Rugby League Mailbag

So we are now 10 articles into my blatant attempts at becoming Australia’s Sports Guy. I figured it was time to rip off one of Bill Simmons’ long running traditions and do a “Mailbag” column.

As I don’t have an attached email for people to write to, these have come from various sources. Email, Facebook, message boards, text and the comments section of the blog. So if you want a starring role in my next mailbag column, be sure to give me your thoughts via the comments section at the end of each article. So without further ado, these are actual comments/questions from actual readers.

I’ll break these down into categories in terms of what article (if any) they were in relation/response to

 

He Played How Many Games for NSW?

Q: David Barnhill 9 games, and was Tim Brasher worthy of 21 call ups for 3 tries? Domino

A: David Barnhill was mentioned on more than one occasion, but I just don’t see it. Maybe I just had a higher opinion of him than others. I always saw David Barnhill as a good solid tireless second rower. The type of player that got the dirty work done without any fuss or fanfare. Every successful team needs them.
Barnhill played in 4 consecutive Grand Finals from 1990-1993 (admittedly, only with one win) and then again in 1996 (another loss) But 5 grand finals from a 10 season NRL career is an amazing return.
If he was a Queenslander, I think he probably would have played about 15 Origins. Which is one of the primary reasons he didn’t get a nomination here.

Tim Brasher however is an interesting one.

He was one of those players that no matter how he was going at club level, was in the mix for Origin selection. I remember his time as an origin player fondly, and he always seemed to step up for the big occasion, and while he doesn’t have the try scoring statistics to back it up, the game was played a different way back then. Hell, Gary Jack is a Blues legend and he only has 1 try to show for his 17 matches.

He was good, but was he 21 caps good? I mean that puts him behind only 5 players in the number of Origin matches played for NSW. Is he really our 6th best player? It certainly warrants consideration. Good call there Dom. 1 all.

Q: Could you form a serious post as to why all evidence suggests that Geoff Toovey is a complete and utter psychopath?? Todd

A: Great question Todd. And I can. And I can do it as a photo essay. (note none of these photos are mine)

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Q: You need an article on why Terry Hill is a shitc*nt. Caddy
Q: Terry Hill dribbled on my shoulder once. It was Rank. He is a total shitc*nt. Josie

A: Both good points, and neither of them questions. Considering this was in response to a 2 part article that culminated in my “Terry Hill is a shitc*nt” feelings I think I’ve made my position clear.

It’s All Relative

Q: Michael Blake. Domino

A: Holy Shit! How do I have no memory of Michael Blake? When I was young, and before my body shape dictated that I was a forward and not a half, Phil Blake was my idol and the player I most wanted to be like. I was gutted when he left Souths in 1991 and have always considered him up there as one of the most under-rated players in the history of the game.
So, how on earth do I have no memory of Michael!?
He played for Souths in 87 and 88 (when I was only 6 and 7 respectively, but that was when I first started following the Bunnies like a mad man!) and he is a massive candidate for getting by on his brother’s name when you look at the movements in his career alone. He also started at Manly and when the Rabbitohs picked up Phil, Michael was picked up and taken along for the ride in what I can only assume was a package deal to get their main man to switch sides!

If I didn’t know better, I’d think that I suffered some massive trauma around the end of the 1989 season that forced my brain to wipe part of my memory.

Michael Blake. A glaring omission. It’s 2-1 to Dom here.

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Q: Quick question, would you pay me Ben Ikin’s media career from a Wayne Bennett son-in-law perspective? I’m still scratching my head as to how he is on my TV, he’s marginally less creepy a salesman than Tom Waterhouse. Jon

A: Ben Ikin is up there as one of the worst sports commentators in the country as far as I’m concerned. I am absolutely certain that the only reason he was hired at Nine and then Fox Sports, was to give those networks an in to talk to the notoriously media shy supercoach Wayne Bennett. That obviously wasn’t enough to keep him employed at Nine as they celebrated his resignation and happily got rid of his charisma vacuum of a personality which was not fit for broadcast in any medium.

On this subject, I have to assume that it is only a matter of time before the same treatment is given to Darren Lockyer. He can surely only rest on his resume for a certain amount of time before even the gushing fanboys at channel Nine can see that Darren Lockyer is second only to Gary Larson as the last person that should have a career in the media. Not just his voice, but his complete lack of humor or ability to speak outside of a cliché.

But at least he DOES have that career to fall back on and explain his appointment. Ben Ikin’s astonishing 17 Origins is the strongest proof of all that QLD’s ‘pick and stick’ philosophy is flawed.

Good luck Fox Sports. Good luck.

Q: Here’s one on a different tangent – Shannon McDonnell. Got a hefty contract from the Tigers purely on the back of his old man being the ‘recruitment’ manager . Laloa Milford

A: Firstly, who knew Laloa Milford stayed a Tigers fan after leaving the club? I certainly didn’t. How do I know that Milford is a Tigers fan? Because only a Tigers fan would even remember Shannon McDonnell such was the anonymity of his career.

Warren McDonnell was appointed the recruitment manager at the Wests Tigers part of the way through the 2005 season and was tasked with (obviously) recruiting the players for the side going forward. Now I’m not going to lay the blame for the Tigers horrendous run from 2006 onwards on McDonnell, but to take a premiership winning side and not have them make the finals for the following 4 years is a bit alarming for everyone involved in the football department.

Giving your son a contract extension as one of your first orders of business probably isn’t ideal either.

McDonnell is still in charge of recruitment at the Tigers too, and in all honesty, in the past 8 years I can think of two big name and in demand players that he’s managed to sign. Gareth Ellis and Adam Blair. 1 good signing every 4 years does not a good recruitment manager make… And one of those hasn’t worked out so well.

I think I just found a new scapegoat for the Tigers

(edit – since I wrote this, the Benji Marshall thing happened. The Tigers fans may have found the scapegoat before I could tell them!)

Randoms

Q: Here’s Brian Smith describing James McManus – ”So what NSW has in the ranks with Jimmy McManus is an experienced, in-form [NRL leading try-scorer], specialist winger who knows his own game deeply. Having never been the standout junior player, James worked hard to be excellent under pressure at what he was already good at. He will go hard at what is required of him and stay in his areas of expertise. These are the most solid of foundations, which gives him the best possible chance to produce competency in all areas under extreme pressure. I can’t wait to see him get on with his business again on the game’s biggest stage. A richly deserved opportunity for one of the most professional players in our sport.”

Couldn’t you just change the name to Nathan Merritt and it is the exact description you would give when he was selected for game two…? Anonymous

Yeah ok, I wrote that to myself, because how dumb can Brian Smith be to be against Merritt but for McManus and give that reasoning.

Oh wait, he’s Brian Smith.

Never mind, moving on…

Q: I’ve often wondered what the state of professional rugby league would be like if the Brisbane premiership (now the Qld Cup) was the dominant competition in Australia rather than the Sydney premiership such that the NRL was largely constituted by Brisbane suburban teams. Would guys like you and me be Toowoomba Clydesdales or Wynnum-Manly fans? What would the Sydney team be called, etc? It can keep a man up at night, you know! Richard

Cha ching! I just found the topic of my next article. See you all again once I’ve written it!

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The Defence of Nathan Merritt

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I lobbied for Nathan to be given a go at Origin level, and last Wednesday night he was given that chance.

Unfortunately it all went wrong, and he was predictably made the scapegoat by an unforgiving and at times uneducated public.
Nathan himself has said that he wasn’t happy with his performance, and to argue that he (or any of the Blues) had a good game would be foolish.
What I am here to do is to provide a defence of his spot in the team and to attempt to take the sacrificial lamb off his head.

 

Defence 

The first few times that QLD attacked down Merritt’s wing, both he and Morris jammed in and disrupted the play before the Maroons were able to get anything happening (see this video – at 1:26, 6:15, 7:24. 12:22, 12:46. 14:33. 16:55. It was clearly a deliberate tactic. Also, just keep the video open) It’s a common defensive tactic these days where the outside men push in, rather than stay marking the man directly in front of them, to disrupt the play, while the inside sliding defenders continue to slide across behind these outside men and provide cover should the attacking team get through. This means that the opposition winger is open, but because of the bodies in motion the only safe way to get the ball to that winger is a floating pass that takes time to get there and gives the sliding inside defenders time to get across to him.

It works if it is done with good communication. For example, both the winger and the centre can push in while the inside defenders push across, or just the winger can push in, but then the centre has to slide across (if for no other reason than because the winger has now covered the man he would ordinarily be defending).  So the winger has to communicate well, and the centre has to be ready to push or slide at a second’s notice.

The tactic is successful because it causes a lot of dropped balls when the pass goes to the inside man, as he is blindsided by the rushing wing defender. Alternatively, if the ball goes to the winger the inside defenders who are tracking across are on a good trajectory to take the winger into touch. But there are some caveats. It doesn’t work if you are TOO close to your try line (say, within 5 metres). It’s basically like switching defenders in basketball – it can backfire if both defenders aren’t ready for it – you can end up with one player with the ball in his hands, wide open.

So after successfully shutting down the first couple of attempts from QLD to attack down the NSW right side defence with this tactic, Merritt went to do it the same way as they had the previous few times and Morris didn’t (17:15 in the aforementioned video). It’s the ultimate sin when you are playing with this defence. As a Centre, you either have to push in or slide out. Making NO decision and just backing off is the worst thing you can do.

To the layman, Merritt is the one that looks woefully out of place because it’s his “man” that gets the ball unmarked, but Rugby League defences are more complex than that.

Ultimately you would want Merritt reading the play and picking his timing better etc, but at the same time if he doesn’t rush in, the ball probably doesn’t get passed to Boyd to cross in the corner, it goes to Inglis to run over the top of everyone in front of him as he tends to do once he gets any sort of room to move.

That’s the reason that Merritt was instructed to jam in on Inglis whenever the ball came that way. You can’t give Greg Inglis ANY sort of a start and the only hope you have of slowing him down is to get in his face before he even has the ball. That was the clear defensive structure that was put in place and when it was adhered to, it worked well (enough). But when it wasn’t…

As for Boyd’s second try, it was a carbon copy in terms of defensive structure gone wrong (7:07 in this video of the second half); however Merritt did go very early which made it a lot easier for Jonathan Thurston to see him coming and get the pass to Boyd. On the other hand, the argument can be made that if Merritt went early enough for Thurston to see it and take advantage, then Morris should have had enough time to see what Merritt was doing and slide across to cover him.

Merritt is by no means blameless here, but the fact that Josh Morris’ name hasn’t even been mentioned says more about the understanding of the people criticising than his lack of culpability

 

Kick Returns 

One of the arguments I’ve heard against Merritt’s inclusion since I wrote my previous article is that he doesn’t have enough impact on kick returns – essentially because he is too small

The first point I’ll make is that on all long kicks, all night, Queensland kicked away from Nathan Merritt. You don’t do this if someone’s weakness is kick returns.
Secondly, Nathan Merritt’s average metres made per kick return in the NRL is as high as any of the other candidates for his position (16.4m).

Either way, he didn’t get a chance to show this as QLD were not willing to give him the chance.

 

Attack 

Merritt’s obvious strength is with the ball in his hands, and it would have been nice to see him get it in Origin two (or either winger for that matter – I don’t think Brett Morris was passed the ball all game). Josh Morris passed Merritt the ball twice in the entire match. One of them was a hospital pass where Merritt had to immediately step inside from his wing to avoid being bundled into touch. The other pass went over his head (16:32). NSW picked an attacking winger, one of the most prolific try scorers in the history of the game, and he didn’t get an opportunity. Partly through some selfish play from Morris, but mostly because that’s the way the match played out. QLD were dominant and NSW had very few opportunities. But this was certainly not the wingers fault.

 

What Really Went Wrong 

So we are left to wonder why NSW were left in that position.
And the answer is the same as it ever is in Origin matches.
The forwards and the kicking.
The Queensland starting forward pack ran for 621 metres.
The NSW starting forward pack ran for 424 metres.
The Queensland back three ran for 110 metres from kick returns.
The NSW back three ran for 34 metres from kick returns.

So in short, go easy on Merritt. He didn’t have a blinder but he didn’t cost us the game.
And if he gets picked for game three holster your weapons and just support him.

 

 

 

Footnote – One other point from this video

7:18 How this isn’t a strip I’ll never know.

The Right Man For The Right Job

ImageWe are all spoiled.

As modern sports fans, we are spoilt for choice. Spoilt for coverage. Spoilt for talent.

We are living in a time where on a Sunday afternoon, I can choose between 17 channels showing different types of sport. Where I can watch “Live European Track and Field”. Where the world’s best sporting talent – of all time I might add – is on display whenever I want it*

Perhaps this is why the modern sports fan demands absolutely everything of their best and brightest players. We want every player to be able to do everything on the field. In fact in some areas our obsession with the complete player comes at the detriment of our ability to see if these players can do what they are meant to do, first and foremost.

Sometimes it is because we want our players to be able to counter specific threats from opposition players, other times it’s because we’ve seen that the world’s best are capable of it, so we want our players to do the same. We’re all guilty of wanting the best for our team, but sometimes we can be over ambitious.

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Football (and particularly the A-League) is probably the best example of fans seeing the skill set that the world’s best players have and wanting their own players to have those same abilities.

Supporters want Centre Backs that can pass like Attacking Midfielders. Forwards that can harass and mark opposition players like Defensive Midfielders, and Fullbacks who are both impeccable crossers of the ball that can constantly charge up the lines to create scoring chances inside the opposition’s 18 yard box, as well as tackling dynamo’s that are never out of position.

The first hurdle to overcome here is to remember the level that the A-League is at. If the players were good enough to do most of these things, they wouldn’t be playing here. That’s the reason that your Manchester United supporting mate doesn’t go to the Newcastle Jets games with you on the weekend. The players that play in this league are limited. That’s not to say that they are poor. By no stretch of the imagination is the league’s standard low – and it is improving every year – but these are players that almost by definition are limited, either physically, tactically or skilfully. If they weren’t they wouldn’t continue playing in the A League for long**

But the second hurdle to overcome here is to stop overlooking what the players CAN do in search of what they can’t do.
The thing with players of limited ability that reach this level is that they are good at SOME things. Whatever things they are good at, is pretty much what has determined the position they play in, probably for their whole lives. These players grow up with natural talents in certain areas and they build on them as they grow.
The kids who had a natural ability to find the back of the net are made into strikers. The ones who could mark a man and tackle him were made into defenders. The tall are made into goalkeepers. It really isn’t rocket science. This is simply how it is done and how it has always been done (at least here in Australia, rightly or wrongly).

This isn’t to say that it is not possible for a defender to have a strong passing game, or for a striker to be full of energy and able to cause wayward passing from the opposition centre backs. When you find one that can, it’s great, and you don’t want to lose them (but you will). The problem is when people watch Barcelona and think that every team should play that way*** and in turn start looking for defenders who can pass and strikers who can run after defenders all day, without taking into consideration the abilities that they are meant to have.

Take Sydney FC last season. They started the year with Coach Ian Crook looking to play an attractive brand of football. His recruiting was set to reflect that. He already had ball playing Centre Back Pascal Bosschaart on the books (albeit recovering from injury) who was a converted defensive midfielder. Whatever faults Bosschaart had shown in the previous season were not related to his ball skills. He would occasionally misread plays and/or miss tackles, but his passing was generally superb. Crook then brought in Adam Griffiths, who was also a converted defensive midfielder, again, known more for his passing than his defending – and his defending turned out to be pretty awful.

However when the signing was made it was seen by most as a very astute signing. A ball playing Centre Half is what every team wanted. And to get an Australian one, thus saving a precious foreign spot on the roster, was the icing on the cake. What nobody realised is that a passing defender is only as good as the amount of times he can get the ball off the opposition. If he isn’t very good at that, he better have someone next to him that is.

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The best defensive pairing Sydney have ever had (and arguably the league has ever had) consisted of Simon Colosimo and Stephan Keller. Colosimo was a ball playing defender, but also had a great ability to read the game in front of him and make interceptions, which in turn put him in good positions to make the passes he wanted.  Keller on the other hand was a hard-nosed defender who was able to cover for the times that Colosimo misread the opposition’s intentions. They were the perfect pairing, and played more than the sum of their parts. They were the foundation that Sydney won their title on.

Yet throughout the entire season, there was never more than a week that went past without fans and commentators bemoaning Keller’s long passing from the back.

Take another example in Mark Bridge. Sydney FC fans constantly criticised him for being a lazy player (and he is) typified in his inability to shut down opposition defenders. But what always seemed to be ignored was his goal scoring ability. Now, by the end of his stint with the Sky Blues, even that ability had disappeared, and Bridge himself admitted after the fact that he simply wasn’t giving it his all. So of course, Sydney was completely correct in not renewing his contract.

However when he travelled across town to the NRMA Insurance Western Sydney Wanderers and was told to simply focus on his goal scoring (and to actually try), he found his form again. There was a spring in his step, and by the end of the season, he was even chasing down defenders, though not consistently, but it was a start.

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A similar thing has been happening at the State of Origin level in Rugby League, with the NSW selections.

This time the selections are being made to counter specific threats on the opposition team.

QLD have had differing variations of probably the best backline ever assembled. They are a menacing side that can strike from anywhere on the field and they pay no mind to who is in front of them, and everyone who has been tasked with defending them in these last 7 years has essentially failed.

There is an obsession in the NSW origin selection room, which appears to be shared by most NSW fans, that for any backline player to play origin, they need to be very big, very strong and very good defenders.

Of course, those are great assets to have and ideally the players selected would tick all of these boxes. But shouldn’t the first priority of a Rugby League backline be to SCORE points? Again, you obviously want to be able to stop them as well, but sometimes the best form of defence is attack.

The example I’ll use is Matt Cooper, who is thought of as a specialist defensive centre. He’s attempted to stop this formidable Queensland backline 9 times since the juggernaut began, and QLD have run over the top of NSW on 7 of those occasions. In those 9 matches he scored just 2 tries.

You obviously can’t blame a single player for the losses (and I’m not), but I’m using him as an example because his selection is indicative of what the NSW selectors have gone for in those matches – particularly in the latter stages of his career. In his last 4 matches for NSW (all losses) QLD averaged 27 points per game.

The point I’m getting at here is that no matter who you put in front of them, Queensland are going to score tries. NSW should be trying to score more rather than try to tackle their way to wins.

Which is why people should not be asking what Nathan Merritt was doing in conceding the two tries he did**** – but perhaps should be asking why Josh Morris only attempted to pass him the ball twice all match (one of which went into touch), when he is one of the most prolific try scorers in the history of the game.

The Queensland backline are no slouches in terms of their defence, but every one of them is picked for their attacking ability first and defending second. As it currently stands, their left side defence has 2 Fullbacks playing at Centre and Wing. The defensive readings there can be shaky at times, but it’s not something that ever really gets exploited because the Maroons are always so busy attacking.

So it’s up to us sports fans to start getting our priorities in order. If we stop demanding everything of everyone, we might just get what we all really want.

Wins.

 

 

 

 

* Not necessarily at the “Live European Track and Field” events

** Let’s be honest here, even most of the players that DO get snapped up by overseas clubs are fairly limited, so a player that ticks all the boxes would be on the first flight to the United Arab Emirates.

*** Which would be just as boring as all teams playing long ball all match in my opinion.

**** I’ll write a defence for Merrit in my next column. It’s the least I owe him after jinxing him with my previous article

On Nathan Merritt; or The Shortcomings of the Selection Process for the Position of Winger for the NSW Rugby League State of Origin Team

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So just a short disclaimer here. This is the transcript of an email that I wrote to a friend of mine on 17/5/2013.

Before the NSW side was selected for the first game of this years Origin and before Brad Walter wrote this article in the SMH.

It was in response to a discussion about how unlucky Nathan Merritt has been to never be picked for State of Origin, and how that compares to Matt Orford never being picked.

I’ll get to the Matt Orford issue (or non-issue) in my next post, but for now, here’s Nathan Merritt’s side of the coin…

Ok, so my issue isn’t as much with Merritt not being picked, it’s with the NSW selectors inability to pick a player that’s proven himself over a career and their absolute faith in flash in the pan players, or players that just happen to be playing on a winning team, or even players with a nice story or gimmick! In short it’s about who has been picked ahead of him.

So Merritt has clearly been a great individual player for a long time, but that doesn’t mean he should have been picked early in his career or that you can even foresee that he is going to be that type of player. So I’ll go into this in a conservative way.

In 2006 South Sydney had an awful season and finished last, but amazingly Merritt still led the league in tries.

So I think it’s fair to say that by this point he needs to at the very least be on your radar. But realistically, at this point of his career he has scored 42 tries in 66 matches. He should probably more than just ‘on your radar’ – he should be front and centre in discussions – but by no means a walk up starter.

So leading into the 2007 season, his name should be on a short list of candidates to play for NSW on the wing.

You should be watching him closely.

So, it’s the start of the ’07 season and he begins the year with 7 tries in the 9 matches leading up to Origin selection.

His name may have been brought up, it may not.

For game one we go with Matt King and Jarryd Hayne on the wings.

Can’t fault the Hayne selection. He was still a winger at the time and has proven to be a quality player (but he was 19 and it was his first Origin game, showing that the selectors are more interested in the flashy young player than the more proven player)

Matt King was a staple of the national side by that point, but hadn’t played on the wing at club level in 2 and a half years (and didn’t even finish the series on the wing himself)

We stick with them for game 2.

We lose both games.

With the series dead, they give Hasem El Masri a run on the wing (another in the mould of Merritt who deserved it earlier in my opinion) and move King to the centres. Of course, we win.

Someone must have told Nathan that he missed selection because El Masri could kick, because he starts kicking goals for Souths after Origin finishes.

Souths make the finals for the first time in too many years and Merritt has a good year, but not amazing for his standards.

In 2008, he shows his versatility by playing at both fullback and wing for the Bunnies, but we have an awful start to the season losing our first 7 games. This is reflected in Merritt only scoring 4 tries in this period.

So we go into the Origin selection and fair enough, he hasn’t had his best year ever.

But Matt King has gone, so there’s an opening on the wing.

And we go with…Anthony Quinn. (really?) a guy who by that point of his career had scored 55 tries in 130 games. An amazing ratio of one try every 2.3 games.

Remember that Merritt is having a slow year and scoring at a better rate than this. But Quinn plays for Melbourne and has scored 5 tries in his last 5 games before the teams were picked. Of course they’ll go with him.

So fair play to him, he scores 2 tries on debut and we win the match, but before Origin 2, Hayne gets injured.

Yet again, the chance is there for a Merritt call up. This has to be it. The number one winger in the state is Anthony Quinn for god’s sake, surely this is Nathan’s time!

And we go with…..drumroll please…… Steve Turner.

Yeah.

That guy.

And what a shock he plays for Melbourne.

I don’t think you need reminding of how that went.

We lose 30 – 0.

Game 3 and Hayne is back, so not too many complaints.

Souths are having a nightmare season, Merritt is suffering because of it, and yet another Origin snub probably contributes to a bit of a lull for him as he even goes 10 straight games without a try.

But then something happens and a fire seems to be lit underneath the great man.

In the last 7 rounds of the season he scores 9 tries.

He rides that momentum into the start of the following season and not only does he score 7 tries in the first 9 games of the season, he kicks a magical winning field goal from the sideline to beat the Tigers at the SCG in front of a big crowd to keep the Bunnies in 6th (no small feat considering we finished 14th the year before)

And all of this just a week before the Origin teams are picked.

He’s shown he can handle the big occasion (I know it’s not THAT big of an occasion, but it’s a rare chance to play on any sort of ‘big’ stage for a Souths player at that point). He’s got over 120 first grade games under his belt. He’s scored 16 tries in his last 16 games. Souths are doing well enough.

It comes to selection night and on one wing we have Jarryd Hayne. Perfectly good choice. And on the other wing we have James McManus.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

He’s 24, he’s only at the beginning of his third season in the top grade and he plays for the Knights who have struggled for the last couple of seasons but are in the top eight at this point of the season.

Basically the opposite of what you would expect from a NSW selection.

He must have been a real star in these first few seasons of his though, right?

What’s that? 22 tries in 60 matches?

Well, obviously most of those must have come during a competition blitzing opening 11 rounds to the 2009 season then.

Oh, one try in his last 6 matches.

So, what’s the story here? How did he get selected?

Right, he’s from Scotland and there were multiple media stories about him being the first Scottish person to possibly be picked for Origin. I can see how that would get someone over the line.

 

Well thankfully that was a disaster and he lasted one game and mercifully got injured.

So Nathan Merritt did the right thing and went about his business, scoring 2 more tries in the 3 matches until the next selection day.

He’s on 9 tries for the year in 12 matches but he’s being let down by his team mates and the Rabbitohs have dropped to 10th on the ladder, but on the weekend of the next Origin selection, he scores in a valiant 6 point loss to NSW coach Craig Bellamy’s Melbourne Storm. Maybe that can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back to get him in this side.

Little did poor Nathan realise, there was a whole new criteria for being selected in this game. And Merritt couldn’t fulfil it. He didn’t have a beard.

The Wolfman Williams is our new saviour on the wing.

Person 1: Have you heard about this guy?

Person 2: I hear he’s actually part wolf!

P1: Well that would be awesome, but no

P2: Damn, well I’m sure he’s been on fire this year though. Scoring tries left right and centre!

P1: Well, 4 tries in 8 matches. So not AMAZING, but pretty good

P2: That’s cool though, I mean I know he’s got plenty of experience in the NRL so that will help

P1: Actually, I’ll have to correct you there too, he’s only played 28 first grade games

P2: Oh, I must have heard that wrong as well then. So how come someone of his age has played so few games?

P1: Well he’s only 23 actually

P2: Really?! But sometimes there are things that are hard to measure. I mean, you know, he plays on the wing for one of the best teams in the league

P1: Who Manly? They’re in 9th and haven’t even finished a single round in the top 8 this year!

P2: Oh my god! Does he even have a beard!?

 

So of course he scores a try on debut and gets given a second match.

And he’s so awful in that second match that any time someone mentions his name in representative circles again they are laughed at.

Who would have thought that a young inexperienced players could be so prone to inconsistency, particularly in big games?

Oh wait, every person that has ever watched any sport at any point of their lives. Ever.

As always, Nathan Merritt goes about his business and is such a good player now that South Sydney’s inability to have a winning season doesn’t even come into calculations for his individual achievements.

Souths finish 10th. Merritt still scores 19 tries in 23 games.

As we head into the 2010 series The Blues have had 4 straight series defeats and surely it’s time for a new strategy. A new idea. A new SOMETHING!

As is almost boring now, Nathan starts the 2010 season with 9 tries in 9 games.

But as you may have worked out, it simply doesn’t matter.

The NSW selectors have decided that they need a proven try scorer on the wing this series.

So of course Nathan Merritt is not given a look in.

They decide to go with Brett Morris for that spot. He’s proven over the course of one and one third seasons that he can really score tries (with a genuinely impressive run of 36 tries in his last 34 matches) and that’s always better than someone who has proven over the course of 4 and one third seasons that he can really score tries (73 tries in 102 games)

Now I’ll give you that in the long run, Brett Morris has probably proven to be the better player of the two**, but it still shows that if they have a choice between what’s hot right now and what is proven over the length of a career, they’ll go with hot right now.

Which is why we chop and change our team ALL THE TIME!

Either way, due to injury, Hayne is moved to Fullback and a wing spot, yet again, opens up.

They’ve clearly shown that this year they are going for try scoring wingers and it went SO close to working in game one, so now surely having Morris on one wing with the amazing try scoring abilities of the great Nathan Merritt on the other will be enough to stretch the QLD defence to breaking point!

So the only logical choice was to go with Joel Monaghan, a guy who plays his best football in the centres, was only 3 games back from an extended injury lay off, hadn’t scored a try in any of those games and has a propensity for doing things with dogs that can’t be sent from this email address.

We get slaughtered. Another series gone.

So the selectors come to their senses for game three (because it’s a dead rubber so nobody cares, though we still lose anyway) and get rid of Monaghan.

Who gets his spot?

The worldwide icon of Rugby League, Michael Gordon. Career record: 41 Tries, 81 games. But he kicks goals. If only Nathan Merritt had been a goal kicker.

Oh.

2011 rolls around and we have a new coach. Maybe this is the year. The great man gets picked to play for City in the City v Country game. Which is a serious Origin selection match you know! Because that’s what we need. One match in a country town in front of nobody to decide if someone is up to the rigours of Origin football. Not a career’s worth of work.

It’s a showdown between the proven performer and the hot right now. Merritt vs a young upstart from Fiji named Akuila Uate. He’s an explosive player. Kick returns at full pace, really headline grabbing stuff that the media eats up. He’s an explosive player. He’s not necessarily a good one. But explosive for sure. Disregard that he is an absolute liability in defence. Not helped by the fact that he’s only played about 50 first grade games so can’t read the game all that well. Particularly at the speed Origin is played at. He gets a points victory over Merritt in the City v Country match and gets the Origin spot. In fact he gets the Origin spot for the next 5 Origin games. He’s so good that he scores 2 tries in 5 games. And we lose 3 of them (including both the games he scores in)

By this point I don’t need to tell you what Merritt has done in this period to warrant selection. He’s like clockwork. It’s always the same.

Leading up to selection for the last Origin game (when Uate was finally dropped) Meritt had scored 15 tries in his last 11 matches.

But we went back to Morris and Hayne. A decision that I can’t say was a bad one, because they are both fine players, proven at that level and ultimately we played very well with the two of them on the wings. But when he’s the guy that’s hot right now, of course that’s not what they want. That one is just plain bad luck.

So ultimately, we are headed into Origin selection this year and he’s scored 10 tries in 9 matches. He’s in the top 10 try scorers in the whole league – OF ALL TIME!!!!! – and yet I know from history that there are about 10 ways not to pick him.

You see it’s not the travesty of not picking Nathan Merritt to play Origin football that upsets me it’s the list of players picked ahead of him. It’s a veritable who’s who of ‘really’s’ and Nathan Merritt is anything but a ‘really’

** That’s just a judgement call. The stats tell me that over their careers, Merritt has a try scoring record better than Morris (Merrit scores in 73% of games, Morris in 67%). And considering that’s kind of both of their games in a nutshell, I think it’s a fair comparison.