What’s wrong with the Red V?

St George Dragons

After just two games, a few commentators have hit the panic button and announced that the Dragons are in trouble. 

Two losses, apparently, is enough to claim that the sky is falling, especially when it comes to a club with such a venerable history. Elsewhere down south in Cronulla Sutherland, two losses has prompted less of an outcry.

But there’s a difference between these neighbours: while the Sharks have had some memorable moments in recent years, the Saints have had a particularly rough run of it. They’ve played so poorly at times that winning has simply been off the table. In fact, the table’s gone – bubble wrapped, packed and shipped. It was last seen in Honolulu.

There’s also the fact that Dragons fans have had enough and are demanding change.

Fair call. Being competitive would be enough, you’d think. But even that’s proven difficult, especially when you look at the team’s last two outings, which hardly raised a whimper. There’s simply been no fire. I mean St. George has not only lacked puff, they seem incapable of coughing fumes.

The problems are glaring. For one, coach Paul McGregor has questioned his side’s carelessness with the ball because a number of errors halted any flow they might have had, particularly against the Tigers in round 2. 

The stat sheet showed a 60% completion rate in that game for the Red V, which is pretty woeful when your opponent completes close to 80%. It’s just hard to win with that type of play, and it’s only exacerbated when you break through the line fewer times than your opponent as well.

But sometimes the rate at which a team completes its sets of six doesn’t tell the whole story. Sure, it gives you a sense of the plot but is sketchy on the details of the most important scenes. 

That’s why we have highlights folks – or as the case may be, lowlights – and the Dragons’ attack has looked clumsier than Twitter’s reaction to a Sean Penn Oscar gag.

There just doesn’t seem to be enough control out of the ruck, with the ball sometimes thrown wildly to the next man like a piping hot potato. Other times it might be a blind pass across the backline that ends up rolling around at a player’s feet. And there’s just no explanation as to why this is happening to a first grade team. Even if the passes are poorly timed or too casually thrown, you’d think they’d generally land somewhere close to a pair of hands.

All that said, I think the Dragons’ defence is a bigger concern. There’s just not a great deal of patience or timing being applied in this area. For example, the defensive line is charging at the ball too quickly in some instances, bunching up in the middle and inevitably leaving a centre or winger wide open down the flank. 

It’s easily rectified though: they just need to stop watching the ball and be aware that teams with speedy hands, like the Tigers, will deliver passes to the edge faster than defenders can turn their heads.

Against Wests, the Dragons were caught out early and often and before they knew it, they were down by a good 20 points. It could have been 40, if we’re honest. That’s not an ideal position to be in when your attack is sputtering, because you then expend all your energy trying keep the scoreline from bubbling over like a Mentos dropped in a Coke.

Listen, maybe that’s all the Dragons need – a hit of caffeine before they trot out from the sheds to make sure they’re awake for the first whistle.

Anything’s worth a shot.


Norman and Foran: One too many playmakers in Parramatta?

Corey Norman

The Eels’ Corey Norman is playing football like each game is his last, and yet his sublime focus may not be enough to endear him to the club’s management.

That’s a shame really, because when a player locks in to his job the way Norman is, probing on every attack, leading his team with outright and upright confidence, and ordering men around when they stray from the charge, it’s a club’s duty to recognise this.

Maybe Parramatta’s been too distracted while trying to lure Kieran Foran from the Sea Eagles, a wonderfully talented player who happens to also play five-eighth.

Foran’s defection to Manly’s old rival is a serious coup for Parramatta and one that surely has Eels’ fan sliding all over their living rooms. But they must also be wondering about Norman and what happens to the Eels’ budding star. I know I am.

Norman may not be Foran: he’s less experienced, not quite as polished and is prone to the occasional error. And yet, if you haven’t been impressed by his running at the line, clever ball fakes, timely cut-out passes and nifty kicks in the red zone, then it might be time to lower your expectations. Brett Kenny isn’t suiting up any time soon.

In thinking about fielding both Foran and Norman – or letting Norman go – the Eels have the sort of problem that a Kardashian typically faces: deciding between a modelling offer, appearing at an event or posting a shocking home movie. In other words, they’re spoiled for choice.

Hopefully Parra’s big cheeses will apply a little more discretion.

Maybe they’ll keep both and simply reshuffle the line up. For example, Norman could go to fullback. Or perhaps Foran could play at halfback, with the two becoming a potent half combo. They’re both playmakers but might complement one another because Foran’s possibly a better runner and Norman is thriving at holding up and forcing defenders to guess the Eels’ next move.

It’s an enticing prospect.

In the end, it’d be a shame to move Norman when he’s finding a groove and orchestrating the sorts of attacking sequences Eels fans have been dreaming of for some time. But to keep both men would surely see Chris Sandow’s tenure conclude, for better or worse.

NRL Game Show Night: Gamebreaker Or Ballbreaker?

Blankety BLanks

It’s time for everybody’s favourite game show, GAMEBREAKER OR BALLBREAKER?

This is the game where we give you the footy star’s name and you decide whether his most recent performance makes him a gamebreaker – having broken a game wide open – or a ballbreaker, who’s casually done just enough to put a contest out of reach.

Okay, here’s our first big name …

Source: Brisbane Times

Chris Sandow, Parramatta Eels

Chrissy Sandow, as people who know him tend to say, is the type of pocket rocket that explodes in your pants. This can be disconcerting if you’re wearing said Stubbies, but quite amusing if you’re watching your most hated rival try to cope with the mess.

This is what happened last Friday night, when Sandow powered up like Super Mario on a mushroom binge and burst into Manly’s backfield using the old chip and chase routine. For Eels fans looking on, it was shades of Peter Sterling, when the blonde maestro would employ the tactic during his eighties reign, and often to the detriment of the Sea Eagles.

Maybe at 30-12 and so late in the contest, Manly had already lost hope. But if there was just a glimmer that they’d fight back, Sandow crushed it with his clever move to help set up Brad Takairangi in the corner. It was so daring. So cocky. So Sandow, who’s become a consummate ballbreaker, and I say this with all due respect as an Eels fan.

ANSWER: Ballbreaker

Jack Wighton, Canberra Raiders

Wasn’t Jack Wighton the Flash’s alter ego? No? Well he should’ve been. The guy is a blur on the footy field and almost single-handedly won his team’s run-in with the Cronulla Sharks on Saturday. Then again, his fiery temper and venomous right hook almost lost the game for the Raiders too, so he’s perhaps not all superhero.

You could point to three different moments however, when Wighton’s speed changed the game, from his early burst through the Shark’s line to score, to the quick-thinking tap and length of the field bolt that actually would’ve left the real Flash in the blocks, to his try saving tackle on Mitch Brown in the final moments.

But that 100 metre dash was simply game breaking and really set the tone for Canberra’s continued attacking presence.

ANSWER: Gamebreaker

Pat Richards yelling

Pat Richards, Wests Tigers

Similarly, Pat Richards did it all for the Tigers against the Titans. He pretty much scored all the team’s points, took all the kicks and oh, yes, potted the match winning field goal. He apparently also manned the concourse bar at half time and is said to pull a pretty decent brew.

The fact that the Tigers have a player so versatile and energetic is in itself ballbreaking. It just doesn’t get more aggravating than a footy all-rounder. It’s like a smidgen of unseen tiger balm in the jockeys. Ask any team that had to play Terry Lamb or Andrew Johns.

But it’s hard to cast negative dispersions over Richards’s superb effort. Sure, it was ballbreaking for the Gold Coast, but wonderfully uplifting for the Tigers, who need some of that after last year.

ANSWER: Half ballbreaker / half gamebreaker

Big and bold top eight NRL picks

souths mascot

Most footy experts like to make BOLD final eight predictions ahead of the season. And some of them are bolder than a shirtless Bieber in a nightclub.

Firstly, picking Souths to finish at the top just seems too easy. And it won’t be. Everyone will want a piece of the Bunnies. And the Bulldogs wont get off lightly either.

Still, it’s early days and so some picks will simply follow last year’s results.

For example, here’s Roy Masters’ top eight:

  1. Rabbitohs
  2. Bulldogs
  3. Cowboys
  4. Storm
  5. Roosters
  6. Broncos
  7. Sea Eagles
  8. Panthers

It’s a tidy group but Penrith in eighth seems a little harsh Roy.

Here are Andrew Voss’s picks:

  1. Roosters
  2. Bulldogs
  3. Panthers
  4. Warriors
  5. Rabbitohs
  6. Cowboys
  7. Broncos
  8. Sea Eagles

It’s not dissimilar but at least he’s got Penrith in third. The Panthers should be in the mix, surely.

And Paul Kent, of The Daily Telegraph:

  1. Rabbitohs
  2. Roosters
  3. Bulldogs
  4. Panthers
  5. Cowboys
  6. Broncos
  7. Storm
  8. Sharks

We’re not sure the Roosters will finish so high, while the Sharks are an interesting, perhaps ambitious, inclusion too.

For what it’s worth, here’s our eight:

  1. Bulldogs
  2. Panthers
  3. Rabbitohs
  4. Cowboys
  5. Roosters
  6. Broncos
  7. Warriors
  8. Sea Eagles

*Outsider: If the Eels work together in the absence of Jarryd Hayne, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they’ll challenge for a spot either.

Cats and Dogs: Your NRL Sunday Forecast


When the Bulldogs and Panthers scrap on the NRL’s opening Sunday, there’s sure to be flailing limbs amid a cloud of dust – the type you see in Warner Bros cartoons. Who’ll be left waving the white flag like the downtrodden Coyote is anyone’s guess, but it’ll be hard to tip against the home side, Penrith.

If you’re heading out to the game, which is now being played at arena called Pepper Stadium – presumably the same place the Panthers played last year – it’s probably best to barrack for Penrith anyway. There are just some home grounds that know nothing of neutrality. “Switzerland?” people at the foot of the mountains are typically overheard asking. This is also weird given that their boys used to be called Chocolate Soldiers.

What’s my team?

Out west, it doesn’t matter if the crowd is low in number, as tends to happen in the cooler months, they love their Panthers. Penrith Pride, I think they call it.

And don’t forget, this is a fanbase that’s endured more identity changes than Frank Abignale Jr: from the aforementioned chocolate men, to the Licorice All-Sorts, to the Black-and-Blue-Cats-That-Drink-Oak-Milk, or something. The point is, if you own a Panthers flag, chances are it doubles as supporter item for any number of other sporting teams.

Cool cats

Appearances aside, Penrith looks the part of a champion. Not only do the Panthers have a speedy back line attack, led by the headiest man in headgear, Jamie Soward, and one of the craftiest in a No.7 jersey, Peter Wallace, but their forwards bust through lines behind little locomotive, James Segeyaro.

Segeyaro led the NRL in line breaks by a forward, according to Fox Sports, but also topped the pops among fans as the best name to say in a Ray Warren voice.


Penrith’s general manager (for now) Phil Gould says this team’s almost there. And he’s not only talking about their ability to win it all but their off-field impact. Gus doesn’t just drink the mocha flavoured Kool-Aid, he quite possibly mixed it. So overhauling Penrith simply isn’t enough: he wants something akin to cultural domination. Why the hell not?

Battle of two – make that four halves

But this initial contest won’t be all about Penrith. If it’s playmaking you love, then there mightn’t be a better affair to christen your season with. The Dogs’ Origin duo of Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds are among the best in the business because of the way they combine, and when they celebrate a try, their comradery is evident. As are their haircuts. Sharp.


Graham the goldfish

The Panthers were truly on the cusp last season. And they lost a number of games by such a small margin that it makes you wonder how much better they were than their 15-9 record. Then again, their defence could be spun around like a reporter trying to crack Des Hasler at a presser.

Meanwhile, the Dogs were tough – they are tough – but ran out of steam in the second half of last year’s big one. That may take its toll psychologically this year. Or maybe not. They did, after all, go further than Penrith.

And if there’s ever a player you wanted to lead your team’s charge into a new campaign, it’s James Graham. He’s big, he’s wild, and he’s the sort of man who’d care very little about what happened the last time Canterbury were on the paddock. That’ll go a long way.

Great rivalries, episode 1: Storm v Sea Eagles

Melbourne Storm

The Storm – Sea Eagles rivalry is a relatively new one but almost always makes for ripping contests.

Manly’s quick feet and hands down the short side seemed to be the story on this particular Saturday night, May 10, 2014. The Sea Eagles’ edge passing can be sublime to be sure, the sort of fast exchanges that leave opponents with heavier feet than mascot Egor trudging home after a loss.

Well, you could forgive Egor if he felt confident with just 10 minutes to go this night against Melbourne, as halfback Cooper Cronk and his troop stormed back into the match with late breaks that wore out a tiring Manly. To be fair, Cronk and teammate Billy Slater hit defensive lines with sudden steps and dashes most matches, it’s just that when they do it late in a game it chips away at confidence levels.

Anyone who’s been left standing in the corner of a nightclub come last call appreciates how high esteem can easily fall. The Storm had the momentum and that means they were more energetic than Manly. Clever halves like Cronk see this as it unfolds, which is why he kicked a hopeful floating ball, bending to the left side, just moments after Melbourne had worked the right side.

The Sea Eagles had drifted right, surely expecting another Cronk or Slater burst toward that corner. But like Clint Eastwood in A Fistful Of Dollars, Cronk stunned an enemy which had used up all its bullets. The kick swerved over the broken Manly line like a wounded duck in flight, before a charging Kurt Mann caught the ball at full tilt to slide over for the match winner.

Storm 22 – Sea-Eagles 19