Foran frenzy grips NRL suitors
Just as the DCE back-flip drama had died down, the code is abuzz following news his Manly halves partner Kieran Foran’s rich deal to join Parramatta has all but fallen through. But this time it’s not the player’s whims responsible, rather astonishing backroom incompetence by the club in question.
Get-out clauses including a $1 million damages payout; two contracts submitted to the NRL, including the attempted registering of an illegal contract; a reduced offer – it’s an extraordinary mess that, unfortunately, is typical of the wretched Eels. In the wake of the salary cap breach that incurred a $525,000 fine and may still see the Eels start 2016 on minus four points, Foran walking away from the botched deal – and who could blame him? – would bring the club to its knees.
Foran showed in Friday night’s win over Wests Tigers why he is so highly sought after, and rival clubs will be giving their calculators a flogging in an attempt to find a way to fit him under the cap. Here’s a rundown of the main contenders:
Sydney Roosters: The early favourite, despite needing to do some roster-juggling to make it work. A perennial contender with strong leadership, the Roosters’ ace in the hole is his tight friendship with potential halves partner Mitchell Pearce. It would be a massive coup for the Tricolours following James Maloney’s departure to Cronulla, although Foran’s arrival could cost them Jackson Hastings.
Canterbury: The Kiwi pivot’s relationship with coach Des Hasler could tip the scales in the favour of the Bulldogs; Foran has been tipped for a move to Belmore several times since the wily mentor left the northern beaches. The club is set to offload Trent Hodkinson, and although they had earmarked Moses Mbye and Josh Reynolds as their halves pairing moving forward, the Bulldogs would surely made the necessary accommodations if Foran becomes available.
Warriors: The Auckland-based club made a huge play to bring Foran home early in the year, but came up short. It would be dream result to have the entire New Zealand Test spine in a club line-up, but the acquisition of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke doesn’t leave enough in the pot for a player carrying Foran’s price-tag, while he is reportedly reluctant to move his young family away from Sydney.
Manly: A dark horse, but salary cap constraints are likely to put his current club out of the running. The Sea Eagles’ recapture of Cherry-Evans, along with the signing of Nate Myles for significant overs, means they won’t have the dosh to convince Foran to stay put.
Gold Coast: Cashed-up after DCE reneged, the Titans are nevertheless a long-shot of pulling off an ironic coup and luring Foran to the glitter strip due to the aforementioned family reasons. A possibility, however, if no other club can come close to matching the $1.2 million per season he is/was set to receive from the Eels.
Parramatta: The latest reports indicate the Eels will make good on their original offer, so they are still a chance of getting Foran out west at the end of the year. But the much-discussed clauses were written into his contract as insurance against this exact type of bungling. It will take a whole lot more than honouring the terms of the contract to convince Foran to get on board with a club rife with dysfunction. Coach Brad Arthur – so vital in getting Foran to sign in the first place – will be the key, although his place at the helm is reportedly less than secure.
Heavyweight trio powering through Origin period
Many a club’s campaign has hit the skids during the arduous representative period, but Brisbane, North Queensland and Sydney Roosters are charging towards top-four berths thanks to their outstanding mid-season form – despite being three of the most affected by the Origin drain.
The Cowboys pipped in-form Canberra 21-20 in the capital, despite fielding three players backing up from Origin to the Raiders’ none, and also missing five-eighth Michael Morgan. The Broncos snapped an eight-matching losing streak against the Storm thanks to one of the finest defensive displays in the club’s history, prevailing 14-12 without Justin Hodges and Corey Parker.
The Roosters went into their clash against the Dragons with three Origin players backing up and minus Michael Jennings, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Sam Moa, yet emerged with a high-quality 18-14 victory.
The Roosters, Cowboys and Broncos now hold the top three spots in premiership favouritism according to the bookies – and deservedly so.
Three players with their head on the Origin selection block
Daly Cherry-Evans: After coming up with arguably the worst-ever performance by a Queensland No.7, DCE is squarely in the frame to be dropped even if Cooper Cronk doesn’t return from injury in time. Cherry-Evans was bustled by the Blues time and again, stunting the Maroons’ attack; the Manly maestro had no answers. Broncos livewire Ben Hunt would be a big risk in a decider, but slotting Michael Morgan in at five-eighth alongside Cowboys halves partner Johnathan Thurston is an attractive option. While Cherry-Evans and Hunt would be front-runners for the bench utility role – and going with four forwards is another possibility – how about the ultra-versatile and in-form Moses Mbye for a shock interchange berth?
Will Hopoate: The word is out that Hopoate is set to lose his wing spot to Blake Ferguson, despite doing little wrong in the opening two games. Hopoate was aided by the Blues’ lack of outside-back options in retaining a spot for the series opener, but his failure to make a major impression to date in this campaign appears to have him on the outer. The dangerous, unpredictable Ferguson is not the solution, however. Just two games into his comeback from a long injury layoff – and with only six games under his belt in the last two seasons – Ferguson would be a mighty gamble, as he showed with an erratic display on Monday night against the Dragons. If Laurie Daley can’t see the merit in handing Titans sensation James Roberts a debut, he deserves to lose the decider.
Jacob Lillyman: The Warriors bookend is a reliable workhorse, but he has also proven to be expendable during Mal Meninga’s reign, spreading his 10 Origin appearances over 10 seasons. He is currently on a career-best four-match streak with the Maroons, but a rather anonymous display in game two could see him dropped with Meninga highly unlikely to cut loose Myles, Scott or McGuire. The coach will be tempted to bring in Dylan Napa or Josh Papalii, who provide more impact, although Lillyman staked a big claim for retention with a season-best return of 21 carries for 212 metres in 56 minutes against the Titans, just three days after his nondescript representative outing.
Jackson replacement a make-or-break call
Canterbury backrower Josh Jackson is unlikely to find favour at the judiciary in his bid to have a dangerous throw charge downgraded, meaning he is set to miss the Origin decider. Laurie Daley faces an important decision as to who to bring in. If he wants a like-for-like replacement, Daley should go for Shaun Fensom – but the Canberra ironman can’t even get a look-in for Country Origin, so a deserved debut is not on the cards. Andrew Fifita, who is playing good footy for the Sharks, may get a reprieve after making way for Paul Gallen’s game two return.
Luke Lewis would also be an astute replacement, showing he still has the chops with a superb performance against the Knights on Sunday; he also brings versatility to a four-forward bench. Tyson Frizell, an unlucky omission from the game one squad, should get a call-up, while Dragons teammate Joel Thompson is also worthy. Incredibly, the early favourite is Tariq Sims, an explosive talent but an unpredictable and inconsistent one.
Blues’ optional integrity
Blake Ferguson and James Tamou have been punted from the NSW team after being arrested, while Mitchell Pearce lost his spot in the side after being pinched prior to last year’s series. So why is Michael Jennings getting such an easy amnesty from the Blues’ hierarchy? Perhaps it’s because the incident is not as serious as it appears. But an equally likely explanation is that the culprit also happened to pick up man-of-the-match honours last Wednesday night and would be a monumental loss for the decider. Would the same leniency be shown to a player whose spot in the team was less secure?
Tomkins and Johnson combination keeps Warriors afloat
The Warriors have not come anywhere near shedding their inconsistent tag in 2015, but an underrated factor in another up-and-down campaign has been a heavy injury toll – particularly in the backline. Sam Tomkins made another return from a troublesome knee injury on Saturday night; it was his fifth appearance of the season…for five wins. Although the Englishman has not been the electrifying attacking megastar most were expecting, his influence at fullback is crucial to the enigmatic Warriors’ fortunes.
Tuimoala Lolohea has done a fine job deputising this year and is a star of the future, but his combination with Shaun Johnson is still very rusty. The halfback produced his best performance of the season in the 36-14 defeat of the Titans, and it was no coincidence that it came while working in conjunction with Tomkins.
While their 7-7 record is nothing to get too excited about, it’s the equal of their best return after 15 rounds in any season since 2003, and the Johnson-Tomkins double-act can still ensure the Warriors do some damage in this year’s premiership.
The Kiwi influence
They’re the No.1-ranked nation in world Rugby League, and a quick scan ofRugby League Week‘s Round 15 Team of the Week paints an incredible picture of a halcyon era of New Zealand talent. Eight players from the Shaky Isles – Sam Perrett, Gerard Beale, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, Ben Matulino, Raymond Faitala-Mariner and Siosiua Taukeiaho – were named in the week’s best XIII, while a ninth, James Tamou, is Kiwi-born. For the record, the only dinky-di Aussies to make the cut were Jorge Taufua (a Tongan international), Josh Morris, Jake Granville and Matt Gillett.
Titans’ handy pick-ups
The Titans deserved some positive news on the roster front, and they received a double-dose on the weekend courtesy of the fine club debuts of mid-season recruits Nene MacDonald (Roosters) and Chad Redman (Knights). Papua New Guinea international MacDonald was outstanding in the centres opposite Konrad Hurrell, racking up over 100 metres, while Redman looks to be a sensational dummy-half prospect, tallying 25 tackles and six runs.
Underachiever of the week
Coming off a resounding win over South Sydney a week earlier, Wests Tigers were presented with a gilt-edged opportunity to make something of their 2015 campaign. But a 30-20 loss to last-placed Manly virtually confirmed they won’t get anywhere near their first finals appearance since 2011.
Overachiever of the week
Riding a 10-match winning streak into the meat of the taxing Origin period, the Cowboys were due a loss on the road against the burgeoning Raiders. But they refused to turn it up, escaping with a heart-stopping 21-20 triumph thanks to the mercurial Johnathan Thurston’s last-minute heroics. The Raiders were superb, but the patched-up Cowboys somehow conjured another miraculous victory – their fourth of the season that has required a match-winning score in the 78th minute or later.
My new favourite player
It’s a tragedy the inflexible Origin eligibility rules have shut the door on Canterbury’s winger Curtis Rona representing NSW or Queensland – he would be a frontline contender for a spot on the flank for either state. The former Cowboy leads the NRL with 16 tries, incredibly crossing the stripe in all but two of his 14 outings so far this season. Rona’s latest effort against Penrith showcased his stunning athleticism.
Danny Levi (Knights): Kiwi hooker Levi looked the goods in 27 minutes off the bench on debut, making 18 tackles and providing slick service out of dummy-half. An outstanding prospect who has been given an opening by Chad Redman’s departure to the Titans, although he is still competing with Adam Clydesdale and Tyler Randell for a spot in the struggling Knights’ 17.
…Ron ‘Rambo’ Gibbs: An explosive cult hero in the Manly second-row during the mid-1980s, ‘Rambo’ also produced one of the most memorable kick-and-chase tries of the era against South Sydney in 1987.
Penrith tyro Bryce Cartwright, of similar dimensions to Gibbs but unquestionably more skilful, pulled a stunning chip-and-chase try out of thin air against Canterbury on Saturday night, again underlining his status as a future superstar. Cartwright has an insane array of tricks for a tall, powerful backrower, and will dominate the NRL in coming seasons.
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Form Origin teams
Each week, we name the State of Origin line-ups that would take the field if form was the only criteria.
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