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Thursday, 30 April 2009

NRL Tips Round 8 2009

This is an archived story - so check the main page - www.wdnicolson.blogspot.com for the current round of tipping for NRL, AFL and Super 14. The site is also updated with opinion, news and features regularly. Something a little different today for the NRL Tips - been noticing a lot of the traffic the site generates is people after earlier in the week predictions, so here's my take on the NRL Games this weekend. Here are my tips for Round 8 of the NRL with Round 6 of the AFL and Week 12 of the Super 14 to follow. NRL ROUND 08 - 2009 Cowboys over Eels > You can't in your right mind take the Eels yet. Even at home and on a Friday Night when the fickle fans actually turn up to Parramatta Stadium. I remember getting burned by picking the Cowboys at Parra Stadium a couple of years back but one look at the Eels forward pack and I can't see them matching the Nth Qld go-forward which has started to click in the past fortnight. Cowboys to win but not in a landslide. Storm over Sea Eagles > This is a game where you should probably go 'home team when in doubt' but there's a two key aspects to this game. One is obviously Brett Stewart isn't playing for the Sea Eagles and secondly Brett Finch is playing for the Storm. With Finch playing outside Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith and operating in the link role that Billy Slater really shouldn't have to do as well - the Storm will find their attacking feet sooner rather than later. Given I seriously think Manly's defence is over-rated (Anthony Watmough is the best example of a human turnstyle I've seen since Eion Crossan) on the edges I'll take the Storm here - even at Brookvale. Titans over Rabbitohs. > The home ground factor looms large here and despite the Titans finally being beaten on the road at Penrith on Monday Night - the Titans are a better football team than they showed at CUA. The Rabbitohs on the other hand don't look in form at all and if it wasn't for Luke Stuart, Roy Asotasi and Craig Wing (who came back on when he shouldn't have - concussion) - I seriously doubt whether they win last Friday Night against a pretty ordinary Sharks outfit. Scott Prince is primed for a big one and will target David Kidwell's lack of side on defensive skills with his running game on the edges. Titans here. Sharks over Roosters > Eeeeek this is a tough game to pick. The Sharks have the home ground advantage and given how both teams have played in recent weeks - that is about all that points you towards a winner in this game. At least the Sharks scored 26 points last week... the Roosters came up goose egg. If Cronulla let Anasta and Pearce kick without pressure in attacking situations - then the Roosters are a shot but everyone seems to have figured out that Brad Fittler's game plan revolves around this one attacking ploy - so expect Ricky Stuart to have his men ready. Sharks in a low scoring affair. Broncos over Knights > If Newcastle had a full strength team I would be incredibly tempted to take them at home at EnergyAustralia. But no Mullen and no Cross really hurts and there are injury concerns over half a dozen other players so think long and hard about the impact that will be missed. The Broncos are doing it easy at the moment and finally utilised the best attacking side of the field in the NRL (Lockyer/Hunt/Hodges/Folau combining on Brisbane's Right) and cut the Eels defence to ribbons. If the ball keeps coming for this combination then Ben Rogers or Scott Dureau and the three quarters Junior Sau and Akuila Uate - will have a rough night. Broncos to win. Raiders over Panthers > The frigid cold of Canberra with winter approaching is something that should help the Raiders but if David Furner keeps his game plan of playing off their big prop forwards and doesn't realise that ball movement not big men was the key to the Raiders surge in 2008 - then the Panthers are more than just in this. Canberra have played just two quality halves of football in fourteen and the Panthers are coming off their best win in some time over the Titans. If this is played in Penrith you only tip the Panthers, but it is in Canberra and that's huge for the Raiders. Dragons over Warriors > This tip could very well change by Friday as I am yet to be convinced the Dragons can play in a high scoring game and win. Take nothing away from the Dragons defence so far - it has been very good - but the attack has been opportunistic rather than well constructed and if it wasn't for Jamie Soward the Dragons might win their game against the Roosters via penalty goals. The Warriors will hit their stride soon and having Wade McKinnon back is a big boost to their attacking structure. Lance Hohaia needs to play and centre is the opening he fits best. If the Warriors pack has a good day and Price and Packer make inroads up the middle, the Warriors could pull off what would be a big upset. Dragons without confidence. Tigers over Bulldogs. > Firstly I can't believe Michael Ennis avoided suspension for his blatant rip on the free arm of a Canberra player. One week was sufficient punishment but the NRL Jokediciary did it again and a high profile player in rep calculations went free by appeal. I wonder why I even care anymore, we don't get each case treated equally and we never will. Anyhoo to the game. Ennis playing matches this game up a lot closer than it would've been without him. Farah is playing great football but Ennis has been the most important cog in the revamped Bulldogs makeup and the Dogs must have him to win. If those two cancel each other out it comes down to go-forward and the halfbacks. The Tigers are doing good things up front off the back of Keith Galloway who has really matured as a footballer and Benji Marshall won them a game they shouldn't have won over Newcastle last weekend. For the Dogs, Ben Hannant is leading a starting pack that has meshed nicely so far and has been given good service off the bench from Chris Armit (never thought I'd say that) and Greg Eastwood. Brett Kimmorley is going well and remains a top class organiser. What tips the scales here is the Dogs play in a fairly ordinary ground for any sort of home ground advantage and the Tigers can throw some serious attack at the Bulldogs defence. Got the Tigers at the moment. Just to quote from last week "So if I tip 5/8 this week I'll be doing well." - I got my wish and the Warriors-Storm draw cost me a chance at 6/8. AFL ROUND 06 - 2009 Finally picked the Tigers and got the result. Pity I picked the Swans, Hawks, Magpies and Bulldogs while I was at it. 4/8 and a poor week by any standards. This week: Magpies over Kangaroos - no Harvey, no Wells... umm hello Collingwood. Hawks over Blues - still yet to catch the Carlton love and don't think the Hawks are going that badly. Eagles over Dockers - West Coast are playing decent football and Sydney obviously are not to be run over by the Dockers last week. Lions over Bombers - Essendon continue to surprise but winning in Brisbane is tough stuff. Crows over Power - have been burned by the Power in almost every game they've played this year so far, each week they are good I back against them, each week they fire I take the opposition. May the burns continue. Swans over Tigers - going against what I said before about the Swans they will have Hall and O'Loughlin back and maybe, just maybe, Mike Pyke! (How good is that name??!?!) Cats by oh so many over the Demons - Gary Ablett Junior. That's three words and the margin could be three figures. Bulldogs over Saints - I'm either not watching enough of St.Kilda play this year or I can't get their apathetic 2008 form out of my head. Bulldogs have Akermanis and Cooney back and with it their run - Dogs in the twilight. SUPER 14 Week 12 - 2009 I'm so out of contention in Super 14 Tipping I'm not even going to give a reason for my tips this week beyond saying your reason should be to take the other team I pick. Hurricanes over Blues - about time we had a genuine headline game on a Friday Night in New Zealand. Crusaders over Lions - Lions are good and terrible and the Crusaders will be smarting big time for being dusted by the Cheetahs... YES THE CHEETAHS! Waratahs over Cheetahs - although the Cheetahs will be looking for arguably Australia's biggest Super 14 team scalp to go with their wins over the Sharks (SA) and Crusaders (NZ) - how can I pick the Cheetahs when the Tahs have such a potent backline... don't they?? I'm still believing what I read in the Season Preview... Reds over Brumbies - you don't get beaten by 50 odd points if you are a good team - I don't care who the Brumbies played last week - 50 points is ridiculous. While the Reds are no great side they are at home and like beating their compatriots especially with playoff positions on the line... it is just a shame it always seems to be the other team - not the Reds in contention at this time of year. Sharks over Highlanders - picked the Highlanders a few too many times this year and even still I give them no hope in Durban. Bulls over Force - key game for the Bulls to prove they are worthy title favourites as the Force are going okay. At home the Bulls will be too strong. Draw... well I'll probably pick the Stormers because they are at home but I can't believe the Chiefs are so high on the table having seen them play in Round 2 (albeit without Muliaina and Lauaki) and the Stormers look such a better team on paper than they have played. Good luck with your tips this weekend!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Ruby Rose tells it like it is...

For a review of 'The 7pm Project' which features Ruby Rose click here. Forward: April 28, 2009. I've tried but I can't get over this... as a result celebrity Ruby Rose has earned herself an opinion piece on wdnicolson.blogspot.com. Proving that it's not always about sport. In case you didn't know and the odds are good you probably didn't, but that MTV superstar Ruby Rose won best female talent at the ASTRA Pay TV Awards the other night and delivered the kind of acceptance speech that just left me stunned. I've tried over the past couple of days to ignore what she said, as it really is nothing of consequence but it has been nagging at me and I've decided to put it in the blogosphere.

She's what all the fuss is about... apparently.

Now if you're not familiar with who Ruby Rose is - well neither am I so here's Google's take. She's a lesbian apparently who has 'locked lips' with such big names as Vanessa Amorosi and the other one in the Veronicas (couldn't be stuffed figuring out which was which) and is a resident MTV VJ - so she's clearly at the forefront of all things cool. And here's the quote from her acceptance speech: "(And) to all those girls who bullied me in high school, where are you now?" Wow. You showed them girl. You told those conniving and back stabbing chicks how it is now. They are no doubt sitting in their chairs at work or at uni reading about themselves in a news article (heck they wouldn't have seen the speech live because who in their right mind would watch a pay tv awards show?) and feeling rather vindicated that they got you - Ruby Rose - to where you are now, with the kind of bullying only reserved for those shrinking violets who are bound for stardom! Please get some perspective rose petal. If that is what has driven you to get to where you are now, what are you going to do with the rest of your life now? You've told them where to stick it, but what drives you now? I'm sure the tatts have something to do with telling them too... and just quietly they do nothing for you. Even though you are quite attractive, it looks like you've let a three year old go to town with the oil based paints up and down your right arm. Sure my point of view could be way off, which I'm not asking Rose to share it at all - but I felt pretty sorry for her when she uttered those words about what drove her. Sure she's 23 with the world at her feet etc etc, but I've heard George W. Bush make more sense at the podium than Ruby Rose Langenheim (her real name) did at the ASTRAs. ... Ironically I'm letting what she said bite at me and thus I bite back - ala what she's done - but my distance of time is just 3 or 4 days - and hers is closer to half a dozen years so.... plus she's like 'famous' so... Have a good day my friends - and don't you dare think of bullying me otherwise when I win an award at a ceremony no one cares about - you'll be copping both barrels!

Friday, 24 April 2009

Tipping NRL Round 7, AFL Round 5 & Super 14 Week 11 - 2009

This is an archived story - so check the main page - www.wdnicolson.blogspot.com for the current round of tipping for NRL, AFL and Super 14. The site is also updated with opinion, news and features regularly. I'm on the verge of giving up... Not on tipping altogether - that'll never happen - but giving up on the hope of a perfect round anytime soon could start this weekend if I can't get to Sunday with the 'perfecto' still in tact in at least one code. Here are my tips for Round 7 of the NRL, Round 5 of the AFL and Week 11 of the Super 14. NRL ROUND 07 - 2009 Broncos over Eels Sharks over Rabbitohs Storm over Warriors Dragons over Roosters Cowboys over Sea Eagles Raiders over Bulldogs Tigers over Knights Panthers over Titans When I first wrote down my tips I had all the favourites winning - but where's the fun in that? Foolishly I've convinced myself tonight that there will be at least one upset and that team... is the Sharks over the Rabbitohs. With Paul Gallen back and Trent Barrett primed for a big game to make a statement about being left out of the NSW Origin 854 man squad for the 2009 Series - look for those two to have huge games as Cronulla get back to their power in the middle game and roll over a Bunnies side that won't have Rhys Wesser or a 100% fit John Sutton - and ANZ Stadium is no cauldron when it comes to home ground advantage. Now I've said the Sharks they'll lose and the Bulldogs will upset the Raiders (well punting favouritism wise) on Sunday and the Titans and Knights will continue to perform better than people think they can away from home. So if I tip 5/8 this week I'll be doing well. AFL ROUND 05 - 2009 I KEEP PICKING RICHMOND!!!! What is wrong with me??? Well I don't actually support Richmond so there's something going for me and I did pick my Swans to beat the fancied Blues so there's another... having said that I picked only 5/8 - but dropped the last two games to be fair. Picked the Magpies, the Swans and Kangaroos in relative upsets but lost ground on the Hawks, Tigers and Bulldogs. Again the home team factor could come into play here but to be honest this is the first time I've had a decent look at who is playing who. So to the tips for Round 5: Power over Saints (I tipped the Saints at AAMI a couple of years ago with certainty and they got hammered by 10 goals... Power here based on that burning alone) Swans over Dockers Crows over Demons Cats over Lions Magpies over Bombers Hawks over Eagles Tigers over Kangaroos (I just feel sorry for Terry Wallace really) Bulldogs over Blues SUPER 14 Week 11 - 2009 I've lost my touch tipping Super 14 Rugby... so stop reading now if you value your ability to pick a winner in Union. Highlanders over Stormers Force over Lions Blues over Reds Hurricanes over Brumbies (in a cracker at the CakeTin) Crusaders over Cheetahs Bulls over Chiefs (loser of this match for mine will miss the Finals) Good luck with your tips this weekend!

Monday, 20 April 2009

What's the matter Parramatta?

The 2009 NRL Regular Season is only six weeks old but for the Parramatta Eels the next twenty could be the longest 140 days in club history. For a team that both its playing unit and supporters would have expected to contend for the Finals in 2009, the roster has produced just one good performance this year when they defeated the Bunnies in Round 2 and pulled off somewhat of a Houdini act when they ran down the Raiders in Round 3 for their only two wins so far. But they were blown off the park by the Warriors in the first half of Round 1 - a 26-18 loss, were trounced by a vastly under strength Roosters 24-6 in Round 4, beaten by a better team in the Dragons 22-8 in Round 5 after they released halfback Brett Finch and were overrun by a Bulldogs team this past Sunday that Phil Gould quite correctly observed were not nearly at their best... by a score line of 48-18. So within six weeks the Eels have fell out of contention for a premiership as it is clear they don't have the cattle (that conclusion we can safely jump too) and face a gruelling schedule over the next month to avoid dropping to the lowest rung of the ladder and staying there indefinitely. - starting with an away trip to Brisbane, home to the Cowboys who ominously found their attacking groove in Adelaide, away to Manly and finish off the stretch at home to the Bunnies. Round 7 - 7:35pm Friday , April 24 Broncos vs Eels Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane Round 8 - 7:35pm Friday , May 01 Eels vs Cowboys Parramatta Stadium, Sydney Round 9 - BYE Round 10 - 2:00pm Sunday , May 17 Sea Eagles vs Eels Brookvale Oval, Sydney Round 11 - 7:35pm Friday , May 22 Eels vs Rabbitohs ANZ Stadium, Sydney If they can't get a win in the next four matches they will sit with a win/loss record of 2-8 and with one of their two byes used on 6 Points after the first 11 Rounds of the competition - practically halfway through the year. The fact that Cronulla (1-5), Manly, Canberra, North Queensland, Penrith and the Roosters (all 2-4 - with the Tigers 2-3 before Monday Night Football tonight) are currently around them on the ladder shouldn't lull the Eels into thinking they aren't going all that badly. Of all those teams only the Sharks are playing truly ordinary football but get Paul Gallen back soon which will strengthen their resolve for the next few rounds. But Parramatta's only saviour coming back is their best player Nathan Hindmarsh - who for all his value is not a match-winner. He is exactly the kind of player than can make you competitive through his work and leadership but he is not going to win a game on his own - and the team's best playmaker Brett Finch is no longer on the books. So in a nutshell - what is going on in Parra? For one their best players are both forwards who aren't line breaking types. Nathan Cayless can cart the ball up but he's been out of form this year and should never (in my opinion) been moved from the backrow to prop because he was - in his youth - a fairly potent running backrower. Hindmarsh as previously stated has some great attributes - that are found in premiership winning teams - but he's lost his leg speed and doesn't have a ball player to reinvent him on the edges anymore. The team's next star is Feleti Mateo who was quite rightly being integrated back into lock forward by Coach Daniel Anderson and learning how to play tough minutes up the middle which would make him a ball playing asset at the end of each half when the opposition forwards tired. But he's gone straight back to halfback now the Jarryd Hayne experiment is over and Finch has moved on. This is a mistake but Parramatta don't really have a choice unless Anderson is prepared to give Kris Keating the keys to the car and drive the team alongside either Jeff Robson or a rookie in the halves. If Anderson is developing a side he wants then he needs to keep Mateo at lock where he will be a game-breaker instead of five-eighth where he won't run the ball enough and be too pass happy. Then there are the team's two most overhyped players - Jarryd Hayne and 2009's most disinterested player Krisnan Inu. I had pegged Hayne for that award (Most Disinterested) until the past two Rounds where it is painful to watch Inu go through the motions with no passion whatsoever about the situation his team has found itself in. With Luke Burt almost non-existent in attack from fullback, Anderson could try Inu in the role to try and wake him up and if the kid doesn't show a change in attitude then send him to park football for a reality check. Hayne should go back on the wing for a week or two to realise that more ball isn't always quality ball and will remember what made him such a good winger was his ability to convert quality chances. At five-eighth and centre he almost looks like he'd prefer to avoid grunt work that comes from passes without an immediate attacking opportunity and his error count is rising. The forward pack outside of Hindmarsh and Cayless is really average with only FuiFui MoiMoi and Joe Galuvao showing any intent in the past fortnight to tough it out. The chequebook needs to be opened up for a quality second rower and hooker in the off-season if they are available as well as some decent depth - because at the moment the younger players the club are looking for to step up - seem incapable of doing so. For Parramatta the weeks ahead will be tough and when you factor in that they will be on Friday Night Football for three of their next four games they will be heavily scrutinised by influential commentators. As a result Anderson has to (in my opinion) stick to some key roles he had identified for players in the off-season (Mateo at lock is the main one... Hayne at five-eighth not so much) and fit in stop gap solutions for the time being. There is no point wasting talents out of position or accepting the wasting of talent by other players due to a lack of application because there are seemingly no other options - when the season looks lost. The Eels are struggling because they no longer have the cattle but the rest of the season certainly presents Anderson with a great opportunity to fit his players where he wants them in readiness for the roster he can put together for 2010. If the Eels thought their 48-18 loss to the Bulldogs was tough, the weeks ahead will see them under even more scrutiny as they play three Friday Night Games in their next four games.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Tipping? Channel the Chilli Peppers and give it away give it away now.

This is an archived story - so check the main page - www.wdnicolson.blogspot.com for the current round of tipping for NRL, AFL and Super 14. The site is also updated with opinion, news and features regularly.
The title might be a little rash given the tipping so far this year hasn't been horrendous but it has been frustrating. I've adopted the 'when in doubt pick home teams' attitude from Round 1 of the AFL and NRL and have then gone completely against this rule in at least 1 if not 2 games around when common sense only seems to hit me on Monday. So with Round 6 of the NRL, Round 4 of the AFL and Week 10 of the Super 14 almost upon us here are the tips with a few stats here and there for your consideration. NRL ROUND 06 - 2009 Broncos over Panthers Raiders over Titans Dragons over Knights Sea Eagles over Rabbitohs Warriors over Roosters Cowboys over Sharks Eels over Bulldogs Storm over Tigers Now if you're doing the math and know the draw - I've gone against my 'rule' and picked FIVE away teams and at least three of those selections are sketchy at best up against the 'when in doubt pick home teams' thought process. What makes me think the Raiders will beat a Titans side at home that has been awesome defensively in the past month is beyond me, a Manly side that has won just one game and that was against a very poor Wests Tigers outfit and Brett Stewart back in the lineup and the Cowboys should instil confidence in absolutely nobody in the last month as they've looked a lot like the defensively challenged Nth Qld side of 2008. Then you've got the Broncos and Storm to win away from home against two sides who play well at home (Panthers and Tigers respectively) and really the Broncos haven't been great in the past fortnight and the Storm's only good performance came in Townsville at the Cowboys. So naturally now I've gone home team with the Eels, Warriors and Dragons they'll be the ones that lose and the teams I picked against playing at home - will win. Simply science really. AFL ROUND 04 - 2009 The home team factor used to be the absolute rule of thumb when it came to Aussie Rules but now everyone from Victoria plays at either the MCG or Docklands (Geelong also at Skilled Stadium) and if you're Collingwood that's the only places you play your entire schedule! This means that form starts to mean a great deal from the previous couple of weeks (again unless you're Geelong who have lost only like 2 games in their last 50) so it pays to keep an eye on who is winning and how they're winning. I tipped foolishly the Richmond Tigers last week when they came up against the continually impressive Western Bulldogs and ended up with 6/8 when a lot of people would've got 7/8. That is something I've noticed with AFL Tipping - the vast majority of tippers always tip well - getting that upset or two every fortnight is the difference when it comes to the end of the season. Not that I've been getting these upsets however... although I did take West Coast over Port Adelaide in Round 2! So to the tips for Round 4: Magpies over Lions (WAIT! They are playing out of Victoria???? Get on the phone Eddie! Protest!) Swans over Blues Hawks over Power Saints over Dockers Cats over Crows Kangaroos over Bombers Tigers over Demons Bulldogs over Eagles (funnily enough I think this could be an upset as it is at Subiaco but the Bulldogs aren't struggling so I have to stick with them). SUPER 14 Week 10 - 2009 Super 14 is the ultimate home ground tipsters game and this year I've fell out of the running mid-season because I kept picking away teams!!!! So don't listen to me here for your own sake when you make your tips. Highlanders over Blues (seriously ignore my picks) Bulls over Brumbies Hurricanes over Stormers (have accepted the fact the Stormers are not that good... pity I've taken them in like 6 of their 9 games) Reds over Lions Waratahs over Force Chiefs over Cheetahs (although wasn't it refreshing to see them beat the Sharks last week?) Sharks over the Crusaders in the match of the day/week/round/month/season. Good luck with your tips this weekend!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The NRL's Most Valuable Player after 5 Rounds of 2009

So who leads the race for the NRL MVP after the early rounds of the 2009 regular season? The Dragons, Titans and Broncos lead the NRL with a fifth of the season completed, all sporting impressive 4-1 win/loss records but does the NRL’s Most Valuable Player currently reside on their rosters? After analysing the opening five weeks of the season and seeing what kind of impact (arguably last season’s MVP) Brett Stewart had on the 0-4 Sea Eagles, the current leader in the race for MVP honours in 2009 may not be on a league leading team.
Soward, Friend (not Hegarty), Campese and Gidley are all in early contention for NRL MVP in 2009.
Here are the contenders and please vote in the poll. Listed A through to L in no particular order of preference with their team record in parentheses (Win-Loss). A. Jamie SOWARD, St.George-Illawarra Dragons (4-2) B. Kurt GIDLEY, Newcastle Knights (3-2) C. Michael ENNIS, Bulldogs (4-1*) D. John SUTTON, South Sydney Rabbitohs (3-2) E. David STAGG, Bulldogs (4-1*) F. Michael WEYMAN, St.George-Illawarra Dragons (4-1) G. Terry CAMPESE, Canberra Raiders (2-3) H. Russell PACKER, Warriors (2-3) I. Nathan FRIEND, Gold Coast Titans (4-1) J. Karmichael HUNT, Brisbane Broncos (4-1) K. Luke LEWIS, Penrith Panthers (2-3) L. Sam THAIDAY, Brisbane Broncos (4-1) * The Bulldogs have lost the competition points for their victory over the Panthers in Round 2. Here is the run-down on the contenders after the first Five Rounds. Jamie SOWARD – his kicking game is giving the Dragons a huge advantage in field position, particularly when they start their defensive sets inside the opposition 20m zone. Is running the ball and bobbing around off-loading forwards a lot more this year which is a good sign but he hasn’t overplayed his hand passing the ball – which is a good thing as he is not a natural playmaker with the ball. Has had a defensive handler used to protect his defensive deficiencies in much the same way Bennett protected Lockyer in Brisbane and the benefits are plain to see. KEY STATS: 1 Try, 16 Goals from 20 Attempts, 1 Line Break, 5 Try Assists, 3 Line Break Assists, 7 Runs for 74 Metres Gained Per Game, 57 of 70 Tackles Made, 88 Kicks in Play. Kurt GIDLEY – a hit up machine from the back which has been giving the Knights essentially another front rower when they work the ball out of their own half. That might tell on his body as the season drags on but at the moment he’s been the heartbeat of the Knights grunt-work with Ben Cross out of form and Steven Simpson injured. Only injury could keep him from another NSW Origin birth but he’s no certainty for fullback now Brett Stewart is back in the picture – and that’s through no fault of Gidley’s who has done everything asked of him so far this season. KEY STATS: 1 Try, 13 Goals from 22 Attempts, 1 Try Assist, 1 Line Break, 2 Line Break Assists, 7 Offloads, 31 Tackle Breaks, 19.8 Runs for 164.6 Metres Gained Per Game, 22 kick returns for 217 Metres Gained. Michael ENNIS – arguably the most creative hooker the Dogs have ever had and he is certainly the best number nine since Jason Hetherington at Belmore. Probes out of dummy half constantly and has the short kicking game and deft cut out pass to be a threat near the line. Still a bit of a penalty liability, prone to the odd clanger in possession and gets ‘hurt’ an awful lot in tackles but he’s been money for the Dogs so far in 2009. KEY STATS: 80 Minutes Played Per Game, 5 Try Assists, 4 Line Break Assists, 124 of 145 Tackles Made, 36 Kicks in Play. John SUTTON – if Jason Taylor could only convince him to run the ball more and put the last tackle kick reflex away for a game or two, then Sutton would be going astoundingly well and you could argue the Bunnies would be undefeated (the Eels loss was punctuated by his over-reliance on the kick near the line) or at least 4-1. Has shown glimpses of a dominant running game at times this season which has in turn setup his outside men for ‘at the line’ passes but when the Bunnies need to capitalise on their field position he has gone all kick-happy and the team’s attack breaks down. Could play Origin this year despite his reliance on the kick at the moment to create tries. KEY STATS: 6 Try Assists, 3 Line Break Assists, 1 Line Break, 21 Offloads, 12.2 Runs for 89 Metres Gained Per Game, 79 of 91 Tackles Made, 37 Kicks in Play. David STAGG – has made the transition to Belmore look like he’s been with the club for a decade such is his suitability to the traditional Bulldogs game of tenacity bred out of their defence. Has run the ball a lot in the opening five rounds yet maintained his 40+ tackle counts which gives the Dogs the kind of reliability you’d normally expect in a station wagon. Ironically his best performance was in the win (or loss depending how you look at it) over the Panthers when he was outstanding. KEY STATS: 1 Try, 2 Try Assists, 1 Line Break, 1 Line Break Assist, 13 Runs for 84.8 Metres Gained Per Game, 242 of 246 Tackles Made. Michael WEYMAN – those Raiders fans who kept saying this kid was overrated and too injury prone to bother persisting with are clearly the best judges in the business. Weyman just needed a break (not the literal bone snapping type) and some confidence that came from Wayne Bennett backing him to be his starting prop and whammo – he’s quickly becoming the kind of player he promised to be way back when he made his debut in 2003. Will miss a week through suspension for a love tap high tackle but rep football looms large in his future. KEY STATS: 53.6 Minutes Played Per Game, 17.6 Runs for 141.8 Metres Gained Per Game, 121 of 127 Tackles Made & only 1 Error. Terry CAMPESE – has played three outstanding games for two Canberra wins (they threw the Round 1 game away in the second half against the Tigers after leading comfortably at halftime) and in the other two games tried his guts out as his team-mates failed to finish off the opportunities he created. There is a touch of Laurie Daley to the 25-year-old nephew of former Union great David Campese and while Terry may never reach the heights of the Canberra legend – he certainly plays a lot like Daley in attack. And it is always refreshing to see the genuine chip and chase back in the game on a regular basis – that try he setup for Jarod Croker on Saturday night was a thing of beauty. KEY STATS: 1 Try, 12 Goals from 16 Attempts, 8 Try Assists, 6 Line Break Assists, 2 Line Breaks, 5 Offloads, 12 Tackle Breaks, 8.4 Runs for 79.2 Metres Gained Per Game, 89 of 93 Tackles Made, 63 Kicks in Play including 3 40/20 Kicks. Russell PACKER – if you haven’t seen the beast that is Packer play yet in 2009 – check your FoxSports guide (because the Warriors are hardly ever on free to air) and make a date to watch the best front row prospect going around. Only 19 years of age the 188cm, 119kg prop has been quality in all five games this year and stood up in a big way the last fortnight with Captain Steven Price injured. Has also been a threat near the line and has just missed 4 tackles all season (and all came last weekend against the Knights) which is usually an area where rookie props struggle due to the pace of the game. KEY STATS: 2 Tries, 2 Line Breaks, 2 Line Break Assists, 1 Try Assist, 15 Tackle Breaks, 15.6 Runs for 120.2 Metres Gained Per Game, 116 of 120 Tackles Made. Nathan FRIEND – the love affair with the Titans is back on after a few tumultuous months where the club flirted with Robbie Farah and Cameron Smith and made Friend feel unappreciated. But after five straight weeks of near man of the match displays the hooker earned himself a new contract and the Titans must be extremely relieved no other club stepped in and signed Friend while he was available. Has been his usual durable defensive self but has really taken a more influential role in attack as he is playing 80 minutes each week. KEY STATS: 80 Minutes Per Game, 2 Tries, 3 Try Assists, 2 Line Break Assists, 1 Line Break, 7.2 Runs for 59.8 Metres Gained Per Game, 210 of 219 Tackles Made. Karmichael HUNT – Brisbane’s 4-1 record has been achieved without any of the other big four being particularly dominant (Lockyer, Hodges or Folau) but Hunt has been the most influential. Set up three of the Broncos four tries in the Round 1 win over the Cowboys, had a hand in another in the 2-point win over the Storm, was solid in the next two games against the Warriors and Dragons and made a number of key plays in the high-scoring clash with the Roosters. Loves to run off a second man pass by Lockyer on the left hand side and has produced the goods from that pet-play when the Broncos need it. If he can start to mix with the Broncos right hand side strike-power of Hodges and Folau – the Broncos might be irresistible. KEY STATS: 2 Tries, 5 Try Assists, 4 Line Break Assists, 2 Line Breaks, 11 Tackle Breaks, 10.4 Runs for 95.2 Metres Gained Per Game. Luke LEWIS – is he a five-eighth, a lock forward, a halfback or a centre? I’m not even sure Matt Elliott knows, let alone Lewis himself. But he’s been the Panthers go-to man on every occasion so far in 2009 and a big part of their 2-3 record which could be as impressive as 4-1 had the Bulldogs not broken the rules and his own cut out pass late in the Storm game been ruled ok. There have been calls to pick Lewis on the bench in the NSW Origin team but I think Phil Gould has it right when he said Lewis might fit the bill at centre if they do take him. Defensively sound and with a strong running game mixed with some ball-playing ability – Lewis might be a real asset starting at centre for the Blues. KEY STATS: 2 Tries, 2 Try Assists, 4 Line Breaks, 4 Line Break Assists, 6 Offloads, 18 Tackle Breaks, 9.8 Runs for 75.8 Metres Gained Per Game, 92 of 101 Tackles Made, 23 Kicks in Play. Sam THAIDAY – has stolen the great Slammin’ Sam Backo’s nickname in recent times due to his robust and at times reckless running style. Backo will always be the true Slammin’ Sam to those who saw him play but Thaiday has really come into his own in the past 18 months – transforming from a error prone bench player into a powerful running backrower capable of playing the whole game. His early season form could see him in the Australian starting back-row he’s been going that good. KEY STATS: 71.8 Minutes Per Game, 16 runs for 115.2 Metres Gained Per Game, 190 of 206 Tackles Made. Note: To qualify for the MVP Nominations each player must have appeared in at least four of their club’s opening five games in 2009 and a maximum of two players from any one side were nominated. And most importantly be playing great football that is having a huge impact on their team’s fortunes so far this season. Thus the likes of Scott Prince, Steven Price and Brett Stewart weren’t considered having not played enough games and Darius Boyd and Ben Creagh fell short through the player quota. Others considered to have a strong case to be included the dozen nominations included Luke Bailey, Robbie Farah, Preston Campbell and Billy Slater. And before you go pointing at Braith Anasta’s stats and say surely he’s an MVP contender – is he being the kind of difference maker at the Roosters that has you thinking they are better than an also-ran team after five weeks? He’s playing well sure but the Roosters look terrible and look fortunate to be 2-3. Also those expecting to see a Melbourne player – don’t know what to tell you but Slater and Smith have both been good without being great and the Storm are only 3-2 and two of those wins weren’t exactly convincing over the Dragons and Panthers. Their stars will feature in the future but Slater (who has been their best) isn’t in red-hot form by any stretch and thus missed out on a nomination. So who is your NRL MVP after the first Five Rounds of 2009? Check back tomorrow for my MVP Top 5.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

NSC Australian Sporting Podcast #001, April 14 2009

The first NSC Australian Sporting Podcast is Available to download here. This week takes a look at three sporting questions and offers opinions on all three. 1. Are the St.George-Illawarra Dragons the real deal in 2009? 2. Will Brett Finch be a success at the Melbourne Storm? 3. Is One Day Cricket now a snooze fest without regular triangular series? If you've got a Sporting Question you want answered/analysed etc just comment here or email wdnicolson@optusnet.com.au and I'll address it in the next podcast. Hopefully it will be available on iTunes soon.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

AFL Round 3 Tipping

This is an archived story - so check the main page - www.wdnicolson.blogspot.com for the current round of tipping for NRL, AFL and Super 14. The site is also updated with opinion, news and features regularly. Given the AFL quite rightly doesn't play on Good Friday, they instead play their feature game of Round 3 tonight when Geelong play Collingwood. Really like the Cats (well who doesn't apart from Magpie fans) to win by 30+ points tonight as the Gary Ablett show gets back underway. So Cats by 34 points. Other AFL Round 3 Tips Lions, Crows, Tigers, Power, Hawks, Saints & Blues. Have a great Easter Weekend and try to think about why it matters outside of a 4 day weekend.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Brett Finch to end up a Panther..

Edit: 14/04/09. Turns out Finch had a deal setup with the Melbourne Storm all along... but we didn't know that now did we. I wonder if Parramatta did. The breaking news today is that Parramatta halfback Brett Finch is now former Parramatta halfback Brett Finch, with the club granting him an immediate release from his contract. The Eels have been poor so far in 2009 but Finch was hardly the one to blame for their struggles against the Roosters last Friday Night but the team was still 2-2 after the opening month of the season. But he's now gone and on the open market and I would be shocked if he doesn't end up playing for Matt Elliott at the Penrith Panthers. The pair got on very well in Finch's last season at the Raiders and Elliott was shattered the young fella left to play for Ricky Stuart and the Roosters after a fairly successful 2002 year when the Raiders made the Finals. Could be that Finch was just looking for an excuse to jump to the Panthers and Anderson gave it to him against the Roosters by moving Kris Keating into halfback during the match. Finch at #7 makes the Panthers a much better team since they'll have a genuine organiser in the side and I can't see him ending up anywhere else."

Monday, 6 April 2009

Draft NSW Origin Side for Game One 2009

NSC's first DRAFT of the possible NSW State of Origin side for Game One of the 2009 Series against Queensland. Dated: Monday April 6 2009. Below is the team I would pick with a mix of some players the NSW Selectors will pick regardless of what I would. So it isn't exactly the side I want but the best possible one that I think they could pick. That being said - you just know they'll pick a team that isn't as good... well potentially as good as this one below. NSW BLUES - GAME ONE 2009 1. Kurt Gidley 2. Josh Morris 3. Matt Cooper 4. Michael Jennings 5. Colin Best 6. Terry Campese 7. Jamie Soward 8. Luke Bailey 9. Robbie Farah (c) 10. Brent Kite 11. Nathan Hindmarsh 12. Luke O'Donnell 13. John Sutton Bench: 14. Feleti Mateo 15. Anthony Laffranchi 16. Craig Wing 17. Paul Gallen Here's the theory behind the team I’ve picked. In the Backs - Gidley is in as Stewart hasn't played and Gidley deserves a shot at Game One at least to see if his numbers in club footy matter at Origin level – plus he’s a goer so that’s a bonus in my books, with no wingers really to pick from, convert two 2009 centres back to the wing with Josh Morris and Colin Best both strike players with the ball and goodish defensively (but seriously wing defence is vastly over-rated if the player is a gun in attack), Jennings and Cooper offer a great mix of attack and defence and the Monaghan/Cooper mix just doesn't scare anyone for mine - Jennings is a x-factor type so he has to get a long look at the selection table. The Halves is where NSW really think about what their playmaking setup will be. Soward's kicking game is a must if NSW take two ballplayers at 6 and 13 – which I think they MUST DO. I don't think Pearce or Wallace have a strong enough playmaking game (as in don’t rely on the kick for all your points) to see NSW pick just one ball player at 6 and a regular forward at 13 and both of their kicking games are vastly over-rated for mine – esp field position wise. So think about what fills a real need and pick Soward for the field position he offers and the nippy speed he has to create opportunities from second phase play - sure he isn't a classic ball player but that's why you have Campese in the #6 and Sutton (or Mateo) in the #13. Both are ‘to the line’ players who will give the ball to their centres and be able to have their running backrowers work off their shoulders on BOTH sides of the field. Plus both Campese and Sutton have size so they aren't liabilities in defence - esp if you pick Soward who is dodgy in that department. In the Forwards - Robbie Farah has to be skipper and the 80 minute hooker. Even if Craig Wing gets a run on the bench (he has so much more value than Luke Lewis who won't have a role off the bench and be just injury cover which is a wasted spot) then Farah has to still be on the field the whole time. Look at last year every time Buderus was replaced NSW lost a step and Buderus is no Farah when it comes to playmaking. And as skipper Farah for mine displays the necessary ‘losing hurts’ feeling after a game and that is the kind of player you get to lead you – one that hates losing – because they don’t tolerate ineptitude. My theory in the forwards is rather than taking a step back in quality in the 17 by picking 3-4 props we should take 2 genuine props - Kite and Bailey who are capable of 55+mins and then fill the rest of the pack with various backrowers. I’m not wild about Kite personally but he’ll get picked and I think he can do a job without looking too much like Michael Vella at Origin level. Laffranchi and Hindmarsh can both play a prop role if required but Hindmarsh has to play 80mins as our answer to their Dallas Johnson/David Stagg - if we don't have a guy like Hindmarsh it won't matter how many flashy running second rowers we have - we'll get beat. Paul Gallen can play a prop like role in the go-forward department and for mine this is his role in Origin - an impact runner up the guts. He loves padding his stats anyway so why not make him into a front rower off the bench and I think we'll get the best value from him that way. And his ability to off-load up the middle might make the likes of Soward and Gidley real dangerous as support players. Luke O'Donnell is made for Origin footy and although he hasn't been in great form so far - he is a must if we are to have guys who will stand up to the QLD pack. He and Hindmarsh have to play the full game too as they’ll annoy QLD all game in different ways. That leaves the forward rotation working around Kite/Bailey and Laffranchi/Gallen which means we won't lose an awful lot when our starting props are on the bench. Then the wildcard is Mateo - play him anywhere but give him a chance in both halves to come on and try something. He's shown a willingness to defend a lot more in 2009 and do some grunt work so he won't be a liability if an attacking role isn't available for him. And Wing is another key off the bench - his two games for Souths have been dynamic - he is a quality player who knows what to do coming off the bench which is HUGE at Origin level. We can't pick a relative rookie in the utility spot it is a waste since they won't get much game time and probably float a bit without a defined role. Wing can and will do the job. Those who just missed out include: R Hoffman, M Weyman, C Heighington, L Stuart, L Douglas, G Stewart, J Monaghan. Hoffman has been poor in 2009 - not sure what it is but he doesn't have 'it' so far in 2009 coming back from a long term injury could be the reason, Weyman has done well for a month - love him as a player but don't think it is quite time for him to surpass Bailey and Kite yet – or a better backrower, Heighington and Stewart had brilliant 2008s but have been so so in 2009 and will struggle to get ahead of those already picked (unless the selectors continue their Hindmarsh-hate one might get in), Luke Stuart and Luke Douglas would both do a fine job as the 3rd prop but the selectors seem to want to pick flashy big name types rather than guys who can do the job consistently so they'll miss out, and I think Monaghan doesn't offer enough 'on the ground' to keep out Jennings or Morris who are weapons running the ball and Hayne to me looks like a classic case of a player playing league because he’s good at it rather than because he loves it – no room in Origin for that kind of player for mine. And if Cooper plays there's the defensive centre taken care of. Of course there’s other halfbacks to choose from (Pearce, Wallace, Orford, Finch and Mullen) and I can’t see Barret or Anasta getting a run this year. So there’s my 2009 NSW Side… I think it can beat QLD’s version and reclaim that shield which is rightfully ours!

Friday, 3 April 2009

NRL, AFL & SUPER 14 TIPS April 3-6 2009

This is an archived story - so check the main page - www.wdnicolson.blogspot.com for the current round of tipping for NRL, AFL and Super 14. The site is also updated with opinion, news and features regularly. NRL, AFL & SUPER 14 TIPS April 3-6 2009 Not going terrible, not going great... story of the tipping season so far for me. Here are my tips for NRL Round 4 Broncos by 4, Roosters by 1, Tigers by 12, Storm by 22, Warriors by 4, Sharks by 2, Knights by 2 & Raiders by 10. Upsets? Well I've gone for a few, Roosters tonight - just got a feeling I can't shake and they are at home ... Sharks over Bulldogs - Brett Seymour running the show with a lot to prove just has me on the Sharks esp now Idris is out for the Dogs and Millard is his replacement ... and Knights to make Manly 0-4 to start the season - no Brett Stewart means I just can't see the Sea Eagles breaking out offensively. NRL TIPPING YEAR TO DATE: 14 from 24 @ 58% Here are my tips for AFL Round 2 Saints by 16, Cats by 37, Magpies by 48, Lions by 4, Hawks by 26, Dockers by 8, Bulldogs by 19 & Eagles by 8. Upsets? Really like the Saints tonight with Lenny Hayes back - but I think I tipped with certainty at Port Adelaide last year and they got towelled so go Adelaide people ... Lions to give Carlton a reality check in a thriller ... Dockers to travel well for once and beat Essendon ... and the West Coast didn't lead the Lions due to a fluke - they have some talent and at home with Port just so-so in Round 1 - has me on the Eagles. AFL TIPPING YEAR TO DATE: 5 from 8 @ 63% Here are my tips for Super 14 Round 8: Bulls by 6, Force by 8, Chiefs by 7, Waratahs by 4, Brumbies by 6 & Sharks by 10. Upsets? Think the Bulls will bounce back and grind out a win over the McCaw-less Crusaders tonight ... and although I've tipped the Waratahs it is with no confidence at all and the Stormers are better than the 2-4 team the ladder says they are. SUPER 14 TIPPING YEAR TO DATE: 25 from 45 @ 56%

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

NRL Round 04 Teams 2009

This is an archived story - so check the main page - www.wdnicolson.blogspot.com for the current round of tipping for NRL, AFL and Super 14. The site is also updated with opinion, news and features regularly. NRL ROUND 04 SIDES 2009 - With Team SKINNY attached. UPDATED: 9:25pm Tuesday 30 March 2009. ALL TEAMS NAMED.
SKINNY'S FOR ALL TEAMS UPDATED THURSDAY 2 APRIL 2009 Round 04 2009: BRONCOS v DRAGONS @ Suncorp ROOSTERS v EELS @ SFS PANTHERS v TIGERS @ CUA STORM v TITANS @ Olympic WARRIORS v RABBITOHS @ Mt Smart BULLDOGS v SHARKS @ ANZ KNIGHTS v SEA EAGLES @ EnergyAustralia RAIDERS v COWBOYS @ Canberra
THE TEAMS ROUND 4: BRISBANE BRONCOS (NAMED 30/3) Backs: Karmichael HUNT, Antonio WINTERSTEIN, Steven MICHAELS, Justin HODGES, Israel FOLAU, Darren LOCKYER (c), Peter WALLACE. Forwards: Nick KENNY, Aaron GORRELL, Joel CLINTON, Sam THAIDAY, Ben TE'O, Corey PARKER. Bench: Andrew McCULLOUGH, David TAYLOR, Lagi SETU, Alex GLENN, Ashton SIMS, Josh McGUIRE (Two to be omitted). Coach: Ivan HENJAK. IN: Nick KENNY, Justin HODGES, Lagi SETU. OUT: Jharal YOW YEH. Round 04 Vs DRAGONS on Friday. SKINNY: Although premierships are not won in March - Ivan Henjak and his Broncos sit at the top of the table with a perfect 3-0 start to 2009. Two home wins and a big away victory over the previously undefeated Warriors in Round 3 should have the confidence levels nice and high for the return of Wayne Bennett with his Dragons this Friday night. Justin Hodges is back from a one week holiday/suspension and should combine with Folau again on the right side to torment the Dragons left side defence. Andrew McCullough is quickly finding his feet at hooker and will be the catalyst to the Broncos eating up metres around the ruck. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: Is it just me or is Joel Clinton finally playing well for the first time in years? BULLDOGS (NAMED 30/3) Backs: Luke PATTEN, Hazem EL MASRI, Josh MORRIS, Daryl MILLARD, Bryson GOODWIN, Ben ROBERTS, Brett KIMMORLEY. Forwards: Ben HANNANT, Michael ENNIS, Michael HODGSON, Gary WARBURTON, Andrew RYAN (c), David STAGG. Bench: Chris ARMIT, Greg EASTWOOD, John KITE, Yileen GORDON, Matt UTAI (One to be omitted). Coach: Kevin MOORE. IN: Michael HODGSON, Yileen GORDON, Matt UTAI, Daryl MILLARD. OUT: Ben BARBA, Lee TE MAARI, Jamal IDRIS (all in-club suspension). Round 04 Vs SHARKS on Sunday. SKINNY: Off-field punch-up sees the team makeup change with Idris, Barba and Te Maari all stood down for this week's games. Daryl 'The Caravan' Millard gets yet another chance which continues to amaze given he's never shown he's up to the NRL and Matt Utai who has made the bench looks to miss out again. Having Hodgson back up front is a bonus as Hannant and Stagg have been seemingly doing it all themselves in the past two rounds, while Ennis and Kimmorley should be primed for a big one after fading out of the game when it was on the line against the Titans. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: Canterbury had struck gold with the Idris-Morris centre combination we'll see how much the Dogs miss it against the Sharks on Sunday. CANBERRA RAIDERS (NAMED 30/3) Backs: Josh DUGAN+, Adrian PURTELL, Jarrod CROKER, Joel MONAGHAN, Justin CARNEY, Terry CAMPESE, Marc HERBERT. Forwards: David SHILLINGTON, Stuart FLANAGAN, Josh MILLER, Joe PICKER, Bronson HARRISON, Alan TONGUE (c). Bench: Tom LEAROYD-LAHRS, Trevor THURLING, Glen TURNER, Nigel PLUM, Travis WADDELL (One to be omitted). Coach: David FURNER. IN: Josh DUGAN+, Adrian PURTELL. OUT: David MILNE, Brett KELLY. Round 04 Vs COWBOYS on Monday. SKINNY: The first year coach has hit the panic button already and sacked the kid who was a big part of the Raiders offensive system in 2008 after 3 games. So Milne is gone (harsh given he would've been fine on the wing) and young Toyota Cup standout Josh Dugan gets the start in the fullback jersey - he's got an extra dimension or two than Milne so it isn't a bad swap. The play of Stuart Flanagan is crucial this week with the Cowboys visiting - the Raiders look very one dimensional without a presence around the rucks and Terry Campese can't do it all. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: Terry Campese has played some great football to open the season but unless the Raiders start winning and scoring points off the back of his kicking game - Campo won't be pushing for a NSW jumper in Game I. CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS (NAMED 30/3) Backs: Mitch BROWN, Misi TAULAPAPA, Ben POMEROY, Blake FERGUSON, Luke COVELL, Trent BARRETT, Brett SEYMOUR. Forwards: Kade SNOWDEN, Corey HUGHES, Luke DOUGLAS, Reece WILLIAMS, Anthony TUPOU, Paul GALLEN (c). Bench: Reni MAITUA, Jack AFAMASAGA, Bryan NORRIE, Tony CAINE. Coach: Ricky STUART. IN: Misi TAULAPAPA, Jack AFAMASAGA, Brett SEYMOUR. OUT: David SIMMONS, Grant MILLINGTON, Blake GREEN. Round 04 Vs BULLDOGS on Sunday. SKINNY: Trent Barrett probably won't play this weekend which is actually a bonus for the returning Brett Seymour and his likely five-eighth Blake Green. Sometimes with the dominant play caller out the other ball players can do things they are naturally inclined to do and a team can find that offensive spark that spurs them towards points. I'm leaning towards the Sharks this week against the Dogs based on this theory... but reserve the right to go the safer 'home team pick option' when Friday rolls around. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: Paul Gallen might like having big hitups counts at the end of each game but he picks up a lot of those from wasted one out running when the team simply must use their backline. His stats over-rate his impact on the Sharks ability to win for mine. GOLD COAST TITANS (NAMED 30/3) Backs: William ZILLMAN, Kevin GORDON, Esi TONGA, Brett DELANEY, Chris WALKER, Mat ROGERS, Preston CAMPBELL. Forwards: Luke BAILEY (c), Nathan FRIEND, Michael HENDERSON, Anthony LAFFRANCHI, Mark MINICHIELLO, Ashley HARRISON. Bench: Matthew WHITE, Brad MEYERS, Luke O'DWYER, Josh GRAHAM, Aaron CANNINGS, (One to be omitted). Coach: John CARTWRIGHT. IN: Josh GRAHAM. OUT: None. Round 04 Vs STORM on Saturday. SKINNY: Really really good win over the Dogs on Friday night without Scott Prince. Campbell proved that he's still got it when his team needs it in a playmaking role but backing it up this week with a visit to Melbourne might be pushing the friendship. The forwards have stood up in each game and Laffranchi had his best game of the season in Round 3 but the Storm will be much harder to beat than the Bulldogs were - and Prince won't be back. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: Nathan Friend has been the standout in each game for the Titans and it is refreshing to see (or at least think I see) him cut out the grapple tackles that plagued his game from his time at the Storm. He's likable again. MANLY-WARRINGAH SEA EAGLES (NAMED 30/3) Backs: Michael ROBERTSON, Michael BANI, TBA, Steven MATAI, Shane NEUMANN, Chris BAILEY, Matt ORFORD (c). Forwards: Brent KITE, Matt BALLIN, Josh PERRY, Anthony WATMOUGH, Glenn HALL, Glenn STEWART. Bench: Heath L'ESTRANGE, Jason KING, Adam CUTHBERTSON, George ROSE, Shane RODNEY (One to be omitted). Coach: Des HASLER. IN: Shane RODNEY. OUT: Jamie LYON (injured). Round 04 Vs KNIGHTS on Sunday. SKINNY: The loss of Jamie Lyon to a knee injury (2-4 weeks) rubbed salt into the wounds of their 12-10 MNF loss to the Panthers. Make no mistake the Sea Eagles desperately lack try-scoring potential without Brett Stewart and although the Knights are undermanned this Sunday - you just can't tip the Sea Eagles with any certainty (which makes me wonder why I thought they were such good things against the Panthers). Until Stewart is back this team will be nothing more than a solid forward pack with an above average halfback and a good team defence. But it will struggle to score tries - and now Lyon is out it gets even more difficult. Leaning towards the Knights now. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: No Brett Stewart leaves the Sea Eagles resembling a big battleship without any ammunition - still looks impressive from a distance but get closer and it is fairly impotent. Other attacking players are out but Stewart is everything to Manly's up tempo attack - when he's not there they look devoid of options and intensity. Major concern this. MELBOURNE STORM (NAMED 30/3) Backs: Billy SLATER, Steve TURNER, Will CHAMBERS, Willie ISA, Anthony QUINN, Greg INGLIS, Cooper CRONK. Forwards: Jeff LIMA, Cameron SMITH (c), Adam BLAIR, Wairangi KOOPU, Ryan HOFFMAN, Dallas JOHNSON. Bench: Ryan HINCHCLIFFE, Kevin PROCTOR, Aiden TOLMAN, Scott ANDERSON, Joseph TOMANE, Matt CROSS (Two to be omitted). Coach: Craig BELLAMY. IN: Willie ISA, Matt CROSS. OUT: None. Round 04 Vs TITANS on Saturday. SKINNY: Resumed their swagger with a strong win over the Cowboys in Townsville. The Storm's tenacity and strikepower make them a tough opponent when your side is average defensively because they get on top early and you can never stem the tide unless you make a key defensive stop or two back to back. Cronk, Slater, Smith and Inglis are going to beat a lot of teams this season as long as they get solid support from the rest of the team - and it'll be win #3 this Saturday against the Titans. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: Aiden Tolman isn't a huge kid but he has been excellent off the bench for the Storm providing consistent go-forward and defence. The Storm made a point of re-signing him last year when other teams really wanted him and you can see why. NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS (NAMED 30/3) Backs: Kurt GIDLEY (c), James McMANUS, Junior SAU, Adam MacDOUGALL, Akuila UATE, Ben ROGERS, Scott DUREAU. Forwards: Mark TAUFUA, Isaac DE GOIS, Ben CROSS, Chris HOUSTON, Zeb TAIA, Matt HILDER Bench: George NDAIRA, Marvan KARAWANA, Richard FA'AOSO, Danny WICKS. Coach: Brian SMITH. IN: Marvan KARAWANA, Danny WICKS. OUT: Corey PATERSON (Injured), Tim NATUSCH. Round 04 Vs SEA EAGLES on Sunday. SKINNY: Lost another key player with Paterson injuring himself in the loss to the Rabbitohs - a game the Knights could've won with a bit of luck but the Knights will take heart from the position they were in against the Rabbitohs after halftime. Now they need to show up in their first home game when Manly come to town and stay with it for the full 80 minutes. This is a very winnable game against the defending premiers who are reeling at 0-3 and still without their best player - Brett Stewart. Home team, Kurt Gidley and Manly w/o Brett Stewart - lean towards the Knights. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: Kurt Gidley is firming as NSW fullback with his all-round game but he needs to focus on his running game in the opposition 20m zone rather than playmaking which isn't his strong point. COWBOYS (NAMED 30/3) Backs: Matt BOWEN, John WILLIAMS, Ashley GRAHAM, Ty WILLIAMS, Ben FARRAR, Travis BURNS, Johnathan THURSTON (c). Forwards: Shane TRONC, Aaron PAYNE, Antonio KAUFUSI, Carl WEBB, Ben HARRIS, Luke O'DONNELL. Bench: Clint AMOS, Scott BOLTON, Matthew SCOTT, Manase MANUOKAFOA, Steve RAPIRA+ (One to be omitted). Coach: Neil HENRY. IN: Steve RAPIRA+, Clint AMOS, Ashley GRAHAM. OUT: Grant ROVELLI, Shannon HEGARTY . Round 04 Vs RAIDERS on Monday. SKINNY: Would've fancied themselves with the Storm at home but were overcome by a team that remains superior to them defensively. If the Cowboys don't find a defensive backbone they won't get beyond the first week of the Finals in 2009 at best - and a visit to Canberra for a night game rests in the hands and feet of Thurston, Bowen and Payne who can make opportunities but the current 3/4 line is devoid of any strike weapons at the moment so you can't tip Nth Qld with any confidence even against an opponent that is 0-3 in Canberra. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: It is good to see Carl Webb being used in a wider role than just up front as his effectiveness up the middle always looks limited. If he stays in the second row he'll be a big weapon come Origin time. PARRMATTA EELS (NAMED 30/3) Backs: Luke BURT, Joel REDDY, Ben SMITH, Krisnan INU, Eric GROTHE, Jarryd HAYNE, Brett FINCH. Forwards: Nathan CAYLESS (c), Matt KEATING, FuiFui MOIMOI, Nathan HINDMARSH, Weller HAURAKI, Feleti MATEO. Bench: Kris KEATING, Joe GALUVAO, Tim MANNAH, Broderick WRIGHT, Todd LOWRIE (One to be omitted). Coach: Daniel ANDERSON. IN: Weller HAURAKI. OUT: None. Round 04 Vs ROOSTERS on Friday. SKINNY: Parramatta fans shouldn't get carried away (to their credit I'm yet to see that happening) as the Eels are hardly playing super football yet. They did well to beat Souths but had some luck beating the Raiders in front of a very ordinary home crowd for their first game at Parramatta Stadium. Jarryd Hayne has copped some flack for his play at five-eighth but the kid has never looked like he loves the game for mine and that's a big factor in how hard he'll play each week. Roosters are very beatable but you never know when these two teams play as there's been big upsets before. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: Nathan Hindmarsh simply has to get a chance in Origin I if the NSW selectors are watching the same games as I am. Having a defensive worker in your starting team is paramount to freeing up your running forwards at the elite level and last year NSW had too many runners and not enough plugs in defence. He's a must. PENRITH PANTHERS (NAMED 30/3) Backs: Lachlan COOTE, Michael GORDON, Michael JENNINGS, Brad TIGHE, Shane ELFORD, Wade GRAHAM, Jarrod SAMMUT. Forwards: Matthew BELL, Paul AITON, Petero CIVONICEVA (c), Trent WATERHOUSE, Nathan SMITH, Luke LEWIS. Bench: Masada IOSEFA, Frank PRITCHARD, Frank PULETUA, Gavin COOPER, Tim GRANT, Adam WOOLNOUGH, Joseph PAULO, Maurice BLAIR (Three to be omitted). Coach: Matthew ELLIOTT. IN: Adam WOOLNOUGH, Gavin COOPER, Joseph PAULO. OUT: None. Round 04 Vs TIGERS on Saturday. SKINNY: Gutsy win over the defending premiers at Brookvale on Monday night but don't get too excited. The Panthers have three avenues in attack - one is Petero running one out, the other is Luke Lewis running the ball or hitting a 2nd man wide on the right and the other is passing to Michael Jennings. Fortunately Frank Pritchard popped up with a contribution with a superb offload to Coote for a try on Monday but the Panthers need to find a halfback badly. Wade Graham was okay at first receiver but he is a five-eighth and can't be asked to run the whole show. At home helps their chances with the Tigers arriving on Saturday. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: Petero Civoniceva is busting his gut trying to get the Panthers into decent field position but the lack of playmakers in the side is making it a case of one step forward, two steps back off the back of Petero's runs. ST.GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS (Named 30/3) Backs: Ben HORNBY (c), Brett MORRIS, Beau SCOTT, Darius BOYD, Wendell SAILOR, Jamie SOWARD, Mathew HEAD. Forwards: Jarrod SAFFY, Dean YOUNG, Michael WEYMAN, Matt PRIOR, Ben CREAGH, Jeremy SMITH. Bench: Dan HUNT, Neville COSTIGAN, Luke PRIDDIS, Trent MERRIN+, Nick EMMETT. Coach: Wayne BENNETT. IN: Trent MERRIN+, Nick EMMETT. OUT: Matt COOPER (Injured). Round 04 Vs BRONCOS on Friday. SKINNY: Like the move of Matt Head to halfback but why did Hornby start at halfback in the first place Wayne? Still Bennett knows best and will be working out on a weekly basis what he's got to work with now the competition has started. Will miss Matt Cooper's defence this week out wide and the kicking game of Jamie Soward and Head must be top notch - the only downside of Head starting is just who is the go-to kicker in general play might be a disadvantage to the team's game plan rather than a bonus. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: Michael Weyman and Matt Prior have been outstanding in the opening rounds and their emergence from injury and the rookie list respectively should be credited to Bennett's coaching as much as their own abilities and application. SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS (NAMED 30/3) Backs: Rhys WESSER, Nathan MERRITT, Colin BEST, Shaune CORRIGAN, Fetuli TALANOA, John SUTTON, Chris SANDOW. Forwards: Luke STUART, Issac LUKE, Roy ASOTASI (c), Ben LOWE, Shannan McPHERSON, David FA'ALOGO. Bench: Craig WING, Eddy PETTYBOURNE, Jaiman LOWE, David KIDWELL. Coach: Jason TAYLOR. IN: Nathan MERRITT. OUT: Beau CHAMPION. Round 04 Vs WARRIORS on Sunday. SKINNY: Can't believe they waited til the second half to start running the ball in attacking zones - after coming up with nothing with the kick against Parramatta and again in the opening half against the Knights. With a collection of good off-loaders in their side Jason Taylor has to be coaching them to run to the line and have their speedy backs running off their forwards instead of the kick and hope tactic that cost them the Eels game. Craig Wing is a superstar - and rotating between lock and hooker can work as long as it doesn't eat up too many minutes from Issac Luke. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: John Sutton remains on the cusp of stardom but won't get there until he learns to put the kick away near the line and run the thing! If he starts running the ball on the 5th tackle he'll not only cause havoc out wide himself but open up opportunities for the 'to the line and pass' option as defences focus on his potential run. Just stop kicking Johnny! SYDNEY ROOSTERS (NAMED 30/3) Backs: Sam PERRETT, Sonny TUIGAMALA, Mitchell AUBUSSON, Iosia SOLIOLA, Shaun KENNY-DOWALL, Braith ANASTA, Mitchell PEARCE. Forwards: Mark O'MELEY, James AUBUSSON, Frank-Paul NUUAUSALA, Shane SHACKLETON, Craig FITZGIBBON (c), Setaimata SA. Bench: Lopini PAEA, Martin KENNEDY, Ben JONES, Jake FRIEND, Sisi WAQA (One to be omitted). Coach: Brad FITTLER. IN: Jake FRIEND, Martin KENNEDY, Sisi WAQA+. OUT: Nate MYLES, Willie MASON (both in-club suspension). Round 04 Vs EELS on Friday. SKINNY: Yikes... the Roosters not only fell away badly after a great start against the Tigers - they led 12-0 for crying out loud and had 40 points put on them! But have now lost their best two forwards in Mason and Myles for... guess what... drinking! Admittedly they did it at home but to me this reeks of a care-factor of zero on the part of Myles and Mason to the structure setup at the Roosters - towards both coach and management. What must their team-mates be thinking? At least Braith Anasta is in good form but Mitchell Pearce can't figure out what he's doing at halfback - he wants to kick all the time but when he chooses to run or pass instead he has gone with the wrong option. Fittler has some serious issues to work out beyond Friday night's game with the Eels - which ironically enough I think is very winnable. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: Setaimata Sa's move to lock is going to really pay off in the long run for the Roosters but he needs to run the ball a lot more in attacking zones otherwise he'll run the risk of becoming another average lock. His ball skills are excellent so the Roosters outside men should be trailing him at every opportunity. WARRIORS (NAMED 30/3) Backs: Wade McKINNON, Denan KEMP, Patrick AH VAN, Jerome ROPATI, Aidan KIRK, Joel MOON, Stacey JONES. Forwards: Sam RAPIRA, Ian HENDERSON, Russell PACKER, Simon MANNERING, Jacob LILLYMAN, Micheal LUCK. Bench: Nathan FIEN, Jesse ROYAL, Ukuma TA'AI, Lewis BROWN+, Daniel O'REGAN+ (One to be omitted). Coach: Ivan CLEARY. IN: Patrick AH VAN, Lewis BROWN+, Daniel O'REGAN+. OUT: Brent TATE (Injured), Steven PRICE (Injured). Round 04 Vs RABBITOHS on Sunday. SKINNY: Have lost two of their most influential players to long and short term injury with Brent Tate and Steven Price out. Fell into bad habits in the loss to the Broncos and must make amends this weekend for the team confidence not to take too great a hit. Stacey Jones starting fills me with enough confidence to have them pencilled in as favourites against the visiting kick-happy Rabbitohs. A lot rests on the shoulders of young props Rapira and Packer with Price out, how they deal with Asotasi and Stuart could decide the game. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: Wade McKinnon is the crucial piece of the Warriors attack because his support play is second to none and he can break the line running off a cut-out pass. Hasn't scored a try yet this year but watch him cross the stripe two or three times and get the Warriors home against the Rabbitohs this weekend. TIGERS (NAMED 30/3) Backs: Tim MOLTZEN, Taniela TUIAKI, Dean COLLIS, Chris LAWRENCE, Beau RYAN, John MORRIS, Benji MARSHALL. Forwards: Bryce GIBBS, Robbie FARAH (c), Keith GALLOWAY, Gareth ELLIS, Chris HEIGHINGTON, Todd PAYTEN. Bench: Corey PAYNE, Rhys HANBURY, Danny GALEA, Dene HALATAU, Rocky TRIMARCHI (One to be omitted). Coach: Tim SHEENS. IN: Rocky TRIMARCHI. OUT: No Changes. Round 04 Vs PANTHERS on Saturday. SKINNY: Loved watching Benji Marshall fire against the Roosters and alongside a fit Robbie Farah the Tigers will always be a chance in the game. Still some work to do out wider as the likes of Moltzen, Lawrence, Collis and Tuiaki are mixing their performances. I really like Todd Payten at lock, his ball playing ability just fits that position perfectly. Need to keep the roll on going by beating the Panthers at CUA this Saturday. 3 WEEK OBSERVATION: I'm still chuffed we've got a quality Englishman in the NRL with Gareth Ellis showing he's more than up to the standard but for almost single handedly getting the Tigers going forward when behind on Friday night - let me heap the praise on Keith Galloway for the best contribution by a prop this year. He made a bunch of huge runs to get the Tigers out of their own half when down 12-0 and the Tigers struck back swiftly because of those.