Friday, April 27, 2012

Kristian Inu, please close the door on your way out as surely your time at the New Zealand Warriors must now be coming to an end.

Yes, you are contracted through until the season’s end of 2013. But after your performance last night in Melbourne where you single-handedly contrived to gift the Storm a 32-14 win, there can surely be no way back for you. Such a shame it was, what with the superb way in which you’re fifteen teammates (Kevin Locke was injured early in the match and played very little part in proceedings) played.

Without doubt it was the team’s best performance of the season thus far.

They matched the Storm in every facet. In fact, it’s fair to say that they dominated Melbourne for long periods. Fourteen points apiece with eighteen minutes to go and here was a side showing why, despite the ramblings of all the doom and gloom merchants during the opening rounds of the season, they will be serious contenders for a top four finish, and maybe even another grand final appearance.

The defence was dogged and unfailing in its attempts to diminish Melbourne’s attacking flair. On the whole, they were successful. More efforts like this and a fine season looms.

Mixed with some sharp attack, they were a handful for the home side. A performance like this against any other side in the competition and victory would be a mere formality.

But, this is Melbourne. They put the professional in professional. If even one opposition player has a bad night, the Storm will pounce. And they did. You gave them that chance with a performance that bordered on the farcical. Larry, Moe and Curly would be in awe of your efforts to generate slapstick, and then some.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone has a bad game occasionally. No big deal there. It’s just that with you we can never work out whether you care or not. You do care don’t you? I mean, I suspect you care, I think you’re trying you’re hardest, but it’s so hard to know for sure. And if there’s one thing that the supporters who part with their hard earned can’t stand, it’s someone who doesn’t give their all for the cause. They’ll cop a loss, but if a team or individual don’t die for the cause, God forbid.

So why carry the ball out from your own line in one hand? If that isn’t inviting a calamity to introduce itself, I don’t know what will. And, of course, you dropped it. That led to one try to the Storm. If that wasn’t bad enough, later in the encounter you deemed it necessary to offload to Bill Tupou in a similar position only ten metres out from your goal line and he knocked on. It was hardly Tupou’s fault though as he wasn’t expecting the pass and neither should he have been. Another try was the result and the match was beyond the reach of the Warriors.

You may wonder why all the criticism from all and sundry. Well, here’s the thing. If you – or anyone else for that matter – are going to make several hundred thousand dollars per year as a professional sportsman then you give away the right to be on the receiving end of only positive feedback. Produce and the plaudits will come. Play like an amateur in a professional game and, quite rightly, the brickbats will be heading your way.

Do feel free to go out and prove us all wrong. That is if you get a chance.

Sadly, I doubt you will.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Almighty Johnson

Life just keeps getting better by the day for Shaun Johnson.

After debuting for the New Zealand Warriors last season he didn’t waste time in demonstrating to the rugby league community what blistering pace, mesmerising footwork and a mature head on young shoulders can do. By the season’s end he even had a grand final appearance to his name. Not a bad start to the career of the twenty-one year old Auckland born prodigy.

He had big dreams. They were big dreams reaching for an even bigger reality. Now the reality has become even larger again with his selection in the New Zealand squad for tonight’s test against Australia.

Testing himself against the best, it will be a debut to saviour; the long awaited moment is nearly upon him whereby his desire for a meaningful and sustainable test career takes off in search of greatness.

That mantle may not be his bed mate yet, but for one so young with what is clearly potential of biblical proportions, he is surely about to begin his journey along the long, winding road that could lead to him one day gracing the dizzying heights of the hallowed corridors of Rugby League immortality.

He may be inexperienced, but he is slowly but surely putting that hindrance in its place.

Not for Johnson to hide under a cowl fretting about his ability to generate the performance of the night, wishing to jump from a pier into the wash of despair. To be fair it’s not that he doesn’t care. He does. When one is young and oh so talented to go, confidence is never far from the surface. Truth to the spot, it is simply a case of the rising superstar believing in his ability, having confidence but without any of the unseemly arrogance that lesser mortals sometimes display.

Indeed, so eager is he to perform on the biggest of stages that the coaching staff will have to put a leash on this precocious talent as a way of preventing the young man from enforcing his own version of Dickensian squalor upon his rivals. Sod that for a game of soldiers the Aussies may say, but boy can Johnson play.

And he may be just what the Kiwi’s need in their battle to end Australia’s Anzac Day domination of the annual encounter; a powerhouse talent that has all the necessary weapons to create performances of lethal electricity that send shock waves through the opposing camp with his monumental attacking majesty. Best of all, with his presence, the pressure will to a certain extent be taken off Benji Marshall to produce the unlikely. Now, there are two points of attack to a team that has in the past struggled to break Australia down. One star may go east, the other may go west, the opposition may never know until it is too late though which is best to concentrate on.

So, look out defence; be on your guard, for, given even the slightest hint of a cavity, the acute mind of Johnson will dream up the unlikeliest of schemes to slice his way through as he launches one of his fearsome attacking raids that he is fast becoming renowned for. It may be a dummy that fools the easily captivated, it could be lightening acceleration that catches his foe napping or even a grubber kick to be regathered. Whatever he decides on it is sure to keep the masses on the edge of their seats as he sets about putting his stamp on proceedings.

Black and white, day and night, life is full of extremes and so are many of its inhabitants. Johnson may suffer from extreme talent, but unlike many others he has only one setting, and that is consistently good.

You may not know what is coming next, though inevitably it always turns out for the best.

For, he is the almighty Johnson.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It’s amazing what can occur when a team sticks to the basics in the game of Rugby League.

You know, things like doing the hard yards up the middle of the ruck, getting to the end of your sets of six and putting a good kick in, therefore allowing your team a chance to dominate territory. They’re not the most glamorous of pursuits, but the principles are the same for everyone.

You ignore them at your peril.

It matters not whether your side is a professional outfit playing in front of thousands, or the local under19’s running around on a Saturday morning in front of no one, there are no exceptions.

If you think otherwise, go on, try it, defy convention, take a short cut, close the door on the time honoured tradition of working hard, laying the foundations of success in the opening quarter of an encounter, and see what happens.

Take the New Zealand Warriors, for example. For the first six weeks of the season, they naively approached each match with the belief that by playing attacking football, offloading at will, they would score more points than their opposition. Defence was nothing more than an afterthought.

Well, they offloaded all right; offloaded any chance they had of winning. If you are going to offload at will, just make sure will is on your side.

More often than not, the offloads were tried in precarious positions that were far from advantageous, and usually ended up with the boys from Mt Smart giving away possession in their own half. This their foe took advantage of with unabated glee.

They were the ones scoring all the points, not the Warriors.

Confidence levels slipped with every error, until, in rounds five and six, the performance of the Warriors was of such an abject nature, that the only will in the near vicinity of their performances was the will to stand still in a pit full of asps.

So, just when their season appeared to be slipping from their grasp, they turn up to Mt Smart today for their round seven match-up with South Sydney, and, to a man, they had an attitude that allowed them to put a hold on their slide into oblivion, ending their dismal run of form, showing that, yes, they’ve got talent.

And how did they do this?

Well, it’s simple really. They cut out all of the errant offloading and stuck to the basics.

Lo and behold, they won.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The eighties, the nineties – those were the days. When life was a far simpler proposition and the hustle and bustle of the modern day was not quite upon us yet. I-phones, I-pads, laptops, the internet; modern technology may not have arrived, but, like past and present, there were still a bevy of superstars strutting their stuff in every arena of life.

Since the dawn of time, talent has gone out of its way to discriminate. In its indomitable, timeless mode, it takes no prisoners. You’ve either got it, or not.

That much has never changed. Needless to say, those of superstar status, with their imperious talents, showed us all the way forward.

They were the ones who inspired us with their actions, shining the torch of hope upon our dreams, daring our minds to wander from the drudgery of our everyday existences of the average, teasing us with the tantalising taste buds of desire that is fame and fortune, but, most of all, giving us hope that we too could, one day, become something special.

Deep down, though, there will always be the nagging suspicion eroding away at the confidence of the lesser lights of the world that they couldn’t light a match to the talents of such folk.

There has been many a star over the years. As always, some shone brighter than others and some for longer than others. And in one particular sport, there was a supernova that began to form, one that may never be matched again.

As early as 1979 – when he debuted for the Edmonton Oilers - it could be seen to be on the march, expanding its horizons ever so more broadly by the match. It was the year in which an 18 year old Canadian boy from Brantford, Ontario announced his presence to the world of Ice Hockey. That lad, Wayne Gretzky, wasn’t physically the biggest or strongest in the land, but that didn’t stop him from dominating the game for the best part of two decades.

Rarely in life does one person dominate a particular sphere as thoroughly as he did. This, though, came as no surprise to those that saw him in action. In Gretzky, they saw the future, a competitor that could, and did, take the game to new heights.

That he was not confined by the limitations of others only goes to provide a glimpse of the perfectionist in him. He was never one to indulge in such frivolous traits such as self-satisfaction, for, the great one - as he was, and still is known - relentlessly forged on in his quest to be all that he could be.

For, he had it all. Physical attributes became him, but unlike the majority, Gretzky was blessed with the intelligence and mental fortitude to go with the natural talent he was born with.

Pressure was something to be scoffed at. He handled it as only the truly great do. Not for him to go spiralling into a meltdown, freezing under the glare of the headlights that invite sweat-inducing realities to persist in putting unmanageable stumbling blocks in front of the weak and the meek.

And he was forever a target. How could he not be? After all, he was just that good that his foe regularly went in search of him, intent on damming his talent with the physical intimidation that is part and parcel of the great game. But his quicksilver mind was always one step ahead, allowing him to avoid the physical punishment that could dampen his ability to set up either himself or a teammate for scoring opportunities.

This allowed the steady hand of serenity that was his nectar to regularly sweep his undeniable talents across the icy arenas of North America as his sturdy mind traversed the rocky mountain tops of the wild wintery Canadian white-outs where he inevitably ended up surpassing all before him while letting his raging torrent of talent run free, blowing away with consummate ease the fleeting chances of his foe, creating a gale force performance, time after time, leading to a spellbinding tour de force of magnanimous munificence that was larger than life itself as it crystallized itself into a ever-expanding mane of self-styled excellence that emanated its way across the prairies of success, precipitating a twenty year span where he held the fortunes of his team – and the opposition’s - in the palm of his hand, leaving all before him spellbound by the soft velvet touch of his game day stick as it gently sifted its way harmoniously through opposition defences as his peerless talent soared towards yet another of his 849 career goal scoring crescendos.

Those heights simply couldn’t be matched by anyone else. So far ahead of the competition was he, that he is still the only player in the NHL history to score 200 points in a season. And, get this; Gretzky achieved this on four occasions.

Talk about the personification of greatness.

Nothing lasts forever, though.

And how does one escape the ravages of time? The simple answer is that none of us can, but in Gretzky’s case he called time to his stellar career on his own terms. Having spent the better part of twenty years dedicating his talents to the Oilers and, then, the Los Angeles Kings, he had held that much dreaded enemy at bay for what had seemed like an eternity. In the end though, at the age of thirty-eight, the hall of famer and holder of 1487 appearances in the NHL moved out of the playing ranks and into a team ownership role.

It is a record that is beyond compare, one that may well stand the test of time and see the name Gretzky up in lights for all time.

Yes, he was the greatest. Will he be surpassed in time as the greatest? Who really knows. What we can say for sure is that if the day comes when this becomes a reality, then it is going to be one truly freakish player that knocks the king off his perch.

Unlike the great Gatsby, Gretzky didn’t have to pretend to be someone else to make a difference. All he had to do was be himself, to turn up week in, week out and compete to his potential. This, he did.

Of course, he will forever be the great Gretzky.