A week of dwarves, puppets and other oddities

Mad Monday Poker

Welcome to the Round 25 Rubdown, getting later as the season winds down …

It would be tempting to begin chronologically with Sam Burgess snatching a ball of a different nature on Friday night, and this time getting a sin bin. However, this issue has been overshadowed, some would say dwarfed, by the beginnings of Mad Monday season (or in Parramatta’s case, just a normal Monday).

Clearly I was wrong last week to suggest there are two competitions during football season – the home & away portion, and then the finals series. I had quite forgotten Mad Monday and the never ending quest to perform the biggest atrocity. The AFL has truly become the benchmark here, and the chaps at St Kilda have laid down the challenge, imploring their NRL brethren, who are no doubt making bookings for tea and scones and a little reading time in Medlow Bath, to upstage them.

I’m not sure how they ‘see’ setting a dwarf alight (see link above), let alone ‘raise it’. Even a cage match with Ricky Stuart and 12 sacked first graders wouldn’t quite match this. Maybe Anthony Watts can try to eat a dwarf, I don’t know.

But … necessity is the mother of invention, as they say … just a few more sleeps …

In any case, I’m guessing we’ll be hearing a lot more of the words and phrases used by Clinton Jones and Andrew Demetriou a day or two back, including: hindsight, error of judgement, childish, and ‘I thought it was a joke’. If they could add it was just a ____ that went wrong, that would round out the standard response nicely.

Guess we’ll hear “too little, too late” at some point too.

From dwarves to puppets

The issue of Blake Ferguson was touched on in Ode to Half-Blaked Ideas. We even had Michael Stipe in the studio (not really … really, he wasn’t here …) to reprise his band’s hit ‘Drive’ from, well, far too long ago than I want to remember.

The sideshow continued this morning, where it was deemed a bizarre, self-indulgent (squared!) press conference was necessary to have Blake Ferguson sit next to his mouthpiece, Sir Humphrey Appleby Anthony Mundine, who proceeded to outline in laborious and erudite detail why, exactly, Blake was doing nothing but sit beside him in silence, mouth agape in his inimitable slack-jawed style. It may actually be quite useful for catching flies and other small airborne insects, but it’s not a particularly good look.

What the exercise signifies, in reality, is that it is not only impossible to embarrass Blake Ferguson, but that he also has a flippant disregard for his meal ticket, rugby league. It’s very difficult to see any other outcome than Blake being deregistered.

It has now reached the point where such undisguised disrespect needs to be forcefully attended to by the NRL, and the statement made that the game will not be hijacked – by anyone. There are too many good things occurring on the field to be wasting time with off-field publicity and money-grubbing stunts. From what we saw today, the NRL, and any coach for that matter, is doing the wrong thing for Blake Ferguson and rugby league to allow him to play next year.

Top 4 health check  – it’s all very odd

Over the past two weeks we’ve had the very strange situation where three of the Top 4 teams (the Roosters, Rabbitohs and Storm) have all been down by at least 18 points to nil. And so close to the finals!

The Roosters were on the wrong end of a 26-0 scoreline against the 5th placed Sharks before (unsuccessfully) making a comeback, and the Storm were 20-0 down against Manly and suffered a similar fate.

The only Top 4 team to overcome a lopsided scoreline was the Rabbitohs, and given it was against the 3rd last Tigers, no one was really concerned about a defeat, it was just a matter of time before they hauled them in and got Julie Burgess on the field. A big thanks, by the way, to the referees for their efforts at creating enough field position for the Bunnies so that this could happen.

In the meantime, Manly have built on their superb first 60 minutes against the Rabbitohs by comfortably accounting for the potentially dangerous Raiders in Canberra, and thrashed the Storm at home with only 16 men. They’re starting fast, they’re establishing leads, and their playmakers never panic – all right out of the semi finals manual.

But here’s where the equation becomes stranger still. I guess no one ever said sport was logical, but when A > B and B > C, then you usually assume A > C. Not in sport, though! This is politician’s logic seems to prevail.

What the hell am I talking about?! Well, Manly have had four attempts to beat the Roosters and Rabbitohs and failed, yet the Storm haven’t beaten them all year. The problem is, the Roosters and Rabbitohs can’t seem to beat the Storm!

I for one have little interest in a Manly-Storm Grand Final (which isn’t to say I wouldn’t mind either one being represented individually, just not together – we’ve been there before), though I’m sure Manly would be very excited about it. The Storm couldn’t beat them at home with nearly 60% of possession, and were smashed by them when they only had 45% possession last week.

Add in a Top 2 playing without spark (particularly the Roosters), and Manly are now the form team of the Top 4 without a shadow of a doubt. This was just as unlikely a few weeks ago as the Cowboys being the form team of the lower half of the Top 8.

Cowboys now the team to avoid?

After going down to the Broncos in Round 20, the Cowboys’ average score over 2013 was 17-20. That’s a pretty poor record given the playing talent on board. And it’s particularly galling given that their high profile players had renegotiated long term contracts early in the year.

The sacking of the coach after that match has somehow turned them into world-beaters with an average score of 29-10. So, not only have their fortunes been revived once the players got what they seemingly wanted (harsh?), but they are dominating and monstering teams, one of which being the Rabbitohs in Round 21.

And because their last round match is against the 14th-placed Tigers, it would appear that the Titans’ heroics and Warriors’ flair on Sunday will both be in vain, even if they both win again this weekend.

I’m sure Neil Henry is happy, though …

Either way, the Cowboys are now the team to avoid in the first week of sudden-death finals.

I’ll put my conspiratorial hat on and suggest there could be some interesting results this weekend involving the Bulldogs and Sharks, both of whom would fancy their chances of beating the Knights (who really are the odd team out in the Top 8 as far as I’m concerned) just as much as they fancy their chances of an early Mad Monday should they draw the Cowboys first up. We shall see. Based on form and ladder position, both should win. Then again, logic isn’t always the best way to pick a winner …

As an aside, it’s a shame in a way that the Titans are unlikely to make the top 8 even if they beat the Storm, because they are the only team to have beaten three Top 4 sides this year.

The only one.

Not even the Top 4 teams can boast this achievement.

Sin bins

Let’s get back to the Burgess sin bin on Friday night, which was completely justified (in my opinion anyway). It was a professional foul, pure and simple.

It’s a little mind-blowing to read and hear criticism of the correct application of the rule. By all means criticise consistency, but do so in the context of the litany of poor decisions. Taking the spotlight off a correct and courageous ruling obscures the quality of the decision in favour of a related, but tangential issue – in this case, consistency.

Sure, the referees have made some mind-numbingly bad calls where sin bins have been concerned (mostly in not using this power for fear of the repercussions through a media which can’t quite grasp what their arguing about, and the fans who become irate and downright murderous).

Save the lectures for the blunder, not the good calls.

Easy draws to hurt the sudden death finalists

Over the last six weeks, the strength of each team’s draw has been used to pick the lower half of the Top 8. The Bulldogs, Knights and Sharks had relatively favourable draws over that period and were seen as certainties (though the Knights have done their best to moonwalk back out of the Top 8).

The Raiders, Titans and Broncos were ruled out early, which has happened, with the Cowboys leapfrogging the more likely 8th position of Panthers or Warriors. These two teams are now in the position of hoping against hope that first, they win, and second, very unlikely results go their way.

Essentially, it boils down to both requiring the Eels to overcome the Knights (I’ll have my fingers crossed, but my money in my pocket), and the Tigers to beat the Cowboys. Sure, the Tigers were up to the challenge earlier in the year, but not with the Cowboys playing in their current fashion.

At the same time, the draws facing the Top 4 have been far more difficult during this period, but because they had surged away from the chasing (or bumbling) pack, their Top 4 positions were never in serious threat.

The more rigorous preparation for the finals should benefit the Top 4 to the point where positions five through eight are merely making up the numbers.

The SBW/Storm effect

The strength of Sonny Bill Williams’ performances this year have made journalists’ jobs a little easier. The wayward, prodigal son has returned, bigger, more disciplined and skilful than ever. It’s no wonder he’s take up his fair share of column inches.

The last two weeks, however, have been notable for publicity of a different kind – questions about his less than match-winning form. It’s almost as if he is not allowed to have a ‘mortal’ kind of game. As Geoff Toovey might say, “It’s ridiculous!”

The modern game doesn’t allow too much for the game plan that is limited to ‘give it to the big guy’ who proceeds to run around and through the opposition. It’s up to team mates to keep their end of the bargain and roll the sleeves up. I’ll (controversially?) suggest that SBW has made other players around him look a tad better and busier than they really are. Maybe I’m off base, and Cordner really is a huge hole to fill which nobody can deny, but the stats don’t lie. I’ll leave it at that.

It’s akin to the Storm-effect, where the superior talents of a core of the side mean that a larger section of the team need only ‘do their job’ adequately in order for the team to experience success. In so doing, their stocks/perceived ability rise with the team, and they attract bigger pay packets and interest from other teams, even if their ‘real value’ was more of a support role to Cameron Smith et al. Bellamy is a master of this.

To highlight the example – as good as Adam Blair is, he’s not quite the player the Tigers thought he was. He is a honest toiler, but not exactly the guy you build a team around. He’s not in the Burgess or SBW class.

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