When 2013 comes to an end, Rugby League and Australian Sports fans will recall it as a year of turmoil. On February 7th 2013, the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) released a report surrounding a 12-month investigation into drugs in sport. Since then we’ve had to endure the relentless, mind numbing barrage of media concerning the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority’s inquiry into performance-enhancing supplements. It’s quite amazing how no one really seems to know what’s going on – across all codes.
The Rugby League Gods owe us for putting up with all this crap.
When a player signs a contract they are subsequently agreeing to comply with the NRL’s Anti-Doping Policy. That then forbids players to use performance-enhancing drugs such as growth hormones, anabolic agents, and peptide hormones – anyone caught using these substances is subject to a minimum ban of two years.
Instead of reminding supporters of the pandemonium that has unfolded, 2013 still can be perceived as a step forward rather than backwards in League and Australian sport.
Everyone involved should be seen as innocent until proven guilty. But to protect the integrity of the game, players, coaches, and club officials who are exposed as an outcome of ASADA’s review, should without a doubt receive the maximum punishment. Not only will this help to rebuild the games image, it will reward and safeguard the honest individuals within the NRL system. If teams or players are stupid enough to believe that the return for cheating outweighs the risk, then by all means make an example of them – banish them from the sport.
David Smith and the NRL are in a commanding position and they must make the most of it. How will players learn if they no one takes a significant fall?
As the ACC dropped its news in February, the NRL immediately established the Integrity and Compliance Unit (ICU). The unit was created to firstly aid the whole supplements dilemma; and secondly to handle any off-field incidences which negatively affects the League’s reputation. In other words, discipline those players that are being idiots. (Yeah yeah, ‘bringing the game into disrepute’, I’m sick of hearing those words recently).
James Tamou was arrested in July for drink driving; he was four times over the legal limit. The ICU stepped in instantly – hit James with a $20,000 fine, suspended him for a handful of games, consequently ruling him out of Game II of the State of Origin series. Add in the $30,000 playing bonus he didn’t receive for missing the Origin, and Tamou is negative $50,000. The NRL acted swiftly and the penalty was harsh – everyone moved on, and James won’t drink and drive again (well, not around Origin time anyway). Job well done. James brought shame upon his club, his family, the NRL, and himself; something he must live with.
Blake Ferguson’s incident – once again the ICU acted quickly and firmly (however it took an indecent assault charge for the NRL to finally step in, even after numerous altercations). Blake’s NRL registration was revoked; he missed two Origin games ($60,000), was put into a rehabilitation program, and only just resumed playing two weeks ago.
The Rugby League Gods owe us.
Both James and Blake must live with the fact that after seven years (now eight) of Origin domination by the Maroon’s, the Blue’s had their best chance of regaining the Origin. Their actions certainly had a negative effect on their State’s performance.
The Rugby League Gods owe us.
The League had enough complications without the drug saga. Just ask Bacardi Breezers’ pin-up boys Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson. The countless photos of them drinking with their shirts off is ludicrous. Go audition for Geordie Shore if taking shirtless selfies while drinking is your calling in life. Maybe try using Big Brother as your avenue for attention seeking. Or even better, put the drink down, prove you are worth that six-figure salary, and direct all that misused energy into playing during that first weekend in October. I know what the fans would like to see. (NOBODY CARES ABOUT HOW MANY TATOOS YOU HAVE).
More than EVER! The Rugby League Gods owe us a finals series to remember.
A month ago League enthusiasts were ruling out all but two sides and had everyone convinced of an all Sydney Grand Final (Rabbitohs vs. Roosters); how quickly things can change.
Injuries have altered the finals outlook for the top two sides; Manly continued to slide under the radar; after being written off the Storm remind everyone why they are the current Premiers; the Doggies struggle for consistency; the Sharks get undone by top flight teams; the Knights just keep everyone guessing; Gold Coast continue to produce upsets; the Raiders and Warriors have cooled off; and the Broncos and Cowboys fate is in their own hands.
How The Top Four Sit
Winning the consistency title, (thanks to injuries at the Rabbitohs), the Roosters remain at the top of the ladder. They have only lost two out of their last fifteen outings and are currently on a seven game winning streak; which is the longest active streak in the competition. The impressive feat about their play is that the Chooks have had this recent success without some of their go-to firepower. The dominate Sonny Bill Williams returns this weekend from his two-week suspension; the experienced Anthony Minichiello was injured two weeks ago and isn’t expected back until round 24; powerhouse forward Martin Kennedy (epic signing for Brisbane) is done for the season after injuring his knee in round 15; and Boyd Cordner has labeled his changes of returning this season as ‘slim’ after limping off in their 28-22 win over the Raiders last Saturday night. The Roosters have left their mark on the competition in 2013 via their united defense. They have the least amount of missed tackles (401) in the League, and are tied first with Manly for tries scored on 89. Back to the basics; make tackles and score tries, evidently an effective formula for winning.
Since the Rabbitohs have dropped their last two games (three out of their last four actually), they slide down to second place on the ladder. The return of Greg Inglis and captain John Sutton this weekend is a huge boost for the struggling men from Redfern. Definitely a physiological lift for the attacking side who seem to have lost their way. Greg Inglis is the crucial key for their success. GI’s stint on the sidelines has left the fearless, attacking Rabbits’ offense in disarray. The prolific ball-returner’s ability to bend a defensive line from fullback in unmatched (Greg is first in tackle busts at 184, according to The Telegraph Nissan SuperCoach NRL Fantasy Competition) – his presents alone can determine an oppositions game plan. The other booster, John Sutton, is another significant piece of the puzzle they so desperate need back. For the Rabbitohs to be at their best, halves partner Adam Reynolds (Dally M Rookie of the year), requires a fit and healthy Sutton. Reynolds may clean up on the stats sheet in comparison to his captain (Adam third in Most Points 166; tied first in Most Conversions 71; tied first in Try Assists 20), but it’s Sutton’s irreplaceable experience and leadership that creates these opportunities. It’s no coincidence that since Sutton went down injured, the Rabbitohs have only crossed the white line three times. Their battle against the inform Manly tonight will be a better indication of just how good they are. They need to get back in the drivers seat this weekend as their run home is one of the more difficult ones – RD23: third placed Manly at home, RD24: fifth placed Bulldogs at home, RD25 fifteenth place Tigers away, RD26 first place Roosters at home.
Year after year teams, fans, and NRL analysis sleep on these guys, and I don’t know why – they haven’t missed a finals series since 2004. Arguably, Manly has been the most consistent club over the last nine years. 2005 they finished eighth and lost in the first round; 2006 they finished fifth and lost in the first round; 2007 they finished second and lost to a salary cap cheating Storm side in the Grand Final; 2008 they finished second and went on to win their seventh NRL Premiership; 2009 they finished fifth and lost in the first round; 2010 they finished eighth and lost in the first round again; 2011 they finished second and beat the Warriors 24-10 in the Grand Final; and in 2012 they finished fourth and were knocked out by the Premiers (Melbourne) in the preliminary finals. Manly now absolutely have the best center in the game (Jamie Lyon – he was tied with Justin Hodges but he is now out for the season). More notably they have the best halves combination in the NRL with Kieran Foran and Daley Cherry-Evans; having Andrew Johns as their Assistant Coach isn’t doing any favours for the other teams in the League. They sit third in completions, tied first for tries, and second in line breaks – Manly are a very structured side, but the most dangerous element about them is the shear amount of raw talent across the park. Lyon, Evans, Foran, Anthony Watmough, Steve Matai, Brett Stewart, Glenn Stewart, Matt Ballin, the list goes on. When you’re team is packed full of practiced, smart NRL minds such as these, a heavily structured game plan has a much higher chance of being successful. The only real concern for Manly at the moment is the knee injury to Anthony Watmough – just how bad is it.
Just as the whole world was disregarding them, the Storm reminded the competition not to forget about them. Emperors of peaking at the right time, as we witnessed last season, Melbourne notably suffered throughout the Origin period. After losing 39-0 to the Bulldogs, and then 30-22 in New Zealand, the Storm has forced us to reminisce about their path to Premiership glory last year. They totally de-limbed the ‘Bad and Mean Green Machine’ down in Canberra with a 68-4 win, and then backed it up with an impressive 26-8 hit out against the second placed Rabbits over the weekend. The injury to Gareth Widdop in round 15 was their biggest setback thus far. Though when a side entertains Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, Shane Webcke could slot in at five eighth and be effective (no disrespect to Widdop). If you implement the ‘Best Spine’ theory, which is the team with the most talent in their spine positions will win the game; it’s difficulty not to tip the Storm every week – The Spine being fullback, half back, five eighth, and hooker. Even though they sit fourth, every bookie has them second behind the Roosters to take out the Premiership. Did I forget to mention Craig Bellamy? You know, the second best coach in the League? Well, he is their coach.
As we are about to hit round 24, there are only four teams that deserve the label, ‘Contenders’. The Roosters, Rabbitohs, Manly and Melbourne – these four have consistently been in the mix all season. After the infinite chaos Rugby League supporters have suffered throughout 2013, the Rugby League Gods are indebted to fans across Australia; a cracking finals series would clear that debit.