Weight of Expectation the Biggest Obstacle for Souths

Forty Three Years. How many times have we heard that number over the past fortnight? South Sydney have done all the hard work over the past 29 weeks to make it to the big dance but now they must keep their emotions in check to bring their fans a premiership for the first time in over four decades.

If this was a regular club game than i would be tipping an easy Rabbitohs victory but with the grand final comes the added pressure of expectation. While I still believe the Rabbits will be lifting up the trophy come 9pm this Sunday night, the Bulldogs do have some things going in their favour.

The first is the old adage that you have to lose one to win won. Canterbury made the grand final only two years ago and that should be enough for them to not be overawed. The majority of their team have played in a grand final compared to only Greg Inglis and Lote Tuqiri for South Sydney.

Another thing going for the Bulldogs is the suspension of Isaac Luke. He is a pivotal attacking player who will be sorely missed by the bunnies. Api Korisau is a star of the future but the occasion may prove to much for a player with only limited first grade experience in his last game for his club. Manly’s finals run shows the difference in quality to the whole teams dynamic when the hooker is missing. Jayden Hodges showed flashes of brilliance but semi final football is a whole new ball game. Ironically the Bulldogs would possibly not even be in this years grand final if it wasn’t for a poor ball out of dummy half to Cherry-Evans in extra time that didn’t allow him enough time to get a field goal attempt away.

This advantage gained by Luke’s absence can of course even out if Michael Ennis is ruled out of the game as expected. Des Hasler is no doubt up to his old tricks this week, naming Ennis the same day that the man himself said he was no chance of playing. If Ennis is missing it will be interesting to see if Des opts for the experience of Reni Maitua or the exuberance of Moses Mbye. There’s no doubt that we will not find out the answer to that question until about an hour before kickoff.

But above all, what gives the Bulldogs their biggest advantage heading into Sunday’s game is that no-one expects them to win. They have come from seventh place to rocket into calculations and will have to become the first team in the NRL era to win the competition from outside the top four. All the expectation falls on to the shoulders of The Rabbitohs and Canterbury will be hoping that the occasion proves to much for the boys from Redfern and they will be able to take advantage of that.

Of course South Sydney also have a few things going in their favour, one of which is devastating form. On paper The Rabbitohs line up reeks talent across the park. So much so that Chris McQueen, a current state of origin player will be coming off the bench. Their back line has talent across the park from their halves through to their centres and wingers. The creme de la creme of this is of course Greg Inglis, who will go down as one of the games all time greats. Their forward pack is just as good with the Burgess brothers the headline acts followed by Ben Teo who put in one of the all time great semi final performances last weekend against the chooks. If he performs like that again this weekend then watch out Canterbury.

South Sydney will go into this years grand final as the biggest premiership favourites since Manly in 2011. If they go in firing they should have no problem disposing of the dogs, if they don’t then we could have a repeat of 2001 on our hands. While grand final week poses many questions, the one i can’t wait to hear answered is will we get to here Rusty ring the bell for the first time in twelve years? Bring on Sunday night so we can find out.

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Wouldn’t Knock The Skin Off A Rice Pudding

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When the one punch and you’re off rule was brought in last season, like many rugby league fans I was outraged. Fights had occurred in rugby league my entire life and I was worried that removing them would change the fabric of the game.

Slowly I was coming around and realising that maybe the game was fine without the violence. Just like the banning of the shoulder charge I could see the method behind the madness. Sure I was missing the traditional fisticuffs come origin time but I was starting to realise I can live without it.

One punch and you’re off. It is a black and white rule with no discretion. Two games over this years finals series has led me to the conclusion that referees need some discretion when it comes to sin binning players for punching.

The first game is the Manly v Canterbury game from the weekend, which resulted in two players being sin binned for punching. Josh Starling and Reni Maitua were only the third and fourth players binned this year for the new rule. It took 26 rounds before we saw our first two sin-binnings of Tyrone Roberts and Josh Dugan but that was in a dead rubber game where neither team could make the finals. Starling and Maitua’s efforts seemed particularly stupid considering the game was sudden death. Lucky for the two of them neither incident affected the end result.

The question I pose is should either player from last weekends match have been sent from the field? My answer is no. If you look at the Starling incident in super slow mo then yes he cocks his fist and it makes connection with Josh Jackson’s face. Technically it is a punch. In normal speed it’s a totally different story. Starling’s hand is moving so slow, as the title suggests, he would struggle to knock the skin off a rice pudding. In reality it was more of a push. The referee should in situations such as these be able to make the decision that the player can remain on the field. Especially when the indiscretion that caused the incident was much worse than the punch itself (I’m not even going to start on how Jackson avoided a charge for his chicken wing tackle).

Again with Maitua’s punch, he was also quite unlucky to find himself in the bin. Of course after Starling had already been sent the referees had to do the same for Maitua or face claims of favouring one side. I have looked at Reni’s alleged punch several times and I still can’t be certain that his fist was closed. It looked more like a slap to me.

Now ironically neither incident cost their team points. The time Starling spent off the field remained scoreless while it was 1-1 while Reni cooled his heels. Both incidents seemed to rally their teams and momentum swung to the team with less players on both occasions.

So while this week we saw players binned for barely throwing a punch, only a week earlier we saw the advantage nigglers now have in the game knowing they cannot be hit.

While I didn’t consider Mick Ennis’ head pat on Cam Smith to be that bad, players like Ennis now have the advantage of being able to get under the oppositions skin without the fear of copping one on the chin. This could become an epidemic as players attempt to bait each other to hit them. If a bit of biff is gone from the game forever than I think it is necessary to penalise players for baiting their opposition as well.

To be honest I think what both these games show is that political correctness has come too far. Punching and fighting shouldn’t be an automatic sin-binning. I am by no means condoning the violence on the field and I understand it isn’t the best look for the game but I do believe the referee should have the ability to make a decision on whether or not the act deserves ten minutes on the sideline. The NRL has to stop acting like Maude Flanders and screaming “can somebody think about the children” and instead make a punching rule that both punishes violence but keeps the games outcome fair.

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Is Vossy’s purgatory finally over?

I was quite shocked to read comments on another Roar article claiming Ray Warren is past it. For me when I think of rugby league I think of Rabs calling the games. He has been calling them my entire life and although his career is nearing its end I think it should be up to him to decide when to call it a day.

If he wants to go around again next year, I’m more than happy to listen to him. I understand some peoples concerns that he does call the odd player by the wrong name but we can forgive him for that. Those criticising him for plugging Channel 9 shows that no one is interested in will be in for a rude shock if he is replaced, as the new commentator will be forced into those too. I highly doubt Rabs tunes into Big Brother every night or that Richie Benaud can’t wait for the latest episode of The Mentalist.

Despite my obvious love for Rabs, another commentator that I have a soft spot for is Andrew Voss. I don’t want to go into what caused him to be shafted from Channel 9 because I don’t know enough about it but I know I was upset when his voice couldn’t be heard on a Friday night or Sunday afternoon anymore.

The thing I found strangest about it was that everyone I spoke to enjoyed Vossy’s calls. This also seems to be the overwhelming opinion I gather from most fans by reading comments sections on various articles. Personally I would much prefer to listen to him over Ray Hadley so that leaves me bewildered at why Hadley took his job.

Vossy has slowly come back into the fold of late and resurrected his career, his popularity seeing him gain more and more employment. His comeback has been so successful that I predict he will have a major commentary role on Fox next season.

What makes him such a great commentator is his ability to remain un-bias and not push any agendas on his viewers. His commentary is insightful and he even works in the odd bit of humour as well.

Vossy’s rise from the ashes began with Sky Sports NZ calls of all Warriors home games, these telecasts were broadcast on Fox ensuring his voice hadn’t been lost to Australian viewers. He was next heard over on Channel 7 calling the rugby league world cup. In 2014 Vossy has continued with the Warriors calls but this progressed to calls of Warriors games in Australia as well. Fox Sports finally saw his worth and last weekend we had the option of listening to Andrew Voss back calling the big games, in this instance it was the Roosters v Panthers final.

I chose of course to listen to my beloved Rabs but it is good to know that when the day comes that he is forced to retire it is good to know that I will have a new favourite commentator already lined up. Hopefully Australian broadcasting company’s listen to their viewers to ensure Vossy can be heard for years to come. Otherwise I’ll be forced to fire up the PS2 to hear his iconic voice calling the games on Rugby League Live.

Twitter: @louismcintyre

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What’s The Point Of Coming Second?

So I know I am going to come off sounding like a whinging Manly fan here but where is the incentive in coming second? The home finals system obviously favours some teams and those who play at suburban grounds come off second best.

Of the sixteen teams in the competition nine get to play their home finals at their usual home ground. For the Dragons, Sea Eagles, Titans, Eels, Tigers, Sharks and Panthers any home finals will be moved to either ANZ, Allianz or Suncorp (in the Titans case). While in many cases an issue will not arise there is an obvious floor in the system and that is evident from this weekends fixture.

After a gruelling 26 week competition Manly have managed to secure second position on the ladder, while they would be disappointed at missing  the minor premiership, second is no mean feet. They finished above the Rabbitohs and secured a ‘home’ final but all the advantage will go to South Sydney.

Manly had two options on location for this game; ANZ stadium which is their opponents home ground or Allianz which is the heartland of their opponents territory. The crowd on Friday night will be the most hostile home crowd the Manly Warringah team has ever run out in front of.

Penrith have the possibility of hosting a match against either Canterbury or South Sydney later in the finals series and they too would face a similar problem. Manly will cop it agains in any matches they host against the Bulldogs or Roosters.

We obviously can’t have the whole finals series played at suburban grounds but surely the way we used to do things could be looked at when unique circumstances arise. Only a few years ago the first week of the finals were played at the host teams home grounds regardless of whether they were suburban grounds or not. The rest of the finals series was then played at the bigger stadiums.

The other flaw in the system comes from Sydney teams playing interstate teams in the first week of the finals. I highly doubt a Manly v Melbourne or Penrith v Melbourne would attract 20,000+ fans so why not just let those teams host the finals at their usual venues. We all remember the Manly v Cowboys game of 2011 that had 14,000 people sitting at a near empty Allianz stadium. It’s a bad look.

For obvious reasons the later weeks of the season need to be played at the bigger venues but surely week one can be an exemption as it used to be.

Before people start calling me a Manly fan that doesn’t like to travel to away games, I have been to plenty of games that aren’t at Brookvale including to Kogarah and Leichhardt this year. I will also be there on Friday night and I encourage all Manly fans to do the same. Take advantage of the free buses the club is offering from Manly Leagues and make sure you’re there. There is no chance that we are going to outnumber the Rabbitohs fans but lets at least make it as even a crowd as possible.

Twitter: @louismcintyre

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Please Don’t Expand The World Club Challenge

The anticipated announcement that the World Club Challenge has been expanded to six teams next year is a complete waste of time. While originally I was excited for an idea like this, the format that has been selected is all wrong and only adds to player burnout.
 
Next year the 2014 premiers will be joined by South Sydney and Brisbane in a six team World Club Challenge. If South Sydney or Brisbane win this years premiership then the Warriors will be joining them. It is believed that Wigan, Leeds and Warrington will be the English teams involved. If South Sydney win the premiership this year then we would potentially be sending two teams that didn’t even make the top eight. That is hardly the cream of the crop.
 
The format of the competition also leaves a lot to be desired. The two third rank teams will play each other, followed by the two second ranked teams which would then be followed by the actual World Club Challenge. That seems to me like a whole lot of traveling for not a lot of point.
 
Ideally an expanded World Club Challenge would be a great idea if it involved sending the top three or four teams from each competition to play in some sort of a round robin competition where the winners of each group play off in the final. But while this idea sounds good in theory, in reality it is asking too much of the players when they have a full season of football ahead of them. It would also probably take too long to stage as well.
 
We hear about player burnout all too often these days and many people in the know suggest that we are asking too much of the players, especially the elite representative players, so why are we adding more games to an already congested season? Already we have the World Club Challenge as it stands now combined with the all-stars game and the nines competition, the preseason seems too congested as it is if you ask me.
 
The craziest thing about this whole concept is that only one of the three matches has any merit, that is the playoff between the two premiers. The other two games are nothing more than exhibitions and who honestly is going to remember who won them in years to come. I wouldn’t be surprised if coaches rested players from these two matches and left some of their stars in Australia.
 
Premiers returning from England after the World Club Challenge often suffer from pre-season ‘hangovers’ where the travel they have had to do takes a toll on them over the first few rounds of the season. Normally that is seen as a challenge for the premiers to overcome and is another way of providing such an even competition. If next years concept goes ahead, and it is believed at this stage that it will, then we will have three teams potentially starting the season flat and jetlagged. A team like the Broncos, who may miss out on this years finals, definitely can’t afford to start on the wrong foot if they want to improve under Wayne Bennett.

 
By inviting teams the whole prestige of the event is taken away. I understand that Brisbane and South Sydney have the most fans and attract the biggest market and that is why they have been selected to go but what is the real point? My suggestion is to keep it how it is. The top NRL side plays off against the top Super League side but lets alternate it between countries every year. It was great to see it in Australia this year so hopefully it is back in 2016. This way the game is still an honour and considered worthwhile and meaningful to both players and fans
 
twitter: @louismcintyre

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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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