Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Season Preview - Cronulla Sharks (2013)

At the start of 2010, no one (other than those in the Shire) would have ever envisaged the rapid improvement of the Cronulla team that has brought them to where they are now.

2013 shapes as being one of Cronulla’s most prosperous looking years in a long time, with no off-field distractions, more amazing recruitment, continuously astute management and air of optimism and enjoyment has the Sharks as one of the most dangerous outfits for the upcoming season.

All the injuries which dogged the back end of their 2012 season have mostly been healed, inspirational leader Paul Gallen has had operations done to rectify the niggling injuries which have hampered over past seasons and further improvement to the clubs depth mean Cronulla are not just going to be competitive like in previous years, but they are going to be tough to beat.

Why they’ll win it
Paul Gallen is expected to stop being an 80 minute player. Quality backs. Fast backs. Depth. Dominance up-front. Optimism. There are plenty of reasons why the Sharks can win it and they are rightfully tipped to be one of the four favourites to win the premiership in 2013. The quality of depth means that not even injuries or the Origin period should see the Sharks suffer at all. So many key players who suffered with niggling injuries have had these rectified during the offseason meaning Cronulla will have it’s healthiest and fittest squad for years.

Throw in the top quality additions to the club in Michael Gordon, Beau Ryan, Luke Lewis, Jonathan Wright and Chris Heighington as well as getting Stewart Mills and Nathan Gardner back from long term injuries and you have players fighting for spots, and players hungry to play. It’s a dangerous recipe for opposition teams.

Why they won’t win it
The only real reason will be a slow start due to the backline still working on combinations and gelling, as it will be almost entirely different to the backline of the previous year. The only other issues will be the run home. From 2009 to 2012, the Sharks have struggled to win any of their last 9 games of the year. Of the 36 games they’ve played over the last 9 rounds from 2009-2012, they have lost 31. This is the psychological hurdle the club must overcome.

Player to watch: Michael Gordon
If the former Penrith and NSW Origin speedster can cement his place in the side, especially at fullback, his combination with Carney and running off Gallen’s well-timed inside passes, he will be unstoppable and the Sharks will become a potent attacking machine beyond their own wildest dreams.

Rookie to watch - Rodney Coates
The 20 year old front rower is a big unit and is the most likely rookie to make his debut for the Sharks in 2013, purely due to the Sharks having their least depth at prop, not that there’s any depth issues there. The Sharks have a number of top quality juniors coming through the ranks, the most notable of these being talented hooker Michael Lichaa.

Signings: Michael Gordon (Penrith), Chris Heighington (Wests Tigers), Luke Lewis (Penrith), Beau Ryan (Wests Tigers), Tupou Sopoaga (Canterbury), Jonathan Wright (Canterbury).

Losses: Colin Best (retired), Josh Cordoba (retired), Tyson Frizzell (St.George-Illawarra), Jeremy Smith (Newcastle), John Williams (retired)

Best Line-Up: 
1 – Michael Gordon, 2 – Beau Ryan, 3 – Ben Pomeroy, 4 – Stewart Mills, 5 – Nathan Stapleton, 6 – Todd Carney, 7 – Jeff Robson, 8 – Bryce Gibbs, 9 – Isaac DeGois, 10 – Ben Ross, 11 – Paul Gallen, 12 – Luke Lewis, 13 – Wade Graham
Interchange: 14 – Andrew Fifita, 15 – Chris Heighington, 16 – Anthony Tupou, 17 – John Morris

****This article appeared on www.leagueunlimited.com website****

Interstate Memberships (2013)

Within a minute after the full time siren sounds on grand final day, NRL clubs turn their attention to membership drives.

Memberships are a good source of revenue for clubs and are used to try and get fans closer to their club with members only features, such as invitations to training days and team functions, where fans can mingle with their favourite clubs NRL stars.

Unfortunately though, some clubs fail to adequately welcome some of their fans who don't happen to live in the State or city of their team.

Interstate packages in previous years had tended to be marginally cheaper than some teams basic membership packages that offered 6 or so home games.

2013 has seen a lot of clubs dramatically improve their interstate memberships, some via better and/or more merchandise, some through offering more tickets to games and a rare few that provide invitations to team specific events, either at home or when travelling to another team's home.

Sadly, some clubs just haven't bothered to grasp the concept and have left interstate/regional fans wondering whether it's really worth the money.

Furthermore, these people are made to feel like lesser fans, or betrayers of their club, thanks to the some poor marketing/advertising schemes employed by some clubs, especially those which run campaigns on slogans such as "Show you are a true fan and become a member today."

People, especially the elderly, have followed and financially supported their clubs for decades and all of a sudden, if they can't afford a membership they are deemed to be disloyal almost.

It's disrespectful to every fan who doesn't have a membership but has always spent money on their club.

2013 has seen a dramatic improvement in Interstate memberships, with many clubs providing state-specific memberships now (mostly for NSW, QLD and VIC), but this is a very good thing.

I have viewed each clubs Interstate/Regional memberships and decided to do a comparison to see just what variation there is between the clubs. It turns out the cheapest of these type of memberships is $59 and the most expensive is $160.

That alone shows that there are some clubs that just don't understand the external costs incurred by an Interstate/Regional member (flights, accommodation, transport, food, time etc).

So In my view, here are each clubs Interstate package in three groups, great value, reasonable value and poor value, along with the most notable extras.

Great Value

Brisbane - $60 - 1 Away game and a 2 tickets for the price of one for a home game plus key ring, sticker, magnet, magnetic photo frame, lanyard, drink coasters, poncho, 10% discount voucher, Membership to Leagues Club and Broncos Yearbook.
St.George-Illawarra - $85 - 1 Home game and 1 Away game plus a backpack, cap, keyring, sticker, lanyard and 15% discount voucher.
Cronulla - $100 - 1 Home game and 1 Away game plus a backpack, cap, keyring, sticker, lanyard, 10% discount voucher and your name on the members jumper.
Canterbury - $65 - 1 Home game and 1 Away game plus a cap, sticker and keyring
Penrith - $70 - 1 Home game and 1 Away game plus members kit (not revealed what is in members kit)

Reasonable Value

Warriors - $59 - No tickets, but you do get discounted tickets for games in Australia, plus a cap, pin, lanyard, keyring, sticker and a 10% discount voucher
Gold Coast - $65 - 2 tickets to 1 Away game plus members pack (not revealed what is in members kit)
Newcastle - $75 - 3 Home games plus cap, keyring, sticker, magnet, lanyard and a 10% discount voucher
Sydney - $85 - 2 tickets to 1 Away game plus a cap, lanyard, keyring, sticker, 10% discount voucher and Membership to Leagues Club
North Queensland - $78 - 2 tickets to 1 Away game plus a backpack, cap, water bottle, lanyard, magnet, keyring, calendar and a 10% discount voucher
Canberra - $70 - 2 tickets to 1 Away game plus a scarf, keyring, pin and sticker.

Poor Value

Parramatta - $110 - 2 Home games and 1 Away game plus a lanyard, cap, sticker and scarf
Melbourne - $135 - 2 Home games and 1 Away game plus a cap, keyring, lanyard, sticker, pin and 10% discount voucher
Manly - $140 - 2 Home games and 1 Away game plus a cooler bag, mini replica jersey and a mousepad
Wests Tigers - $110 - 4 tickets to 1 Home game plus a lanyard, sticker, scarf and a $20 merchandise voucher
Souths - $160 - 5 Home games plus a keyring, sticker, magnet, lanyard and a 10% discount voucher.

My reasons are based on price, good balance of home and away games, merchandise, events or features that the club and it's players allow you to be involved in, and the clubs interest in accommodating fans wishes to attend games at other clubs specific venues.

This information has all been taken directly from club websites and I must stress, I've only mentioned the significant extras (mostly material items)

11 of the 16 clubs have Interstate memberships at $100 or less.

I understand and appreciate that some people would like to argue at length about how I may have some of this stuff wrong. I welcome it, but I hope that the discussion is based upon how clubs can improve this specific membership.

It is the National Rugby League afterall, and all clubs have fans in other states and even countries to that where they are based. If they and the game as a whole is to expand across the country and become the undeniable number one sport and football code in Australia, then ALL fans need to feel respected, involved and wanted by all clubs.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Season Review - Wests Tigers (2012)

After much improved performances in 2010 and 2011, the Wests Tigers appeared to be maturing as a unit and playing much better and more consistent football, which lead to many pundits picking them as the pre-season favourites to win the premiership. And on paper, that didn’t seem like such a crazy notion.

But it didn’t take long for all that to change. After winning their first game, controversially in Golden Point against Cronulla, the Tigers lost 5 straight, turning in abysmal performances against the Dragons and the Raiders before going on a 7 game winning streak, which wasn’t as convincing as it appeared. It contained a 30-0 shut-out against Penrith, a 1 point win against Parramatta, in a game that saw Parramatta almost claim victory as they scored the majority of their points in the last 10 mins of the game. Another 1 point win against the struggling Titans at that time, a 2 point win against the inconsistent Warriors, and a hard fought 10-6 win against a Storm player without any of their big name players due to Origin commitments.

The Winning streak and the season ended there. The Tigers won 3 of the remaining 11 games, which saw them slip from fourth to tenth on the ladder and fall out of finals calculations completely and miserably.

Signings for 2012: Matt Bell (Penrith), Adam Blair (Melbourne), Ray Cashmere (Illawarra Cutters), Dane Chisholm (Melbourne), John Grant (Rugby Union), Jy Hitchcox (Melbourne), Tom Humble (Parramatta), Masada Iosefa (Penrith), Joel Reddy (Parramatta).
Losses for 2012: Mitch Brown (Canterbury – mid season), Geoff Daniela (Penrith), Simon Dwyer (deregistered due to injury), Andrew Fifita (Cronulla), Mark Flanagan (St.Helens), Bryce Gibbs (Cronulla), Robert Lui (North Queensland), Wade McKinnon (Hull FC), Todd Payten (retired)

Turning Point: The Tigers season was wildly inconsistent and rarely ever did their performances reach the lofty heights of the previous two seasons, but after winning 7 straight games and getting into the top 4, the turning point, very sadly and suddenly came with the passing of Robbie Farah’s mother Sonia just hours before the Round 15 game against the lowly Roosters. The Tigers players were all distraught but played on, coming back late in the match, but by then the game was gone, and the Roosters won 42-28. This was the first of 8 losses in the remaining 11 games for the club, whose performances were either abysmal or amazing.

The Good: The Tigers young players who were essentially forced into first grade through injuries and poor team selections was essentially the greatest thing for the club in 2012. Also the second half against Parramatta in Round 22 and the Tigers game against a woeful Raiders side in Round 13 were also good. But possibly one of their best performances was against Canterbury in Round 24 where the Tigers were very unlucky to not have won the game.

The Bad: Team selections killed the Tigers massively in 2012. They lost halfback Robert Lui in the pre-season and trained back up half, Tim Moltzen, at halfback during the off-season. In Round 1, rookie fullback James Tedesco suffered a season ending knee injury. The only trained halfback at the club was shifted to fullback in Round 4, and so began the merry-go-round of halves combinations for the Tigers. Over the year, the Tigers had endured 9 different halves combinations. The under-performance of marquee players Adam Blair, Benji Marshall, Tim Moltzen, Lote Tuqiri and Chris Lawrence were mostly all due to these position changes and game plan restructures.

Best Players: Aaron Woods was by far the best Tigers player. The 21 year old prop in just his second season in the NRL was picked as 18th man in the NSW Origin side. He had a stellar season. Also, Liam Fulton’s efforts during the year, especially in defence were almost Herculean at times. Robbie Farah, despite the tragic loss of his mother had a great season which saw regain his place in the NSW Origin side and going very close to player of the series. In the backs, Beau Ryan continued improving on his previous seasons performances.

Disappointing Players: Adam Blair had a lot to prove after the hostility among fans about his arrival, essentially at the loss of club favourite Bryce Gibbs. Undoubtedly Blair is a world class quality player, but at the Tigers he just looked lost and was rarely committed. Either he was confused by the coaching or he just wasn’t putting in enough effort. Centres Lawrence and Ayshford were both poor on the back of previous season’s performances, and this may have been largely due to the unsettled halves. Moltzen took a long time to gain any confidence at fullback.

Rookies: The Tigers had 4 rookies make their debut in 2012. James Tedesco (Round 1) a very talented fullback who suffered a season ending knee injury in his debut. Pat Politoni (Round 11) a speedy hooker who only played once off the bench. Curtis Sironen (Round 12) a five-eighth who runs just like his old man, Paul Sironen. Looked very good but a shoulder injury in Round 20 ended his season. Marika Koroibete (Round 21) had an immediate impact when he entered first grade. Many were calling and demanding he be in the first grade squad much sooner in the year. Koroibete’s second half against Parramatta was devastating. In his second game, he equalled the Wests Tigers record for most tries by a player in a game with 4. Will bring great excitement to the club in 2013.

Chances in 2013: With the turmoil within the club during 2012 and the current off-season, the Tigers will be looking at rebuilding and restructuring in 2013. They have lost more key players in Gareth Ellis, Chris Heighington and Beau Ryan and Blake Ayshford was reported to have been allowed to speak with other clubs. Coach Tim Sheens’ tenure at the club came to an ugly demise and it appears he will be replaced by Mick Potter. Tigers will be looking to make the finals and still have a side capable of doing such, but it won’t be easy.

2013 Gains: Braith Anasta (Roosters), Eddy Pettybourne (Souths), Bodene Thompson (Titans)
2013 Losses: Gareth Ellis (Hull FC), Chris Heighington (Cronulla), Beau Ryan (Cronulla)

2013 Best Line-up:
1 – James Tedesco 2 – Marika Koroibete 3 – Blake Ayshford 4 – Chris Lawrence 5 – Lote Tuqiri 6 – Benji Marshall 7 – Tim Moltzen 8 – Aaron Woods 9 – Robbie Farah (c) 10 – Keith Galloway 11 – Adam Blair 12 – Liam Fulton 13 – Braith Anasta
Interchange: 14 – Ben Murdoch-Masila 15 – Eddy Pettybourne 16 – Bodene Thompson 17 – Matt Utai
****This article appeared on www.leagueunlimited.com****

Season Review - Cronulla Sharks (2012)

Cronulla had endured three years in the finals wilderness, languishing at the wrong end of the table, suffering from a mass of bad publicity, controversies and financial woes, all of which hounded the club. 2012 saw the Cronulla club, in every aspect of operations overcome all of these and rise up against the overwhelming odds stacked against them.

Their development plan, which was the last saviour for the club, was approved giving them something they’ve rarely ever had in their entire history, financial stability and security.

This coupled with a very astute coach and some of most impressive off-season purchases, has seen an air of positivity, enjoyment and most importantly, a belief that they can succeed.

Cronulla didn’t fluke their way into the finals either. Many would argue they were on the wrong end of the stick on most 50/50 calls during the year. But through all of that they were much more consistent, never falling lower than 7th on the ladder after Round 5.

Their run home was unimpressive, winning just 2 of their last 9 games, before going down in the first week of the finals to a resurgent Canberra side who were playing at home.

At the start of the year, the Sharks were long outsiders to make the finals. But by seasons end, they had proved they were good enough to make the finals and that they are still improving.

With key signings next year to help add speed and creativity to the backline, the boys from the Shire look set to build on an impressive return to finals footy with a combination of tough and gritty forwards and smart, skilful and speedy backs. A dangerous combination indeed.

Signings for 2012: Todd Carney (Roosters), Isaac DeGois (Newcastle), Andrew Fifita (Wests Tigers), Bryce Gibbs (Wests Tigers), Jon Green (Dragons), Jeff Robson (Parramatta), Ben Ross (Souths), Mark Taufua (Newcastle)

Losses for 2012: Paul Aiton (Wakefield Trinity), Dean Collis (Wakefield Trinity), Luke Douglas (Gold Coast Titans), Albert Kelly (Newcastle – mid season), Tim Smith (Wakefield Trinity), Kade Snowden (Newcastle), Taulima Tautai (Parramatta), Siosaia Vave (Melbourne)

Turning Point: State of Origin 3. The Sharks sat at third on the ladder when the third state of Origin was played, but after the series ended they had a draw, 2 wins and 6 losses which saw them drop down to seventh on the ladder and lose their chance of a home final. Up to this point, some pundits were wondering if maybe, just maybe, the Sharks could make the Grand Final in 2012.

The Good: The Sharks had a few good aspects about them in 2012. They learnt to win without Paul Gallen. Todd Carney was focussed on football again. The club looked confident and believed they could win, which in previous years had been non-existent. Forwards, Bryce Gibbs, Jeremy Smith, Wade Graham, Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita and Jason Bukuya all played above and beyond their efforts from the previous year. While in the backs Todd Carney, Jeff Robson, Ben Pomeroy and Colin Best all played well. Matthew Wright was also surprisingly very solid as a replacement fullback for the injured Nathan Gardner for the majority of the year.

The Bad: Golden Point. The Sharks in Golden Point still look as if they are a defeated unit. They need to close out these tight games if they are going to become a serious contender. The more they improve the more close games they will encounter.

Disappointing Players: Given the injury toll the club suffered throughout the year, it’s actually quite difficult to single out any players who were disappointing on a regular basis. Some players would have a bad game but redeem themselves in spades the following week. Cronulla’s ability to stay in the finals hunt for 21 of the 26 rounds shows that everyone was playing well.

Rookies: There were no players making their NRL debut at the Sharks in 2012, but there is a raft of very talented juniors waiting in the wings for a chance in first grade, which further improves the depth at the club. Michael Lichaa and Luke Pickerd in particular look to be future NRL stars for the club, alongside Chad Townsend, Stewart Mills and Wade Graham.

Chances in 2013: The Sharks will reach the finals again in 2013. Given the success of 2012, next season will see the Sharks setting themselves up for a crack at the title in 2014, but it certainly won’t be beyond them to make the grand final in 2013. With some more new faces and players wanting to be at the club, 2013 is an exciting time for Sharkies fans.

2013 Gains: Michael Gordon (Penrith), Chris Heighington (Wests Tigers), Luke Lewis (Penrith), Beau Ryan (Wests Tigers), Jonathan Wright (Canterbury)

2013 Losses: Colin Best (retired), Tyson Frizell (Dragons), Jeremy Smith (Newcastle)

2013 Best Line-up:
1 – Michael Gordon 2 – Beau Ryan 3 – Ben Pomeroy 4 – Jonathan Wright 5 – Stewart Mills 6 – Todd Carney 7 – Jeff Robson 8 – Bryce Gibbs 9 – Isaac DeGois 10 – Ben Ross 11 – Luke Lewis 12 – Paul Gallen (c) 13 – Wade Graham
Interchange: 14 – Chris Heighington 15 – Andrew Fifita 16 – Jason Bukuya 17 – John Morris

****This article appeared on www.leagueunlimited.com****

Season Preview - Wests Tigers (2012)

The Wests Tigers for the past few seasons have had the cattle to be premiership favourites, but have somehow found a way to butcher their prospects mid-season and have had to rely on a strong run to the finals to get themselves back in the hunt.

2011 was a very disruptive season due to the Tigers being forced to drop integral players in their pursuit of new recruit Adam Blair. This was followed by the messy debacle over Tim Moltzen with the Dragons and the off-field issues surrounding Robert Lui. This was combined with long spells on the sideline to key players Chris Lawrence, Lote Tuqiri, Simon Dwyer, Bryce Gibbs and Todd Payten, while Gareth Ellis and Wade McKinnon also had interrupted seasons.

However they all returned in time for a run into the finals and it took a last gasp try to the Warriors on the stroke of fulltime to sink the Tigers.

2012 sees Wests Tigers with a more aggressive pack, a fit and energetic three-quarter line, a more consistent and reliable Benji Marshall with the only real question marks in the halfback and fullback roles. This however isn't too different to the last 2 seasons, but it may be the reason why the Tigers will fall one rung short of a second Grand Final appearance.

Why they'll win it

The Tigers have world class players in nearly every section of the park. They have an uncanny ability to score points when you least expect them to, from anywhere on the park. They have several players capable of creating try scoring plays and they can put a bunch of tries on a team in a short space of time. This means that they haven't ever really needed to be the best team on the field for 80 minutes and their opponents have to be on their A-game from the start to the very end. They have fast, strong, agile centres, elusive halves, hard-working back rowers, a clever and creative hooker and aggressive props with quality depth: the perfect recipe for a successful squad.

Why they won't win it

June – The Tigers have won 50% of their games in June just 4 times from 2005-2011. On 3 of those occasions they have made the finals. This year poses a bigger risk with Robbie Farah and Chris Lawrence strong chances to be playing Origin. The Tigers have won just 15 of 45 games without Farah since his debut in 2003. Also, the loss of Bryce Gibbs will have a massive effect on the Tigers defence. His ability to shut down second phase play will be sorely missed. Depth in the Tigers backline is very thin, thus they can ill-afford an injury toll similar to that suffered in 2011. They also lack top quality/experienced players in the 1 and 7 jumpers.

Player to watch

Adam Blair – Blair will be linking up with fellow international forwards Chris Heighington, Keith Galloway, Robbie Farah and Gareth Ellis. It won't be easy to be a shining light, but if anyone has the ability to do so, it's Blair. He will add yet another aggressive, ball playing, strong running forward to the Tigers pack, which just a few years ago was considered lightweight and easily dominated. With Blair and Ellis offloading at will to players like Marshall, Farah, Moltzen, Lawrence, Ayshford and Tuqiri, this will create twice as much second phase play across the width of the park, which is exactly what the Tigers attack thrives on.

Rookie to watch

James Tedesco – The rookie fullback is a strong chance to claim the number 1 jumper at the start of the season. With the loss of Robert Lui, it's very possible that Tim Moltzen will vacate the fullback role to take up a spot at the scrum base. With only part time fullbacks available, Tedesco is a capable of making the fullback spot his own in 2012. Tedesco is an Australian schoolboy who is safe under the high ball, quick off the mark and will relish running off Marshall. He also has an amazing ability to score tries, making him a perfect fit for the Tigers NRL squad.

Matthew Bell (Penrith), Adam Blair (Melbourne), Dane Chisholm (Melbourne), John Grant (Rugby Union), Tom Humble (Parramatta), Joel Reddy (Parramatta), Jack Spencer (Salford)


Andrew Fifita (Cronulla), Mark Flanagan (St.Helens), Geoff Daniela (Penrith), Bryce Gibbs (Cronulla), Robert Lui (North Queensland), Jason Schirnack (Mackay), Simon Dwyer (released – injury)

Best Line-Up
1 – James Tedesco, 2 – Beau Ryan, 3 – Blake Ayshford, 4 – Chris Lawrence, 5 – Lote Tuqiri, 6 – Benji Marshall, 7 – Tim Moltzen, 8 – Aaron Woods, 9 – Robbie Farah, 10 – Keith Galloway, 11 – Adam Blair, 12 – Gareth Ellis, 13 – Chris Heighington
Interchange: 14 – Matt Groat, 15 – Matt Bell, 16 – Liam Fulton, 17 – Joel Reddy

****This article appeared on www.leagueunlimited.com****

Season Preview - Cronulla Sharks (2012)

The Sharks have been quite consistent over the last three seasons, but it's the sort of consistency that they will be looking to put an end to in an epic manner in 2012.

In 2009 they won 5 games, finishing 15th, 2010 and 2011 they won 7 games, finishing 14th and 13th respectively. But 2012 they have bought very wisely and astutely to not only improve the team's long-criticised attack, but to actively sign top line players in pivotal positions.

The fact the club lost reliable props Kade Snowden and Luke Douglas and was able to pick up Wests Tigers front row duo Bryce Gibbs and Andrew Fifita was the start of a stellar buying spree. Several solid depth signings and then the highly publicised addition of Todd Carney has everyone in the Shire swearing at the calendar and demanding 2012 started on March 1.

It's this sort of excitement and enthusiasm that fans in the Shire haven't felt for many years. The club has made great signings, enjoyed a trouble free off-season and has excited fans. They'll be hoping those fans flood through the gates all year at home to help build a new positive and successful era for the Sharks.

Flanagan has proven to be a very astute coach and could be a bolter for coach of the year at the Dally M awards at the end of the season.

Why they'll win it
The Sharks still have an amazingly dominant forward pack and the addition of Bryce Gibbs sures up their defence even more. Gibbs is arguably one of the world's best defensive props and he will help ensure that the dreaded second phase plays that have constantly haunted Sharks fans in previous seasons will be much fewer in number.

Then there's the Carney factor. If he stays focussed on footy and off the grog, he is one of the most devastating attacking halves in the game today. With the likes of the straight running Tagatese and the speedy Gardner running off him, the Sharks attack could also become one of the toughest to contain.

Why they won't win it
The three-quarter line. The Sharks have quality and depth all over the park, except on the wings and in the centres. This could pose to be a major issue as Carney's speed and agility could see him move too quickly for his outside backs, leaving him isolated and killing any attacking opportunities. Even with the dearth of halves now at the club, they still have uncertainty over who will play at hooker and if Gardner gets injured, their backs depth will be heavily tested.

For several years now, the Sharks have played grinding games with little success. Carney will not flourish under such a defensive minded strategy, so the Sharks style is going to have to change dramatically. These changes will take some time to bear fruit and this could result in the Sharks having a poor start and a red hot finish which may see them nudge the 8.

Player to watch
Todd Carney. He will make or break the club in 2012. The Sharks have taken a massive gamble on Carney. On the field he'll always be quality, but he needs to keep out of trouble off the field. This is the only area that the Sharks are concerned about. If Carney stays trouble free, the Sharks are going to upset a lot of teams and will be quite a force in 2013.

Rookie to watch
Tyrone Peachey. Nephew of club legend David Peachey, Tyrone is a versatile player who can play in the Back Row, Lock, Five-Eighth and even Centre. He may very well force his way onto the bench in 2012. He'll have strong competition though in Tyson Frizell who played 2 NRL games for the Sharks in 2011 before being selected for Wales in the Four Nations at years end.

Gains: Todd Carney (Roosters), Isaac De Gois (Newcastle), Sosaia Feki (Warriors), Andrew Fifita (Tigers), Bryce Gibbs (Tigers), Jon Green (Dragons), Jeff Robson (Parramatta), Ben Ross (Souths), Mark Tafua (Newcastle).
Losses: Paul Aiton (Wakefield), Dean Collis (Wakefield), Luke Douglas (Gold Coast), Luke Harlen (North Queensland), John Mannah (Parramatta), Kade Snowden (Newcastle), Taulima Tautai (Parramatta), Ryan Tongia (Wakefield).

Best Line-up
1. Nathan Gardner 2. John Williams 3. Colin Best 4. Ben Pomeroy 5. Nathan Stapleton 6. Wade Graham 7. Todd Carney 8. Bryce Gibbs 9. Isaac De Gois 10. Ben Ross 11. Anthony Tupou 12. Jeremy Smith 13. Paul Gallen
Interchange: 14. Andrew Fifita 15. Josh Cordoba 16. Jason Bukuya 17. John Morris

****This article appeared on www.leagueunlimited.com****

Season Preview - Toyota Cup (2012)

Brisbane Broncos
2011 Review – The Broncos were one of the most inconsistent teams of 2011. Only Grand finalists North Queensland and Warriors scored more points than the Broncos, yet their patchy form saw them miss the finals by just one win. The Broncos form could be put down partly to the fact that star players Kurt Baptiste, Dane Gagai and Corey Norman all had to play in the NRL during the year and Jordan Kahu suffered a season ending knee injury in Round 2.
2012 Preview – The Broncos team has maintained a strong core group of players from the previous season, most importantly in the halves. With the experience of last year, the Broncos will be expecting a top 4 finish in 2012.

Canberra Raiders
2011 Review – Canberra would have been somewhat disappointed with their performance in 2011. Ranked 4th in attack, the Raiders finished a dismal 13th on the ladder. The Green machine scored points freely and were looking a strong finals contender mid-season, but 6 straight losses pushed them out of the race and down the ladder. The loss of Sam Williams to the NRL side was the biggest factor behind this downturn in form.
2012 Preview – The Raiders have a lot of players from 2011 returning this year. Their ability to score points is their major concern, as they will be without playmaker Williams. They have enough classy players to still score points if given quality opportunities, however their defence still has a question mark over it. They are capable of improving on 2011 and scraping into the finals.

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
2011 Review – The Bulldogs were a defensively powerful unit in 2011, thanks somewhat to being one of the few teams that avoided disruptions during the year to their pack. They strung together 7 consecutive victories during the mid-season to entrench them in the top 5, where they stayed for the rest of the season. They lost in week 1 of the finals to Cronulla, before keeping out a resurgent Melbourne team in week 2. Their dream of a Grand Final berth was obliterated when belted 64-0 by eventual premiers Warriors in the Grand Final qualifier.
2012 Preview – The Bulldogs pack has lost its star forward Dale Finucane, centre Tim Lafai and prop Sam Kasiano to the NRL side. This will have a massive impact on the teams ability to score points, so the new players will have a lot of pressure on them right from Round 1. Defensively they will still be a dominant force. They should make the finals if they gel in attack early on. Look for them to come home with a wet sail.

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
2011 Review – The Sharks finished third in 2011 and after showing great defence in the finals to topple the Bulldogs and the Roosters, they looked set for a spirited contest in the Grand Final qualifier against the Cowboys. The Cowboys though ran rampant, winning 38-14. The Sharks however were far from disgraced. They had a slow start, but quickly got on track via a 7 game winning streak towards the end of the season which saw them secure third place.
2012 Preview – As strong as the Sharks were in 2011, it will be a challenge for the team to better that performance in 2011. So many integral players have moved into the NRL side, most notably Chad Townsend, Tyson Frizzell, Tyrone Peachey and Stewart Mills. Their defence was also questionable at times and this coupled with their key attacking weapons moving to the NRL, it leaves the Sharks with a new squad and they may slip into the bottom half of the ladder in 2012.

Gold Coast Titans
2011 Review – The Titans struggled through 2011 to finish 14th in attack, defence and on the ladder. This was mostly due to the new squad and the loss of hooker Matt Srama to the top grade after 11 games. Their wins were sporadic and rare throughout the season, but they always managed to never be disgraced by losing by large margins.
2012 Preview – A full season of learning and experiences will see the Titans improve dramatically on 2011. They will push close to the top 8, however they may lack the strike power in defence and attack to win the close games they need to scrape into the finals.

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 
2011 Review – Debacle, that's the only way to describe it. Admittedly, Manly may have been hoping that star half Daly Cherry-Evans would play more regularly, but as it turns out, he played every NRL game, won a Premiership and became a Test player in his debut season. Given his achievements in the NRL side, it makes one wonder just how dominant the NYC team would have been with him at the scrumbase all season. Their lack of a quality replacement showed throughout the season.
2012 Preview – Manly has seen Darcy Lussick, Daniel Harrison and Tim Robinson all step up to the NRL team, leaving big shoes to fill for the incoming players. Manly will be an improved team in 2012, but whether if it's by enough to get them off the cellar floor is to be seen. But if they produce another player to have as dynamic a debut NRL season as Cherry-Evans, then the Sea-Eagles may not be too concerned.

Melbourne Storm
2011 Review – Melbourne were a consistent and tough opponent all year long, stringing together groups of wins throughout the year. They finished the season 4th and beat 5th placed Roosters in the first week of the finals, coming from behind at half time to win by a comfortable margin. They lost in week 2 to the Bulldogs after yet another spirited second half comeback, but they ran out of time and went down by 2 points.
2012 Preview – Melbourne will be one of the top teams of the competition in 2012. They had minimal losses to their very successful squad and will be a much stronger unit this time around. The loss of the brilliant and elusive Dane Chisholm to the Tigers, Kenneath Bromwich and Mahe Fonua to the NRL squad will be sorely missed, but will not cause too much disruption to the squad.

Newcastle Knights
2011 Review – The Knights NYC team, only just squeezed into the top 8 in 2011, before being belted 54-6 by the eventual premiers, Warriors. The loss of half Ryan Stig mid-season to the NRL side hampered the Knights in attack, but they managed to regroup enough to make it to the finals.
2012 Preview – With a relatively strong backline, the Knights could be a more potent attacking machine in 2012. If they can work on their defence a bit more, they can see themselves in the top 8 again this year.

North Queensland Cowboys
2011 Review – 2011 was a two horse race for almost the entirety of the year between Warriors and the Cowboys. It was only fitting that they both played in the Grand Final. A Grand Final that had to go into extra time to find who the better team was. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, a Jordan Meads field goal after 82 minutes and 42 seconds saw them fall agonisingly short of a victory. The Cowboys weren't a team surrounded by a star player, they were a solid unit playing as a team. The fact that they continued winning after giant Jason Taumololo moved into the NRL very early in the year is evidence of this.
2012 Preview – The Cowboys will again one of the benchmark teams. Kyle Feldt will be a key player in the Cowboys backline. With the NRL team well looked after in depth in key positions, it should see the NYC team suffer minimal interruptions and a chance to go one better, literally, in 2012.

Parramatta Eels
2011 Review – The Eels were a solid defensive unit in 2012, but at times they lacked the strike power in attack when they needed it most. They finished the year just 2 wins out of the finals race and in 12th on the ladder. They had a few disruptions to their team during the year with Jacob Loko and Pat O'Hanlon most notably, moving up to NRL and back to NYC. This prevented the Eels from stringing wins together often enough to push themselves into the top 8.
2012 Preview – Parramatta's halves are going to be a year wiser and it will show. Whether it will be enough to catapault them into finals contention is another issue. Defensively, the Eels will still be strong, but their attack is still going to be a problem. They have some talented players in the three-quarter line, but they need quality service from the halves if they are to be as effective as they could be.

Penrith Panthers
2011 Review – The Panthers finished outside of the eight by just one point, yet even if they did make the finals, its not sure if they would have performed any better than the Knights did against the Warriors in Week 1. The Panthers lost strike players Blake Austin, Harry Siejka and Nafe Seluini during the year which contributed to a downfall in form.
2012 Preview – With the NRL side lacking in depth in most positions, it's expected that the void will be filled by NYC players this year which sould see the team slip down the ladder further in 2012. If they have an uninterrupted year however, they could finish eighth.

St.George-Illawarra Dragons
2011 Review – The Dragons unveiled the player of the year in Jack de Belin (Grandson of 1940's Test played Fred de Belin). He, along with Alex McKinnon, formed the best back row in the competition in 2011. However they were eventually called up to the NRL side, which had a devastating effect on the teams go forward and defence in the latter half of the year. This saw the Dragons slowly drift out of finals contention.
2012 Preview – The Dragons backs are a relatively good unit, however they struggled when de Belin moved into the NRL. With a new back row raring to go from Round 1, they could be back to their best and become a genuine finals contender in 2012.
 South Sydney Rabbitohs
2011 Review – There was very little that separated Souths from a wooden spoon in 2011. They were never really in the hunt from early on in the season. They lost 6 straight games from Round 7 to Round 13 and then lost 8 straight from Round 19 to Round 26. There was one shining light, winger James Roberts (nephew of Amos Roberts) who scored 15 tries in 11 NYC games before being elevated to the NRL side.
2012 Preview – Things aren't looking much better in 2012 for the Rabbitohs. Their players will be stronger and better in 2012, but so will every other teams. The Rabbitohs lacked the x-factor required to win, or even turn the momentum, in games last year. This will be an issue for them again this season.

Sydney Roosters
2011 Review – The Roosters finished 5th at season end and were one of the strongest defensive teams for the year. Their finals campaign wasn't the best as they bowed out in straight sets, losing 26-10 to Melbourne in week 1 and then 14-4 to Cronulla in week 2. These scorelines were quite a shock as the Roosters had won 11 straight games leading into the finals, including a 50-8 win over the best defensive team Bulldogs, a 44-6 win over Cronulla and a 28-14 win over Melbourne.
2012 Preview – The Roosters backline has remained virtually intact from 2011, with only some minor reshuffling to the engine room. Given their end of season form, prior to the finals, the Roosters should be a top 4 finisher in 2012. Whether they can stay focussed when the pressure increases though, that's another question.

2011 Review – The Minor Premiers lost just 4 games in a dominating season which saw them rack up big scorelines all season long, most impressively, a 64-0 whitewash of the Bulldogs in the Grand Final qualifier. The Warriors faced second placed North Queensland in the final, where the won by one point in extra time.
2012 Preview – The Warriors 2012 tilt is looking very ominous. They look likely to repeat their achievements of 2011 again this year. Their spine has remained virtually intact from last season and their forward pack still looks very menacing. Strongest bet to be premiers in 2012.

Wests Tigers
2011 Review – The Tigers were a strong defensive unit in 2011, however they have lost that brilliant attacking edge they had in years past. This saw them drop down to 7th on the ladder and on the receiving end of a 48-26 hiding in the first week of the finals to the Cowboys.
2012 Preview - They may have lost halfback of the year Jacob Miller to the NRL squad, but his replacement is likely to be Jordan Marshall, younger brother of NRL star Benji. This could be the very spark the Tigers need to reignite their attack and see them back in the title hunt once again. The loss of Matt Groat from the pack is going to be hard to overcome. The Tigers should finish in the top 6.

***This article appeared on www.leagueunlimited.com (in 4 parts)****

Season Review - Melbourne Storm (2011)

With the tragedy of 2010 firmly in their minds, the Storm looked set to right a lot of wrongs in their view, in 2011. They were expected to be like a starved lion that would annihilate anyone and anything that came near it. The need for redemption and to prove everyone wrong was always going to be a major motivation.

After 10 games, Melbourne had won 7. This was the calm before the storm, as they went on to win their next 12 straight games. The run ended in a spiteful encounter at Brookvale Oval which saw a number of players from both their side and opponents Manly suspended for fighting.

Melbourne lost consecutive games for the first time all year, but still managed to reclaim one of their stripped Minor Premierships.

Melbourne accounted for Newcastle in the first week of the finals, in a match where they never looked like they got out of second gear.

They lost the following week they were upset by eventual Grand Finalists New Zealand, yet even though they missed out on a premiership, the Storm did show to themselves, their fans and possibly even other fans, that they really are that good and that they weren't successful because of cheating.

Maybe 2011 could provide a lot of people at the club and its fans some amount of closure for the penalties the club received in 2010 for salary cap breaches.

2011 Comings and Goings

Gains: Maurice Blair (Penrith), Jack Afamasaga (Cronulla), Beau Champion (Souths), Jaiman Lowe (Souths), Troy Thompson (Canberra), Atelea Vea (Cronulla), Sisi Waqa (Souths), Adam Woolnough (retirement)

Losses: Greg Inglis (Souths), Brett White (Canberra), Brett Finch (Wigan), Jeff Lima (Castleford), Ryan Hoffman (Wigan), Aiden Tolman (Canterbury), Willie Isa (Castleford), Hep Cahill (Crusaders).

The Good

After the massive cleanout of quality players due to the salary cap drama's of 2010, the Storm managed to bring through youngsters and sign up good quality replacements, some of whom may have been considered depth players at other clubs. All of them came through and performed their role in the team brilliantly all year, mostly driven by the drama of 2010. But it worked. 19 wins after 22 games shows that Melbourne are ‘that' good and that they don't need a heap of big name players to be a dominant side.

The Bad

Adam Blair's brain snap at Brookvale proved to be very costly. Not only did the Storm lose the game, but the suspension of some of their players saw them lose their next game and their momentum they had worked so hard to create. They had run out of time to try and regain the momentum and sure enough the lost to a red hot Warriors side in week 2 of the finals.

Turning Point

Round 25 at Brookvale – that stupid fight cost Melbourne a win, it's momentum and a chance to win the premiership. End of story.

Best Players

Billy Slater – it's remarkable how someone so good every year can keep on getting better, but that's exactly what Slater did. He is fast becoming one of the greatest fullbacks to ever play the game and he looks like he is still getting better.

Cameron Smith also turned in a great year and has become so consistently good he's almost become impossible to contain. Every team this year tried and failed, at all levels. He is clearly at the top of his game right now.


As much as he made his debut last year (played 3 games), Gareth Widdop was one the three best performing players at the Storm in 2011. He linked up with Smith, Cronk and Slater so quickly, easily and naturally, it was almost as if they'd all been playing footy together since they were in diapers. In earlier years he had been more at home at fullback but in 2011 he became a genuine world class five-eighth.

Rory Kostjasyn played 6 games in 2010 but became a genuinely good replacement hooker and half in 2011 and will be a vital player for the club during the Origin period again in 2012.


The Storm have again focussed on keeping their spine intact and building a solid team around them. They have lost a number of players for 2012, most notably Adam Blair, but have again recruited well, picking up former player Ryan Hoffman and Rooster Jason Ryles, who will be looking to resurrect his career after a poor time in Bondi. Melbourne will be the top dog in 2012, despite not being premiers. They will continue to be the yardstick and will again be hard to stop. They only way they were stopped in 2011, was by the stupidity of one of their own players.

That's how good they are.

2012 Comings and Goings

Gains: Ryan Hoffman (Wigan), Shea Moylan (Brisbane), Jason Ryles (Sydney), Mitchell Garbutt (Wests Newcastle)

Losses: Chase Stanley (St.George-Illawarra), Beau Champion (Gold Coast), Adam Blair (Wests Tigers), Atelea Vea (St.George-Illawarra), Adam Woolnough (retired), Troy Thompson (retired), Dane Chisholm (Wests Tigers)

Re-Signed: Billy Slater, Matt Duffie, Kevin Proctor, Ryan Hinchcliffe, Gareth Widdop, Maurice Blair, Sisi Waqa, Bryan Norrie, Rory Kostjasyn, Ken Bromwich, Mahe Fonua.

Best Line-up for 2012

1 – Billy Slater 
2 – Matt Duffie 
3 – Dane Nielsen 
4 – Maurice Blair 
5 – Anthony Quinn 
6 – Gareth Widdop 
7 – Cooper Cronk 
8 – Bryan Norrie 
9 – Cameron Smith 
10 – Jason Ryles
11 – Ryan Hoffman 
12 – Kevin Proctor 
13 – Todd Lowrie
14 – Jaiman Lowe 
15 – Ryan Hinchcliffe
16 – Rory Kostjasyn 
17 – Sika Manu

****This article appeared on www.leagueunlimited.com****

Season Review - Wests Tigers (2011)

After 2010, where the Tigers returned to finals football for the first time since their maiden premiership in 2005, the Tigers were one of the strong contenders for the title in 2011 for many pundits.

However a list of unfortunate injuries to most of their backline throughout the year threatened to send them back to the bottom half of the table.

The Tigers fell into a mid-season slump yet again, and after 16 games they were sitting at ninth and looking uninterested. But they managed to win their last 8 straight games and charge into the finals for the consecutive year.

They toppled the World Champions in week 1 of the finals before being beaten on the siren by a spirited Warriors side.

The fact the Tigers managed to make the finals despite being without big name players Chris Lawrence (17 weeks), Lote Tuqiri (17 weeks), Simon Dwyer (12 weeks), Todd Payten (14 weeks), Wade McKinnon (10 games) and Bryce Gibbs (6 weeks) is a credit to the young players who filled their places in the side, most notably Matt Groat and Aaron Woods.

The Tigers put in a brilliant display to defeat St.George-Illawarra in the first week of the finals, possibly one of the best performances in the entire finals series. By week 2 they lacked the same intensity and a fast finishing and determined Warriors side reeled the Tigers in on the full-time siren.

The Tigers will once again consider themselves one of the stronger teams in the 2012 competition and they should push for a spot in the top 4 once again, but if injuries hit hard again, then their depth will be sorely tested, as they have sacrificed some quality players to bring new recruit Adam Blair to the club.

2011 Comings and Goings

Gains: Matt Utai, Jacob Miller (Sydney)

Losses: Willie Mataka (Sydney), Daniel Fitzhenry (Wagga Wagga), Blake Lazarus (Newtown), John Skandalis (retired),

The Good

The last 8 games before the finals. The Tigers were sitting in ninth at the end of Round 18, with 7 wins and 9 losses. They then won 8 straight games and finished in 4th on the ladder on the run home to the finals. They then defeated World Champions and defending premiers St.George-Illawarra in the first week of the finals before losing on the siren. The Tigers end of season form is exactly the sort of consistency that Tim Sheens would like to see for the majority of 2012, especially during mid-season when the Tigers have a record of nodding off.

The Bad

The freakish injuries which left key players sidelined for extended periods. Lawrence dislocated his hip in Round 3, Tuqiri broke his arm also in Round 3, Dwyer suffered a freakish nerve injury in Round 16, Gibbs cut his knee on the head of a sprinkler during a game, McKinnon's chronic knee troubles continued to hound him, Payten was sidelined by injury in Round 6 and Ellis left to head home for several weeks after the Tigers Round 8 clash. This saw the Tigers playing stocks drastically tested. While injuries are part and parcel for every club and player in the NRL, the freakish nature of some of the injuries to Tigers players was something almost like a jinx.

Turning Point

Round 19 at Townsville. The Tigers had 7 wins, 9 losses and were coming off 3 straight losses where they scored a combined total of just 16 points. It was also the return of Chris Lawrence from an almost career ending hip dislocation injury. He pulled through fine and the Tigers were convincing winners. They went on to win the next 7 straight games to charge into the finals in red hot form.

Best Players

Blake Ayshford was a stand-out player for the Tigers in the backs. With both Tuqiri and Lawrence out for extended periods, Ayshford needed to stand up and become a dependable and reliable attacking weapon. He did just that and then some, surprising many people.

Up front, Liam Fulton and Bryce Gibbs had possibly their best seasons yet for the club. Fulton started the season slowly, but his agility and stubborn defence in the second half of the season was exceptional. Gibbs' has always been regarded as one of the best defensive props in the game, a title he showed time and again throughout 2011, even when playing with injury.

And then there's Benji Marshall. Benji's form in the last 10 weeks was red hot, and if it wasn't for a stellar performance by Farah in Round 26, Benji may have gone very close to being crowned Dally M Player of the year.


Matt Groat was the pick of the rookies for the Tigers in 2012. The young prop played with a lot of might and determination and he is being tipped as a future rep player already at this early stage of the young prop's career. Young half Jacob Miller also impressed in his limited time on the field and also looks to be a player the club will try and groom into a genuine halfback alongside Benji Marshall.


The Tigers have added some starch to the forward pack with the signing of Kiwi test forward Adam Blair. They have also added good depth players in Bell, Reddy, Humble and Chisholm. If the players can avoid the freakish injuries which cursed the club in 2011, they will stand a very strong chance to be premiers in 2012. They need to ensure they don't fall into another mid-season slump though.

2012 Comings and Goings

Gains: Adam Blair (Melbourne), Joel Reddy (Parramatta), Matthew Bell (Penrith), Tom Humble (Parramatta), John Grant (Rugby Union), Dane Chisholm (Melbourne), Jack Spencer (Salford)

Bryce Gibbs (Cronulla), Andrew Fifita (Cronulla), Robert Lui (North Queensland), Mark Flanagan (St.Helens), Geoff Daniela (Penrith), Jason Schirnack (Mackay), Jason Cayless (Retired), Taniela Tuiaki (Retired), Simon Dwyer (De-Registered – Injury)

Re-Signed: Chris Lawrence, Blake Ayshford, Aaron Woods, Matt Utai.

Best Line-up for 2012

1 – Mitch Brown 
2 – Lote Tuqiri 
3 – Blake Ayshford 
4 – Chris Lawrence 
5 – Beau Ryan 
6 – Benji Marshall 
7 – Tim Moltzen 
8 – Aaron Woods 
9 – Robbie Farah 
10 – Keith Galloway 
11 – Adam Blair 
12 – Gareth Ellis 
13 – Chris Heighington
14 – Matthew Bell 
15 – Matt Groat 
16 – Liam Fulton 
17 – Dane Chisholm

****This article appeared on www.leagueunlimited.com****

Season Review - Cronulla Sharks (2011)

Cronulla set about achieving just one thing in 2011, rebuilding. They improved the team on-field and off-field as well as focussing on the future.

Over the previous two seasons, Sharks finished last in attack and narrowly avoided the dreaded wooden spoon on both occasions. Most pundits didn't expect much to change in 2011.

And while the Sharks finished with just 7 wins in 2011 (same as 2010) it's hard to argue that 2011 was as bad a year for the Sharks.

Massive rebuilding, a new coach and a positive injection of youth finally gave Sharks fans a reason to look forward to 2012 and beyond.

After a horrid start against Canberra, Cronulla quickly turned things around with possibly the biggest upset of the decade, when they toppled world champions St.George-Illawarra. They followed it up with a demolition of Penrith, seeing them sitting in the top 8 for the first time since Round 1, 2009.

Cronulla fought gallantly but with no success in their next 3 games, pushing Warriors, Manly and Newcastle for the full 80 minutes. Two dismal displays followed before Cronulla outclassed 2010 Grand Finalists Roosters by 18-4.

The injuries started to mount, and captain Paul Gallen's absence due to Origin, saw the Sharks belted by Parramatta to the tune of 40-6. Cronulla lost a tight contest to Melbourne before being accounted for by the Broncos at home. A stunning change of form inspired by Gallen, on the back of his second Origin heroics, saw the Sharks pick up 4 straight victories against Canterbury, Gold Coast, Souths and Canberra.

The run was halted by a Dragons team hell bent on avenging their loss to the Sharks earlier in the year.

Gallen was injured in the match, but continued playing through the pain for the rest of the year. With a number of players getting injured and others playing with injuries, the Sharks failed to win any of their last 8 games.

2011 Comings and Goings

Gains: Colin Best (Rabbitohs), Wade Graham (Panthers), Jeremy Smith (Dragons), Sam Tagatese (Titans), John Williams (Cowboys).
Losses: Adam Cuthbertson (Dragons), Blake Ferguson (Raiders), Grant Millington (Bulldogs)

The Good

The injuries – odd yes, but it was the injuries to players like Dean Collis, Albert Kelly, John Williams and Nathan Gardner that saw young players like Chad Townsend, Stewart Mills, Tyson Frizell and Ricky Leutele all get some game time. They all showed a lot of promise and will help provide the Sharks with some all-important depth, not to mention classy speedy backs. The Sharks also showed glimpses, through some of their younger players, that they have the ability to score points, something which has been sorely lacking in the Shire for a number of years.

The Bad

The injuries – every club has them, but the Sharks had them at the wrong time to the wrong players. For the first 8 weeks, while the Sharks had 3 wins and 5 losses, they weren't in very bad form, and young halves Albert Kelly and Wade Graham looked like they were starting to build a good combination, until Kelly was injured. He didn't return until Round 25.

Although the Sharks lost their last two games, they scored points a lot more freely and pushed two prominent attacking sides in North Queensland and Wests Tigers all the way, losing both games by just 8 points. Paul Gallen played on with a number of injuries which hampered his performance, as did Jeremy Smith, Wade Graham and Nathan Gardner, all key players in important roles.

Turning Point

The Second State of Origin – Paul Gallen played one of the greatest games ever seen in Origin history. He carried the form across to club level, which lead to the Sharks winning four straight games. A week after Origin 3 and another Herculean performance by Gallen, the Sharks streak ended against the Dragons, Gallen was injured and their season hopes faded as they failed to win again in 2011.

Best Players

It's hard to go past the efforts of Paul Gallen, whose work load is impossible to ignore or miss, week in-week out. But there were other very consistent reliable performers who more than pulled their weight all year.

Wade Graham at just 20 years of age and having already played first grade for 3 years at Penrith, showed maturity far beyond his years and started to form a great attacking combination with Albert Kelly and Nathan Gardner. If those three remain in first grade and injury free in 2012, the Sharks will become quite an exciting team to watch. Also, John Morris, Luke Douglas and Jeremy Smith worked as hard as they could and then some all year up front, while Colin Best was the pick of the backline.


The Sharks unveiled a few rookies in 2011, most notably Centre/Winger Stewart Mills and halfback Chad Townsend. Coach Flanagan is going to have a hard time trying to organise his halves for 2012, as Wade Graham began starting a good combination with both Kelly and Townsend.

Mills impressed in his 5 showings and got enough NRL experience to whet his appetite to push for a more permanent role in 2012.


The Sharks lost their bookends Snowden and Douglas, but certainly didn't shirk when it came to finding adequate replacements, in Wests Tigers duo Bryce Gibbs and Andrew Fifita, as well as luring Ben Ross back to the Shire. Gibbs is the most important signing as he is arguably the best defensive prop in the world today. Fifita is a strong attacking runner and Ben Ross is reliable in both attack and defence, providing some great depth and in all areas of the game up front. Isaac De Gois is also returning to the Shire, as Flanagan appears set to continue with his two hookers rotation and forwards dominated play.

Flanagan has cleared out where he can and has sured up the dynamics of his side for the next few years at least, by signing young players and re-signing his rookies as priorities. The Sharks will be a greatly improved side in 2012 and will be pushing hard for their first finals berth since 2008.

2012 Comings and Goings

Gains: Bryce Gibbs (Tigers), Andrew Fifita (Tigers), Ben Ross (Rabbitohs), Isaac De Gois (Knights), Mark Taufua (Knights), Jeff Robson (Eels), Jon Green (Dragons), Todd Carney (Roosters).

Losses: Luke Douglas (Titans), Kade Snowden (Knights), Taulima Tautai (Eels), Ryan Tongia (Wakefield), Dean Collis (Wakefield)

Re-Signed: Albert Kelly, Stewart Mills, Chad Townsend, Matt Wright, Jason Bukuya, John Morris.

Best Line-up for 2012

1 – Nathan Gardner
2 – John Williams
3 – Stewart Mills
4 – Colin Best
5 – Nathan Stapleton
6 – Todd Carney
7 – Wade Graham
8 – Ben Ross
9 – John Morris
10 – Bryce Gibbs
11 – Jeremy Smith
12 – Anthony Tupou
13 – Paul Gallen

14 – Andrew Fifita
15 – Sam Tagatese
16 – Jason Bukuya
17 – Isaac De Gois

****This article appeared on www.leagueunlimited.com****

Season Preview - Wests Tigers (2011)

Some would argue that the Tigers had a large amount of luck go their way in the back end of the 2011 season that saw them finish third on the ladder.

However a top 8 finish should've been a formality for the 4 seasons prior to last year, so if anything, last season's success was long overdue.

2010 saw the Tigers learn how to win ugly, winning games by close margins and playing defence-oriented football. But the flashy attacking brilliance was not lost. Benji Marshall had his best season since 2005, being awarded the world's best player title at season's end.

For 2011, a top 5 berth must be the Tigers only aim. Having lost no core first grade players from their 2010 squad and a strengthening of depth in previously weak areas (halves and outside backs) as well as the return from injury of other players, the Tigers look set to field a marginally stronger team than in 2010, which is already ‘gelled' and ready to go.

Wade McKinnon, Bryce Gibbs, Todd Payten, Chris Lawrence and Benji Marshall have all recovered from their minor niggling injuries, while Tim Moltzen is also back from injury after sitting out most of last season with a busted knee.

Wests Tigers have always been a club that produced top quality juniors and that trend looks set to continue for 2011. The mix of youth and experience coupled with test players and a large core of the squad who have only been with the Tigers all their career, will see them prove that 2010 wasn't a fluke and that they truly are one of the strongest teams in the competition.

Player to watch – Wade McKinnon
McKinnon's last few years have been dogged by injury, but this off-season has been his first complete season injury free and looks set to recoup some of his world class ability for the first time in a few seasons. He will absolutely love running off Marshall, Moltzen, Lui and Farah and is set to prove to be a huge force at the back and will again prove to be one of the premier fullbacks in the NRL.

Rookie to watch – Ben Murdoch-Masila
In 2010, Murdoch-Masila was called up to the first grade side in the first week of the finals. He had been a star player all season in the NYC so the call up was always going to happen. His taste of finals football and top grade quality football will see him become hungry to stay in the top 17 and prove his worth. He will prove to be one of the players tipped to become a future NRL star alongside fellow young tiger Andrew Fifita.


Gains: Jacob Miller (Sydney Roosters), Evander Waitoa (Wellington), Marika Koroibete (Fiji), Ratu Tagive (Canterbury Bulldogs), Teqele Nayarvovo (Otahuhu), Matt Utai

Losses: David Gower (St.George-Illawarra Dragons), Daniel Fitzhenry (Southcity - Group 9), Tame Tupou (Redcliffe Dolphins), Taniela Tuiaki, Jason Cayless (Retirement)

Best Line-up
1 – Wade McKinnon; 2 – Lote Tuqiri, 3 – Blake Ayshford, 4 – Chris Lawrence, 5 – Mitch Brown; 6 – Benji Marshall, 7 – Robert Lui; 13 – Chris Heighington, 12 – Liam Fulton, 11 – Gareth Ellis, 10 – Keith Galloway, 9 – Robbie Farah, 8 – Bryce Gibbs
14 – Todd Payten, 15 – Andrew Fifita, 16 – Simon Dwyer, 17 – Tim Moltzen

R1 – Bulldogs (A)
R2 – Warriors (H)
R3 – Raiders (H)
R4 – Roosters (A)
R5 – Rabbitohs (H)
R6 – Titans (A)
R7 – Broncos (H)
R8 – Raiders (A)
R9 – BYE
R10 – Rabbitohs (A)
R11 – Panthers (H)
R12 – Dragons (A)
R13 – Knights (H)
R14 – Warriors (A)
R15 – Storm (H)
R16 – Bulldogs (H)
R17 – BYE
R18 – Eels (A)
R19 – Cowboys (A)
R20 – Roosters (H)
R21 – Sea Eagles (A)
R22 – Dragons (H)
R23 – Panthers (A)
R24 – Eels (H)
R25 – Titans (H)
R26 – Sharks (A)

****This article appeared on www.leagueunlimited.com****

Season Preview - Cronulla Sharks (2011)

A new coach, a smattering of youth in the halves and the backline and a world class pack of old hard heads is something that should have everyone in the Shire salivating.

But, much to their chagrin, they have sorely missed having a consistent quality halfback in the side since Kimmorely left after 2008. And after Tim Smith's 2010 campaign, there are still some question marks in this all so vital position.

A full season and off-season for Tim Smith, a youthful and exciting halves partner in former Panther Wade Graham and all of a sudden, the Sharks begin to look a little more exciting.

That pair stand behind one of the most awesome looking forward packs assembled in many years in the NRL, on paper at least, with new recruit, Kiwi test player Jeremy Smith joining Kangaroo's Paul Gallen and Anthony Tupou up front, with ever reliable front rowers Kade Snowden and Luke Douglas.

In the backline, the Sharks have Colin Best returning to join exciting young guns Nathan Gardner, Nathan Stapleton and Isaac Gordon as well as seasoned players like Ben Pomeroy, Dean Collis and John Williams.

The Sharks, to their credit have removed the deadwood, backed a lot of youth in key positions and look set to be playing with the attitude of ‘we've got nothing to lose.'

Cronulla won't be looking to win a title this year. Everyone knows that. But, they will hope to be pushing the top 8. Their main priorities this season should be consistency on the field, reliability in the halves and as always, a little bit of luck occasionally.

Can the Sharks make the finals? Possibly, but their main goal for 2011 should be rebuilding, consistency and strengthening the core players at fullback, halves and hooker.

Over the past 2 season these 4 positions have been unreliable and inconsistent. If Aiton, Smith and Graham can hold down their spots with strong consistent performances, then it's just a matter of hoping someone will step up to the plate and make the fullback position their own. The sharks have sorely missed Brett Kearney, but hopefully the experience and hard rough endured by Nathan Stapleton will see him lift his game to the next level in 2011.

Player To Watch – Johnny Mannah
With the horrors of cancer all but behind him, and the success of his brother last season, Mannah will be excited and champing at the bit to get out there and show the world that he is just as good as his brother. And he won't disappoint. His eagerness will be contagious through the Sharks team, especially the young guys in the halves and backs, and this will only be a good thing.

Rookie To Watch – Stewart Mills
Surprisingly, some may think, that Mills is tipped as a rookie to watch. But with so much importance placed on the fullback role, it may actually turn out that we get to see the Yarrawarrah junior make his debut in 2011 and prove to be the very cool head in a pivotal position. However, he will have a tough time unseating incumbent custodian Nathan Gardner.

Gains: Wade Graham (Penrith), Jeremy Smith (St.George-Illawarra), Colin Best (Souths), John Williams (North Queensland), Ryan Tongia (Gold Coast), Andrew Clayton (Brisbane), Kose Lelei (Canterbury)

Losses: Trent Barrett (Retired), Blake ferguson (Canberra), Kyle O'Donnell (Newcastle), Luke Covell (retired), Grant Millington (Canterbury), Josh Lewis (Toulouse), Reece Williams (Retired), Adam Cuthbertson (St. George-Illawarra), Lancen Joudo (North Queensland)

Best Line-up
1 - Nathan Gardner; 2 – Isaac Gordon, 3 – Ben Pomeroy, 4 – Dean Collis, 5 – Colin Best; 6 – Wade Graham, 7 – Tim Smith; 8 – Kade Snowden, 9 –Paul Aiton, 10 – Luke Douglas, 11 – Anthony Tupou, 12 – Paul Gallen, 13 – Jeremy Smith

14 - John Morris, 15 – Johnny Mannah, 16 – Josh Cordoba, 17 – Jason Bukuya

Round 1 @ Canberra
Round 2 vs St.George-Illawarra
Round 3 @ Penrith
Round 4 vs Warriors
Round 5 vs Manly
Round 6 @ Newcastle
Round 7 vs North Queensland
Round 8 @ Souths
Test & CvC 
Round 9 Bye
Round 10 vs Sydney Roosters
Round 11 @ Parramatta 
State of Origin I
Round 12 @ Melbourne
Round 13 vs Brisbane
Round 14 Bye
State of Origin II
Round 15 @ Canterbury
Round 16 @ Gold Coast
Round 17 vs Souths
State of Origin III
Round 18 vs Canberra
Round 19 @ St.George-Illawarra
Round 20 vs Newcastle
Round 21 @ Brisbane
Round 22 vs Gold Coast
Round 23 vs Canterbury
Round 24 @ Sydney Roosters
Round 25 @ North Queensland
Round 26 vs Wests Tigers

****This article appeared on www.leagueunlimited.com****

Season Review - Wests Tigers (2010)

At the start of 2010 the Tigers again had a promising line up, but were still regarded as long shots based on their poor showing in every season since winning their maiden title back in 2005.

The Tigers were again quiet in the signings department during the off-season and by the start of the 2010 season, depth again in the backs looked to be a burgeoning issue, especially in the halves, where the Tigers have struggled ever since the departure of Scott Prince.

However, their attack got them off to a good start before a shaky yet successful run in the middle of the season kept them at the business end of the ladder and secured them their second finals campaign.

An epic battle against the Roosters, an inspiring win with an injury ravaged side against a highly fancied Raiders outfit saw them reach the Grand Final qualifier, however they went down to eventual premiers the Dragons in another hard fought battle.

The Tigers performance in 2010 was not surprising, but somehow also not expected. Everyone knew they were a much better side than their performances sometimes showed and in 2010 they finally showed just that.

Best Players
In 2010, it was the Tigers forwards who were the big performers. Often criticised in the past for being too small and too soft, the Tigers pack lifted for 2010. Most notably Gareth Ellis, Chris Heighington and Bryce Gibbs all stepped up another notch, taking their game to newer heights.

Robbie Farah was also again a stand out player and led his troops brilliantly all year, earning another Test Jumper in the 4 Nations.

Young centre Chris Lawrence was also in great form for the entirety of the season which saw him make his debut test appearance in the 4 Nations this year. Blake Ayshford finally showed how brilliant he really can near the end of the season and proved to be a more than capable replacement for Dean Collis, who departed the club at the end of 2009.

Benji Marshall had one of his more consistent seasons yet and started to show glimpses of maturity and experience hardly ever seen before. His form especially in the second half of the season was devastating, which he continued into the 4 Nations for the victorious Kiwi's. So good has Marshall been this year he has become a front runner for the Golden Boot award.

Young Guns
Wests Tigers have always been very good at blooding their own local juniors. In 2010 Andrew Fifita made his debut and ended up with 22 first grade games in his first season. Ben Murdoch-Masila made his debut in the finals and looks to be a regular on the bench for 2011. Both these two along with Simon Dwyer who made his debut last season, and Jason Shirnack are the new batch of Tigers forwards coming through.

The Tigers had reasonably well performing players all across the park in 2010; however a few players suffered more heavily from poor form than others. Most notably was Beau Ryan, who started the season brilliantly at fullback, but his form gradually went downhill over the rest of the season.
Robert Lui was another who would have more quiet games than great ones. He showed glimpses of the brilliance that the coach and players have been talking about all year, but it was too few and far between.

2011 Prospects
2011 appears to be a season to grow on their stellar 2010 efforts. There appears to be little to no change to the first grade squad that was so successful in 2010. There are no major new signings on the horizons, however there isn't really much more that the Tigers squad needs as they have strength in their backs, halves and forwards and some good forward depth. The Tigers could prove to be in the top 6 again for 2011.

2011 best lineup
1. Wade McKinnon 2. Lote Tuqiri 3. Blake Ayshford 4. Chris Lawrence 5. Taniela Tuiaki 6. Benji  Marshall 7. Tim Moltzen 8. Bryce Gibbs 9. Robbie Farah 10. Keith Galloway 11. Gareth Ellis 12. Chris Heighington 13. Liam Fulton
Interchange: 14. Simon Dwyer 15. Andrew Fifita 16. Ben Murdoch-Masila 17. Mitch Brown

2010 vital stats
Finished: 3rd and preliminary finalists
Played: 24 matches (2 byes)
Won: 15 matches
Lost: 9 matches
Points for: 537 points
Points against: 503 points
Points differential: +34
Top pointscorer: Benji Marshall (five-eighth) - 203 points
Top tryscorer: Lote Tuqiri (winger) - 18 tries

Club player of the year
Gareth Ellis (second row)
****This article appeared on www.leagueunlimited.com****