FIRE DOUSED | After returning to finals action in 2015, the St George-Illawarra Dragons struggled un...
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BUZZ OFF THE MARK....STILL Phil Rothfield just cannot help himself. It seems irrespective of what topic the person known as "Buzz" raises for discussion on his blogs for The Daily Telegraph, he has to have a "dig" at Brian Smith. Rugby league supporters have become so bored with his incessant ranting and raving over his low opinion of Smith that quite frankly it will be a joyous occasion when Rothfield does eventually - buzz off. Even Ray Hadley - another renowned Brian Smith critic - has sensibly "eased off" on his own criticisms realising as with the Kurt Reynoldson kafuffle there are times when it has been unwarranted. Smith was roundly admonished for not selecting Reynoldson in first grade - a decision which would have triggered a clause in the player's contract that would have seen a substantial amount of money go to someone when it wasn't deserved and would have been fiscally irresponsible in the club going forward. It seems harsh and it probably was, but imagine the attack on Smith from Rothfield and the like when it was evident that the money allocated to Reynoldson cost them the chance of retaining Jarrod Mullen? Talk about unleashing the attack dogs. Rothfield continues to spin the line that in 2001 Smith lost the "unlosable" in going down to Newcastle in the decider. Smith's team not only was one of the youngest sides to contest a grand final, but were pitted against one of the finest sides of the modern era with the Knights' team containing three superstars of the game in Andrew Johns, Danny Buderus and Ben Kennedy along five other internationals and two Origin representatives. For the record, Newcastle held off a fast-finishing Parramatta side to the win the match 30-24, after going into halftime with a commanding 24-0 lead. Another five minutes and they were gone.
ARE THE BLUES GAME TOO? Queensland are renowned for taking risks with selections, but is New Souths Wales? With Game II of the origin series a must-win game for the Blues what do they do? Should they stick solid with a side that in reflection was well handled by the Maroons or do they make several changes to boost their chances? It is a bit of a dilemma for the NSW selectors. Props Luke Bailey and Brent Kite seemingly are unable to bend the line at origin level and halves Peter Wallace and Terry Campese turned in mediocre performances with their kicking games very ineffective. I do feel that the team needs a degree of tinkering. I'd replace Bailey and Kite with Chris Houston and Thom Learoyd-Lahrs, bring Kurt Gidley up to five-eight and team him up with Jarrod Mullen to get a club combination in the halves. It's a toss up whether I'd pick Luke Patten at fullback or switch Jarryd Hayne to that position and select the Wolfman David Williams on the wing. I favour the Patten option, but if I were a Blues' fan would be just as happy if they went the other way. I would drop Jamie Lyon and bring in Josh Morris to team up with his brother Brett who comes in for James McManus. Finally, I'd bring in Glenn Stewart for the injured Luke Lewis. Queensland's only concern is to find a replacement for injured centre Justin Hodges. I'd bring Billy Slater up to play a position he is very comfortable with and obviously select Karmichael Hunt at fullback. Brave a performance as it was, I'd relegate Ashley Harrison to the interchange bench and bring in Brad Meyers - who is in career best form - to the second row. The big, bearded, redheaded bushranger is equally at home in the frontrow. I would still prefer David Stagg at lock as opposed to Dallas Johnson. Stagg's superior ball skills would give the side another attacking option.
HARDLY EXPERT ADVICE Look, I rate Phil Gould as a true student of the game who invariably gets it spot on, like with his excellent piece on Ricky Stuart which appeared in the Sun-Herald recently. As for Gary "The Whizz" Freeman, he's becoming famous - or more accurately infamous - for making outrageous statements. So what's the connection with these two league commentators? Well, if they had their way Braith Anasta (Gould) and Mitchell Pearce (Freeman) would be the halves for New South Wales. I agree that club combinations are an advantage, but to suggest the Roosters halves should be playing for the Blues is well, ridiculous and a nonsense. The swine flu would have to affect all the NRL five-eighths and halves eligible to play for the Blues and you'd still go to the Toyota Cup to find a seven and a six. At a stretch, you may, and I stress "may" be able to mount an argument for Anasta, but Pearce is going so poorly he would be outside the top 10 halves in the game. I felt embarrassed for Wayne Pearce earlier in the season, having to sit beside Freeman as the Kiwi "nutter" talked up his son's chances of playing origin. At the time, the Rooster half was playing average football. His form has deteriorated along with the team's since. I've met Freeman and he is quite charming and affable, so here's a tip - cease your push for Pearce for origin else you'll cause irreparable damage to your credibility.
IT'S ALL A MATTER OF PERCENTAGES At the halfway mark in the season, the Top Eight is taking shape and if results go a certain way the semi-finalists may be decided earlier than ever before. But of course, things can change dramatically though Phil Rothfield's inference on one of his blogs that Souths, the Warriors, Manly and Parramatta are a better hope than Newcastle, whilst laughable is expected when you take into account his distorted version of anything associated with Brian Smith. Can you imagine if the Knights win the competition - and they are a big show - how Rothfield will feel? The poor soul may never recover. Rebecca Wilson will be forced to do their riveting Sunday Telegraph column on her Pat Malone or find a replacement. Perhaps News Limited can poach the great Philip Ronald Gould from Fairfax to team up with the veteran blonde journo. "Bec and Gus" - has a nice ring to it. I can see the promos now - "Bec Gus Can't Be Choosers" or "Bec's As Good As Gould" or "Bec Gets Her Phil". Back to the topic at hand, whilst the competition rounds are only 50 per cent completed, a lot of teams' chances of winning the premiership are 100 per cent over. Granted, there is ample time for those outside the Top Eight to force their way into the semis, but I see only Manly and the Warriors as genuine chances of making it, with the Panthers, Titans and Broncos the most likely to drop out.
YOU CAN'T POSTPONE GAMES, YOU SWINE The NRL would have set a dangerous precedent if they had postponed the Brisbane-Bulldogs match due to the dreaded swine flu sweeping through the Broncos camp. If a team was struck down with the adult whopping cough or pneumonia, do we re-schedule that game as well? As unfair as it may seem, Brisbane needs to "suck it up" and get on with it even if it means fielding a second-rate side. Would we postpone an origin if either the New South Wales or Queensland squads were infected with a contagious disease? An emphatic "no" would be your answer undoubtedly. The affected state - and it could be both - would duly select its best available players to contest the game. You cannot control or make a blanket ruling on something you have no control over. Not helping the situation is the fact with the Broncos having being "pumped" by the Storm in their last match, they understandably have tried their hardest to get the game called off. Brisbane chief-executive-officer Bruno Cullen would have been derelict in his duty not to do the best he could in the pursuit of that objective. Frankly Bruno, you were "punching way above your weight" to believe that the NRL would have taken any other decision than the one that they did. Perhaps Bruno was being egged on by coach Ivan Henjak who as a player would pull any stunt he could to gain an advantage. You can see why yours truly who had a season playing with the diminutive halfback, gave him the nickname - Ivan the Terrible Trixster.