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Tuesday, 23 December 2008

All I want for Christmas – NRL Edition

With Christmas just days away and all the NRL teams back in training already, here is a look at the wish list of each club for the 2009 season – Santa please take note. BRISBANE BRONCOS – 2008 Recap: 6th, Lost in Elimination Semi Final to Storm. All the Broncos want for Christmas is… A new front row combination to step up after the departures of Michael Ennis, Ben Hannant and Petero Civoniceva in the past two off-seasons. The men most likely to fill the prop rotation include holdovers Joel Clinton, Ashton (how impressive was my moustache during the World Cup) Sims, Nick Kenny and boom youngster Dave Taylor. The club is hoping Toyota Cup standout Andrew McCullough is ready for the hooking role especially now that former Dragons backup Aaron Gorrell (who was brought in as insurance) was injured early in training. Despite the riches the Broncos have out wide they need their engine room operating effectively and consistently from Round 1. BULLDOGS – 2008 Recap: 16th, ‘Won’ the Wooden Spoon. All the Bulldogs want for Christmas is… For Sonny Bill Williams to build a time machine and use it so he can make amends for his past six months of folly. The club had recruited strongly for 2009 with their best player the star attraction for the likes of Brett Kimmorley, Josh Morris, Michael Ennis and Ben Hannant all who signed up before Money Bill decided to literally take the money and run out on the club in July. News this month that Reni Maitua has been sacked for repeated infringements hardly helps the playoff cause either but his replacement David Stagg is a welcome Christmas present for a club and a fan base that may never forgive the 23 year old Williams for turning his back on a game that made him a star. CANBERRA RAIDERS – 2008 Recap: 7th, Lost Qualifying Final to Sharks. All the Raiders want for Christmas is… To be able to recapture the attacking magic that they performed during their exhilarating point-scoring run from Round 18-24 in 2008. Canberra’s new coach is a favourite son of the club in David Furner and he takes over from North Queensland bound Neil Henry. Furner faces the challenge of keeping the team’s offensive spark burning, while implementing his own philosophies on the structure Henry finally had the players thrive in midway through 2008. Pivotal to the club’s continued development is the form of Terry Campese who was in unbelievable touch as the go-to man in attack. CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS – 2008 Recap: 3rd, Lost Preliminary Final to Storm. All the Sharks want for Christmas is… to forget about their implosion a game short of the Grand Final and get the most out of their expensive new recruits in 2009. The Sharks let their best shot at a premiership in a decade slip through their fingers by imploding in the Preliminary Final against the depleted Storm but with a significant star power joining the club for 2009 (Trent Barrett and Anthony Tupou) – there’s reason to be optimistic at this time of year in the Shire. But Barrett hasn’t played in the NRL since 2006 and Tupou continues to tease with his talents in the first month or two of every season only to fall off the face of the earth at the business end of the season. Both are pivotal to the Sharks forgetting about the game against Melbourne. GOLD COAST TITANS – 2008 Recap: 13th, Finished 6 points out of the Finals. All the Titans want for Christmas is… For Robbie Farah to sign on the dotted line before kickoff 2009 so if the Titans fade out again like they have the past two seasons their new star hooker is locked up before he can change his mind. Success must come to the club in the form of a playoff birth in Year Three otherwise the same questions that were asked of the original Gold Coast franchise will emerge questioning the way things were done in the latest do over. MANLY-WARRINGAH SEA EAGLES – 2008 Recap: Premiers, Defeated the Storm 40-0 in the Grand Final. All the Sea Eagles want for Christmas is… For the 2009 NRL season to play out exactly like the 2008 one did. Manly’s incredible demolition of all comers in the Finals this year should have proved to fans and critics alike that they did deserve the Premiership and with only Steven Menzies, Steven Bell and Mark Bryant not returning to the side that crushed the Storm on Grand Final day, the Sea Eagles can enjoy their Christmas as champions. MELBOURNE STORM – 2008 Recap: Runner’s Up, Lost Grand Final to the Sea Eagles. All the Storm want for Christmas is… The club to have a bunch of gun youngsters ready to step into full time roles like they did entering 2006 when Israel Folau, Greg Inglis and Cooper Cronk took the team to another level. This time around the beaten Grand Finalists may have a re-signed Cameron Smith still on the books but do the names Will Chambers, Kevin Proctor and Aidan Tolman instil you with the same confidence of success the 2006 group did? NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS – 2008 Recap: 9th, Finished 2 points out of the Finals. All the Knights want for Christmas is… Andrew Johns to do a Stacey Jones and come out of retirement. In fact the club should be more worried about star Kurt Gidley’s knee rehabilitation and whether or not they made the right call letting Danny Buderus go to England. New hooker Isaac De Gois had a superb 2008 with the Sharks but Buderus was brilliant in his final year at the club and his absence can’t be underestimated as the Knights look to build on a promising 9th place last season. NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS – 2008 Recap: 15th, Avoided Wooden Spoon on differential from the Bulldogs. All the Cowboys want for Christmas is… Matthew Bowen back on the field after missing most of 2008 with a knee injury. The addition of Bowen alongside new signings Willie Tonga, Grant Rovelli and Antonio Kaufusi puts the Cowboys back into playoff contention after they slipped into mediocreville during last season. New coach Neil Henry had great success implementing a potent offensive system into the Raiders but unless he can change North Queensland’s defensive attitude, they’ll be nothing more than nuisance value in the playoffs if they make it. PARRAMATTA EELS – 2008 Recap: 11th, Finished 4 points out of the Finals. All the Eels want for Christmas is… A new coach and a new attitude. Well you can tick off the first wish as Daniel Anderson replaced Michael Hagan as Coach in November and he will be using the summer months to refocus his undeniably talented squad on the challenge of returning to the playoffs in 2009 after a bitterly disappointing 2008. The team attitude needs to change in a hurry for veterans Nathan Hindmarsh and Nathan Cayless as they aren’t going to be around for ever and their reliability is crucial for any team with playoff aspirations. PENRITH PANTHERS – 2008 Recap: 12th, Finished 5 points out of the Finals. All the Panthers want for Christmas is… Some stability in the team! Head Coach Matt Elliott seemed a dead man walking during last season but will return for his 3rd year in charge, Petero Civoniceva earned his big contract but there were whispers he could have left for England if he wished after just one season, youngster Wade Graham was given an extended crack at the filling the role vacated by Craig Gower but Luke Lewis was the main man and who knows what is going on in the head of strike forward Frank Pritchard. The club still has some positives to be thankful for this Christmas – namely the electric Michael Jennings and the fact Civoniceva is sticking around. SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS – 2008 Recap: 14th, Finished 10 points out of the Finals. All the Rabbitohs want for Christmas is… To be able to rewind twelve months and be coming off a fairytale playoff appearance heading into this season rather than the harsh reality that their 14th place finish brings to Redfern this pre-season. Made a huge mistake letting Peter Cusack go this time last year and if skipper Roy Asotasi can’t rehab his injury in time for kick-off in 2009 the Rabbitohs might really struggle out of the gate. ST.GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS – 2008 Recap: 8th, Lost Qualifying Final to Sea Eagles. All the Dragons want for Christmas is… Wayne Bennett as Coach. Ask and you shall receive Dragons fans and the master coach is already sounding more enthusiastic about the challenge ahead of him than he was for the past decade in Brisbane. That’s not to say Bennett won’t miss having a Darren Lockyer in his side (Mark Gasnier wasted a golden opportunity to become a truly great player under Bennett by going for the cash in France) but he will have started the rebuilding process from the very first training session and the Dragons will certainly be made of sterner stuff with the six time Premiership winning coach at the helm. SYDNEY ROOSTERS – 2008 Recap: 5th, Lost Elimination Final to Warriors. All the Roosters want for Christmas is… Willie Mason to have recovered from his knee reconstruction and be the player the club thought they’d bought from the Bulldogs. Braith Anasta and Mitchell Pearce to find ways to create tries that don’t involve kicking on the 5th tackle and the entire club to forget the last end of 2008 when they lost five of their last seven games en route to a Week Two exit in the Finals. WARRIORS – 2008 Recap: 4th, Lost Preliminary Final to Sea Eagles. All the Warriors want for Christmas is… Stacey Jones to come out of retirement and give the side a genuine halfback which is what halted their title run in 2008 at the Preliminary Final stage. Well Christmas came early for the Warriors when Jones announced on November 7 that he was coming back to the NRL and despite the fact he hasn’t played in the NRL since 2005 – class players should be welcomed back to the game if they decide they’ve got another season in them. WESTS TIGERS – 2008 Recap: 10th, Finished 4 points out of the Finals. All the Tigers want for Christmas is… Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall to show the club the kind of loyalty they too were shown as emerging youngsters. The Tigers simply cannot afford to lose either player if they wish to avoid another lean three or four years following their 2005 Premiership triumph. The Tigers have however bought themselves a great Christmas gift in the form of Great Britain international backrower Gareth Ellis. What do you want for Christmas for your club?

Thursday, 18 December 2008

NSC Sports Blog: December 19, 2008

In today’s issue laden Blog:
> Ben Cousins is back and the game is better for it. > Dale Steyn wants to dominate in Australia, history suggests otherwise. > Mitchell Johnson is finally deserving of his place in the team. Ben Cousins is back in the AFL after spending a year suspended for off-field substance abuse and the Richmond Football Club should be congratulated for making the right call and giving the former West Coast star a chance to show he’s still got it at the top level. A case can be made that the Tigers are on a hiding to nothing if Cousins can’t stay clean but seriously even if the 30 year old goes back to his old ways – the Tigers really don’t lose anything by taking a flier on Cousins. Cousins the footballer makes the Tigers an instant playoff contender because of the drive and skills he’ll bring to the midfield and he’s hardly past it physically. A big pre-season will get rid of any rust he’s built up while on suspension and Richmond Coach Terry Wallace will make sure the Tigers game plan uses Cousins as much as possible.
The move will annoy the other fifteen teams in the AFL because all logic from a PR standpoint said they couldn’t be the team that gave Cousins an opportunity to re-offend. Richmond’s failure to meet their fan’s expectations has been epidemic for years and despite making a late push at the Finals in 2008 they have made themselves potentially that much better with Cousins in the lineup. If any team (well other than West Coast) were serious about Cousins from a football perspective then that should have overridden the negative reasons for adding Cousins because we play the game to win and cutting Cousins loose if he faltered would’ve been easy and acceptable. As for Cousins he’s got his 387th chance and he has a life altering twelve months ahead of him. Believing in his ability to dominate the game again won’t be an issue, but the pressure of measuring up to the opportunity Richmond have given him is the dangerous aspect of this new chapter of his life. He’s announced that he’s clean but he must realise that his performance on the field can no longer cover for his off-field lifestyle and if he has turned this corner in his personal choices – then good luck to him and good luck to the Richmond Football Club. Dale Steyn is in Australia to help South African win the Test Series but history is against either Steyn dominating or South Africa since no touring side has won a series since 1992/1993 when the great West Indian fast bowler Curtly Ambrose destroyed the hosts in Frank Worrell Trophy that summer. Ambrose took 33 wickets in 5 Tests winning the Man of the Series award including two Man of the Match awards in the West Indies two victories in the final two tests taking 19 wickets. But since that time no bowler has managed to come to Australia as his country's strike weapon and be a difference maker in the win column. In a three game series Steyn won’t take 33 wickets but as the strike bowler in the South African lineup he must realistically take at least 15 wickets (but needs 20 to have dominated) and win at least one game by himself. He’s started the First Test at the WACA with 1st Innings figures of 23 overs, 4 maidens, 81 runs conceded and 2 wickets taken. He dismissed Australia’s most reliable batsman Michael Hussey for a 7 ball duck and then removed Brett Lee for 29. His new ball partner Makhaya Ntini made the early strikes dismissing Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting cheaply on his way to 4/72 off 19.5 overs. The 2nd Innings needs Steyn to step up and make a statement because given South Africa’s collapse late on Day Two, the tourists need something special to be any chance of winning the all important First Test. Speaking of the First Test a left arm fast bowler by the name of Mitchell Johnson might actually be living up to the hype… FINALLY! Johnson was brilliant on Day Two taking 7/42 from 18 overs and finished the day with a 21 ball spell that netted the wickets of AB de Villiers (63), Jacques Kallis (63), JP Duminy (1), Morne Morkel (1) and Paul Harris (0) at the cost of just two runs. Those five wickets to go with his removal of the South African openers (Graeme Smith 48 & Neil McKenzie 2) has Johnson and Australia flying high after the first two days of the First Test.
The deliveries that removed set bastmen de Villiers and Kallis were superb and the final half an hour of cricket from the WACA was exhilarating television. The way he sent Harris on his way sent tingles up your spine as the plan was executed perfectly – and he only had three balls to make it happen. Johnson took wickets in India but did not bowl particularly well and had hardly made a case that he deserved his test spot but his form since touching down in Australia against New Zealand and now South Africa has a lot of sceptics (this writer included) GLADLY eating humble pie.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Packed with clichés

'Packed to the Rafters' aired on Channel Seven in late 2008.
Well it had to happen. I had been reading for weeks what critics thought of Channel Seven’s drama series ‘Packed to the Rafters’ and increasingly been turned off by the suggestion the majority thought it was worth watching. What’s this a critic actually endorsing a show? And an Australian drama at that! So last night after dropping in on friends I was exposed to the heralded hour of television that follows the ups and downs of the Rafter family on a Tuesday night. ‘Groundbreaking television’ and ‘Australian drama is back!’ could’ve been some of the quotes from critics but they also may not have been since I just made them up – but the show I’d decided not to watch got its chance which coincided with its season finale. So what did I think? Are you ready to quote this critic’s critique? “Channel Seven has clearly raised the bar for Australian drama with their engaging and realistic spin on what life is like when a suburban couple are forced to reconnect with their grown up children and really really grown up grandfather when they all move back into the house due to circumstances that have changed their lives. Wow, imagine if any of the above was actually true? To be fair the premise of the show (which admittedly I’ve taken from ads on television and the odd review in the paper) is solid for a series but after my first viewing I’m afraid I just can’t endorse that fairytale critique above. I’d like to… I really would. Drama in Australia has never dug its deep claws into my television watching habits and that might be because there are some American dramas that set the bar so high (House MD, Boston Legal, Ed to name the rare few) the Australian equivalent simply cannot afford the production costs or quality of cast that these overseas shows have. But it might also be because I’ve never found Australian drama to be engaging on any level. Now that doesn’t mean my drama radar (‘dramadar’ from here on) is accurate for everyone but the fact remains for this watcher – no boats are being floated by Australian dramas. Is that because some people think Home and Away and Neighbours qualify as part of the drama genre? Maybe… however as I continue to break down the night of clichés in the Rafter household during the season finale – you might understand how close those soaps are to the product produced by Seven in ‘Packed to the Rafters’. Firstly enough with the clichéd storylines please!!! Last night the lead storyline surrounded the introduction of a yoga guru ‘Vishnu’ who was not only dating the Rafter’s daughter but was also ‘dating’ half the yoga class, whilst at the same time hitting on Mrs Rafter (Rebecca Gibney) in front of the daughter. Plus tied into his storyline was the fact he was a vegetarian who downed pork spare ribs like they ice cream and then the poor actor who played him was forced into the gratuitous naked butt scene through the family kitchen the morning after staying in the daughter’s bedroom. I’m sure if you looked close enough you could’ve seen the twenty cent piece clenched between the cheeks to keep his posture straight (old actors trick from ‘Are You Being Served’ I believe… how do I know that – don’t ask) and no I didn’t look close enough to validate my claim. No prizes for guessing the resolution to his storyline – he got caught cheating and the daughter woke up to the fact that mummy was right and the guy was a loser. The second driving plot line was the son and his wife facing life with him losing his job as a real estate agent for taking a bath with his missus in an open house he was supposed to be selling – and getting caught (wow didn’t see that coming!) And of course she feels like he is not telling her something (turns out I missed the bit where he lied to her and said he didn’t get fired) and goes to an old ‘friend’ to talk about how he’s not talking to her about things. That old chestnut… Then his new job as a call centre operator sees him sprung as he calls the mobile of the ‘friend’ to sell him wine and his wife answers the phone. So far from being inside the realms of possibility it’s sad, although had she and the friend been rung whilst having dinner together it might’ve felt a tad more realistic. Actually that reminds me of the last time I got a telemarketer (yep right around dinner) I initially couldn’t hear them properly and as I cottoned onto the fact they were calling from overseas about my phone service provider I simply played up the fact I couldn’t hear them and in about thirty seconds they hung up on me – glorious trick that worked wonders (thank you Billy Birmingham and Richie Benaud from ‘The Final Dig’). As it turned out the wife was only talking to the friend for support (probably the only plot line that didn’t go down the clichéd route) and by the end of the show the son has renewed confidence in himself (thanks to his mum knowing just what to say at the right time) and will face season two of the series ready for whatever challenges await. The other plot device was something about the dad (Erik Thomson) and his friend using stolen equipment to build something… can’t say I paid attention to that part so have no idea what they built. So that was the episode. It finished up season one and the ratings have been relatively strong apparently so there are obviously people out there without Foxtel or a DVD player who enjoy it. Just a couple of notes on the show: Michael Caton (the grandfather living in the house) was appallingly underused. His role in ‘The Castle’ may have me expecting more from him than is fair but he was barely heard from in the episode and it just seems criminal to underuse your best comedic asset in a show that desperately needed something to take the focus off the clichés! Rebecca Gibney (Mrs Rafter) has a presence on screen that the rest of the cast doesn’t but the whole inner monologue commentary thing where she’s spouting epiphanies just doesn’t fit in this show. It sounds incredibly disconnected from the tone of the show and detracts from the words that actually come out of her mouth following the voice-over. Erik Thomson (Mr Rafter) is forgettable as the man of the house. Was never an All Saints fan during his ‘heartthrob heyday’ so he just looks like the same wooden actor that did a short stint on Getaway a few years back.
Now I have no idea who the rest of the cast are – they all seem like newcomers and that is underlined by the fact I’m sure the two main guest stars in the episode (the ‘friend’ of the wife and Vishnu aka Barry) have been in mainstream advertisements before on television and were recognisable. In fact good old Vishnu was channelling Eric Bana for most of the episode – twenty cent piece clench and all.
The youngest son Nathan (Angus McLaren – thank you Google because the official Channel Seven site is borderline useless) is Jamie Oliver’s lovechild according to my friend.
His wife Sammy (Jessica McNamee) just pouts for an hour while searching for a dramatic one liner.
Eldest son Ben (Hugh Sheridan) had one scene eating ribs in the whole episode (I guess acting does have its perks).
Daughter Rachel (Jessica Marais) was seemingly riding an emotional rollercoaster in her relationship with Vishnu and had her moments but her delivery in the confrontational scene with the cheating Yoga teacher fell way short of convincing. Where there other characters? Didn’t notice them if there were. I’m not here saying that writing a drama is easy, in fact the respect I have for the writers of House MD and Boston Legal in particular who produce superb television each week is incredibly high, but I often wonder why the people that DO write for shows such as Packed to the Rafters settle for the easy route of cliché driven storylines. As I said before the overall idea of packing grown up children back into the house they grew up in with their mother and father and a grandparent has potential as a series. And clearly there’s enough in the mix (or a lack of any competition on free to air) to have the show rating well in a free to air television market under heavy assault by the internet and DVD releases – so that’s a feather in the cap for Channel Seven but if this show has designs on lasting past season two I can’t see how another dozen to two dozen episodes of plot lines we’ve all seen before can sustain it. So here’s the real critique that can be quoted til the cows come home or the show’s writers pluck up the courage to step out and write what they want to write rather than what they’ve seen before. “Packed to the Rafters may have struck ratings gold with its debut in 2008 but the show appears to lack the dramatic beating heart that good dramas live on. In theory having plot lines running wild over one hour can make a show entertaining but unless the undercurrent of the show offers some form of personal investment for the viewer – these Rafters will remain packed with clichés and not the heart it needs to survive.”

Friday, 21 November 2008

NSC Video Blog: Australia v New Zealand 1st Test, Day One Commentary

NSC Video Blog commentary on the first day of the First Test between Australia and New Zealand from the Gabba in Brisbane on November 20, 2008. Talking Jason Krejza, Shane Watson, Jesse Ryder, Michael Clarke, Australian Selector Brilliance and the rest of the first day as it happened. www.wdnicolson.blogspot.com Warning: Some lip sync issues at different stages - apologies.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Michael Robertson a marquee player?

According to player manager Steve Gillis he is. Picked your jaw up from the floor yet? Here’s the direct quote from Gillis. “Michael is a marquee player.” Don’t get me wrong the guy did score a hat-trick of tries in the Grand Final, deserved to win the Clive Churchill Medal (but didn’t) and also became an international this season but his agent is on some seriously potent medication if he thinks his client is a marquee player. Robertson probably came close to getting into the Kangaroos World Cup squad on the strength of his Finals form, but classifying him as an international when it comes to contract negotiations lacks substance given Robertson’s games for Scotland in this tournament were the first time he’d played for that country. But the job of a player manager is to get the best deal for his client – however the mooted $200,000 per year figure is ridiculous even for a guy who does his job done each week and exploded in the biggest game of the season with three tries and a try assist in the Grand Final. At his best Robertson is an above average NRL winger. He never looked up to scratch while with the Raiders and was plagued by hamstring issues in his 5 seasons there but his move to the Northern Beaches in 2006 saw him get some regular playing time once healthy. He does the important things well like finishing, scooting out from dummy half, defending his man and he can cover fullback if needed. He rarely gets targeted in the air despite his lack of height and has good support instincts. But being an above average NRL winger shouldn’t result in a mass payday for Robertson. The fact is there are a lot of very average wingers in the competition and that inflates his true value. His market value won’t be any higher than it is now so I can understand why his manager is shopping him but he’s not going to have a massive impact on your team’s ability to win football games. He is not a match-winner (few wingers in history have been) and generally a marquee player at the NRL level wins matches. Some teams might flirt with offering Robertson overs if the Sea Eagles don’t try and keep him past next season but they’d be better off investing that money in shoring up positions that are far more vital to a team’s success – like hooker, halfback or fullback. The stat line: Michael Robertson, Winger. 2006-2008 Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 79 Games 38 Tries (48.1% Strike Rate) 54 Wins 25 Losses (68.4% Win Percentage) 2001-2005 Canberra Raiders 59 Games 15 Tries (25.4% Strike Rate) 29 Wins 29 Losses 1 Draw (49.2 Win %) Overall Record 2001-2008 133 Games 53 Tries (39.8% Strike Rate) 83 Wins 54 Losses 1 Draw (60.1% Win Percentage) 1 Premiership (MAN 2008), 2 Grand Final Appearances (MAN 2007 & 2008)

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Remember this...

Remember
I doubt any of you aren't aware that today is the 11th of the 11th - Remembrance Day for a host of allied countries who fought in the two World Wars of the 20th Century. The world we live in today didn’t come about by accident and it certainly didn’t come about because people used the power of their minds to make things happen for the good of humanity… is that Oprah’s new thing or another rehash of The Secret…? either way my cynicism isn’t going to take this blog over. I guess I want this blog to just simply say something about someone that you knew/know who was part of the awful reality that was war – and why it mattered. Just comment below if you’ve got something to share – I’d love to hear it and sometimes people need to read it to be reminded of what has happened before to allow us to live like we do now. The closest person I knew growing up that was part of World War II was my adopted Grandfather Mr Walker. He was my parent's insurance agent from like the 1970s and 1980s and given that three of my four grandparents died before I was 3 years old - Mr and Mrs Walker became very much like family given my parents and the Walkers became great friends. He was a bomber pilot based out of England in the 1940s and did his training in Canada before hand, but I never really talked at length with him about his experience - and upon reflection now - I come to realise he probably didn't want to talk about it. I was and still am someone who absorbs a lot of information about war - not through a morbid fascination but a deep respect for what was done and the cost that eventuated for those involved. The one conversation I can remember having centred more on his training in Guelph, Ontario, Canada before he left to go into action - as I was about to get on a plane and go live in Canada in 1999 as an exchange student - so we kind of had something in common there. By this stage he'd been gradually deteriorating mentally as he was in his 80s at that stage but the man who used to throw me up and down above his head when I was a little tacker with his big strong arms - still had a great sense of humour about the things they used to get up to in training. But we never really talked about what it was like to be in a plane over Germany etc - all I can recall is that there was such a strong bond between the men who flew in the bombers that every time they took off from the air fields in England - they knew there was a big chance they wouldn't all come back alive. And as the numbers of World War II veterans continue to thin, the understanding we the a generation who will need to pass the facts and reality of what was achieved by winning World War II in particular - must be strong so the deeds of the men and women who served in this terrible war are not forgotten. I must admit I was driving in the car with my niece and nephew at the stroke of 11am today when I realised that I hadn't stopped for a minute's silence as a mark of respect - so tonight at 11pm I will step outside my house and just reflect, thank the Lord for His mighty hand in the outcome of the war and silently stand in complete respect for the sacrifice and courage that people like my Mr Walker displayed in what was most certainly a different (and far more reality checked) world than the one we live in today.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Commentary doesn't get any better than this...

Channel Nine's Rugby League 'expert' Ben Ikin came out with this absolute ripper during the England-New Zealand Rugby League World Cup Pool Match Saturday night. Just after halftime with the Kiwis mounting a comeback after being down 24-14 at the break, Ikin (who had said little in the half thus far) must've figured that he had to say something, anything to justify his position in the commentary team and delivered this beauty that really took the viewer inside the heads of the players on the field. "I get the feeling both teams really want to win this one." I was watching the game with a friend as we waited for the Manchester United-Arsenal Premier League clash at midnight and for the next twenty minutes I just couldn't get over Ikin's insight and its inherent accuracy. What? BOTH TEAMS WANT TO WIN? Knock me over with a feather and next thing you know I'll be knocked out unconscious... I was seriously waiting for him to chime in a few minutes later with something along the lines of 'Whoever scores the most points in this game will win." Can this guy get any better at his job? Seriously he's raised the bar so incredibly high that the likes of Phil Gould and Peter Sterling (far and away the best analysts in the game before this special Ikin moment) can only dream to reach such heights of the commentary nirvana Ikin has clearly found.
Having endured two long years (feels like twenty to be honest) of 'commentary' one has to hope that maybe Ikin will be featured less in Channel Nine's coverage of the 2009 NRL season but I'd hazard a guess that this is about as likely as Jason Krejza taking 8 wickets on Test Debut...
Wait a minute... At least Arsene Wenger's comment about Arsenal defender Mikael Silvestre's broken nose later that night showed that some people can make brilliant comments without also making considerable effort to be heard. Wenger was asked if there was any danger of further damage if Silvestre copped a knock on his broken nose during the game and Wenger in his great French accent goes "Well the nose will still be broken so... no not really." Nice question by the reporter and what a funny and frank response from Wenger.
Arsene Wenger says "Good call Benny Ikin! Spot on the money!"
Shame we can't always get the same from others on television, who seem to think that just because they haven't spoken for a few minutes - they better say something no matter how inane and painfully obvious it may be.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

On the menu this summer

The menu has arrived at the Australian sports lover’s table and the best of summer sport is now available. The barren sporting wasteland that is October in Australia is now behind us and November’s arrival signals the start of the Australian sporting summer. While you’ve probably been keeping an eye on the India-Australia Test Series from the subcontinent and the odd World Cup Qualifier for the Socceroos, the fact you now know that sport will be played in Australia over summer en masse, the hunger that comes with the end of the football seasons is about to be satisfied. So what’s on the menu? Here are the Top 5 Sporting Events on the summer menu to get you through until the Footy returns in early next year. 5. A-League Football. Now in its Fourth Season since its reincarnation as an actual national competition, the A-League is making solid ground as it strives to become a spectator sport in summer on a level that matches its player participation rate during winter. There’s no doubt that the world game has the potential to grow into a tribal competition much like the AFL and NRL but those days are not here yet. Still with teams in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Adelaide, Wellington and Perth – and three different champions in three years (2005/06 – Sydney FC, 2006/07 – Melbourne Victory & 2007/08 – Newcastle Jets) there is reason for optimism that the A-League can produce a competition full of the necessary parity to have fans of all teams harbouring hope that their team can emerge victorious each year. With plans to expand into the Gold Coast and North Queensland as soon as 2009/10 – the A-League will continue to expand its circle of influence and push hard into more regions where Football may yet become the #1 spectator sport. When it’s on: Games are played Friday Nights, Saturday Nights and Sunday Afternoons & Evenings from August 2008 until January 2009 with a four team Finals Series in February 2009. 4. Rugby League World Cup Final. The NRL Season finished on the first weekend of October with the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles claiming their first premiership since 1996, but the staging of the rugby league’s World Cup in Australia that began October 25, ensures that there is some football to digest into the late stages of November. Host nation Australia have handled their two biggest rivals easily in their opening pool games (beating New Zealand 30-6 & England 52-4) and will play their last pool match against Papua New Guinea in Townsville this Sunday night, November 9, 2008. If Australia wins they will top Pool 1 and face the team who emerges from a playoff between the winners of Pool 2 & 3 in the Semi Finals – with the game to be played in Sydney on November 16, 2008, as Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium will host the Final on November 22, 2008. Even if you’ve had your fill of league thanks to the long NRL season, don’t let the fact Australia looks certainties to win yet another World Cup turn you off – remember this is Australia we’re talking about so make sure you tune in or get to the game to savour what should be another sporting conquest by Australia. When it’s on: The Rugby League World Cup started on October 25, 2008 and runs through to November 22, 2008 with the Final to be played at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Queensland. The Semi Finals are the weekend before on Saturday and Sunday evenings. 3. Golf – Australian Major Tournaments. Perhaps not the must-see event it used to be when the big guns of World Golf came out to play but in the last few years tournament organisers are trying harder than ever to spice up the fields for the four major tournaments played over summer in Australia. Plus Australian golfers are now strong performers on the US and European circuits so there will be some quality golf played. The Australian Masters tees off first at Huntingdale in Melbourne, Victoria from November 27-30, 2008 (featuring Stuart Appleby, Robert Allenby, Michael Campbell & Rod Pampling); followed chronologically by the Australian PGA at Hyatt Regency Coolum in Queensland from December 4-7, 2008 (featuring Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Stuart Appleby & Peter Lonard); The Australian Open is then played at Royal Sydney , NSW, from December 11-14, 2008 (featuring Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Michael Campbell & Darren Clarke); with the season culminating in the Johnnie Walker Classic at The Vines Resort in Perth, Western Australia from February 19-22, 2009 (featuring Greg Norman, Lee Westwood & Paul Casey). Watching Golf on a Sunday afternoon has been an institution in Australia for many years and unless there’s a Test Match on instead – what else are you going to watch? When it’s on: Four Tournaments in November & December 2008 and February 2009. 2. Australian Open Tennis Championship. The first Grand Slam of the 2009 Calendar is the Australian Open Tennis Championship played at Melbourne Park, Victoria from January 19-February 1, 2009 during the height of the Australian summer. Defending champions are Novak Djokavic (Serbia) and Maria Sharapova (Russia) after both players opened their 2008 Grand Slam campaigns in style yet failed to win another major thereafter. Both will be back and eager to show their 2008 titles were well deserved. It appears all the big names of tennis will be available with only the new World Number One Rafael Nadal in any doubt with tendonitis in his right knee which forced his withdrawal from the ATP Tennis Masters Cup this month. But with superstar Roger Federer and last year’s runner up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the men’s draw (oh and Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt who might have one last memorable run left in him) and crowd favourite Ana Ivanovic and the Williams sisters stepping out for the women – the tournament promises to be a winner from every angle. When it’s on: The tournament starts Monday February 19 and continues until the Men’s Final on Sunday February 1, 2009 at Melbourne Park, Victoria. 1. Australian Summer of Cricket. The main course in the summer smorgasbord involves digesting the exploits of the Australian Cricket Team as they take on the touring sides in Test, One Day and Twenty20 matches around the country. The tough series Australia are currently experiencing in India ensures that this summer will be hotly contested as the Kiwis and Proteas come to Australian shores with renewed optimism as they try and topple the hosts. When Australia finishes their commitments in India they will jet home to face the New Zealand team for two Test Matches in Brisbane (November 20-24, 2008) and Adelaide (November 28-December 2, 2008) and then the South Africans in three Tests in Perth (December 17-21, 2008), Melbourne (December 26-30, 2008) and Sydney (January 3-7, 2009) to round out the Test portion of the summer. Australia will also play five One Day Internationals against South Africa (January 16, 18, 23, 26, 30, 2009) and another five against New Zealand (February 1, 6, 8, 10, 13, 2009) and sandwich four Twenty20s in amongst them with two games versus South Africa ( January 11, 13, 2009), one versus New Zealand (February 15, 2009) and one against the Johnnie Walker All Stars to kick off the summer at the Gabba, Brisbane on November 14 2008. Plus Domestic Cricket will be featured heavily leading into Christmas with the Sheffield Shield and Ford Ranger Cups contested with the KFC Twenty20 Big Bash featuring all six state sides taking place from December 26-January 24, 2009 to start the second half of the season. All in all there will be plenty of cricket to digest from the couch, your local or at the ground. When it’s on: The Australian Summer of Cricket runs from November 2008 to February 2009 and is played at grounds all around Australia. Which will make sure you’re sporting appetite is well fed throughout this summer.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

The name means everything... 2008 Melbourne Cup Preview

The Bluffer's Guide to the 2008 Melbourne Cup: The name means everything...
By W D Nicolson, November 4, 2008

Horses, Money and Fashion mean everything on Melbourne Cup Day - and not necessarily in that order.

Well ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere jury – those of you who read all the way to the end of my blogs get an extra special shout out – it is the first Tuesday in November in Australia and that means one thing: Melbourne Cup Day.

 For the uneducated it is the biggest horse race in the Australian calendar and is widely known as ‘The Race that Stops a Nation’ – because at around 3pm every place of work in the country stops productivity for a good half an hour to watch the race and plan their revenge on the winning staffer who won the Cup Sweep through dumb luck rather than any form of skill in selection.

Generally the wager is a gold coin per entrant but even still when you pull out the horse called Neverinwithachance who is listed at 500/1 and the guy sitting next to you Frederick Huggles (the World of Warcraft geek who wouldn’t know a real horse name but could name all 450 sub-breeds sired by his mighty steed Buttercup from the computer game) plucks out the raging hot favourite ala Makybe Diva for 3 straight years – you can feel aggrieved at your misfortune. Especially when Neverinwithachance is scratched at the gate because the Race Caller complained his name was too long to say and thus required him to breathe whilst calling the race.

 Anyhoo – personally I will have no financial interest in this race for a host of reasons and the main one comes in the form of the following form guide to the runners and as you’ll see – my strategy involves taking the best name available over any kind of actual historical form.

But here’s the Form Guide in numerical order (not barrier order):

1. Septimus Well if the Melbourne Cup was run in September this horse from Ireland would be a shoe in – but it’s November so a change in name to Novemus is required quickly for any chance of victory.
2. Master Reilly Can’t take this horse seriously given that it comes from the same place as that hilarious ‘Beached As’ youtube video was produced – Kiwiland. About the only thing Kiwis are the Master of is the forward pass as anyone watched the Bledisloe on Saturday night can attest to.
3. Honolulu Is this horse from Hawaii? No it’s another Irish ‘potato’ (say it with an Irish accent – always funny) masquerading as a steed from the Pacific – pfft all this horse is going to do is Lu-Lu-Loose.
4. C’est La Guerre ‘It is the war’ is the direct translation… aren’t you impressed? I know my French-New Zealander stuff… ok truth be told Google Translate is brilliant but this name just doesn’t tickle my fancy when converted to English – the battle is lost my friend.
5. Nom Du Jeu My tipster in Brisbane likes this horse to take the biscuits and he’s not always wrong (nor is he always right) but that’s enough to have me putting this horse in with a chance. Now Google Translate struck again and this becomes Name of Thursday – and we’re running on a Tuesday – so I can’t tip it to win.
6. Yellowstone The National Park would’ve been a big chance based on its name alone… but is scratched so steer clear of this natural wonder.
7. Zipping How can I tip a horse whose name openly proclaims it has won ZIP?
8. Mad Rush Mmmm the name’s original, slightly mental and suggests it’s a quick horse… but everyone else seems to like it so that alone has me turned off the scent. This fool won’t be rushing in on this equine today.
9. Ice Chariot Chariots and horses are synonymous but ice? We’re not racing in Iceland! And this race is from a Toowoomba stable so where this name came from is anyone’s guess. Has the jockey who won the Cox Plate on it… but he was supposed to be on one of the favourites ‘Efficient’ before it pulled out so don’t waste your time here – even if in Melbourne there’s always a chance of sleet no matter the time of year.
10. Viewed Right… the horse was viewed by its owner and bingo – that’s a name? How about a little creativity so the horse gets a chance to have some sort of personality when announced by the commentator in the ring… ‘And now we go down to the ring and Kenny Callender what are your thoughts on ‘Viewed’? “Well the view from down here is good. I just viewed Viewed and on first viewing I was impressed by the movie a View to a Kill… what do the viewers think?” If they called it Mountain Viewed or something I might be interested but just ‘Viewed’ – it made me do that terrible commentator joke so it can’t win. Phew!
11. Littorio Sounds like a Coffee Brand and I like Coffee – especially LavAzza Medium Roast so this keen coffee bean is a chance and a half of full cream dairy milk today.
12. Bauer Can’t decide whether to go down the ‘24’ Jack Bauer path or the Bauer Ice Hockey skates road with this one… but that’s two things that come to mind so with that annoying ‘incoming phone call’ beeping tune running through my head – the horse deserves consideration.
13. Boundless … plains to share; With courage let us all combine To Advance Australia Fair. Sorry got patriotic for a moment… wait a minute this is another KIWI! Now I must stress I like New Zealanders but this is the premier Australian horse race… so that means a non-local horse will probably win it.
14. Gallopin Must admit I first read this name as ‘Gallipoli’ and thus gave the horse a big chance… turns out I am a little dyslexic (just spelt that dislexic btw!) and it is just plain old Gallopin… shock horror horses gallop! No prizes for this gem of creativity.
15. Guyono Our only West Indian entrant… and the end of my joke, that’s all I’ve got.
16. Zarita I’m sure I’ve heard of this horse before (one of the few I actually have) and nothing about the name other than the use of ‘Z’ – which is traditionally used for bad guys names in books/film – strikes me as impressive. Wait just found out this horse is scratched too… too bad.
17. Newport Good friends of mine are having their reception in this northern beaches suburb of Sydney in January so that’s nice… unfortunately for anyone who has backed this horse – that little bit of trivia does nothing for this horses chances of winning.
18. Profound Beauty Now forgive me for being superficial but I haven’t seen a picture of this horse yet so how can I go out and back a horse that might be as attractive as day old porridge? I just can’t take their word for it here and until I see otherwise this MySpace user name wannabe is not getting my recommendation – let alone my number.
19. Red Lord Just as long as the stewards allow this horse to wear red – it will compete. Otherwise this lordly stayer gets an identity crisis and can’t run if forced to don colours not consistent with its name.
20. Varevees Foxtel just launched a new kids TV channel called ‘CBeebies’ or something and that sounds vaguely familiar to this horse’s name… it also sounds like the Friday the 13th hockey mask wearing and machete wielding murderer Jason Voorhees – so watch your back during the race everyone. Could win by the process of elimination.
21. Prize Lady Gee I hope this horse has won its owner some prizes since it started racing… otherwise it’ll be off to the glue factory sooner rather than later.
22. Alessandro Volta Not sure if this is a soccer (sorry Football) player from Italy or one of the fault lines in the Pacific Ocean’s continental drift… ok 99% sure it is neither but come to think of it… nah got nothing else. No chance lance.
23. Barbaricus The winner ladies and gentlemen because it was the first name to ‘jump out at me’ when browsing the SMH race guide. Not only am I pretty sure there was a Transformer character called Bruticus who was way cool man… um when I was growing up and it could be a name I’ll adopt in my novel for some poor bound to get killed by the hero sucker… and for making it into my novel – your 2008 Melbourne Cup winner is BARBARICUS!
24. Moatize Sounds like a famous composer and given I know little to nothing about music in general (as Team Waz can attest when it comes to picking the weekly composer question) – this poor animal is not destined to make any sweet tunes this afternoon.

So to the Trifecta for the 2008 Melbourne Cup.
1. Barbaricus – at about $15-20 bucks for the win at the moment – don’t say I didn’t tip you off if he wins.
2. Bauer – Never count Jack out.
3. Littorio – So rich and creamy, blended to perfection with a perfect froth make Littorio Coffee the choice for me. Wait I’m not endorsing a product in my blog am I?

Roughie Varevees – as I said earlier if the race becomes a bloodbath my money’s on the machete wielding murderer!

Well there you have it for another year punters and people who spend their lunchtime reading websites to try and bone up on the horses so they can sound like an expert later in the arvo. 2008 will be the year of the Barbarian!


2008 Melbourne Cup Results:
1st - Viewed
2nd - Bauer
3rd - C'est La Guerre
4th - Master O'Reilly

Monday, 3 November 2008

What will your footprint be?

As Russell Crowe's Maximus says in the opening scene of 'Gladiator' while readying his Roman Legions for battle "What we do in life, echoes in eternity." Whoever came up with that inspiration gem in the writer's room in pre-production deserved a gold star for truly capturing how leaders can inspire their followers. Admittedly as we draw closer to Remembrance Day on November 11 - I still find it hard to comprehend what corner any man had to turn to get 'ready' for battle and being prepared to kill or lest be killed. I don't deny for a second that when I see war docos on the History Channel I occasionally tear up because I just can't answer the question of 'would I have been able to do what they did' openly - these men and women who fought in the great wars of the 20th century (and before obviously) faced a battle to overcome both their fear and the odds that stray lead or explosives would claim their courage without them having any say in the matter. That is what scares me most when it comes to trying to comprehend war and the act of battle. In our lives right now we've got this mindset of control over our destiny. Over our next day, over our next action over the very next breath we'll take... we think we've got it all in hand and we can literally choose our own adventure. The people who fell in war had no such misconception. Their lives were a toss of a coin or literally the aim of a bullet in most cases and for some they never even knew the danger they would fall victim too. Just try and picture how you'd try and cope or adapt in a situation where all of a sudden - you are in a situation that you CANNOT control the outcome no matter what you do. I'd be wearing double absorbent Huggies for a start and I'm not even sure they'd be enough... war scares me beyond reckoning because as I just wrote - we think we're in control of what happens next. Well newsflash ladies and gentlemen - we ain't! I deliberately left the caption blank on the picture I took for this blog because I think you need to try and match the blog title to what might be in the picture. There is a footprint there... you might not be able to make it out and I only put pressure on the ground for about 10 seconds or so but in the grand scheme of time - those ten seconds are more than what my lifetime registers on the scale. What I'm asking here is - does your footprint make a greater impression? What have you left embedded in your life that will 'echo in eternity?' Is it the imprint of a hobbit-looking hairy foot? or is it something more? As regular readers of this blog will know - I'm writing a novel. The quick synopsis is that the story revolves around one's struggles with following what they believe and what the world has come to believe matters. Which way do we follow - the tough trek up the mountain on foot or just cruise down the highway to oblivion? The hero in my story faces the decision to follow his Lord and Saviour or remain loyal to the Kingdom that he has grown up in as an heir to the throne and has given him everything he has ever needed in his world's estimation of worth. Is his sense of loyalty stronger than his faith? He must decide what is the right choice - and what footprint his decision will leave on the land he has lived in. Ecclesiastes 6:12: "For who knows what is good for a man in life, during the few and meaningless days he passes through like a shadow? Who can tell him what will happen under the sun after he is gone?" Here is the wisest of all mortal men King Solomon (bar Jesus) saying that no matter what when death comes the individual won't know what happens after he is gone - and that's a good point but what I'm getting at here is others will see what you left behind and even while you're alive they will see what you don't really see - who you are in their eyes and what you live for. When we go from this life we won't be able to reflect and say 'gee how good did I go here' because if you're a Christian our focus won't be on what we have done but what we are doing in heaven - but if you make something matter in your life in your walk with Jesus - those who are still 'under the sun' might get some encouragement from something you've done with the days you did have. Am I running around in circles here? Possibly but I'm also trying to encourage you to realise that the decisions you make here and now matter in the future - not just for yourself. For myself - I don't doubt for a second that God put this idea for the novel in my head back in 2003 for a reason - it might've taken me the best part of 5 years to get stuck into it but as I frantically scribbled down more notes about the Final Scene of the book during the sermon last night (will I get in trouble for admitting that? no... not if I note that the passage used actually helped me in a big way to capture where the next turn of the Finale would go. I was in half light during the singing at the end of the service writing in BIG scribble (as opposed to my normal scribble that is hard to read in the best of light) as the scene just flowed in my head like a movie... but I can't tell you what happens... not yet. But believe me - if I'm sitting there excited about the scenes that are coming together in my head and trying my best to write them into readable copy - they'll be good. So for me as I work on this massive charge of writing a novel about my Lord - I feel as if this is just one part of what I will leave on this earth that signals to people that I followed the Lord. I want people to know that Jesus means more to me than anything else in this world - not just appearing to be a lifestyle choice I've made that makes people go 'Oh that's nice but not for me'. I love God - what I'm trying to do is leave a footprint that shows people now and in the future that this is what mattered in my life - Jesus. And I can control how much I talk about the love of Jesus - even if I can't control what will happen in the next 24 hours. Free will gives us the choice to choose what really matters to our hearts - and I'll let a living insight from my NIV say the next bit "Our thoughts form the thermostat that regulates what we accomplish in life... you and I become what we think about." Jesus has echoed pretty strongly in eternity so far me thinks, I just want to help make that echo a little bit louder.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

For the Record: 2008 Grand Final Tip

Manly face off against Melbourne in the 2008 decider in what shapes as a battle of attrition given the rain Sydney has had in the past 24 hours and continues to have today. Despite not having two Australian internationals in Cameron Smith and Ryan Hoffman available, the Storm have the wood over Manly and their 'dominate the play the ball' ethos will be aided by the heavy conditions. The Sea Eagles like to bank on their physicallity on both sides of the ball to bash sides out of the contest but the reason this doesn't work against Melbourne is the Storm are superb at fatiguing Manly in the play the ball and Manly can't keep their intensity up for the full 80mins as a result. Cooper Cronk has the best kicking game on the field tonight and if it stays wet - that's a match winning advantage for the Storm. Billy Slater didn't win the Dally M so you can bet your bottom dollar that if he plays even remotely well or scores at least one try - the powers that be will hand him the Clive Churchill Medal - even if Cronk is the standout on the pitch. Manly can win but Orford has to run the ball as much as he can early. If the Storm defence knows all he'll do is pass to his wide runners then they'll just pick off the likes of Watmough, the Stewarts, Bell and Menzies like they were ducks in a shooting gallery. Melbourne to win - and although my initial prediction of 26-16 Storm was reliant on good weather - it wouldn't shock me to see the Storm still score 4 or 5 tries in the wet. Manly on the other hand might struggle to get across the line twice. I'll stick with 26-16 but will list 19-6 as a rain/heavy track option. First Try Scorer - Anthony Quinn (MEL) in the 7th minute. Last Try Scorer - Michael Crocker (MEL) in the 64th minute. Man of the Match: Billy Slater (MEL) but Cooper Cronk will probably be the best on ground. Enjoy the 2008 Decider and I'll also tip the Canberra Raiders to beat the Brisbane Broncos in the Under 20s Grand Final.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Historical Twins? Manly and Melbourne

With all the talk about Melbourne's dominance of recent seasons, I was doing some thinking about teams who have had similar eras of regular season dominance over a period of seasons and found the following rather eerie comparison. Melbourne's 2003-2008 team and Manly's 1991, 1993-1997 teams could share scarily similar legacies from their eras of dominance, should the Storm qualify for the 2008 Grand Final. Obviously they have to get through the Sharks first but check this out for almost identical eras: Melbourne 2003 (5th on ladder 15-0-9) - lost in Elimination Semi Finals to Bulldogs 30-0 to finish 6th. Melbourne 2004 (6th on ladder 13-0-11)- lost in Elimination Semi Finals to Bulldogs 43-18 to finish 6th. Melbourne 2005 (6th on ladder 13-0-11) - lost in Elimination Semi Finals to Cowboys 24-16 to finish 6th. Melbourne 2006 (1st on ladder 20-0-4) - lost in Grand Final to Broncos 15-8 to finish 2nd. Melbourne 2007 (1st on ladder 21-0-3) - Won in Grand Final over Sea Eagles 34-8 to win Premiership. Melbourne 2008 (1st on ladder 17-0-7) - to be determined but at least Preliminary Final Stage. And if you look at Manly's run towards their 3 straight Grand Finals in the 1990s - putting in their 1991 season instead of their 1992 one when they finished 8th for continuity of previous 3 playoff appearances before the 3 straight GFs you get: Manly-Warringah 1991 (2nd on ladder 14-1-7) - lost in Minor Semi Final to Canberra 34-26 to finish 4th. Manly-Warringah 1993 (4th on ladder 16-0-6) - lost in Minor Preliminary Semi Final to Broncos 36-10 to finish 5th. Manly-Warringah 1994 (4th on ladder 16-1-5) - lost in Minor Preliminary Semi Final to Broncos 16-4 to finish 5th. Manly-Warringah 1995 (1st on ladder 20-0-2) - lost in Grand Final to Bulldogs 17-4 to finish 2nd. Manly-Warringah 1996 (1st on ladder 18-0-4) - Won in Grand Final over St.George 20-8 to win Premiership. Manly-Warringah 1997 (1st on ladder 15-2-5) - lost in Grand Final to Knights 22-16 to finish 2nd. When you consider that the Sea Eagles got knocked out in the Top 5 format in what is relatively the same stage as the second week of the Top 8 Finals Format – both sides endured three fruitless years (and in two of those years got beaten by the same side convincingly – Brisbane over Manly and Bulldogs over Melbourne) in the playoffs before starting to dominate during the regular season and make three straight Grand Finals (of course Melbourne still have to qualify in 2008 but the regular season performances are the same). And if the Storm do get past the Sharks but lose to the Warriors or Manly – the Warriors being the 2008 version of the 1997 Knights perhaps? – then the respective eras will make both Manly and Melbourne almost identical historical twins.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Sharks will never get a better chance…

When Greg Inglis dived over for the match winning try in the final seconds against Brisbane on Saturday night, the Storm’s Preliminary Final opponents could not have been happier with the result.
For one the Cronulla-Sutherland players had just watched the Broncos bash the Storm’s pack from pillar to post for 80 minutes just a week after the Warriors did the same thing, plus they’d witnessed the reigning premiers fail to hit their stride at any stage for the second consecutive finals match and thirdly, knew that Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith was bound to be rubbed out for the rest of the 2008 season thanks to yet another pathetic and gutless attack on the head of an opponent with the ball. The cards were being dealt and the Sharks were picking up pocket aces. By the Storm picked their cards up it was Monday morning and what they thought would be as high as a pair of kings which normally comes with the Minor Premiership, had been downgraded to a classic ‘Montana Banana’ (9, 2, off suit) thanks to the charge of Smith and they realised that the river has to be beyond generous to get into the game. But enough poker talk (although if you’re a Manly-Warringah fan you’re now encouraged to get involved in the high stakes poker world thanks to a new sponsor they’ve got on board… check their website for details) and back to the footy. In short, Melbourne are in deep poop entering Friday’s clash and the Sharks are holding all the aces. In their Qualifying Final defeat of the Raiders, Cronulla demonstrated the kind of composure under pressure that only the best teams have at the pointy end of the year. Canberra had all the quality field position in the first half and yet at halftime the Sharks had built a 14-0 lead thanks largely to their ability to take full advantage of the three scoring opportunities presented to them by the Raiders. Had Luke Covell’s radar been on target, an 18-0 lead would’ve completely shut the Raiders out of the contest. By the time the Sharks had responded to an early Canberra try in the second half with one of their own, Brett Kimmorley then demonstrated why he is back to the kind of game controlling form he had at the turn of the century as he pinned the Raiders back into their own end and choked them out of the game entirely. The end score might have flattered the Sharks slightly but it underlined that Coach Ricky Stuart has his team committed to finishing the job when they get in a position to win. The Sharks last loss was to the Warriors in Auckland in Round 23 and on that cold wet Saturday night ball control was the primary reason for their downfall. The pack also found the going tough in the heavy conditions and have spent the past month making up for that performance by being the driving force in the team’s current four game winning streak (defeating the Roosters, Tigers, Cowboys and Raiders in the process). Up front the much maligned Ben Ross has finally found his go-forward mojo and veterans Danny Nutley and Adam Peek are doing a good job in the front row rotation. The backrow has been the strength of the Sharks for the last few years and even with the retirement of Lance Thompson and the club’s decision to stand down of Greg Bird late in the year, the Sharks are still finding that the more things change in numbers 11, 12, and 13 the more they stay the same in terms of contribution to the team. Paul Gallen has moved to lock full time and has had a superb season carrying the hitup workload and third year prop Luke Douglas has moved to the second row to cover for Bird which is benefiting the youngster’s game greatly as he had been on the brink of burning out up front. But the real revelation in the backrow has been the transformation of Fraser Anderson by Coach Stuart from former outside back with suspect hands into a battering ram in both attack and defence on the right edge for the Sharks. When the Sharks lost Reece Williams to injury after just two rounds the Sharks needed someone to step up in that role and Anderson has been better than anyone could’ve hoped for. Another bonus is that all three played the full 80 minutes against the Raiders so Stuart can carry up to three props on his bench – Kade Snowden, Bryan Norrie and Nutley.
Then there’s hooker Isaac De Gois who is rapidly rising from anonymity and is arguably the best of the rest at hooker after the all-star trio of Cameron Smith, Robbie Farah and the now departed to England Danny Buderus. Stuart may have had a chance to re-sign the sneaky rake before De Gois decided to move to the Knights for 2009 but if he had his time over again you’d have no doubt the Sharks coach would move heaven and earth to keep the 23 year old. His form has pushed former starter Kevin Kingston out of the top squad entirely and into the NSW Cup. De Gois has made the Sharks a force again running from the dummy half position. If there are question marks surrounding the Sharks it is out wide, with a group of relatively low profile players getting the job done throughout 2008. Brett Kearney has done an amazing job converting himself from fringe first grade utility into a dynamic running fullback with excellent support instincts and he is Kimmorley’s go-to-guy in attack inside the 20m zone. Ben Pomeroy and David Simmons aren’t the sexiest centre pairing in the NRL and their respective wingers Luke Covell and Misi Taulapapa aren’t going to break any land speed records either – but the team has 36 tries from the quartet this season which is more than acceptable. The only element counting against the Sharks entering the contest is the insertion of young Blake Green into five-eighth to cover for the loss of regular pivot Brett Seymour to a serious knee injury at training after the Canberra game. The 21 year old Green has had just 6 appearances for the Sharks in 2008 after moving over from the Eels and just one game in his preferred five-eighth position in Round 3 when the Sharks lost 18-4 to the Titans (Green set up the only try Cronulla scored). In his 6 game stint with the Eels in 2007 he also played his best football exclusively at five-eighth setting up tries in both games (Round 4 and 13 both against Canberra). Defensively he’ll be tested by the Melbourne edge runners but he’s a solid unit so he should be up to the challenge. His role in attack will be to feed the outside men, run occasionally and present another kicking option alongside Kimmorley. Cronulla has made just three Grand Finals in their 41 years in the competition falling to Manly in 1973 and 1978 and Brisbane in 1997. They finished Minor Premiers in 1988 and 1999 only to fall one game short of the big one which may make the fact they finished 3rd on the ladder in 2008 a good omen. But this season they are rested, prepared and ready to go against an opponent that should be without their best player and be mentally and physically drained by the past two games. If Melbourne is conquered the Sharks will face either the Sea Eagles or Warriors in the Grand Final on October 5 – teams they have split the season series 1-1 with so far in 2008. Both sides are beatable, although one would think Manly’s style matches up better to handle Cronulla’s game plan of strong defence and a relentless kick chase. The Sharks simply won’t get a better chance than this to make the Grand Final and give the club a golden opportunity break their premiership duck.

Friday, 19 September 2008

NSC Almanac Promo! Released October 2008!

Previously published in 2005, 2006 and 2007; the NSC Rugby League Almanac will return in 2008 with a new format. Due to be released in October 2008 it'll have plenty of Rugby League information to sink your teeth into heading into the long off-season.

Register your interest by posting here or emailing wdnicolson@optusnet.com.au to make sure you don't miss out!

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Morning Television... do we have a winner?

Tuned into the vast array of quality morning television today and was left missing the fact I don't have Foxtel in my office. Now before I rip into the three major Australian free to air television stations for their post-9am variety shows, I'd like to make the point that I understand there is an audience for these infomercial vehicles but I fail to see how there's a large enough market to keep three budget shows on the air Monday to Friday. So onto the ripping! Firstly I tuned into Mornings with Kerri-Anne on Channel Nine and got exposed to a chat session with her right hand man who is personable in his presentation but I can't get by the bondi bronze tans on both of them while they talk about... Tommy Emmanuel's history as a backup guitarist for a mum and pop band and a previous musician's inability to put on a bra before performing on the show. In short - gripping stuff! CLICK! Channel Seven's 'The Morning Show' - wow I'd hate to think how long that think tank too to come up with that name - is cooking up a dinner party feast. Now whenever there is food on the tele I'm in for as long as it takes for the final dish to be served up - so it should come as no surprise that the Lifestyle Food channel is locked in on the favourites list on the remote - but this time I saw the chef serve up salmon with asparagus... mmm not my favourite food combo but I gave the Price is Right Alumni and former Sports Presenter a chance to keep me interested with their throw to a break (well an infomercial) and I got 15 seconds of hair touchy feely and quite frankly SP didn't rough up Larry's hair enough to keep me around. The price is wrong sir! CLICK! Last stop on the morning show circuit to nowhere is the 9am with David and Kim effort on Channel Ten. They're talking to Kenny the Toilet entrepreneur and for the first 3 minutes I was genuinely interested in their conversation... then the graphic advertising the new show Kenny's made for 8pm tonight on Ten pops up and the cynic in me cries out against the shameless self promotion of the network! But having evaluated the other two station offerings in the previous 10 minutes - all of a sudden the seemingly normal way David and Kim talk to their guest (albeit in the classic interview seat arrangement) instead of the staged format you get overwhelmed with on most shows - is watchable. And that's the operative word for mine - watchable. You're not going to expect a brilliant mind nourishing show at 9am in the morning at the best of times but for those TV addicts out there who can watch during the week - the least the major free to air television networks could do is try a little harder to make their shows more watchable in between the infomercial segments that plague the morning show genre. How do you do that? Well that info’s not completely free like the criticism above. Ask and you shall receive TV producers…

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

If Arsenal are serious about a title challenge...

Losing 1-0 to likely bottom feeding club Fulham hardly sends out a strong message that they are challengers for the Premier League title - even if your best player Cesc Fabregas wasn't in the lineup. While credit must go to Fulham for reversing their fortunes from Week One in a big way (they lost 2-1 to newly promoted Hull City) to claim a big scalp in the form of Arsenal at Craven Cottage, the inability of the Gunners to score more than one goal in their opening two fixtures is a major shock. Having caught all of Arsenal's 1-0 opening day defeat of West Brom - I was still impressed by their ability to move the ball and create scoring opportunities, despite the fact they couldn't pull the trigger and put the 3 or 4 goals past the Baggies that they should have. I figured it was just an off-day for the strike force Arsenal still had at its disposal that day. Surely next week against Fulham it'd be a 3 or 4 goal rout... Then I open the box score and see Fulham 1 Arsenal 0 and I nearly fell off my chair. For a team with title aspirations this is simply not good enough. Influential midfielder Fabregas should return this weekend but in the race for the Premiership the Gunners have now dropped their single droppable game to a less fancied opponent - and there are still 36 weeks to go! And when you consider Chelsea pushed aside Portsmouth and a plucky Wigan to take the maximum points from the opening fortnight - Arsenal are already in a situation that relies on other results to go their way, which with an opening slate of West Brom (H) and Fulham (A) seemed beyond unlikely. ~~~~~ In other Week Two Results: Blackburn 1-1 Hull City, Liverpool 2-1 Middlesbrough, Newcastle 1-0 Bolton, Stoke City 3-2 Aston Villa, Tottenham 1-2 Sunderland, West Brom 1-2 Everton, Wigan 0-1 Chelsea, Manchester City 3-0 West Ham, Portsmouth 0-1 Manchester United. So Stoke City break through for their first win over fancied Villa, Liverpool escaped at home against Middlesbrough, Manchester City blew West Ham away and Tottenham start the season with two losses after falling 2-1 to Sunderland at White Hart Lane. Ladder: Chelsea and Liverpool head the league with 6 points while Blackburn, Hull City, Manchester United and Newcastle sit behind them on 4 points. Tottenham, Wigan, West Brom and Portsmouth are yet to open their account for season 2008/2009. Top Goalscorers: Gabriel Agbonlahor still leads thanks to his Week One hat-trick but has been joined at the top by Man City midfielder Elano, while Middlesbrough striker Mido is making the most of his game time with 2 goals in just 40 minutes of action this season.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Can Homebush thrive as an NRL venue?

"In the long run, playing at Homebush equals no crowds, equals no atmosphere, equals no TV money - which is sport's greatest source of income.” John Singleton, April 30 2005. With ANZ Stadium hosting its first Double Header since 2004 this Saturday night, the NRL should be mounting the first of many operations to draw football fans back to Homebush. With attendance at the ground dropping by over one thousand people in the space of a year the NRL should be looking at staging regular Double Headers to regain the legions of fans that have deserted the stadium for club games in the years since it opened in 1999. While hosting the two biggest games of the Rugby League calendar each year (the Grand Final and at least one State of Origin), ANZ/Stadium Australia has also been the regular season home of the Canterbury club since 1999 (although the Bulldogs did play the majority of their home games at the neighbouring Sydney Showground during the 2001 and 2002 seasons and part time from 2003 to 2005) and the South Sydney Rabbitohs since 2006 (who moved from the Sydney Football Stadium on a lucrative three year contract and have since extended their deal). Both core supporter groups turn out faithfully each week to see the Bulldogs and Rabbitohs run around but the advantage of having a stadium big enough to cater for the casual fan has never truly been realised at the turnstiles. Considering the frequency of the casual fan attending is the difference maker financially for a club that plays in a big stadium and thus needs a big crowd to make a profit – it is a realisation that cannot afford keep failing at the gate. In fact the longest serving tenants – The Bulldogs – have seen their home crowd at Homebush (Stadium/Showground only) average drop from 21,117 in 2003 to 15,592 in 2008 (not including their Round 22 clash with North Queensland at Suncorp) highlighting the struggle the team faces in attracting the casual fan to their home venue, especially with the team struggling this season on the field. Despite the five clubs who use Stadium Australia in 2008 (including part time tenants the Wests Tigers, St.George-Illawarra Dragons and Parramatta Eels) averaging 15,472 per game at the venue – and only 225 people per game short of the NRL’s home ground average across the competition (15,697) – the stadium remains a cavernous wasteland for regular season contests. Without the casual fan finding a compelling reason to shell out in excess of $20.00 a ticket to sit in the outer at the end of the ground and partake in the at times non-existent atmosphere each week, the crowd figures for Stadium Australia will continue to fall. And as far as compelling reasons go – sitting 14th and 15th on the NRL table respectively, the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs haven’t delivered one on the field in 2008. As a big event stadium, the ground stacks up favourably with world standards and when a truly epic sporting contest is held in the arena, it rises to the occasion. But the site of the 2000 Sydney Olympics has never been able to adapt and become a place that fans enjoy coming to for anything but a major event in the sporting or entertainment calendar. In short it rocks on the big stage but has a distinct Michael Bolton sound for the bulk of its performances. Painful, awful, flat… you get the idea. If the ground is to ever realise the potential of having so many seats for fans to sit in, it is important that we look at why Stadium Australia has had such a torrid run this season in attracting significant crowds. In 2008 there have been only four ‘marquee’ games. Only one of which has managed to break the 30,000 mark for attendance and that was the Bulldogs v Roosters Round 4 Friday Night clash which saw Willie Mason face off against the club he walked out on at the end of 2007. The promise of (the then loyal) Sonny Bill Williams letting Big Willie know how he felt about the defection; saw a season high 36,526 turn out at the ground. The Bulldogs faithful went home disappointed as the Roosters ran out convincing 40-12 winners in a game that didn’t deliver a great deal of spectacle for the paying customer – but at least they were there in the first place. The season opener between the Rabbitohs and Roosters managed to draw a credible 29,386 and being Round 1 ground and club officials must have thought that bigger and better crowds lay ahead. But the hyped ANZAC Day clash of the Dragons and Roosters could only pull 21,596 fans on a public holiday Friday afternoon and co-tenants South Sydney and the Bulldogs played on Good Friday in front of only 21,839. The only non-marquee game to have broken the 25,000 mark in 2008 so far was the Eels v Bulldogs season opener on a Saturday evening in the normally unfavourable 5:30pm slot (25,065). So the story the figures tell is that in 28 games played at Stadium Australia just one game has broken 30,000 (Bulldogs v Roosters 36,526 in Round 4) and tallied inside the 20,000 to 29,999 bracket on seven occasions (only two of which were above 25,000). When you compare the 2008 figures to the 2007 ones the scary downturn in crowds over just the last 12 months becomes evident. Splitting the regular season Stadium Australia attendances into the following crowd brackets you can compare the 2007 and 2008 figures: A. 30,000+, B. 20,000-29,999, C. 10,000-19,999 and D. 1-9,999. Stadium Australia 2007 Season: Attendance Range: A: 2 Games, B: 6 Games, C: 16 Games, D: 2 Games. Total Crowd: 413,048. 25 Game Average: 16,522. Stadium Australia 2008 Season: Attendance Range: A: 1 Game, B: 7 Games, C: 12 Games, D: 9 Games. Total Crowd: 448,679. 29 Game Average: 15,472. Granted there are have already been four more fixtures at Stadium Australia in 2008 than there was throughout 2007, but the last 2008 bracket of 9 Games where the crowd has failed to crack the 10,000 mark is a major concern. In fact in Round 15 when the ground hosted the Dragons v Panthers, Bulldogs v Raiders and Rabbitohs v Titans on the same weekend – no game had a crowd figure higher than the 9,845 the Bulldogs-Raiders clash recorded. In what looks like a sign of desperation (if it remains a one-off gimmick too boost flagging crowd figures in the run home to the Finals) the NRL finally scheduled a Double Header for this coming Round 24. Stadium Australia will host two games on Saturday August 23 starting at 5:30pm with the Tigers v Sea Eagles and followed by the Bulldogs v Eels at 7:30pm. Given all four sides are Sydney-based the Double Header should pull at least 40,000 people. The crowd could even push the 50,000 mark now that the Eels have started to get their act together and have stayed in the playoff hunt by winning their past two games – and we all know how much Parra fans love to turn out when their team is winning. Outside of the Double Header there is only one stand alone game that the Stadium Australia schedule throws up before the Finals that could break the 25,000 mark and that is the Dragons v Eels in Round 25. Without the scheduling of a Double Header in Round 24, the NRL’s Stadium Australia tenants would be facing a regular season in which just one game drew over 30,000 at the game’s official home. With Suncorp Stadium taking the mantle as the game’s best ground (and now clearly its ‘spiritual home’ with the World Cup Final being played in Brisbane later this year) the game of Rugby League must use the Double Header as a marketing hurricane to make Stadium Australia a place fans want to go and watch football at. Because at the moment – outside of State of Origin (where the ticket prices were a major factor in keeping the NSWRL from selling out their two games this year) and the Grand Final – Stadium Australia just doesn’t appeal to fans as a footballing venue. But the reality is that the Double Header ‘gimmick’ might be the catalyst for saving Rugby League at Stadium Australia during the regular season in the coming years. But clubs aren’t going to just sign up for multiple Double Headers because the NRL likes the idea – it has to have a financial incentive that takes advantage of the potentially higher crowds. Under the Double Header model, the financial advantages of a crowd in excess of 40,000 has to be particularly appealing for the two main tenants of Stadium Australia. The Rabbitohs and Bulldogs have averaged home crowds of 15,684 and 15,592 respectively at the ground in 2008 and both sides have had poor seasons on the field. Souths have just one game remaining at Stadium Australia with the Raiders in Round 24 visiting the day after the Double Header, while the Bulldogs also have two left against the Eels (Round 24) and Broncos (Round 25). The cost of the average ticket to stand alone games in 2008 (Category One & Two) hovers around $25 and when we’re talking purely gate takings in 2008 here are some speculative figures on what both all Stadium Australia tenants have earned so far in 2008: Gate Takings from Stand Alone Games in 2008 Regular Tenants (Home Crowd Average): SOUTH SYDNEY (15,684) – 10 Games at $25.00 per ticket = $3,920,925.00 BULLDOGS (15,592) – 9 Games at $25.00 per ticket = $3,508,250.00 Part Time Tenants (Home Crowd Average): PARRAMATTA (20,689) – 2 Games at $25.00 per ticket = $1,034,450.00 WESTS TIGERS (16,489) – 3 Games at $25.00 per ticket = $1,236,000.00 DRAGONS (12,126) – 5 Games at $25.00 per ticket = $1,515,725.00 Now there are financial benefits to simply playing at the venue under the contractual agreements each club has with the Stadium Australia management. The above figures are predictions based on the face value of gate takings and the reality is not all clubs get the total value of the gate takings directly fed back into their bank accounts. But for the purpose of highlighting the broader value of the Double Header in ensuring that Stadium Australia can be a viable place for both the bank balance and attracting crowds – we’ll operate on the assumption that gate takings has a big impact on any club’s desire to play at the ground. For example, if South Sydney and the Bulldogs played in 4 Double Headers during the 2009 season as the one of the two home teams and each fixture attracted an average crowd of 40,000, then the financial benefits of those four fixtures coupled with playing the rest of their home games as stand alone fixtures (calculated on 2008 home crowd average), the revenue from all their home games would be: (It must be noted that as a Double Header gate takings would be split 50/50 by the two hosting clubs hence the ticket being represented as $12.50 rather than $25.00) Projected 2009 Gate Takings: SOUTH SYDNEY – 8 Games at $25.00 per ticket = $3,136,800.00 – 4 Games at $12.50 per ticket = $2,000,000.00 – 12 Game Total = $5,136,800.00 BULLDOGS – 8 Games at $25.00 per ticket = 3,118,400.00 – 4 Games at $12.50 per ticket = $2,000,000.00 – 12 Game Total = $5,118,400.00 Simplified the value of a regular season with 4 Double Headers is worth about $431,690.00 to the Rabbitohs and $440,733.00 to the Bulldogs. And that is based solely on 2008 crowd figures which are somewhat lower due to the respective sides struggles this season. For interest’s sake if the other part time tenants of Stadium Australia played all their club games at the ground and also took part (as one of the two home teams) in the 4 Double Header format among their 12 home games it would be worth $787,460 to the St.George-Illawarra Dragons annually (they have averaged just 12,126 at Stadium Australia in three games in 2008), $351,000 to the Wests Tigers and playing Devil’s Advocate for us, the Parramatta Eels would in fact lose money ($68,900) because they have averaged just over the 20,000 mark in their two Stadium Australia games in 2008 and the projected 40,000 crowd for a Double Header actually reduces their profit per game. Ask any punter, fan or casual acquaintance with the game whether they would be more likely to pay $25.00 to go see one match in a stadium that will be just under a fifth full or by paying a similar amount (Category One tickets to the Round 24 Double Header are $35.00 an Adult but Category Two are still $25.00) to sit in a stadium that would be at least half full and brimming with the atmosphere that a crowd like that generates as a result – you don’t have to be Einstein to figure out which option would win that poll convincingly. An NSC snap poll asking whether frequent Double Headers would attract more fans saw 56% say ‘Yes it would regardless of who was playing’, 32% say ‘It would have no bearing on their attendance’ and 12% say they preferred Stand Alone Games. The Double Header needs to return to the Rugby League schedule with a vengeance in 2009 and with it we might see fans actually embrace Stadium Australia as a footballing venue. At the moment the upcoming Double Header is the NRL’s single token effort to try and fill the out of favour ground. Unless the decision makers in the game are serious about dispelling the fans current view of the stadium as a place with absolutely no value or appeal to the code outside of the fact it hosts the two biggest events on the annual calendar, then the Double Header has to be used regularly and strategically in 2009. The fans have shown in 2008 that they won’t pony up their hard earned to see stand alone club football at the ground and there’s no guarantee we’ll see a sold out Grand Final if Melbourne and Brisbane go at it again for the second time in three years on October 5. Granted there’s no guarantee current contractual agreements clubs have with Stadium Australia will easily allow this exciting venture to go forward – but if the code is truly in trouble (depends on your glass half full/half empty prerogative) then surely this would be a major positive step in getting the game back on track in Sydney and boost the participating club’s coffers which have suffered at the gate in 2008 at Stadium Australia.