Archive for November, 2008

Worth seeing again: The Haka

November 25, 2008

There was something about this which made me think that the game could turn out quite good.

The Kangaroos advancing on the Kiwis, and the Kiwis in turn upping their game, the way this seemed to pump up the crowd; as pre-match entertainment goes, it damn well did its job.

XIII’s World Cup XIII

November 24, 2008
Not a bad collection of players

Not a bad collection of players...

As the tournament is now over, so what better way to celebrate the festival of Rugby League that we have been lucky to witness than a completely subjective appraisal of some of the key individuals that took part?

I’ve decided to compile a side of players that I thought had a major impact on their teams and on the tournament as a whole. The other criteria is that I have avoided playing anyone out of position. I’ve also probably tried to have as big a spread of competing nations providing players as I could, which means that some players who mostly played in the early stages of the World Cup and didn’t get a chance to shine late on are in here. Part of the problem with the Super Group is that it is hard to gauge how players from Groups B and C would have gone against the big guns.

Of course, there are some players I feel bad about leaving out. Had David Williams played in more games it’s quite likely he would be in this side somewhere. Stanley Gene was inspirational to watch, and his emotion at the end of Papua New Guinea’s final game was heart-rendering. The Aussie back-row worked so well as a unit that they all cancelled out each other’s impact. Nathan Cayless was mostly effective until the final, where his play went up another level. Martin Gleeson was probably the only English back to do his reputation any good (apart from maybe Danny McGuire, who suffered from an insistence on giving Leon Pryce too long to try and find form). Danny Brough was the heart around which Scotland beat, and his absence from their rnaking game showed how necessary he was for the Bravehearts.

Really, a lot of players had big tournaments and all contributed to the success of the competition, but I only have thirteen spots to fill. So here are my picks for outstanding contributors to this World Cup:

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Conflicting Messages

November 24, 2008
Hes not going through the best of times right now...

He's not going through the best of times right now...

Ricky Stuart, in the immediate aftermath of Australia’s 34-20 defeat to New Zealand:

Please don’t make this about Australia. Show some journalistic ability and promote New Zealand.

A very gracious answer, which makes it all the much harder to understand this. I just assumed after Wayne Bennett was forced out after the 2005 Tri-Nations final defeat that losing a final was an automatic sacking from the Kangaroos job (incidentally, how smug must Bennett be feeling now?). If these accusations against Stuart are true it only compounds matters and he must be seriously questioning his job security right now.

Kiwi Kings Show The World How It’s Done

November 23, 2008

Well, I’ll admit I didn’t see that one coming.

In a World Cup final where the majority of the 50,599 in attendance were expecting to see the coronation of what had been described in the build-up as one of the greatest Australia sides ever, instead we witnessed New Zealand pull off one of the most spectacular pieces of sporting regicide ever seen as they upset the odds to score an ultimately convincing 34-20 victory. The Kiwis outfought the Kangaroos, and their defensive pressure caused a surprisingly brittle Australia side into mistakes in key positions. Perhaps most surprisingly of all though, New Zealand were by far and away the more disciplined side, as the wrestling interfering methods pioneered in the NRL were pushed beyond their limits in an attempt to stop the momentum of the New Zealand side. Australia tried to find a way to overcome the Kiwi menace but in doing so often just left opportunities which New Zealand gleefully exploited

In retrospect, more attention should have been paid to the Kiwis’ recent record in finals. Of course it’s well known that they beat the Kangaroos in the 2005 Tri-Nations final, but it’s also overlooked that they only lost in golden point extra time in the final a year later, having scored more tries in regulation time (alas, conceding more penalties as well). Sure, they’ve underperformed in one-off tests and test series over the last three years, but I think that yesterday’s performance shows how little that really matters. In the most important game of their lives, the Kiwis stepped up to levels hitherto not seen from them and vanquished their heavily favoured foes with a display of guts, determination, intelligence and skill that opened up weaknesses in the Kangaroos not seen in quite some time.

Of course, it’s hard to talk about this game without mentioning a key turning point in the game; namely, the penalty try that took New Zealand two scores clear with ten minutes remaining. I think it’s a small shame that this clouds the result somewhat and some Kangaroos have already been complaining, but I think they’re missing the point, which is that Australia were comprehensively outplayed down the stretch, which is something we have rarely ever seen in the last few decades and certainly not in big games (even in the Tri-Nations defeat they were just horrible for the whole game). Personally, I didn’t think that it was a penalty try, but it was a definite penalty and probably should have seen Joel Monaghan dismissed for the remaining minutes of the match (if not a sending off it should have been a sin-binning, which would effectively be the same thing with less than ten minutes to play). Who’s to say that even if it was just given as a penalty that New Zealand wouldn’t have scored a more conventional try? Sure, the Kiwis had the majority of the luck, but considering that Australia had everything go their way up until this point, maybe it’s just things balancing out.

Jeremy Smith was absolutely immense, and his try was a just reward

Jeremy Smith was absolutely immense, and his try was a just reward

For all the talking about the refereeing, it can’t really detract from the fact that the Kiwis were definitely the better side. They were dominant in the forwards and my personal Man of the Match was Jeremy Smith, who was demonic in defence, a juggernaut in attack, and his ankle tap on Johnathan Thurston is one of the key moments being overlooked in the wake of the penalty try. On top of that, the Kiwis finally appear to have brains again, as Nathan Fien and Benji Marshall, err, marshalled (sorry) the Kiwi forwards around the field and their kicking game helped to keep Billy Slater from causing too much damage on kick returns (although he did threaten on occasions). Thomas Leuluai and Isaac Luke between them also helped to control the ruck which was a large factor in their success. Perhaps most importantly though, the Kiwi forwards won the collision more often than not, and their ability to drive and get quick play-the-balls negated the Australian’s technical wrestling style. Nathan Cayless, Adam Blair and the aforementioned Smith were all outstanding in taking the fight to the Kangaroos.

As for Australia, whilst there’s no denying that they underperformed you can hardly say that they handed victory on a plate to New Zealand. Their forwards tried hard, particularly Petro Civoniceva, and their backs looked threatening on the few occasions that they were allowed to get the ball wide by the Kiwis (as was shown by their third try, which was one of the greatest set of tackles I have ever seen). Darren Lockyer received the official Man of the Match award which struck me as odd, but he was valiant in defeat, scoring a first-half brace and trying to put pressure on the Kiwis in the second half with his passing and well measured kicking game. What was really noticeable about the ‘roos performance though was how unnoticeable the threequarters were. A back-line that has dominated the tournament to this point was shut down. Apart from his try Greg Inglis was barely seen (along with Israel Folau) and Joel Monaghan’s main contribution was conceding the penalty try. David Williams took his try nicely, but in the end the Kiwis were able to starve the Australian three-quarters of attacking ball, and thus render them impotent.

A mixed day for Billy Slater and Darren Lockyer

A mixed day for Billy Slater and Darren Lockyer

In the end, the Australian performance was summed up fairly well by the showing of Billy Slater. Named as the RLIF World Player of the Year earlier in the week, he started off like a bullet, and it was his searing break that set up Darren Lockyer and his cut-out pass that freed David Williams. Yet as the game wore on New Zealand started to get the measure of him and didn’t let him get his way. Both Jeremy Smith and Lance Hohaia gave him the speedbump treatment in scoring their tries, and of course he had one of the most high-profile brain explosions in Rugby League history when his inside speculator pass gifted Benji Marshall with his try. Slater, like the Kangaroos, looked threatening at many points during the match, but undermined it with mistakes at key moments. His final pass into touch, looking to free Monaghan for a try, seemed indicative of a player trying too hard.

So overall, the best team in the tournament lost, but the best side in the final won. It shows that Australia aren’t the superhuman behemoths that they are sometimes portrayed as, and that good coaching and preparation can be a massive factor in improvement. Most of all though, it’s the best possible result for the tournament and for international Rugby League; just because Australia are the best side in the world, it doesn’t mean that no side can aspire to become better than them. International Rugby League should no longer be seen as a one horse race, and dare I say it the Kangaroos will come back stronger from this defeat. What we need for international Rugby League to be seen as interesting is competition, and in a tournament littered with close, intense games and underdogs exceeding  expectations, we got the most fitting and beneficial finale possible. Roll on 2013!

Silly Season begins

November 23, 2008

Well, what better way to build upon a highly successful World Cup than with a cross-code match between the Australian national sides of the two codes?

Wait a minute, what?

Apparently ANZ Stadium in Sydney has been provisionally booked for next October to feature a hybrid match between the Wallabies and the Kangaroos. What rules would such a match be played under? Apparently, they’re not sure yet:

The success of the match will depend on establishing rules that ultimately decide the best football team and not which team is best advantaged by the rule interpretations. Dwyer and Fulton will be part of the rules committee charged with finding rules that suit both codes equally.

I really, really want to call BS on this. There is a world of unappreciated difference between League and Union, and the idea of creating a new set of rules that avoids favouring either code strikes me as being more difficult than solving the credit crunch, bringing peace to the Middle East and bringing back Jesus, all at the same time. Either the game has to favour the need for set-pieces of Union or it will focus on ball movement and core skills as League does.Not only that, but idea of two sets of players having to learn new sets of unfamiliar rules leads me to think that it would be a stop-start tedium fest. They’ll probably end up doing that ‘half-of-each’ thing that often constitutes most cross-code games, and all that will prove is that the Kangaroos are better at League whilst the Wallabies are better at Union.

On top of that, I think that it’s also worth noting that Australia are supposed to be competing in the Four Nations in the northern hemisphere next October. Are they not going to fulfil their commitments to that? I assume such a game would take place before they leave, which means that they would be spend a portion of their valuable preparation time learning a new set of rules which would become redundant at the conclusion of the match. That strikes me as a rather inefficient way for a side to spend their prep time, particularly a side which has just been shown that it can’t have everything its own way anymore.

The final stupid point about this game is that it is going under the provisional title of ‘Hybrid Twelve’. That’s not the name of a sport, that’s the name of a Japanese RPG. Hopefully this whole idea will be dismissed in the coming days.

LIVE: The World Cup Final

November 22, 2008

So here it is. Afte five weeks of League action, we’re left with the two best sides remaining. New Zealand have improved since the opening game, but in that match they were dominated by Australia. The Kangaroos have been dominant through the whole thing, but Ricky Stuart has questioned the level of their preparation; apparently he thinks demolishing Papua New Guinea and Fiji might not be good enough. We’ll see. The teams:

Australia: Billy Slater, Joel Monaghan, Greg Inglis, Israel Folau, David Williams, Darren Lockyer (c), Johnathan Thurston, Petero Civoniceva, Cameron Smith, Brent Kite, Glenn Stewart, Anthony Laffranchi, Paul Gallen.

Interchange: 14. Karmichael Hunt, 15. Craig Fitzgibbon, 16. Anthony Tupou, 17. Anthony Watmough.

New Zealand: Lance Hohaia, Sam Perrett, Simon Mannering, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei, Benji Marshall, Nathan Fien, Nathan Cayless (c), Thomas Leuluai, Adam Blair, David Fa’alogo, Bronson Harrison, Jeremy Smith.

Interchange: Issac Luke, Greg Eastwood, Sam Rapira, Sika Manu.

Fun fact: Australia have conceded a mere 16 points in the four games so far, scoring a none-too-shabby 180 in the process. The Kiwis have their work cut out for them.

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LIVE: Australia vs Fiji

November 16, 2008

So here we are, the second semi-final wihich decides the side that will face New Zealand in the Final in Brisbane next week. The sides:

Australia: Slater; Monaghan, Inglis, Folau, Tate; Lockyer (capt), Thurston; Civoniceva, Smith, Price, Stewart, Laffranchi, Gallen.

Interchange: Hunt, Fitzgibbon, Tupou, Kite.

Fiji: Hayne; Tadulala, Naiqama (captain), Millard, Uate; Noilea, Groom; Sadrau, Sukanaveita, Vonomateiratu, Sims, Koroi, Bukuya.

Interchange (from): Storer, Bradley-Qalilawa, Macilai, Tora, Naqau, Wesele (two to be omitted).

Obviously, if I had to pick a side I’d be picking Australia. However, I have enough faith that Fiji should at least make this game entertaining.

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LIVE: England vs New Zealand

November 15, 2008

Press F5 or refresh to get an up-to-date page.

A feeling of deja vu here… last week’s game was simultaneously closer than the scoreline suggests and yet also more one-sided than the scoreline suggests. If England don’t completely suck for the second half today, we could have quite a game on our hands. The teams:

England: Paul Wellens; Ade Gardner, Martin Gleeson, Keith Senior, Lee Smith; Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow; Jamie Peacock (c), James Roby, James Graham (c); Gareth Ellis, Ben Westwood, Rob Purdham.

Interchange: Leon Pryce, Adrian Morley, Mickey Higham, Jon Wilkin

New Zealand: Lance Hohaia; Sam Perrett, Simon Mannering, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei; Benji Marshall, Nathan Fien; Nathan Cayless (c), Thomas Leuluai,  Adam Blair; Sika Manu, David Fa’alogo, Jeremy Smith.

Interchange: Issac Luke, Greg Eastwood, Bronson Harrison, Sam Rapira.

Of course, England haven’t really done much to suggest that they can make the step up, but blind hope’s a powerful thing, isn’t it? Stil, at the very least it’s a good sign that England will at last be operating with two hookers. I still see the Kiwis sneaking it.

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LIVE: Ireland vs Fiji

November 10, 2008

Sorry I didn’t report in yesterdays games but I was simply too tired to get up for a relatively unimportant game. I then didn’t get up in time for the full Aus vs PNG game either, and a very small part of me just wanted to make sure that Australia didn’t blow it against PNG… Anyway, that’s all over and it’s knockout time, so let’s look at today’s teams:

Ireland: Michael Platt, Damien Blanch, Sean Gleeson, Stuart Littler, Pat Richards, Scott Grix, Liam Finn, Eamon O’Carroll, Bob Beswick, Gareth Haggerty, Ben Harrison, Lee Doran, Simon Finnegan

Interchange: Michael McIlorum, Karl Fitzpatick, Ged Corcoran, Ryan Tandy

Fiji: Jarryd Hayne, Semi Tadulala, Wes Naiquama, Daryl Millard, Akuila Utae, Alipate Noilea, Aarom Groom, Osea Sadrau, Waisale Sukanaveita, Ilisoni Vonomatieratu, Ashton Sims, Sevania Koroi, Jason Bukuya

Interchange: James Storer, Nick Bradley-Qualilawa, Semisi Tora, Kalivoa Nauqe

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LIVE: England vs New Zealand

November 8, 2008

Okay, I’m still up… just. Now we get what is both the biggest game of the round and yet also one of the most meaningless, since we know that both these teams will probably be back to tango again next week. It’sa  curious flaw in the scheduling which seems rather obviously avoidable, but oh well. Here are the teams:

England: Wellens, Calderwood, Sykes, Senior, Smith, Gleeson, Burrow, Morley, Higham, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ellis, Purdham.

Replacements: Sinfield, Westwood, Hock, Langley.

New Zealand: Hohaia, Nightingale, Matai, Ropati, Vatuvei, Marshall, Leuluai, Blair, Fien, Tuimavave, Mannering, Fa’alogo, Smith.

Replacements: Luke, Eastwood, Kidwell, Harrison.

Very odd decisions for England. On the one hand, Purdham should have been in the seventeen from the start, but on the other playing Martin Gleeson instead of McGuire makes me wonder if Tony Smith is trying to build up a sense of overconfidence in New Zealand ahead of next week.

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