Monday, February 15, 2016

trials and NRL All-stars game

I couldn't have been more excited. After such a long long off-season, three rugby league games on the telly on a Saturday night! The Warriors were playing what was described as a trial game against the Warriors in Whangarei, then the annual Challenge Shield match between Souths and St George and finally the  game between the Indigenous side and the World All-Stars. What a treat was in store for me after the drought period.

The Warriors trial featured few of their top players. Isaac Luke and Manu Vatuvei both played, neither of whom played in the Nines last week. The Gold Coast team was even weaker, being largely made up of players from the Queensland Cup competition. I later saw that the Titans were actually playing another trial, and that was where their first graders were playing!

The match itself was pretty dull and I did wonder how the good people of Northland - a rugby league stronghold - would have felt about it.

The Challenge Sheild match also reached no great heights. The Dragons and the Rabbitohs would be finalists for the diullest teams in the comp and I really should not have had high expectations for them.

the All-Stars game was only a little better. At one point in the second half, the radio commentary team from Triple M joked that a break made by one of the players was a first for the game. That may have been an exaggeration but I think the game suffered from the problem of players being brought in to work together in the highly structured style that every rugby league team has these days - but without the usual familiarity and pattern. It didn't help that both sides also had numerous withdrawals through the week.

The celebration of the Indigenous in rugby league clearly means a lot to that community and to at least some of the players. But it's hard to be certain that made-up sides really work as a spectacle. Perhaps it would be better if it was played more as a genuine festival/exhibition programme and the ball was thrown about without concern for the result?

One thing the game did prove was that Cameron Smith is already in top form. He really was the difference between the sides. Smith is a great player but I did wonder last season if he was perhaps past his best. On this performance that assessment may be very premature.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Benji Marshall

Benji Marshall wants to play on for another two to three years. At 31, he is not one of the oldest players in the comp, and he was a key player for the Dragons last year. Ironically, the guy that is likely to replace him, Cooper Cronk, is actually older. But Cronk is now, without dispute, one of the best, most influential players in the game. Benji is not up in that class.

It would be surprising if Benji did not attract some interest fron other clubs. Why wouldn't the Gold Coast for instance be keen? He'd be perfect to help bring through a young half. Maybe the Warriors would be interested - presumably they won't retain Jeff Robson next year and a Marshall/Johnson half pairing would be fun and great for off-field publicity, although Lolohea will hopefully have developed into a regular first-grader by then.

But I guess what I wonder is if Marshall should really be seeking to extend his career much more. He is not the player he was with the jinks and sidesteps, amazing passes and pace. Should someone who was the star of his generation slowly fade away? Or go out while those memories are still fresh? It is not as if he has no future off-field - he clearly has a media career ahead of him if he wants it, and also has the makings of a coach, with his thoughtful approach to the game.

Am I the only one who thinks Benji talking about the game next year might be a better option than see him slowly get slower and slower...

NRL Nines

It seems so long since the end of the last season, and it was great to have rugby league back on the telly, even if it was 9-a-side.

Unlike thr rugby union sevens which now has specialist players and coaches, most of whom are not top level players in the 15-a-side game, rugby league nines has yet to develop an identity of its own. Instead the competition featured first grade players with most teams playing their first grade plays and structures. This made the games appealing in a way though they lacked the madcap pace of rugby union 7s.

Some teams took more interest in it than others. Billy Slater was the main promoter of the competition in the pre-tournament publicity but wasn't risked on field. The reason was obvious and explicitly articulated by Manly coach Trent Barratt - he didn't want to risk injury to his star players. I guess I don't really understand why a genuine competition with real opposition where the players play in short bursts should be taken less seriously than the trial matches that the teams will play over the next few weeks. But I guess it is understandable that their focus should be on the premiership.

The Warriors, as always, were pre-tournament favourites, I suppose, because they were playing at home. They did put up most of their top players including Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. They made the final but lost there, I think mainly because they had less recovery time after their semi-final than did the Parramatta Eels. That's the luck of the draw I guess, but they did just look tired to me.

It does make me wonder though if the game might be better with fewer players on the field. Would 9 or 10 or 11 a side make for more open football. I have asked a few people about this and just about everyone chokes on their drink. I think it might be worth thinking about.