Rammo's rant

AFTER just three rounds of the National Rugby League, I think I?ve been forced to review my pre-season predicted favourites.While the Dragons showed signs of the form we?ve come to expect from them in recent years on the weekend against South Sydney, let?s face it, they weren?t outstanding and Souths were much worse. The Dragons are becoming renowned as the team similar to the good movie your mates tell you to see that turns out to be a stinker. At least on the weekend, the movie got three stars.I think it was Bob Fulton who said that the Dragons played a 6 out of 10 game, but still won by 30. After watching the game I?d have to agree, it was certainly more of a reflection of Souths? inept play than the Dragons? brilliance. They were my favourites at the beginning of the season, while I haven?t written them or anyone else off for the title this year, I would have to go with the North Queensland Cowboys at this stage.I think the notion that they are the only club who don?t rely solely on one player is a little off the mark though, without Johnathan Thurston I think they?d struggle a bit. But having said that, they have more depth this year and even though they do rely on Thurston, he has a near perfect record with injuries so he should get the best part, if not all, of the season played out. Although you can never be too sure, freak accidents do happen on the football field. But it must not be ignored that sides with players who are prone to injury are generally harder hit than those who aren?t.Pundits were willing to throw Newcastle up the top as premiership favourites after their tremendous win over the Bulldogs. I tend to disagree, I think they?re going off a bit early. Didn?t they win the wooden spoon last season? Yes, yes, yes, I know, they didn?t have Andrew Johns. But doesn?t that tell you anything in itself? Johns hasn?t played a full NRL season since 2001, and let me tell you, the older you get, the harder it gets. So Newcastle - with Johns, premiership contenders; without Johns, spoon contenders. At least we know where they stand. I think that in itself is enough of a reason to suggest why they shouldn?t be favourites.I?m really trying to think of sides that don?t rely solely on one player, and to be honest, the only one that springs to mind is the Melbourne Storm.Take the following players out of the following teams and they wouldn?t be the same:Broncos: LockyerBulldogs: Sherwin or El MasriKnights: JohnsPanthers: GowerSharks: KimmorleyCowboys: ThurstonStorm: (have a number of quality players)Sea Eagles: Kennedy or OrfordTigers: MarshallRaiders: Smith (Even with him they are ordinary!)Roosters: Anasta or MorleyDragons: GasnierEels: HindmarshAs for the leftovers, the Rabbitohs and the Warriors, they really don?t have any players worth noting, but I think you get my drift.The Storm are number one in terms of relying on a number of players, and while the Cowboys rely heavily on Thurston, they?d be able to get through without him for short periods here and there, particularly during origin.So back to the premiership favourites, those two would be my two picks at this stage, the Cowboys and the Storm. But it is only round three, a lot can change. Just on Penrith, I tipped them to win the wooden spoon at the start of the year, I think I have eaten my words there, they are top four contenders for sure.I went off a bit early on the Bulldogs last week as well, while they can pull out the big performance here and there, they just don?t seem to be able to do it as consistently as they used to. Where they finish this season is a mystery to me, but I really can?t see them making the top four. They need to put Mark O?Meley back on the bench. He?s much more effective that way, a lot of his bite is taken away when he starts the game. They had it right against the Tigers but for some reason they wanted to change things.I think I?d have to put the Roosters in the same boat. While they are probably more consistent than the Bulldogs, they don?t have the Bulldogs? tendency to win the big games. They can?t even do it occasionally any more. The 2004 grand finalists probably won?t be playing a part in that match this year.The Warriors proved me wrong last week, they?ll finish above zero points this season. And the wooden spoon is not a foregone conclusion as thought also, watching the Raiders concede 126 points in their last two matches, the race is far from over.The men from the nation?s capital should be rebuilding for the future. The Raiders should pay out his contract, get someone in for the long term and let Elliot prepare for his Penrith stint next season.So all in all round three sprung up a few surprises, leaving this writer eating a bit of humble pie.

Carting it up with Stevo

BEST to say farewell Mr Gasnier

Cleal joins Rabbitohs

SOUTH Sydney has signed Kane Cleal to a one-year deal after the young backrower was released by NRL rivals Manly.

Johns to play for Australia, but that's it

RUGBY league superstar Andrew Johns wants to play for Australia in the Kangaroos' Test against New Zealand in May, but says that match will be his final representative appearance.

RLPA and NRL to discuss salary cap

THE NRL and the Rugby League Professionals Association will meet today to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, with the salary cap to be the hot topic of discussion.

Round 7: Giants hold off spirited Tigers

HUDDERSFIELD held off a spirited fightback from Castleford to claim the points with an extraordinary 36-22 engage Super League win at the Jungle.

Round 7: Wolves win game of two halves

WARRINGTON scrum half Chris Bridge inspired the Wolves to a thrilling second-half fightback at Belle Vue to pip Wakefield 22-21 and earn a morale-boosting victory.

Round 7: Reds clinch close fought victory

SALFORD enhanced their glowing reputation by seeing off spirited French resistance on the continent with a 28-22 victory.

Round 7: Rhinos run riot against Quins

LEEDS Rhinos stand-off Danny McGuire ran riot against lowly Harlequins and moved Tony Smith?s men into second place in engage Super League following a 60-0 win.

Round 7: Rampant Bulls defeat Warriors

WIGAN sank to the foot of the table for the first time for more than a century as Bradford overcame farcical conditions to cut loose 34-12 at a fog-bound Odsal.

Round 7: Ruthless Saints continue winning run

ST Helens ended their winless run at the KC Stadium in impeccable style, easily overcoming Hull 46-0 to extend their perfect start to engage Super League XI.Daniel Anderson?s side have failed to win on their previous four visits to the KC Stadium, amassing just 36 points in the process.However, they had little trouble with travel sickness this time around, making light work of a below-par Hull outfit to subject them to a crushing defeat.The star of the show for Saints was reigning Man of Steel Jamie Lyon who tormented Hull throughout, whilst Leon Pryce and Francis Meli both chimed in with a brace of tries.The Saints bagged eight tries in total, although their dominance ran much deeper than the scoreline might suggest.For Hull, coach John Kear now has the tough job of raising his troops ahead of next week?s clash at Bradford where they begin their defence of the Powergen Challenge Cup.His side were poor throughout and have now lost four of their last five league games.Kear was handed a boost just before kick-off when Saints skipper Paul Sculthorpe was ruled out with an undisclosed injury.However, despite a tense opening 10 minutes, the game was over by the interval as Saints opened up a 30-0 lead.The visitors posted five tries to deflate any Hull hopes, although their first impression on the scoreboard came from a Lyon penalty.The centre followed that up with a touchdown after good work from Ade Gardner, who later scored himself after out-jumping Gareth Raynor to collect Sean Long?s kick.Meli then got in on the act, collecting Willie Talau?s ball to score in the corner, whilst Pryce joined Jason Hooper on the scoresheet just before the break, side-stepping his way through a dormant Hull defence.Hull did little to suggest they were capable of posting any type of response and were saved two further tries in the against column by the video referee.First Lyon?s effort was ruled out following an early indiscretion by Wellens, before Meli was deemed to have illegally stripped the ball from Nathan Blacklock before scoring.It was not long before Saints were soon troubling the scoreboard again though, with Pryce adding his second on the hour mark.Saints kept the ball alive for a number of passes, before working an opening for the stand-off, who breezed past a stranded Shaun Briscoe to score.Despite Lyon?s missed conversion, the Hull crowd offered their visitors a standing ovation as they retreated to their own half to restart, a fair reflection of their performance.With Hull playing only for a semblance of pride their misery was compounded further when Vinnie Anderson seized on Paul King?s error to canter to the line.Meli?s second try, a close-range effort, added further gloss to the win with minutes remaining.Hull: Briscoe, Blacklock, Domic, Whiting, Raynor, Cooke, R. Horne, Thackray, Brough, Carvell, Chester, Radford, Lupton.Replacements: Dowes, Hill, King, Tony.St Helens: Wellens, Gardner, Lyon, Talau, Meli, Pryce, Long, P. Anderson, Cunningham, Cayless, Bennett, Wilkin, Hooper.Replacements: Roby, V. Anderson, Graham, Fa?asavalu.Hull: (0) 0.St Helens: (30) 46.Tries: Lyon, Meli 2, Gardner, Hooper, Pryce 2, V. Anderson.Goals: Lyon 5, Hooper 2.Referee: K Kirkpatrick (Warrington)Att: 11,277

Round 4 Teams and Fixtures

FRIDAY, 31st March 2006 Parramatta v North Queensland at Parramatta Stadium, 7.30pmEels: Wade Mckinnon, Luke Burt, Ben Smith, Brett Delaney, Eric Grothe, John Morris, Tim Smith, Justin Tsoulos, Mark Riddell, Paul Stringer, Nathan Hindmarsh, Chad Robinson, Luke O'Dwyer, Interchange: PJ Marsh, Dean Widders, Nathan Cayless, Peter Lewis, Matt Petersen, Timana Tahu, Henry Perenara (three to be omitted).Cowboys: Matt Bowen, Neil Sweeney, Josh Hannay, Paul Bowman, Matt Sing, Johnathan Thurston, Brett Firman, Shane Tronc, Clint Amos, Mitchell Sargent, Steve Southern, Luke O'Donnell, Travis Norton. Interchange: Rod Jensen, Justin Smith, Matthew Scott, Carl Webb, Gavin Cooper (one to be omitted).Referee: Paul Simpkins.Saturday, 1st April 2006 Cronulla v South Sydney at Toyota Park, 5.30pmSharks: David Simmons, Darren Albert, Beau Scott, Phil Bailey, Luke Covell, Adam Dykes, Brett Kimmorley (c), Ben Ross, Kevin Kingston, Hutch Maiava, Reece Williams, Lance Thompson, Greg Bird. Interchange: Cameron Ciraldo, Luke Douglas, Matt Hilder, Tevita Latu.Rabbitohs: Todd Polglase, Nathan Merritt, Paul Mellor, Adam MacDougall, Shannon Hegarty, John Sutton, Joe Williams, Peter Cusack, Shane Walker, Jaiman Lowe, David Fa'alogo, Luke Stuart, Ben Rogers.Interchange: Joe Galuvao, Manase Manuokafoa, Shane Rigon, Shannan McPherson.Referee: Shayne Hayne.Manly v Sydney at Brookvale Oval, 7.30pmSea Eagles: Brett Stewart, Michael Robertson, Steve Bell, Steve Matai, Chris Hicks, Travis Burns, Matt Orford, Jason King, Michael Monaghan, Brent Kite, Steve Menzies, Anthony Watmough, Ben Kennedy (c). Interchange: Shane Dunley, Luke Williamson, Adam Cuthbertson, Mark Bryant, Paul Stephenson (one to be omitted).Roosters: Anthony Minichiello, Amos Roberts, Ryan Cross, Iosia Soliola, Sam Perrett, Braith Anasta, Jamie Soward, Shane Shackleton, Brett Finch, Craig Fitzgibbon (c), Nigel Plum, Chris Flannery, Ashley Harrison.Interchange: Craig Wing, Anthony Tupou, David Shillington, Adrian Morley, Lopini Paea (one to be omitted).Referee: Tony Archer.Canberra V Penrith at Canberra Stadium, 7.30pmRaiders: Clinton Schifcofske (c), Adrian Purtell, Adam Mogg, David Howell, Craig Frawley, Jason Smith, Lincoln Withers, Andrew Lomu, Simon Woolford, Michael Hodgson, Thom Learoyd-Lahrs, Jason Croker, Alan Tongue. Interchange: William Zillman, Ben Jones, Troy Thompson, Jason Williams, Trevor Thurling (one to be omitted).Panthers: Rhys Wesser, Lee Hookey, Danny Galea, Luke Lewis, Luke Rooney, Preston Campbell, Craig Gower, Joel Clinton, Luke Priddis, Matthew Cross, Shane Rodney, Tony Puletua (c), Trent Waterhouse. Interchange: Frank Puletua, Craig Stapleton, Frank Pritchard, Luke Swain. Referee: Gavin Badger.Sunday, 2nd April 2006 Wests v Melbourne at Leichhardt Oval, 2.30pmTigers: Brett Hodgson (c), Daniel Fitzhenry, Dean Collis, Paul Whatuira, Shane Elford, Benji Marshall, Scott Prince, Bryce Gibbs, Stuart Flanagan, Todd Payten, Anthony Laffranchi, Ben Galea, Jamaal Lolesi. Interchange: Isaac De Gois, Chris Heighington, John Skandalis, Ryan O'Hara, Ben Reynolds (one to be omitted). Storm: Billy Slater, Matt Geyer, Matt King, Greg Inglis, Steve Turner, Scott Hill, Cooper Cronk, Garret Crossman, Cameron Smith, Brett White, David Kidwell (c), Ryan Hoffman, Dallas Johnson. Interchange: Ian Donnelly, Jamie Feeney, Jeremy Smith, Chris Walker, Adam Blair, Nathan Friend (one to be omitted).Referee: Jason Robinson.St George Illawarra v Brisbane at WIN Stadium, 3.00pmDragons: Clint Greenshields, Reece Simmonds, Mark Gasnier, Matt Cooper, Colin Best, Trent Barrett (c), Ben Hornby, Justin Poore, Dean Young, Michael Henderson, Corey Payne, Ashton Sims, Matt Bickerstaff.Interchange: Andrew Price, Ben Creagh, Sam Isemonger, Aaron Gorrell.

Roosters name unchanged 13 for Manly clash

ROOSTERS coach Ricky Stuart has selected an unchanged starting 13 for the important round 4 game against the Manly Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval on Saturday night.

Benji's back for Wests Tigers v Storm clash

BENJI Marshall has been named at five-eighth for the clash against the Melbourne Storm at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday, April 2, in round 4 of the Telstra Premiership.

Storm name side to face Tigers

STARTING team: 1. Billy Slater 2. Matt Geyer 3. Matt King 4. Greg Inglis 5. Steve Turner 6. Scott Hill 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Garrett Crossman 9. Cameron Smith 10. Brett White 11. David Kidwell 12. Ryan Hoffman 13. Dallas Johnson

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