Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
3 days ago
SEE YOU SLATER
Billy Slater is an above average footballer in more ways than one, however one aspect of his game which he no doubt would wish he wasn't is in the area of missed tackles.
For someone heralded as one of the best players in the game, the Melbourne fullback's miss tackle rate would rank way above the NRL average. In the 2009 Grand Final he was curiously awarded the Clive Churchill Medal for being adjudged the player of the match - he actually missed more tackles than he made.
Aside from this alarming statistic, Slater also spilt an uncontested bomb at a crucial moment in the game that could have swayed momentum towards Parramatta and there was his customary wild pass that went sailing over the sideline with his team in a strong attacking position. I guess losing possession is a minor setback compared to the outrageous pass he threw in last year's World Cup final that gifted New Zealand a try which sealed the game for the Kiwis.
In the Four Nations game against New Zealand at the weekend, he was at it again, racking up a stack of missed tackles including two shockers which led directly to tries. His attempt on Lance Hohaia was abysmal and the less said about his effort on Frank Pritchard the better.
It remains to be seen if Australian coach Tim Sheens backs up his pre-tournament threat that no player's position in the team is safe regardless of reputation. If Sheens "walks the walk after talking the talk" then it's bye-bye Billy allowing Jarryd Hayne to assume his rightful position at fullback.
The below-par performance by Australia was far from all Slater's fault with several forwards not deserving of holding their positions in the team after being clearly out-pointed by their opposite numbers.
THE BLAIR FACTS
I have been saying for quite some time that Adam Blair is the best forward in the game - and now it seems the rest of the rugby league world finally concurs with my assessment.
The exciting Kiwi forward, who has the unique ability to play in any position in the pack, was outstanding against Australia with is power-running, brilliant off-loading and brutal defence. Blair led the haka and then proceeded to lead his fellow forwards in what was a dominant display against the Kangaroos.
It was a performance that should have won him man-of-the-match honours but as in the NRL grand final, those charged with that responsibility got it horribly wrong. They curiously went for Lance Hohaia which, whilst not as outrageous a decision as what was made in the grand final, was still flawed none the less.
Still in his early 20s, the Melbourne Strom ace has the potential to be one of the finest fowards that New Zealand has ever produced, right up there with the legendary Mark Graham.
Blair, along with teammate Fuifui Moimoi are the two best forwards in the world and provide their coach Stephen Kearney with a big advantage as he sets about plotting the downfall of international rivals.
New Zealand has awesome forward talent. To become a side that all nations fear they need to uncover a quality halfback to the standard of a Stacey Jones and find a goal-kicker of the ilk of a Matthew Ridge or Daryl Halligan. Perhaps Parramatta's Krisnan Inu can be the answer to the latter.
TIME FOR A RE-THINK, SONNY!
Opportunity is all about timing and, for Sonny Bill Williams, he must be thinking his could not be further off mark. Instead of playing a decidedly dull sport in unfamiliar territory, surely he would much rather be with his Kiwi brothers playing the game that he cherished growing up and allows him to showcase his vast array of skills?
He has already paid a heavy price for his sudden switch to rugby union by missing out on sharing in New Zealand's World Cup success of last year. And here we have the Kiwis on the verge of a golden era in rugby league, one where they could in actual fact dominate the sport, and where's Sonny Bill, lost in France in love, with his copious amounts of euros and that's about it?
Can you imagine the Kiwi forward pack with all players available and in form including SBW? Your props would be Roy Asotasi and Fui, dynamo Issac Luke your hooker, second rowers Blair and Sonny Bill with Jeremy Smith locking the scrum. Such a forward pack would rank up there with the best of the modern era, Australian sides included.
Providing awesome back-up would be the likes of Frank Pritchard, Sam Rapira, Sika Manu, Jeff Lima, Jared Warea-Hargreaves, Bronson Harrison, Ben Matulino, Greg Eastwood, Anthony Cherrington, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, David Fa