THANKFULLY the NRL have already decided the future of John Hopoate by handing him a 17 week suspension for his karate chop like ?shoulder? charge on Sharks prop Keith Galloway in Round 2. Had the NRL and or Manly somehow dragged out the incident, ?Hoppagate VII? could have overshadowed the first half of the 2005 Season. Remember Danny Williams somehow managed to avoid being suspended straight away after king hitting Mark O?Neill last year, and the shadow that hung around the latter stages of the regular season failed to lift until the semi finals. Hopoate was a very good winger on his day who could share the workload of the forwards early in each set from dummy half but no matter what he brought to the game in terms of footballing skill, he let himself and his clubs down with other skills that we?d rather not see on the same field.
IN Brisbane today, the Australian Rugby League announced its 25 greatest players for both the New South Wales and Queensland teams as part of the 25th Anniversary of State of Origin.
THE Malta Knights will feature on Channel 9's Footy Show tomorrow(31-03-05) night.
DUANE O'Grady provides the perfect example of local boy made good.
Within three seasons, the second-rower has transformed himself from a triallist to a full-fledged member of the Dolphins Premier League squad.
The 23-year-old Redcliffe junior has bypassed the usual track of junior development squads and elite Colts football to force his way into the top-level Queensland Cup.
"I was born and bred in Redcliffe and played from under sevens to under 10s at Burpengary before coming over to the Redcliffe juniors," O'Grady said.
"I then had a couple of years off before I ended up at Arlie Beach when I was 19 and spent a season and a half in the Whitsunday competition."
O'Grady then returned to the Peninsula to start an apprenticeship as a refrigeration mechanic.
The demand of his job meant an absence from football, but in his third year he could not ignore the bug any more and pulled on his boots.
"I went along to an open trial on the recommendation of Darren Smallhorn and also from my father and pop, who also both played for Redcliffe. My dad John played Colts and Morrie has been around the club for a long time."
O'Grady forced his way into coach Bertie Campbell's A grade side in 2003, winning a premiership and then making the semi-finals last season.
"I came to the club as a centre and got put on the wing, but now I'm a second-rower," he said.
"There are more opportunities in that position and last year I spent the entire season in the forwards.
"It suits my game better to be there as I like to try and hurt in my tackles. I'm certainly more of a defensive player, even though at 96 kilos I'm a bit light for a second-rower."
O'Grady's defensive capabilities have not been overlooked by new Premier league coach Anthony Griffin, who looks to rebuild a side decimated by off-season transfers and retirements.
O'Grady turned out in both pre-season trials against Burleigh and Souths-Logan, although his spot will become one of the hardest-fought in the club.
Rivals include long-serving backrower Danny Burke, Danny Green (recovering from a shoulder operation), Grant Flugge (suspended for the opening two matches), Shannon Fish, Gerard Parle and even Troy Lindsay.
"I enjoyed the trials very much," he said. "They were nice and quick, but I loved playing in them.
"There's plenty of competition and that helps you play better footy."
O'Grady's plan is to retain his spot in the Premier League squad throughout the season.
"I don't care if I'm in the run-on side or on the bench. Premier grade is premier grade. There's not much difference in what number you are named in."
O'Grady's impressions of new coach Griffin have been favourable.
"He is a man of few words but what he wants to get across he gets across," he said.
As for the future, O'Grady is still working as a refrigeration mechanic and has bought a house at Scarborough so his off-field situation is stable. Now all he needs is playing time in the top side.
GIANT Parramatta winger Matt Gruszka likes a challenge.
That would explain his gamble on moving from his Sydney home, club and family to try his luck with the Pepsi Dolphins.
Gruszka, all 99 kilograms and 188 centimetres of him, admits he knew virtually nothing about Redcliffe or the Queensland Cup competition when he joined in the off-season.
"I was on holidays when I got a call about the Redcliffe offer," he said. "I liked the offer and thought I would take the challenge of starting again with a clean slate at a new club.
"I had only a vague picture of the Queensland Cup and personally didn't know anything about Redcliffe. But some of the boys at Parramatta came from Toowoomba, Casino and Cairns so the Cup competition had made its mark in Sydney.''
Gruszka has had a quick introduction to the state scene with trials against premiers Burleigh and Souths-Logan.
He was man of the match against the Bears, although he knows their squad was split that weekend.
"We went into the matches at full strength and you don't take too much into account with trials," he said.
Gruszka had the opportunity to stay with the Eels, the club he had spent three seasons with, rising to its Premier League ranks.
"I'm actually from Lidcombe and played in the Canterbury junior competition," he said. "I started with Parramatta's SG Ball side and worked my way up to the Premier League and the fulltime list last season."
Gruszka had star wingers Matt Petersen and Eric Grothe in front of him in the Eels' NRL side, but decided to head north.
"I see Redcliffe as an opportunity to go forward in my career," he said. "I could have stayed with Parramatta on the same deal as last year but I want to see how good I can go here."
Gruszka makes no bones of the fact that he hopes to use the Dolphins as a stepping stone back to National Rugby League ranks.
"I want to get back to the NRL next year through the back door to the Roosters,'' he said. "I spoke to James Hinchey at Redcliffe and he made everything sound good.''
Gruszka's size makes him an ideal candidate for the forwards as well, "In my junior days I played in the second-row and centres," he said. "It was only when I went to Parramatta that they put me on the wing.
"I'm happy on the wing at Redcliffe as we've got much better centres than I would be. Everything is so comfortable here.
"The club is extremely professional and I feel comfortable, a lot more comfortable than I ever did at Parramatta.
"The lifestyle is great and the club has been most helpful in getting me settled."
After being a fulltime player with the Eels, Gruszka is working at the Leagues Club in the Bottleshop.And as for his name? It has Polish origins and to pronounce it correctly just drop out the z.
THE Newtown Jets return to Henson Park in both grades this coming Saturday (April 2nd) for the opening home game double-header for the 2005 season. The day has been designated as the Salute to Sydney Airport Day in appreciation of the tremendous assistance given to the Jets by the club?s major sponsor, the Sydney Airport Corporation. All employees of any Sydney Airport-based company can gain free admission to Henson Park by showing their employment identification, and there will be an array of free entertainment for families and children.
SAINTS 34 - Bulls 27
THE mental health of Bears supporters was the greatest concern for Burleigh coach Rick Stone after the Gold Coast club staged its third come-from-behind victory in a row.
ST Albans Centurions are looking forward to the big kick off of the National league 3 campaign this Saturday at their Woollams ground, looking to build on the great progress the club has made in the last two seasons at this level. The opponents are last seasons third placed side, Bradford Dudley Hill Demons and this is sure to be a tough, uncompromising affair, Demons coming off the back of a strong win against Bramley Buffaloes. They boast in their ranks former professionals Paul Gleadhill and Jason Lee as well as former GB International Graeme Hallas.
YORKSHIRE coaches Alf Hill (Heworth), Tony Spence (Ideal Isberg) and Steve Robson (Skirlaugh) have named a 20-man squad going into the BARLA County Championship decider at West Hull next Sunday 3rd April kick off 2.30pm as a result of injuries and impending fitness tests.
Liam Walsh (Siddal) and James Folan (Thornhill Trojans) are out injured, Paul Hatton is out of the country and Shaun Sutton will have a late fitness test during the week.
ALL times are shown in AEDT.
MITSUBISHI Electric Bulldogs coach Steve Folkes has named Trent Cutler to make his National Rugby League debut this Sunday against the Cronulla Sharks at Toyota Park. The son of former Bulldog great, Stan Cutler, Trent has been named on the Bulldogs interchange.
SHARKS coach Stuart Raper has recalled the experienced front row pairing of Jason Stevens and Danny Nutley for Sunday?s blockbuster match up with the Bulldogs.
Stevens will play his first game since injuring a knee in a trial match against the North Queensland Cowboys in Mackay, while Nutley returns after missing the last two weeks due to suspension. The two will add plenty of starch to a Sharks pack keen to build on their impressive performance against the Parramatta Eels last weekend.
James Stosic, solid against the Eels, returns to Premier League, although his form in what was his NRL debut was noted by Raper and his coaching staff, with the former junior Kiwi sure to be given plenty of opportunities in the top grade as the season progresses.
Andrew Lomu, relatively quiet in the three Sharks matches to date in 2005, is the other player who will turn out for Newtown in the Premier League this Saturday, making way for Stevens and Nutley.
Raper has retained Paul Mellor and Reece Williams on the interchange bench, with Williams giving his coach no choice but to keep the 19-year-old in his team due to his outstanding form in the top side during the past two weeks.
Mellor also played strongly in the win over Parramatta, scoring a good try. He gives Raper some versatility on the bench, with Mellor being capable of covering positions in the outside backs as well as in the forwards.
Paul Gallen, cited for an indiscretion in a tackle last Saturday night, escaped suspension and will play at lock forward against the Bulldogs. Gallen was among the Sharks best in their win over the Eels.
The Sharks v Bulldogs match will take place at Toyota Park on Sunday afternoon, with the kick-off at 2.30pm. The Jersey Flegg clash between the Sharks and Bulldogs gets underway at 12.40pm.
The Newtown Premier League team will play the Bulldogs at Henson Park this Saturday, with that match beginning at 3pm.
The Sharks and Bulldogs match on Sunday is expected to attract a healthy crowd, however plenty of reserved seats were still available as of Tuesday afternoon. Sharks fans will get their first glimpse of teenage sensation Sonny Bill Williams, with Raper and his players intent on limiting his impact on the match.
The team is;
RABBITOH'S custodian Adam MacDougall has taken a two-match ban through an early guilty plea to the NRL judiciary after being charged for a reckless high tackle.
THE two best things to come out of last weeks gallant loss to the Panthers out at Penrith Park. Firstly, the club showed a lot more heart ? in previous weeks, it would?ve been 48-8 instead of 18-8; secondly, English referee Russell Smith cannot referee us two weeks in a row.