Overhaul

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My proposed next article on what the NRL would look like now if it started out of Brisbane has been put on hold to address the issue that everyone seems to be talking about in NRL circles right now.

The scheduling of the State of Origin.

It seems that almost anyone involved with the game has an opinion on what needs to be done to fix the Origin scheduling, and the only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that the current set up is not the way to go. Except for the TV networks of course, the people who really run the game.

In my opinion, if we are going to fix the State of Origin scheduling, we need to fix the entire competition’s scheduling. From pre-season to the internationals, there’s always room for improvement.

Here is my overall fix. (disclaimer, there are going to be many flaws here. I’m literally thinking about this all for the first time right now just to prove how little thought it takes to find some improvements. Just deal with it)

 

So currently we have an NRL season that starts in the second weekend of March and ends in the first weekend of October. That’s a total of 31 weekends to fit in a 26 round season (where each team only plays 24 matches), a finals series, a State of Origin series and any other representative fixtures that may be played.

I’m happy to keep the season at 31 weeks and still fit all of that in, and I’ll do my best to make the proposal reasonable for the TV networks that really run the game. I’ll also base all of my proposals on this current year’s calendar so that it can be directly compared to how this season has run.

My first proposal is to scrap the Anzac Test. It is a complete waste of time that nobody is interested in, it comes at an inopportune time for Australia to have an international and we already have other Rugby League traditions that can be and are played on Anzac Day.

My second proposal is that we keep the City v Country game, but it is not seen as a legitimate origin selection trial. It is to be played by those people that have NOT made Origin selection. I’ll expand on this when I get to it.

With that out of the way, my initial proposal is that we play the first 12 rounds of the competition completely uninterrupted.

The end of Round 12 would come on Monday the 27th of May. It is the halfway point of the season (as each team only actually plays 24 matches a season, this new season would only have 24 rounds) and gives sides a full half season to get their act together, build combinations, see what is working and what isn’t working etc. On this day BOTH the NSW and QLD State of Origin teams are to be named and they’ll head off to camp the next day.

On Tuesday the 28th of May the “mid-season transfer window” would open (MSTW). During the MSTW, players and teams are able to come to agreements to release players to play elsewhere and players can have their contracts registered with their new teams etc. This whole players-moving-mid-season thing is not what I’d like to see, but given that it is inevitable and is commonly used in sports all around the globe, it’s about time we got with the world sporting program and just embraced it and put some restrictions around it so that it can be done fairly and sensibly.

The weekend starting Friday the 31st of May would be our representative weekend.

It would start on the Friday night with a City v Country match to be played in a countryish town that is a little less remote and a little more populated than some of the towns we have been playing it at lately. I’m talking between Newcastle and Coffs Harbour sized places.  NSW seems intent on going with these “emerging origin” squads to try and earmark potential NSW players, and I think that should be the purpose of this game as opposed to the fraudulent origin selection trial that it is supposed to be now. The starting sides are to be picked by the NSW Coach and selectors, with the 4 man benches to be selected by the respective City and Country coaches. This is the Channel Nine Friday Night game.

The Saturday (1st of June) would consist of representative matches between emerging nations. Start with Samoa v Tonga like the match from earlier this year (preferably without the pitch invasions) and we could go with Fiji v Papua New Guinea for another match. The two winners then play off against each other the following Saturday (8th June) to decide the Emerging Nations Cup™. The Saturday would also have an under 20’s state of origin match and a NSW Cup v QLD Cup representative match. These games would all be covered by Fox Sports and starting with a match at Midday, there could easily be 4 matches covered in a Super Saturday marathon. As this is during the MSTW it would give astute teams a chance to scout some of the top junior talent as well as those players on the fringe of first grade that might be looking for an opportunity to get some first grade football and make some offers to improve their team in the back end of the season.*

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The Sunday afternoon blockbuster would be England v NZ in NZ. England has more and more players playing in the NRL meaning that there are less travel issues for the side and it gives both England and NZ a deserved and more meaningful international match to play. As it currently stands the Kangaroos have won the last 12 Anzac Tests. NZ and Australia both get nothing out of it. NZ v England would be a closer fought match as a one off and the Australians are better off playing in Origin as it is a higher quality game. Everyone wins. This would be Channel Nine’s Sunday Afternoon game.

Origin is to be kept on a Wednesday. This is the one part of Origin that isn’t broken. It rates well, the crowds show up, and it’s been tried on other nights but has come back to the Wednesday for a reason. But all three matches are to be played on consecutive Wednesdays.

Origin one would be played on Wednesday the 5th of June (3 days after the Eng v NZ game), Origin two on Wednesday the 12th of June and Origin three on Wednesday the 19th of June.

The MSTW would close on Friday the 14th of June ensuring there are no player distractions from any Origin decider and making sure that all teams are settled at least a week before the second half of the competition kicks off.

Round 13 of the NRL would then kick off on Friday the 21st of June, just 2 days after the final Origin. Some teams would be hampered by players backing up (or not backing up) but it’s only one week and nobody is completely ruled out like they are when taken away to camp in the lead up to Origin currently.

Round 24 would finish on Sunday the 8th of September (no Monday game) which is the same as this season. The teams all get a 3 weekend break in the middle of the season. Origin players don’t, but that’s no different to now. The TV networks (who really run the game) have to make do with no games for 2 weekends, but the momentum built during origin, as well as the higher interest generated in round 13 after the break** compared to the way everyone loses interest during the arduous 8 week Origin period now would come out as a net win for them.

I’m happy to leave the 4 week finals system as it is (though I’m sure I’ll find a fault in it if Souths get knocked out before the Grand Final this year) and the title is decided on Sunday the 6th of October.

We then need to ramp up the end of season internationals. The RLIF needs to be far more proactive (what do they actually do besides give out the Golden Boot award?) in organising internationals in the off season. We need tiers for these national teams to play in and ways for them to move up into higher tiers or drop down to lower ones. Something similar to how the Davis Cup works in Tennis could work or in a perfect world, the system I’m going to put below. But ultimately, there needs to be internationals played for 5 weeks at the end of each season on different levels to allow smaller nations to improve and move up the ladder.

Currently the international teams can be broken into 5 tiers.

Top Tier (Australia, NZ, England)

Second Tier (France, Wales, PNG)

Emerging Nations (Fiji, Samoa, Ireland, Tonga, Scotland)

Developing Nations (USA, Italy, Russia, Serbia, Lebanon, Cook Islands, Germany, Canada)

The Rest (Norway, Malta, Jamaica, Ukraine, South Africa, Latvia, Czech Republic, Denmark)

These are all based on the current international points system, so if you disagree, take it up with the RLIF.

For the Top Tier – first 3 weeks a round robin, week 4 a final, week 5 the bottom team plays off against the top team from the tier below with the result deciding promotion/relegation

For the Second Tier – first 3 weeks a round robin, week 4 a final, week 5 the winner plays the lowest place team from the tier above with the result deciding promotion/relegation, the loser plays the top team from the tier below with the result deciding promotion/relegation

Emerging Nations – A knockout competition that splits in both directions so that after 4 weeks we have an order of first to last in this tier. That is that all the winners of the first round advance, but all the losers also have to play each other as well. Top team plays bottom team from tier above with the result deciding promotion/relegation. Bottom team plays the top team from the tier below with the result deciding promotion/relegation.

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Developing Nations – As above

The Rest – Just a straight knockout competition with the winner playing the bottom placed team from the tier above and the result deciding promotion/relegation.

Nobody cares about international Rugby League because NOBODY cares about international Rugby League. Not even the people that are supposed to. If more effort is put into it, we’ll all get more out of it.

I would start the internationals after a week off after the Grand Final, so 5 weeks from the weekend starting Saturday 19th of October through until Saturday the 16th of November for the few nations that play the full 5 weeks.

Those said internationals can then still have their 4 weeks of annual leave that they have earned and be back at Pre Season Training on Monday the 16th of December.

 

That’s my proposal. Is it perfect? Certainly not. Is it exhaustive? Definitely.

Can you do better? Probably.

Let me know your ideas.

 

 

 

 

*I’m well aware that there would have to be an entire system put in place to account for how clubs/players are able to switch teams and how their contracts work etc, but I really don’t have the time or space to do that here, and it is so far from being a reality it’s just not worth it.

**Have no doubts that this is exactly what would happen. There was a massive bump in viewers and attendances after just one weekend without NRL matches this year. Factor in the interest from teams having new players and this is a no brainer.

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

He Played How Many Games For NSW? (Part Two)

If you missed part one of the “He Played How Many Games For NSW?” Hall Of Fame article, click here.

Otherwise proceed to part 2 below!

Nik Kosef

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NSW Matches – 8

NRL Matches – 158

Other Representative Matches – 12 (10 Australia, 2 NSW Country)

Played more games than – Les Davidson, Gavin Miller, Peter Wynn

The case FOR inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

Admit it, you just saw Nik Kosef’s name and went “Oh yeah, I remember that guy now!”
The only possible two scenarios if you didn’t do that are that you are a Manly fan, or you are Nik Kosef.
Another player who got his start when Origin players were thin on the ground thanks to the Super League war, but somehow managed to stay on til the end of the decade in spite of his limited ability.
If you want further proof of his deservedness for this Hall Of Fame, look no further than the list of players he played more matches than. Les Davidson was part of the 86 Kangaroos and was named the Dally M Player’s Player for 1987. Gavin Miller was a two time Dally M Player of the year, RLW Player of the year and Rothmans Medallist. Peter Wynn won 4 competitions with Parramatta and has his own Score! Kosef just has a weird name and a career ending knee injury.

The case AGAINST inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

He probably could have played even more Origin games, but for 4 consecutive knee injuries and really should have been the ultimate bench player with his ability to play in the Second Row, at Lock or even as a Five Eighth – where he won a competition with Manly. The real reason that Kosef isn’t remembered as fondly as others is because he only really got 5 full seasons in first grade to show his stuff. Injuries at both the beginning and end of his career meant that in spite of his career lasting from 1992 to 2002 he played 75% of his career matches between 1995 and 1999. You’re supposed to honour your fallen soldiers, not mock them.

Kurt Gidley

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NSW Matches – 12 (and counting)

NRL Matches – 202

Other Representative Matches – 15 (12 Australia [and counting!], 3 NSW Country)

Played more games than – Terry Lamb, Greg Alexander, MATTHEW Gidley

The case FOR inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

Kurt Gidley is like the rich kid who gets his way through life on his family’s reputation and never has to work hard but is constantly talked about in terms of “potential”, and always ends up disappointing you. Gidley has coasted through his entire career on his legendary brother’s reputation, even being given the NSW Captaincy in 2010, where not even a move to the BENCH could stop that silver spoon from sitting comfortably in his mouth. Judging by his resume compared to his actual ability, I’d be surprised if that was the only thing that’s constantly in his mouth. He has only won 3 of his 12 games at Origin level and 2 of those were in dead rubbers. The kid is a dud who never lived up to the billing that he was given when he first started in the top grade and I’ve literally never heard a Rugby League supporter (outside of the media) state that he was a good player. Ever.

The case AGAINST inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

You don’t become the NSW Captain for being a bad player. You aren’t one of the first players picked every year because you’re over-rated. History shows that truly over-rated players are almost always shown up for the frauds that they are well before playing 12 Origins and 12 Tests. Kurt Gidley has been in the NRL for 13 seasons now and in spite of seemingly always being on the treatment table, last year was the first time he missed an entire Origin series since 2006. He has been through the toughest time in NSW Origin history and he is still willing to put his hand up and go once more unto the breach for the Sky Blue of NSW even if it puts him on the injured list yet again. If it weren’t for his career being plagued with pain, he might be remembered as the greatest super-sub the game has ever produced for his ability to play literally anywhere outside of the 8, 10, 11 and 12.

Jason Moodie

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NSW Matches – 3

NRL Matches – 172

Other Representative Matches – 2 (NSW Country)

Played more games than – Nathan Blacklock, Hasem El Masri, John Hopoate

The case FOR inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

Jason Moodie is like white out on a white piece of paper. He’s pointless. If I was to draw Jason Moodie, it would look like this. It’s no coincidence that withing 2 years of him leaving the Knights, they went from 7th to Grand Final winners. Within two years of leaving the Eels they went from 9th to Minor Premiers. Within one year of leaving the Tigers they went from 9th to Grand Final winners. His selection on the Wing for NSW in 2002 would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that he somehow beat out SO MANY players that were far better than him and deserved it a lot more.

The case AGAINST inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

Look, he may not have been the flashiest player to play the game, but he went about his business professionally and smartly, and while his performances may not be all that memorable, he does have a respectable record of 83 tries in a 173 game career. That’s not to mention that in his 3rd and final Origin performance, he actually scored two tries and played a large part in NSW drawing that final game of the series (though it didn’t matter because QLD retained the shield) He was part of the infamous 1997 Knights team and the 2001 Parramatta side that broke all sorts of point scoring records and fell agonisingly short of a Premiership. He’s not going to be an immortal unless they change the definition of the word, but 3 games may actually be a fair total for someone of his ability.

Craig Wing

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NSW Matches – 12

NRL Matches – 256

Other Representative Matches – 22 (16 Australia, 6 NSW City)

Played more games than – Brett Kimmorley, Jamie Lyon, Royce Simmons

The case FOR inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

I’m not going to lie, this is a tough sell for me. He makes the list purely for being the player to have played the most matches for NSW without ever getting a single start. He had a glittering 12 year career in the NRL that included 4 grand finals and while he did manage to get a starting berth for 6 Kangaroos matches, he was never quite able to do so for NSW. Why? Was his utility value THAT good that it would go on to define how NSW uses that bench spot to this day (likely)? Or was he just not quite good enough to take that next step and lead his state from the front (possible)? I don’t know. You be the judge.

The case AGAINST inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

Pretty much just see above. The guy was a star and I genuinely believe he was the equal of, if not better than, all three players mentioned above that he played more games than. In fact he’s still playing professional sport in Japan and may be going to the Rugby World Cup at the current age of 33. What a guy.

Ken McGuinness

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NSW Matches – 4 (not including the match where he didn’t get off the bench)

NRL Matches – 122

Other Representative Matches – 1 (NSW City)

Played more games than – Eric Grothe Jnr, Darren Albert, Joel Monaghan

The case FOR inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

Come on, I think Ken McGuiness himself would admit that he belongs in this hall of fame. He was only ever selected by his club coach and good mate Tom Raudonikis while he was the Blues coach. He had a below average club career scoring just 36 tries in 122 matches (which for an outside back is pretty awful). He played in one finals match in his life (and lost) and his playing prospects came to a sudden halt when his personal life went off the rails and he allegedly developed a drug problem. His most famous moment is literally when he was picked for NSW and never came off the bench. Think about that for a minute. He;s famous for NOT playing. This is one is a gimme. I think Kevin McGuiness will even vote for him.

The case AGAINST inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

I’ve been staring at this page for 5 minutes trying to think of a reason not to include him, and I’ve pretty much got nothing. The only thing that could save him is that after his last Origin match in 1998 (at only 23 years old) he only played another 26 matches for the rest of his career. Personal problems and injuries wrecked any chance he had of becoming the player that others must have seen within him. Wow this feels like a Eulogy. Somebody check that he’s still alive…

Terry Hill

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NSW Matches – 14

NRL Matches – 246

Other Representative Matches – 11 (5 NSW City, 6 Australia)

Played more games than – Matt Cooper, Mark Gasnier, Timana Tahu, Ben Kennedy, Noel Cleal, Des Hasler, basically all but 22 other players on the face of the earth, which is ludicrous.

The case FOR inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

Terry Hill is close to the worst player ever to play for NSW and he somehow did it 14 times. He never scored a single point in all thos appearances, which as an outside back is unforgivable. When Roy and HG would call the Origin matches for JJJ, their running joke was that every time he got the ball they could automatically say “Hill…does nothing again”
He challenged the entire draft system in court (and won) just so he could go and play for Wests…which he did for 2 years and then left them too. There are few less deserving humans, let alone players, to be called a New South Welshman, and frankly this whole thing should be named the Terry Hill Hall Of Fame, only that would appear to give him some sort of credit for something, which he doesn’t deserve.

The case AGAINST inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

There will be no case against. Terry Hill is the inaugural inductee in the “He Played How Many Games For NSW?” Hall Of Fame.

He Played How Many Games For NSW? (Part One)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, I would like to welcome you today to the official naming of the nominees for the first ever ballot in the He Played How Many Games For NSW?” Hall Of Fame

 

For all of Queensland’s bragging about their pick and stick philosophy, NSW have shown over the years that they are willing to do the same thing; albeit with the wrong players.

It is a large and strong field, which will be a surprise to few, comprised of players that have achieved both little and much in the game of Rugby League.

 

So without further ado, I will present the nominees, along with the arguments both for and against inclusion in the “He Played How Many Games For NSW?” Hall Of Fame

 

Michael Vella

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NSW Matches – 10

NRL Matches – 159

Other Representative Matches – 8 (5 Tests and 3 World Cup matches for Australia)

Played more games than – Mark Carroll, Ian Roberts, Robbie Kearns

The case FOR inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

If it weren’t for me writing this column, I would have completely forgotten Michael Vella existed. He’s one of the most decorated reserves in the history of the sport* and the guy even managed to win the Dally M Rookie of the year award – in his second season.
His career peaked very early (his representative career was done and dusted by his 5th year in the competition – before he even reached 100 NRL matches) and he was initially picked for the NSW side only because of suspension. Then in one of the instances of NSW selectors doing the patented QLD ‘Pick and Stick’, he managed to hold a bench spot for several years in spite of doing almost nothing to earn it. I cannot remember a single game of his career that he had any significant impact on, nor do I recall ever seeing him in any highlight package ever used to promote anything. He did however leave us with this amazing image. Doesn’t sound like the sparkling career of someone whose Origin matches are in the double figures to me.

The case AGAINST inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

The guy managed to get a call up for Origin after just 22 first grade games. He then managed to get a call up for Australia after 32 first grade games. They were both Bradbury call ups, but it’s still no mean feat to manage that in such a short space of time. In his 9 years at the Eels, they made the finals on 7 occasions, including a Grand Final in their record breaking 2001 season. After his 159 NRL matches, he went over to the English Super League where he played another 121 matches. 280 matches is nothing to sneeze at for a front rower. He had his career severely inhibited by his cancer diagnosis in 2005, but managed to still battle on and be a consistent first grade player in England once he had beaten it.

 

Anthony Mundine

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NSW Matches – 3

NRL Matches – 127

Other Representative Matches – 1 (NSW City)

Played more games than – Phil Blake, Ken Nagas, Jason Taylor

The case FOR inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

I have always been a Mundine supporter, but the truth is, he has spent his entire sporting life crying foul about the injustices of his non selection for representative teams. In fact he has spent so much time talking about it, you could be forgiven for thinking that he never actually played a representative game in his entire career. And perhaps he shouldn’t have. When you consider that his position was Five-Eighth (outside of a couple of unsuccessful games at Centre and Lock early in his career) and you look at who he was up against, he can claim he was the better player all he wants, but that doesn’t make it true.
The Five-Eighth’s of his era were Matthew Johns, Brad Fittler, Trent Barrett and Laurie Daley.
He came through in an era of great players that happened to play his position.
His 3 appearances were tokenism at best, and sympathy at worst.
He never earned it and didn’t deserve it.

The case AGAINST inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

Since becoming a regular starter in 1995, he played 5 full seasons (before leaving 10 games into the year in 2000) and his team made the finals in all 5 seasons, including 3 Grand Finals, with one win. That’s actually a pretty staggering record for a player playing in such a pivotal position on the field.
He was always an influential player in matches where he was switched on, and his call up to the bench could have been just the beginning of a fruitful representative career, but we will never know

This is a Hall Of Fame of players undeserving to play so much for the Blues, and Mundine simply didn’t get enough time in the game to show us if he should be on this list or not.

 

Jamie Ainscough

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NSW Matches – 12

NRL Matches – 228

Other Representative Matches – 3 (2 NSW City, 1 Australia)

Played more games than – Adam MacDougall, Eric Grothe Snr, Ryan Girdler

The case FOR inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

He only got his Origin start by coming off the bench for 3 matches in 1996, in what can only be described as a baffling decision to carry a winger on a four man bench. This then parlayed into him starting on the wing in 1997 because the Super League meant that most of the players that should have taken his spot were gone. He was rightfully out of the squad for several years after this until an inexperienced, and frankly pretty poor, coach was looking for a winger and saw that Ainscough had 6 Origin matches under his belt, so he somehow managed to double his tally by the time he left the NRL in 2001. He finished with 2 tries in 12 matches, which is poor for a winger and considerably poor given the NSW domination in the 4 series’ he played in. In fact he played on the wing in all 3 games of the 2000 series where NSW scored a record total of 104 points. He scored none of them, yet was somehow retained the following year.

The Case AGAINST inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

His NRL career is long and dignified, with 228 appearances and 94 tries and but for some unfortunate timing on one of his own tackles in the 1999 Grand Final he would have an NRL title win to add to his resume that also includes the 1995 Dally M Centre of the Year. There is a simple justification for each one of his selections and his winning percentage at Origin level (75%) is the highest winning percentage of any player to have played at least 12 matches.  NSW could only wish to have such a successful player in their team now.

 

John Simon

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NSW Matches – 4

NRL Matches – 230

Other Representative Matches – 6 (5 NSW Country, 1 Australia)

Played more games than – Brett Finch, Ben Hornby, Tom Raudonikis

The case FOR inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

He was picked to partner Laurie Daley in the halves for NSW in 1992 due to injury to every other available candidate on the face of the planet. Then in the crisis of 1997 when every decent playmaker from this side of the QLD border was playing in the Super League, he managed to pick up three more games. The definition of a journeyman Rugby League player, he played at 5 different clubs throughout his 12 year career and only made the finals 3 times. A Bradbury selection in every representative team he ever made, you can’t help but think that even though his total Origin games only tally up to 4, that this Hall Of Fame was made for him.

The case AGAINST inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

This man was our saviour in a time of great need and he deserves much higher accolades than this!
Of those 4 Origins that he was called upon for, he won three of them – including kicking the winning field goal to clinch the 1997 series! You don’t throw players like this to the wolves, you build statues of them! He was a regular fixture in the NSW Country side in the early and mid 90’s and went on to represent Australia after his series clinching performance for NSW. It was only the line of NSW halfbacks of his generation that stopped him from playing far more Origin matches not his lack of talent.

 

Geoff Toovey

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NSW Matches – 15

NRL Matches – 286

Other Representative Matches – 14 (4 NSW City, 10 Australia)

Played more games than – Ricky Stuart, Peter Sterling, Steve Mortimer

The case FOR inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

This might seem a harsh inclusion, but consider these facts: In 15 games, he did not score a single point. The only person to have played more games without a point is Blocker Roach. Of the 6 times that he played at halfback, 5 of those times he wasn’t even the best halfback in the team and was somehow forcing future Immortal Andrew Johns into playing at Hooker. He has the most annoying head ever to play the game. Lastly, and most importantly, look at that list of NSW greats that he has played more games than. Nobody can tell me that he is a better player than any of those players. By my estimation he should have had an absolute ceiling of about 8 Origin Matches. 15 is almost double that.

The case AGAINST inclusion in the Hall Of Fame –

If the above facts are to be considered then, these facts should also be contemplated: He has an amazing winning record at this level, having only lost 3 of his 15 Origin matches. He led his Manly side to 3 consecutive Grand Finals, including winning one and collecting the Clive Churchill Medal for man of the match. He played 10 tests for Australia (winning 80% of those too). He was a tough player who was made for Origin and NSW were lucky to have him and his winning streak for as long as they did.

 

There are still 6 more nominees to come but feel free to add your feedback/vote some of the nominees in between now and when I’m able to release Part 2!

 

*His 10 Origin matches and 5 tests were all off the bench. This is only bettered by one other player – to be featured in part 2

The NSW Origin One Match All-Stars

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In honour of the inevitable changes to the NSW side over the next few weeks, I’m putting a little last minute Origin commute list of the best NSW players who’ve (at least so far) been unable to crack more than one match for the Blues.

Some of these names are players that were just unlucky, and others are yet anther timely reminder of the inability of the NSW selectors over the years to recognise some great talent…

But all of them are names I was shocked to see had only played one game.

 

1. David Peachey

2. Hasem El Masri

3. William Hopoate

4. Phil Blake (c)

5. Ricky Walford

6. Terry Campese

7. Tom Raudonikis

8. Tony Butterfield

9. Steve Edge

10. Ryan O’Hara

11. Graeme Wynn

12. Scott Gourley

13. Terry Matterson

14. Keith Galloway

15. Jamal Idris

16. Dean Young

17. Michael Potter

The Matt Orford Situation

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This is the follow on from my essay for you on why Nathan Merritt being passed over for Origin selection his whole career was an utter farce.

The reason it even came to that is that someone tried to compare the situation of Merritt to that of Matt Orford.

To which I take offence.

Here is why.

Matt Orford, was and has since been repeatedly shown up for not being able to handle himself on the big stage.

This has happened almost his entire career.

On top of that, he came along during a time when there were other players with legitimate claims to the NSW number 7 jersey.

If we are being generous and we look at him as being a contender for the Blues halfback spot from the 2003 season onwards, then…

I’ll save the hassle of going into the full details of how his season went in 2003 (playing for Melbourne, finished 5th) because our halfback and captain for all 3 games that year was Rugby League Immortal Andrew Johns. He was the Official MOM in game 2, and should have been MOM in game 1 (scored 13 points himself to QLD’s 12)

No argument will be heard on this.

Now, 2004 is his first real shot. We are sans Joey as he misses all but the first 3 rounds of the season with injury (insert joke about not being injured, but being secretly suspended for drugs)

So we head into game one of the 2004 series with Craig Gower.

The same Craig Gower that had just come off a 2003 season where he led his Panthers side to the Minor and Major Premiership (with John Lang for a coach at that)

They were in 4th place on the ladder when the teams are picked in 2004 and coming off a big win over Souths.

Matt Orford on the other hand was coming off a 2003 season where Melbourne had done well but bombed out of the finals in a big way with a 30-0 loss to the Bulldogs. Orford couldn’t orchestrate his team to score a single point with the season on the line.

At the point the sides are picked in 04, Melbourne are in 9th spot with 3 wins from 8 games and coming off a loss to the Sharks (who themselves were sitting in 13th heading into that match)

You can’t argue that decision.

On top of that, we win the match in thrilling fashion (the Timmins field goal) and take the lead in the series.

But of course, Gower gets injured.

We are now looking for a third string halfback.

Melbourne win all 4 games played between the first match team selection and the Sunday night of the second match team selection.

They were all against teams that would finish the season no higher than 8th, but a win is a win.

However at the same time, a young halfback from NSW is leading the way for his top of the table Roosters team.

Brett Finch is playing well in a team that finished second in 2003 and was comfortably top of the table at the time in 2004 having rattled off 6 consecutive wins.

Brett Kimmorley was having an awful season for an abysmal Sharks team and really couldn’t have come into consideration outside of his experience possibly being needed in a big match at Suncorp.

It’s a toss-up between 2 untested players and the selectors go with Finch.

It’s not a lock like the other decisions that have gone against Orford at this point, but considering that the Roosters went on to play in the Grand Final again in 2004 and Finch won the Dally M halfback of the year, I’m not even sure that you can say that Orford was robbed in hindsight.

And let’s not forget that this is a fight for the 3rd choice halfback spot. Not exactly knocking the door down for selection.

We lost the match in convincing fashion and the selectors decide that Finch is not the man to retain the title for us and he is dropped for the 3rd and deciding match.

So with 2 halfbacks down and one discarded, can Orford be the 4th choice man to take us to Origin glory?

Well, in a controversial move, the selectors realise that we have 2 great number six’s and try to shoehorn one of them into the halfback position instead of risking a decider on an untested halfback, especially considering how well it went in the last attempt. They go with Trent Barrett.

It should be noted at this time that the Storm are sitting in 5th, and doing relatively well, but not setting the world on fire.

Also, let’s not beat around the bush, this whole Barrett at halfback decision was controversial. Not necessarily because Orford deserved the spot, but because it simply seemed like lunacy!

But you’ll never guess what happened next… We destroyed the Maroons 36-14. So using the hindsight rule here, good decision not to go with Orford.

We retain the shield to go back to back.

Hard luck Matt, looks like you weren’t the 4th best NSW halfback option in 2004.

Orford and the Storm see out the season in 6th spot and once again get demolished by the Dogs in the finals. Orford, again does very little in the big pressure game.

So 2005 comes along and Joey has made himself unavailable from rep duty prior to the start of the season to concentrate on the Knights.

Going for a three-peat, we head into game one looking for a halfback.

At the time the rejuvenated Sharks are in equal first with 7 wins from 9 starts while the Storm are travelling along as per usual in their comfortable 5th spot.

Brett Kimmorley is picked to direct the team around the park, and with the Sharks doing well it’s a good choice. By this stage in his career, he has a premiership ring from his time in Melbourne, he’s got 5 Origin matches under his belt and has also represented his country 22 times including being the incumbent Australian halfback.

Orford by comparison, at this stage of his career, is considered a solid player, with 2 NSW City representative jerseys to his name.

It’s kind of a no brainer.

We lose the match (not badly) but Kimmorley throws the pass that leads to the intercept that loses us the game and Joey decides that he can’t take watching from the sidelines and comes out of representative retirement for the rest of the series.

He single-handedly delivers NSW their third consecutive title and once again I will not enter into any discussion that tries to compare Andrew Johns and Matt Orford.

JoeyOrigin

And so after yet another season where Melbourne finished in the bottom half of the top 8 and crashed out of contention in the second week of the finals, Orford moves on to a new team (the Eagles) and looks for a new opportunity to push his Origin claims**

The Eagles start the season well and Orford is strongly in contention. But Craig Gower is picked ahead of him. A fair choice given that game one is at Suncorp and Gower has the experience mentioned previously. However Gower is suspected to be injured. So Orford is called into camp for cover! He’s almost made it. He just needs two things to happen for him. Firstly, he needs Craig Gower to be actually injured and unable to play. Gower does not pass his medical. The second is just a formality as Orford just has to pass his own medical. Which he does not.++

We call on both Trent Barrett and Andrew Johns to come out of retirement (Joey for a second time in a year) and they both turn us down.

So at the last minute we have to throw the only halfback that we have with Origin experience who is not named Kimmorley.

We go with Brett Finch.

It’s seen as only a stop gap measure, but lo and behold, Brett Finch comes out, scores a try and kicks the winning Field Goal!

So even though Orford is available for game 2, you can’t go past the guy that won you the first game and Finch is retained.

We get belted and as expected, people realise that Finch should have remained a stop gap selection.

So surely, Orford slots back into the halfback spot and fulfils his destiny, right?

Nope, guess who else is no longer injured?

Craig Gower.

The match is a decider, so all the thinking behind picking him in the first place still rings true for this game.

A narrow defeat in game three sees our run end at 3 (and QLD’s run of a million begin) but nobody was put to shame. It was a close contest and the players did well.

Orford finishes the 2006 season with Manly in a familiar place (5th to be exact) and his side bows out of the finals in a familiar fashion, losing 28-0 to the Dragons in week 2. Once again Matt Orford is unable to get his side to score a single point in their biggest game of the year.

So 2007 is where it starts to get a little bit interesting for the people that sympathise with Orford.

Orford misses a handful of games at the start of the season but is back a few weeks before Origin selection and Manly are sitting pretty on top of the table.

However, the NSW selectors appear to have made a clear decision on picking for the future in the halves department. Or they were kind of forced to.

Joey, Gower and Barrett are retired, Kimmorley is too old and Finch is too rubbish.

At 29, Orford isn’t too old (though certainly isn’t going to be the guy to lead us into half a decade of dominance at that age), he’s certainly not retired from rep footy, but it seems that the selectors may have been paying attention to his multiple capitulations in big games and thrown him into the Finch pile of ‘rubbish’

We go with Jarrod Mullen (really?), who has 31 first grade games under his belt, for game one and while we don’t win, he’s not awful. But we’re going with a youth policy so you can take the loss on the chin and you stick with him for game 2.

Only he gets injured before game 2.

So what do you do?

You’re down a game and a loss gives QLD the series for the second year in a row.

So do you pick Orford, who has clearly been shied away from due to his inability to handle pressure, for such a big match, or do you rely on old hand Kimmorley to try and get the job done, considering he’s only keeping the seat warm for the youngsters we are trying to blood?

The selectors chose Kimmorley.

A decision I can understand but probably the first REAL time that you can say that Orford might have been hard done by in missing out.

Even worse is that we narrowly lose anyway and instead of seeing how Orford goes in a dead rubber, they retain Kimmorley.

That’s the first time that I’ll agree that Matt was pretty unlucky and the first time I personally would have chosen him.

For those keeping score, that Orford 1, everyone else 14.

Orford then goes on to prove the selectors right in the grand final that season, losing to his old team 34-8 as he and his team fails to fire on the big occasion in what is becoming more than just a habit, but an indication of his legacy.

2008 comes along and Orford is determined to prove himself.

However by this point it is clear that no amount of regular season games are going to convince selectors that he is cut out for Origin football.

And Manly are dominant all season. Orford is in the best form of his career. But the selectors (rightly in my opinion) won’t be convinced until he can do it in the big matches.

Peter Wallace is picked at Halfback for game one in 2008 (which we win) and retained for game two (which we lose badly)

He is considerably younger than Orford (who is 30 by this stage) and while he isn’t our long term solution, they are at least still looking for one.

Game three sees the debut of Mitchell Pearce. We lose and he doesn’t set the world on fire, but hindsight says that he is the long term guy they are looking for.

The end of the 2008 season comes around and FINALLY Matt Orford has something to show for it.

He is the Dally M Player of the year and his Manly side win the most one sided Grand Final in history.

He’s finally shown the Origin selectors that he can perform on the big stage^^

But what’s the point?

He’s 31 years old by the time the 2009 Origin series rolls around. What’s the point of giving him his debut now? Doesn’t that just set our team back even further in terms of looking for a halfback to lead us into the next decade?

Luckily the decision is taken out of everyone’s hands as the Eagles bomb their way through the first half of the 2009 season, sitting in 13th leading into Origin one and giving nobody any reason to whinge over Orford missing out.

Fed up, he takes his apparent talents overseas for a season after that, only returning to humiliate himself in a Raiders jersey for 6 matches in 2011.

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So the next time that someone tries to tell you that Orford was unlucky to miss out on Origin selection throughout his career, remind them that the final score on my scoreboard from 03 to 09 was Orford 1, everybody else 20.

Much like the losing score lines in most big matches that Orford played halfback for.

**It’s often been mentioned by many NSW eligible players that they feel like they need to be in Sydney to be considered for Origin selection. I’ve always thought it was rubbish. I have no doubt this played a part in Orford’s thinking with his switch.

++It should be noted that Orford didn’t miss a single match of NRL football, which is intriguing. Possible pressure from the club, as the star new recruit? I don’t know.

^^9 years into his career. After failing for 5 consecutive years.