Manly Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm preview

On Friday night, we will experience what the Roman’s were audience to back in the times when gladiators battled for life and death, because on Friday night, the Melbourne Storm and Manly Sea Eagles enter the arena in the top of the table clash.

These two NRL heavyweights have established a strong rivalry over the past several years including facing off in the 2007 and 2008 grand finals. They may well meet again and look intently at each other in the eyes as they await the national anthem to conclude and the whistle to be blown in this years premiership decider.

Although both are assured to play finals, Manly and Melbourne still have a great deal to play for. Des Hasler’s men can still be crowned minor premiers if they prevail in the remaining two games (Melbourne and Brisbane), but they require the Storm to go down this week and then to Sydney the following week. If Manly succumb to the dominant Storm side and then drop the ball against the Broncos next Sunday, they could enter the finals series in third place.

After overcoming the Dragons last week in a low scoring affair (8-6), the ladder-leading Storm venture north where they will meet the second-placed Sea Eagles in the second last round before the finals kick-off.

In round 24 Manly went head to head with the Bulldogs and all but shut the lid on their hope of playing finals. However, it was a game which you could say they were fortunate to win.Canterburyhad their chances but in the end class prevailed.

The Storm maintains the number 1 ranked defence in the league as well as having the second-best attack. Further, they have come out on top five times in the past eight matches.

The Sea Eagles attack is the best in the business in 2011. Their defence is third-best. And they hold a 6-3 lead when playing at Brookvale.

Oh aren’t we in for a treat this Friday night.

Every moment in the 80-minutes will count, more than ever – slip in concentration and loss of focus and the game could be lost; possession will be imperative.

Manly are a win away from a perfect season at home this year which gives them an edge playing host to the Storm. Another key factor in Friday’s night clash is the absence of Cooper Cronk who also missed the St George match last week.

Melbourne have been performing at increasingly high levels this year and in the authors opinion, Cameron Smith will resemble General Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator in the opening scenes when he is leads his soldiers to triumph over the Germanic tribes.

On Friday night Brookvale will transform into the Colosseum and the two finest gladiators of the year will charge into battle.

You play Emperor…thumbs up for Manly or thumbs down for Melbourne?

A Melbourne Storm 16-10 victory for me.

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AFL Round 22 good, bad and the ugly

The Good

Young guns come out blazing

A game within a game between two of the league’s newest. Jason Tutt from the Western Bulldogs and John Butcher (Port Adelaide) provided fans from both clubs something to look forward to in 2012. The pool cue was put into the rack after quarter time as a result of a Bulldogs 10.3 to 1.0 romp. ‘King Tutt’ as he is now known as, became the 7th player in history to kick three goals from his first three kicks. He finished with 26 disposals and four majors.

Up the other end Butcher was keeping Power supporter’s somewhat content with six goals. Butcher was an exciting factor up forward after going off the ground with a knock to the head early on forcing him off the ground.

Rising Star Award…Shuey or Heppell?

Young gun Luke Shuey showed off his awesome talent in the premiership quarter. Shuey racked up four clearances, five inside 50s and kicked a goal in a brilliant burst. His ability to get the ball and effective use it was the reason for the Eagles kicking clear of Essendon. On the other hand, Heppell played with poise and put his case forward for the award with 26 intelligent possessions.

The mighty flying Hawks

There was much to play for in the game of the round on Friday night. More than 52,000 at Etihad Stadium were front row to a tenacious Hawthorn outfit that were hungrier and more efficient with the Sherrin. The Hawks dominant midfield was extremely effective in stopping Brownlow favourite Chris Judd who played well below his best. The navy Blues increased the intensity in the final period and kept coming hard at the Hawks who were able to hold on by 12 points when the siren sounded.

Leather poisoning at Metricon   

No matter who your competitor is, getting 51 touches demands some attention. While this article and no doubted an abundance of other new sources will pay that attention to Scott Thompson, I can’t say the same about the Gold Coast on Saturday. In the 61 point victory, the Crow midfielder who is in All-Australian form had the ball on a string – he had 18 disposals in the first quarter, 10 in the second and 14 and nine in the third and fourth. Thompson was two touches shy of Diesel Williams’ record. My question is why Bluey McKenna didn’t put a young player on to quell Thompson; it would have been valuable to do so in allowing a midfielder to learn and test themselves.

The Baz and Boyd show

Barry should’ve announced his retirement in round one, the Dogs would that way won a few more games. Hall is in outstanding form and continued on where he left off last week with six goals. Captain Matthew Boyd is another who is able to hold his head high this year. Boyd kicked a career-best three goals to add to his 39 touches.

Trent Cotchin

When the game was up for grabs on Sunday afternoon it was Tiger midfielder Trent Cotchin who put his hand up. He led from the front and put through an important major which started the run for Richmond.

Andrew Swallow

The Kangaroos midfielder put on a show again Fremantle, picking up 30 touches and laying 8 tackles.

The Bad & the Ugly

Goal kicking

Although they got the four points, Sydney was atrocious in front of the big sticks kicking 23 behinds for the match. At one stage the Swans kicked 10 straight behinds.  

A Blue day

Carlton let slip a top four finish and double-chance opportunity with the loss to Hawthorn. As mentioned earlier, the Hawks wanted the ball more when it counted and in the end Carlton left their run too late.

Freo…no heave-ho!

I listened to Dockers Captain Matthew Pavlich on channel 7’s football show on Sunday morning and all I heard was excuse after excuse after excuse, although he said those aren’t excuses for their performance…huh? Fremantle were taken to school by the Kangaroos at Etihad Stadium and flew back not with a win, but a 98 point thrashing. Their effort was extremely poor they will most certainly feel the wrath of Mark Harvey on the training paddock this week. The loss takes Fremantle’s record at Etihad to 14 losses from the past 16 games at the stadium.

Cheap shots

It was a bad weekend for several players who in a weak effort took their eyes of the ball instead targeted their opponents illegally including using the elbow. Come on, that isn’t tough, that’s weak and uncalled for.

Springboks defeat All-Blacks in defensive showcase

Defense wins games, wins championships.

That is what it came down to in Port Elizabeth overnight. The Springboks returned to the field with an improved effort after their beating against the Wallabies to overpower the All-Blacks 18-5 in a tightly fought game.

Is Bennett the reason for Dragons form slump?

He is a champion in the coach’s box and even better when he throws on his psychologist’s hat and plays with the minds of players, rivals, the captivated audience and attentive media.

Who am I? I am Wayne Bennett.

Only four teams in the 2011 NRL season hold the key to the premiership –Melbourne, Manly, Brisbane and Bennett’s Dragons. However, one hand is slowly slipping from NRL’s greatest prize, that illustrious trophy.

The Dragons have struggled recently against Canterbury (19-24), South’s (24-34), West’s (14-16), and the Roosters (12-20). The horizon doesn’t look any easier for St George either with a Friday night clash against the all-conquering Melbourne Storm in Melbourne.

After last weekend’s loss to Sydney, Bennett sat in front of the awaiting journos and said that, “players play and coach’s coach”. True Wayne but the coach is always the casualty if any person is to vacate their position from the inner sanctum.

The master coach is one of the best in the business of carefully constructing his words and what he wants his players to read in the papers the next morning. But even that seems to be failing to be delivered now.

Why?

One factor among the reasons why the club has gone deep into a form slump seems to now be coming out to a greater extent – it revolves around the forthcoming departure of Bennett who is set to join Newcastle in the 2012.

There have been mentions that the players are holding back and not exerting themselves to the levels of which they are capable of. Although in the background, St George players may be looking discontentedly ahead to next year where Mark Gasiner will no longer be at the club due to retirement and the fact that Australian fullback Darius Boyd will be following his coach to Newcastle.

It is a strange situation to be in and the players would be feeling is the most; that is that Bennett is moving on to a rival and they may want to now hold closer their match-plan tactics and strategies.

Supporters have contributed the losses to a tough State of Origin series and the recent Jamie Soward’s drop in form, but the origin excuse is invalid – just look at the Storm.

It is a massive game for the Dragons tomorrow and equally for the Storm as both sides head towards the finals. Will Bennett’s comments to the media strike a chord in the Dragons players or will they continue their downfall at the most important time of the year?

My prediction is for the Storm to win comfortably and the fireworks to set Melbourne’s skyline alight.

The next big thing in the NBL…introducing Ben Allen from the Townsville Crocs

Having played on Ben Allen in high school nationals, I know first hand the skills the young man holds. Standing 211cm tall, the Melbourne bred big man suited up for his rookie year in the 2011 NBL season with the Townsville Crocs behind former Georgia Tech star, Luke Schenscher.

Before joining the Crocs, Allen was a member of the AIS program and ventured to the US to test his talent in the all-powerful NCAA competition. Allen’s collegiate career included stints with the well-renowned University of Indiana for the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons; in 2007-08 he didn’t hit the court but in 2008-09 Allen joined with Saint Mary’s where he averaged 9.1 minutes and 2.2 points per game.

In 2009-10, Allen’s game time increased considerably rose to 27.6 minutes per game which enabled fans to see his true potential as he went close to averaging a double-double with 10.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

Two key games stand out from Allen’s college career. In the ESPN aired West Coast Conference Tournament final against the highly respected Gonzaga outfit, Allen dropped 20, collected 9 boards, dished off two assists and showed his defensive prowess with two big blocks.

The second game of note was in the sweet sixteen (NCAA Div. 1) round against Baylor in which they went down 49-72 – Baylor would lose narrowly to national champion, Duke. Ben Allen top scored for the Gaels with 16 points, 7 defensive rebounds, three assists and one block.

On Saturday 8 October 2011, Allen will resume his NBL career with his second season against the Cairns Taipans. Allen demonstrated his deftness against Melbourne in his hometown; the centre contributed 12 points, three rebound and two assists in a 15-minute burst against the Tigers.

What makes Allen different from other big men is his unselfishness and ability to find teammates. In his final year with Saint Mary’s Allen averaged 2.2 assists per games; he also maintains an encouraging shooting percentage from outside the key; as well as being 82.1 per cent from the free throw line.

Playing with another AIS centre and graduate, Schenscher, Allen will learn further from the ex-Chicago Bull and Port Trailblazer and progressively gain more and more court time and begin to dominate the league like Ray Borner, Mark Davis, Larry Sengstock, Mark Bradtke, Chris Anstey, Dean Uthoff, John Dorge and Paul Rogers.

The Ben Allen show is just beginning.

2011 All-Australian Team…agree or disagree?

With only a few weeks to go before the finals series commences, I have assembled what the All-Australian should look like; do you agree or disagree?

FB:

Dales Morris: Has been one of the shining lights for the Western Bulldogs this year; if it weren’t for him in many cases they would’ve suffered more defeats.

Matthew Scarlett: key forwards he has played on haven’t bothered the scorekeeper greatly this year as well as being ranked highly in disposal efficiency.

Heath Shaw: has been instrumental for the Pies this year from the back line. It is a great sight-seeing Shaw take a few bounces down the wing and deliver it nicely to the big forwards.

HB:

Jimmy Bartel: A marketing and tackling machine who continues to fly under the radar by continually beats his opponent.

Ben Reid: effective key back who can stop the big forwards; season highlights include 21 disposals and 10 marks against St Kilda on the weekend and 31 disposals with 11 marks and a goal vs. Hawthorn.

James Kelly: has stepped it up a gear this year; Kelly has been excellent in applying fierce pressure inside 50. Kelly is ranked 3rd in tackles per game and is averaging 24 disposals. Against highly ranked clubs, Kelly has produced quality. Against Collingwood he racked up 22 touches, 7 tackles and a goal; 11 tackles and 24 disposals vs. Hawthorn; and 24 possessions, 14 tackles and a goal when Geelong played West Coast in Perth.

C:

Matthew Boyd: gaining more than 30 possessions per game, 5.3 tackles and 2nd in total inside 50s; also, never stops running for his team.

Sam Mitchell: has dominated this year with contest possessions, a blonde diesel Williams?

Joel Sellwood: started the year off slow but has picked up and as we all know, he is one of the toughest players who puts his head over the ball at all times.

HF:

Dale Thomas: averaging 25.2 touches per week; applying fantastic tackling pressure and slotting through the goals.

Lance Franklin: Ranked 1st in goals per game.

Marc Murphy: one of the main challengers against Judd for Charlie.

FF:

Andrew Walker: versatile player who will win mark of the year; best season from him – winning the ball, kicking goals and making tackles.

Travis Cloke: Not only has he been in good kicking form, Cloke has stepped up his ability to apply pressure inside 50.

Garry Ablett Jnr: will be up there in the Charlie stakes.

Foll:

Dean Cox: best in the business and Leigh Matthews has stated possibly the best ruckman ever.

Chris Judd: about to become a triple Brownlow medallist.

Scott Pendlebury: Norm Smith medallist who has continued his scintillating form this year. Ranked 7th in disposals per game and in tackles, in addition to being positioned 12th in goal assist per game.

Int:

Adam Goodes

Drew Petrie

Jordan Lewis

Dane Swan

Coach:

John Worsfold

NBA players still locked-out as FIBA hit the court

The season won’t be cancelled, the season will be cancelled; the negotiations are on, the negotiations are off; we’ll (European clubs) sign the players, we won’t sign the players. Confusion remains in the best basketball league in the world.

The NBA players are still locked-out and talks remained stalled.

Responding to a question regarding where negotiations are at in a recent podcast, NBA commissioner David Stern said that the demands from players were too demanding.

Stern’s answer to the follow-up inquiring about what he went back with, the commissioner replied that he walked away from the table – they asked for too much.

Over the last several weeks there has been ample discussion about players taking their talent overseas –Turkey,China and Spain are three areas that have the ears of the NBA stars.

However, a recent decision by FIBA (the Swiss-based international governing body for basketball) enables players to go back to the NBA to fulfill their existing contracts should the lock-out be resolved.

This hasn’t been well received from European leagues; the CEO and President of the Euroleague said that European teams need to have in place stable rosters and that it would be difficult or wrong of a club to sign a player without knowing if they will be playing for them for one month, two months, who knows how long they will play in the world’s second best competition.

The NBA lock-out has been a positive for the Euroleague and other leagues such as Chinait has become a showcase opportunity.

Several weeks ago, NBPA executive director Billy Hunter stated publicly that the NBA season is more than likely to be cancelled in whole; David Stern believes the situations will be worked out, and players are undecided and searching the market or preparing for when games commence. 

For Australian basketball, the FIBA decision means that the chance of signing Patrick Mills is all but gone. The acquisition and return home for Mills would’ve been a great promotional means for the NBL and the augmentation of basketball in Australia.

The current NBA lock-out has much more to come; stay tuned.

Hall rings the bell at right time

On Sunday, Chrisso on Triple Ms ‘The Rub’ called for Barry to rethink his decision to hang up the boots after the 2011 season.

Chrisso, my response which his on-air colleagues also said, he is in an individual purple patch and that Hall is getting out at the right time, it is his decision and he is throwing everything at each game he plays.

Hall has been in sensational form since he made his announcement to retire from elite football after a stellar career with St Kilda,Sydney including captaining the Swans to a premiership, and at present with the Western Bulldogs.

Since round 16, Hall has kicked 25 goals and 9 behinds; he has booted home 5 or more through the big sticks in his last four appearances.

On Saturday night against the Bombers that the Dogs went down 101-150, big bad bustling Barry notched up 15 disposals and 7 marks.

It has been an interrupted season for Hall who has missed 7 games due to injuries.

Commentators are too quick to comment, and it happens quite a bit, that a player should continue or think long and hard about his decision to retire from the game at elite level.

Hall said in his press conference and has mentioned several times since, that his body is struggling to keep coming up each week. Hall is in scintillating form and the Western Bulldogs could very much do with him next year, but what happens if he signs and continues, goes through pre-season and enters the 2012 season and breaks down?

Boxers seem to be the competitors that just don’t know when to retire and they finish their career on a low – Hall appreciates that his body is telling him to move on, his heart, passion and spirit within is demanding him to conclude on a high.

Hall made several heads turn and take note when the big forward, known for his toughness and at times aggression on the field, stated to the media that he wanted to be remembered as a Bulldog – although he held the premiership cup aloft with then Coach Paul Roos.

In your opinion, where has Barry Hall had the most impact; has his punch been harder with the Swans or at Whitten Oval? Hall has been a great character for the game and with a few weeks to go, what else he has in store for us we will have to wait.

Congratulations on an excellent and well-played career.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (AFL Round 21 review)

The Good

The Buddy and Cyril show: On Saturday afternoon, fans at the MCG witnessed Hawthorn kick 31 goals to Port Adelaide’s 5; 14 of those slotted by the two dynamic Hawks forwards – 8 to Buddy and a career best 6 by Rioli. The match was over by quarter time, a period that saw Rioli kicked four;Franklin turned the lights out on Port in the second quarter with three through the big sticks. 

The Blues Brothers: Judd (34 disposals), Murphy (31) and Gibbs with 29 possessions were a formidable trio for Carlton against Fremantle at Patersons Stadium. The three top class midfielders including two leading condensers for the Brownlow were unstoppable around the packs with the Blues take away 18 more clearances from stoppages for the game.  Judd produced another 3 votes appearance with 17 contest disposals from the 34 gained include 8 clearances, and a goal. Eddie Betts and Chris Yarran were other standout notables.

Bicks’ stocks grow: We have seen a change in how the Crows are attacking the ball and competing overall. Interim Coach Mark Bickley must be getting greater support each game he sits in the box too. Although his beloved Adelaide outfit went down on the weekend, they went down fighting against Geelong by 11 points. Competitiveness and spirit seem to be back.

Big Bad Bustling: Since round 16, Hall has kicked 25 goals and 9 behinds; he has booted home 5 or more through the big sticks in his last four appearances.

On Saturday night against the Bombers that the Dogs went down 101-150, big bad bustling Barry notched up 15 disposals and 7 marks. On Sunday, Chrisso on Triple Ms ‘The Rub’ called for Barry to rethink his decision to hang up the boots after the 2011 season. Chrisso, my response which his on-air colleagues also said, he is in an individual purple patch and that Hall is getting out at the right time, it is his decision and he is throwing everything at each game he plays.

Magpie backs: One reason why Collingwood have a dominant record over St Kilda is due to the face that Nick Riewoldt doesn’t apply scoreboard pressure when he lines up against the black and white. On Friday night, Chris Tarrant and Ben Reid were very good and beat Riewoldt fair and square several times. Talk around the football circles is that the Saints got a fair blast from Ross Lyon about delivery to his key forward. Excuses, poor skills or just outplayed???

Special mention: The Melbourne Storm also for recording most wins ever in a season for the club. This week they take on St George; big clash.

The Bad

Mauling an un-energetic Swan outfit: What a difference a week makes;Sydney was poor in their sub-par effort against the Tigers, losing by 43 points. Swans Coach John Longmire told the media conference that his side lacked the energy from the first bounce;Sydney had 6 inside 50 tackles for the game – a sign that the pressure simply was not there compared to last week’s thrilling match against Essendon. As Longmire said, “you would have thought Richmond was playing for a spot in the finals, not us”.

ABC TV: Not the AFL but VFL in this rant. What a great game it was on Saturday between the unbeaten Port Melbourne and Williamstown. With two minutes to go and only 5 points separating the two clubs, the ABC decided to pull the plug on the game and informed viewers that if they want to continue watch, they should log onto iView…? What a joke! I don’t even expect this from Channel 7 – at least they let you watch the end of the game minus the winner’s singing the song.

Softness in the game…oh and umpires: Chris Tarrant reported for a fair and legal bump; Davey from Essendon pushed over after kicking a goal or more like taking a dive, resulting in another free shot at goal. Ben Hudson on Sunday shouted ‘WHAT’ at the umpire paid a free kick against him (although he was the man in front yet somehow was called for having his arm around the Essendon players neck)…come on AFL, umpires shouldn’t be noticed and the game is a tough sport…let the players play!

Soccer or AFL?: It seems like the Bombers are learning from each other and are taking acting classes. Alwyn Davey dropped like he had been knocked out by Iron Mike Tyson, but the punch wasn’t a punch, it was a little shove from Bulldog Easton Wood. The Bomber deserved it with the way he was acting but was smart enough however to con the umpire into a free kick. The questions should be asked to Essendon, “Do you want to play AFL or EPL?”

The Ugly

Lack of Power: It has been going on so long now that I can’t think of words to describe the situation.

ABC TV: Not the AFL but VFL in this rant. What a great game it was on Saturday between the unbeaten Port Melbourne and Williamstown. With two minutes to go and only 5 points separating the two clubs, the ABC decided to pull the plug on the game and informed viewers that if they want to continue watch, they should log onto iView…? What a joke! I don’t even expect this from Channel 7 – at least they let you watch the end of the game minus the winner’s singing the song.

Wallabies beat Boks in Durban

On Saturday in Durban, the Springboks let slip a 6-0 half-time lead to the Wallabies and subsequently went down to the Australian’s 14-9.

The game wasn’t one fans would’ve recorded for the ages as both teams were unimpressive; the only team that would be smiling is the All-Blacks who are sailing nicely leading up to the RWC.