Rammo's rant

Isn?t it amazing how 20 minutes of football can turn a team?s season on its head?

That?s all it took for the Bulldogs on Friday night. And now their premiership aspirations are in disarray.

A season-ending knee injury to Willie Tonga, virtually the same fate for Roy Asotasi, and a suspension for Willie Mason have completely shattered the Bulldogs? premiership hopes.

I will put my hand up and say that perhaps it was a mistake to pre-empt the grand final showdown between the Melbourne Storm and the Bulldogs, but I did put a note at the bottom of that prediction which stated ?barring serious injuries?.

I?ll use that line to save my skin again here. But it begs the question, with such an emphasis placed on a team staying injury-free these days in order to produce success, why do we bother making predictions?

Pundits can make predictions at the start of the season based on a team on paper and perhaps, on paper, those predictions have credence.

But in 2006, the reality is that the side which takes the field at the beginning of the season is seldom the same at the year?s end.

These two players are massive losses for the ?Dogs. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Willie Mason will return for week one of the finals series but Roy Asotasi and Willie Tonga are both irreplaceable.

Roy Asotasi would have to be the best prop forward in the competition in terms of his consistent ability to cart the ball over the advantage line. Whilst Tonga is one of the more dangerous players when given early ball and room to move by his opposite number.

Without Asotasi, the Bulldogs miss the reliable ?get out of jail? card when they?re trapped deep in their own half. I don?t think Mark O?Meley can fill the void with Asotasi missing.

And minus Tonga, the Bulldogs? backline loses the mobility it greatly requires. It?s now likely that Sonny Bill Williams will partner Andrew Emelio in the centres, and one has to wonder where their points will come from.

Some believe writing the Bulldogs off is a little premature, I disagree. They simply cannot win the competition with absentees of this quality.

The bolter set to emerge from the pack is the Parramatta Eels. Unbelievably, after 15 rounds, the Eels were in 14th place. Now, after 24 rounds, they?re looking the most likely to challenge the Melbourne Storm in the grand final.

It truly is an amazing turn in fortunes for the Eels. Jason Taylor can take a bow with the way he has handled the situation since Brian Smith?s sacking. It would certainly be interesting to be a fly on the wall at Souths headquarters in October if Taylor?s men hold the NRL premiership trophy aloft at the end of the season! Shaun McRae could be counting the days until he gets the tap on the shoulder if that?s the case.

As for the Melbourne Storm, like the Bulldogs, they had a loss but the situation is nowhere near as diabolical as the Bulldogs? is.

Their 24-20 defeat at the hands of the New Zealand Warriors will be just the wake-up call the Storm need. They will need to bounce back with victory this weekend though, as consecutive losses could begin to play on their mind.

Now to a few other interesting issues this week.

- I still cannot work out why Andrew Johns received a downgrade on a contrary conduct charge. What occurred was clear-cut. It wasn?t a high tackle charge where there were various angles to look at. The judiciary knew as much on Wednesday night as the match review committee knew on Monday afternoon. In this case, the apology argument doesn?t work either. His true feelings were illustrated in a newspaper column and the subsequent apology was for no other reason than to play in the finals series. The lesson we should learn out of this is that referees are hard to come by in the current environment, and we should be doing everything possible to promote the occupation of NRL referee. All we?re doing at the moment is hindering it.

- In defence of Johns, I don?t think his swearing to touch judge Matt Cecchin should have saturated the media to the extent that it did; especially considering the fact that NRL Board Member Gorden Tallis allegedly heaved a glass at a barman in a Queensland pub. The Daily Telegraph tends to treat the referees with far more disdain than a man who throws a glass at a barman ? a potentially fatal act given that Tallis was allegedly intoxicated at the time.

- St George legend John Raper has stunned the Dragons? club with suggestions that club captain Trent Barrett has his mind on his move to England next season and ?isn?t fit to wear the jersey.? In this instance, Barrett is clearly a victim of his own high standards. While he hasn?t been at his best consistently this season, there?s no question that his effort is there. Perhaps one of the Dragons? all-time greats misses the sight of his own name in the headlines. He?s certainly rectified that situation with these outlandish comments.

- And finally, Danny Buderus has stated his desire to skip this year?s Tri-Nations series to help his wife look after their new-born child. Personally I don?t have a problem with this. Buderus has served Australia well and is entitled to a break. It?s not like the Aussies will have any trouble filling the vacancy anyway, there is a bloke called Cameron Smith you know.

That?s the rant for this week. Until next week, enjoy your footy!