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.
PENRITH captain Craig Gower could miss the rest of the State of Origin series after suffering a knee injury during last night?s 9-8 win by New South Wales over Queensland at Telstra Stadium.
STATE of Origin I
THE NNRLB are proud to announce that the international development group "1895 International" are confirmed as "Official Tournament Ball Sponsors" for the 1st Rotterdam International RL Festival to be held in Rotterdam during the first week of August.
YOUNG Dolphins back Joel Barnes has made a vow to himself ... he doesn't want to go back to A grade.
The 20-year-old has fought his way back into Neil Wharton's Premier Grade side and is determined to stay there.
Despite playing 11 top grade fixtures last season, Barnes could not force his way past established centres Brian Jellick and Damien Richters for the start of the 2004 season.
But the wedding of winger Phil Shilvock's sister provided the narrow opening that Barnes needed.
He slotted straight on to Shilvock's wing for the away match against the Toowoomba Clydesdales, performing well enough in the loss to keep his spot when Shilvock returned while youngster Chris Bond dropped back to A grade.
"I didn't go too bad against Toowoomba," Barnes said. "But of course it would have to be the only game the side has lost. It was good to get back up there in Premier Grade. It's a bit higher quality football and I want to make sure I stay there.
"I want to stay in Premier Grade and want to keep improving so OI do stay there. That's my aim for the season."
Barnes could have to bide his time on the left wing as Richters and Jellick are most probably the Queensland Cup's top centre pairing with Jellick a former New Zealand Test player and Richters closing on 100 appearances for the Dolphins and one of its leading points-scorers.
Barnes has a preference for left centre, but he says he does not care where he plays as long as he gets a game.
Now in his third season with the Dolphins, Barnes joined the club from the Nambour Crushers club, where he played under 19s after coming from Maroochydore.
"I'm a Sunshine Coast boy and have lived at Mooloolaba and Buderim all my life," He said. "It was only this year I moved to Redcliffe. I'm living a minute's drive from the club at Scarborough as I decided this season to concentrate on my footy. It certainly has knocked the travelling down."
Barnes came to Redcliffe via a schoolboys carnival at which he attracted the attention of Sydney Roosters recruitment boss Artie Beetson.
"Arthur sent me a letter inviting me to a trial at Dolphin Oval," he said. "I made the grade at the trial and ended up playing Colts with Redcliffe in 2002.
"We lost the grand final to Wests that year in the final year, but turned around last year and won the A grade decider.
"That match was the biggest game of my career and I loved it. It was great."
The 83 kilogram Barnes impressed last season with his elusive breaks from midfield, his pace allowing him to terrorise Wynnum and win the Don McLennan Trophy for best performance in a grand final.
He also cannot speak highly enough of the Dolphins organisation.
"It's the best club I've been at," he said. "They really look after you.
"What I want to do is get more involved in a game, get my hands on the ball more often."
Off the field Barnes has settled into life in property maintenance with local Peter Smink after earlier days as a machine operator with an earthmoving company on the Sunshine Coast.
Nicknamed Barnesy or Jimmy after the Aussie rock legend, he says he knew no one at the club when he joined. But a recent influx of Sunshine Coast talent in Rod West (rejoined), Colt Peter Delaivuna (Maroochydore) and rookie Shane Anderson (Nambour), as well as his team-mates, meant he did not feel pangs for home.
As it is, his parents travel from Buderim every weekend to watch him play, except for the long haul to Townsville for the Young Guns clash.
AFTER another disappointing effort at home last Sunday when the Redcliffe Pepsi Dolphins failed to win a game in any grade only salvaging a draw in the Colts game.
I?m sure the coaching staff will get the boys back on track. But it doesn?t get any easier this weekend the Dolphins travel down the M1 to clash with the very strong Burleigh Bears. If both clubs play to their potential in all three grades it should be a fantastic day of football.
The award winners for last weekend against Easts were:
Searles Garden Products Man of the Match
Keystar Motors Players Player
Hogs Breath Caf? Man of the Match
Leading Edge Sports Man of the Match
Old Boys Play of the Day
ANOTHER month has passed us by and well let?s just say we aren?t going as well as this time last month with disappointing losses at home to the Comets and Tigers. But there has been some positives the good form of Joel Barnes and the first grade debuts of Nathan Black, Liam Georgetown and Mark Brown I?m sure all the boys will be better off for the run. Also well done to Kramer (Damien Richters) on breaking the Queensland Cup point scoring record held by John Wishire.
It?s also good to see Daniel Jones string a few games together the marsh mellow man as he was so unkindly tagged by his team mates is starting to get back to playing the footy we know he can.
With the rep season approaching us we can expect a few guys to be named in the sides although I suspect a few of our Queensland Cup players have played themselves out these sides in the last month. Congratulations to Gavin Cooper and Charlie Vis they are both in the Queensland under 19 side that is playing the curtain raiser to Origin One. So go out and kick some dirty, rotten, stinking cockroach butt boys.
I have told you in previous months how I like to get on the net and travel through cyberspace. And I told you about a dolphins website I found http://redcliffe.leagueunlimited.com they had a competition to name the best Dolphins side since the inception of the Broncos in 1988. I bet Neil Wharton wouldn?t mind this side running out on the paddock for him especially the number 7. The side they come up with was Adam Mogg, Trent Leis, Ricky McGrady, Steve Cherry, Bevan Canning, Trevor Benson, PETER ROBINSON, Grant Cleal, Waverley Stanley, Troy Lindsay, Ian Graham, James Hinchey, Craig Spark Interchange Russell Lahiff, Shawn Rubesaame, Luke Scott and Tom O?Reilly. Now I?m feeling sick just thinking about getting bashed in the first 20 minutes by Cow, Crusher, Iggy then when they get tired on comes Rusty, Ruby and Cranky I reckon a few opposition forwards would develop side steps in a hurry.
I have been calling on the fans to get to home games for the last few months and well after the last two efforts dished up I don?t blame you for not turning up and walking away in big numbers during the game but please stick solid grab a mate and bring them along, have a few coldies get in the pen and get behind the boys we will turn it around and there?s nothing better than a parochial home crowd behind you to do that. At every ground we go to we cop it from the other teams supporters let?s make Dolphin Oval a graveyard for visiting sides again.
Results: Burleigh 24 d Central 18, North Queensland 40 d Brothers Valleys 0, Norths 30 d Ipswich 16, Toowoomba 36 d Wynnum 24, Easts 44 d Redcliffe 24, Souths Logan 38 d Tweed Heads 20.
Standings: Toowoomba 16, Burleigh 15, Redcliffe 14, Easts 14, Wynnum 13, North Queensland 12, Norths 12, Central 10, Tweed Heads 6, Souths Logan 4, Ipswich 3, Brothers Valleys 1.
PREMIER League teams for Round 12:
YET another young kiwi showing a huge potential for the game has been snapped up by an Australian club, Hayden Karena swaps the Wai Coa Bay Stallions for the Central Queensland Comets.
NEW Zealand Warriors hooker PJ Marsh has had a second operation to use bone grafts from his hip to repair torn vertebrae in his neck.
LEICHHARDT Oval has been the Tigers home since 1934. There?s no better place to watch footy. But Leichhardt Oval is in urgent need
MELBOURNE Storm?s Queensland State of Origin representatives Billy Slater and Cameron Smith are set to back up for their second gruelling match in four days, when the Storm plays the Knights in Newcastle this Saturday.
FORMER Australian captain Andrew Johns has decided to remain with rugby league despite interest from the NSW Waratahs.