WHILE I have been cynical about the standard of football to this point of the 2006 season, I must admit this finals series has me intrigued more than most over the years.
THIS week we have three real bone-crunching issues to stick our teeth into. First and foremost, the Roosters? decision to sack coach Ricky Stuart. Also, the drugs debate with North Queensland?s Mitchell Sargent receiving the grim news that his contract was to be torn up after testing positive to cocaine use, and the demise of the Cronulla Sharks who seem to have gone missing in action for the last eight weeks. But we?ll start with the dramas at Bondi.
ISN?T it amazing how 20 minutes of football can turn a team?s season on its head?
IS anyone else as perplexed as I am with the lack of depth in this competition? Call me cynical, but the number of inconsistent sides this season in comparison with past seasons is unprecedented.The most alarming aspect of the competition table after 23 rounds is the fact that the fourth placed side, the Parramatta Eels, have won 11 matches and lost 10. I know the Eels have been in great form recently but of their 21 matches this year, to have won 11 games would usually place a side in the bottom half or on the fringes of the top eight.Not this year. 11 wins out of 21 matches have the Eels sitting in the top four, vying for a home semi-final.I guess now you?re expecting me to say that a top five finals system would better serve the NRL. I won?t, because even a top five this year would consist of sides that don?t deserve to play off in September!Even for Manly, a side sitting in third position, a record of 12 wins and 9 losses from their 21 appearances this season illustrates their standing is somewhat flattering. Usually a side with that sort of record would be sitting in sixth place, fifth if they?re lucky. The only just way to determine this year?s title fairly, would be to play the grand final the weekend after round 26, between the Melbourne Storm and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Olympic Park. This grand final will probably eventuate, but given Melbourne?s superiority to the Bulldogs on the competition table, I feel that the only way to see a fair contest would be to play the match in Melbourne, given their six-point lead on the Bulldogs at the moment.How naive of me to even contemplate that the fairest way to contest finals would be the way the NRL adopts. Reality is that in most years, we get three or four genuine contenders who deserve a shot at the title, another two sides which have been reasonably consistent and another two which are making up the numbers.Not this year. This year, there are only two with any right at all to be there. Melbourne should play Canterbury at Olympic Park in the only match of the finals series, and maybe Manly have earned the right to carry the water out to the players. Nevertheless, with the way the competition is designed, everything starts again when the finals begin and if momentum is given any credence, the Parramatta Eels will have a fair bit to say to those who feel that the Storm and Bulldogs will barely need to revert from second gear to qualify for the 2006 decider.Parramatta?s resurgence has been a feature of the 2006 premiership. Jason Taylor has taken full advantage of his brief first grade appointment but something tells me he won?t have to wait too long before slotting into a more permanent first grade coaching role.Some highlights have been the emergence of rookie Jarryd Hayne, the relentless ability of Nathan Hindmarsh and a more controlled role from halfback Jeremy Smith since his return from suspension. These three stars have each greatly contributed to the Eels? recent success. Smith has flourished under the tuition of Taylor, and his decision to follow the Eels coach to South Sydney, at which Taylor is taking up an assistant?s role, came as no coincidence.The only other place left for me to look this week is the other end of the scale ? the North Queensland Cowboys. I find it astounding that a side can go from competition leaders and favourites after eight rounds, to missing the top eight in the same season. They have continued to deny any off-field dramas, but from the outside looking in, it seems that those sorts of accusations may have affected the club regardless of whether there was any truth to them. Admittedly they have had injury concerns and coach Graham Murray was involved with the State of Origin series this year but there seems to be more to this fall from grace than meets the eye. A 26-0 defeat to the lowly Warriors was nothing short of spineless. They can certainly kiss their finals chances goodbye for 2006.Some may think I need to get off my high horse after these comments but here?s one to think about. Are referees becoming the scapegoats of every team?s close loss? Coaches, players and ex-players alike simply cannot find anywhere else to point the finger after a loss than the man with a whistle. It?s never a sub-standard effort from the side, or a lack of discipline, or poor execution. Now, it?s just the referee?s fault. In the current climate, who in their right mind would become a referee? I would like to applaud the NRL?s decision to charge Andrew Johns over the incident in which he allegedly swore at touch judge Matt Cecchin. You simply cannot speak to match officials in the manner which he has in the last few weeks.Another example was Nathan Brown?s outburst at referees after the Dragons were penalised heavily against the Parramatta Eels. Brown was rightly fined for his comments. We all know the real problem with the Dragons is their own lack of discipline.This continued acceptable culture that the referees are to blame does nothing for our game. All this mentality does is provide more reasons not to become a referee. I have heard many pundits blame referees over the last week or so, but none have offered valid alternative solutions to improve their performances. Referees don?t grow on trees. It?s time some of our most respected figures commented more laterally rather than shoot their mouth off at the man in the middle for good measure. You can hate the referees all you want. But if they stop refereeing, the game simply cannot operate.
AT this time last season, with four rounds remaining, I remember thinking to myself that while the Dragons and Parramatta were the two dominant forces of the NRL, other sides like the Wests Tigers and North Queensland could scamper through the pack and take the title.
WE?VE reached the business end of the season and this is when the footy should be firing up, but unfortunately I have to jest with that statement.
ROUND 20 Wests Tigers 6 v Parramatta Eels 34at Telstra StadiumReferee: Shayne HayneMatch Summary:Parramatta has continued its charge towards the 2006 finals series with a comprehensive 34-6 victory over the Wests Tigers this afternoon at Telstra Stadium.The premiers were off to a promising start, enforcing repeat sets of six on the Eels in the opening passages of play.The Tigers? work was brought undone however, with a converted intercept try to Eels flyer Jarryd Hayne after seven minutes and a Tigers attacking siege.Wests managed to keep themselves in the game after the subsequent missiles fired by the Eels. They locked things up at 6-all with a try to Robbie Farah from dummy half and a difficult conversion from Scott Prince.Although consecutive blows from the Eels; a solo try to halfback Jeremy Smith, and another intercept try on the stroke of halftime to Hayne, ensured that it was a long road back for the Tigers who trailed 16-6 at the break.We were then treated to a lacklustre second half from both sides. The Eels managed to cross three times in the second stanza but the Tigers really had raised the white flag at the halfway point after the scintillating Hayne Try. Both sides have worries on the injury front but the Tigers? are far more serious. The 2005 premiers can add Bryce Gibbs (elbow) and Brett Hodgson (knee) to their injury list, although Gibbs should be fit to play next weekend.Parramatta hooker Mark Riddell was taken ill before the start of the match and Chad Robinson was ruled out of this match, but both injuries appear to be minor.In Round 21, Parramatta will resume its rivalry with Manly on Saturday night at home while the Tigers will travel to Suncorp Stadium to meet the Brisbane Broncos next Sunday afternoon.Scorers:Wests Tigers: 6Tries: Robert FarahGoals: Scott Prince 1/1Parramatta Eels: 34Tries: Nathan Hindmarsh, Wade McKinnon, Luke O'Dwyer, Jeremy Smith, Jarryd Hayne(2)Goals: Mark Riddell 4/5, Jarryd Hayne 1/1By the Clock:Telstra Stadium is the venue for this 'do or die' Round 20 clash between the Wests Tigers and the Parramatta Eels. Both of these sides sit outside the top eight with 18 competition points and a loss here would just about spell the end of the season for either side.Change for the Eels; Chad Robinson is out of the side, Daniel Wagon moves from the bench to the second row and Henry Perenara comes onto the bench.No changes to the Tigers side named earlier in the week.Late change will Mark Riddell taken ill during the warm-up. Riddell will now start from the bench with PJ Marsh coming into the starting side.KICKOFF!, match underway at Telstra Stadium.7 min: TRY Parramatta EelsUnbelievable scenes here at Telstra Stadium with Parramatta managing to withstand four consecutive sets of six on their own line before Luke O'Dwyer took an intercept and linked up with Jarryd Hayne who scored under the posts. Hayne converts his own try. Incredible start! Eels 6-015 min: NEWS Physical start from the Eels here with Bryce Gibbs coming off second best after a few PJ Marsh specials. Gibbs has left the field with a re-occurance of an elbow injury. Still 6-0 the Eels lead.18 min: NEWS Another injury with Brett Hodgson succumbing to what looks like a serious knee problem. He leaves the field on the Medi-cab and is unlikely to return. Mark Riddell looks very unwell on the bench for the Eels although Bryce Gibbs is likely to return at some stage today for the Tigers.28 min: NEWS Parramatta have repelled the Tigers once again with an intercept to Ben Smith after repeated sets of six on their own line from the Tigers. Still 6-0 the Eels lead.34 min: TRY Wests TigersRobbie Farah scores a soft try from dummy half after compounding pressure from the Tigers. There was some doubt over the grounding for the try which was referred to the video referee but he elected to give the decision the green light. Scott Prince converts the try to lock things up. 6 all.37 min: TRY Parramatta EelsJeremy Smith scores a tremendous solo try under the posts for Parramatta. His running game has improved markedly. Riddell finally makes his first appearance on the field and converts the try. Eels 12-640 min: TRY Parramatta EelsHayne has put an early nail in the Tigers' coffin for this game with a 100-metre intercept try. A 12-point try as the Tigers were looking like scoring down the other end. Riddell misses the conversion and at halftime, the Eels lead the Tigers by 16 points to 6 and it's a long way back now for the injury-ravaged Tigers. Eels 16-643 min: TRY Parramatta EelsWade McKinnon finishes off another length-of-the-field effort from the Eels. Floodgates starting to open now. Riddell converts. Eels 22-654 min: NEWS The Tigers' attack is stalled and the way things are going the Eels will slowly but surely eliminate any hope of a Tigers' finals berth. Still 22-6 the Eels lead.63 min: NEWS This game has hit the wall and has taken a similar turn to last night's dour encounter between the Bulldogs and the Roosters. 22-6 and both sides appear to be going through the motions.67 min: TRY Parramatta EelsO'Dwyer breaks through a brittle Tigers defensive line to score out wide. Riddell successfully converts. Eels 28-670 min: NEWS NO TRY: Dean Collis knocks the ball forward in the in-goal area, letting a rare opportunity go begging for the Tigers. 28-6 Parramatta lead and we will have new premiers in 2006.77 min: TRY Parramatta EelsHindmarsh puts the icing on the cake with a terrific individual try, with momentum taking him over the line. Riddell converts. Eels 34-6FULLTIME: Parramatta has completed a resounding victory over an injury-ravaged Wests Tigers outfit by 34 points to 6. Match report to come soon... -----------------------------------------Leagueunlimited.com players of the match:3 - Nathan Hindmarsh2 - Nathan Cayless1 - Jarryd Hayne-----------------------------------------
I decided to lay off the Sydney Roosters earlier in the year as some of my content could have been regarded as Rooster-bashing, and I guess that was fair enough.
I would just like to start this week?s rant by thanking everyone for their well wishes following my appearance on the Footy Show last Thursday night. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Whilst nervous early as was quite obvious with the footage, it turned out to be a very great night and one which I won?t forget in a hurry. There are a number of people to thank so I won?t name them in case I leave anyone out, but they certainly know who they are.
AT the conclusion of Origin I, former NSW fullback Garry Jack claimed that the Queensland forwards were a bunch of ?creampuffs?. If I was Jack, I would not only retract that statement after seeing Origin II, but I would also reverse the statement and claim that the NSW forwards played like ?creampuffs?. That?s certainly what it looked like from where I was sitting?