Wednesday, March 28, 2012

If James Maloney’s forehead were a bull’s-eye, it would soon have run out of room for the multitude of arrows fired his way, given the haranguing he took after he signed – over the summer - to play for the Sydney Roosters in 2013.

Many thought it a cheeky move from the pint sized halfback, who had been given his big break by the New Zealand Warriors. Until then, the Australian had been stuck behind Cooper Cronk at Melbourne, waiting for his opportunity, with no real light at the end of the tunnel, to see of.

So when the Warriors put a contract offer on the table, he took the plunge, upped sticks, leaving family and friends behind for the unfamiliar surrounds of a different Country.

How could he, the critics reasoned, use the club they hold so dare to their hearts. To those supporters, it seemed to be nothing more than a cynical ploy on Maloney’s part to make his name in the big time, capturing the attention of a Sydney club and a big money offer, before heading home again.

No commitment or loyalty, they thought, to the club that gave him his chance. As far as the diehards were concerned, it was typical of the modern day athlete, their focus being solely on what is best for themself, thinking of nothing but their bank balances.

And knowing that he was heading back to the Rugby League heartland of Sydney at the end of the current season, how could one half of the Warriors star halves combination possibly be motivated to give his best for a club that he is about to leave?

Surely the boy from Orange, New South Wales, is only going to do enough to collect his pay each month, no longer caring for the result of his current side.

Well, amateur psychologists, put down your pad and pen, pick up the remote and tune in each and every week to view a player that gives his all regardless of the circumstances.

Lack of commitment – Ha . . . for James Maloney knows no other way than to go at every endeavour full tilt. He can show you what it means to be the ultimate team man. He may be one of the team’s stars, but, regardless, he still puts his body on the line, no matter what.

Tackles to be made, who do you call? That’s right, it’s Maloney. Long raking kicks from deep within your own territory, who do you call? Once again, it’s Maloney. Pin point accurate bombs for Manu Vatuvei to devour and dive over for a match winning try, who do you call? Maloney, of course.

And that doesn’t take into account his precision hole running that is the precursor to many a crucial try. If there is anyone in the NRL any better than the 5ft9in pocket rocket at running the best of angles – in not necessarily the best of times - off the short passing game of the likes of Feleti Mateo, then, please, step forward and state your case.

Ah, I thought so, no takers.

You see, it’s not the Maloney way to give anything less than his best. A true professional in every sense of the word, he may collect a healthy sum each week, but, he also provides the ultimate value for money.

He is also very adept at proving his critics wrong.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Injuries injuries injuries, they are the bane of a professional coaches’ existence. Can’t live with them, unfortunately one doesn’t get to live without them.

Just as Warriors Coach Brian (bluey) McLennan settles into his newly acquired dream job, bustling and busying his time away, plotting the ascent of his star-studded side to the summit of excellence, wondering how life could possibly get any better than the disposition of his current lot, along comes an injury list to put a sizable indentation in his carefully sculpted plans.

All that planning, yet life’s master plan forgot to inform him of its intentions and how much it doesn’t care for his ambitions.

It wasn’t through a lack of effort on the part of the new coach, though. A lazy summer it was not for the coaching and playing staff at Mt Smart. Four months of solid planning for the coach, four months of hard slog for the players, all seemingly fit as a fiddle and raring to foist their talents on each and alls theatre of dreams, then, snap, three frontline forwards are ruled out with injury.

It’s not like they were any of those fancy fly by nighter ball playing second rowers, either. Oh no, it just had be three of the grafters in the form of Michael Luck, Jacob Lillyman and Sam Rapira. You know the ones, never on the receiving end of any form of kudos given, yet unfailingly – and without complaint - do the hard yards, setting a platform for all the show ponies out in the backline to cash in on.

But, in youth, Bluey trusts.

Not for him to take the conservative route of appointing someone of maturity as a replacement. Instead, he goes and puts twenty year old rookie, Sione Lousi, in the melting pot that is the dark arts of the blackened, heady political landscape of which the unflinching diehard toughness of his fellow frontrowers knows no limitations.

They care not for the reputations of the longstanding, and, one imagines, of the new boy on the block who is unlikely to get an easy start to what is a potentially fruitful career, either. Not that is appears to bother him too much. Having played in the opening three rounds, the lad has quickly showed a propensity for the big time. Not for him a role as a caddie, he’s the real deal.

Those bullocking runs straight into the heart of the abyss, without fear or prejudice for the consequences that happen upon him. Time after time, and then again, this young man, who has been promoted from the interchange bench to the run-on side for this weekend’s encounter with Gold Coast, throttles his way head-on into the punishment that beckons him. It must be intimidating, but, then, it’s the team first for Lousi, and if that means taking more than his share of bumps and bruises, then so be it.

But best make the most of such talent quickly. For, as the saying goes, nothing is so good that it lasts for an eternity. This obviously includes a Rugby League career. Ten years for most, more for some, less for others – you never know, injury could be just around the corner, fast approaching on an unforeseen lane of destruction in its efforts to force you onto a new page and an unwanted way of life leaving nothing but unfulfilling memories to while away the days with.

So, wait not, waste not, want not, and charge forth into the sunrise that is a glowing vista of untapped opportunities waiting to be grabbed hold of.

Which the big man shows every sign of doing thus far in his burgeoning career.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The energiser bunny has reinvented itself in the guise of Simon Mannering.

For, the second rower just keeps on going and going...and, going. Going strong for eighty minutes, that is. Eighty long gruesome, tortuous minutes, where the hits come thick and fast, the bruises take pride of place as the latest badge of honour marks itself on the elongated 6ft 4” frame of the twenty-five year old second rower.

A man of leisure, he is not. Not for him to be roaming free on the wings of try scoring ecstasy. Instead, the former Nelson boy is content to busy himself away from the limelight, nobly preferring to get down and dirty in the darkened alleys of the hard working, iron willed methodology that is lurking behind every corner clad in cloaks of murky intent, where he spends his time with his fellow brethren in the forwards.

Sure, occasionally he will tender his services out to the positions of the needy - covering in the centres, mostly- in times of emergency. But that is Mannering for you; all for one and one for all is his attitude. Whatever is best for the team, he will do for the team.

No wonder former coach, Ivan Cleary, appointed him Captain in 2010 when Steve Price missed said season through injury. From one captain fantastic to the next captain fantastic, Mannering stepped up to the mark, took his best shot and hit the captaincy bull’s-eye. To say he has made every post a winner would be to understate things immeasurably.

Not one to rest on his laurels, this leader of men performs week in week out at or near the peak of his not inconsiderable powers. That there never appears to be an off day speaks volumes for not only his ability, but also for the maturity that exudes out of this still young man. It is maturity that allows for a performance that only has one setting; top gear of his well oiled rugby league talent.

Consistency is always a most difficult of countenance to obtain. It requires the steadiest of minds - a mind that can muster up the necessary mental fortitude to fight back those darkest of thoughts when the going gets tough. When there are three would be attendants in the tackle, battering and bruising a fragile outer casing that can only be protected by a sturdy mind, this is the time Mannering elevates himself above the average. When forcing his way through the pain is the go, pushing back those would be foe, suppressing the desire to hold back, to do just enough without having to endure the pain of the world’s toughest contact competition.

Which is why inspiration abounds from his being, taking with him sixteen other willing teammates, as they dutifully follow their courageous leader into the heart of the battle. He’s not a man that lets extravagant flourishes of verbal fluency exercise his vocal cords. But don’t mistake this for a lack of activity upstairs, he's a smart cookie, for sure.

It’s just that he prefers to let his actions do the talking. And they have been actions that have survived intact from injury, for the most part, since his debut for the Warriors in 2005.

Reliable of mind, reliable of body, it is a certainty that this Captain fantastic can be relied on to lead his young team to the apex of their capabilities.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Manly 26 Warriors 20

The Big Choke

It looked suspiciously like one. It smelt suspiciously like one. But was it really a choke? Well, yes, to a certain extent. And big? Well, maybe it wasn’t that big, just a tiny wee one instead.

Sure enough, it was the usual suspects lining up to pile on error after error.

Manu Vatuvei knocked on the familiar door of butterfingered calamities; it opened and welcomed him in with open arms. Why the winger has these occasional off days is anyone’s guess. It’s not as if he doesn’t play well under pressure on numerous other occasions
And on big the biggest of stages, too.

So, Manu, what goes through that head of yours?

Handling pressure is simply about believing in one’s ability to execute what one is trying to achieve. That being the case, why can Vatuvei do this sometimes, but not others? If anyone out there has the key to unlocking the mind of this mystery of a man, then please, please, come forward and enlighten us all.

He wasn’t the only one, though. Kevin Locke had the odd brain snap, too. You know the ones, when a team is just beginning to gain momentum, and then the likes of Locke get pushed out over the sideline on the first tackle in what was an avoidable occurrence.

The Positives

Funnily enough, all the negatives are, in a bizarre way, what give us plenty to be positive about.

Up against the reigning premiers, the Warriors were far from their best.
There was the abysmal ball handling that wouldn’t be acceptable in the under 12’s.

Doesn’t sound particularly positive does it? But when a side can play poorly, be without three frontline staff in the form of Michael Luck, Jacob Lillyman and Sam Rapira through pre-season injuries, and lose centre, Jerome Ropati, within the first thirty minutes of the encounter, and still lose by a mere six points, then all is not lost.

After Ropati had departed the scene, this left Coach Brian McLennan with two centres on debut in the form of Ben Henry and Konrad Hurrell. That they both performed admirably bodes well for the future. Hurrell, in particular, seemed intent on doing an impersonation of a one man wrecking machine. Many were the time that he took three or four Manly hangers-on for a five – sometimes ten - metre trip as he surged his way along field. This is a twenty year old debutant. A star has been introduced to the Rugby League world. Now, just watch him grow.

Over the final fifty minutes the Warriors outscored Manly by twenty points to ten. So, they have the attacking capacity within them to create havoc.

Shaun Johnson

Back in the deep dark recesses of time more commonly known as the 1980’s, a time when they made real music, there was a musician by the name of David Bowie. He released a song by the name of “let’s dance”. When writing this song, he must surely have foreseen the emergence of Shaun Johnson as a superstar. For the halfback with the talent to die for could put Bowie and Fred Astaire to shame, such was the nifty footwork he produced to put Vatuvei over for the Warriors first try of match. Then, then, he came up with moves that were so fleet of foot in scoring a try of his own, that if you were to witness them, you would be forgiven for thinking that you had been in a desert for forty days and forty nights and were suffering delusional paranoia. It could not have possibly occurred.

Come on Shaun, admit it, it was a trick, wasn’t it? Oh come on, no one really does this sort of thing.

Sione Lousi

He may be a young man, but, all the same, he’s a big man with a big engine who is not one to shirk a big workload, as well as appearing to have a mind that fails to see limitations and will allow him to expand his young career into something much bigger.

Without fear Lousi rampaged his way through this round one match-up, making hit-up after hit-up, tackle after tackle and always coming back for more.

And you can’t ask for any more than that.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Konrad Hurrell, this is the time to shine.

Twenty years of age, in only his second season of Rugby League, life can’t get much better for him. With a start alongside Jerome Ropati in the centres for Sunday’s encounter with Manly, the Leo has already ousted Kristin Inu.

Such a rapid rise to the top so soon, yet he’s no spoiled brat. Hard work appears to his modus operandi. A flake he is not. Good, bad or otherwise, you can rely on the young man to give his all for the team’s lot.

Tough as teak, he’s not to be marked by the meek, an attacking force to be reckoned with, the New Zealand Warriors may have found the answer to the nightmare that has been the troublesome right centre position.

Like the Sahara, this positional landscape has been barren for so long. The Auckland based club had looked endlessly as they searched for a saviour, on the never-never it was but a dream, the sands of the hourglass were on their last drops of aspiration and desperation, but hope springs eternal and out of the desert storm eventually appeared an oasis in the form of Hurrell.

A strapping lad, 6ft and 100 kilos of youthful muscle bound exuberance, he tore asunder the best the Toyota Cup had in 2011. The NRL, though, is where the big boys come out to play. No black hole here to float around aimlessly amid the frozen, frigid, emptiness as a large vacuum, where there isn’t a star in sight, sucks the life from your attacking glee.

So the time has come to take the leap, to make his acquaintance with the big time, to meet the real stars, making an impact defensively as well as in attack, showing that there is an all-rounder lurking within.

It’s all very well to run in tries from far and wide, but a first grader is only as good as the weakest aspect of his game. He has got the nod ahead of Inu. While Inu may win his side a contest on rare occasions, a good majority of the time he appears to sleepwalk his way through matches. This Hurrell seemingly shows no sign of doing. Sure, he is not, as yet, a proven match winner at the highest level, but there is only one way to become that champion, and that is to get onto the park and do it.

His pre-season form was immaculate, his reward is nigh. But remember, pre-season form more often than not counts for nothing. It is time for the former rugby player to step up, take up the reins, to terrorise, to mock, pouring plentiful dollops of scorn upon the defensive qualities of his foe from the west - the wild wild west, where men lie in wait, where they no longer down a beer and break open a cigar, the night before; for there are livelihoods at stake, they care - rendering them a hapless quivering wreck of transparent orthodoxy, sweltering their intentions in a fug like environment, leaving them unable to push air, let alone the weight of the dynamic frame of Hurrell back in the tackle.

But, hey, there’s no pressure.

With a mind that inhabits the abode of a young body, the opportunities are boundless. Limits need not apply; the applicant has better things to do with his time than spend his days pondering what cannot be achieved.

All Hurrell has to do now is to reach out and grasp those chances. This is something he has been doing with aplomb thus far.