NEW Zealand Warriors coach Ivan Cleary says former Australian Test prop Richard Villasanti is free to stay or leave the NRL Club.Docked four competition points and fined $430,000 for salary cap breaches over the past two years, the Warriors are looking to cut costs before the start of the 2006 season. Villasanti has been asked to look at playing elsewhere as the Warriors seek to get under the NRL salary cap, but Cleary says the big front rower is not being forced out.Villasanti was left out of the Warriors line-up to play Melbourne in Auckland on Sunday and will play in a curtain raiser for the club's development side against a team from New Zealand's domestic league.
PARRAMATTA and Newcastle will today turn their attention back to the 2006 season and this weekend's opening round clash between the two sides following confirmation yesterday of Brian Smith's impending move to the Knights.Smith ended weeks of speculation by agreeing to a three-year deal with the Knights from 2007, completing a bizarre coaching swap with Knights counterpart Michael Hagan, who will join the Eels, also on a three-year deal, next season. Smith has admitted that the move could prove somewhat of a distraction this season as he helps Knights staff assemble their playing roster for 2007, but says he is committed to helping the Eels win a premiership this year.Both coaches believe this week's coaching drama will not affect the players in the lead-up to Saturday night's clash at EnergyAustralia Stadium. The Knights will be seeking revenge on their home turf after being walloped by the Eels 50-0 in the corresponding match last season.
GORDEN Tallis has renewed calls for the Broncos to return Darren Lockyer to fullback ahead of this weekend's NRL season-opener against North Queensland.Tallis says the extra demands placed on Lockyer in defence at five-eighth would erode his attacking ability. Lockyer has missed most of the Broncos' pre-season build-up following foot surgery but will lead the club in Sunday's derby at Suncorp Stadium.Lock Tonie Carroll is expected to be officially scratched from the game tomorrow with Brad Thorn to receive an early reprieve.
LIKELY squad: Brett Hodgson, Daniel Fitzhenry, Shane Elford, Paul Whaitura, Jamaal Lolesi, Benji Marshall, Scott Prince, John Skandalis, Robbie Farah, Ryan O?Hara, Anthony Laffranchi, Ben Galea, Dene HalatauInterchange: Bryce Gibbs, Liam Fulton, Chris Heighington, Sam HarrisStrengths:The Tigers? great strengths are their skills level and athleticism. Those factors alone got them their premiership glory in 2005 and will enable them to continue that good form for the 2006 season.The Tigers? depth is something to be admired. Young guns like Shannon McDonnell and Dean Collis and key forwards Keith Galloway and Bronson Harrison are left out of the team above. The Tigers purchased very wisely in the off season and as such have improved their roster for the upcoming season, something that would strike fears into the hearts of other teams.The Tiger?s forward pack would rate among the most mobile yet underrated in the competition. Players like Fulton, Halatau and Heighington really shone a bright light for the Tigers in 2005 and will continue to do so for 2006.The halves pairing would rate amongst the best in the competition also. The steadiness of Scott Prince and the creative brilliance of Benji Marshall are so vital for the Tigers? success.Tim Sheens, one of the most experienced coaches in the NRL, is a great strength for the Tigers. He has the ability to turn dirt into gold and he will continue to do so as long as he remains coach.Brett Hodgson is a key player for the Tigers. In 2005 he played like a man possessed. He was magnificent in that everything he touched turned into points. He was the form player of the competition and will be out to make sure it stays that way.Weaknesses:The loss of Pat Richards will be immense for the Tigers. The big winger?s goal-line dropouts, defence and finishing ability was a real highlight for the Tigers in 2005. But now he has departed and leaves a huge hole in a depleted backline.Other teams will now be out to get the Tigers any way they can. This is a weakness for the Tigers whether they like it or not. Last season they slipped under the radar through to the Grand Final. This season teams will be better prepared, better drilled and mentally ready to take it to the Tigers. The Tigers need to be good enough to withstand such pressure.One to Watch:Shannon McDonnell is my player to watch for the Tigers. Shannon had a taste of First Grade in 2005 when he made his debut against Penrith. Unfortunately for Shannon it didn?t go as well as planned as he looked out of his depth and quite nervous in his first outing. He was brought into Tim Sheen?s squad for the WCC where he was again part of a losing side. Aside from only having two matches that resulted in losses, he remains the one to watch for the Tigers. He is an outstanding player with tremendous talent and electrifying speed.Tim Sheens has a huge rap on this kid and it?s no wonder why. He has speed that would be up there with competitors in the Commonwealth Games trials for the 100m and he can finish off a try as good as anyone when given the opportunity. I have no doubt that if Shannon had a consistent spot in the team in 2006 that he would definitely not disappoint Tigers? fans.Gains and Losses:Gains: Sam Harris, Keith Galloway, Jamaal Lolesi, Ryan O'Hara, Filinga Filiga.Losses: Pat Richards, John Wilson, Mark O'Neill, Matthew Rieck, Ray Cashmere.Assessment:I believe the Tigers have recruited brilliantly in the off-season. The acquisition of Harris, Galloway, Lolesi and O?Hara has really enhanced the Tigers? premiership prospects. It has given them valuable size, valuable experience and valuable depth in order to defend their title. If you look at the past 5 years, you?ll find the premiers have all haemorrhaged players after their title win, but not the Tigers. They have increased their playing stocks and have a better squad, which is why I?m predicting that they will finish in the Top 4 and be the most likely team since Brisbane in 1992/1993 to take back-to-back premierships.
PUT away the cricket bat, beach balls and whatever else you want to associate with summer, because the long wait for NRL in 2006 is almost over.While we?ve had to put up with a low quality tour by the West Indies and a slightly better South African Test series to relieve us from the now traditional summer boredom, Australia then started playing Twenty/20 games and a meaningless 15-game One Day series against nonsense opponents with ridiculous ?super-sub? and ?powerplay? novelties as rules. It was about that time that I think most footy fans were joining me in crossing the days off the calendar, until now.In spite of the fact that cricket has a tendency to dominate the back pages over summer, rugby league still found ways to show the fans that the game had not disappeared off planet earth, but no doubt the publicity the game received was some that it could have done without.It even went as far as commanding the front pages, but unfortunately for rugby league, the game doesn?t usually feature there for the recognition of players? charity work. And Craig Gower made sure of that?Then there was the ongoing saga with regards to the South Sydney Rabbitohs becoming privatised, which has interested me about as much as a badminton tournament in Uzbekistan. The issue has dragged on and on, and the sooner a decision is made the better things will be for all parties, and we won?t have to bear another whining comment from George Piggins ever again (hopefully!). The club needs to make a decision which will lead them to become a superior football team to what they have been since their return in 2002. Memo to Souths: Whatever you decide, just hurry up! You?re putting us all to sleep at a time of year when we should be jumping out of our skin.It did, however, keep rugby league in the news over summer. And I guess, for that reason alone, it can be given some credence.The Scott Prince saga was another the game could have done without, in particular diehard Tigers fans. Not the best look is it? The Wests Tigers captain having dinner with the Gold Coast Titans Chief Executive Michael Searle in Martin Place, the heart of Sydney?s city, for one and all to see. If I was a Tigers supporter, I think I would have been excused if I had have choked on my dinner when the pictures were aired on the news that evening. At least now Prince has signed, and we can all concentrate on the footy. The game also had to cope with the tragic news of losing one of its favourite sons, Cronulla legend and CEO Steve Rogers, who sadly took his own life in January of this year. And let?s not forget the ongoing and bizarre coaching saga. It started with Michael Hagan signing with Parramatta for season 2007, and we thought things were uncertain enough at that stage. We are then informed that Penrith have told John Lang that his services are not required, and Matthew Elliot will be his replacement at the end of 2006. I guess a playing equivalent would maybe be Newcastle telling Andrew Johns that his services are not required beyond this season, and that their reasoning behind the decision was because Cooper Cronk was too good a player to refuse. There?s plenty more to come with the coaching saga, all I?ll say at this stage is that I?m not only crossing off the days to March 10, but also June 30.We also had the dreaded news for all Bulldogs supporters that Sonny Bill Williams will again be injury-affected in 2006. The teenage sensation has played just 20 of a possible 52 games in two seasons for the Dogs, and he looks set to miss at least the first 6 weeks of the 2006 season. If he doesn?t get on the field for a reasonable number of games this season, the Bulldogs may look to offload him at the end of 2007. They must be scratching their heads after offloading Braith Anasta to keep Williams and Willie Mason, who appear to have more injury problems than the Roosters-bound NSW five-eighth.Last but definitely not least, the Warriors were caught breaching the salary cap by $1 Million over 3 seasons, but for some reason they only lost 4 points. Correct if I?m wrong, but didn?t the Bulldogs lose 37 points for a $1mil breach just 4 years ago? It?s obvious to me that the NRL gauged the Bulldogs? punishment on their success, and not the crime. It?s also clear that the only reason they didn?t dock more points from the Warriors 2006 tally, was because they would have done well to get three men and a dog to the games if more points were lost.Some good news to finish though, with Andrew Johns returning successfully in a trial game against Cronulla a couple of weeks ago, and the game?s best player looks set to start the season free of injury. Let?s hope that in 2006, the superstars of the game such as Johns, Sonny Bill Williams and Benji Marshall can stay injury-free, for the sake of the kids who love watching the game?s best, in particular that trio, perform free of any injury.So buckle up for a magnificent season ahead, with all news, live scores, and match reports right here on www.leagueunlimited.comWith just 2 days left to cross off the calendar, personally I just can?t wait. Season 2006 - Bring it on!
PARRAMATTA coach Brian Smith will join Newcastle next season after agreeing to a three-year deal with the 2005 NRL wooden spooners, the Knights' board has announced.The deal brings to an end the Knights' month long search for a new coach after it was revealed current coach Michael Hagan had accepted a three-year offer to head to Parramatta from 2007. Smith was told in November last year that his contract with the Eels would not be renewed beyond this season, making this his 10th and final campaign in charge of the 2005 minor premiers.It was a case of third time lucky for the Knights who's attempts to lure Wests Tigers premiership winning coach Tim Sheens and Canberra mentor Matthew Elliott to the club both ended in disappointment. The announcement is sure to add extra spice to Saturday's opening round clash between the Knights and Eels at EnergyAustralia Stadium, with both coaches going up against the club they will be in charge of in 2007.
LEEDS got their season back on track by ruthlessly disposing of local rivals Castleford by 66-14 in their rearranged engage Super League clash.Following the postponement of the tie on Friday night due to freezing conditions in West Yorkshire, Leeds wasted little time in reapplying the heat on current leaders St Helens, making a mockery of the close battles these two clubs have shared over the years and in the process subjecting Terry Matterson?s men to a record Super League loss.Coach Tony Smith was able to hand a Leeds debut to forward Ian Kirke, while Danny Williams retained his place on the wing at the expense of Lee Smith.Castleford were able to welcome Matt Whitaker back from an ankle injury, although a knee problem ruled Danny Ward out of making an instant return to the club which sacked him just over a month ago.Despite securing their first win of the season against Catalans last weekend, any hopes the Tigers may have had of backing up that win were well and truly over by the interval.Aside from their poor discipline, conceding eight first-half penalties, they also shipped seven tries to trail 42-8 at the break.Chev Walker and Rob Burrow were the main architects of their downfall, the former bagging a hat-trick and the latter a brace as Leeds ran riot. They had taken an early lead through Burrow, who collected Williams? pass to race over, before Willie Poching breezed into a gap to score in the corner.Walker then posted a length-of-the-field score after a Paul Handforth pass went astray with Leeds camped on their own line, quickly followed by Kirke marking his debut by cantering into a gap to score under the posts.With Castleford visibly wilting, Burrow outfoxed their defence to jink over for his second, before Walker registered a quickfire double, the second of which came right on the half-time hooter to secure his treble. Kevin Sinfield converted all seven tries, while Castleford?s contribution came via a try from Tom Haughey and two Craig Huby goals. All their points were scored while down to 12 men, with Danny Sculthorpe in the sin bin for dissent.The second half began in similar fashion with Danny McGuire racing clear of the defence after collecting Richie Mathers? pass, before Ryan McGoldrick provided some respite for the visitors, collecting Gray Viane?s offload to cross the line.With the scores set at 48-14, any hopes of a comeback were somewhat fanciful, and that was confirmed when Mathers helped Leeds pass the 50-point barrier with his first try of the season, stepping past the Tigers? defence with ease.After a quiet period, Ali Lauitiiti restored order with a typically rampaging effort, before Ryan Bailey followed suit after charging down the middle of the field. Sinfield converted both and ended with a 100% record from his 11 goal attempts.Leeds: Mathers, Donald, Walker, Senior, Williams, McGuire, Burrow, Bailey, Diskin, Peacock, Lauitiiti, Poching, Sinfield.Replacements: Millard, Feather, Kirke, Ablett.Castleford: Platt, Pryce, Shenton, Dyer, Viane, McGoldrick, Handforth, Sculthorpe, Henderson, Nutley, Huby, Whitaker, Haughey.Replacements: Bird, Kain, Blanch, Boyle.Leeds (42) 66.Tries: Burrow 2, Poching, Walker 3, Kirke, McGuire, Mathers, Lauitiiti, Bailey. Goals: Sinfield 11.Castleford (8) 14.Tries: Haughey, McGoldrick. Goals: Huby 3.Referee: Phil Benson (Bolton)Att: 16,650
ALBERT Torrens crashed over in the dying moments as Huddersfield snatched victory by 18-16 in a tense engage Super League encounter at Wakefield on Saturday night.The Wildcats spent most of the second half on the back foot at Belle Vue but had been clinging on to a two-point lead until Torrens sneaked over with three minutes remaining.Two tries from David Solomona had helped the Wildcats open up a 16-8 interval lead but the Kiwi forward allowed the Giants back into the game when he was sin-binned in the second half.Semi Tadulala also crossed for the Wildcats while Chris Thorman scored 10 points for the Giants.It was another freezing night in West Yorkshire but the Belle Vue pitch was in good condition after spending much of the week under cover to protect it from snow and frost.Huddersfield drew first blood as two penalties allowed Thorman to gain good ground and then kick the first goal of the match.The Wildcats responded well and quickly switched play to the other end but David March almost inexplicably missed a chance to level the scores when he slammed a straightforward penalty against an upright.The home side lacked nothing in passion though and claimed the lead when Solomona was contentiously awarded a try on 12 minutes.The second row powered to the line and although some television angles appeared to show him tackled short, he was given the benefit of the doubt after lengthy deliberation by video referee Dave Campbell.Huddersfield hit straight back with a flowing move involving Stephen Wild and Robbie Paul that saw Thorman race in behind the posts from a smart overhead pass by James Evans.Home fans were incensed at a perceived forward pass by Paul but Thorman capitalised and added the conversion.The Wildcats again came back at their visitors and levelled as Tadulala raced away from a Kevin Henderson pass.Solomona then crashed over from dummy half ? Campbell having little doubt this time ? and after missing three attempts, March was replaced as kicker and Ben Jeffries converted.The stand-off added a penalty but Huddersfield moved back within two points as Thorman engineered a superb try six minutes into the second half.Paul Smith gathered well from Thorman?s astute kick and sent Steve Snitch racing over to score against his old club. Thorman again added the extras.The Giants gained a significant advantage as Solomona was sin-binned for holding down Eorl Crabtree and the prop almost capitalised as he charged over but Mark Applegarth prevented him grounding the ball.But despite almost incessant Giants pressure, Wakefield managed to hold out for the 10 minutes Solomona was off the field and Colum Halpenny went close to relieving the pressure on the break.Yet Solomona?s absence had seen the momentum swing in Huddersfield?s direction and the Giants battled to the end to secure their second win.The Giants were awarded a scrum after the ball was knocked down and the ball was worked wide for Australian Torrens to dive in.Wakefield: Halpenny, White, Demetriou, Henderson, Tadulala, Jeffries, March, Griffin, Betham, MacGillivray, Solomona, J. Field, Applegarth.Replacements: Korkidas, Elima, Wrench, Saxton.Huddersfield: Reilly, Aspinwall, Evans, Torrens, Gardner, Thorman, Paul, Crabtree, Drew, Snitch, Nero, Jones, Wild.Replacements: Jackson, March, Smith, McDonald.Wakefield (16) 16.Tries: Solomona 2, Tadulala. Goals: Jeffries 2.Huddersfield (8) 18.Tries: Thorman, Snitch, Torrens. Goals: Thorman 3.Referee: S Ganson (St Helens)Att: 4,110
BRADFORD Bulls maintained early-season pressure on St Helens with a nine-try extravaganza at the Stade Aime Giral against newcomers Catalans Dragons.The match was preceded by one-minute?s silence in memory of lifelong Bulls fan Graham Woodcock who sadly passed away on his arrival in Perpignan earlier in the day and he could not have had a more fitting tribute than this performance.Bulls were immediately on the attack and made their first spell of pressure tell as early as the fifth minute with a well-worked try from Shontayne Hape after Paul Deacon?s kick had given them good field position.Deacon made good the first of seven successful conversions and on their very next attack Brian Noble?s men ripped holes in the Catalan defence before Ian Henderson sent prop Stuart Fielden crashing over just three minutes later.The scoring spree continued, giving the Bulls a 24-0 lead after the opening quarter when first Andy Lynch and then Jamie Langley - the latter after a superb four-man handling move - crossed the Dragons? whitewash.Spurred on by some fervent home support among the 9,373 in attendance Catalans hit back when Justin Murphy got on the end of a Sean Rudder kick to score, but their riposte was brief.Working their way back up field Hape completed a first-half brace when Deacon?s grubber bounced awkwardly over the head of full-back and left the Kiwi with a clear run to the line.Though Bulls were without try-scoring sensation Lesley Vainikolo they showed their potency in the backs when centre Ben Harris benefited from another superbly placed Deacon kick to cross for the sixth Bradford try shortly after the break.Though Catalan took advantage of a rare Bulls error for Mounis to score a second they were clearly in need of direction in the absence of Kiwi Test star Stacey Jones. But that was sadly lacking.The Bulls reminded the French outfit exactly why they are champions with two tries in a three-minute spell when first Lynch completed a brace and then Marcus Bai crossed to put Bradford out of sight.A 60-metre solo effort from Justin Murphy cheered the home fans before Bulls had the final word through youngster Andy Smith.Catalans Dragons: Bosc, Murphy, Wilson, Hughes, Verges, Rudder, Frayssinous, Chan, Rinaldi, Beattie, Fakir, Guisset, Hindmarsh.Replacements: Mounis, Fellous, Touxagas, Guigue.Bradford: Withers, Bai, B. Harris, Hape, Smith, I. Harris, Deacon, Fielden, Henderson, Lynch, McKenna, Meyers, Langley.Replacements: Vagana, Gene, Ferres, Cook.Catalans Dragons (6) 18.Tries: Mounis 2, Murphy. Goals: Frayssinous 3.Bradford (30) 50.Tries: Hape 2, Fielden, Lynch 2, Langley, B. Harris, Bai, Smith. Goals: Deacon 7.Referee: R Silverwood (Dewsbury)Att: 9,373
HARLEQUINS defied their winless start to the engage Super League season to spring a minor upset and topple Hull 10-6 at a bitterly cold KC Stadium.Despite not troubling Hull?s defensive line in the whole of the second half, Tony Rea?s men can point to an outstanding defensive performance, keeping their hosts scoreless in the second period, coupled with an efficient and disciplined first 40 minutes as the key factor behind their first win under the Harlequins brand.After defeat at Warrington last weekend, Hull need not look any further than themselves for the root cause of their loss, after a performance littered with handling errors and poor decisions with ball in hand, that defied their position as the league?s highest tryscorers going into the clash.Hull were able to welcome Ewan Dowes and Chris Chester back into their side after injury, while Harlequins were able to call on Luke Dorn after a hamstring problem, but remained without their injured captain Mark McLinden.After both sides spent the opening exchanges adapting to the conditions, Harlequins were the first to trouble the scoreboard with a quickfire double of tries within five minutes of each other.First Thomas Leuluai capitalised on poor marker defence from Hull to scoot over the line from dummy half, before Dorn sent Tyrone Smith into a gap to score in the corner. Paul Sykes converted the former to hand the visitors a 10-point lead.Hull were slow to respond and struggled to gain any significant field position as all too often they spilled possession early in the tackle account, and aside from Kirk Yeaman spurning a chance to post his eighth try of the season when he knocked on over the line, they rarely threatened.However, in spite of their profligacy, they went into the interval just four points behind after Shaun Briscoe?s 32nd-minute effort. After moving downfield on the back of a penalty, Briscoe seized on a static Harlequins defence to race 50 metres to the left corner. Danny Brough converted from the touchline.Hull began to probe with far greater purpose in the second half, and were denied scores twice when Yeaman?s score was chalked off for an earlier indiscretion, while Motu Tony was dragged into touch with the line at his mercy.Leuluai then denied Richard Horne with a crunching last-ditch tackle as Hull struggled to find a way to break down Harlequins? resilient defence.Yeaman then went without the ball after Paul Cooke had fashioned a half-chance and then slung the ball in touch when trying to find Gareth Raynor with the equalising try beckoning.As Harlequins began to close the tie out, Jamie Thackray was held up just over the tryline, before Matt Gafa collected Horne?s kick in goal despite intense pressure from the onrushing Richard Whiting to put the seal on the win.Hull: Briscoe, Tony, Domic, Yeaman, Raynor, R. Horne, Brough, Dowes, Swain, King, Radford, McMenemy, Cooke.Replacements: Thackray, Carvell, Chester, Whiting.Harlequins RL: Lucky Luisi, Gafa, Sykes, Smith, Bradley-Qalilawa, Dorn, Leuluai, Mills, Weisner, Tookey, Purdham, Hopkins, TemataReplacements: Williams, Haumono, Heckenberg, Lolohea.Hull: (6) 6.Tries: Briscoe.Goals: Brough.Harlequins RL: (10) 10.Tries: Leuluai, Smith.Goals: Sykes.Referee: A Klein (London)Att: 8,250
WIGAN?S poor start to the season continued at the Willows as they were beaten 28-10 by a determined Salford outfit on a surface more suited to snowboarding than rugby league.The game was in doubt all afternoon after heavy snowfall in the north of the country but, once it was given the go-ahead, the Reds flew out of the blocks and held a 14-4 interval advantage.Wigan briefly rallied through Danny Orr, but the City Reds withstood the pressure and second-half scores by John Wilshere, Andrew Dunemann and David Hodgson gave them a well-deserved two points.Wigan coach Ian Millward sprang a selection surprise by recalling stand-off Orr after leaving him out for the last couple of matches.Kevin Brown was handed the loose forward role in the absence of captain Sean O?Loughlin, who was a late withdrawal because of a groin problem.Salford welcomed back winger John Wilshere after a one-match suspension, while Luke Robinson was back in the side to face his old club after recovering from shin splints.And it was the Reds who opened the scoring with just nine minutes on the clock, as Robinson hoisted a bomb towards Wigan winger Mark Calderwood into the in-goal area and Finnegan rose highest to touch down.Another Wigan old boy, Hodgson, added a fine touchline conversion for a 6-0 lead, and added a penalty three minutes later to extend the home side?s advantage.The Warriors hit back after 18 minutes when a Dennis Moran bomb was fumbled by Wilshere into the hands of Orr, whose long ball out right was touched on by Calderwood into the hands of Richards who scored.Danny Tickle?s conversion attempt hit the post to leave his side trailing 8-4, but the Warriors continued to attack when Hodgson?s restart went out on the full and Richards? penalty from half-way sailed into touch eight metres short.Superb Salford defence was then needed to halt strong charges from Iafeta Paleaaesina and Scott Logan, while Wilshere produced a real trysaver in the corner to deny Brett Dallas.The Warriors forced two goalline drop-outs in quick succession but the home defence was proving up to the challenge, and Coley extended the lead by crashing over in the right-hand corner, with another excellent goal from Hodgson opening up a 10-point lead.Wigan came out fired up for the second half and hauled themselves back into the game after a bit of clever thinking from Moran.On the sixth tackle, wide on the right, he ran down the short side and fed Harrison Hansen, who helped the ball onto Richards, and the Australian kicked intelligently inside for Orr to dive over.Tickle?s goal made the score 14-10 and Wigan threw everything at the home side, with Calderwood making four tackles in a row deep in Reds territory in one particular set of six.The Reds absorbed all the pressure, though, and extended their advantage on the hour when Wilshere squeezed in at the corner despite the Warriors claiming he had taken the flag with him.The result was settled eight minutes from time when Wilshere jinked through magically on the last tackle and kicked through for Andrew Dunemann to follow up score.Hodgson landed his easiest kick of the night to make the score 24-10, and went over from 40 yards in the dying stages to round off a super night for the jubilant Reds.Salford: Fitzpatrick, Hodgson, Littler, Moule, Wilshere, Dunemann, Robinson, Baldwin, Alker, Highton, Coley, Brocklehurst, FinniganReplacements: Clough, Haggerty, Rutgerson, Langi.Wigan: Ashton, Dallas, Richards, Vaealiki, Calderwood, Orr, Moran, Seu Seu, Godwin, Logan, Tickle, Hansen, Brown.Replacements: Paleaaesina, Hargreaves, Tomkins, Higham.Salford: (14) 28.Tries: Finnigan, Coley, Wilshere, Dunemann, Hodgson.Goals: Hodgson 4.Wigan: (4) 10.Tries: Richards, Orr.Goals: Tickle.Referee: K Kirkpatrick (Warrington)Att: 5,494
ST Helens continued to hold the Indian sign over Warrington after edging a hard-fought encounter 18-10 at a bitterly cold Halliwell Jones Stadium.Saints survived the absence of three key forwards to claim a remarkable 22nd victory from 25 Super League encounters against their rivals from across the M62.It was the fourth straight win this term for Daniel Anderson?s side but they were made to work for it during an intriguing arm-wrestle with Paul Cullen?s men.While St Helens were never allowed to get fully into their stride, they took their chances in devastating fashion and converted tries from Keiron Cunningham and Willie Talau handed them a 12-0 interval advantage.Warrington rallied after the restart as Henry Fa?afili and Mike Wainwright crossed the line, but Ade Gardner?s try shortly before the hour mark ultimately proved crucial.The pitch was deemed playable by referee Ian Smith following an inspection after snowfall and bitterly cold conditions during the afternoon.Snow covered the surface as the match kicked off but it quickly became apparent the players were prepared to fight fire with fire in front of a bumper crowd.Jason Hooper clattered Wolves skipper Lee Briers with a late challenge after just two minutes with the Saints loose forward fortunate to escape punishment.Not surprisingly Warrington looked to the boot of the impressive Briers to provide their ammunition but Saints quickly stamped their authority on proceedings and Sean Long orchestrated the opening try after nine minutes.The scrum-half?s high bomb was met by Lyon, who neatly worked the ball back to Cunningham and the Great Britain hooker scampered over the line from close range.Lyon converted before St Helens were forced to defend their line furiously as Warrington enjoyed a spell of sustained pressure, only for their final pass to betray them.Their failure to make their pressure pay was ruthlessly punished on the half hour mark as Saints produced a typically scintillating score.Francis Meli seized possession deep inside his own half before outpacing a number of his opponents and finding Talau racing in support to his left.The New Zealand international?s perfect offload found his compatriot, who outstripped the home defence to race from the halfway line and claim a try again converted by Lyon.However, the Wolves began to bare their teeth after the restart and took just three minutes to drag themselves back into the game.Briers? excellent diagonal kick into the right-hand corner was superbly caught and grounded by Fa?afili to lift home spirits.Briers was desperately unlucky to see his goal attempt rebound off a post but Saints hit back after 58 minutes with a splendid move that saw them claim their third try.The ball passed through four pairs of hands in a bewildering array of inter-passing which culminated in Gardner grounding in the right-hand corner.Lyon missed the conversion and moments later Hooper was sinbinned for another tackle on Briers, and the Wolves duly took advantage as Wainwright crashed over the line.Briers added the extras to bring the score to 10-16 but Lyon added a late penalty to leave Warrington with just one Super League victory against their local rivals.Warrington: Grose, Fa'afili, M. Gleeson, Kohe-Love, Barnett, Briers, Bridge, Leikvoll, Clarke, Wood, Noone, Wainwright, Westwood.Replacements: Sullivan, M. Gleeson, Hilton, Lima.St Helens: Wellens, Gardner, Lyon, Talau, Meli, Pryce, Long, P. Anderson, Cunningham, Cayless, Gilmour, V. Anderson, Hooper.Replacements: Roby, Wilkin, Bennett, Fa'asavalu.Warrington: (0) 10.Tries: Fa'afili, Wainwright.Goals: Briers.St Helens: (12) 18.Tries: Cunningham, Talau, Gardner.Goals: Lyon 3.Referee: I Smith (Oldham)Att: 13,024
THE cobwebs have been cleaned from the flags and banners and the Dragon Army rolls on for another year in its first premiership hitout against the defending premiers this Friday night.This Friday night represents 165 days since the fairytale bandwagon rolled on and Saints departed the 2005 Premiership race. In those 165 days, I have never met so many Wests fans... it?s funny how those people that you never knew followed rugby league have been following the Tigers in secret for all these years!! It?s little wonder The Mighty Ducks was a box-office hit now.Historically (NRL Speaking), Wests have been fast starters while Saints have been slow starters, winning just one opening round encounter (2001) in joint venture history. In the corresponding game in 2003, Wests overcame Saints late on to record an opening round victory while in round 2, 2001, Wests came from behind to get the points late on.This game, however, takes on a different complexion.While both sides had successful 2005s, the off-season build-ups for both clubs have been less than ideal. While Saints have been embroiled in the Lance Thompson fiasco and lost ?homesick? Novocastrian Michael Ennis to Brisbane due to salary cap pressures, the Tigers pre-season has been overshadowed by the will he stay-will he go Scott Prince saga. Meanwhile on-field both sides are winless in their trials of NRL standard. In both trials, Saints coach Nathan Brown has been keen to use bigger squads and give younger players opportunities to impress which may mean these results are misleading.Similarly, Wests have been without livewire five-eighth Benji Marshall who underwent a shoulder reconstruction during the off-season and is expected to make a shock return this Friday night. As well as this, Wests have had new players such as Keith Galloway, Sam Harris and Jamaal Lolesi trying to fit into the side with combinations taking time to prosper.For Saints, it is imperative that they begin this season with more gusto than 2005. The poor start cost Saints their first minor premiership last year and the club have spoken publicly about starting the premiership proper with more intensity than in recent years. The absence of Mathew Head leaves the fans asking many questions of Nathan Brown?s intentions. Will he use the ever-professional Ben Hornby in the half back role with former Magpie Clint Greenshields at fullback or will he use Chris Sheppard or Willie Peters in the 7 jersey? Whoever the coach decides to use in the 17 on Friday night it is important that you wear your red and white proud, fire up your voices and get right behind the boys this Friday night.GETTING THERE & AWAY: Your best bet on getting to the game is via public transport. There are limited car spaces but with a train station opposite the stadium, train is the way to go. For detailed timetable information, go to: www.131500.com.au TICKET PRICES: Tickets in the cheapest category are available from the ground for $8 with a Dragons season ticket. Alternatively, you can buy them during the lead-up to the match from Ticketek for $20. Gates open at 5.15pm with a premier league match between Western Suburbs and St George Illawarra starting at 5.20pm. WHERE ARE THE ARMY SITTING?: St George Illawarra supporters have been allocated Aisles 111-114 (North Eastern corner) by Ticketek for this Wests Tigers home match. If you trying to visualise this vantage point, this is where the Army sat last year at the Wests away game. However, with ?Tiger-mania? at fever pitch and a crowd of 40,000 expected, it is likely the Army will sit in Aisles 119-121 behind the Northern goalposts to cause the least disruption possible with flags and banners. (For a map - click here - and then click on ?See a map of Telstra Stadium?) BEST PUBS: To be honest, there isn?t much in the way of decent watering Holes in the Olympic Park precinct. If you are desperate for a beer, the Novotel across from the stadium is probably your only option in this area other than grabbing a beer at the game.
OUTGOING Parramatta coach Brian Smith, who has been linked with a move to Newcastle next season, says he is excited by the prospect of starting afresh with a rival NRL club.Smith has firmed in favouritism to take over from Michael Hagan at the Knights next year, with Hagan moving to the Eels in 2007. The veteran Parramatta coach was told last November that his ten-year tenure at the Eels would not be extended beyond 2006.Fifty-two-year-old Smith says he has received offers from outside rugby league, but admitted he still had a strong desire to coach again in the NRL. The Knights have already missed out on their top two targets, with Wests Tigers premiership-winning coach Tim Sheens and Penrith-bound Canberra mentor Matt Elliott having both rejected their advances.
NEWCASTLE fullback Milton Thaiday remains in doubt for Saturday night's NRL clash against Parramatta due to a foot injury.Thaiday was named in the Knights line-up by coach Michael Hagan yesterday but will continue to be monitored in the lead-up to then match. Prop Josh Perry is also battling the flu but is expected to play.