Monday, May 31, 2010

What a farce the draw for the women has become at the French Open.
With Justine Henin’s low seeding of twenty-two due to having been out of the game for two years, we are now seeing some top match-ups earlier than what normally would be expected. Already Henin has met and defeated Maria Sharapova in the third round and if she wins her fourth round match then she will more than likely face Serena Williams in the quarterfinals.
Fair enough, I hear you say. That’s the luck of the draw. Maybe, but when the organisers have the discretion to seed on issues other than purely world rankings, those organisers start to appear a touch backward in their thinking.
On the WTA tour the seeding of the draw is done strictly based on world rankings. However, in a grand slam, organisers do have the ability to seed based on more than just world ranking. And surely this would have been a perfect example of a situation where common sense should have dictated that Henin was seeded somewhere in the top four. Having got to the final of the Australian Open in January, it was patently clear that she was going to be a force at Roland Garros.
To have a situation where Henin, Williams and Sharapova could meet each other in the quarterfinals or worse, before, is nothing short of absurd. On the other side of the draw, Venus Williams, not a noted clay courter but seeded number two based on world ranking, is already out of the tournament.
What world rankings do not take into account is the fact that grand slam events are all played on different surfaces. Some players are better suited to the clay of Roland Garros than, for example, the grass of Wimbledon. That Venus will be a stronger threat at Wimbledon than on the clay must have been obvious. Surely this should have been taken into account when the seedings for the draw were done.
Sure, seedings are not a precise science and there will always be upsets, but due to the organiser’s inability to think the permutations through adequately we now have a competition that is seeing the top matchups contested overthe first eight days: not over the last few days as it should be.
With a small particle of thought on the part of the organisers, Henin could have been seeded two, Sharapova three, thus allowing a potential semi-final matchup between Serena and Sharapova. On the other side of the draw we could have seen Henin up against third seed Caroline Wozniacki in the other semi-final, then the opportunity of a Williams-Henin final. Or possibly between the other two. Whichever way, it would have provided for better contests overall during the second week of play.
Doesn’t the paying public deserve better than this? You betcha. Presumably, tickets cost more in the second week of the tournament for a reason: the matchups are of a higher quality due to the best players playing each other. So fair enough those tickets are pricier later in the tournament. What is not right is that tennis fans are robbed of potential matchups between some of the world’s top professionals.
The worst thing about it is that it could have so easily been prevented. All with a bit of common sense applied. But I guess, as is said often, common sense isn’t always that common.
Such a pity then that the best match of the women’s draw could be produced in a quarter-final showdown and then either Williams or Henin going on to win a lopsided final.
Yeah, now there’s something to look forward too.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What a furore we’ve had these weeks over claims from former All Black Lock Andy Haden that the Canterbury Crusaders franchise are operating a racial quota. Anyone would think it was true given the level of offence that has been taken by the general population.
How else can anyone explain the uproar over Haden’s comments? Really, all he did was to state an opinion. And the last time I checked we were living in a democracy. Hitherto, he is entitled to say what he thinks. And, if we are honest most would admit that they believe what Haden has claimed. That there is a quota.
The irony of all of this surely cannot be lost on anyone. That as a nation we are in an uproar over the spectre of racism being cast in our direction, yet there can be no doubt that within New Zealand and also rugby, there is a redneck bigoted element who believes that a team cannot win if they have a high ratio of Polynesian players in their squad.
Surely this is the real issue here. Yes, if there is a racial quota in place at the crusaders as Haden claims, whether it be official or not, that should be dealt with, but of even more importance is the rot that has worked its way to the core of the game that inspires these not so insidious attitudes.
And as columnist Richard Boock pointed out on television last night, we have all heard the comments. And he is absolutely right, too. You know, lines such as there are too many coons in the team. They can’t think under pressure. Never put them in pivotal positions, they haven’t got the brains. The ignorance of such types that come up with such nonsense would be laughable if it were not for the fact that it is highly offensive to not just the people on the receiving end of this drivel but also to any sensible thinking member of society.
One would have thought that there should be a debate on the issue of racism in New
Zealand and if it is indeed there, how we can eradicate this type of despicable attitude from our national psyche, instead of the likes of NZRU Ceo Steve Tew feigning moral outrage when the likes of Haden and Boock come out and make perfectly reasonable points.
Maybe Tew should be more concerned with getting to the bottom of this accusation rather than pretending to be shocked by it. After all, he is at the coalface of the game. Surely he has heard these racist comments from supposed supporters of the game. Or has he and the Rugby Union become so arrogant that they have no notion of the prevailing attitudes within the game?
If so, then it is high time that there was a changing of the guard within the preserve of the white middle class male that is the NZRU. The reality is that until there are more women (not to mention those from other minority groups) on the NZRU board and also women in positions such as Ceo’s of super fourteen franchises, then the attitudes that currently persist with the game will continue to do so. Admittedly, even then the racist element within the game will not disappear completely. But at least it would be a start. Though, do you think that the current mob will ever release their grip on power by letting anyone other than their own into the corridors of power? Not on your Nellie. You only have to look at their response to the appointment of the All Black coaches after the last world cup to see what lengths they will go to protect their own backsides.
With these attitudes towards Polynesian players when these attitudes towards Polynesian players are examined more closely, it soon becomes obvious to any rational, intelligent person that the myths surrounding the Polynesian players and the browning of the game can be debunked.
I mean, has anyone yet bothered to consider that the reason for the Crusaders success has nothing to do with how few Polynesians are in the team and more to do with the culture within the outfit. Not to mention the fact that they have been blessed with a superb coach in Robbie Deans for much of its history. More than likely Deans could have gone out and found fifteen players of Polynesian descent and turned them into a champion team.
After all, handling pressure and thinking under pressure is about believing in what one is trying to achieve. If you are confident in your ability, you will handle the pressure of big match situations thus allowing a player to think more clearly. It has absolutely nothing to do with the colour of a person’s skin. A lot of this comes back to the ability of a coach to help a player put in place goals that help the player see that he can achieve a certain activity in a certain situation.
Then there is the modern lifestyle which it has to be said is not the stuff of Colin Meads carting fence posts up the back hills of the King Country on his shoulder. The players of forty years ago, one suspects, were a mentally harder breed, mainly out of necessity. In the modern professional era it is more a case of going to training for a few hours each day then spending the rest of their time playing golf and playstation.
Not that anyone is suggesting that we go back to the days where players were not allowed to earn from rugby. No one would suggest that the standard of rugby was better back then. How could it be when most players had to work a forty hour week as well. There’s just a suspicion though that some of the old ethos could come in handy. Where top rugby players were forced to think their way through the pressure of everyday jobs. Nowadays, with seventeen year olds going straight from school into professional football, they are losing out on valuable life experience as well as a formal education. That they no longer think under pressure of big match rugby is of no great surprise.
And it is a disease that can invade any member of society, regardless of the colour of their skin.
It is never a good sign for a team when their opposition has an intimate relationship with the same in-goal area as they do. The pity for the New Zealand Warriors was that their opposites, West Tigers, made forays into this poorly secured enclosure with monotonous regularity.
Tigers Centre Jeff Daniela was a major contributor with a hat trick and Lote Tuquri chimed in with a double in the Tigers 50-6 demolition job of the Warriors in Sydney tonight.
What was more remarkable was after thirty-seven minutes the Tigers were down 6-4 and the Warriors looked to be gaining momentum after having scored in the 26th minute with a try to Joel Moon. Then, suddenly, the match turned with the Tigers scoring at more than a point a minute over the final forty-four minutes.
In this time they added a further eight tries with seven of them converted by captain Benji Marshall. And these weren’t tries from kicks either. No, there were numerous tries that started from their own twenty. Show-offs.
They threw the ball around, broke the line with ease at times and showed a healthy portion of élan in their work. No need to kick on the 5ft tackle for this lot. Why indulge in such an activity when they could entertain themselves and the crowd with sweeping movements from one side of the field to the other. Several of their tries came on the last tackle. Most teams would put a kick of some description in, but not the Tigers. They chanced their arm and it paid dividends with three tries coming on the 5th tackle.
Even the keen observer would never have seen the havoc that the Tigers unleashed coming. Despite being the first to score they made a multitude of errors. All in their own half, too. They did their damnedest to help send the Warriors home with a victory. Fortunately for the Tigers their foe didn’t appear to have any ideas worthy of try scoring feats on their mind. Hence, they were unable to take advantage of the opportunities afforded them by the Tigers.
So it turned out to be somewhat of a cake walk for the home team.
For the Warriors, though their defence was sound for most of the first half and, yes, they had looked to be getting on top of the contest for the second quarter of the match, their attack was minimal. It looked flustered with no one appearing to have any ideas. There was a lot of sideways movement at times with no one really putting a dent in the Tigers defensive line.
There were no decoy runners to be seen and the Tigers were able to shut down any attack with relative ease. To add to this the last tackle kicks invariably disappeared over the dead ball line, so they were unable to mount any pressure on their opposites by trapping them in-goal.
So it wasn’t their night. And to add to their woes, not only were the Warriors pummelled on the scoreboard, their already high injury toll this season continues to get worse. Early in the second half Brett Seymour came from the field with a knee injury.
With Seymour now potentially out of next week match against St George, the Warriors will be hoping that James Maloney’s back injury recovers in time to allow him to play.
Because they are going to need all the help they can get.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

With the announcement yesterday that Wade McKinnon has left the New Zealand Warriors some may be wondering if this is really such a great loss to the club.
Despite claims from management that they had wanted McKinnon to stay at the club until his contract expired at the end of 2011, this simply does not stack up when one considers the speed at which he was released.
It is true that if a player is unhappy at a club, then he is not likely to be as productive with his form, but in this case the reason he was not in the team in the first place was a lack of form. It was no one’s fault but his own.
And if he was indeed that consequential to the Warriors fortunes then surely club CEO Wayne Scurrah wouldn’t have let him go at all. The reality is that McKinnon could no longer hold down a position on the reserves bench let alone a starting position. With Lance Hohaia firmly ensconced in the number one’s shirt the landscape for McKinnon no longer looked particularly desirable.
What’s more for him, not only has Hohaia seemingly gained an over him for the fullback’s position, the Warriors have Kevin Locke waiting in the wings. Fullback is Locke’s normal position and no doubt with a couple more years of experience of nrl football he is the heir apparent to Hohaia for the fullback position.
So, not a great outlook for McKinnon at Mt Smart. And when an opportunity comes a knocking you could hardly blame him for jumping at a chance to move on when the end result is a more realistic hope of a starting spot for the West Tigers.
Clearly McKinnon could see the writing on the wall. And the reality is that he is no longer the match winner that he was in 2007 when he set the competition alight with some scintillating length of the field tries. None more so memorable than his effort against Penrith that year where he zigzagged his way through the entire Penrith team. That his rich vein of form glowed week after week that year contributed mightily to the Warriors charge towards finals football. It did, sometimes, come with a few nasty side effects such as his willingness to enter into unnecessarily vigorous debate with match officials. Not to mention the occasion when he spat in the direction of a touch judge. Not one of the wisest career moves, it has to be said.
With his brilliance each week the Warriors coaching staff tended to overlook some of these misdemeanours as McKinnon was crucial to the team’s chances. But he is no longer that player, mainly due to a serious knee injury suffered in trial matches in early 2008. While he did make it back in time for finals football that year, he appeared to have lost the blinding speed and agility that he possessed before his knee reconstruction. Quite understandable, too.
It was one thing no longer having that speed at the end of 2008 and early on in 2009, but two years on from that fateful day where he injured the knee against the Newcastle Knights, he still appears to have been unable to locate his former speed and elusiveness.
If his grip on his place in the team was tenuous in 2009 then he soon lost it altogether this season. Not surprising either, as Coach Ivan Cleary quite rightly decided that with Hohaia at fullback, it gave him more options with his interchange bench. The fact that Hohaia can cover every position in the backline as well as dummy half makes him a vastly more valuable commodity to the Warriors than what McKinnon does.
Then there is the money side of the equation. Hohaia is on 150k pa, McKinnon 200k. Why would a club want to continue to pay a player not making first grade his playground 200k when it is getting far superior value for money from Hohaia, who is on 50k less annually? Surely, you wouldn’t. And this leads to the topic of recruitment and, also, player retention. Currently the Warriors are battling for the services of centre Brent Tate for the 2011 season. Reportedly the prospects of the Warriors winning his signature are 50/50.
There may be some chance but, still, it doesn’t seem an overly optimistic view on the part of the club’s management. However, with an extra 200k pa to negotiate with now that McKinnon has departed the scene, it must help with their chances of retaining Tate. Or, if Tate-who is on a salary of 400k per year- also leaves, then they would then have 600k pa in reserve (and under the salary cap) to put in an offer to Greg Inglis to lure him across the Tasman.
Inglis is the most likely of the Melbourne Storm’s superstar quartet to be released to help bring them back under the salary cap. And with a higher level of scrutiny being placed on the salary cap at the moment, how many clubs could realistically afford to splash out 600k on Inglis? I’m guessing not many.
With McKinnon opting out of his contract with the Warriors, the management of the club now have a golden opportunity to chase one of the true superstars of rugby league.
In the end McKinnon may have done the New Zealand Warriors a massive favour.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It’s May and that can only mean one thing: it is time for the French open and a chance to celebrate all things French.
Which means the time has come to indulge in a veritable feast of French wines, bread and cheese, all the while taking in the breathtaking magnificence that is a stunning array of shot making on the part of the world’s best tennis players, wee-wee.
Not just that, but there are sights to be seen in Paris that defy normality; the Eiffel tower for one, Venus William’s unique knickers (no, you had not had one French wine to many, you really did see what you thought you saw) for another. Great attractions, both of them, one would have to say, wee-wee.
And then there’s the tennis. Rodger Federer is through to the second round with a comfortable victory over his Australian opponent. The ease of which he acquired his first round win suggests that the fed express looks like he could be building up a full head of steam on his charge for another grand slam victory.
And with Rafael Nadal heading north on the form guide of late, it looks like we could be in for another classic at the serious end of the tournament. Certainly one of the main contenders, Scotsman Andy Murray looks to be struggling to find a rich vein of form after scraping through the first round with a five set victory. Sure, the idea is to peak at the end of week two, but he looked far from convincing.
If there is a silver lining in the draw for Murray, it may be that being due to meet Federer in the semis may help his cause. Even though Federer is undoubtedly the favourite at this stage, if Nadal rediscovers his clay court form of two years ago, Murray may be better off facing Federer instead of Nadal.
On the women’s side of the equation it is hard to see anyone seriously challenging Serena William’s and Belgium’s Justine Henin. That they are both in the top half of the draw means that they will more than likely meet in the semi-final. On the other side of the draw are the likes of serial choker Danara Safin, Elena Dementieva and Venus William’s. None of these players are likely to seriously challenge either Serena William’s or Henin. Safin tends to crack under the pressure of finals tennis. Until she truly believes in herself and has the confidence in her own ability this is likely to continue. And while Venus Williams is the number two player in the world, she has always struggled on the clay of Roland Garros. So, she will be pining for the grassy expanses of Wimbledon that she is much better suited too.
As the bottom half of the draw looks by far the weaker, this brings us back to Serena and Henin. At the Australian Open they battled each other over three sets in the final with William’s prevailing. It was a mighty effort on Henin’s part as she was just out of retirement and on the comeback trail. In the end William’s match fitness and power came to the fore.
So can the little Belgium dynamo with the backhand that is every tennis player’s wet dream go one better in Paris? She must stand a good chance as clay should suit her game. With a solid forehand and the aforementioned backhand which both leak only limited errors, she should have too much for most opposition. And while she doesn’t possess the game’s biggest serve by any stretch of the imagination, at the same time her opponents that do have big serves will have the impact of their biggest weapon against her stunted with the slower pace of the courts.
In Melbourne the fully loaded enemy destroyer eventually overcame the pocket battleship.
With the addition of a composite number of months (four) extra to prepare, will she have upgraded her armoury? Certainly her fitness will have improved and the consistency that comes with hitting more balls should start to show through.
Not to mention the fact that as a four time winner in Paris she will have the knowledge and know how to take down the battleship this time, wee-wee.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The New Zealand Warriors beat South Sydney at Mt Smart Stadium today-but it came at a huge cost in the form of a potentially season ending injury to prop Sam Rapira. Having contributed a mighty effort during the first half, he damaged his right knee with what is believed to be a rupture to his acl ligament. Not what the Warriors needed, just as they were getting their rather large injury toll under control.
They also played a large proportion of the match without stand-off James Maloney who received a bad knock to his lower back.
They played the second half with a two man bench and the last ten minutes with no interchanges left. With a 26-24 lead at this stage, the situation looked dire for the Warriors as South Sydney took up residence in the Warriors half and continually battered their goal line.
That the locals kept Souths scoreless over the final ten minutes was miraculous. It was a mighty defensive effort that they can be proud of. On several occasions Souths came within a couple metres of the Warriors goal line, but each time the defence was able to force an error from the visitors.
And then there were the likes of Brent Tate and Jerome Ropati to run from dummy half to help their tiring forwards out. For much of the match Tate made valuable metres out of dummy half and along with backrower Ukuma Ta’ia, were the best players on the park for the Warriors.
A completion rate of eighty-one percent also helped their cause, especially in the wet conditions that prevailed. That both sides found a way to put on a sparkling array of attacking football in such dismal weather was a credit to them.
And it only took three minutes for the Warriors to show their intentions as they sent Kevin Locke off on a selection enhancing run along the eastern sideline. That he wasn’t able to make the most of it was no fault of his own as Rhys Wesser brought him down with a high tackle. From the ensuing penalty, the Warriors spread the ball wide to the left side attack where Lance Hohaia- celebrating his 150th game for the club- darted through a gap in the defence to touchdown five metres in from the sideline. With the conversion from Brett Seymour it was a handy start for the Warriors.
The good work was to be undone eight minutes later as Ropati dropped the ball in front of his own goalposts. Souths made the most of it by putting Colin Best over to score to level at six a piece.
Despite Tate scoring in the 20th minute from a last tackle bomb, it was South Sydney who scored twice over the next ten minutes. Their big forwards looked to be gaining the upper hand with good metres up the middle of the ruck, thus giving hooker Issac Luke free rein to make breaks to his heart’s content. And this he did regularly, though, somehow the Warriors managed to keep Souths scoreless over the last ten minutes of the half.
At 18-10 down going into the break, it would have been a long way back for the Warriors. So, fortunately for them, in the 40th minute Ropati spotted a gap in Souths defence on one of his team’s sortie into enemy territory and snuck his way through to score in the left corner. So at 18-14 down at the break, there was still hope for the Warriors.
Despite Rapira’s injury early in the second half, the Warriors started the half at a great rate, scoring two converted tries within two minutes of each other. One to Ropati, his second of the evening, and the other to prop Russell Packer looked to have gained the Warriors the ascendancy and a chance to put the game beyond South Sydney’s reach.
It was not to be though, as South’s slowly clawed their way back into the match. By the 67th minute when Fetuli Talinoa went over for his second try of the night South’s were well on top and now only two points adrift of their foe. What they not counted on though, was a Warriors outfit determined to come away with their third home win of the season.
With the weight of possession going against them and now down to a two man interchange bench, they could have been forgiven for being overtaken by South’s. That they held out a strong finishing South’s with a particularly strong display of mental fortitude was encouraging to say the least. With Brett Seymour back at halfback consistently and organising the team, they will have the opportunity to build their attacking combinations.
This all bodes well for the remainder of the season.
The only thing Floyd Landis has won over the past four years is dope of the year.
And let’s give him credit; at least it is an award for 2010. Nothing quite like being current is there.
Not being content with accusing Lance Armstrong of being a drugs cheat, he somehow, in his little mind decided it would be a wise career move to suggest that the entire professional cycling fraternity indulges in the dark arts of drug taking. The worst thing about all of this is that Landis has not been able to produce so much as a thread of evidence to substantiate his claims.
So, good thinking Floyd. Not only have you opened yourself up to being sued, you have also alienated everyone on the pro tour. And sadly, all the commotion that you have caused seems to have been borne out of nothing more than petty spite on your part. It seems that you are upset at the organisers of the Tour of California for not including your team. Next you will be double sheeting your children’s beds because they didn’t give you the birthday present that you had wanted.
Sure, there are more than likely people out there that agree with you. It might be that the majority of the public believe that pro cycling is riddled with drugs cheats, but then they don’t have to deal with any of the cyclists. You do, though. And that’s the bit you seem to have forgotten, isn’t it, that you are unlikely to gain entry into future events all because you threw your toys out of the cot about not getting into one event.
It may just benefit you though Floyd. After all, just imagine if you had got to ride the Tour de France again and members of other teams with long memories decided to take some retribution on you down one of those steep alpine roads with sheer drops over the edge of two hundred metres. You would be thanking your lucky stars that you won’t be part of the peloton. If you had stopped to think of such things, that is.
It seems that you have let your anger cloud your judgement. Not only that but the irony of the whole situation seems to have escaped your attention. A person (you) that was caught cheating in the 2006 Tour de France, who for four years denies that he took any performance enhancing drugs, now comes out and admits he did in fact deliberately cheat. Now you expect the world to take your word on all matters to do with drugs in the sport of cycling.
What’s more, you have chosen to take on one of the most powerful riders in the sport of cycling in Lance Armstrong. A man that has regularly been accused of misdeeds over the past ten years, but not once has anyone managed to prove anything against him. And suddenly you decide that you can bring Armstrong down. Perhaps you have forgotten that Armstrong is an American hero. One that fought his way back from life threatening cancer to conquer the mightiest race of them all, the Tour de France. So I’m just going to take a stab in the dark here and say that the American public is more likely to take Armstrong’s side than yours.
Be careful too, Floyd. Armstrong and his mates might just turn the tables on you and open a can of whoopass of their own, disclosing more information on you.
And remember, you’re the one that has been found guilty of taking drugs-not them.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Defence wins matches.
So it was at Mt Smart Stadium tonight as the New Zealand Warriors put in a mighty defensive effort to break a three game losing streak with a 24-12 win over the North Queensland Cowboys.
They constantly forced their opposites back in the tackle, forcing a high error rate from the Cowboys with knock-ons. And it was relentless.
With Manu Vatuvei and Brett Seymour back from injury, the Warriors appeared to be significantly more self assured as they went about procuring their fourth win of the season. Vatuvei only lasted forty-four minutes, injuring his calf muscle early in the game but soldiered on for as long as possible.
Still, his presence no doubt helped as his teammates played the game at pace up the middle of the park. Helped by an appalling completion rate on the part of the Cowboys, the Warriors piled on three first half tries.
The first, in the 10th minute, came on the back of some brutal defence on their part and a 40/20 from James Maloney. In modern sport we often hear coaches referring to things such as pathways to success. Ukuma Ta’ai decided that his pathway to success was straight up the middle of the ruck through numerous pests and parasites as he sallied his way forth to score under the crossbar.
There was to be no let up from the Warriors on this cool Auckland evening, as they continued to make good ground off each set of six, and kept the pressure on their opposition with some stinging defence, forcing even more mistakes from the Cowboys. They used the extra possession from these errors exceedingly well too.
While some will claim that their next two tries had a good portion of luck involved, it pays to remember that old tenet about luck being the residue of design.
This was the case in the 15th minute, where North Queensland winger John Williams knocked the ball forward. What was not luck on the part of the Warriors though, was the pin point kick from Seymour with two teammates putting pressure on Williams as he jumped for the ball. What’s more, Lewis Brown put himself in the right place at the right time to pounce on the loose ball and dive over for his side’s second converted try of the evening.
North Queensland had had a scintilla of possession to this point due to their poor ball handling. Things didn’t conspire to get any better for them either, as they marched along the first half constantly handing over possession to a grateful Warriors side. On the back of another Cowboys knock-on the Warriors put bench player Ian Henderson over for their third try in the 30th minute. Maloney converted and with an eighteen point buffer, 10800 Warriors fans could only be optimistic about their side’s outlook. The vista got even better in the 36th minute as Maloney kicked a penalty to take the lead out to twenty.
Hope springs eternal. And it seemed this was the case for North Queensland as their fortunes rotated to a more favourable position, allowing them the opportunity to part company with mediocrity and form an alliance with good field position. With a flood of penalties in the 48th minute, the weight of possession told on the Warriors and Jonathon Thurston, a late call up, put Scott Bolten into a gap with a fantastic short pass that Bolten converted into a four pointer. With Thurston’s conversion, there was still a flicker of hope for the Cowboys.
Their chances improved significantly three hundred seconds later when referee Ashley Klein awarded the Cowboys a penalty for a supposed elbow in the tackle by Ukuma Ta’ia. Replays showed no evidence at all of a misdemeanour on the part of Ta’ai.
It gave Thurston the opportunity to mastermind his side’s second try with a cut out pass to put Michael Bhani over in the left corner. With the conversion and the margin back to twelve, the Warriors had every right to be nervous. To their credit though, despite having been totally dominated during the third quarter, they fought back, turning the situation around and came down the home straight by far the stronger.
To put any thoughts of a comeback out of the minds of the Cowboy’s players, Kevin Locke scored from a superbly place last tackle cross field kick form Seymour in the 70th minute. Maloney couldn’t convert to give his side a fourteen point advantage, but even so, the Cowboys offered no threat over the last ten minutes.
Which means the Warriors have rediscovered that winning feeling. With Simon Mannering definitely back for next week’s match against South Sydney, he will add even more starch to a forward pack that showed toughness for the full eighty minutes. Sam Rapira was inspirational, leading the charge up the middle of the ruck and using opposing forwards as skittles to be bowled over.
The defence couldn’t be faulted. It was superb.
And if they can get the attack operating at the level it was over the opening month of the season, then things are looking up for the Warriors.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Here’s a prediction: Brent Tate will not be playing for the New Zealand Warriors in 2011.
And how pray tell, did you come up with this insight, I hear the more sceptical of you, ask? Elementary my dear Watson, it’s quite simple really. You see, the Warrior’s management have been busying themselves in the player market. Just today they have announced the signings for 2011 of Parramatta players, Feleti Mateo and Kristian Inu. Not only that, but they have also brought in Sam Rapira’s brother, Steve for 2011.
Make no mistake about it, these are extremely good signings for the club. Mateo is a backrower that can also cover stand-off. And what the Warriors have been badly missing since the departure of Ali Lauititi is a back/secondrower that has the ability to offload. Over the last three seasons Mateo has ranked in the top six for offloads in the NRL. Not only that, but he has the ability to make breaks that the Warriors seem to lack at times in those positions currently. Sure, they have Ben Mautalino, but they seem intent on using him more as a battering ram. Potential he may have, but as yet he has yet to break through into the big time. So Mateo’s signing will give his new team the x-factor it currently lacks.
And then we have Inu who is a player that can cover wing and centre. With Tate and Jerome Ropati in the centres, where does Ivan Cleary propose to play Inu? After all, they surely aren’t spending a reported 400,000 per season on a player like Inu just to sit on the reserves bench, or worse, in reserve grade. The fact that they have signed Inu while Tate is still on the roster suggests that they already know that they will be without him next year. As the club has Manu Vatuvei and Kevin Locke as wingers, it is unlikely that Cleary and CEO Wayne Scurrah brought Inu in as nothing more than cover. While it is always good to have depth, generally players brought in for that reason do not cost 400k pa.
Which brings us to the salary cap, a subject which has had a considerable airing of late, due to the fiasco that is the Melbourne Storm. Now, there is no suggestion that the Warriors are currently over the cap, nor that they will be in 2011. However, if they are bringing in two players for a reputed 400k pa each, as well as signing Rapira for, at a guess, let’s say 200k pa, then some of the current playing roster would need to vacate the premises. What we do know is that Steve Price will retire at the end of this season, so there is 400k approximately saved. We’ll give that to Mateo. Now we know that the Warriors have resigned Michael Luck this week so they will not save any money there. There is also speculation that if Melbourne releases Adam Blair then Warriors management will go after him as well. He is likely to cost them 350k pa. With Inu’s salary of 400k, and assuming they sign Blair; the Warriors are spending an additional 950k in 2011. That means Tate and probably two others on reasonable coin will need to go.
So how are they going to cover the pay of Inu and Blair as well as Rapira under the salary cap? Either the club is significantly under the spending limit currently or they know that they are going to lose Tate and are also allowing for the possibility that they could offload a couple of higher profile players that are out of favour such as Wade McKinnon.
Certainly the smart money is on Tate departing Mt Smart at the end of 2010.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

For much of tonight’s test between Australia and New Zealand in Melbourne, it teemed down. Unfortunately for 29,500 spectators it wasn’t raining tries in Australia’s 12-8 victory.
While the weather put paid to what most were expecting to be a high scoring match, it still was an enthralling encounter with a solid defensive effort from both sides.
This led both teams to examine the possibilities of finding openings up the middle of the ruck, particularly in the first half. And both sides were able to gain easy metres in this manner but at the same time each side usually managed to close down the others attacking forays into enemy territory.
It was tit for tat over the first thirty minutes with neither side able to break the deadlock. It wasn’t until the 31st minute that Australia was able to put first points on the board. Even then, it was only through a penalty to Jamie Lyon that they gained a 2-0 lead.
Despite being a tight affair, there was always a feeling that Australia were slowly but surely getting on top. Greg Inglis had looked most likely to bust the game open, but on the few occasions that he did bust the line the Kiwi’s somehow managed to bring him down. How they coped, it is hard to comprehend. What wouldn’t be hard to believe though, is if Kiwi Coach Stephen Kearney was green with envy at the talent the Australian’s had at their disposal in Inglis.
Kearney might have been suffering from other emotions in the 36th minute as centre Steve Matai temporarily lost his marbles with a senseless late tackle on Billy Slater. Surprise surprise, it led to a try to Australian winger Brett Morris after Darren Lockyer put a grubber kick through into the Kiwi’s in goal, which Morris gratefully gathered to touchdown in the left corner. With the conversion attempt missed Australia went into the half-time break with a 6-0 lead.
If the first half had not provided much in the way of scoring highlights, then the second stanza started off promisingly with Morris securing his second try of the evening in the 46th minute. With Lyon’s conversion from the sideline and a 12-0 score line, it looked like the floodgates were about to open.
To New Zealand’s credit, however, they hung in and gradually fought their way back into the match. It took twenty minutes and some help from English referee Richard Silverwood, who conjured up some peculiar rulings. He looked to be seriously out of his depth and a good argument could be made for appointing one of the NRL’s top referees. Luckily for New Zealand though, the calls tended to go their way. After what appeared to be a knock on from the Kiwi’s, Silverwood instead gave a scrum feed to New Zealand in the 66th minute. On the fourth tackle Benji Marshall fired a long ball out to winger Jason Nightingale who dived over in the left corner. Isaac Luke missed what was a crucial conversion, but at least the Kiwi’s had a glimmer of hope.
That glimmer became considerably brighter in the 77th minute as Junior Sow barged over in the company of two tacklers to bring his side to within four points of their rivals.
With only two minutes on the clock left to play, New Zealand had one last chance, but ran one out too often making themselves easy targets for the defence.
Despite there being some limitations to their play, the Kiwi’s put in a respectable effort to keep an Australian team stacked with talent to a four point margin.
Which wasn’t bad as the Kiwi’s were without several frontline players.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

It seems Ma’a Nonu has dropped the f-bomb seven times in a post match interview after his team’s win over the Chief’s. And many in the public are outraged. Well, what the bloody hell for? It’s not as if he used it eight times. Now that really would be a crime of heinous proportions.
Having just completed eighty minutes of rugby, he let his guard down and let loose in an after match interview with a tirade of f-bombs. So what you may ask. It’s not as if players don’t swear during a match is it. Not to mention most other places as well. What is the difference between that and letting loose in a post match interview? Well, nothing, of course. It is only a minute bit of foul and vulgar language. How stupid of us all to think that all those people listening to the game on radio could possibly want to hear from the players afterwards. And why wouldn’t they wish to hear an expletive laden two minute interview where they find out absolutely nothing informative about how the player saw the game. So much better that than hearing anything intelligent come out of Nonu’s mouth.
Let’s be fair and not forget that in the heat of the battle things can said without thinking. What, you say; it wasn’t during the match. Ah well, perhaps his team lost. This would make it understandable then. What, they won. Ah, I’ve got it; he’s a rugby player, which of course makes him exempt from any misdemeanour he may commit.
What an uptight bunch some of us are, that we get offended at Nonu’s harmless language. Really, it is not as if this sort of thing is considered to be offensive. If it was, surely there would be laws against offensive language in a public place. Oh there is, you say. Oops, sorry, I forgot.
Nonu, as far as I can ascertain, is an example of a highly articulate rugby player with a well rounded vocabulary. I mean, those barbaric rugby league players haven’t got the formal education to emulate the likes of Nonu. After all, they can only manage the occasional f-bomb on the field, let alone any in an interview.
And isn’t wonderful to see that professional sportsmen are becoming bilingual? Nonu is taking it upon himself to help out all those children out there that love the game of rugby and look up to his ilk as role models by teaching them a second language. After all, it is impossible for one to be over educated. For too long, footballers have wasted a way their time on play station, playing golf and keeping the alcohol industry in good health. At last, a player that values articulate conversations.
Now, how could anyone possibly be offended by this? Surely it is a parent’s responsibility to teach their children right from wrong? To impart the values that they think are desirable for their children to grow into young adults with. Of course, Not Ma’a Nonu’s responsibility. It cannot possibly be his fault that impressionable youngsters may ape him. That they could take to using this type of language, in turn possibly becoming overly aggressive to teachers and the like, certainly isn’t Nonu’s fault. Not that Nonu should be expected to care about the lot of those overpaid and under worked teachers. Hell, they couldn’t possibly know stress the way a professional rugby player such as Nonu does. But, not to worry, as professionals, the likes of Nonu have plenty of spare time to visit schools and spread their wisdom.
And what better person than Ma’a Nonu to do that. As I said earlier, they should all be exposed to a second language.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Winter is fast approaching. And it is looking increasingly likely that it will be a long hard winter for the New Zealand Warriors as they went down to the Canberra Raiders 23-16 at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland tonight.
The Warriors, having lost their previous two matches by hefty margins, had 11499 expectant fans willing their team on, as they attempted to turn around their recent poor run of form. But it was to no avail. For Canberra appeared in Auckland with their game face on, and took the initiative from the get go.
With a strong wind at their backs, Canberra had complete control of the match over the first twenty-five minutes. They were inundated with sizable chunks of possession, and their attacking spirits could not contain their excitement as they emanated through cracks in the Warriors defence at will.
Not one error was produced by their young team. However, it was an error on the part of Warriors fullback Lance Hohaia that gifted Canberra winger Drury Low the first of his two tries in the 10th minute. Hohaia, having gathered the ball in his own twenty on the first tackle, instead of playing percentage football, decided to not only beat two defenders, but throw an unnecessary pass. As it went loose Low pounced on the loose ball and scored the easiest of tries under the crossbar.
While they were gifted that try, the next two efforts came about after a deluxe performance from their enormous forward pack. No fancy stuff here, just good solid yards made up the middle of the park. And the Warriors, try as they might, simply couldn’t handle the Canberra forwards.
In the 18th minute David Shillington ran onto an inside pass to steamroll his way over Hohaia to score five metres wide of the right upright. With Terry Campese’s second conversion of the night, Canberra had a prospering lead at 12-0.
It only got better three minutes later when Low crossed for his second try. At 16-0 things were looking ominous for the Warriors. It was looking a might doubtful as to whether the hill facing them was too high for them to reach the apex in time. Canberra had taken the crowd out of the equation who had entered their own private cone of silence. The Warriors did start climbing, though. After having been engulfed by a tidal wave of green attacking raids over the first half an hour, with some help from the chaos from the sky, they did slow their oppositions scoring rate. Even though they could not score themselves for the remainder of the half, they defended stoutly and kept Canberra scoreless over the final ten minutes.
If the Warriors future in the match had looked to be in dire straits during the first half, it didn’t take them long to mount a comeback in the second stanza. Two minutes, in fact, as Ukuma Ta’ia bulldozed his way over carrying two tacklers to touchdown twenty metres in from the eastern sideline. With James Maloney’s conversion and the wind now at their backs, a comeback looked to be evolving. And it was early enough that the sands of the glass allowed them time to plot an escape.
As time moves on, some things never change. While the change back to one main referee has impacted favourably on matches by giving more consistent rulings, the referees lecture is still in consistent use, by the bye. It achieves nothing- stop it.
What most would find difficult, James Maloney and Patrick Ah Van find comfortably achievable. As they displayed with consummate ease in the 58th minute as Maloney kicked for Ah Van’s wing on the last tackle. Ah Van time his run to perfection as he managed to grab the ball on the full one metre out from Canberra’s line and dive over to bring his team to within six points.
That was the end of the proliferation of their comeback however, as Maloney, on his side’s first set of six after Ah van’s try, kicked out on the full on the last tackle. This gave Canberra good field position. And they used it wisely as they decided to populate the Warriors red zone with one further try to put the result beyond doubt. If the outcome wasn’t already a foregone conclusion, halfback Marc Herbert sealed the win with a 72nd minute field goal to give Canberra a 23-10 lead.
That Brent Tate scored in the 78th minute was, by then, inconsequential. The match was already beyond them. The tor had proven to high a hurdle.
While it wasn’t a bad performance on their part, the Warriors of first five weeks of the competition seem to taken a wrong turn and missed the ground over the last three matches. The side on show currently, even allowing for the absence of Manu Vatuvei, have seemingly misplaced their confidence. Along with those missing levels of confidence, the offloads have dried up and taken an unneeded vacation. When they do appear briefly, they are tending to go to ground, whereas earlier in the season they were sticking.
This is a side that now looks torn between taking the ball one-up all day and the outfit that had a carefree attitude to offloading at will several weeks ago.
With the bye next week, they may wish to take some time to find that confidence.
Or it really will be a long season.