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.
LIKELY squad: Karmichal Hunt, Leon Bott, Brent Tate, Justin Hodges, Steve Michaels, Darren Lockyer, Brett Seymour, Shane Webcke, Michael Ennis, Petero Civoniceiva, David Stagg, Brad Thorn, Tonie Carroll,Interchange: Shaun Berrigan, Ben Hannant, Corey Parker, Casey McGuireStrengths:Brisbane has always had the knack of unearthing some brilliant juniors from their large nursery. The depth of talent that they can unleash on the NRL is unbelievable.Darren Lockyer. The world?s second best player outside Andrew Johns. Didn?t have his best end of season ever, but was suffering as a result of injuries.The Brisbane backline is very strong. It possesses speed and skill. With centres Tate and Hodges back to their best and speedsters Bott and Michaels finishing off set plays, the Brisbane backline is one of the most potent in the competition. They even have Shaun Berrigan on the bench for utility value.The addition of Michael Ennis provides them with a great hooker who is an accomplished goal kicker. His rotation with Berrigan will be vital for the Broncos? success this season and there will be great things coming from Ennis and in turn the Broncos as a result.Weaknesses:The overall age of this Broncos? outfit is a concern, particularly in the forwards. Forwards such as Webcke, Civoniceiva, Thorn and TBA are getting on in years and this weakness was exposed during the finals, when on more than one occasion the Broncos looked lacklustre and tired in attack and defence.The stubborn refusal of Bennett to promote players from Toowoomba is also a weakness. He has a pool of talent waiting for their shot in first grade at his disposal to only burn them down. Guys like Nick Kenny who proved his value in the one game he played are craving for shots. Instead he persists in using players like Dane Carlaw who are past their best.One to Watch:The younger brother of Vinnie and Louis Anderson, 21 year old Fraser Anderson, was recruited by the Broncos this year from the New Zealand Warriors development squad. Fraser is described as having ?power, pace and potential?. This explosive winger could be the something the Broncos have lacked since Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri left the team for Rugby Union.Fraser will be looking to stamp himself in the NRL sooner rather than later. He is remarkably large for a winger, weighing at 104 kg, and standing at 190 cm he would be more suited to the back row. But his athleticism proves he is in fact a winger. In recent speed trials he even matched Leon Bott, the quickest in the Brisbane team. One thing for sure, when this massive winger explodes onto the NRL the Broncos could have another Tuqiri in their grasps.Gains and Losses:Gains: Michael Ennis, Ben HannantLosses: Tom Learoyd-Lars, Darren Mapp, Stuart Kelly, Berrick BarnesAssessment:Brisbane has the talent to win the competition. If Darren Lockyer fires, the backline gets good service and the forwards gain momentum, I don?t think there?s a team in the comp they can?t beat. However, the same goes the other direction. Will the Broncos do as they usually do and start well and then fade terribly with their tired legs and tactics? Or will they finally step up closer to finals time and claim yet another NRL premiership. My tip: Top 6 for the Broncos.
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.