Tuesday 3 February 2009

Ten Years Ago in Rugby League

Let me take you back to March 1999 and a copy of Rugby League Week. Here are some of the storylines from the NRL that season the March 31 edition of Rugby League Week. The competition was only four rounds old but perennial 1990s heavyweights Brisbane and Manly were winless and the Sharks were unbeaten on their way to the Minor Premiership. Eventual premiers the Melbourne Storm had beaten the grand finalists from the year before (Bulldogs & Broncos) in the opening month and RLW featured a number of snippets suggesting that the Storm could indeed take out the title in 1999. But these bold calls can’t be considered in the Nostraldamus category given the Storm fell just one game short of the 1998 decider when they were beaten by the Broncos in the Preliminary Final. However the Storm did win the Premiership so… Back to March 1999 and some of the storylines, quotes and predictions that stand out.  Cliffy Lyons came out of retirement at age 37 to play for the struggling Sea Eagles in their 32-16 loss to the Knights who were led by a dominant Andrew Johns. Lyons set up two tries for the winless Sea Eagles who managed to get back into the game just after halftime through a Terry Hill try in the 45th Minute but Johns (who had two try assists from kicks in the opening half) took over again just 11 minutes later putting prop Glenn Grief over for the match winning try and a 22-10 lead. The match also featured a try by the hooker of the 1990s Steve Walters who was to play in one of his last ever games before retirement midway through the 1999 season.  North Queensland Coach Tim Sheens may not have had the magic touch with the Cowboys after leaving the Raiders but he still knew talent like few others. Utility John Doyle had played just 3 games in the 1999 season and 16 games overall at the time of publication but Sheens predicted the converted hooker had representative honours in his future. “I believe he has the potential to play for Queensland. When you look at specialist hookers eligible for the Maroons, only the incumbents Jamie Goddard and Jason Hetherington are better equipped than John.” Doyle would make his State of Origin debut for Queensland in Game I, 2001 scoring a try in the Maroons 34-16 victory. He played three games in all for Queensland, winning two and losing one.  Evergreen front rower Steven Price, now with the Warriors, was a then 25 year old who had just re-signed with the Bulldogs for three seasons claiming that “Money’s never been the big thing for me.” History will show that the Bulldogs obviously still paid Price a big chunk of dough as the contract he signed which would expire at the end of 2002, coincided with the season the Bulldogs were punished severely for completely ignoring the salary cap set by the NRL. Price went onto sign for two more years until the end of the 2004 season – presumably this time on less money. But money became the big thing for him when he signed with the Warriors in 2005 (who themselves would face a penalty for breaking the salary cap after Price joined them), leaving the Bulldogs because they couldn’t match the gigantic offer from across the ditch.  In response to the NRL Judiciary’s decision to suspend their Kiwi international forward Stephen Kearney, the Melbourne Storm suggest that “we may as well all start wearing skirts” while playing Rugby League that season. Storm CEO Chris Johns is the man responsible for the comment and sanctions a new mascot for the following week’s home game at Olympic Park versus the Bulldogs. ‘Skirt Man’ makes an appearance before the game and does a lap of the ground (yes a man in a Storm jersey and a tutu) which evidently fires the Storm up on their way to a 26-17 win over the Dogs.  A minute’s silence is planned for Balmain youngster Tai Savea who died in a fishing incident while back in his native New Zealand earlier in the year. The 20 year old was a former Warriors junior and both the Tigers and Warriors would observe a minute’s silence in memory of the young man. In light of the recent disappearance of Sonny Fai during the off-season it is a sobering thought to realise this has happened before.  Then Melbourne Coach Chris Anderson was interviewed about his recent appointment as Australian Coach and was asked about his opinion on Brett Kimmorley as a potential future Australian skipper. “I have a huge wrap on Brett Kimmorley, but I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on the kid. He reminds me of a young Terry Lamb, and that’s the biggest wrap I can give him.” Kimmorley may never have quite reached the heights of the Australian captaincy but he did play 23 Tests for Australia (2 in Super League) but the comparison to Terry Lamb isn’t that far off given Kimmorley’s longevity in the game and ability to give 100% each week. Granted he shouldn’t be considered as good as the Canterbury champion but Anderson wasn’t far off with his assessment of the then 22 year old.  For the record here are the line-ups of the Top and bottom sides in the NRL at the completion of Round 4, 1999. o CRONULLA – 4 wins, 0 losses, 106 Points For, 36 Points Against.  D Peachey, M Rogers, A Ettingshausen, R Richardson, B Howland, J Ferris, M Healey; J Stevens, D Treister, M Lang, S Ryan, N Long, N Graham. Res: T Maddison, A Pierce, C McKenna, S Donate. Coach: J Lang. o MANLY – 0 wins, 4 losses, 44 Points For, 155 points Against.  A King, A Frew, A Torrens, T Hill, B Reeves, C Lyons, C Field; O Cunningham, G Toovey, N Tierney, D Gartner, G Mackay, N Kosef. Res: A Peters, J Hopoate, W Doyle, S Fulton. Coach: B Fulton. And how did they finish? Cronulla won the Minor Premiership by 2 points with 18 wins and 6 lossses but lost to the St.George-Illawarra Dragons in the Preliminary Final. Manly were 13th with only 9 wins, 13 losses and a draw, missing the Finals by 9 points. So there you go, March 1999 in Rugby League.