Friday, May 29, 2009

It's a Friday night, Wins Stadium in Woollengong, St George- they win 38 to 10, play Penrith. Despite it being a cold, wet, early winters night, with 10623 fans along too watch, St George scored seven tries to two, to go to the top of the NRL points ladder.

That is, for at least two days, depending on whether the Bulldogs win on Sunday against Newcastle.

With a strong southerly behind their backs in the first half, coach Wayne Bennett would have been justifiably concerned at the half-time break, being ahead by only six points, 12-6.

And this was on the back of a fourteen percent advantage in the possession stakes.

It was Penrith who looked the stronger of the two during the first ten minutes. They regularly gained more ground with their sets of six, even though running into the wind.

Their defence was solid and the attack looked sharp.

However, despite this, between the 10th and 15th minutes, St George scored two tries in quick succession. Both came from bombs put up by Jamie Soward. The first, Beau Scott recovered and touched down, just inside the in-goal sideline.

Ben Hornby gathered the next bomb in, two metres from Penriths goal line and ran over untouched to score just past the horizontal bar. Soward missed the first conversion, but made no mistake with the second, giving St George a 10- nil lead after fifteen minutes.

Penrith hit back eleven minutes on, after Wade Graham also scored from a bomb in the corner. Jarrod Sammit converted to bring Penrith within four points of St George.

But that was as close as they could manage for the match.

St George extended it to six, one minute out from half-time, when awarded a penalty for a blatant- think sinbinning offence that never happened - play the ball offence, in front of Penriths goalposts. Soward landed the goal, to take the score out to 12-6.

There was a feeling that Penrith would come home the stronger, what with the strong southerly behind them and the fact that, despite been behind on the scoreboard, they had looked sharper than their opposition on attack.

That was then, though. This is the now.

St George came out firing at the beginning of the second half. It took them only ninety seconds before they troubled the scoreboard. Chase Stanley got on the outside of his opposite number and then off-loaded in the tackle to Wendel Sailor, who steamrolled his way over two unfortunate Penrith defenders to dot down in the corner, extending the lead to twelve.

Penrith got their second and last try, to captain Frank Pritchard, in the 52nd minute. Running three wide of the ruck, Pritchard showed what potential he has, to be one of the most uncontrollably destructive attacking forces known to the current generation of rugby league fans, by rampaging his way along a thirty metre dash, to touchdown ten in from the sideline.

There was to be no more satisfaction for Penrith, though.

From here on in, Sailor and his mates then decided to go on a scoring rampage over the next twenty-eight minutes, running in four unanswered tries, one of which was Sailors second of the night, and the best of the match.

It was at the 62nd minute, Jason Nightingale had regathered a poor kick from Penrith's Lachan Coote, busted through the Penrith fortification, off-loaded to Brett Morris, who said a hearty adieu to his opposite number and proceeded with indecent haste to speed his way along the magnificently conditioned grasslands of Wins Stadium. Having been brought down thirty out from Penriths line, St George spread the ball wide to Sailor, who having emancipated himself from the ravages of the Penrith defence, dives over in the corner to score.

With the conversion, this took the score to 24-10, and Penrith never recovered.

St George added three more tries to their tally, one in the dying seconds of the match, to give Penrith a 26-4 second half drubbing.

St George in the second half, for what looked to be the first time this season, straightened their attack up, which meant running onto the ball at the advantage line. Which gave them a much more venomous look too their football team. Because of this, it was perhaps their best half of football this season.

They look to be improving with each week.

Which means, watch out, come finals time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Round 12 NRL Preview

Dragons vs Panthers
The winds will be blowing for you in the first half.You will be in high spirits for sixty minutes, however, people with sinister intentions will try to put a halt to your enjoyment over the last twenty minutes. The new lunar cycle will bring a toughness to your resolve in those more trying times. Someone that is part of your extended team, smiles in the 43rd minute.

You are missing home and it effects your performance. One of your team gets involved in unnessecary confrontation in the 24th minute. A higher authority gives advice. You become bored with listening to talk and decide to do some talking of your own, in the form of actions, but it has the wrong effect. Despite a strong ending to your story, results do not nessecarily go the way you would like, but do not dispair, there is always next time.

Eels vs Sharks
A mate of yours seeks medical assistance on more than one occasion. You are positive of mind for the majority of the match. Someone on the periphery follows in the footsteps of a famous figure,scores on more than one occasion, which sets the right tone for his team.

You give away half the normal ammount of penalties this week, due to a notable absence. However, despite this, other irregularities in your lineup mean you struggle for fluency. You create chances for yourselves, but due to the current lunar positioning, fail to make the most of them. You suffer a loss, in more ways than one. A leader will commend officials on a job done well.

Knights vs Bulldogs
You have ferocious backing from outside influences. Unfortunately for you though, two of your teammates have decided to locate elsewhere for seven days and it effects your performance. You do, however, show remarkable resilience, and only go down by a small margin.

Dissapointments of the past are soon forgotten and the moon brings out the best for one of your forwards. The 53rd minute brings into prominence, a notable play for one of the inner sanctum of your team. A act by an outside back is of the utmost importance to your team. Thgis person excels under pressure.

Warriors vs Tigers
Defence becomes you. With a solid platform, a smaller member of your team recaptures form of the past, to lead you to victory. Confidence will build in you as time goes on. This will be the start of a charge towards a noteworthy ending in the months to come.

Due to the current lunar phase that you are going through, you will be brilliant one minute, but dire the next. This lack of consistancy in your life will cost you in the short term. The 32nd minute will bring a leader, high notoriety.

Rabbitohs vs Raiders
Your enviroment is of a friendly nature this week, and you warm to it. You will miss someone for a short time during the match, but you resolve to overcome this difficulty. You will be the recipient of a torrent of good news between the 45th and 53rd minutes. This news will see you singing at some stage, later on.

Excitement is in the air for a member of your team. This, though, will be the last of the celebratory tone for the next six days. Your hands let you down. Your relationship with fifteen others on the field is not good.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The New Zealand Warriors season has gone from bad to worse, in Canberra today, where they suffered their second heavy defeat in seven days.

Having lost by eighteen points to the Cowboys last week, this time they went down 38-12 to the Canberra Raiders. Apart from a ten minute period mid way through the first half, they were never in the match.

Canberra looked too be playing at a different speed to the Warriors. Their attack was crisp and they looked like they could break the Warriors defence at will. The complete opposite to the warriors team.

The misery, for the Warriors, started in the first set of the match, when Simon Mannering knocked-on twenty out from his own line.

This led to the Raiders enjoying 70 percent of possession over the first ten minutes. And they made good use of it, running in two tries, to be 10-0 up.

The Warriors hit back in the 22nd and 28th minutes, with tries to Steve Price and Mannering. This period of play was the only bright spot of the day for the Warriors.

It only took Canberra four minutes to hit back with a converted try to Terry Campese, giving Canberra a 16-12 lead. This is where the score stayed until half-time, which the Warriors would have been pleased with considering the weight of possession against them.

Having been on the receiving end of a 5-1 penalty count in the first half, it was close to reversed in the second half,5-2 in favour of the Warriors. This didn't help them though, as the continually coughed up possession to the Raiders, who gleefully used it to their own advantage.

This took the shape of four second half tries, three of which were converted by Campese.

The Warriors looked lacklustre throughout the match, and while far from being out of finals contention, will need to recapture their form quickly if they are not too lose touch with the top eight.

Not many positives too come out of the match for the Warriors, but they do look less cluttered in the halves with Stacey Jones been given full control to organise the team around the field, now that Nathan Fien has been dropped.

They host the West Tigers next week and there doesn't appear to be anywhere for the coaching staff to go in terms of changes, as they have close to a full strength team on the park currently.

Perhaps Kevin Locke is close to selection but wholesale changes would mean bringing in inexperienced players at a difficult time. Not a likely option.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Round 11- NRL Preview

Tigers vs Broncos
Tigers will be ruing their one point loss last Sunday. They had a comfortable lead and let it slip. They are up against a better attacking team this week, in the Broncos and can not afford to relax.
Broncos will be desperate to get as many wins as possible before State of Origin, when they traditionally struggle, due to losing a high proportion of their team to rep football. Will have too much firepower in the backline for the Tigers.

Broncos by 6

Eels vs Rabbitohs
Eels have a unsettled halves pairing and are paying for letting Brett Finch go. Add this to the fact they are up against one of the better defensive units in Souths and have the worst attack in the comp, meaning it will be hard going for the Eels.
Souths will be riding high after their last gasp win over the Tigers, and with Michael Crocker adding extra starch to the team, should be too strong.

Rabbitohs by 4

Sharks vs Dragons
It is a sad indictment on the Cronulla club when it can be said that their teams performance on the paddock this year, exceeds by far, their performance off the field! Well, they have home ground advantage. This may count for something, if in fact they still have any supporters left. They have lost their major sponsor in the last two days. This uncertainty cannot be doing much for the players positive frame of mind, needed to play well.
The dragons have the most miserly defence of all, and up against a team that is not renowned for their attacking brilliance, this should be enough to get them the win.

Dragons by 10

Bulldogs vs Storm
Bulldogs were on the receiving end of one of the most appalling decisions yet, to be made by a video ref, last weekend. They are a tougher team mentally this year, so can be expected to survive this latest setback.
Melbourne are starting to show signs of recapturing their form of old. With Finch there, opposition sides can no longer aim to shut Cooper Cronk down, thinking he is the only playmaker. Finch adds another attacking dimension to the Storm.

Storm by 2

Penrith vs Roosters
Penrith are a better side with Walsh at halfback, which has allowed Sammut to attack from fullback and play a more ad-lib style of football. If the Panthers are on their game, expect a high scoring game.
Rumour has it, officials at the Roosters are said to be happy that players are finding activities outside of football to keep themselves busy. A case in point is big Willie Mason, who is alleged to have snared the lead role in the 2010 world premier of "Piddler on the Wall".

Penrith by 15

Raiders vs Warriors
Raiders traditionally do well in this match. Though, Campese will need to step up, who they rely on for their attack.
The Warriors have dropped Fien and brought Joel Moon back in at stand-off. If the Warriors are to be a serious threat this season, there is no better time than this match to prove they are capable.

Warriors by 4

Titans vs Sea Eagles
Titans at home are never easy, but have not beaten Manly in their short history. And they are up against a Manly side just rediscovering their form.
For manly, this is an ideal opportunity to show they are for real. That they can win consistently without Brett Stewart.

Sea Eagles by 2

Cowboys vs Knights
Both teams are in fine form. Thurston vs Gidley. For the Cowboys, Thurston is in superlative form. If this continues and the forwards lay a strong base for him to work from, they will be nigh on impossible to beat at home.
Gidley made great metres up the middle of the ruck last week. It will be harder for him this time around, up against a form team, but his team need his spark if they are to win this.

Cowboys by 6

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Warriors Slump to Big Loss

The New Zealand Warriors, in their worst performance of the season, have gone down to the North Queensland Cowboys, 34-12, at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland today.

The Warriors put in a first half half effort that was error ridden and at times they looked to be comatose. As opposed to the Cowboys who, playing into a strong wind, played the percentages well, with Captain Johnathon Thurston controlling the pace of the game well with a judicious kicking game.

Kicking deep into Warriors territory, usually to the Warriors right side defence to avoid Manu Vatuvei getting too much ball, the Cowboys were able to force errors from the Warriors in their own half, negating the Warriors perceived attacking threat.

Not that they had much too worry about there.

Time and again the Warriors handed over ball to the opposition due to poor ball handling.

When they did hold onto the ball, they failed to kick early in the tackle count, thus abusing the advantage of a strong wind behind their backs.

And, on the few occasions they did get ball near the Cowboys goal line, they looked devoid of ideas on attack.

North Queensland scored two tries in the first half, one to Travis Burns and the other to Thurston, who stepped off his left foot to go over in the 30th minute untouched, giving his team a ten points to two half-time lead.

A comfortable position, having had the better of field position and possession, despite running into the wind.

The Warriors, having looked disorganised during the first half, did nothing initially in the second half to change that perception.

Until the 46th minute that is. Having woken from their slumber, ten metres out from the Cowboys goal line, Lance Hohaia, gathered the ball from the back of the scrum, ran five metres across field and offloaded to Nathan Fien running back on the angle. Fien ran though a gap unopposed to score next to the uprights.

With the conversion from Denam Kemp, the Warriors were back in the match, being down by only two points, 10-8.

Not for long though. North Queensland, having been awarded a penalty for the Warriors being off-side, found themselves in enemy territory. One of Thurstons favourite places to be, it turns out. He put a grubber kick through towards the Warriors posts, with Willie Tonga collecting the ball and diving over for a 51st minute converted try.

The Warriors started to get more possession over the next ten minutes, off of a string of penalties against the Cowboys. This led to the sinbinning of James Tamou in the 57th minute.

Warriors fans could be excused for thinking their team was coming home the strongest, after the Warriors spread the ball wide in the 60th minute to Joel Moon, who off-loaded in the tackle of two Cowboys players to Denam Kemp, who dived over in the corner for his first try of the season.

This brought the score back to 16-12, but this was the end of the Warriors renaissance, which was very much of a ephemeral nature.

North Queensland ran in a further three tries, all converted by Thurston, in the last eight minutes of the match.

With the exception of a fifteen minute period during the second half, the Warriors never looked like winning.

Which leaves the Ivan Cleary coached team needing to find form sooner rather than later, if they are to avoid finding themselves losing contact with the top eight.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Round 10- NRL Picks

Sea Eagles

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Cowboys Ride Home For Win

The North Queensland Cowboys, led by a strong performance from Johnathon Thurston, have scored a 24-20 home win at dairyfarmers stadium tonight. Thurston, backing up from last nights test against New Zealand, scored a hat trick and kicked three from four goals.

He wasn't alone in the try scoring stakes though, as St George winger Brett Morris went one better, to touch down on four occasions.

Both teams created plenty of chances in the first half, but the execution did not have the required finishing standard needed. The cowboys were making ground up the middle of the ruck, but regularly put down passes on the crucial final plays. St George on the other hand, were creating opportunities with their left side attack at will. Like the Cowboys, they also could not turn these into points.

With five players backing up from representative commitments last night, as opposed to just two from the Cowboys, St George did well to lead 10-8 at half-time.

The Cowboys opened the scoring with a converted try to Thurston in the 8th minute, after he jinked off his left foot to evade three defenders and scoot ten metres for the first of his three tries.

Over the next twenty minutes, it was a case of lost opportunities for both sides. And it was one of those for the Cowboys, as they were attacking the St George goal line that gave St George their first try. When the Cowboys knocked on, Morris scooped the ball up,ran ten metres, only to be confronted by the menacing sight of Matt Bowen, fended him off and bade a not so fond au-revoir to Bowen, then raced a further eighty-five metres to score under the the cross-bar.

Jamie Soward converts to level the score at six a piece.

Seven minutes later, Morris went over for the second of his tries, after St George were awarded a penalty and spread the ball wide to their left side attack through quick hands, to take the score to 10-6.

It had to happen. A referees recourse, in the 38th minute. Yay for the referees recourse. Lets all gather around, break open a packet of pineapple lumps and launch into a noteworthy rendition of kum ba yah. Luke O'Donnell abused referee Brett Suttor and had a friendly chat for his troubles. To Mr Suttor, kind sir, if a player abuses you, the only talking you need to do, is to tell him to have ten minutes rest.

North Queensland had carte blanche over proceedings for the first twenty minutes of the second half. Despite this, St George managed to hold them out initially, but the weight of possesion told in the end.

In the 49th minute Tamou runs off a Matt Bowen short pass to dive over next to the upright, to put his team in the lead, 12-10 after Thurston converts.

They then extended their lead to 18-10 nine minutes later when Thurston scores his second try, after Willie Tonga was held up on the St George line, and managed to off-load to Thurston.

Having done nothing but defend for twenty minutes and with fatigue setting in, St George could have been forgiven for closing off mentally. But that is not the way of the 2009 version of the Dragons.

Having been awarded a penalty in the 66th minute, St George spread the ball wide to Soward, who threw a cut out pass to Morris who dived over for his hat trick. With Sowards conversion, this levelled the score at 18-16 to the Cowboys and it was game on.

Not long after Thurston throws a dummy to dive over for his third try and with the conversion gives the Cowboys a eight point buffer.

This should have been the match won, but the Cowboys gave away three penalties in a row, to give St George good field position. Which they took advantage off. With three minutes remaining on the clock, Ben Hornby grubbered through into the Cowboys in-goal. Brett Morris, following through, dives on the ball just inside the dead ball line to bring the score back to 24-20.

Soward misses the conversion, but the Dragons have one final opportunity when Hornby, on his twenty metre line, slices through the Cowboys defence and races forty metres before passing to Pryor. Pryor runs twenty metres and draws two defenders in, then off-loads to Wendel Sailor.

Alas, not. The ball travels harmlessly over the sideline and the Cowboys hang on for a gritty win.
Round 9 NRL picks


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Poor Ball Control Costs Warriors

The New Zealand Warriors have cost themselves two competition points against St George today at Wollongong, due to shocking ball retention. On numerous occasions they dropped the ball on the first tackle, handing it straight back to St George. With a unforced error count of 17-7 to the Warriors, the only surprise was that St George managed to win by a mere one point, 12-11.

Both teams crossed each others goal line twice each, but were called back for forward passes on one occasion each and again, once each for knock ons.

While the attack of both sides was not at their best, each team defended stoutly for the full eighty minutes. The Warriors, while not controlling the ball well , like previous weeks, put in a superb kick chase effort to keep them in the match.

The match featured a high number of penalties, ending 9-8 in the Warriors favour. It also once again comprised that most odious of activities, the referees lecture- or more commonly known as the prattle of the dead- on three occasions. Just a thought, but do the referees not get it? One wonders this, as they don't seem to realise that the players take no notice of what they are saying, and use it to reset their defensive line, knowing full well that the threat of the sin bin against them, will not be used.

The Dragons made all the running early on, but it was the Warriors who scored first to go 2-0 up, with a 22nd minute penalty goal to Patrick Ah Van, who came into the side to replace the banished Denam Kemp.

St George countered this in the 26th minute with a penalty goal of their own, following the first of the referees lectures to the Warriors captain, Steve Price, to level the score at 2-2.

Due to all the penalties and dropped ball, neither team could gain any momentum.

It took a piece of opportunistic play by Simon Mannering in the 30th minute to get the Warriors over the St George goal line for the first time. Having regathered the loose ball after Price achieved one of his trademark charge-downs ten metres out from their own goal line, Mannering, finding the St George defence to be somewhat on the anti-social side with sinister intentions, charged off down the field on a seventy metre run. The Dragons Brett Morris gave chase and hauled him in, but Mannering was able to play the ball at speed and found that the company was more to his liking when his teammates joined him to spread the ball wide. Having spread the ball wide quickly, Joel Moon, who had a strong game, drew in two defenders before off-loading to Ah Van, who dived over in the corner.

The conversion missed, but the Warriors regained the lead, 6-2.

The Warriors dominated the last ten minutes of the first half, but the Dragons defence held.

With ten seconds to go in the half, Stacey Jones, twenty out from the St George goal-posts, decides to go for a drop goal and succeeds, to give the Warriors a rather bizarre and peculiar 7-2 scoreline going into half time.

The Dragons, in the first half, suffered injuries to Matt Cooper, Wendel Sailor and Jamie Soward, and it was a surprise to see them able to continue to carry on in the second half. But carry on they did, and without them they may not have got out of this match with the win.

It took until the 58th minute for St George to get over the Warriors line, but score they did, after one of their walking wounded, Jamie Soward, threw a speculator pass that Brett Morris gathered, and he strolled over to touch down twenty metres to the left of the posts. Soward converted to give St George a one point lead, 8-7.

Two minutes later, the Warriors get a relieving penalty in their own twenty and from the ensuing set of six, Jerome Ropati dives over in the corner, taking four defenders with him, to dot down and get his team back in front, 11-8.

An extra defender, Jason Nightingale looked to have led with his foot, to try and prevent Ropati scoring. The NRL have outlawed the practice this year and Nightingale may find himself on holiday for a couple of weeks, if proven to be guilty of a contrary conduct charge.

A further ten minutes along the historical time-line that is life, and Steve Price is penalised for a knee in the tackle, which leads to the third and fortunately last referees lecture.

Having bombed a try two minutes earlier, St George took the tap and spread the ball three wide to Ben Creagh who dived over to score despite the worst intentions of three would-be Warriors tacklers.

Soward missed the conversion attempt, but the Dragons held a one point lead, 12-11.

And this is where the score stayed, despite Stacey Jones having the chance of a drop goal to level the scores with ninety seconds remaining. But, alas not, as Jones knocked on twenty metres out in front of the Dragons posts.

While neither team played to their best, both showed enough, that along with the Brisbane Broncos, they appear to be the most likely teams at this stage to go further at the business end of the season.

Warriors fans can feel safe in the knowledge, that while their teams ball retention was at times appalling, their kick chase and defence was outstanding and even though they are sitting outside the top eight, they are holding their own with the top teams away from home consistently, whereas in the past this did not always happen.

Of the last four matches, the spread has been two or less points on each occasion, and three of these were played in Australia. Despite losing two of these, it appears the bad old days of not being able to perform with the travel are a distant memory.

A charge up the points table in the second half of the season seems imminent.

Once again, Russel Packer continues to give consistently strong performances each week. A notable future beckons for him indeed.

The Warriors have the bye next weekend. This will give them a chance to recharge the batteries before taking on the North Queensland Cowboys at home and starting what they hope will be a charge to the northern most tip of the points table.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Round 8 NRL Picks

Sea Eagles