Thursday, 14 March 2013

Season Preview - Wests Tigers (2013)

2012 was meant to be the Tigers year, but a myriad of dramas saw them have the most disappointing season of all clubs. The fallout was just as dramatic.

At seasons end, talk of player unrest saw Beau Ryan, Chris Heighington, Gareth Ellis, Junior Moors, Tom Humble and Dane Chisholm all change clubs.

 The unrest didn't end there.

Long serving coach Tim Sheens was sacked with a year to run on his contract. It will go down as the lowest time at the Tigers since the year before Sheens was appointed as Tigers coach.

 But it has also become the start of a new era at the club that fills the fans and the club with a new energy and optimism. While the Tigers aren't considered as serious chance to win the title in 2013, they will be working on an entirely new structure, one based upon stability and structure which was completely non-existant in 2012.

The Tigers have lost a lot of experience and talent and will be looking to blood a lot of their rising stars, especially from their very successful NYC team.

Why they'll win it
Structure and stability. The Tigers have lacked both of these for quite some time, but have got by on the back of their amazing attacking prowess. Under new coach Mick Potter, the Tigers will become a team that plays for 80 minutes and builds pressure, rather than one that attempts the miracle play every set. Benji Marshall and subsequently, the Wests Tigers, perform better when there is a stable halfback.

Why they won't win it
Their forwards. The Tigers have a very light back row and little depth in the front row. They lack back rowers who can make an impact in attack and defence. While their backrow will be among the most skilful in the competition, they will struggle to make big metres.

Player to watch
James Tedesco - The young fullback only got half an hour of playtime last year in the first game of the season before suffering a season ending knee injury. He is now raring to go and looks set to become the best fullback the club has seen behind Brett Hodgson. Once his confidence builds, he will be a part of one of the NRL's strongest spines.

Rookie to watch
Jacob Miller - Although Miller has already tasted some first grade over the past two seasons, he was still a member of the Wests Tigers NYC grand final winning side last year. New coach Mick Potter was quick to elevate Miller to the starting halfback role in the NRL side, where alongside Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall, he is set to have a smooth transition into the top grade which will ensure he finds his feet very quickly.

Braith Anasta (Sydney), Jack Buchanan (St.George-Illawarra), James Gavet (Canterbury), Eddy Pettybourne (Souths), Bodene Thompson (Gold Coast)

Dane Chisholm (Manly), Gareth Ellis (Hull FC), John Grant (Rugby Union), Chris Heighington (Cronulla), Tom Humble (Penrith), Junior Moors (Melbourne), Beau Ryan (Cronulla)

Best Line-Up
1. James Tedesco 2. Marika Koroibete 3. Blake Ayshford 4. Chris Lawrence 5. Matt Utai 6. Benji Marshall 7. Jacob Miller 8. Aaron Woods 9. Robbie Farah 10. Keith Galloway 11. Adam Blair 12. Liam Fulton 13. Braith Anasta Interchange: 14. Ben Murdoch-Masila 15. Matt Bell 16. Eddy Pettybourne 17. Bodene Thompson.

****This article appeared on the website****

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Susan (2013)

I was only eight years old when I first saw a game of Rugby League on our old TV in rural NSW. It was a finals match between Balmain and Cronulla in 1988. I was intrigued by this game but it wasn’t until I heard the name of a player that was the same as mine that I became hooked.

In the tiny community I lived in, this was amazing. I thought I was the only person alive with this name. It was then that I decided I would support Cronulla. That player was Andrew Ettingshausen.

The following year I saw the game between Balmain and Souths and a young player for the Tigers who, in my 9 year old mind, would become a future test player and I instantly became a massive Tim Brasher and Balmain fan.

Ever since then I have always supported both sides, but always considered myself a Tigers fan first.

In 1996 I was given a Cronulla footy jumper for my birthday. Little did I know how important that jumper would be in my life.

Seemingly in another world far from me, the 20 year old Susan watched an NRL game between Cronulla and the Roosters with interest and immediately had a liking for Cronulla, her favourite player quickly became the Sharks winger Mat Rogers. As a Queenslander, she had always watched Origin and was brought up to follow the Broncos, but she grew tired of seeing them everywhere all the time.

Later that year she moved to Sydney before returning to Brisbane. In 2004 I left my hometown for Newcastle before relocating to Sydney later that year. It was in 2005 that Susan ventured to Sydney to watch her beloved Sharks play their rivals, the Dragons, at Kogarah. I too ventured to this game wearing my old Sharks Jumper.

It was at this game that Susan and I met. Over the next year we got engaged, moved in together and started exploring the country. We later moved to Melbourne, got married and settled down.

Along came 2013, the most promising year for premiership glory for the Sharks the entire time Susan had followed them. And then disaster struck.

An investigation into alleged illegal drug use engulfed the Sharks, which lead to the sacking of four staff and the standing down of popular coach Shane Flanagan. The developments all happened just three days prior to the Sharks first game of the year.

On Friday morning, Susan started considering a whirlwind trip to Cronulla to support her team in their opening match of the year. By Saturday morning she was adamant she wanted to be there. I was certain that I wanted to join her in her pilgrimage from the land of NRL obscurity and our home, Melbourne, to the home of the Sharks, by car.

So we set off at 5pm on Saturday afternoon, hearing and reading all about the implications of the troubles surrounding the Sharks, every hour was met with a myriad of more damaging rumours and speculation. After staying overnight in my childhood hometown, we travelled to a friends place in Wollongong in the mid-afternoon, hopped in his car and travelled to Shark Park in time for the game.

The crowd was by far the loudest, most passionate and pumped up I’d ever seen or been a part of at Shark Park. The roar they gave when the Cronulla players came onto the field to do their pre-match warm-up was the first time the players knew that they weren’t alone, that they had a 17,500 odd family who felt their pain.

I could have worn my newer Sharks jumper. I instead felt utterly compelled to wear my old Sharks jumper instead. It’s got some loose threads and it’s shrunk a lot, okay okay, I’ve added a fair amount of girth over the years, but I was with my wife, in the jumper of this club she supports solely, that brought us together.

I felt it was my duty to thank the club for inadvertently bringing us together, by being here for them when they needed support the most.

Susan was driven entirely by the unjust and unceremonious actions of the past three days. She could have travelled by air to the game, but she wanted to make a big sacrifice and go through the rigours of a long car drive to show to her club just how committed she was to them and what lengths she will go to just to support them in times of need.

The result was secondary. It was the lap of honour the players did, showing their utmost gratitude and thanks to all fans for supporting them.

Susan didn’t care that the players had no idea about how far and long she travelled for to get to the game, that didn’t matter. She wanted to be there when they needed it most.

The drive home was just as long, but seemed to be so much better. The negativity of the media had subsided substantially, the rumours had dissipated, speculation dwindled.

We both knew that this sordid affair wasn’t finished and we accepted that there may well be more to come, but we both knew that the Sharks family is a strong and close one and if any family can pull through adversity such as this, it will be theirs.