be that playing day time football actually increases the level of play?? With the television networks completely running the game now, we will never know. Sigh.

6. Maybe it was heavily advertised as such in Auckland and therefore I missed it, but the Kiwi’s don’t half mind a bit of a dress up do they? There were more costumes than a weekend at the Darts. From the groups dressed to a particular theme to the sole psychopaths in bizarre face paint, I welcome the carnival atmosphere for its own entertainment value between matches

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7. The bonus point concept for a try scored under the posts was an interesting one and early on day one I proclaimed that I was really hoping to see someone risk scoring a try at all just to try and get it in to the bonus zone for that extra point. That moment came in the Quarter Final between the hometown Warriors and the Rabbitohs. Holding a 10-4 lead, Shaun Johnson broke through the line and headed for home but made an extra effort to ensure he got the ball under the posts, diving across while being tackled. He managed to be awarded the bonus point try. Subsequent replays showed that he actually fell short on his initial grounding, but I was just happy to get my wish and see someone make that extra effort and take the risk.** Conversely in the last couple of minutes of that same game, Souths were trailing 17-4 when they got over the line with about 100 seconds to go and simply put the ball down about 2 metres to the left of the posts instead of going for the bonus point. The Bunnies converted the try and scored again from the kick off, but once again grounded the ball just a couple of metres to the left of the uprights. They converted that one too and lost the match by one point, 17-16. If the players had just a little bit of foresight and scored even one of those tries a little further over they may have gone to extra time. Had they thought to do it for both of them, they would have pulled off the comeback of the tournament. A little intelligence goes a long way. Credit to Shaun Johnson for having it.

8. Scheduling nerd alert. One of the basic tenets of making any tournaments draw is the cross over. Unless a tournament is a straight knockout, there always needs to be a crossover. Be it something as simple as the semi-finals of the NRL where the crossover means that the two ‘Top Four’ teams that play in week one can’t meet again unless they get to the Grand Final, because if the loser of that first game, wins their next one and survives through to week three, they CROSS OVER and play the winner of the other ‘Top Four’ game. Or if it is the biggest sporting tournament in the world, the Football World Cup, where it is impossible for two teams that get out of their group together to play each other again unless they both make the final. The crossover is essential in making both a fair and interesting draw. Of course the organisers of the draw for the Nine’s didn’t seem to have heard of the crossover as we watched the Warriors and Cowboys come out of their group, win their quarter finals and then have to face off against each other again in the semi-finals. It is a really amateur way of doing the draw and needs to be addressed for next year.

9. Defence wins titles. They say it in all sports. I wouldn’t have thought it would apply to this form of Rugby League given its nature, but North Queensland showed us that wasn’t the case. Having pushed the Warriors to the limit in their pool game with an all-out attack, a change of plan for the semis saw them hold the tournament’s top scorers to nil in a shock turn of events that saw them go on to win the inaugural title. That they got to do it by keeping their perennial older brother Broncos to just one try was a bonus. It was nice to see a different and likeable team winning a trophy in Rugby League. Long may it continue.

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10. The biggest thing we learnt from the Nines is that they are not going to be an indicator for anything come the business end of the NRL season. I’ll be impressed if more than one of the Cowboys, Broncos, Warriors or Sharks finish in the top 4 this year. Likewise I will be surprised to see more than one of Melbourne, Manly or the Roosters miss the top 8 as they did on the weekend. It is going to be a long year with a very different feel to this weekend just gone, but it was nice to see the boys running around again. Has me excited for the new season already.

 

 

 

 

 

*That was in the Rabbitohs first match. If that had been converted The Bunnies would have avoided a Quarter Final match up with the favourites – The Warriors. Instead they would have taken on the eventual champions- The Cowboys.

**Another issue entirely is just how much home town refereeing the Warriors got in most of their games. It was obviously important that they didn’t bomb out early, and apparently the referees knew this too…