The Rovere Report

STAGGERED DAVID'S NOT THERE As a famous Queenslander once famously said, "please explain". Well Pauline Hanson's signature phrase is representative of all Queensland fans following the omission of the in-form David Stagg for incumbent Dallas Johnson.

Stagg has developed into a classy attacking player under new coach Kevin Moore and is one of the main reasons behind the Bulldogs stunning turnaround. His defence is at least the equal to that of Johnson who offers next to zero in attack.

Loyalty is a commendable trait but if you rigidly stick to rewarding incumbency at the expense of out-and-out form in time you can come unstuck big time.

Stagg and Johnson went head-to-head on the weekend in what I thought would have been a personal duel for the number 13 jumper, apparently not, given Stagg clearly outplayed his opposite in another dominant display for the ladder-leading Bulldogs.

A masterful performance by his Queensland teammates in Origin I may only serve to mask the fact Johnson is down in form. That'll spell more bad news for Stagg unless he scores tries, has a hand in others and saves just as many on the way to topping the tackle count. So pretty much if he keeps doing what he's been doing.

MAN HE'S A GREAT ATHLETE Anthony Mundine is largely misunderstood. What isn't in dispute, is that this individual is a supreme athlete.

Yes he makes some controversial statements - some I agree with some I don't - but that is Anthony the showman, Anthony the self-promoter, and Anthony the celebrity who has strong views on a variety of topics. Set aside your prejudices and personal agendas and focus purely on his sporting prowess, and you can't do anything but salute Mundine.

To rise to the level he has in two gruelling sports, is nothing short of remarkable and in my opinion elevates Mundine to the very top in terms of Australia's greatest ever athletes.

He boasts that he often out-pointed great five-eighths Laurie Daley and Brad Fittler - and there were times when he did. I can recall one game against the Roosters where Fittler, despite a dominant display, was outgunned by Mundine who inspired the Dragons to victory. Freddie turned in an 8-9 point game, Mundine a 9-10.

In the 1999 Grand Final loss to the Melbourne Storm, seems everyone overlooks all the great football he produced, choosing only to focus his judgement error which cost his team a certain try. It was a reflex decision that went within a fraction of succeeding, but his critics want to crucify him for it. I'm with those who say to those critics "up yours".

I was disgusted when it was patently clear I was the only person at a particular Sydney hotel, who was cheering for him in his title fight with Sven Ottke. That disgust turned to shame when the patrons roared with delight as the German delivered his knockout blow. I guess that just confirms that on that day at that establishment those watching the fight were largely ignoramuses.

LOST JUMPERS REPRESENTS APT PUNISHMENT Avid readers of this column will be well aware how strongly yours truly believes in karma. That been the case, we should all expect to see Paul Gallen ruled out of this year's Origin series through injury. But we should not have relied on karma to step in and do what was the duty of the officials in the first place.

If it is proved conclusively that Gallen racially vilified Mickey Paea - and the perpetrator's silence all but confirms his guilt - than he should have been suspended till at least the end of the Origin series, I'd rub him out of representative football till next year, to ensure the message that such an appalling act is heard loud and clear.

A monetary fine is a lame option. It is either paid by the club, by a sponsor. Even if you had documented evidence that the money was debited from the player's account a club the guilty party can be reimbursed the full amount in a number of ways such as free fuel, free food, free accommodation. Only the very naive and those of limited intelligence would think otherwise.

Ask a player what would hurt more - loss of money or loss or rep jumpers - and the overwhelming response would be the latter. You can replace money as I have previous stated but there will only ever be one set of State of Origin I jumpers handed out. Once that occurs that's it. Singer Cher had a hit with the song "If I Could Turn Back Time". Ah news flash, you can't!

FORECAST IS FOR SONNY TO OPEN UP It was terrific to see Sonny Bill Williams interviewed on The Footy Show last week. It was unfortunate to see the questions that the masses wanted to see asked, not.

Perhaps in agreeing to the interview, Sonny Bill's management placed certain conditions that prevented Danny Weidler from broaching certain topics.

It is well documented that Williams and Weidler are close associates and that been the case it was always going to be more Pollyanna than polygraph.

I thought Sonny's apology to the Bulldogs and their fans was sincere.

I predicted nearly two years in an article that I wrote for LeagueUnlimited that Sonny Bill would be lured to rugby.

In my wildest dreams I didn't expect him to sever ties with the Bulldogs in the way that he did. And when you talk to those who know him best it was so out of character for Sonny Bill. He would have loved to have left the game of rugby league in a more gracious manner, that I am sure. That said, these are the questions that myself and all league fans would love answers for.

1) In abandoning your teammates at a time when the club was desperate for leadership from its marquee player, how did it make you feel and what would your reaction have been to a teammate who did the same?

2) Growing up you loathed the game of union, so what was the catalyst to your doing a complete 180 and embracing a game that is so unsuited to a player synonymous to an explosive, full throttle style of football?

3) Given you can never showcase your array of skills in union in the way that you can in league and its a game that outlaws your signature shoulder charge, are there private moments when you say to yourself "this is too bigger price to pay"?

4) Is the plan in going forward a case of compete and hopefully win a World Cup with the All Blacks and in doing so tick that box and get back to a game which is made for Sonny Bill? 5) Do you regret not being apart of New Zealand's remarkable World Cup win and sharing a stunning achievement with your Kiwi teammates?

WE ALL LIKE TO FORM AN OPINION As we prepare to enter the Origin phase of the premiership, it is a crucial period for those clubs looking to consolidate their position at the top of the ladder and for those clubs looking to take advantage of this anomaly in the competition to advance their cause. Origin affects each club entirely differently.

Ladder leaders the Bulldogs have just the one representative, whereas 14th placed Manly had three players selected - albeit one in Glen Stewart was replaced through suspension. It could easily have been more than double that number if Brett Stewart wasn't injured and David Williams, Anthony Watmough and Josh Perry not overlooked. Form and past performances is normally the criteria for picking representative teams.

But what would be the make-up of the NRL team of the year after 11 rounds if all players were eligible? This is my side:

1) Gidley (from Patten and Hunt); 2 & 5) Folau and McManus (from Morris, Hayne and Bryson Goodwin); 3 & 4 Jennings and Lyon (from Hodges, Sau and Inglis); 6) Soward (from Mat Rogers); 7) Thurston (from Prince, Wallace, Marshall, Kimmorley and Orford) 13) Stagg (from Lewis, O'Donnell and Gallen); 11 and 12) Ellis and Taia (from Creagh, Houston, Waterhouse and Minichiello); 8 and 10) Hannant and Moi Moi (from Weyman, Poore, Civoniceva and Kenny) 9) Farah (from Ennis, De Gois and Payne).

ELSOM CHOOSES A ROAD LESS ROCKY Star rugby player Rocky Elsom - a former lower grade player with the Bulldogs - has bypassed the Waratahs and signed with the ACT Brumbies for next year's Super 14.

Elsom, who has just completed a stellar season with his overseas club, Leinster, was been courted by three Australian franchises but it was the Canberra-based team that secured his services.

The block-busting flanker won a staggering 11 man-of-the-match awards from 13 games for Leinster and in doing so was instrumental in the Irish club winning the coveted Heineken Cup. Not even the persuasive powers of Waratahs captain Phil Waugh could convince his former teammate to return to New South Wales. But who could blame him?

Despite finishing the season in sterling fashion with three wins in South Africa, overall the Waratahs's season was disappointing with Waugh seemingly forever apologising to fans for his team's poor performance - be it after a loss or win.

Footage of the majority of Waratah matches would only have served to send Elsom looking elsewhere - and he did settling on a team that was infinitely more attack-minded than New South Wales.

Take note Chris Hickey. If you embrace the negative, then be prepared to cop the bad karma that comes with that.