LIKELY squad: Ben Hornby, Colin Best, Mark Gasnier, Matt Cooper, Wes Naiqama, Trent Barrett, Mathew Head, Jason Ryles, Dean Young, Luke Bailey, Ashton Sims, Ben Creagh, Shaun Timmins,Interchange: Michael Henderson, Justin Poore, Corey Payne, Matt BickerstaffStrengths:The Dragons once again have a top platform to build on. They have a strong balanced side which contains pace, strength and raw ability. The team has gone through a bit of a tough time at the moment but the starting side is still rather young and will continue to develop.The Dragons? backline is their most dangerous asset. Australian centres Matt Cooper and Mark Gasnier combine for the best centre partnership in the competition while their outside men possess enough strength and pace to finish off anything they set up. Colin Best?s try scoring tally last season was enough to signify this.Ben Hornby is one of the best talents in rugby league today. The reason is largely attributed to his versatility. He is equally accustomed to fullback as he is to five-eighth or halfback. He did a stellar job in the absence of Mathew Head last season, and one would expect to see him carry the ball in hand as often as possible to give the Dragons another dimension in attack.The forwards are once again strong with the inclusion of young guns Ashton Sims and Ben Creagh to the starting team. Ryles and Bailey are two of the best props in the game and the pack which is mixed with youthful exuberance and valuable experience will be one of the best in the competition.Weaknesses:The Dragons? bench is not as solid as it once was. It may be time to promote some younger blood that has the potential to have greater impact. The Dragons have tremendous forward depth and always have had the ability to produce great forwards, but its time for Nathan Brown to eliminate guys like Payne and Henderson and give guys like Habercecht a go, who have the potential to make an impact on a game.The Dragons? mental state is shaky to say the least. While they have had the talent to win the competition for the last five years, they just can?t put it together when it counts. They are labelled the perennial chokers and for good reason. They are once again the favourites for the competition, so could they choke?Physical fitness is also a concern for the Dragons. The Dragons always have a tendency to get injuries to big names at the worst times. This is a weakness for the Dragons, but something that is beyond their control. Hopefully their physios are amongst the best in the country, because they will need to be.One to Watch:2005 Dragons Jersey Flegg player of the year Tom Haberecht is the Dragon?s youngster to watch this season. The Dragons purchased Haberecht from the Bulldogs in 2005 and he made an instant impression on the Dragons, becoming a vital player in the premiership winning Jersey Flegg team.The 20 year old, 95kg and 185 cm Haberecht has made a huge impression on coach Nathan Brown in the pre-season, enough for him to be considered for First Grade this early in his career. While Haberecht only has modest goals to cement a place in Premier League this season before getting a shot at First Grade, it is definitely conceivable that with Lance Thompson?s departure from the Dragons that this young gun will get his shot to impress sooner rather than later. The Dragons have always managed to bring in great forwards into the club and this is just another example. Haberecht is a devastating ball runner and a hard defender. He is definitely one of those classy players that a team is usually built around and the Dragons will be looking for him to continue his progression through Premier League and eventually to take on a leadership role in the First Grade squad. Gains and Losses:Gains: Bryson Goodwin, Matt Bickerstaff, Damon Alley-Tovio, Sam Isemonger, Lagi Setu, Andrew Price.Losses: Lance Thompson, Michael Ennis, Albert Torrens, Daniel Holdsworth, Willie Manu, Bryan Norrie, Nick Youngquest, Shane MarteeneAssessment:The Dragons once again are in with a shot to take out the competition, but will they have the mental preparation to win it? Only time will tell. Based on their top 17 it?s hard to conceive they will be outside the top 8, but I don?t feel they will be minor premiers. I think they?ll push the top 4 but fall just short. I believe the Dragons will finish in between 3rd and 6th.
RICKY Stuart has named his team to play the Bunnies with the surprise selection of Jamie Soward at halfback alongside new five eighth Braith Anasta. Brett Finch finds himself at hooker and Craig Wing has been shunted to a five man bench.The full team is:1 Anthony Minichiello 2 Amos Roberts 3 Ryan Cross 4 Iosia Soliola 5 Sam Perrett 6 Braith Anasta 7 Jamie Soward 8 Craig Fitzgibbon (c) 9 Brett Finch 10 Adrian Morley 11 Anthony Tupou 12 Chris Flannery 13 Ashley Harrison Interchange: 14 Craig Wing 15 Shane Shackleton 16 Lopini Paea 17 David Shillington 18 Steve Meredith(one to be omitted)
BRISBANE coach Wayne Bennett has named four debutants and overlooked Origin forwards Corey Parker and Brad Thorn for their 2006 NRL season opener against North Queensland.Schoolboy winger Darius Boyd will make his first grade debut against the Cowboys at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday while ex-Dragons hooker Michael Ennis and former Roosters prop Ben Hannant run out in the NRL for the first time in Brisbane colours.Veteran former Wests and Bulldogs half Shane Perry is on the bench.The Squad is:1: Karmichael Hunt2: Darius Boyd3: Justin Hodges4: Shaun Berrigan5: Steve Michaels6: Darren Lockyer (c)7: Brett Seymour13: Tonie Carroll12: Dane Carlaw11: David Stagg10: Petero Civoniceva9: Michael Ennis8: Shane WebckeInterchange:14: Casey McGuire15: Ben Hannant16: Neville Costigan17: Shane Perry
FULLBACK Brett Hodgson has been named to replace Scott Prince as captain of National Rugby League premiers the Wests Tigers. Clive Churchill medallist Prince, who captained the side during its late season run to the 2005 title, stepped down from the role after signing a lucrative four-year deal with Gold Coast from next season. Hodgson will lead the team in the NRL season opener against St George Illawarra at Telstra Stadium on Friday night.
HULL FC 6 (Briscoe try; Brough goal) v Harlequins RL 10 (Smith, Leuluai tries; Sykes goal). Att: 8,250.Harlequins got their first victory of the season by upsetting Hull FC at the KC Stadium in artic conditions.All the points in this match were scored in the first half. The Quins opened the scoring in the 9th minute through a Thomas Leuluai try who darted over from dummy half, Paul Sykes added the extras. The visitors stretched their lead to 10-0 as Luke Dorn sent Tyrone Smith into the corner.Hull continued to struggle and were finding it increasingly difficult to get into the game, however with only 8 minutes left in the half they finally got on the scoreboard with a try to Shaun Briscoe, who raced 50 meters to score in the corner. Danny Brough kicked a touchline conversion to leave them trailing at the break by only 4 points.In the second half Hull tried to get back on level terms, but resolute defence from the Quins prevented the Black and Whites from scoring any more points.Salford City Reds 28 (Fitzpatrick, Dunemann, Wilshere, Finnigan, Coley tries; Hodgson 4 goals) v Wigan Warriors 10 (Richards, Orr tries; Tickle goal). Att: 5,494.Wigan?s poor start to the season continued when they were convincingly beaten by a rejuvenated Salford City Reds.The match had been in doubt all afternoon after heavy snowfall in the Salford area but, once the game got underway the Reds adapted themselves better to the conditions and raced into a 14-4 interval lead with tries from Simon Finnigan and Andy Coley. Wigan?s sole reply was from ex-Wests Tiger Pat Richards.In the second half Wigan got themselves right back into the game when Danny Orr dived on to a Richards inside kick and with Tickle?s goal there was only 4 points in it.Eventually Salford extended their lead when PNG star John Wilshere squeezed into the corner. The game was wrapped up by two late tries from Andrew Dunemann and a fine solo 40-metre romp by ex-Warrior David Hodgson, who also kicked four goals.Warrington Wolves 10(Fa?afili, Wainwright tries; Briers goal) v St Helens 18 (Cunningham, Talau, Gardner; Lyon 3 goals). Att: 13,024.St Helens kept their 100% record intact with a well-earned victory over near neighbours Warrington at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.The game was played on a snowbound pitch in sub zero conditions but despite the elements, a huge crowd witnessed an excellent close fought contest. The Saints held a 12-0 interval lead with tries from Great Briton Hooker Keiron Cunningham and ex-Bulldog Willie Talau.After the restart, Lee Briers once again inspired his team by setting up their first try with an astute kick to the corner for Henry Fa?afili to pluck the ball out of the air and score. Jason Hooper was sin-binned for the Saints when he took out Briers on the last tackle, which resulted in Mike Wainwright scoring a try, cutting Saints? lead to only 2 points.However, the Saints soon got back into their rhythm and increased their lead when Ade Gardner finished off a sweet passing movement to score in the corner. Jamie Lyon kicked a late penalty goal to seal the game for the league leaders.Catalans Dragons 18 (Mounis 2, Murphy tries; Frayssinous 3 goals) v Bradford Bulls 50 (Lynch 2, Hape 2, Bai, Smith, Fielden, B.Harris, Langley tries; Deacon 7 goals). Att: 9,373.Bradford Bulls remained second on the table with a nine try demolition of newcomers Catalans Dragons in Perpignan. The Bulls escaped the artic conditions in Northern England when they comprehensively destroyed a poor Dragons team who are still missing their influential skipper, Kiwi ace Stacey Jones.The Dragons had no answer to the Bulls? halfback partnership of Iestyn Harris and Paul Deacon, who completely dominated the game from start to finish. The game as a contest was over in the first quarter as the Bulls ran in a 24-0 lead with tries by Shontayne Hape, Stuart Fielden, Andy Lynch and Jamie Langley. Spurred on by a big local crowd, the Dragons got on the score sheet when Greg Mounis got on to the end of a Sean Rudder kick. But their joy was brief has Hape scored his second try to leave the Bulls 30-6 in front at the break.In the second half, the Bulls continued to out-muscle the hosts and scored 20 more points to give themselves an easy victory. However, a fine 60-metre solo effort from Justin Murphy cheered the home fans up. After their debut win against Wigan, the Catalans now face some challenges ahead as in the next few weeks the other Big Guns of the Engage Super League will arrive in the South of France.Wakefield Wildcats 16 (Solomona 2, Tadulala; Jeffries 2 goals) v Huddersfield Giants 18 (Thorman, Torrens, Snitch; Thorman 3 goals). Att: 4,110.The Giants snatched a late victory as they edged out the Wakefield Wildcats at a bitterly cold Belle Vue. In a game when defences were on top, both teams defied the freezing conditions to play some exciting rugby league.Wakefield lead at half time by 16-8 with a brace of tries from David Solomona and flying Fijian winger Semi Tadulala, with the Giants replying through Thorman who bagged a try and two goals.After the break, Thorman?s kicking kept the Giants in contention and they reduced the deficit to just two points when Steve Snitch scored a try against his old club. First half hero Solomona was sin-binned which led to the Giants laying siege in the Wildcats half of the field. Wakefield appeared to be holding on for victory when they were stunned by a last grasp try by former Dragon Albert Torrens to seal a dramatic Giants victory.Leeds Rhinos 66 (Walker 3, Burrow 2, Poching, McGuire, Kirke, Bailey, Mathers, Lauitiiti tries; Sinfield 11 goals) v Castleford Tigers 14 (Mcgoldrick, Haughey tries; Huby 3 goals). Att: 16,660.Leeds Rhinos got back to winning ways with an 11 try thrashing of Castleford Tigers in front of a capacity crowd at Headingley.After the postponement of Friday night?s game, due to a frozen and snow bound pitch, Leeds were far to good for a Tiger?s team missing four regular players.Leeds scored two early tries to lead 12-0 in the match. Ironically, when the Tiger?s were reduced to 12 men after Danny Sculthorpe was sin binned for persistent infringements around the play the ball area, Castleford roared back to get within 4 points thanks to a try from Tommy Haughey and two Craig Huby goals. After Sculthorpe returned to the fray the Rhinos quickly upped the tempo to score five converted tries in the last 12 minutes of the first half. Chev Walker completed his fifth hat-trick of his carer, debutant substitute Ian Kirke scored with his first touch of the ball and Leeds Skipper Kevin Sinfield tagged on the conversations to give his team a 42-8 lead effectively killing the game off at the break.The second half started with Castleford showing some fighting spirit and they even managed a consolation try through Ryan McGoldrick but Leeds hammered their advantage home with four further tries all converted by Sinfield, giving him a personal tally of 22 points from 11 successful kicks.
LIKELY squad: Wade McKinnon, Luke Burt, Ben Smith, Timana Tahu, Eric Grothe, Marcus Perenara, Tim Smith, Nathan Cayless, Mark Riddell, Paul Stringer, Nathan Hindmarsh, Glenn Morrison, Brett DelaneyInterchange: Fui Fui Moi Moi, Michael Vella, Dean Widders, PJ MarshStrengths:Parramatta?s great strength is depth. They have quality players right through their grades. In Premier League they have Joel Reddy, John Morris, Daniel Wagon and other players of first grade quality in Blake Green, Zab Taia and other quality players who will make the progression to first grade from their junior ranks.Parramatta?s backline is tremendous. The power and absolute force of Ben Smith, Eric Grothe Jr and John Williams combined with the speed and elusiveness of Wade McKinnon and Timana Tahu makes for a salivating backline.Finally the forward pack for Parramatta is set in place. They have a quality back row with a ball-playing lock-forward, something they have lacked since Jim Dymock?s playing days. Brett Delaney is a talented individual with silky skills and a good boot and will develop into one of the premier locks in the game.The Parramatta bench is something that a lot of teams desire. It contains speed, strength and tremendous impact. Moi Moi, who has a huge cult following, does have brute strength and impact to turn a game. Dean Widders had a tremendous season in 2005 while PJ Marsh had a great year in his first back in full flight since a tremendous run of bad luck. This bench has the ability to make a lasting impact on a match and the ability to take a team to a Grand Final.Weaknesses:Will Tim Smith have a case of second-year syndrome? Most of today?s ?great prodigies? come out and play the worst season of their careers after the high of the first. Will Tim Smith join the line? Or will he prove us all wrong and continue his flourishing development?The angst about changing coaches can?t be good for the club. While the certainty is now in place with Michael Hagan definitely coming to the club in 2007, what does it mean for the Eel?s 2006? Does Brian Smith care about this season or does he just think ?Bugger it, I?m not going to be here in 2007?? However, Brian Smith is too much of a professional to let this get to him. He will try his best to win his maiden premiership this year and prove to Parramatta they made the wrong choice, even though it was the right one.One to Watch:Marcus Perenara has the weight of the expectations of a nation on his shoulders. The heir apparent to Stacey Jones in the New Zealand national jersey, Marcus will be looking to gain valuable First Grade experience in 2006 to be picked for the country he loves. Brought to Parramatta last season, he didn?t fail to impress and the young 19 year old Kiwi was a standout for Parramatta?s Premier League and an integral part of their Premier League championship.His performances during last season earned him a spot in the New Zealand squad and a chance to play for New Zealand A against an Australian invitational side. In this match he lined up against Trent Barrett and Scott Prince, two of the best halves in the competition, and Marcus showed his class leading the New Zealand A team to a comfortable victory.That performance has put Marcus on the map now, and with Parramatta?s need for a great five-eighth to partner Tim Smith in the halves, Brian Smith would be crazy not to consider this future star.Gains and Losses:Gains: Nil.Losses: Brett Anderson (Cowboys), Chris Muckert (Toowoomba).Assessment:I tried hard again to find a weakness with Parramatta and the only thing I could think of was psychological. As a team they are brilliant. A great set of young halves, strong and fast backline and a great forward foundation. On top of that they have a great bench and to add a bit of icing to the team they have depth in all grades. If the Eels can get it together and get their heads in the game then there is only one outcome possible and that is top 4.
CELTIC CRUSADERS 78 LONDON SKOLARS 14By Ian Golden at Brewery FieldCeltic Crusaders warmed up for their big Powergen Challenge Cup tie against Lokomotiv Moscow next Sunday by beating National League Two counterparts London Skolars to qualify for the knockout stages of the Northern Rail Cup.In front of a fabulous 1,421 crowd, the Crusaders dominated the game from start to finish and created an early chance but Luke Young?s grubber kick was picked up by Corey Simms.However the Crusaders took the lead on seven minutes when Tony Duggan broke from inside his own half and created a gap for Young who ran the ball in under the sticks. Jace Van Dijk converted.Skolars? Gareth Honor was sinbinned for dissent following the try and Crusaders took advantage of the extra man straight away, Paul Morgan running in a second try on 10 minutes. Van Dijk converted once again.Crusaders added a third on 14 minutes after Damien Quinn broke through the defence and set up Young to score.Crusaders kept up the pace. Van Dijk at dummy half on the fifth tackle, passed to Duggan but his grubber kick went too far for Ryan Barton.Skolars got a try back on 21 minutes after Chris Shears forced his way over the line following a play-the-ball five metres out. Ben Joyce converted.However Crusaders made the score 20-6 on 25 minutes after Carl de Chenu scored in the corner. Tony Duggan ran 40 metres to score under the posts two minutes later, Van Dijk converting to put the score on 26-6.Chris Shears scored another try back for Skolars on 32 minutes, running 40 metres and dodging through the defence to ground.But the Crusaders went into half-time 44-10 up after three quick tries. Welsh international Karl Hocking forced his way over on 32 minutes while Duggan created a try for Van Dijk on 37. Finally, Michael Ryan ran over right on the half-time hooter. Van Dijk converted all three.From kick off in the second half, Bobby Wallis knocked on, creating an early Crusaders chance, and the Welshmen didn?t disappoint as Hocking ran over for his second. Van Dijk converted but the stand-off played just seven more minutes of the games after going off the field holding his ribs following a clash in the tackle.Skolars attempted to fight back but were kept from scoring by the fine performance of the Crusaders? defensive line especially David Simm, Phil Cushion and Dean Fitzgerald.Crusaders scored again on 51 minutes. Young made an excellent kick on the fifth tackle reaching Morgan on the left wing. Running past one defender, he set up fellow former Bridgend Blue Bull Dean Fitzgerald to ground. Young converted.Frank Reid got a try back for Skolars on 52 minutes and almost got another one five minutes later following a mix-up in the Crusaders defence. Mario Du Toit dived for the loose ball but didn?t have the downward pressure to ground.Crusaders made them pay for that mistake, as a well-worked move three minutes later ended with Morgan weaving through the defence to get his second try of the day. Young converted to take the score to 62-14.Duggan ran through the defence five minutes later for his second while Quinn slipped through the tackle to place the ball under the posts for the 13th try of the day. Young converted both to put the score on 74-14.After a lengthy break due to a serious injury to Skolars? Rubert Jonker, Crusaders broke through for another try with Morgan getting a hat-trick of his own. Young?s conversion hit the post to make the final score 78-14.Crusaders? coach John Dixon was over the moon with his team?s performance and is now looking forward to the Lokomotiv Moscow tie next week. ?This was a great warm up for the Russian game,? said Dixon. ?I was exceptionally pleased all aspects of our ball control and the performance in our defensive line. Our aim today was to put on a display that would bring the fans back again next week against Moscow and I think we?ve done that. We?re excited to have the Russians here next week. I don?t know anything about them apart from how well they did in Russia last year so I know they?ll give us a good game.?CRUSADERS 1. Tony Duggan 2. Carl De Chenu 3. Geraint Davies 4. Damien Quinn 5. Paul Morgan 21. Luke Young 7. Jace Van Dijk 8. Ryan Barton 9. Michael Ryan 10. Phil Cushion 11. David Simm 12. Matt Jobson 13. Dean FitzgeraldSubs 14. Carle Ellis 15. Dean Scully 16. Karl Hocking 19. Lenny WoodardTries: Young (7, 14), Duggan (27, 65), Morgan (10, 60, 76), de Chenu (25), Hocking (32, 41), Van Dijk (37), Ryan (40), Fitzgerald (51), Quinn (70)Goals: Van Dijk 7/9, Young 4/5SKOLARS 1. Dean Martin 2. Mario Du Toit 3. Mike Castle 4. Ash Tozer 5. Corey Simms 6. Frank Reid 7. Nathan Meischke 8. Rubert Jonker 9. Gareth Honor 10. Bobby Wallis 11. Dave Ellison 12. Matt Pitman 13. Ben JoyceSubs 14. Chris Shears 15. Josh Garden 16. Richard Coatelan 17. Dave RobersonTries: Shears (21, 32), Reid (52)Goals: Joyce 1/3Sinbinned: Honor (7) ? dissentReferee: Dave Merrick (Castleford)Half-time: 44-10Attendance: 1,421Men of the Match: Crusaders: Tony Duggan. Skolars: Chris ShearsScoring Sequence: 6-0, 12-0, 16-0, 16-6, 20-6, 26-6, 26-10, 32-10, 38-10, 44-10, 50-10, 56-10, 56-14, 62-14, 68-14Gamestar: Tony Duggan marshalled the match from full-back and is a deserved man of the match.Gamebreaker: Crusaders looked the better team from start to finish but three tries in the last ten minutes of the first half made sure that Skolars from start to finish.Weather: Dry ? partly cloudyMatch Rating: 3/5
MICK Dobson has signed for Catalans Dragons from Canberra Raiders as a temporary replacement for Stacey Jones.With scrum-half Jones expected to be sidelined for another four to six weeks after breaking his arm against Salford, Dobson, a former Australian schoolboy international will fill in.Dobson, who will join up with his new team-mates on Monday, should be available to make his first start against Leeds on Saturday, March 11.
SUNDAY 5 March 2006 Waitemata Park, Henderson, Auckland Qualifier 5 Vs 6 ? Samoa Vs TokelauTokelau 34Tries: P. Siaosi,J. Siaosi, J. Mataafa (2), A. Siagigi (2)Goals: A. Faafoi (5)Player Of The Day: Aukuso Faafoi (No.6) Samoa 28Tries: I. Ioapo, F. Tavesi, G. Stowers, U. Saifoloi (2)Goals: T. Mataafa (4)Player Of The Day: Grant Stowers (No.13) Halftime Score: 22 ? 6 To Samoa Qualifier 3 vs Qualifier 4 ? NZ Maori vs Cook IslandsNZ Maori 40Tries: P. Atkins, D. Trott, D. Laulu, J. Limmer (2), M. Wanoa (2)Goals: J. Trott (3), C. Motu (3)Player Of The Day: Steve Skinnon (No.11) Cook Islands 14Tries: J. Burgess, R. Enoka, W. VaeauGoals: S. MataoraPlayer Of The Day: Henry Turua (No.11) Halftime Score: 14 ? 10 To Cook Islands Qualifier 1 vs Qualifier 2 ? Fiji Bati vs TongaTonga 22Tries: W. Wolfgram, K. Fifita, E. Uasi, T. MoaGoals: J. Taufaao (3)Player Of The Day: Willie Wolfgram (No.13) Fiji Bati 4Tries: A. MasikereiPlayer Of The Day: Asaeli Saravaki (No.7) 2006 PACIFIC CUP WINNERS: TONGA PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT: Asaeli Saravaki (No.7) ? Fiji Bati
IF you're interested in back issues of the top quality Rugby League magazine 'Thirteen', please check out the site below to make your purchase.http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=8771042215&ssPageName= ADME:L:LCA:UK:11The League Unlimited Team
CRONULLA Sharks player Greg Bird has denied sending any inappropriate text messages to model Lara Bingle.Bingle, the face of an Australian Tourism advertisement campaign, met Bird last January at the funeral of Sharks legend Steve Rogers.The text messages began soon after with Bingle reportedly saying the messages were, "really quite rude."Bird and his girlfriend Stacy Sulway have also confirmed they sent messages to Bingle. But they deny the messages were of a crude nature."I have been friends with Lara since we were little," Ms Sulway told The Daily Telegraph."It wasn't meant to be abusive but I strongly asked her to leave us alone. I think I said I wish I never met you."Bird confirmed he had met Bingle but insists he never had a relationship with her."I didn't send any inappropriate messages from my phone," Bird said."My girlfriend sent a message to Lara asking her to leave us alone. It wasn't even my phone." "I didn't even have a relationship with her. We had exchanged some text messages. "It put a strain on my relationship so we stopped contact. That was over six weeks ago. "I am remorseful if this has caused any stress and feel no ill will towards Lara. Everyone should just move [on]." Sharks club Sharks spokesman Rob Willis has also come out in support of Bird."He says he's done nothing inappropriate. There's been nothing obscene written. There's been no harassment." Willis said.The story was first aired by Radio 2GB reporter Michelle Keighran on Friday. Keighran said that during an interview Bingle had told her that some of the messages were crude.But yesterday Bingle told The Saturday Daily Telegraph that the report had been blown out of proportion and that she had only received 'one' message from Bird."It's just upsetting. It's really blown up I can't believe it. I mean, I only met the guy once. I think it's just because he's some big footy player everyone cares," she said.Bingle's modelling agency was also playing down the controversy.Priscilla Leighton-Clark, owner of Priscilla model management, told The Sydney Morning Herald: "It's nothing - this is all just so unbelievably ridiculous - a storm in tea cup.In reply, Keighran was perplexed by the reports."I can't believe she's denying it now. I spent about 10 minutes on the phone with her and she said there were several messages and they had been crude," she said. It's not the first time Bird has been in the news.In 2004, at 20-years-old, Bird was suspended for 10 matches by the NRL and fined $15,000 by the Sharks after kneeing Souths winger Shane Marteene.A Newcastle junior, Bird represented and captained the junior Australian Kangaroos side.
LIKELY squad: Billy Slater, Matt Geyer, Matt King, Greg Inglis, Jake Webster, Scott Hill, Cooper Cronk, Ben Cross, Cameron Smith, Garret Crossman, Michael Crocker, David Kidwell, Dallas Johnson,Interchange: Ryan Hoffman, Antonio Kaufusi, Brett White, Glen TurnerStrengths:Melbourne?s greatest strength would have to be their backline. They have tremendous players in that backline that can just bust a game wide open. Their speed, agility and all round athleticism can win the Storm matches. But in order to do that, they must have the ability to spread the ball, something that could be a problem for the Storm in 2006.Craig Bellamy is in the top 3 coaches in the NRL. He is a young coach with great ideas. He is considered by many to be the smartest coach in the NRL by far with his training techniques, his tactics and his ability to scout talent. For the past few years with the Storm he?s been ?almost there?. Now that he has lost his key player in the off-season, there is one thing guaranteed, Bellamy will re-invent himself and his team yet again, in order to get the same level of success.Billy Slater and Greg Inglis are two of the most exciting young players in the game and much of the Storm?s success this season will rest on these young men?s shoulders. If these two perform to their great potential, the Storm has many wins in store. If they play below their potential and crumble under the great strain of leading the team?s attack, then Melbourne will be in dire straights.Weaknesses:One vital weakness for Melbourne is their lack of depth in the halves and forwards. In the backs the Storm can call upon Roosters reject Chris Walker or injury ravaged fullback Steve Turner, enough to compensate. However in the halves, the Storm only have a young player in James Ausbusson, hardly enough to suggest enough depth in such a key position. In the forwards, they have lost stalwarts Robbie Kearns, Peter Robinson and Alex Chan, along with a couple of their talented prospects. The young players now brought in need to step up for the Storm to lay a solid platform.The Storm are going through a transition period at the moment. They have lost their main strike player, their halfback and their captain. That is enough to suggest that the Storm will struggle. In Kearn?s absence, the young forwards showed they were not up to task. How will young Cooper Cronk handle the responsibility of starting halfback? He is definitely a talented young man. However, in many people?s minds, this responsibility will be too great this season, but it will bode well for the Storm?s 2007 campaign.Much of the Storm?s attack will rely on Scott Hill and his distribution to his backs. Unfortunately for Melbourne, Scott Hill has a tendency to only play half a season, only re-enforcing the lack of depth in their halves.The Storm?s discipline will be a problem. They have one of the most ill-disciplined forward packs in the competition. Hot-heads like Cross, Crocker and Kidwell will cost the Storm a lot of ball, something that will need to be rectified by Bellamy. While he has the backs to succeed, he has the forwards to halter that progression if the opposition can get under their skin.One to Watch:Cooper Cronk is not a rookie by any means, but while he has already played more than 20 games in the NRL, he is yet to have the pressure of the playmaking role consistently, hence why I picked him as one to watch. The 22 year old, 178cm and 89kg halfback was a regular feature off the bench for Melbourne in 2005, gaining valuable experience and working out combinations with team-mates in preparation for his new role in 2006. This season Cronk will have a world of expectations on his shoulders as it is his duty to give his backs enough ball and set up play for his team. He is a strong player with a good kicking game, but he?ll need to learn quickly about how to handle being the main strike player. I feel he will thrive in this role and will prove that he is a NRL quality halfback. That?s why he?s my one to watch from Melbourne. Gains and Losses:Gains: Michael Crocker, Chris Walker Ben Cross, Garrett Crossman, James Aubusson.Losses: Matt Orford, Steven Bell, Robbie Kearns, Alex Chan, Peter Robinson, Josh Graham, Robert Tanielu.Assessment:Potentially the Storm can go far in the competition. However, I just don?t see it happening. They will show glimpses of brilliance as they usually do during a season, but I fear this transition period will be too hard for even the likes of Craig Bellamy to overcome. I think the Storm will struggle this year, but will come out bigger and better in 07? once the combinations start to form, the forwards start to gel and they get an injury-free season. My prediction is for the Storm to finish in the bottom half of the competition, between 10th and 13th.
THE Raiders have finally put an end to their 6 loss losing streak away from home with a hard fought win at Suncorp Stadium by beating the Broncos 21-14.
THE St George ? Illawarra Dragons have once again notched up fifty points for the second successive week as they cruised to a 52-12 victory over the South Sydney Rabbitohs in front of a big crowd at the Sydney Cricket Ground today.
THE Newcastle Knights have re-ignited their season with a 56-12 thumping of the Manly Sea Eagles at Energy Australia Stadium this afternoon.