Sort It Out For The Fans Sake!

200

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.

Standard

Why rivals are worried about the Warriors

200_s

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

Standard

Where to Next for the Sharkies?

The start of 2013 looked good for the Sharks. The recruitment of Panthers duo Luke Lewis and Michael Gordon combined with their existing talent of Paul Gallen and Todd Carney looked to finally give them a team strong enough to challenge for the premiership. This was rocked on the eve of the season with ASADA’s report putting a question mark over their season.

Last year is now history and all in all Cronulla had a pretty good year. They qualified for the finals and made it into the second week. Another ten minutes in their qualifying final against Manly and they probably would have advanced into the final four. Things were looking pretty good heading into this year.

So how have things gone so wrong? And where do the Cronulla Sharks head from here? While they have a few excuses for their poor showings this year, it is looking likely that the Sharkies could be finishing in the bottom half of the table for the next few years. The chances of Paul Gallen lifting the premiership trophy as a one club player look pretty unlikely.

Obviously the main factor for their horror year was the suspension of Shane Flanagan. Losing your coach during the preseason is not ideal and working under a new coach takes some getting used to. When Flanagan was suspended the club had two viable options in moving forward. One was to sack Flanagan and move on with a new coach and the other was to appoint a young enthusiastic coach who was eager to prove himself before moving into an assistant role the following year (or become head coach of another club). The club instead opted for Peter Sharp and we all know how that went. He had no real ambition to be a head coach again and that has shown in the clubs results.

The club has also had the ASADA allegations hanging over its head as well as a horror run of injuries. It’s is clear that 2014 is just not their year.

Things have all come to a head with the sacking of Todd Carney earlier this week. Whether you believe what he did is a sack-able offense or not, a guy that has been given as many chances as Carney should really know better. The club felt it had no other option but to terminate his contract, this indicates that Carney might have been disappointing the clubs big wigs in other ways without it reaching the media.

In losing Carney the Sharks have also lost a chief play-maker. While Carney’s form has been down this year, there is no denying that at his best he can win a game single handed. Jeff Robson also provided a good foil for Carney and the clubs poor form wouldn’t be helped by the fact that the two of them couldn’t get on to the field together much this year.

Quality half recruits for next year are sparse so the Sharks need to hope Brown can really come into his own during the second half of the year.

No one is more passionate about their club and state then Paul Gallen. The look on his face when N.S.W won origin two exemplified how much effort he had put in over the years. I think it also represented Gallen’s grand final victory as he knows he won’t get their with the Sharks.

With no coach and no x-factor for the remainder of the year Cronulla have a hard job ahead of them to avoid the wooden spoon. What is more alarming is that things aren’t looking much better for next year. Lets hope that Cronulla can uncover a gem in Brown that can lead them into the future.

Standard

Has Origin Stolen the Competition?

Image

While it is great for New South Wales to finally win back the origin shield, I think we would all admit that the standard of competition in the NRL has dropped a little bit.

Origin is the pinnacle of the game and for some great servants (e.g. Paul Gallen) who haven’t achieved premiership glory, it becomes like a grand final every time they step out in the N.S.W jersey. But what toll is Origin having on the fairness of the main competition?

First of all, NRL games have become easily predictable over the origin break. In round eleven I tipped five from five, round thirteen I had eight from eight and round fourteen I tipped four from five. If you looked at my tipping results from the rest of the year you would know that I am no tipping genius. In an age where the salary cap has made the competition closer than ever, missing two or three marquee players can pretty much rule out your chances of winning.

The next issue is the bye schedule. Now I understand that this would be an incredibly difficult task to complete, and that the NRL do their best to comply with most teams requests, but it’s hard to deny that some teams get a better deal than others. Looking at the draw the key byes are those preceding an origin match. Origin stars are rested so if you are a team with no rep players then you can pretty much add two points to your tally. If your team is brimming with talent then those weekends are a nightmare. Is this simply the cost of success or does it make the competition uneven?

In 2014, seven teams have both their byes in rounds without rep players, while five teams have their byes both fall outside of these rounds. This can either give your team a disadvantage or an advantage, depending on who you support. The Warriors, who have byes in rounds fourteen and seventeen, would have loved to have games on both of those weekends as Jacob Lillyman is their only origin player. The Rabbitohs get to play these games and are only missing Greg Inglis and even though he is a massive loss other teams are missing much more talent. On the other side of the spectrum The Bulldogs have games in all three origin effected rounds, with both of their halves unable to play (and also Tony Williams and Josh Morris for round eleven).

Having already lost in round eleven and round fourteen it’s no wonder that Des Hasler is blowing up about the unfairness of the draw. With a round seventeen match up against the table topping Manly side, (who will likely be missing just Cherry-Evans for origin three) Canterbury are looking at three losses from three for origin effected rounds in 2014.

The draw will never be equal with teams not playing each other the same amount of times. While this is an issue, it’s not an easy one to fix. That’s why we should focus on what is fixable and that is origin. As much as I love origin on a Wednesday night, (probably because it is all I really know) it might be time to make the change to ensure the NRL season doesn’t become so predictable and subpar for nine weeks in the middle of every year. Whether that be having origin on three consecutive weekends, like Wayne Bennett suggests, or coming up with another solution, 2014 should be the year that marks the end of fans having to pay good money to see their team play minus their biggest stars.

twitter: @louismcintyre

Standard

Why N.S.W Have Their Forwards to Thank

Image

After eight years of pain New South Wales are finally in possession of the State of Origin shield once again. There have been plenty of near misses and close calls since 2006 but finally The Blues have had the bounce of the ball go their way and achieved a series win. The look of triumph on Paul Gallen’s face after the full-time siren showed just how much pulling on a N.S.W jersey means to him and his teammates. It was a tough affair out on the field on Wednesday night and I think the state can thank their forward pack for getting us the series win.

For the first few years of Queensland’ record run N.S.W’s forward pack was the ace up their sleeve against an all dominant Queensland backline. While they boasted Slater, Inglis, Hodges, Lockyer, Cronk and Thurston we were considered to have their measure up front. Our backrowers in particular were thought of as the cream of the crop. Despite this we continued to lose and our forward pack was often dominated. The forward packs across the two teams have evened out over the last few years but this time around New South Wales stood up and really took it to the Maroons. Not to say that Queensland’s forwards were bad as both games were nail-biters, just that 2014 was the year that N.S.W won the games that they previously would have lost.

After the heroics of Jarryd Hayne in Origin one I think it is important to throw praise on the pack for this games performance. It is no surprise that it was a game dominated by forwards when there was only one try scored. Hayne didn’t have the attacking impact he had in game one and Reynolds had a bit of a shocker but that doesn’t matter when your defence holds strong for the full eighty minutes. Gallen was non-stop (yet again) and Aaron Woods came into his own this year after a poor series in 2013. He has become the bench mark for props and his quick thinking to let the ball go out on the full after the Hodkinson try stopped any chance of Queensland securing vital field position. Ryan Hoffman also had a belter, continually dragging the defence for well over ten metres. While Sam Thaiday had a good game most of Queensland’s forwards couldn’t match their New South Wales counterparts.

While Queensland had a disrupted lead up to game two, it must be mentioned that they only had Cooper Cronk missing from their full strength team (and N.S.W were missing the Morris brothers). They also had four (potential) future immortals out there in Slater, Smith, Inglis and Thurston. While origin fans love nothing more than a decider, I think its fair to say that after eight years New South Wales will take a series win anyway they can so going up two-nil is more than fine. Here’s to game three at Suncorp stadium in three weeks time and lets hope for the first whitewash since 2010.

twitter: @louismcintyre

Standard

Are Penrith the Real Deal?

Image

Half way through the season and we have the Penrith Panthers leading the competition. Who would have thought this was possible? I had high expectations for the boys from the foot of the mountains at the start of the season and I expected them to finish the year in the top eight. What I didn’t expect is that they would be doing so well so quickly. Looking at their draw for the remainder of the season I expect them to qualify around fourth or fifth but do they have what it takes to challenge for the premiership come September?

Eight games into the season and Penrith were sitting on four wins, following a win, loss, win, loss pattern from round one. A fifty percent winning ratio is nothing to write home about and no one was really mentioning them. Fast forward to just over a month later and four wins on the trot (and a bye) has catapulted them to the top of the ladder. While this is a very impressive result I believe it can be very deceiving. This idea came to me when thinking of the Panthers recent opponents. They seem to be playing Canberra, Newcastle or the Gold Coast every week and not too many top of the table blockbusters.

Analyse the draw a bit more and you can see that Penrith have avoided games against the competition heavyweights. For arguments sake I have identified five teams as being the cream of the crop due to their strong rosters and ability to continue to threaten for the premiership. They are last years top four (Melbourne, Manly, Souths and the Roosters) as well as the Bulldogs. Of these five teams Penrith have only gone against them three times this year for a win and two losses. They went down to the Storm in round two before beating the Bulldogs the following week (both in nail biters) and were easily accounted for by Souths in round 6. Compare this to the two games each they have played against Canberra and Newcastle (for four wins) and one game against Cronulla, which they lost.

I’m not saying the Penrith cant beat the good teams, just that they are yet to prove so. They don’t get much of a chance to until late in the season either as they only have the Roosters (round 19), Bulldogs (21), Melbourne (24) and Manly (25) in the back half of the draw. The game against the Storm will be a big one in particular, as the Storm should be pushing to improve their position on the ladder after a tough origin period. 2010 saw the Panthers qualify for the finals in second place before being bundled out after two consecutive losses. They will be hoping to put up more of a fight this time around.

Gus Gould has done a great job at the foot of the mountains, cleaning out the club and turning them into finals contenders once again. They have recruited excellently bringing in the right amount of experience (Kite, Soward and Wallace) with youth (Segeyaro, Peachey, Whare and Idris) over the last couple of years. This is complemented with the emergence of several local juniors, highlighted by Moylan and Cartwright.

This is Gould’s third year of involvement with Penrith and I’m starting to believe that his five year plan may be spot on. This season may just prove to be a couple of years too soon.

twitter: @louismcintyre

Standard

Capital Punishment

Image

Originally I was going to write this weeks article about how good it was that Canberra had finally made a marquee signing. I even had it all written and ready to go but Wednesday night brought a twist in the story. Forget about being unable to sign Kevin Proctor or Josh Mansour, The Raiders had a key signing who played in one of the important spine positions. Well James Tedesco’s back flip has now proven the point- no young player wants to live in the nations capital, no matter how much you pay them.

Now I am no Canberra supporter by any means but I must admit I have a soft spot for them. I loved watching their exciting brand of football in 2010 and thought it may have been the dawn of a new dynasty. 2012 also showed a lot of promise for them, but again it amounted to nothing as seen by the last two years performances. James Tedesco’s signature was believed to be the turning point which finally showed that Canberra can attract quality players. That is now all in tatters as the green machine are now looking at a pretty bleak future.

Now I get that it’s hard to attract players to the nations capital, heck i wouldn’t want to live there, and this is why Canberra have to pay overs to secure recruits. With several players turning them down in recent weeks it shows that sometimes even overs won’t do the job. That would suggest that the Raiders should concentrate on junior development but that isn’t working either. Canberra are of course able to develop great players, the problem is that the cream of the crop all end up leaving. Anthony Milford, Todd Carney and Josh Dugan are all evidence of this. The Carney and Dugan cases hurt the most as the club were forced to sack them before seeing other clubs benefit from Canberra’s hardline stance. Lets not forget about Blake Ferguson either, not a local junior but someone who developed significantly as a footballer while playing at the Raiders. If you believe reports the Roosters will have the strike centre in their squad for next year. No doubt this will be another case of Canberra seeing a rival club excel with one of their ex players as a key attacking weapon. Even Josh Papali signed elsewhere last year before doing a back flip himself.

Now lets look at the players that Canberra have managed to recruit in the last five or so years. Matt Orford was brought in at the end of his career and it was a disaster (I don’t think he even won a game while playing at the club). Bill Tupou came to the club as he wasn’t getting a look in at the Warriors and Joel Edwards is solid without being spectacular. Ferguson proved to be a good buy for a while but we all know how that turned out. Brett White and David Shillington have probably been their best recruits but you wouldn’t call either of them game breakers. Over this time Canberra have missed out on plenty of big signings to other clubs as well.

I don’t know what the Raiders are showing potential recruits when they travel down to Canberra to see the facilities but they have to reevaluate this asap because at the moment complimentary passes to Questacon, free drinks at Mooseheads and great seats to watch question time just aren’t cutting it.

twitter: @louismcintyre

Standard