Archive for September, 2009

NRL Playoffs: Week 3 Thoughts

September 29, 2009

FAO Eddie Hemmings: just because you’ve seen an NRL game / result from earlier on in the day, it doesn’t mean that everyone else has, and some of those people who haven’t might have the game ready to watch and would like to be able to watch those games without actually knowing the result. And to not realize this for two days in a row, well it’s not on. Le sigh…

Parramatta Eels vs Canterbury Bulldogs

So, how ’bout them Eels? Parramatta become the first side to reach the Grand Final from 8th place in the McIntyre system, and they did so because they’re a team right in form. Their pack is immense, and Fuifui Moimoi appears to have come on leaps and bounds from the last time I saw him. It’s also very hard not to like a pack that has Nathan Hindmarsh in it. As for the backs, their back three has been the best in the Finals and Jarryd Hayne has fully justified his Dally M, hasn’t he? It’s odd, but the least appreciated part of this team has been their halves. Daniel Mortimer had a pretty big game (especially as he was injured the week before) and Jeff Robson kept the team’s play ticking over. He almost passes under the radar but he rarely makes a mistake which allows the rest of the side to wreak havoc. 

Of course, you can’t have a great match without two good sides, and the Doggies did themselves proud in defeat. Brett Kimmorley put himself about despite a messed up cheekbone, and Hasem El Masri’s final game was a noble effort out of position once Luke Patten went down injured. Their main problem was being unable to fight fire with fire in the forwards, and thus being unable to control Parramatta’s 2nd phase play. All in all though, an excellent game and it was worth noting how serious Daniel Anderson and Nathan Hindmarsh were after the final whistle. They’re not pleased with simply being in the Grand Final – they want to win it. 

Melbourne Storm vs Brisbane Broncos

Of course, lost in all this (deserved) talk about the Eels is this sobering thought: they’re going up against a Melbourne side who have been awesome in their last two games. Admittedly, they were helped immensely in this game by the absence of Peter Wallace, because it ended in Darren Lockyer trying to do too much for the Broncos and ultimately doing nothing. What also really didn’t help the Broncos was that a week after putting in one of the most brutal defensive efforts seen in a while, they appeared tame and weak in the middle and were bullied in the forwards all day. 

It’s interesting too that with all this talk of Jarryd Hayne people seem to be forgetting that Billy Slater has scored six tries in his last two games. Add to that Greg Inglis getting a hat-trick including yet another insane finish, and Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Brett Finch all at the peak of their playmaking powers. My only worry if I was a Storm fan would be that the last two games have been too easy, because I doubt the Eels are going to be so rudderless. Nonetheless it’s fair to assume that the Storm won’t be intimidated by the Eels pack and if they can throw the Eels out of their razzamatazz element, you would think they should be favourites on Sunday.

Advertisements

ClubCall Running Diary

September 27, 2009

1.23pm Turn on Sky Sports News. Would you believe it, there’s an interview with Wigan legend Andy Farrell, talking about his new role on the backroom staff at Saracens. In a complete reversal of the usual order, Farrell is asked in a Union piece what he thinks about Super League’s latest new innovation. He diplomatically answers “It’s got people talking” which is certainly true, because I can’t remember Sky Sports News putting this much effort into a Super League story since… hmm… the London Broncos / Harlequins changeover?

1.26pm An ad break. Oh joy. The first ad is some OTT thing for the Heineken Cup. Have there been any adverts for the SL playoffs? I can’t remember any.

1.27pm T-Mobile and their sh*tty ads can f**k off.

1.28pm “Time, care and attention. That’s what makes the M. That’s what makes McDonalds.” Actually, isn’t that the exact opposite of what you get from McDonalds? 

1.30pm And we’re back with SSN, going on about how ClubCall is a ‘world first’. Actually, that’s not quite true – the NBA Development League allows the teams with the three best records at the end of the season to choose their 1st round opponents. Sorry, Sky. 

1.31pm SSN is now live from Headingley. Eddie Hemmings is there, of course, blabbing on and showing he can name the four teams remaining in the competition. Well done, Eddie. Now he explains the process of how Leeds can pick either Catalan Dragons or Wigan. I wish they could pick St Helens as well (although I doubt they would). Oh dear, it appears they’ve let some fans into the suite for this press conference (bizarrely, they refuse to show any shots of them). 

1.33pm Eddie introduces Gary Hetherington and asks him to explain the process of selecting an opponent. Methinks I’m detecting a hint of padding. There’s no reason this process couldn’t take 30 seconds, is there? Apparently Gary and Brian McClennan have consulted with senior players and blah blah blah… JUST NAME YOUR OPPONENT ALREADY, GODAMN IT!

1.35pm “We had to wait and see the outome of this weekend’s games” says Gary. That was my understanding of how this works, too. Eddie asks Gary who Leeds will play, and after Gary ‘hilariously’ spinning it out a little longer, announces that next Friday Leeds Rhinos will play… Catalan Dragons. That took waaaay too long. 

 1.37pm Eddie now starts interview Dragons chief exec Christophe Levy. He’s got a pretty good grasp of English, at least as good as Stevo. He too starts waffling on a bit, about the challenge ahead etc. As Levy points out, the Dragons have never won at Headingley.

1.38pm Brian McClennan comes up to the podium to cheers of ‘bluey! bluey!’ from what I would have to assume are Leeds fans (although they don’t show these fans – it could be actors brought in to add some atmosphere for all we know). He’s now talking about how awesome the Dragons are, which seems odd considering he just chose to play them next weekend. Eddie keeps asking Bluey if he’s worried he’s just ‘done Kevin Walters’ job for him’. Somebody needs to stop trying to create a story where there isn’t one (hint: it’s Eddie). 

1.40pm Of course, this also means we now know the teams for the other semi-final, adn Eddie now talks to Brian Noble about going over to Knowsley Rd to take on St Helens. According to Brian, it’s going to be ‘all about performance’. *Sigh* can’t he say something slightly more interesting?

1.42pm Now Eddie is talking to Eamonn McManus, who seems to have a slightly odd shade of hair colour. It’s somewhere between blond and white. It seems like it’s glowing… anyway, McManus hopes for a sellout at the GPW Recruitment Stadium next weekend. He’s not the only one. 

Anyway, that’s the end of that and we have the two expected semi-finals: Leeds Rhinos vs Catalan Dragons and St Helens vs Wigan Warriors. Both should be interesting games and it will be curious to see whether Leeds’ momentum has been affected by the bye-week, because the Dragons have been right on form lately. And as for the big derby making up the other semi-final, it seems like a pick-em game at this point. 

1.44pm And we’re back in the SSN studio,  with an either over-excited or patronising (I can’t tell which) Sam Matterface and Charlotte Jackson. Hmmm, Charlotte. Maybe I’ll just watch SSN for a bit longer…

Hull KR 16 – 30 Wigan Warriors

September 27, 2009

That’s more like it. A large, raucous crowd; two teams engaged in a tough forward battle; exciting tries from all over the field; players continuing when injured even if they really shouldn’t.This was more like what I expected and hoped from the playoffs. It was a very bizarre game that seemed to be over at half-time as Wigan raced into an 18-0 lead. Credit to Hull KR and Justin Morgan (apparently his half-time hairdryer routine worked)  for making it interesting, because going into the final quarter it was very much anyone’s game again as Hull pulled back three tries. 

Wigan won because they were able to exploit some shoddy defending by Hull KR. You have to wonder how the game would’ve panned out had Michael Dobson not gotten seriously injured early on, because he was targeted mercilessly by Wigan. However he had little to do with the softest try of the game, Iefeta Paleaasena’s ten metre charge though four defenders which could’ve been easily avoided with one more man going low in the tackle. The Robins’ defensive effort in the first simply wasn’t good enough, the Wigan forwards did the damage up the middle, and the ‘Sam Tomkins for England’ bandwagon kept marching on at full speed.

Then early in the second half Jake Webster made a line-break, and the game nearly turned on its head. Webster didn’t have the pace to go all teh way, and no support player was close enough to finish the job straight away, but from the ensuing play-the-ball a sweeping right-to-left passing move (including a beauty of a long pass from Paul Cooke) put Chris Welham over for a try. This led to a dramatic resurgence and tries from Peter Fox and Chaz I’Anson put the Robins a mere two points behind Wigan. Unfortunately for them Martin Gleeson finished off the game with two late tries, although the first one required a visit to the Video Ref. His second try was another lapse in concentration for KR as he waltzed through a massive hole in the defensive line to take Wigan through to the next round.

Like Huddersfield the night before, Hull KR have to be disappointed that a season in which they’ve made so much progress ended this way. However they’ll come back stronger for the experience and they at least put up a very commendable effort to get back into the game. As for Wigan, they’ll be a handful for any side they now come up against, and if it’s a Saints-Wigan derby for a Grand Final place then I think we could be in for a treat.

Playoff Preview: Hull KR vs Wigan Warriors

September 26, 2009

R2_KR_Wigan

Previous Meetings: Both sides won the away game by eight points this season. Since the Robins’ return to the top flight, they’re almost equal. Interestingly, the away side seems to win more often…

Form: Hull KR have lost their last two games straight and not looked particularly energetic in doing so (although both were away games). Wigan won last week against Cas in a game they really should’ve won by more than six points, and apart from an aberration of a collapse at Huddersfield have had a really strong final third of the season. 

Personnel Concerns: Obviously, Chev Walker will be missing from last week’s side for KR. On the plus side, many of the key plays who missed last week’s game (Shaun Briscoe, Ben Galea, Scott Murrell, Jake Webster) should return. Wigan should be the same as last weekend.

Thoughts: KR have looked really flat in attack over the past few weeks, but you have to wonder how much of that was due to missing key players like Briscoe (who went off early in the defeat to Wakefield). Also, it’s hard to know what to make of last week’s loss when most of the damage was done in the final quarter of the game when the Robins were clearly tired and affected by Walker’s horrific injury. It’s possible that the squad will galvanize behind the returning players and a sense of ‘doing it for Chev’. 

They will probably need to, because Wigan aren’t going to be sympathetic. They’ve entered the playoffs in form and looked pretty good against Cas (even though they ended up making life harder for themselves than they needed to). The Wigan prop rotation has really come into its own in the last few weeks, and stopping Iafeta Paleaaesina doing too much damage from the bench will really help the Hull side. The Wigan halves have had far too much time to organize things over the last few months, and Hull will need to knock them off balance. 

In Conclusion… The key in this game is whether Hull KR can regain their attacking spark. If they play flat and lifeless for the third game in a row they will lose because Wigan are strong in the forwards and definitely have the backs to finish the job. Wigan do have all the makings of a side that could get an away win upset, but whether they can actually do this depends on which Hull KR side turn up. If it’s the one which has been outmaneuvered over the last few weeks, then Wigan will definitely fancy their chances. It’s up to KR to front up again.

Huddersfield Giants 6 – 16 Catalan Dragons

September 26, 2009

Urgh.

That’s the only word to describe that game, especially if you’re a Giants fan. The atmosphere was flatter than Paris Hilton and the game did litle to change that. Although the Dragons really didn’t help the game’s flow with an ill-disciplined opening, the majority of the game should fall with the Giants who resorted to the most tedious, one dimensional gameplan which quite frankly deserved to get beaten. A lot of the Giants’ attacking play this year has revolved around the inside ball, particularly freeing up Brett Hodgson. Last night, the inside ball kept leading players into running into a red and gold wall. The Dragons completely dominated the arm-wrestle element of the game, and the Giants didn’t look like scoring at all.

It was a game populated with stupid plays. The Giants refused to deviate from the inside ball, and it never seemed to occur to the Giants to try and find a weak spot out wide (although some credit for this must go to the Dragons, because their defensive pattern was spot-on). when they actually got close to the Dragons’ line, they often tried a powerplay instead of just kicking into the corner. Even the little bit of magic that Luke Robinson provided for their try wasn’t enough to get them going. The Dragons weren’t exactly exemplary either, what with their ill-discipline (Jean-Phillipe Baile’s grab on Brett Hodgson to deny Clint Greenshields his second try deserves particular ire) and their fiery temperaments, but at least they tried to display some flair. The League Gods obviously approved, because once the Dragons hit the lead for the second time it became clear that the Giants had no way back into the game. 

Anyway, it all led to Huddersfield’s season ending with a whimper. They started off as The Next Big Club, but now serious questions have to be asked. They only won two of their final six games and three of those defeats (the Cup final, both playoff games) were their biggest games of the season. The way their attack suddenly turned anemic in the playoffs will be a major concern as well (to only concede 31 points in two games and still lose both games is a difficult one to understand). As for the Dragons, that’s three big away wins in a row and now they’re 80 minutes from the Grand Final. Not bad for a side who seemed hopelessly underperforming a few months ago. It will be very interesting to see if Leeds do the logical thing and pick them with the Club Call, because it doesn’t necessarily seem like a good idea now, does it?

Playoff Preview: Huddersfield Giants vs Catalan Dragons

September 25, 2009

R2_Hudds_Cats

Previous Meetings: Huddersfield won both games convincingly this year, including a 30-8 season-opener that told us all to expect different things from both these sides this season. Their records against each other in Super League are split fairly evenly, although Huddersfield have big advantage at home (Les Cats have only won once at the Galpharm Stadium). 

Form: Huddersfield have lost three of their last five, although two of those were close-fought games at St Helens. The Dragons appeared to be stumbling to the finish line, but have won fairly convincingly in their last two games to indicate that they’re a force to be reckoned with again. 

Personnel Concerns: None for the Giants, now Scott Moore and Keith Mason have served their internal bans for misconduct. The Dragons hope to have Jamal Fakir back from injury.

Thoughts: The Giants seemed to lack any attacking threat against Saints last weekend, although it did sort of seem like one of those games, and after the opening twenty minutes they stood up and did their fair share of work defensively. They won’t want a repeat of that opening though, because the Dragons are not the sort of side who give up large leads.

The Dragons look to have regained some attacking mojo in the last few weeks, and they’ll need it because the Giants are a very strong defensive team. Both Dimitri Pelo and Vincent Duport looked lively in the Wakefield game and you suspect that the Dragons might need to take it to the Giants out wide. Both these sides have monster packs who could neutralize each other, but if one side gets on top in the forwards don’t doubt for a second that they’ll try to capitialize on the space out wide. 

What will really help the Giants this week will be having Scott Moore back. They were lacking direction in attack at St Helens and it is very important that he adds playmaking support from dummy-half to take some pressure off Luke Robinson and Liam Fulton. Thomas Bosc has been looking sharp of late and the Giants will need to shut him down. 

In Conclusion... If any team looks prepared to pull off an upset, it’s Les Cats. I still think Huddersfield will win, but I suspect it will be a very close game. If the Giants can keep the Dragons under wraps then that will go a long way to winning them the game. If they let them score frequently though, it will be interesting to see if a misfiring Giants attack can keep up.

Season Review: Wakefield Trinity Wildcats

September 25, 2009

wakefieldPoints For: 685

Points Against: 609

Home Record: W8 L5

Away Record (including Magic weekend): W8 L6

Longest Winning Streak: 5

Longest Losing Streak: 4

Top Points Scorer: Danny Brough (178)

Top Try Scorer: Ryan Atkins (13)

Top Tackler: Jason Demetriou (738)

A tough season for Wakefield ended on a sour note as the Wildcats rather tamely fell out of the playoffs. It’s a shame, because with the gruesome season that Wakefield have endured (a player dying in preseason, another academy player dying on the pitch) reaching the playoffs is a massive achievement and one of the shining examples of John Kear’s coaching ability. 

Wakefield tended to succeed on the back of outstanding play from Danny Brough, and it was no coincidence that when he didn’t play in the playoff game against Les Cats that the Wildcats looked flat and dull. It was odd because throughout the season scoring has not been Wakefield’s problem (fourth most points in the competition). Rather, the problem was a simple one of consistency, because on their day Wakefield were as good as anyone.

(more…)

Season Review: Castleford Tigers

September 24, 2009

castleford203

Points For: 645

Points Against: 702

Home Record: W4 L9

Away Record (including Magic weekend): W10 L4

Longest Winning Streak: 4

Longest Losing Streak: 5

Top Points Scorer: Kirk Dixon (170)

Top Try Scorer: Kirk Dixon (17)

Top Tackler: Joe Westerman (728)

A season that should be judged as successful ended with a bitter twinge, but overall Castleford had a year of real progress. The bottom side twelve months ago, the Tigers forced their way into the top half of the table this year and into the playoffs, where they narrowly lost their elimination game to Wigan. Although they weren’t the most consistent side, they did play with a real sense of exuberance when they were on form, and their crop of young players meshed well with some wily veterans to create a side that was entertaining to watch (if a little inconsistent). 

The young guns all kicked on this year, all except for possibly the brightest potential star. Joe Westerman didn’t quite reach the heights he achieved last year, although he did more than his fair share of tackling in the middle of the park. But Michael Shenton pushed on towards international honours, Kirk Dixon and Richard Owen also both reminded everyone that there’s more to the Cas production line than the main two (Owen should consider himself disappointed not to at least get a call up to the England train-on squad). The veterans also helped out as well, with Brent Sherwin proving himself an adept on-field general, and Dean Widders 

(more…)

NRL Playoffs: Week 2 Thoughts

September 24, 2009

The matches last weekend weren’t lacking in story lines, but they did end up lacking in drama as the two home sides drove their advantage home to book their place in this weekend’s Preliminary Finals. Whilst two sides move on and look like they’re exceeding expectations, the two losers must reflect on opportunities missed as they both bowed out this weekend rather tamely. 

Parramatta Eels vs Gold Coast Titans

For a team who managed to sneak their way into the playoffs, Parramatta are looking really, really good right now. Admittedly Gold Coast didn’t look that good at all, looking flat and deflated from the effort put into their aborted near-comeback the previous week, but the Eels exploited it perfectly. They took advantage of some lax defending and also put on some sweet moves to overcome the Titans 27-2, and the fact that they kept the Titans tryless (and scoreless for the final 65 minutes) should tell you something about the defensive effort they put in as well. Daniel Anderson has got his charges peaking at the right time and they have the best chance to win the Grand Final of any lower-placed side that I can remember. 

Fuifui Moimoi was excellent in the forwards for the Eels once again, and if the back three wasn’t quite as electric as the week before they were still good enough to teach a young Titans back three a lesson in attack and support play. The Titans just looked flat and unable to build any momentum. It was as if the loss to Brisbane the week before had destroyed their season. Parramatta are heading to a Preliminary Final against the Bulldogs in front of a huge crowd with real momentum, attacking threat in both the forwards and the backs, and a top player in Jarryd Hayne in the form of his life. At the very least, they’re not going to die wondering. 

Brisbane Broncos vs St George-Illawarra Dragons

Ultimately, Wayne Bennett was defeated by himself. The Brisbane Broncos machine that he created, where they kick into another gear come playoff time, was able to overcome a Dragons outfit which he hasn’t been able to mould that way yet. Darren Lockyer? Karmichael Hunt? Sam Thaiday? All men molded by Bennett into the top players they are today, and all players who helped bring their former boss down. Although Bennett was able to secure a minor premiership for the club, he wasn’t able to do anything about their finals mental block in his first year in charge. Bennett hasn’t been able to bring the culture of victory and success that he helped to instigate in his years at the Broncos down south with him to Sydney.

On a more fundamental level, the Dragons suffered in almost exactly the same way as the week before – their attacking play was mediocre for pretty much the entire evening. They were unable to break the Broncos for the most part, and offered very little threat. Jamie Soward and Ben Hornby moved the team around the field, but they were unable to open up holes for their players to run into. The Broncos by contrast must’ve done their homework because their inside passes by Lockyer and Peter Wallace were threatening all night, and Hunt showed he’ll be missed next year with his ability to exploit those chances. They also opened the game with perhaps the most efficiently brutal display of defence I have ever seen, as every hit Ashton Sims and Dave Taylor put on seemed designed to hospitalize the Dragons within the parameters of the game’s laws (Taylor, incidentally, had his second blinder in a row). The Broncos now have to go down south to Melbourne and try to overcome the Storm, but if they can defend like that again it’ll go a long way to getting them to another Grand Final. As for the Dragons, they have an offseason to endure, in which time they will hope that Bennett can conjure up some of that Brisbane bottle in Sydney.

Wigan Warriors 18 – 12 Castleford Tigers

September 21, 2009

A rather fiery game at the DW Stadium last night, as Wigan held off a spirited Castleford comeback to move on in the Super League playoffs and eliminate the Tigers in the process. A fair number of missed high shots and a lot of hard-hitting drives and tackles meant that this had all the makings of a brutal classic. Wigan undermined that somewhat by cruising out to an 18-0 lead thanks to tries from Harrison Hansen, George Carmont (both assisted by Pat Richards from high-bombs) and Amos Roberts (after nice work by Sam Tomkins). Craig Huby and Joe Westerman scored late on to add a frisson to the final proceedings, and in the end a speculative cross-field kick by Michael Shenton just bounced into touch before Kirk Dixon could get to it, and with it went the Tigers’ hopes of a comeback.

Wigan won this game because of two reasons. Firstly, thier forward pack completely dominated for the most part, especially when Iafeta Paleaaesina and Stuart Fielden came onto the field. Fielden offered stability whilst Feka did his usual cannonball impression, which was exactly what the Warriors needed at the time. Secondly, the Wigan kicking game was superior all night, especially towards Pat Richards who helped contribute to the opening two tries for Wigan. Rather like Wakefield the night before, by the time Castleford found their mojo, it was too late. I won’t lie, my first thought about Wigan’s first try was that George Carmont knocked it on, but Wigan had building building up the pressure and made it pay.

Castleford’s players took too long to get into the game, which was a shame because late on they were playing pretty smoothly. Mitchell Sargent and Craig Huby definitely offered their best go-forward, and the backs often looked good when they got decent service (which unfortunately for them happened far too little). Richard Owen may have just played himself into the England squad with his performance (he’s got to worth looking at in the train-on squad at least). Had Owen not been denied by the tackle of the playoffs from Carmont early on, it might have been a different game. It’s a shame that this young, talented side couldn’t maintain more consistency this season, which showed very much in this game, but it’s been a good learning experience for them, and they should ones to look out for next year. After all, they were a funny bounce of the ball from leveling this game late on. 

As for Wigan, it’ll be interesting to see how they fare away from the DW Stadium. I imagine Craven Park will be a hostile environment next Saturday, but then Hull KR have been fairly weak lately and Wigan could definitely shut the crowd up early. Their forwards have got themselves some push at the minute, their backs have been scoring machines all season, and they have an exciting combination in the halves. They’re a surprisingly youthful side but I don’t think they’ll be overwhelmed by the occasion. If Hull KR aren’t on form then Wigan are more than capable of capitalizing. Even if Hull KR are playing well, Wigan might be able to keep up with them. Either way, it should be fun.