From the Couch - Week One 2005

Kicking off ?From the Couch? (FTC) for 2005 with a swipe at the inconsistency of the NRL judiciary is not the ideal way to start the season but after Danny Nutley was suspended for two weeks for pulling out of a dangerous throw the issue must be addressed. Bagging one of the key components of the administration of Rugby League in Australia is something no one wants to do but with Nutley rubbed out over an incident that warranted only a penalty on the night something must be said. Apart from the Nutley and Keith Galloway (who should have faced suspension) case, it appears that when it comes to Round 1 every year high tackles are treated with the a stance which goes along the lines of ?given it is the first round we?ll forgive the players for not quite getting their technique right, and anyone who strays too high we?ll slap on the wrist?. And the NRL wonders why the fans lack genuine respect for the current judiciary system. Without going into a range of specific tackles that weren?t sighted (and there were quite a few) only Brett Kimmorley and Terry Hill were charged with careless high tackles. Both incidents bordered on reckless given Kimmorley jumped into his high shot on Luke Rooney, and Hill made no attempt to hit any part of Jerome Ropati?s body other than the young centre?s head. If we were in Round 13 I?m willing to suggest Kimmorley (who received on week only due to carry over points) and Hill would be facing at least two weeks on the sidelines for each tackle.

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On a brighter note the most impressive display of the weekend was the fans getting out and supporting their teams in full force. To almost crack the 23,000 mark on average at each game is stupendous considering there was no football in Sydney on Sunday. From Auckland to Brisbane to Sydney to Melbourne ? congrats too all the fans who got out and supported the first round of the 2005 season. (FTC would like to note that getting to the games in person is also a priority, but the reality is to keep tabs on the NRL you need a couch and a comfy one at that)

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For those of you who have downloaded the NSC Rugby League Players Almanac, you would have found that Sydney Coach Ricky Stuart made a mockery of the fact we tried to get every possible player listed who might play NRL in 2005. Nigel Plum came from absolutely no-where to make his first grade debut against the Bunnies. Plum not only didn?t make the Almanac, but the Roosters official site did not have him listed in their player profiles section before the start of the season. As far as his debut went it was steady but the former Magpie lower grader looks like he?ll head back to Premier League sooner rather than later with Chris Walker eager to return after the flashy winger made the most of his demotion to the reggies with a standout performance. If you haven?t downloaded the Almanac ? what are you waiting for? You will not find a more comprehensive player guide anywhere else.

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The hype surrounding Sonny Bill Williams may subside for a week given the Bulldogs star suffering a slight knee strain last Friday night, but boy did he deliver a performance that justified the press. His angled run to set up Braith Anasta for the Dogs first try was one of the best displays of individual brilliance you will ever see. It was not so much the ease of the round the corner offload that sent Anasta over the try line, but the athleticism that moved Williams from right to left and outside noted defender Lance Thompson that made you take notice. The speed at which Williams moved and the time he seemed to create for himself should have erased any doubts about the credibility of claim that Williams is a superstar ? only the special players could have concocted that try. The injury apparently will keep him out for only this week (if at all) and then Sonny Bill will resume wowing the crowds with his freakish ability.

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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. The Knights will endure a major free-fall in the first quarter of the season. Sure I don?t look like a genius calling that after one round and a 38 point drubbing by the Knights, but if you look at their schedule up to Round 6 Newcastle are up against it. They play Canberra in Canberra this week, then have the Bye, before embarking on another road trip away to the Cowboys and South Sydney. Then they open the new grandstand at EnergyAustralia Stadium against the Warriors at which point they could very well be sitting on only 2 competition points ? thanks to the Bye. Andrew Johns will be the first to admit his first half performance was below his standard but his forward pack was mauled by a Melbourne unit that was out to prove the knockers (myself included) that they were not a weakness. Joey proved in the last quarter of that match he is going to recover his full repertoire of tricks but he alone cannot pull a game out of the fire when his forwards are so badly outplayed. The Knights need Danny Buderus and Kurt Gidley back on deck to even contemplate challenging for the Top 8, but until the likes of Steve Simpson, Daniel Abraham and Josh Perry can regain match fitness (and in Perry?s case return from injury) it looks like a lean period ahead of the 2001 Premiers. 2. Still on the game in Melbourne, halfback Matt Orford proved he is one tough customer by recovering from a late shoulder charge from George Carmont to direct the Storm around the park in the 48-10 shellacking. Although not credited with a ?Try Assist? by NRL Stats at the time of this writing, Orford proved once again that when the Storm fire he is invariably the key ingredient. Billy Slater might have kicked off his 2005 campaign with a hat trick of tries but he was hardly outstanding, the player who has electrified Olympic Park for the past two seasons was below his best particularly in the basics of his role as custodian. He was sluggish on kick returns and his involvement level was way below what we?ve come to expect from the Queenslander. Granted it is Round One but reports that he had overcome his bout of Osteitis Pubis seem premature as Slater looked far from fully fit. 3. Despite a narrow loss to the Sea Eagles on Sunday at home, the Warriors looked a more focused (if still error prone) outfit than the one that disgraced itself last season. Forking out salaries approaching the $400,000 mark to veterans Steven Price and Ruben Wiki have already paid dividends before kickoff but both delivered inspiring and powerful displays up front against Manly and their teammates followed their example with a much more committed performance. Wiki, playing out of position at prop was particularly strong carting the ball forward, a role that Coach Tony Kemp appears to have given to the former Raiders second rower.. It is a gamble as Wiki can be devastating defensively around the edge of the ruck. Given the Warriors lacked a strong go-forward last year, Kemp is putting his two most prized eggs in one basket and banking on Wiki and Price to lead the team up the middle. Price was ever-present in attack and defence and even showcased his standing as the premier charge down expert early in the game. Surprisingly the Warriors form prop of last season Iafeta Palea?aesina did not take to the field until the second half, yet Louis Anderson and Richard Villasanti both entered the game in the first forty minutes and lacked impact. 4. The return of Adam Dykes to the Sharks is yet another reason why you should never count out a player finding his old form after a few lean seasons. At Parramatta, injury and a positional switch (and increased pressure) saw Dykes shrink from Dally M five-eighth of the year in 2001 to yet another scapegoat for the Eels faithful to kick the boot into. Fully fit and with the right amount of ball, Dykes is a very good playmaker and loves to camp wide of the ruck and get the ball in stride as he carries it to the line. The try he laid on for Sam Isemonger was classic Dykes. 5. Finally, is there a more committed supporter base than the one that supports the Broncos? FTC hopes to get up to Suncorp Stadium this year and take in the atmosphere and get a feel for how devoted the Brisbane faithful are to their one team town. After a few years of poor (by Brisbane standards) crowds at ANZ Stadium the move to Suncorp has reinvigorated the Queensland capital and they are turning out in droves. You can argue that being a one team town of a couple of million people is an advantage but the fact remains the people of Brisbane get out and support their team at the ground. If you don?t agree then do your talking at the game and get out and support your club.

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2005 NSC CONSISTENCY RATING - CR? - ROUND ONE

Due to technical difficulties the CR for Round One will be added shortly by a web expert. No great surprises though with the Storm out in front with a +3.5 rating and the Knights stuck on the bottom thanks to Melbourne with a -3.5 rating.

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From The Couch will appear on League Unlimited every Thursday morning, and is archived on the Nicolson Sports Consultancy Website www.nsc.leagueunlimited.com. You can reach Warrick Nicolson via email at nicolsonsc@yahoo.com.au and an assortment of correspondence will be featured each week in FTC.

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