Perspective

perspective
Occasionally in life, things happen that put everything else into perspective.

I was going to write an article telling you how the Tigers were robbed on the weekend. I was going to write how Ashley Klein’s refereeing was downright disgusting, citing a penalty count of 11-4 against the Tigers until the game had been decided. I would have written to the NRL demanding his head.

I would have written the praise of Liam Fulton and how his departure from the game was the catalyst of our demise. I would have also applauded James Tedesco on the heart that he showed in a beaten side. I would have cried out for Blake Austin to replace Anasta at five-eighth and begged Farah to work on his kicking game before next week.

I would have told Dragons fans to temper their excitement. They don’t get to play the Tigers every week.

Somewhere in the article, I would have made reference to Sydney FC’s demolition of their cross-city rivals in the most exciting derby to-date.

I would have done all of this and more. But I won’t. Because at the end of the day, it’s just a game. Right?

Who’ve we got next week?

Bye, Bye, Benji

Benji Marshall
With the NRL season officially run and won, it would be remiss of me to let the occasion pass without farewelling one of the most naturally gifted and polarising players that I have ever seen.

The Debut

I will never forget settling into our seats at Campbelltown Stadium on July 27, 2003, when Dad said to me, “Wait until you see this Benji kid on the Tigers’ bench today. I saw him play State Cup [touch football] for Wests. He’s got a great step and a brilliant cut-out pass.”

Well, I didn’t have to wait long. Benji came on in the 14th minute playing fullback.

His first impact was not a positive one. With Newcastle kicking through, Benji hesitated a little and the Newcastle winger pinched the ball to score. His next touch, however, would spark the eleven-season career sensation that finally came to an end this year.

With the Tigers taking the ball up towards halfway, Marshall, running right-to-left, put on a step that he would soon trademark, and skipped straight through the Knights’ line. From this moment, I was hooked.

Hold on tight

The years that followed were a rollercoaster with highlights including watching him play in the open-field that is the World Sevens to suffering through watching him incur shoulder injury after shoulder injury.

Never had I seen a player at the Wests Tigers club who could single-handedly change the outcome for his side. With a combination of speed, a step and a no-look flick-pass, Benji had us all on the edge of our seats. The excitement reached the summit, of course, in 2005 when Marshall, along with his arsenal of Scott Prince and Robbie Farah, took the unbacked Tigers to premiership glory.

Of course, it hasn’t been all roses. Benji has had some real stinkers over the last ten years. Dropped balls, cut-out passes that hit row 3, penalties that failed to find touch, and even goal-kicking slumps have riddled his career, in particular the last three years.

I have always claimed to be Benji’s biggest fan. Sure, I have backed him well beyond the point when others began to turned on him. But, in truth, there have been times where I became fed up. It wasn’t the form slumps. As they say, “Form is temporary, class is permanent.” But the frustration of watching a player of Benji’s brilliance appear disinterested had become too much.

In his autobiography, Benji tells the reader that he is motivated by proving the critics wrong. Never did he have a better chance at that than he did this year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

Good bye

When Benji announced that he would leave the club and the NRL, I was both upset and angry. It really did feel like a break-up. What had I done wrong? Had the last ten years meant nothing? But all I got was, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

A lot of information came out of the wash in the coming weeks and a lot more never will. Eventually, I came to accept that after season’s end I would never see Marshall in a Tigers jumper again.

In Round 25, after a loss to arch-rivals Souths, Benji could not hold back the emotions as the club made he and Robbie the inaugural Wests Tigers life members. It was a touch of class and a way of saying, on behalf of the club and fans, that he will be missed and will always be remembered for his service.

Watching a crowd, that he had polarised for years, cheer his name in unison as he took his final lap of honour around Allianz Stadium was spine-tingling. The lap took more than thirty minutes as fans wanted a final handshake, photo or autograph. All he willingly gave.

Benji, it is with a heavy heart that I wish you farewell. Although we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, the club will never be the same without you. Thanks for the memories. You will be sorely missed but please remember that you are welcome to drop by anytime.


A final glimpse at Benji brilliance…

My two favourite tries of all time

Of course there is that try from the 2005 Grand Final.



But my favourite is the one that really makes Benji stand out from the rest. No one steps like this but him.



Please leave your comments and memories below.

Not Good Enough!

Wests Tigers Conceded
Over the last few days, we have heard how the Bulldogs thrashed an “injury-depleted” Wests Tigers.  While this is true, the Tigers’ side has been hit with an injury plague and the Bulldogs certainly did thrash them, I question whether the injuries are a sufficient excuse.

The Team

First, let us take a look at the starting side for last Friday’s game:

Fullback – James Tedesco.  James is the best fullback prospect at the club.  He should have played there from Round 1.  He played fullback for the City Origin side.

Wings – Koroibete and Utai.  Friday saw the return of the flying Fijian, Marika Koroibete, a real asset to the side.  Utai, on the other hand, has not been able to reproduce his 2011 form at the club and has become a target for opposition halves.

Centres – Reddy and Thompson.  Reddy has over 100 career games behind, and Thompson, over 50.  They did not have the largest shoes to fill with the current form of Lawrence and Ayshford.

Halves – Sironen and Marshall.  Although almost certainly destined for the back row, Sironen has shown he has what it takes to mix it in the NRL.  Marshall, former NZ captain, World Cup, Tri-Nation and Premiership champion – speaks for himself.

Prop – Woods and Buchanan.  Both are exciting young props and Woods is knocking at the door of NSW selection with an almighty thud.

Hooker – Farah.  In the top two for this position world-wide.  Always busts his guts for the team.

Second row – Fulton and Blair.  Fulton is an underrated, defensive workhorse.  Blair is a premiership-winning, NZ international.

Lock – Spence.  OK, not too much experience there.

Now, looking at that side you would have to give them a good chance of beating a Bulldogs side that had only been able to defeat the Eels and Sharks thus far this season. A team that were also pumped 38-0 by the Roosters just two games prior.  I was even stupid enough to tip the Tigers.

The game

What the Tigers produced on Friday night was just not good enough.  I actually feel sorry for Farah, Woods, Fulton, Tedesco and (arguably) Reddy.  These guys gave their all and have been branded the same as the rest of the side.  Pathetic.

I am a member of the club and a loyal supporter, but I do not adhere to the philosophy that bagging your own team in some way means that you are not sticking by them.  I was there at ANZ Stadium to witness that game and I will be there on Friday night to see them take on the Sharks at Allianz, but I expect more from them.  Much more!

The injuries that they have suffered this year so far, have had a negative effect on the team.  However, they are no excuse for performances like the one witnessed last Friday night. The Tigers need an attitude injection or else an even bigger embarrassment awaits as they take on several former teammates, all eager to prove the club wrong for letting them go.

Bad Boys rewarded for Bad Behaviour

Josh Dugan drinking on a roof

Players these days, particularly those with talent, are not feeling the repercussions for their actions.  Contracts are not worth the paper they are signed on and punishments for poor off-field behaviour no longer fit the crime.  That is, if you have the on-field talent.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Josh Dugan’s sacking from the Canberra Raiders came after a long line of off-field indiscretions.  The final straw came when he not only broke team protocol preventing injured players from consuming alcohol, but he did so on a roof with his offsider, Blake Ferguson, and was brash enough to post it on Instagram.  The caption read, “Make your own luck!  Whatever will be will be!”  While some see this as complete stupidity, it is quite evident that it was a direct attempt to escape his contract at the Raiders.

The Canberra-based club obliged him with this request and have released him from his contract.  Due to the fact that he has broken a team rule and not broken an NRL policy or committed a crime, Dugan is free to sign with another club if he so wishes.  With the salary that prospective clubs are offering, wish he will.

The Brisbane Broncos appear to be the front-runners to acquire the signature of this injury-prone, bad boy.  So when he inevitable signs for the $500K+ per season that he is demanding, and gets the sea change they he has desired, what lesson has he learnt?

For one, he has learnt that if he wants out of a contract all he has to do is play up.  Breaking the same, simple, team protocol in less than twelve months ought to do it.  Also, he learnt that as long as he has the talent, teams will throw themselves at him.  Hell, they will end up in a bidding war.  It worked for Todd Carney.

Original Sin

After persisting with Todd Carney through incident after incident, the Raiders had enough.  He was sacked from the club and the NRL deregistered his contract.  The result?  A brand new contract at the Roosters, effective once his NRL-imposed, season ban was complete.

In 2010, Carney went on to win the Dally M Medal and star in the Roosters stellar season which led them to the Grand Final.  In 2011, Carney was caught on three separate occasions committing alcohol-related indiscretions and sacked by the Roosters.  Surely, that was his last chance, right?

Wrong!  As you would know, Todd then signed a deal with the Cronulla Sharks estimated at $700K per season.  It would appear that Todd Carney laid the blueprint for Josh Dugan.  You can do what you like, as long as you have the talent that another club desires.

Barba’s Back

A few weeks back, I wrote an article that touched on Ben Barba’s standing down.  At the time, word was that he was looking at up to six months out of the game while he wrestled his demons.  Barba was admitted to rehab and has since been released, returned to training, and has now been named in their Round 4 side to take on the Rabbitohs, months before most expected.

Don’t get me wrong, this is great news.  Ben is a young athlete who needs help, much like Todd and Josh.  This help recommended that he “return to his day to day life and that obviously includes his commitment to football,” announced Greenberg, although not all experts agree.

It is, in fact, rather ironic that the Easter long weekend would bring about his resurrection in the NRL.  So, where is the link with Dugan and Carney?

When Todd Greenberg, Bulldogs CEO, announced that Ben Barba was being stood down, it was clear that Ben’s actions warranted termination of his contract but the club had decided that would be “taking the easy way out.”

So, what indiscretion was committed that was so serious that it almost saw the sacking of the NRL poster boy and last year’s Dally M Player of the Year, but not so serious that it would require any more than 3 weeks on the sideline?  Would a player of any less talent be afforded the same forgiveness?

What are your thoughts?  Should players of varying talent be treated equally?  Should the NRL have a league-wide player code of conduct or is it fine to leave these policies to individual clubs?  Let me know your thoughts below.  And of course… subscribe!

It’s not exactly Rocket Science

wrestle

Whenever I watch a game of rugby league, there is almost invariably a common factor – the winner is the team with the fastest play-the-ball. So many teams seem to address slowing down the play-the-ball of the opposition, but it seems to be only the top sides that focus on their own speed in attack.

Monday Nightmare

After having to wait an excruciating four days from the start of the season, the Wests Tigers finally kicked off their campaign on Monday night. And wasn’t it worth the wait!

Now, there were many reasons behind the Tiger’s woeful performance. Questionable team selection, a devastating week, poor preparation and tactics, stupid decisions, a well-oiled opposition, and many other factors all contributed to the loss.

But one thing that continually frustrates me with this side, is how slow their play-the-ball seems.

Wrestling slows the play-the-ball

All 16 NRL teams focus on slowing the play-the-ball of their opposition. Teams employ wrestling coaches and spend time every week practicing techniques like gang tackles to slow their opposition down.

It is fair to say that the top teams at the end of the year tend to be the best wrestlers, but I would also argue that they are the best at defending the wrestle.

Spend more time on your own play-the-ball

Most of the Tigers’ games that I watch, I find myself complaining about the opposition lying on our players and getting away with it.  However, there are many times where I cannot blame the opposition or the referees.  If the attacking players make no effort to create a quick play-the-ball, why should the defending players? The onus must be on the attacking side to seek a fast game, not the defence, that will never work.

I hate to pick on them, but far too often the Tigers appear to be too slow in attack.  Apart from the first 5 minutes, the Knights dominated the ruck on Monday night.  Their speed in the ruck had us on the back foot in defence.  They made more yards-per-carry and, thus, had better field possession at the end of their sets.

Teams that can keep the opposition defence backpedalling, find gaps due to an unorganised line that has not had enough time to set itself.  Players can also be sucked into making tackles before they return to an onside position which leads to penalties.  Penalties lead to repeat sets and repeat sets lead to tries.

Conversely, teams that are not able to speed up their play-the-ball, allow defences to set their line and increase their line speed.  Defences are then able to meet the attack before the advantage line and before the big forwards are able to gain momentum.  With the camera angle often cutting off the defence, they appear to be miles offside, they are seemingly that quick.

You can have too much of a good thing

Now, I understand that trying to play the ball too quickly can, and often does, lead to handling errors.  This is far worse than conceding a slow play-the-ball.  But surely if a player can get to his feet quicker, he will have the luxury of waiting half a second before placing the ball on the ground.

I don’t want to see players carry on like Michael Hancock used to do for Brisbane, but I do want to see more urgency in the players.  At the very least they will draw a couple more penalties for holding.

It may not be the biggest problem at the Tigers right now, but it is one of the easier ones to fix.  What are your thoughts?  Would you like to see players make a bigger effort to get to their feet quickly?  How important do you think it is to winning the game?  Let me know below, and of course… subscribe!

Good Riddance to the Shoulder Charge

Shoulder charge

I am glad the NRL has banned the shoulder charge.  There, I said it!  But it is not for the reason that you may think.

“Don’t be such a whimp!”

As a league-nut, I love a big hit as much as the next fella.  Is there anything better than watching two big boppers go at it for the first hit up of Origin?

I loved watching guys like Mark O’Meley and Martin Lang who would hit the ball up like they had no respect for their own bodies.

Perhaps even more impressive are the guys that line up to stop them.  The Paul Harrigans, Gordon Tallises and Mark Geyers.

These guys are tough men and are an absolute joy to watch.

There is an inherit danger in playing rugby league.  It is understood by the players that at any moment in a game they could be seriously injured and that this injury could end their career and even permanently disable them.

“So, that’s what they sign up for!”

In the USA, thousands of former NFL players are filing class action lawsuits against the league claiming that the NFL has deliberately concealed information about life-altering brain injuries caused by playing football.  If the NFL does not now do everything in their power to protect players from future injuries, they will face thousands more.

In Australia, Jarrod McCracken was awarded almost $100 000 in damages after successfully suing the Melbourne Storm and its former players, Stephen Kearney and Marcus Bai, over a spear tackle that occurred in May 2000.

So when the leading doctors of rugby league united to outlaw the shoulder charge, the NRL took notice.

Don’t think for a moment that this is a decision that the NRL took lightly.  But a short chat with their lawyers and their hands were tied.  A thrilling feature of the game’s highlight real soon became illegal.

“You are a whimp!”

Well, I’ll leave that up to you to argue, but the dangers involved in the tackle are not the reason that I am glad to see it outlawed.

Tackling these days is a shadow of its former self.  Gang tackles, wrestling and even the “cannon ball” have pillaged the greatest skill in the game.  Call me what you will, but I love nothing more than to see a player on a line-break collected around the legs and brought down one-on-one.

Unfortunately, nowadays this would typically result in a quick play-the-ball and disadvantages the defending team.

Rather than learning to make these once effective tackles, we are teaching players to hold the attacker up, wrestle him to the ground, and lie on him for as long as possible.  The skill of tackling a player individually is no longer emphasised.

There is much more skill required in making an effective tackle with the arms than simply lining the ball-carrier up and knocking him over.  This is why I am glad to see the shoulder charge banned.

Tonight we see the return of $BW. One of the men who made the shoulder charge famous. If I am honest with myself, maybe I like the fact that the NRL has “welcomed” him back but made a statement that he will be playing by their rules (even though that wasn’t their intention).

What are your thoughts?  Is the banning of the shoulder charge the most ridiculous decision that you have ever heard?  I realise that I am part of the minority, so let me have it below.  And of course… subscribe!

We are Betraying our own Role Models

Justin Bieber

With the race to capture the hearts of our country’s youth, sporting organisations such as the NRL are choosing the youngest of their athletes as representatives of their code.  Unfortunately, these athletes are human.  Humans that are employed by their club for no other reason than that they are good at football, and yet, we expect them to have all the skills required to manage a six-figure-per-year brand.  These players are expected to be experts at everything from conversing with the media, to controlling finances, to being a role model for kids. Is it really such a surprise that they are letting us down?

Barba Black Sheep

A lot has been said about Ben Barba in the last few days.  There has been a lot of innuendo about alcohol abuse, gambling addictions and even domestic violence.  All that has been official released by the Bulldogs so far is that “Ben Barba is ill and he needs help”, according to Bulldogs CEO, Todd Greenberg.  Ben is expected to join a clinic in the coming days to treat his alcohol and gambling-related problems.

Todd Greenberg is receiving, and deserves, a high amount of praise for his treatment of this issue.  He has chosen to put Ben Barba the person first.  “If I put all the cards on the table it will help you, but it won’t help me and it certainly won’t help Ben,” Greenberg told reporters.  Perhaps we could all learn from Mr. Greenberg’s example.

The Face-of-the-League Curse

In a pattern that is becoming reminiscent of the NFL’s Madden Curse, Ben Barba is just the latest in a string of NRL Face-of-the-League players that have found themselves in hot water on the eve of the season launch.  In 2009, Brett Stewart was charged with sexually assaulting a 17 year-old girl after the Manly Sea Eagles season launch, and in 2011, Benji Marshall was charged with assaulting a man outside of a Sydney CBD McDonald’s.  In 2013, it was seemingly Ben Barba’s turn.

The real betrayal

Sure, Ben, Benji and Brett have all disappointed their fans, clubs, families and themselves, but the real betrayal has come from the NRL and its community.  The job of a professional sportsperson involves both playing well and behaving well, and yet training focuses disproportionately towards the former.  Yes, clubs are involved in education programs, but are we really doing enough?

We must implement a league-mandated system whereby players are involved in a minimum of two hours per week of “brand management training”.  In this training, players will learn how to speak to the media, how to act in public, how to manage their new found wealth, and what the consequences are for breaching the code of conduct.

Will this prevent off-field indiscretions?  No.  But even if it helps just one player keep their nose clean and remain in the game, isn’t it worth it?

How would you solve the bad behavior epidemic?  Is training the answer or is it just a case of “boys will be boys”?  Let me know your thoughts below.  And of course… subscribe!

Time For Reserve Grade

Image

The National Youth Competition has been a fast paced, high-scoring, and highly entertaining feature over the last five years, however, it has had a negative impact on the game and it is now time that we evolve with the introduction of the National Reserve Grade.

But the NYC is a huge success!

It would be very difficult to argue that the NYC has not been a success.  Viewers have embraced the game with NYC ratings comparable to Super Rugby and the A-League.

Over the last five years, the competition has also produced exciting graduates including the likes of Lachlan Coote; Josh Dugan; Daly Cherry-Evans; and of course, the NRL poster-boy and 2012 Dally M winner, Ben Barba.

According to the NRL, we have seen 10 graduates play State of Origin and 22 represent their country at an international level.  But is this really indicative of the success of the NYC or just the inevitability that younger players will replace older ones?

Although high-scoring games can be entertaining, premierships are won by defences.  In 2012, the NYC averaged a whopping 52.8 points per game, whilst the NRL saw only 41.  This is an increase of almost two converted tries or 29%.  Scoring tries has taken the focus away from preventing them.  As these players move into the top grade, this equates to a poorer quality game.

What’s going on in Reserve Grade then?

Very little, actually.  Games are played in front of a few hundred fans at park footy grounds.  This is having a negative effect on fringe first-graders above the age of 20.  How can a player be expected to lift their game playing on dirt, for a handful of spectators, when just the week before they were playing in front of twenty-thousand screaming fans?

One of the biggest criticisms of NYC graduates is that they are not ready for first grade when they first start out.  Players at the age of 20 are often still developing their game and are quite often thrown into the fast-paced, first grade too early.  But what happens to those players who are held back for a few more years before making their NRL debut?  Well, they are being “put out to pasture”, says Chris Anderson.  Considering that in the first three years of the under-20’s competition, only 14% of players debuted in first grade and only 4% played twenty or more games, there has been a significant number of players bundled out into the NSW or Queensland Cups.

Time to move on

The most obvious solutions are quite often the best.  Combine the two!  Let’s place the best players from the NYC alongside the best players from reserve grade and create a National Reserve Grade.  Each NRL club would field a side of their “next best” 17 players, regardless of age.  Not only does this allow fringe first graders the chance to play with and against quality footballers, it allows the young stars to play alongside grown men without the pressure and speed of the toughest League competition in the world.  I know the NYC can be an exciting game, but surely combining the best players into one competition will result in a better product.

I’m not suggesting that we scrap the thought of an under-20’s competition altogether.  One suggestion is to develop a whole new comp along the lines of college football and play it midweek.  More games on television means more money.  We could also revert back to the days of the Jersey Flegg and have these youngsters wearing the proud colours of the Balmain Tigers, Western Suburbs Magpies and Newtown Jets.  That’s exciting in itself!

The NYC was the brainchild of a Gallop-led league.  He put a great spin on it and told us every year just how successful it had been.  Say what you like about David Gallop, but one thing that can be said, is that he held strong opinions and was reluctant to change them.  Just look at the ridiculous McIntyre Finals System that he brought in and how long it took the Independent Commission to change it.

So, what are your thoughts?  Could the NRG work and would you like to see it?  Let me know your thoughts below.  And of course… subscribe!

Late Line-up Change

Australian Doping AnnouncementI had been holding off writing my first sports-related post until the kick-off of the NRL season but it’s hard not to comment on what could be the biggest revelation in Australian sporting history.

What do we know?

To be honest, not much yet.  The media conference seemed to be typical political dribble.  All we really learnt was that, after a twelve-month investigation, multiple players, across multiple codes, have been found to be doping using peptides and other drugs which are not yet approved for human usage.  We also learnt that ASADA and the ACC have found evidence of match-fixing which they believe to be tied to organised crime.  No codes, teams, players or matches were revealed for legal reasons.

We have since found out that, so far, six NRL teams are under investigation – Manly Sea Eagles, Penrith Panthers and Cronulla Sharks seemingly among them.  A bomb detection unit has also found a vial (read: jam jar) of urine hidden inside Skilled Park, home of the Gold Coast Titans.

An anonymous, recently retired NRL player told Triple M Sydney’s Rush Hour that he could tell that some opposition players were using performance enhancing drugs by the noticeable difference in body shape from one year to the next.

Justice Minister, Jason Clare, declared that some players have already come forward and that they have used phone tapping to help identify the guilty parties.

So what does this mean for the players and the game?

Any guilty player who does not confess to using PED’s before the end of the year is looking at a four-year ban – twice the standard punishment.  For most players, this would be career-ending.  Any player found guilty of match-fixing will be looking at lifetime bans from the league and criminal prosecution, as was the case with Ryan Tandy.

What is even more concerning is that there are implications that this could be happening at a team-level, or at least that team officials are administering these drugs to multiple players across a team.  If this is true, the punishment laid down by the NRL for the Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal will look like a slap on the wrist.

Could we see the 2013 season finish without all 16 teams still competing?  How long will it take for the game’s reputation to be restored?

Timing

The other thing that struck me about the press conference was the timing.  Why now?  I couldn’t pinpoint what it was, but it just didn’t sit right.  That is, until the very next day when Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan admitted that the mining tax had raised only $126 million so far –  a far cry from the $2 billion predicted for this financial year.

I’m not saying that ASADA and the ACC haven’t compiled evidence of doping and match-fixing.  It seems quite obvious that they have.  It’s just the timing of Minister Clare’s press conference seems all too coincidental.

Let me know your thoughts below.  And of course… subscribe!

Pregame Warmup

I was once told:

“Think of the thing you enjoy most in the world and do that.  Not only will you enjoy it, you’ll be good at it.”

So instead of trying to enjoy what I do, I’m going to do what I enjoy.  And that is sport!  Predominantly, Rugby League and Football (soccer), but I also follow Rugby Union, American Football and Ice Hockey.

In this blog I will share my thoughts on the comings-and-goings in the NRL, A-League and other sporting leagues across the world.  Who knows?  Maybe someday someone will pay me to voice my opinion (they gave Andrew Voss a crack).

I’m interested to know whether you agree with my articles, so don’t forget to comment.  And of course… subscribe!