Bring Back The Bears……. Home Ground

I think by now we can all agree that they aren’t going to bring back the Bears. While it seemed like a distinct possibility for a while in reality it just isn’t feasible. The Sydney rugby league market is just too packed and the central coast is not far enough away. The league isn’t really ready for a 17th team and other bids have more merit. I personally would love to see a Perth team join the competition, this would not only make the competition truly ‘national’ but also open up a late at night TV timeslot.

So while we have to accept that the Bears won’t be coming back, surely we can get the next best thing: Rugby league games at North Sydney Oval.

Now I’m not talking about a lot of games but I think it would be great to have at least one game a year at the historic ground which has held more first grade rugby league matches than all but two other grounds. I think moving a game here would be financially beneficial to the team hosting as well.

The idea came to me as I drove past the field over the weekend. Seeing the oval brought back some great childhood memories of watching the Bears run around in the late 90’s. Nostalgia alone would be enough to fill the stadium that holds a capacity of 20,000.

Now while it doesn’t really matter who hosts a game there I think South Sydney are the most logical choice. Geographical location suggests Manly could do it but that would seem a bit of bad taste due to the clubs long history of disagreement (in saying that someone did see it a good idea to merge the two clubs). The Rabbitohs are the perfect fit for two reasons; they have a relationship with Norths through the NSW Cup and both are foundation clubs.

One sticking point could prove to be the playing surface and facilities but I think they would be o.k. The oval still hosts regular sport in NSW Cup rugby league, Shute shield rugby and Sheffield Shield cricket, so that ensures the ground is up kept. A-League games are also occasionally played at the ground so it should be up to NRL standard and while the facilities might be a tad uncomfortable, I’m sure the fans wouldn’t mind to see footy played in North Sydney again. With all the stick Brookvale Oval cops, surely it couldn’t be worse than there.

The last premiership game played at the ground was ten years ago when Souths hosted Manly. 14,855 people attended that day which is quite a good crowd when you consider the finishing positions of both those clubs in 2004. Both those teams are powerhouses now so taking that game to North Sydney would potentially lockout thousands of fans. There are though plenty of alternatives. The Rabbitohs could take one of their games against non-Sydney opponents to the venue. These games generally have low attendances and lack atmosphere. I am certain that a game between the Rabbitohs and the Storm on a Sunday afternoon would sell out North Sydney Oval and be one of the spectacles of the year.

The Central Coast Bears bid has pledged to play one game a year at North Sydney Oval, against Manly, but that seems destined to never come to fruition. I think in their absence someone needs to pick up the slack and play a game there themselves.

While we hear responses that the NRL is considering moving games away from suburban grounds, I believe a piece of Sydney rugby league history would die if this were the case. 12,000 fans at ANZ stadium provides no atmosphere and I cringe at the idea of not being able to watch Manly play at Brookie. I suggest we do the opposite and bring professional rugby league back to North Sydney Oval.

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What’s So Bad About A Scrum?

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I might be on my own with this one but I don’t mind the rugby league scrum. It has been around for my entire life and I would hate to see it go.

The reason I bring it up is due to ‘ball-boy gate’ that occurred at ANZ stadium on Friday night. The quick tap from a 40-20 rule has been a failure. This was outlined by Brad Arthur on the weekend when he stated that 20 of 25 attempted quick taps have been pulled back this season. The Tigers went on to have one pulled up after he said this, so now it sits at 21 from 26. That means that less than 20% of quick taps from 40-20’s have been deemed legal.

This statistic shows that the players don’t fully understand the rule, the ball boys don’t understand the rule and as a fan, I don’t understand it either. It took the incident on the weekend for me to fully make sense of the rule as previously I was just sitting there thinking, “why did they pull that up?”

The NRL meet on Thursday and if you believe the press than the rule may be changed back to how it was last year. I would consider this a positive move as I believe that receiving the ball from a scrum after a 40-20 is reward enough. Pursuing with the quick tap basically gives the attacking team a try or a penalty and a man advantage (after the professional foul sin-dinning) for doing a really good kick from within your own half. That to me seems like too much of an advantage.

Scrums in rugby league have received plenty of flak over recent years and many fans have called for them to bite the dust. I would hate to see this happen for two reasons. Firstly scrums have been around (contested or not) for as long as I can remember and I hate change. Secondly they provide a great opportunity at some open field play. They are the NRL equivalent to the trick plays you see attempted in the NFL and college football. If you think back to some of the trys scored from scrums over the past few years, you would hate to lose those set plays from the game. Melbourne and Manly in particular have put some beauties together.

Yes I admit that they do take a lot of time and yes I admit that it is a tedious watching the referees make forwards re-pack and halfbacks re-feed. Surely with some tinkering to either the current rules or the referee’s instructions we can speed up the process.

You hear commentators and fans also getting upset with backs packing into scrums but this is another modern interpretation I enjoy. One team lines up their best attackers and the other their best defenders for a one tackle seven on seven play. May the best team win.

I’m sure there were fans upset when the six tackle rule and the ten metre rule were introduced and they eventually got over it. So I’d probably get over it too if scrums were taken away. Hopefully I don’t have to worry and the rugby league scrum will live on for years to come.

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Panthers Looking Cool Under Pressure

Going into last Sunday’s game and I had completely written Penrith off. Everything was against them. They had a depleted squad, they were the away team at a suburban ground and the Dragons were desperate for a win to keep in finals contention. The Panthers went on to win the game easy and now I have changed my tune on how far they can go in season 2014.

Last week I was convinced that they were just making up the numbers in the top eight. They would qualify fifth to eighth and be bundled out in the first week if the finals. After last week’s performance a top four spot is theirs for the taking, which sees them sitting pretty heading into September.

Do I think they can win the comp? No I still think it is a year or two too soon for them, especially with the injury toll they have suffered. Losing Kite, Cartwright, Peachy, Taylor and Wallace for the season is too many top line players to lift the premiership trophy. One or two more injuries and they surely wont be able to cope. A top four finish and making it to the second or third week of the finals would be a great result for Phil Gould’s Penrith revolution and have them in good stead for 2015.

Despite their injuries the team that ran out in Wollongong on Sunday was strong in key positions. They have good strike weapons out wide in Mansour, Idris and Whare and even with Wallace out they still have plenty of creative flair with Soward pulling the strings and Moylan and Segeyaro operating as game breakers. Where they may struggle is in the forward pack with much of their injured stars being props or backrowers.

How Penrith won the game was through their composure. They kept their cool, defended for each other and didn’t over push their hand. This was juxtaposed by the Dragons. They came off too desperate and looked for the scoring play almost every time they had the ball in good position.

This was highlighted on three occasions. One was Ben Creagh kicking on the fourth tackle, he is an experienced forward who should know that his role is tucking the ball under the arm and trying to break the line. Next was Adam Quinlan kicking early in a tackle count straight to a Penrith player, giving away the ball in excellent field position. Finally it was Quinlan again, this time throwing a massive forward pass while attempting an optimistic long ball on a kick return. These errors, it seems, have cost him his position in the first grade team.

Penrith’s cool heads impressed me and are now leading me to believe the team has more potential than I have given it. They have a tough run home in the Cowboys, Storm, Manly and Warriors but it is important to note that three of these are at home.

I could be wrong and their season fizzles out. Or they could go on to win the comp and I would be wrong again. All I know is ill be tipping them this weekend to bring home the points against an inform Cowboys side.

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The Top 8 Scramble

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Well there is only five premiership rounds remaining this season and its been one of the closest competitions in recent memory. After 21 rounds only the Sharks, Raiders and Knights can’t make the top eight. Titans are as good as gone but five wins on the trot, however unlikely, and they could grab hold of eighth spot.

General consensus is that 30 points will get you in the eight. 28 points may be good enough but you better have a good for and against. Despite these guidelines remaining true for recent seasons, I am about to drop a bombshell. At least one team will fail to make the top eight despite making it to the elusive thirty point safe zone.

I have gone ahead and mapped out what I consider the most likely results for the final forty matches and have come up with a possible final table. While I am no chance of getting all tips correct, it looks like a team will end the season outside the top eight on thirty points.

My top eight is as follows. Manly, Souths, Melbourne, Roosters, Penrith, Parramatta, The Cowboys and the Warriors.

In my subjective finishing positions both the Cowboys and the Warriors finish on 30 points as do the Bulldogs. Due to an inferior points differential Canterbury will miss out of the finals. The Dragons and Broncos will both come agonisingly close as well on 28 points.

While the chances that the top eight will finish the way I predict it are unlikely, there is still an extremely high chance that thirty points wont guarantee you a place in the finals.

My final positioning brings up some interesting points and relies on certain results. I have Manly beating the Rabbitohs this weekend and with that win pretty much sealing the minor premiership. And although I have the Dragons finishing on 28 points, I have them going down to Canberra in the nation’s capital. It doesn’t matter how bad the Raiders are going they always seem to rise against St George Illawarra.

Along with Manly and Souths, I have the Storm and Roosters rounding out the top four. Just like last year I see these four as the only teams that can take out the premiership. Parramatta, North Queensland and the Warriors can all beat anyone when the turn it on but I don’t see them having the consistency to win four games of semi final intensity in a row. Due to a horror injury run Penrith will only be making up the numbers.

The Bulldogs are the big losers and will drop right out of the top eight. A few weeks ago they looked like finals certainties and right in the hunt for the premiership. The last three weeks have shown that something in their dynamic has changed and they have lost that desire to win. The media is suggesting this is due to Michael Ennis’ departure but who really knows?

The wooden spoon will come down to three teams and I have the Sharks, Raiders and Knights all finishing on 16 points. For and against will decide who comes in last place.

So what do you all think? Am I right or am I way off? Let me know below.

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Who’d Want To Be A Coach?

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Bank managers must be reluctant to give out home loans once they find out you work as an NRL coach. The amount of turnover is massive and even coaches who are achieving good results aren’t safe (Anthony Griffin anyone?). Just how crazy this is can be observed by looking at a list of coaches from the start of the 2010 season, only Craig Bellamy and John Cartwright remain at their current clubs. While not all this turnover has been from coaches being sacked, it shows that renting might be a better option for the NRL masterminds, as you just don’t know how long you will be in town for.

From an outsiders perspective the suggestion that Mick Potter will not be offered a contract for 2015 is perplexing. Potter in my opinion has done an admirable job over the past two seasons considering the roster he inherited and the luck he has been given. While I obviously don’t know his relationship with the board and players, the Tigers are in a real position to make the eight this year and the media scrutiny has the potential to derail all the hard work done in the first nineteen weeks of the season.

Potter inherited the team last year after Tim Sheens was pushed out for falling out with his players. Ironically the same thing seems to be happening to Potter, suggesting to me that the problem may lie with the senior players rather than the coach.

The Tigers had an unheard of run of injuries in 2013 and struggled to get the same team on the park two weeks running. This was no fault of Potters and he was rightfully given a second chance. Heading into 2014 and things looked pretty bleak in the short term for the joint venture club. On paper they looked more like wooden spoon contenders than top eight hopefuls. Potter has done a marvellous job to even have the Tigers in a position to make the eight. He has introduced a lot of youngsters who have bright futures in James Gavet, David Noafuluma and Sauaso Sue, handled the introduction to first grade carefully and well for future superstars Mitchell Moses and Luke Brooks, helped Aaron Woods to be one of the competitions best props and has overseen Adam Blair’s return to form.

All these achievements have given Tigers fans optimism for a bright future. These fans shouldn’t be discredited either as they have shown support for Potter through social media and arguably are responsible for him still having a job. To me the dumbest thing about the whole situation was holding an emergency board meeting last Sunday. This was always going to lead to a poor performance once the media got their hands on to it. Holding the meeting only a week after the team got their season back on track with a huge win over the Bulldogs is even crazier.

I see Potter as a coach in the same mould as Trent Robinson and Michael Maguire. All three have done their apprenticeships over in the Super League and have returned home after achieving well. The difference is Potter didn’t step into a club with superstars like Sam Burgess, Greg Inglis, Isaac Luke, Sonny Bill Williams, Boyd Cordner and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. So Tigers give him another shot regardless of this year’s final position. He has set the club up nicely and deserves to reap the rewards that come the Tigers way in 2015.

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Sort It Out For The Fans Sake!

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Well I must say, it is pretty bitter sweet to be a Manly fan right now. On one hand all this talk of player rifts has the potential to spell the end of the clubs famous decade long finals streak in 2015 but on the other hand things couldn’t be going better on the field this year. Outright first place with left side attack that would give even the competitions best defensive centre nightmares. If you only watch the games and stayed away from the papers then things would be looking pretty good.

Now as Manly fans we are pretty used to reading articles that spell the end for this unique squad. 2009 it was the season launch incidents, 2011 a lack of recognised halves (how silly that seems now), 2012 the team didn’t stand a chance without Des and last year the squad was considered over the hill. Don’t forget all the boardroom dramas us fans have been forced to read about as well.

Despite all this the team is able to deliver on the field year after year, with 2014 being no exception.

This years problems stem from Glenn Stewart not being offered a contract beyond this year. As a fan it was disappointing that they couldn’t at least make him an offer but I have no insight on the clubs salary cap balancing act. While they may have been able to offer him something, there is no point doing so if the best they could offer would offend the club stalwart.

The matter intensified when Manly re-signed Jamie Buhrer and Jesse Sene-Lefao. The fact that other backrowers have been kept has reportedly upset Brett Stewart, Anthony Watmough and Steve Matai. I was ok with the clubs decision to do this as 1) Buhrer and Sene-Lefao would demand nowhere near the money of Stewart and 2) With youth on their side we do have to think about the future.

All good things do come to an end and the club have been somewhat justified in their decision by the teams form over the last two months. While Stewart has been out injured, Manly’s form hasn’t waned and the team have been able to continue their dominance without him. While I have always been an admirer of Glenn and appreciate his efforts in landing the 2008 and 2011 premierships, I also sympathise with the board, as it seems your damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

If you believe the papers then Manly could be lining up in 2016 without Cherry-Evans, Brett Stewart, Matai, Watmough and Kieran Foran. Now while it’s unlikely all of them will leave Matai, Stewart and Watmough want out now while the other two want to test themselves on the open market in 2015.

Coach Toovey has come out and said that no players will be getting releases and as a fan I must say that I support his decision. But this might just be me being selfish. Of all those apparently wanting out I sympathise most with Steve Matai. Steve is in the form of his life and a four year big money deal is much more appealing then the one year left on his Manly contract. Form can peak and trough, (with Barba being the best example of this) so if Matai has a drop in form playing at Manly next year then his price on the open market would drop significantly. So if Matai does want to go then maybe the club should let him. Although I thought November was when clubs were able to negotiate with players off contract next year, so the Warriors might also have some explaining to do.

One thing I would like to say to all these players as a fan is, What did we do? While they might be unhappy with the board, they should think of the fans who have dedicated copious amounts of time and money in supporting the team. While they have to look out for their own interests, the longer it drags on the more the poor fans have to read about it in the press. Brett Stewart in particular was always held in high regard and supported by the Manly fans in 2009 when the rest of the competition and rival fans turned their back on him.

Hopefully this either all blows over or sorts it out in the next few weeks so the club can concentrate on winning their third premiership in seven years. They should have plenty of motivation as this year could be the final time that they all play together.

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Why rivals are worried about the Warriors

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I don’t want to jump the gun and jinx them, but how good are the Warriors going! After years of promising so much and delivering so little, the team from across the ditch is finally looking like they can make their way into the top four and push for the premiership.

The Warriors came from the bottom half of the eight in 2011 to make it to the grand final. This even came after a qualifying finals round flogging at the hands of the Broncos (they can thank the McIntyre system for keeping them alive that year). They went on to fall at the final hurdle to Manly but many saw 2011 as the start of a Warriors dynasty.

They had a youthful team full of quality players and leading into 2012 were considered premiership favourites. History goes to show that they were pretty ordinary throughout 2012 and 2013 and this year didn’t start much better. Despite having a squad brimming with talent and attacking flair, the Warriors were languishing down the bottom of the table. Matt Elliott even found himself as the first coach sacked this year.

A few months later and under the tutelage of Andrew McFadden, the Warriors are finally living up to their potential. Sam Tomkins is starting to live up to the hype that surrounded his big money move from England, Konrad Hurrell is proving near impossible to stop and Shaun Johnson is the most exciting attacking player in the comp who looks likely to find a gap every time he has the ball.

You can’t forget the forward pack either with Jacob Lillyman, Simon Mannering and Ben Matulino all big men who lead the way up front.

Things have really clicked into gear over the last two months with the New Zealand based side winning their last three games and five from their last six. Their record of nine wins from sixteen games is pretty impressive when you consider that they lost five of their first seven. While the Warriors have always been good at putting teams to the sword the last few weeks has seen them grind out some closer wins, like they did against the Broncos and Panthers. Their huge win against the Eels also exhibited how lethal they can be when they are on song. While Parra are proving to be a one-man team, not even the great Jarryd Hayne would’ve been able to stop most of these first half trys.

The warriors have even got luck on their side at the moment. I loved seeing Tomkins score from a contested scrum on the weekend and I would like to see more of it in the future, despite this nine times out of ten the referees would blow a penalty to the team with the feed.

While the Warriors are still a way off from taking their maiden premiership, as a Manly fan I would be pretty nervous if the Sea Eagles have to face up against them in the finals. They play the Broncos in Brisbane and Manly in Auckland over the next fortnight and their performances against both of these teams will give a good indication on whether or not they can grab that top four spot.

twitter: @louismcintyre

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