Archive for the ‘NRL’ Category

NRL Grand Final: Melbourne Storm 23 – 16 Parramatta Eels

October 5, 2009

It looked like it was going to be a comfortable victory for the Melbourne Storm heading into the final fifteen minutes. They were leading 22-6 thanks to tries to Ryan Hoffman, Adam Blair, Greg Inglis and Billy Slater, and had even snuffed out Eric Grothe’s would-be comeback-igniter with Slater’s effort. Turns out the Eels just needed to find a second wind, which they did thanks to tries to Joel Reddy and an absolute barnstorming run from Fuifui Moimoi during which I’m pretty sure he would’ve knocked a hippo out of the way. In the end though Moimoi was adjudged to be the villain, accused by the referee of stealing the ball from Slater when all the evidence seemed to show his innocence. In the end, the penalty was enough to take the Storm deep into Parramatta territory, and Greg Inglis relieved his teammates by popping over a drop goal to take the Storm that crucial second score further from the Eels. 

If Parramatta had managed to succeed with their late surge, it would have been the ultimate example of an underserving team scraping a victory because apart from that ten-minute spell they were completely dominated by the Storm. The Eels’ run to the Grand Final had been built on dominating in the forwards and utilising the momentum in the 2nd phase. The one problem was it seemed quite obvious that they weren’t going to bully the Storm around like they had the Dragons, Titans and Bulldogs. In fact, the Storm played it almost note-perfect, swarming the Eeels and taking the big shots when they could (special kudos to Adam Blair who seemed to make it his personal mission to show  the Eels they wouldn’t have everything their own way). They also exploited their attacking opportunities perfectly, and they had a telepathic knowledge of where the support runners would be. I’m also amazed Cooper Cronk didn’t win the Churchill Medal, because he operated the Melbourne machine with pilot-like precision and was at the heart of their scoring (he set up three of four tries). Still, Billy Slater didn’t do too badly either so I won’t begrudge him his medal.

The Eels tried hard, but they just couldn’t break the Storm down apart from that magical spell. Nathan Hindmarsh made 64 tackles. 64! That’s a tackle every 75 seconds. That’s straight-up insane and a fantastic example of Hindmarsh’s extreme work ethic, but the fact he had to make so many tackles is indicative of the fact that the Eels weren’t on the front foot enough, which unfortunately for them is essential for their jazz-style of rugby to work. Fuifui Moimoi was also full of energy, but the Storm did a good job of containing him (if not stopping him). The fact that Jarryd Hayne didn’t really have all that much of a chance to show his talents was indicative of the Eels’ failings, and also indicative of a smart gameplan from the Storm who didn’t let him into the game. His face after his knock-on at the end of the game was that of a frustrated man unable to shape the game his way for the first time in a month. It also didn’t help that their final tackle options and kicking game could be generously called ‘godawful’. 

And so the Storm win their second Grand Final in four years, having been in the final game in all those seasons as well, which cements their reputation as the Rugby League dynasty over the past decade – not bad going considering the club is barely a decade old anyway. Greg Inglis hasn’t played a full season and not reached the Grand Final yet, and with their Toyota Cup side winning that competition (with an English full-back, Gareth Widdop, who might find himself getting international recognition soon) it looks like they’ll be up there for the next few years at least. As for Parramatta, it’s not a bad effort for Daniel Anderson’s first year in charge, and now they have the experience of going this far they should be the wiser for the experience. Of course, to go that one further they’ll have to go through the Storm, not to mention all the other teams in the NRL who will have looked to improve. It should be fun next year.

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.

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.

NRL Playoffs: Week 1 Thoughts

September 16, 2009

You know what? Trying to avoid scores (especially two days after a match’s completion) makes life a lot harder than necessary. Over the weekend I watched every Finals game in the NRL, but I was only able to watch the Dragons-Eels game last night. Somehow, I avoided the score which meant I was just as surprised by the final result as everyone else. It was an unexpected end to a fairly eventful round of Qualifying Finals. 

Melbourne Storm vs Manly Sea Eagles

It was hard not to notice that Billy Slater looked good last Friday night. By contrast, Manly didn’t. I expect they probably thought they would get a second chance, but other results now mean that the Sea Eagles have surrendered their grip on the premiership. You got the feeling it wouldn’t go well once Jamie Lyon went off injured early (a recurring theme this weekend was players taking risks on injured players). Slater was electric, Inglis was bullocking all game and the Storm forward pack looked menacing. Add to that the fact that they’ve been gifted a bye week by other results and now have a home Preliminary Final at Etihad Stadium, and all of a sudden the Storm look real like favourites from this point on. For Manly, it’s back to the drawing board. At least this means no repeat Grand Final for the third year running. 

Gold Coast Titans vs Brisbane Broncos

Game of the round, easily. A proper shootout in which both sides scored some beauties, and despite Brisbane racing away to a significant lead the game somehow managed to maintain tension up until the final minutes thanks to a Titans comeback that could be described as ‘spirited’ at an absolute minimum. I’m not necessarily convinced about Israel Folau being much more than a glorified arial jumper, but my god is he good at what he does.

This game showed the value of an established winning culture, as the Broncos showed they could cope with Finals footbal even without Wayne Bennett. For the Titans, Kevin Gordon looked exciting, and I was really impressed by Brad Meyers (even if I didn’t recognize him under all that fur). Anyway, the upshot of this game is that both sides are playing next week, and I wonder if this game will have taken a lot out of both sides.

Canterbury Bulldogs vs Newcastle Knights

The Knights played their hearts out, but it just wasn’t enough. In the end Canterbury’s power was enough to see them through, but they were clearly lacking in the organization department and I’m certain they’ll be wanting Brett Kimmorley back ASAP, so in that regard winning this game was crucial because it buys them an extra week’s rest.  The Doggies’ pack was impressive enough to see them through and I think Leeds will be looking forward to actually getting Greg Eastwood because he was right on form. Most impressive was probably Ben Hannant, who’s got a pretty good motor for such a big unit. 

So the Knights end up eliminated this weekend, but they certainly put in the effort. Their forward pack played well, but ultimately they lacked discipline enough to see it through. They put up a fight though, and it’s a youngish side which I suspect will be the better for getting some Finals experience. 

St George-Illawara Dragons vs Paramatta Eeels

Parramatta’s exciting tries seemed rather against the spirit of what was a conservative, attritional game which played right into the Eeels’ hands. I can’t really remember any examples of the Dragons trying any 2nd phase play successfully, which seems rather risky playing against a pack with Nathan Hindmarsh, Nathan Cayless and Fuifui Moimoi. Even though St George had all the possession in the first half, they did nothing with it and their decision to take a penalty kick early on when a few metres out from the line reeked of a side lacking confidence in attack. 

In the end the difference between the two sides was Parramatta’s back three. Luke Burt got the first try, Eric Grothe’s intercept gutted the Dragons’ attempt at a comeback, and as for Jarryd Hayne’s try… well, it was a beaut. There’s a gif of it behind the break, and although it may take a while to load I would say it’s worth the effort. The Eels have a very real shot at becoming the first eighth-placed side to win it all under the McIntyre system. As for the Dragons, you have to wonder about their reputation as chokers, don’t you? I wouldn’t write them off, though. I remember the Broncos losing their first Finals game in 2006 (to St George, funnily enough) and they came back in spectacular style to win the comp, something I think Wayne Bennett will remember. Now Bennett has to take the Dragons to Suncorp Stadium to beat the Broncos in sudden-death football this weekend. Funny how life works out, isn’t it?

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WTF!?! Moment of the Year: Karmichael Hunt to AFL

August 8, 2009

Okay, I’d heard all these rumours about Karmichael Hunt not being happy and talking about switching codes, but I didn’t expect him to switch to this code. In 2011 Hunt will be playing in the AFL for a new Gold Coast club, in a move which is unprecedented as far as I know.

So why would he do such a thing? Well, I have my theories…

Why, look at a quote from this Livenews article about Hunt’s contract negotiations earlier this year 

I’m in a wonderful position where I have the ability to play at the elite level in other sports which are played internationally.

Of course, this was when Hunt was fishing around for a Rugby Union contract. I suspect the ARU have finally realised that forking out loads of money on prospects who haven’t even been playing their sport recently is a tad too risky a proposition. So Hunt has now turned his attention to the Aussie Rules, a sport with a minimalist approach to rep football, to say the least (thus rendering his comments a load of BS). 

Nonetheless, I can understand why Hunt would leave League for footballing reasons. For one thing, he’s clearly down the rep ladder behind Billy Slater for State of Origin and probably Kurt Gidley and Brett Stewart for Australia as well. As a result he’s trapped in a limbo of sorts, being good but not quite good enough to be considered one of the greats. He’s won a Priemiership and rep honours, so there’s not actually much left for him to achieve in the game, and he still hasn’t entered his physical prime yet. 

Personally, I see this as a massive PR stunt on the part of the AFL and their new Gold Coast club. If the AFL are part subsidising a contract that would make Hunt one of the highest earners in a league in which he hasn’t ever played, then it’s pretty clear that they want to use his star power to draw in crowds in what the Titans have been consolidating as League territory. As the ARU could probably tell them, that’s not necessarily a foolproof plan. Also, if Hunt is actually successful they’ve set themselves up to receive a hell of a gloating from League fans. 

Free NRL!

July 3, 2009

As you may be aware, Setanta UK recently went off-air, due to the company going into administration. This sucks for fans of boxing, UFC, mediocre Premiership football games, the Cricket Circus, and of course the NRL.

Well, fear not! The NRL have made their games available for live-streams for the lovely cost of ZERO MONEYS (for now at least). This is a smart move for the NRl to make sure that their fans in this country don’t forget that they exist in the interim as they search for a new TV deal. This is also a pretty sweet deal for those of us who never had Setanta in the first place…

Okay, Maybe They Have a Point…

March 18, 2009

On BBC Radio 4 Today programme yesterday, there was a brief piece about Rugby League which is definitely a rarity. Of course, it didn’t exactly portray the game in a positive light as it was a piece about the ‘booze epidemic’ currently taking over the NRL. It seemed a little scare-mongering to me, and excessively critical. Considering how the NRL doesn’t really register on the radar of most British sports fans, it seemed like a piece going out of its way to portray the game in a negative light.

Then this morning I happened to read this (emphasis mine):

CRONULLA have stood down halfback Brett Seymour from all commitments with the NRL club pending further investigation into an alleged alcohol bender on Sunday evening.

Seymour ended a 10-hour bender in a garden bed in Cronulla Mall after being ejected from popular nightspot 2230 Lounge Bar & Restaurant about 1am Monday morning. 

Seymour has since been cleared of falling into the garden bed, and is no longer stood down. Quite frankly, to let him off because of that is to miss the point, namely that he was drunk enough to be ejected from a nightclub. You would think that in an environment where there has been a rash of incidents involving players and excessive amounts of alcohol that they might just turn it down a notch. Evidently not. Considering that Seymour has previous experience when it comes to drink-related misconduct that he would be especially wary about getting embroiled in a saga like this. Again, evidently not.

All this talk of the NRL instigating a drinking ban seems overly draconian, and I doubt it would change much (ask 1930s America how banning alcohol worked there). If players want to drink,they will drink. It seems more like a cultural problem that needs to be corrected. It was noticable in the article that the Cronulla players were joining their coach Ricky Stuart for a casual drink. I know from personal experience that it doesn’t take too much for a casual drink to end up getting a little more hardcore. I can understand Stuart doing this for the purposes of team spirit, and it’s worth pointing out that no other player at this get-together made a fool of themselves, but I think there’s probably a drinking culture that starts at the clubs and needs to be reconsidered at the minute whether any celebratory drinks, no matter how casual, are a good idea.  

Basically, there’s only one time I consider players making drunken fools of themselves to be appropriate: after winning a Final. Apart from that, they really should cut down on the drinking, especially in an environment when they are going to be hung out to dry for the slightest indiscretion (not that most of the incidents that have been documented this season could be described as ‘slight’). It’s a sad state of affairs where the governing body might have to step in to instigate some common sense in the players.

Queensland Derby low on Efficiency, high on Entertainment

March 13, 2009

A pretty damn entertaining game at Suncorp Stadium today, as Brisbane Broncos managed to overcome North Queensland Cowboys 19-18 to get their 2009 campaign up and running. It was noticeable how rusty both sides were with knock-ons and missed tackles galore, but I’ve always felt that the most important aspect to an entertaining sporting contest is consistent parity, and these two sides seemed fairly level for the most part. In the end Brisbane’s ability to make less mistakes in key positions was what led to Peter Wallace sending over a drop-goal with only a few mnutes remaining.

A few things to take out of this game. Firstly, Dave Taylor is a beast. Having not really watched the NRL that much just as he’s come into the the league, I’d heard about him but not really seen all that much of him. His drive and off-load for Corey Parker’s try was a thing of beauty, and I see why he’s seen as one of the outstanding young props in the game. Secondly, has there ever been a more dangerous last-minute player than Darren Lockyer? I know it didn’t result in a try, but his decision to run and off-load in the final minute from around his own 40 metre line when a kick would have been the logical option saw a Brisbane movement held up just a few metres from the line; the Cowboys knocked on after the turnover nder pressure on their own line, and the game was up. Thirdly, this game seemed more… frantic than usual, and it showed in the performance of the players. Was this due to having two referees? We’ll see as the season progresses.

All Kinds of Crazy Stuff Beginning Today / Tomorrow

March 12, 2009

Through taking my eyes off the ball, I’d completely failed to notice that two competitions will be starting up in the next 24 hours, meaning that there’s even more Rugby League to watch. I call this a Good Thing.

First off, later this evening sees the start of the Co-Operative Championship, as Widnes Vikings get to take on Toulouse Olympique. The Championship should be especially interesting to watch this year, as we get to see just how the clubs manage to cope without having any promotion to aim for in the immediate future. Of course a Grand Final appearance is one of the requirements for promotion into Super League, and the clubs that genuinely hope to get a license will be planning for it right now. Widnes will undoubtedly be one of those teams aiming for the top flight, and so it will be interesting to see how they get on against a club that many feel the RFL are hoping to fast-track into Super League. It will also be interesting to see at what level Toulouse will compete at, because if they perform at a high level in the Championship in the next three years I would imagine they will be aiming for a Super League place as well.

Then tomorrow morning (evening local time) the best Rugby League competition in the world kicks off, as the NRL begins its 2oo9 season. I must admit that I’ve not followed the NRL so much in the last few seasons. This isn’t out of any belief about its entertainment value or anything like that, it’s just because Setanta took the rights from Sky and I don’t have Setanta. However, I hope to watch a lot more of it this year. I had indeed hoped to be able to get an Aussie Sports subscription, but due to their stupid online payment system I’m not sure I’ll do that after all. If they don’t want my money, then that’s their problem. Still, I’m sure I’ll find a way… Manly Sea Eagles start as favourites (rightly, after their performances over here) but given that they seem to be trying to self-implode at the minute, they might not be the safest bet…

Australians use Science to Develop Genetically Superior Army of Übermensch to Destroy Us All

March 8, 2009
The NRL just keeps getting tougher and tougher, doesnt it?

The NRL just keeps getting tougher and tougher, doesn't it?

 

Sensationalist title? What ever do you mean?

It’s no secret that the NRL is ahead of Super League in terms of general standards, but I’m not sure it’s fully understood just how they go about maintaining their advantage. Phil Clarke discusses one of the many ways that NRL clubs have taken a lead, in this case in the application of Sports Science for their advantage:

The players wear a small device in a special vest at training sessions which tells the coaching staff exactly how far they’ve run, at what speeds and what effect it has on their heart rate.

Clubs are now using this information to improve the quality and quantity of training loads.

It even tells them about ‘body load’, this is the sum of all accelerations, decelerations, change of directions, impact etc indicating the physical stress placed upon a player.

Reading about all this kind of stuff is enough to make your head hurt. It’s indicative of a league that goes above and beyond the call of duty as teams try to discover what advantages they can gain over the opposition. It’s also intriguing because it allows for specialized conditioning work without overloading the athletes involved. Part of the problem with the British game is its reliance on too many games, which in turn wears down players beyond their usual levels of efficiency. If applications like these devices can stop players from over-working and allow them to keep fresh late into the season, then that sounds like a good thing to me.

Of course, you get the impression that the staff at most SL clubs would read about these devices and then go “sci… ence?” Sports Science goes beyond simple nutritional information, it goes right into testing the limits of human endeavor, and Super League clubs should be looking at any possible ways they can maximise their potential. This means getting the players at peak levels of fitness not just in pre-season but right throughout the season. Rugby League is a sport with a high attrition rate (just ask Wakefield or Bradford) and if clubs can keep as many players as possible on-deck for the length of the season, then that encourages competition within the clubs which in turn encourages higher standards.

We have a weaker level of player base in this country compared to Australia, and which in turn means that it needs more attention to get them up to a higher standard. By not indulging in scientific methodology the clubs are doing their players a disservice. I expect it’s not cheap, but what is? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few budding Sports Science PHD students going around with interesting ideas about how to maximize player potential. Perhaps it’s worth listening to them. It’s definitely worth the RFL trying to develop a program for research into this, perhaps in conjunction with a University (I hear Leeds Met like getting involved in Rugby League).

Either that, or we need to build robots. Lots of robots.

EDIT: And now it appears that Melbourne Storm use special pods to advance the conditioning of their players. What the hell is this? Dragonball Z?