Manly suck eggs
Couple of injuries, star halves signed elsewhere and suddenly Manly can’t beat an egg for an egg white omelette. Happens to the best of them. But to Manly, hardly at all. Even with the comp-evening salary cap, Manly’s been great for a decade. Longer. And they don’t like being bad. They’re like a pampered kid getting a graze on his knee. He’s not used to pain and it terrifies him. You mean … we can’t always win? Now, Manly aren’t dead in 2015. And you can’t fault the effort. But, well... The Dogs were missing Brett Morris, David Klemmer, Tim Lafai and the man who does pretty much everything for them, James Graham. Yet they still towelled up the Eagles quite easily. Which suggests the Dogs have depth and the Eagles do not.
Manly does now have Bob Fulton on board as “Strategic Football Consultant” which wouldn’t make Geoff Toovey feel any more comfortable despite quotes in a press release attributed to him saying he’s “heartened to have someone of [Fulton’s] reputation supporting the club”. Now, you can bet dollars to donuts on two things: a) Toovey didn’t actually utter those words (part of the media manager’s gig is to put palatable words in rough-head gobs); and b) Toovey would in fact be feeling the firstly ghostly footsteps of a mongoose tippy-toeing up his spine, given the first strategy of anybody consulting an under-performing footy club is punt the coach.
Some years ago I had the interesting gig of sharing a coach’s box with Craig Bellamy for a Storm game at Olympic Park on a wet Saturday night. How much fun? Massive fun. Bellamy roared like a bull moose. He swore for Australia. The plexiglass in the box bulged outwards like Bugs Bunny’s letterbox packed full with dynamite. In the sheds before the match he was firing up his charges with lines like: “If it’s a cold Melbourne night, and we have to get down in the dirt, we will!”. Bellamy’s team was prepared to scrap to win. That was in 2005. And the legacy remains. Melbourne have superstar players and men with hot feet. But they can play hard grafting footy. And on a wet night at AAMI Stadium, the Storm butted heads with the Roosters, a squadron noted for a forward pack more bull mastiff than man. The Chooks love a scrap, love to bash heads. And the Storm boys took them up on it. And it was a tough, top fixture between willing hard critters who played brilliantly, really, in conditions better suited to underwater hockey. Completed sets. Big runs with purpose. And they bashed each other for 79 minutes until Cooper Cronk’s field goal. Comp heavyweights, big dogs, Saturday night in the city. Top stuff. And if you want to finish top four, you’ve got to beat these people. This is the testing material.
Funny, simple game rugby league
Despite the greatest comeback in club history, the Canberra Raiders remain 125-1 shots with bookmakers to take out the 2015 premiership, and that’s probably about right. But what Canberra’s stirring victory shows, yet again, is that any team can win any game on any given day. Why is it so? The salary cap’s (artificial?) equalisation is one reason, talent is spread through the comp like icing sugar across a mighty chocolate mud cake. Another reason is that each club’s game plan is roughly the same as the next club’s. Because trucking the ball out of danger and “playing football” as close as you can to the other mob’s line seems the easiest and most consistent way to score points. D-Lines are strong, and to be respected. But if you hold onto the pill and give your tricky men time to do their thing in the other mob’s 20, then points will come. That said…
The Knights’ opening try against Parramatta was spawned by a bullocking run and quick play-the-ball by impressive centre man Joseph “BJ” Leilua just outside his own 20 metre line. From there the ball simply went through the hands (the old Man A passes to Man B who passes to Man C trick) before impressive centre Dane Gagai drew his man and gifted Akuila Uate an overlap. The Fijian turned on the gas, stepped the cover like a good wing man can, and picked up second-rower Chris Houston inside who went under the posts. Great stuff. Now, the Eels “D” on the edge looked a little flimsy and their backs might’ve made a couple of ordinary decisions. But good attack can do that to you, it can make footballers think. And as Jack Gibson said, when footballers are thinking they’re cultivating a mistake. And it begs the question: Why don’t teams move the ball about more often in all parts of the field? Why is rugby league so often regimented: This part of the field this happens, this part, this happens. Why always try to bust through the middle rather than test the outer skirts? There are yards to be made out wide, out-flanking the enemy. Yet coaches, driven one assumes by bloody minded statistics - remain largely risk-averse. Bash-bash-bash it out of “danger”. Come on, people. Let that Steeden sing.
The Sharks might be missing a star five-eighth given Todd Carney is is the naughtiest kid ever and Ben Barba’s lost his Mojo. And their full-back, Valentine Holmes, is 19, and five-eighth, Jack Bird, just 20. But all in all, in terms of a 17-man squadron to trot out onto Sweet Home Remondis, this is not the worst posse of meat axe-men. (It’s a livin’.) Their forward pack features such war-beasts as Luke Lewis, Chris Heighington, Matt Prior, Wade Graham and Jayson Bukuya. Sam Tagatese thunders off the bench, Anthony Tupou sort of rolls off it. And it’s not the craziest structure for a footy team - pack full of gnarly old hard-men, backs full of speedy little pinheads. Wizened old boys Mick Ennis and Jeff Robson steer the whole shebang around. And if everyone hangs onto the pill and complete their sets, they’ve got a little bit of lightnin’ in the outside backs to ice the up-front grunt. And they’re obviously fairly fit, given in the 70th minute they laid on four front-on tackles in a row that drove the Bunnies back and led to the match-sealing try by Bakuya. And with Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita to come back, and the scalps of Roosters and now Bunnies, the Sharks are no longer under any radar. More power to them.