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With the upcoming round marking the mathematical halfway point of the 2005 NRL Season, Fron The Couch runs the rule over the 15 sides and delivered the following grades on your team:
BRONCOS, 9-2 20pts, 1st CR: +18.0 (1st) W20+: 3 W11-19: 3 W1-10: 3 L1-10: 0 L11-19: 1 L20+: 1 H: 5-1 A: 4-1
MVP SO FAR: Darren Lockyer. Has taken his creative game to another level this season, forget the defensive stats and focus on the fact he has engineered the re-emergence of the once feared Broncos attack. The only downside of his playmaking ability is the fact we rarely see him glide into space like he used to from fullback. FINALS FORECAST: With their depth and class only a catastrophic injury toll would see them relinquish a Top 2 spot, Without doubt the best Broncos side since 2002 they should ensure their record of never going 5 seasons without a Grand Final continues. GRADE: A
BULLDOGS, 4-7 10pts, 12th CR: -8.5 (13th) W20+: 0 W11-19: 2 W1-10: 2 L1-10: 3 L11-19: 3 L20+: 1 H: 2-4 A: 2-3
MVP SO FAR: Roy Asotasi. Is in unbelievable form since making the necessary transformation into a starter, has single-handedly carried the Bulldogs go-forward with O?Meley injured. FINALS FORECAST: Must keep in touch with the pack until their two prized forwards O?Meley and Mason return to the field, Sonny Bill Williams will earn his status as the club?s top paid player (for next season) over the coming months if he can win a few games on his own. If they get in the Top 8 they can win the comp. GRADE: C-
MVP so far: Jason Smith. Only Andrew Johns and Darren Lockyer ooze more class than this on-field general. His form has made many a good judge look foolish for rubbishing the decision to sign him and in the games he has missed the Raiders are far less dangerous. He?s a magician. FINALS FORECAST: The value of a good start to a season will be shown if the Raiders manage to stay in contention over the next month or two. They have a tough draw but with many of their best players returning they are a genuine chance of staying in the Top 8 and that will be thanks in no small part to their start to the season. GRADE: B
SHARKS, 8-3, 18pts, 3rd CR: +11.5 (2nd) W20+: 2 W11-19: 1 W1-10: 5 L1-10: 2 L11-19: 0 L20+: 1 H: 4-2 A: 4-1
MVP SO FAR: Brett Kimmorley. Guides this team around the park superbly off the back of a great forward pack and is in outstanding form. Clearly his confidence will have taken a hit from Origin but he is playing out of his skin at club level. FINALS FORECAST: A very good football team that has been put together smartly by coach Stuart Raper. He has his dominant pack, creative playmakers and an impact bench which is his formula for a successful season. They should make the Finals but a premiership might be out of reach. GRADE: A
MVP SO FAR: Steven Menzies. Considering he looked past it only two seasons ago the ?Beaver? has found such a rich vein of form that it is hard to see him retiring anytime soon. The great speed and line breaking ability of the mid 90s have diminished but his defence is awesome and he is the rock of this Sea Eagles side and richly deserves to enjoy the successes so far. FINALS FORECAST: How long before the bubble bursts? It is a question everyone is still waiting for an answer to but the Manly boys keep on winning particularly at Brookvale. But this side although it has runs on the board just doesn?t scream ?premiership contender?... yet. GRADE: A
MVP SO FAR: Matt Orford. It is a treat to watch this guy run a football team. His ability to mesh a great passing game with an Allan Langer like running game has not only seen the Storm rack up some big scores but his asking price for next season has increased as well. The Storm would be lost without him. FINALS FORECAST: Momentum is this team?s best friend but when things go wrong they go terribly wrong. How they lost to the Bulldogs remains a mystery after seeing the same side flog the Broncos and it is this hot and cold nature that just scares you away from tipping the Storm for the title. GRADE: B
KNIGHTS, 0-10, 2pts, 15th CR: -28.5 (15th) W20+: 0 W11-19: 0 W1-10: 0 L1-10: 4 L11-19: 1 L20+: 5 H: 0-5 A: 0-5
MVP SO FAR: Andrew Johns. Before his injury against the Warriors the maestro halfback was leading his team to their first win and possibly into a brighter future, but Joey breaking his jaw broke the back of the Knights and they missed him terribly in the last month mainly because in games they could have won with him they found ways to lose. FINALS FORECAST: Anyone got a satellite image for 2006? No Finals this year for the Novocastrians but a healthy Johns and a injury free roster will see the Knights present much more than nuisance value for the remaining half of the season. GRADE: F
MVP SO FAR: Johnathan Thurston. Honestly there was no indication from his form the last two seasons with the Bulldogs that he was THIS good. The Cowboys were a dangerous team last year but with Thurston running things they are absolutely lethal. He has played out of his skin this season. FINALS FORECAST: Graham Murray?s boys are primed for a premiership run, well at least that is what everyone is saying who doesn?t want to label them as outright premiership favourites. If they get through the Origin period without faltering they seemed destined for a Top 4 spot. GRADE: A-
MVP SO FAR: Glenn Morrison. Has fit into the structure at Parramatta beautifully and in an environment that values endurance back rowers Morrison is in excellent form. Work rate is always high and has become a strike weapon on the right hand side for the Eels halves to make inroads on the edge of the ruck. FINALS FORECAST: Have quietly put together an impressive record without really making the footballing world take notice. This side that lost by 40 against the Broncos then beat the Cowboys by a similar margin so you just don?t know if we?re getting Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde when it comes to the big games against the top sides. But they do have improvement in them particularly up front where they have not been as dominant as they could be given their roster. GRADE: B+
PANTHERS, 4-8, 8pts, 13th CR: -6.0 (12th) W20+: 2 W11-19: 0 W1-10: 2 L1-10: 6 L11-19: 1 L20+: 1 H: 2-4 A: 2-4
MVP SO FAR: Rhys Wesser. Given the form Wesser has been in all season he was desperately unlucky to lose his Origin jumper but he fell victim to his club side?s poor record and the fact Queensland wanted Billy Slater instead. Has been dynamic for the Panthers at the back and his cover defence has improved out of this world. Has probably been the form fullback of the NRL. FINALS FORECAST: This upcoming month is critical, simply put the Panthers cannot afford a losing record in June or else their Finals aspirations are gone. With so many quality players in key positions you have to wonder which team?s soothsayer put this curse on the Panthers, the smart money is on the Roosters. GRADE: D
RABBITOHS, 2-9, 6pts, 14th CR: -22.5 (14th) W20+: 2 W11-19: 0 W1-10: 0 L1-10: 1 L11-19: 2 L20+: 6 H: 2-4 A: 0-5
MVP SO FAR: Ashley Harrison. Considering Harrison could be heading elsewhere in 2006 the fact he is their MVP so far this season merely underlines the fact this is a team in desperate need of a total overhaul. Harrison?s form has been very good but his side just falls in a heap when the opposition gets on top. If he stays it will be a gutsy decision. FINALS FORECAST: This side yet again has hit the wall after a moderately good start and now are arguably the worst team in the NRL even with the Knights and their zero total victories. This is not Souths bashing but they have produced inept performances for the past two months and the move to Telstra and most likely Gosford in the future can?t come quick enough for this team. On a side note it is even sadder to see the pathetic crowd figures for Souths home games, this cannot be blamed solely on the players and their performance, once again people must start asking where are the tens of thousands of people who couldn?t live without Souths? GRADE: D-
DRAGONS, 6-6, 12pts, 10th CR: +18.0 (1st) W20+: 3 W11-19: 3 W1-10: 3 L1-10: 0 L11-19: 1 L20+: 1 H: 5-1 A: 4-1
MVP SO FAR: Ben Hornby. Easily the most consistent Dragon although given the widespread talent on this side (and the inconsistencies that have plagued that talent) it might not be the hardest mantle to gain if you play good solid football each week. And that is what Hornby has been doing this season, putting in and giving the Dragons a chance to win every game. Hornby deserved his place in the NSW extended squad. FINALS FORECAST: Everybody is sick of hearing how good the Dragons are on paper and in the last month or so they showed it can transfer to the field. They are an awesome star-studded side but this is a team that has completely lost confidence once already this season and despite their recent form there is no reason to believe it couldn?t happen again. GRADE: C+
MVP SO FAR: Jason Cayless. In his contract year the big Kiwi has lifted his game again and is the Roosters key go-forward man. Is logging good time for a front rower and his defence has improved significantly. Has already shown the Roosters he is a key signing for next season. FINALS FORECAST: The genuine dark horse for the title simply because everyone seems to have written them off after a less than stellar first half of the season. Make no mistake with a healthy Brett Finch this side has the ability and toughness to make a serious run in September and they have less ground to make up than the Bulldogs which could lead to a high seed in the Finals. GRADE: B-
WARRIORS, 5-6, 12pts, 9th CR: +2.0 (8th) W20+: 1 W11-19: 3 W1-10: 1 L1-10: 5 L11-19: 1 L20+: 0 H: 2-4 A: 3-2
MVP SO FAR: Steven Price. His knee injury is a huge loss for the Warriors as together with Ruben Wiki they had been the pillars of a competitive side for the past month. Tony Kemp has been relying heavily on Price for big minutes and although they won?t miss him too much initially a few weeks down the track the Warriors could lose their way considerably without their skipper. FINALS FORECAST: The Price injury really damages their outlook as they have a rough draw ahead which involves constant home and away games. A lot of responsibility rests with Wiki but 12 weeks is too long a time for him to cover alone. If the Warriors make the Finals it will be a great feat of self belief ? something that was missing badly last season. GRADE: C
TIGERS, 5-6, 12pts, 11th CR: -2.0 (11th) W20+: 0 W11-19: 3 W1-10: 2 L1-10: 3 L11-19: 2 L20+: 1 H: 2-2 A: 3-4
MVP SO FAR: Scott Prince. This kid is great to watch, he has the skill and instincts to lead a side around the paddock and this season he has really stepped up a level. Ironically despite this form he lost his Origin spot but on the back of Prince the Tigers are playing attractive attacking football and he is blossoming under the tutelage of Tim Sheens. FINALS FORECAST: Every year the Tigers are everyone?s ?team I?d like to see make the Top 8? but since becoming the Wests Tigers in 2000 they have failed to make anyone happy. After showing some great form early they have fallen back to the pack and lost three games by less than ten points in a row. To make the Finals they need to reach a level of consistency they have yet to produce, but if they don?t make the Finals at least they are a fun team to watch. GRADE: C+
Five Things I Think (I unashamedly borrow this idea from Peter King, the superb Sports Illustrated NFL writer who actually has ten things each week)
1. Origin I reminded me of the classic Origin games where one team dominated for the best part of the match only for the other to comeback from the impossible position and win. Well that is how it worked in the 1990?s when Queensland pipped NSW on more than a few occasions when coming back from nowhere became the ?norm?. But despite their best efforts the Blues failed to emulate the Qld magic totally and fell agonisingly short of a miraculous victory. Will Brett Kimmorley keep his spot? That one is harder to pick than a broken nose even with the ?assurances? from NSW management the same team would be selected. Then Ricky Stuart comes out and says that?s not the case and you better perform this weekend or be dropped. Ah Origin, even without Gus Goulding it is still the best time of year for footballing drama. 2. The Gold Coast are in! For those of you on the Gold Coast who worked hard to get reinstated ? congrats, and for those who live in the region who didn?t care enough about the Giants/Seagulls/Chargers to keep the team viable ? wake up and realise that the region will NOT get a third chance. The honeymoon will end sometime and the new side will struggle on the field for a period of time after the novelty factor wears off, but stick with your side and go to the games. If the new team can?t sell out Gold Coast Stadium for each home game in 2006 then the NRL and the Gold Coast need to have a good hard look at themselves, because the Central Coast still desperately wants a team. Although if Shane Richardson has anything to say about it the region will be home of the Bunnies in 2010. 3. Can the Knights break the duck against the rampant Broncos this weekend? The return of Andrew Johns and a few other quality players mind you gives the Knights their best team of the year. Unfortunately they are playing the form team of the competition who are fully fit firing and primed to add to their seven game winning streak. If the Knights and Johns do the unthinkable and beat Lockyer and his Broncos it will be one of the greatest upsets I?ll ever see. The downside of all this is unless you?re going to the game you?ll have to wait til 6pm to watch it delayed on Fox Sports. Penrith vs. Parramatta will be a good game but I?m sure everyone would love to see Joey and Lockyer go head to head for the first time since 2003. 4. I wonder if there has been a better hit this year than Steve Southern?s bell ringer on Matt Utai last Friday Night. I caught the Fox replay later that night and only saw one shot of the tackle that saw Southern hammer a fast moving Utai as the Bulldogs winger stepped back in field after a half break. It was a breathtaking hit and if it can be topped this year I?ll be one happy camper. 5. Lastly, the whole Rebecca Wilson/Footy Show saga has hopefully drawn to a close (well at least on a full scale media front) and the clear winner emerging from the battle is Channel Nine. Not only did they successfully draw their most outspoken critic into their web but they also allowed her to discredit herself in the footballing community with the very opinions she expressed while on the station?s payroll. In one of the great political moves in television history Channel Nine muted their biggest critic ? simply by giving her a job and letting her voice her opinion (which was in effect what she said the show needed to stop nosediving in the ratings). While she gave the station and the Footy Show lads a serve upon leaving the show, her attack on respected journalist Jennifer Byrne (after agreeing to an interview with the Bulletin writer who then penned a frank assessment of Wilson) left a lot to be desired especially given Byrne?s CV and extensive experience in the media. I don?t think Wilson will be appearing on Enough Rope with Andrew Denton anytime soon...
From The Couch will appear on League Unlimited every second Thursday, and is archived on the Nicolson Sports Consultancy Website www.nsc.leagueunlimited.com. You can reach Warrick Nicolson via email at [email protected] and an assortment of correspondence will be featured each FTC.