Rammo's rant

WELL ladies and gents, get ready, what we?ve been waiting for has finally arrived ? NRL Season 2006 kicks off this Friday night. That?s right, four NRL sides will face off in a truncated knockout extravaganza. The Bulldogs will play Brisbane in the season opener, with the Melbourne Storm and St George Illawarra Dragons rounding out the weekend with a clash on Saturday night which is sure to silence a few demons for the successful club.This fortnight thriller will culminate with a Grand Final showdown between the two winners the following Sunday evening.Now you may think I?ve gone crazy here. But I think it has taken us 28 weeks to dispose of the deadwood in this competition. We now have a competition on our hands. Last weekend is a case in point. We supposedly had two classic finals matches but they were soured by the alarming difference in standard between teams three and four, and teams five and six. The winners clocked up a total of 78 points, whilst all the losers could provide was six points between them.I liken the NRL this year to a grand slam tennis tournament. There are 128 players in the draw but there?s really only eight or nine players battling for the title. And most of the spectators are waiting around for the second week of matches to see these far superior rivals face off.In comparison, the NRL has 15 players in the draw. But it?s really only the top four seeds with any realistic chance of taking the title. Although unlike tennis fans that only need to wait a week or so for the deadwood to be cut, as rugby league fans, we?ve needed to occupy ourselves for 28 weeks.Mouthwatering ? that?s the only phrase that could be justifiably used to describe this weekend?s clashes. The reason I?m excited at the prospect of these blockbusters is because the sides playing each other have styles which mirror those of their opponents. Friday?s night?s Preliminary Final between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Brisbane Broncos will be a battle between the NRL?s two fiercest packs. The likes of Mark O?Meley, Willie Mason, Andrew Ryan and Roy Asotasi will go head to head with Broncos heavyweights Shane Webcke, Petero Civoniceva and Tonie Carroll in arguably the most anticipated finals forward battle in 20 years.I see trouble brewing for the Bulldogs here if they don?t win the battle up front early. While I feel they have the slightly better pack, bolstered by today?s announcement that Roy Asotasi and Reni Maitua will play, I have held similar feelings before clashes between these two sides in the past and the Broncos have seemingly managed to contain the Bulldogs? forwards. They then subsequently punch the ball out to their formidable backline and score points at will. A luxury the Bulldogs just don?t have.The first 20 minutes here is vital. The Dogs could shut the Broncos out of the game but if they don?t, and in recent times they have struggled to do, the Broncos will run over the top of them over the course of the 80 minutes. It will be an entertaining contest all the same and make sure you get out to Aussie Stadium on Friday night, regardless of who you support.The St George Illawarra Dragons and Melbourne Storm are very similar but for the opposite reasons to the Bulldogs and Broncos - they boast the two best backlines in the NRL.Players like Mark Gasnier and Matt Cooper taking on Matt King and Greg Inglis, among many other big names from both backlines, will be a feature of this match. Unlike the other match, I feel that if Melbourne is to be any chance they must stay with the Dragons for the early part of proceedings. The Dragons have a forward pack running into red-hot form and I?m not sure that the Storm can contain them. Having said that, pound-for-pound, these backlines cancel each other out. The Storm?s forwards will need to roll up their sleeves in the first 20 minutes and dig deep. If they can do that, it?s anyone?s game. But if the Dragons? big men maintain their recent dominance in the first 20 minutes of this game, it could be all over red rover. Adding further spice to this knockout qualifier is the fact that this is a 1999 Grand Final replay ? probably the most controversial on record. The bad blood has stuck between these two clubs and a crowd of any less than 50,000 wouldn?t do this match justice. Be sure to get out to Telstra on Saturday evening.Michael Crocker has lit the fuse by claiming that the Dragons have let their fans down in recent years. His statements may have merit, but if we have learned anything over the last few years or so, these sorts of comments can leave those who make them eat their words. I?m certain that Craig Bellamy would be privately fuming that Crocker has given the Dragons this added motivation.However, I guess all questions will be answered over the weekend.Game, set, match. Let the tournament begin.

Preliminary Finals Teams

FRIDAY, 22nd September 2006 Canterbury v Brisbane at Aussie Stadium, 7.45pm

Masters Carnival 2006

MASTERS of Rugby League Australia Inc, Masters of Rugby League New Zealand Inc, along with Club Helensvale, Nerang Roosters JRLC, Helensvale Hornets, and Helensvale Stingers RLC will create rugby league history in the Gold Coast, Queensland, when they host Masters of Rugby League Carnival/Tournament.This will be the biggest rugby league event for retired players 35 years of age and older.Fifty teams will take part ? 31 teams from New Zealand, 19 teams from Australia, plus 30 referees from both countries will officiate the games during the week of Saturday 23 September 2006 until Friday 29 September 2006.The final games will be representative international games to be held on Friday 29 September 2006 between New Zealand and Australia in their age groups: 35-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60+.Some of the famous clubs from New Zealand will be there, including Ponsonby Ponies, City Newton Dragons (both these clubs are foundation clubs of New Zealand Rugby League being formed in 1908), Otahuhu Leopards, Manukau Greenlane, Richmond Rovers, plus the Christchurch Hornby Panthers.Some of the noted New Zealand players who will be there include Kiwis? Keith Bell (71 years old), Nolan Tupaea, Bill Kells, Bryan Tracey, Clayton Friend, Oslen Filipana and Francis Leota.This carnival/tournament will be hosting 1200 players from the age of 35 through to 72, plus thousands of supporters.The Masters of Rugby League tournament has been an annual event for 13 years and is the only one of its kind in the world for retired rugby league players, officials, and referees.To find out more about the Masters of Rugby League go to the website: http://www.mastersrugbyleague.com

Dragons NSWRL sides named

THE St George Illawarra Dragons have named their NSWRL teams for this weekend's sudden death preliminary finals.Saturday's Premier League clash between Dragons and the Jets will take place prior to the Dragons v Storm NRL preliminary final at Telstra Stadium.The Jersey Flegg match between the Dragons and the Knights has been set down for this Sunday afternoon at Leichhardt Oval.The winners qualify for a grand final berth.Premier League Dragonsv Newtown Jets3.30pm Saturday 23 SeptTelstra StadiumCoach: Steven Price 1. Reece SIMMONDS 2. Josh MORRIS 3. Beau RYAN 4. Keith LULIA 5. Tom HEWITT 6. Reece BLAYNEY 7. Chris SHEPPARD 8. Willie TUPOU 9. George NDAIRA 10. Chris HOUSTON (c) 11. Tom HABERECHT 12. Lee TE MAARI 13. James JIMENEZ 14. Jamie DUNNING 15. Dan HUNT 16. Bryson GOODWIN 17. Jamie KEITH 18. Aaron WHEATLEY Jersey Flegg Dragonsv Newcastle Knights2.30pm Sunday 24 SeptemberLeichhardt OvalCoach: Corey Pearson1. Jason NIGHTINGALE2. Rota SETU3. Chase STANLEY4. Ryan MILLARD5. Luke IRWIN6. Richard WILLIAMS7. Nathan WYNN8. Chris FARRELL9. Brad DAVIDSON (c)10. Jhi TANNER11. James KEELAN12. Matt PRIOR13. Brian WEST (c)14. Peter WAKLEY15. James GREHAN16. Scott SABLOWSKI17. Blake DUREAU18. Jason WHITE19. Travis ROCHE

Gasnier Named for Storm Clash

DRAGONS Coach Nathan Brown has named Test Centre Mark Gasnier for Saturday?s Grand Final qualifier against the Storm at Telstra Stadium.

Melbourne Supporters Info - Dragons v Storm

THERE IS NOTHING LIKE RUGBY LEAGUE IN SEPTEMBER...... ...and aren't the Dragons standing up and being counted when it really matters. After 26 rounds of wins and losses, injuries and suspensions, unearthing exciting new talent and seeing other's lose their first grade positions, getting flogged and unlikely victories on the siren, here we are now 2 wins off a maiden premiership for the joint venture. The patience, composure and determination the 1-17 and the coaching staff are all showing at the moment augurs well for the next 2 assignments in our premiership dream. Last weekend's shut-out of Manly was a great achievement for the team and sets them up well for the big clash with the Storm this Saturday night at Telstra Stadium. The MBDS screening was another outstanding success at the Station Hotel with a crowd of just over 50 members in attendance. (See attachment) This represents our second biggest attendance ever, and we are looking to top that this Saturday night in what is a local derby for those of us in the Southern Capital. The Station Hotel will once again host the screening with 2 big screens and audio dedicated to the Greatest Game of All. As The Station is likely to attract a big number of Storm supporters we would love to get everyone out this Saturday night to watch the match and outnumber them in their own city. There is nothing like the passion of a Dragons supporter and the Storm fans will realise this on Saturday night. WHAT: Dragons v StormWHEN: Saturday 23rd September, 7:30pm, LIVE AND LOUD WHERE: The Station Hotel, 96 Greville St Prahran Let us know of you are thinking of attending and if you?re bringing anyone alongGO THE DRAGONS!!

Specialist clears Asotasi, Maitua

A knee specialist has given Bulldogs prop Roy Asotasi the all-clear to play in Friday night's preliminary final against Brisbane at Aussie Stadium. And in a further boost for the Belmore club, utility Reni Maitua has been cleared to play in the game after also overcoming a knee injury.

Big future for debutants - Mal

FORMER Test great Mal Meninga says the quartet of young debutants named in the Prime Minister's 13 side to play Papua New Guinea later this month will all become Test stars.Parramatta rookie of the year Jarryd Hayne, South Sydney's leading NRL tryscorer Nathan Merritt, Manly fullback Brett Stewart and Newcastle halfback revelation Jarrod Mullen were all handed their first senior representative honours with selection in Meninga's side to play the Kumuls on September 30.Hayne, aged 18, Merritt 23, Stewart 21, and Mullen 19, all enjoyed outstanding NRL seasons. North Queensland halfback Johnathan Thurston and forward Luke O'Donnell, Penrith's Craig Gower, New Zealand Warrior Steve Price and Wests Tiger Robbie Farah will push for Test selection for this year's Tri Nations series in the one-off match at Port Moresby.

Asotasi, Gasnier, Inglis & White

BULLDOGS prop Roy Asotasi will today learn if he'll be passed fit to play in Friday night's preliminary final against Brisbane at Aussie Stadium.

Lebanon confirm WC place

IN a massive boost for international rugby league, Lebanon have confirmed that they will be taking their place in the forthcoming 2008 World Cup qualifiers.After the recent military conflict in the country there were fears that the LRL would have to relinquish their spot in the competition but they have emerged bruised and unshaken in their bid to reach the final stages in the southern hemisphere. LRL president Mohammed Habbous said: "We are looking forward to showing our determination and resolve through sports and that our spirits remain high even though the past two months have been extremely difficult for all Lebanese. We would like to show the world that the Lebanese rugby league is steadfast and will endure in times of hardship, a true characteristic of the sport which we love." In preparation for the qualifiers, the Cedars 'A' team will take on Malta for the ?Phoenician Cup? in Western Sydney on 8th October. Lebanese rugby league official George Elias, who will lead the side, commented: "Sport unites a nation and Lebanon will be united as we progress with our mission to reach the Rugby League World Cup in 2008." Rugby League European Federation Development Officer Kevin Rudd added, ?We are absolutely delighted that Lebanon will be able to fulfil their fixtures, it is a massive tribute to their organisation and they deserve our total admiration for their courage. Their attitude to not be beaten by outside forces represents everything that is best about the code.? The original 2006 World Cup qualifier schedule, which saw Lebanon hosting Ireland on 28th October, is being altered to accommodate the Cedars? build up with the revised fixtures to be released by the RLEF imminently.Source: www.rlef.eu.com

Solomona urges end to relegation

DAVID Solomona has urged the Rugby Football League to ditch promotion and relegation from Super League.

Tigers keen for Matterson to stay

CASTLEFORD are hoping to persuade Terry Matterson to remain as coach despite their relegation from Super League.

Cas bid for Superleague reprieve

CASTLEFORD are pushing for Super League to be expanded to 13 clubs for the 2007 season so they can avoid the drop.

Superleague 2006 Dream Team announced

SEVEN different engage Super League clubs are represented in the 2006 engage Super League Dream Team.

Superleague sets attendance record

THE 2006 engage Super League has generated the highest weekly average attendance in the 11-year history of the competition.The average weekly attendance at the conclusion of the 28 rounds of the regular season stands at 9,026, generated by an aggregate attendance of 1,516,342 supporters. Those figures are an increase on the previous season, which generated an average of 8,887.This is also the first time the competition has attracted an aggregate of over one-and-a-half million supporters in the space of one campaign.This season?s engage Super League competition has also generated the highest weekly average attendance for an elite League since the introduction of multiple divisions to the sport in 1973.Also during 2006 the following milestones have been achieved:There have been a record number of five figure attendances at matches ? 71 in engage Super League XI (previous best was 68 in 2005).Leeds Rhinos are the best supported club in engage Super League with an average attendance of 15,683. Wigan Warriors are the next best with an average of 14,464.Seven clubs have shown an increase in average attendances during 2006.The Catalans Dragons club generated an average attendance of 6,542 during their debut season in the competition.The average weekly attendance for the engage Super League competition has risen every season since 2001. Commenting on the figures, the Executive Chairman of the Rugby Football League Richard Lewis said: "The excitement and competitiveness we have seen in engage Super League during 2006 has been unprecedented."The season has contained so many memorable matches and these record attendances show that supporters are responding to the unique sporting spectacle on offer."The consistent increase in crowds experienced by the competition since 2001 demonstrates that engage Super League is continuing to grow and develop positively. We believe this trend will continue in future seasons."Now that the regular season is complete, the attention rightly turns to the engage Super League Play-Offs and battle to reach the Grand Final at Old Trafford."We can look forward to more excitement in the coming weeks as the remaining six clubs battle it out for the engage Super League Championship". Source: superleague.co.uk

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