Warriors to learn their fate

THE New Zealand Warriors will today learn if they'll go into their opening NRL match against Melbourne at Ericsson Stadium on less than zero points.Earlier this week the Warriors provided the NRL with a written submission contesting the breach notice which penalised the club four competition points and $430,000 for salary cap breaches in 2004 and 2005. The NRL is expected to announce today that the points penalty will stand.

Injuries hit Hull

HULL have suffered a double blow as they prepare for their engage Super League match against champions Bradford, with the loss of hooker Richard Swain and prop Ewan Dowes. Swain, Hull?s captain, is likely to be sidelined for at least six weeks with a torn bicep - while Dowes suffered a recurrence of a hamstring injury in Friday?s 10-6 home defeat by Harlequins. ?Richard?s injury and loss puts pressure on us - but it also opens a door for someone else to step up to the plate and take their chance,? said coach John Kear.Hull, who have lost their last two matches, crashed to a club record 71-0 on their last visit to Odsal in the play-offs last October.Meanwhile, Bradford, who have the chance to leapfrog St Helens into top spot, are enjoying a 17-match unbeaten run stretching back to last July - but coach Brian Noble believes Hull represent dangerous opposition. ?There will be a lot of emotional issues in their thinking for this game,? he said. ?The last time they were here they lost 71-0, and it will have been in their minds during the close season. They have an early opportunity to put the record straight. ?They also started the season very well but have now lost two games in a row, and that is something they will want to put right.?New Zealand Test winger Lesley Vainikolo, who has played only one of the Bulls? opening four League matches because of an ankle injury, is included in the squad. Bradford Bulls v Hull FC, Odsal, Friday March 10 2006Bradford 18-man squad: Hape, Deacon, Vagana, Fielden, I. Harris, B. Harris, St Hilaire, Lynch, Bai, Gene, Pryce, Ferres, Vainikolo, Henderson, Langley, McKenna, Withers, Cook.Hull 18-man squad: Briscoe, Brough, Carvell, Chester, Cooke, Domic, Dixon, Hill, R. Horne, King, Lupton, Radford, Raynor, Thackray, Tony, Wheeldon, Yeaman, Whiting.Referee: K Kirkpatrick

Warriors and Wolves hungry for points

WIGAN and Warrington meet at the JJB Stadium on Friday night desperate for points, having found themselves in the wrong half of the table after the first four rounds. While the Wolves have shown a gradual improvement since their opening-round defeat by Salford, Wigan are fresh from a crushing 28-10 defeat at Salford - a result coach Ian Millward is confident was a one-off. ?I?m disappointed that we?ve not got more than one win,? he said.?But if you look at the three games we lost the only one that has really upset me was the poor performance at Salford. ?I?d like to think it was a minor setback; I?m very confident that it was. ?We?ve made some mistakes but we?re working hard to rectify them, and I think people will see how hard we?ve been working on Friday night. ?I know where we?re going. Nothing has been lost, but we have a lot to gain. Twenty-four games is a lot of games.?Millward is boosted by the return of his captain Sean O?Loughlin and he will make a late decision on whether to play Australian Test forward Bryan Fletcher or give him another run-out with the Under-21s as he continues his rehabilitation from major stomach surgery. Warrington coach Paul Cullen, with virtually a full-strength pack to choose from, has dropped prop Danny Lima after a run of 50 successive appearances. ?Rob Parker?s recovery from injury gives me the opportunity to rotate the pack,? said Cullen, who is delighted with his side?s improved form. ?We have improved with every outing since round one. Unfortunately we came up against the best side in the competition last week - and we were one score off them. ?It is a mark of our progress that we were very disappointed we didn?t win. The mood in the camp is positive.?Wigan Warriors v Warrington Wolves, JJB Stadium, Friday March 10 2006Wigan 18-man squad: Ashton, Brown, Calderwood, Dallas, Godwin, Hargreaves, Hansen, Higham, Paleaaesina, Logan, Moran, O'Loughlin, Orr, Prescott, Richards, Seu Seu, Tickle, Vaealiki.Warrington 18-man squad: Grose, Fa'afili, M. Gleeson, Kohe-Love, Briers, Sullivan, Leikvoll, Clarke, Hilton, Swann, Wainwright, Noone, M. Gleeson, Westwood, Wood, Barnett, Parker, Bridge.Referee: A Klein

Round 1 NRL preview

WELCOME back League fans. You may now refrain from cupping your hand towards your forehead and screaming ?C?mon!??yes, the season has arrived. And not before time either! Whilst I was going to impart some wise and philosophical thoughts on the eve of a new season, we've all been waiting so long that I thought it might be better to wipe the foam from our collective mouths and just to get stuck in straight away.Tigers v DragonsFor Dragons fans 2006 begins with the same team that ended their 2005 title aspirations. The reigning premiers take on the pride of Kogarah, and Wollongong, in the first match of the year which promises to be a real ripsnorter.A healthy rivalry is developing between these two joint venture clubs and this game should crystalise its? credentials as a grudge match. The Tigers are missing a few players from their all-conquering Premiership team, namely Pat Richards, Mark O?Neill and Shane Elford, who have either left the club or are injured. In Elford?s case, he tried to leave, then came back and is now injured. The backline has been boosted with the acquisition of Jamaal Lolesi and the earlier than expected return of Benji Marshall reuniting with Scott Prince in the halves.The Tigers forward pack has never looked so good. Last year all the talk was on their smallish stature but that won?t be a problem for them in ?06. My only concern is they may lose a little mobility, which was one of their best assets. In contrast, the Dragons pack is pretty much the same except for the omission of club stalwart Lance Thompson (Sharks) and the injury to Shaun Timmins. Newcomer Andrew Price finds himself locking the scrum containing two Australian props and a couple of other handy forwards in Young, Payne and Simms.The backline is also much the same, with regulars in Gasnier, Cooper, Naiqama with Greenshields taking the field. Reece Simmonds finds himself on the other wing after being given a chance by coach Brown. He appears to be the only weak link in the backs, with Captain Barrett leading the charge at five-eighth and Hornby subbing for the injured Head.This game is a hard one for punters to start with as the Tigers have been good starters over the past few years and the Dragons notoriously slow. Strangely, I think all the pressure is on the Dragons, who are favourites to win the comp, whereas the Tigers are the longest priced Premiers in history. I give it to the Tigers by a few.Knights v EelsA truly bizarre set of circumstances waits to unfold before us at the opener of Super Saturday for 2006. With Smith and Hagan set to complete the unprecedented coach swap at the end of the year, it got me thinking about what might happen at halftime. Will Smith get a bit edgy and try to find his way to the home team?s locker room at the break just to find out what it will be like? Maybe Hagan will see something in a player at Parramatta he doesn?t like and sneak in to the away side?s change room to correct it? Whatever the case, it couldn?t be more ironic or well-timed that these two teams take the field.Thaiday for Newcastle is under a bit of a fitness cloud, but otherwise both teams should take the field as announced. Once again neither team has gone through any drastic makeovers during the off-season and they are sporting pretty much their strongest outfits. Newcastle?s strength lies in their halfback (obviously) and also their back-row. Big, mobile and skilful, they?ll be looking to exploit Parra on the fringe of the rucks and get a roll-on for Johns to take advantage of. If they succeed they will be hard to stop in front of a home crowd that love their team.Parra are a little different. Whilst they have Hindmarsh to counter Newcastle?s back-row, it?s their three-quarters that will have the edge on their opponents. Burt, Smith, Tahu and Grothe are frenzied attackers and McKinnon is superb in bringing the ball back. Along with the boisterous nature of Smith at half, they could really cause Newcastle some headaches.It?s a tough one to pick, but I?m going to take the home side. Johns will have to dust off a few cobwebs, but I think he can get them home. Their transient winger from Ireland should be an interesting one to watch as well.Bulldogs v PanthersThe 2004 Premiers meet the 2003 Premiers after both of them failed to even make the semi?s last year. Each of these sides have undergone some upheaval in their player ranks with the ?Dogs losing long-time five-eighth Braith Anasta to the Chooks backline mainstay Lolesi to the Tigers. For Penrith, it might be easier to name who?s still there.Galuvao, Ross, Rogers, Pomeroy, Crossman, Donato and Franze have all moved on with the only notable purchases being Hookey, Youngquest, Norrie and Stapleton, none of which saw regular first grade in the NRL last year. I?d be a bit worried if I were a Panthers fan and the Gower issue hasn?t exactly helped their off season preparation. It could take this team a few weeks to gel and in the meantime they need some of the senior players to stand up.The Bulldogs are probably a happier camp though with the only off field dramas being the injury to wonderboy Sonny Bill Williams. It?s a bit of a mystery what?s going on with his knee, but they?ve got to take the field without him on Saturday night and looking at their forward pack, they certainly have some grunt. Asotasi and Mason starting with O?Meley set to continue his impersonation of a wrecking ball from the bench. Andrew Ryan, as captain, needs to put in a lot more this season and the new combination of Sherwin and Holdsworth with provide some interesting viewing.I?m backing the Bulldogs here.Sea Eagles v RaidersA great stoush to finish off the weekend awaits us at Fortress Brookvale where the Raiders will travel north to do battle with the folk from the peninsula.Manly have a pretty new-look about them with Storm players Orford and Bell joining the team. These guys will have a big impact upon proceedings on Saturday night with Bell scooping the centre spot vacated by Terry Hill and Orford pushing former halfback and captain Monaghan to the five-eighth role. I?m glad they?ve stuck him there instead of hooker though as I prefer Shane Dunley in the no.9 uniform. The Sea Eagles back-row is terrific and if Kennedy, Menzies and Watmough can get the upper hand in the forwards, then Manly will dominate.For the Raiders, well I?m not getting caught in this trap again. For the past two years I?ve feared for their safety on the football field and they seem to come up with gutsy victories when you least expect it. But this week you?ve really got to wonder. No Schifcofske is the big factor, but injuries throughout the forwards and backs have decimated their line-up. Jason Smith is going to need one hell of a game if he?s to pull off a victory here.I can?t see it happening though, Manly by plenty.Warriors v StormSunday?s first game sees us travel across the ditch to New Zealand where the Warriors take on the Storm in a must win game for the home team. The beginning of a new season is hard enough without having four points stripped from you before a ball is even kicked in anger. But that?s the situation the Warriors find themselves in and they need to get back to square as soon as possible. When you look at it, they?re effectively being stripped of their byes, so when their first week off comes around they won?t be able to slouch about.The Storm have some new blood in their side with the inclusion of Cooper Cronk at halfback and hothead Michael Crocker. He?s got a bit of mongrel in him though and they could use a bit of it. The backline looks sensational, with current, former and future State of Origin reps popping out everywhere. They?ll be very hard to contain over in Auckland and have the size to match it with some of the bigger Kiwi guys.But both these teams have some new combinations to work out after losing their established halfbacks at the close of ?05. Jones will be sorely missed at New Zealand and it remains to be seen if Cronk can fill Orford?s boots sufficiently. All this points to a potentially scrappy affair, especially if there?s bad weather.I?m going to take the Storm as they tend to get out of the block pretty quick each year thanks to their coach?s tough fitness standards.Broncos v CowboysNext we move on to our all Queensland affair, with last year?s runners-up facing off against a Broncos outfit with a few question marks floating around it.Big Gordie doesn?t seem to need an invitation to bag his old club these days and one must wonder what sort of an effect that might have on his former team mates. It?s funny though how players can?t say anything about the NRL without a neat $10,000 fine, but it?s perfectly acceptable for a current NRL director to give his thoughts on the coaching situation and specific players whenever he has a microphone stuck under his nose.Anyway, back to the footy. The Cowboys lost the big one last year and I bet it?s still stinging. I?m sure they want to get in there and erase the memory of their last game pretty quickly. They?ve lost Rauhihi from the engine room and dropped Webb and Hannay, but the side they put on the field is still a very good looking one.I?m backing the Cowboys in this one as I think they enjoy playing at Suncorp and I really don?t think it poses much of a threat to visiting teams. I think the Broncos will take a little while to get into the swing of things this year.Rabbitohs v RoostersOur third game this week at Telstra Stadium sees the Roosters travel to their next-door neighbours new home ground. The Rabbits have taken up residence in Homebush and will be keen to notch their second victory there after taking home the Charity Shield in their first trial game.Anasta and Harrison both turn out in their new clubs colours for the first time but the unfortunate injury to Joel Monaghan weakens the backline somewhat. In the forwards it will be interesting to see how Fitzgibbon goes at prop. Morley and Tupou will pitch in where needed but they are far from imposing. The Bunnies look like they have the forwards to match them in this one. Geddes and Cusack up front with Fa?alogo and Stuart in the back-row are tradesmen and will get the job done. Their backs look a little skinny though. Mad Dog is in the mix with Hegarty, but I?m not sure why Buddy Gordon got the brush. Merritt on the wing could pose a risk in defense being so small.Although I think the Bunnies will have a bright year, my money?s on the Roosters this week.

No axe hovering over Bennett, say Broncos

THE Brisbane Broncos says there's no axe hovering over Wayne Bennett's head despite former skipper Gorden Tallis saying the coach will have little choice but to quit if his NRL side flops in 2006.Tallis believes Bennett has put himself under enormous pressure by sacking Kevin Walters, Gary Belcher and Glenn Lazarus from his coaching staff following another finals collapse last year.

Payne sticks with Cowboys

HOOKER Aaron Payne has re-signed with the North Queensland Cowboys until the end of the 2008 NRL season.The 23 year old debuted with the Cowboys in 2002 and has played 62 games for the 2005 grand finalists. The Cowboys open their season in a Queensland derby with the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday.

Wests Tigers outsiders on eve of NRL opener

WITH the 2006 NRL season upon us, defending premiers Wests Tigers are considered unlikely to go back-to-back in the premiership race.Centrebet Sports have Wests Tigers listed at 15/1 to win this year's premiership, that's 10th in the rankings and well out of favour with the punters.St George Illawarra Dragons (6.00), Parramatta Eels(7.00) and Sydney Roosters (7.50) head up the list of favourites to take out the 2006 premiership.South Sydney Rabbitohs and Canberra Raiders are the rank outsiders at $61.00.For Friday night's match, Wests Tigers are paying $2.75, despite taking on an under-strengthed Dragons outfit. Saints are favourites to win the NRL opener at $1.48.All things considered, Wests Tigers are looking like specials this weekend.ROUND 1 BETTINGWESTS TIGERS 2.65 v ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA 1.48 NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 1.80 v PARRAMATTA EELS 2.00 THE BULLDOGS 1.38 v PENRITH PANTHERS 3.05 MANLY SEA EAGLES 1.23 v CANBERRA RAIDERS 4.15 NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS 1.72 v MELBOURNE STORM 2.10 SOUTH SYDNEY 3.65 v SYDNEY ROOSTERS 1.28 BRISBANE BRONCOS 1.65 v NORTH QLD COWBOYS 2.25 PREMIERSHIP BETTINGST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA 6.00 PARRAMATTA EELS 7.00 SYDNEY ROOSTERS 7.50 NORTH QLD COWBOYS 10.00 THE BULLDOGS 10.00 BRISBANE BRONCOS 11.00 NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 11.00 MANLY SEA EAGLES 13.00 MELBOURNE STORM 15.00 WESTS TIGERS 15.00 CRONULLA SHARKS 23.00 PENRITH PANTHERS 23.00 NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS 41.00 CANBERRA RAIDERS 61.00 SOUTH SYDNEY 61.00 For all the latest odds, margins etc, log onto www.centrebet.com

Holmes a Court suspects Singleton involved in rival bid

PETER Holmes A Court suspects fellow multi-millionaire businessman John Singleton is behind a rival bid to privatise the South Sydney rugby league club.Holmes A Court, whose proposal requires the backing of 75 per cent of Rabbitohs members at an extraordinary meeting on March 19, believes Singleton is involved in a rival $4.8 million counter-bid to buy the famous NRL club.Singleton has denied any involvement.

Cronk is Storm's big hope with new long-term deal

MELBOURNE Storm appears to have settled on rising star Cooper Cronk as its long-term replacement for departed star halfback Matt Orford.The 22-year-old former utility has signed a new contract until the end of the 2009 NRL season. He's set to start in halfback position in this week's first round match against the New Zealand Warriors in Auckland. Cronk displayed red-hot form in pre-season trials to make his case as the replacement for Orford who moved to Manly in the off-season.Lock Dallas Johnson has also signed up for another two years with the Melbourne club after sounding out a possible move over the off-season.

Meyers blow for Bulls

BRADFORD'S Australian second row forward Brad Meyers could be sidelined for nearly three months with a knee injury.The 26-year-old Meyers, who has missed only four matches since joining the Bulls from Brisbane Broncos 18 months ago, suffered ruptured medial ligaments in his left knee during his side's 50-18 win over Catalans Dragons last Saturday. Cook Islander Adam Watene, a close-season signing from Castleford, has been brought in as cover and could make his Bradford debut against Hull at Odsal on Friday.

Villasanti's future in own hands

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.

Focus back on 2006 for Eels, Knights

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.

Tallis renews calls to shift Locky

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.

Wests Tigers 2006 season preview

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.

The clock's ticking...

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!

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