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.