Monday, September 27, 2010

Photos from Wests v Bulldogs Grand Final Qualifier

Thanks to Mike Biboudis from Procarlos Photography  for these unbelievable photos of the weekends clash at Leaichhardt Oval.















Only one winner in the battle of head, heart and history

High in the hinterland of the Gold Coast last Friday, a charity lunch ended with an auction of two first-grade rugby league jumpers linked to the past of St George Illawarra and Wests Tigers, the clubs competing tonight for the honour of playing in the NRL grand final.

They were 1980s strips representing the decade I coached both clubs before they each merged - a St George jumper, with the Penfolds sponsorship prominently displayed, and a Western Suburbs one, bearing the name of Victa.

Wests now exists as only half an NRL club, having merged with Balmain. The joint venture is named Wests Tigers but the media tend to drop the Wests off, calling them Tigers.

When they wore orange jumpers in the televised game against the Raiders on Friday night, I actually heard people at the Currumbin Surf Club call the team Balmain.

The Dragons, however, went into their post-Super League talks with Illawarra with three non-negotiable conditions: they would never relinquish their name, colours or emblem.

The value of the jumpers is a mirror of their fan base. Wests is ageing and nostalgic. The Dragons strip is both ubiquitous and numerous.
The lunch, to raise funds for Variety, was partly organised by two former Dragons players: hooker John Dowling and fullback Glenn Burgess, who played valiantly in the 1985 grand final, the first of the five the Dragons have lost since 1979.
''JD'', as Dowling is universally known, invited former Wests captain Tom Raudonikis to the lunch.
Raudonikis is very informed about auctions, travelling NSW and the outback mining towns of Queensland with Arthur Beetson, where the two former State of Origin captains entertain audiences with tales laced with political incorrectness.

''It won't get over $1000,'' Raudonikis said of the Dragons jumper, surveying the small but capacity audience of tradesmen and owners of small businesses. He was shocked when it went for $1600.
The auctioneer then offered up the Wests jumper. Bidding quickly moved to $1500, but Raudonikis drove it further.

Almost silent to this point, having enjoyed the rare opportunity of being a guest rather than a guest speaker, he leapt to his feet.

''You can't let a St George jumper beat a Wests one,'' he croaked to the crowd.
The jumper sold for $2300. It was the first time I heard Raudonikis express any passion for the club since the merger a decade ago.

He has occasionally said of our ribald, rebellious two years together at Lidcombe, ''No player will ever see those days again.''

To be a Wests fan back then was an act of faith and fantasy, and rugby league was, ironically, far more interactive than anything Bill Gates and the Apple man contrive for us now.
It was a look-you-in-the-eye era when i's, not coms, were dotted.

Tom rarely attends Wests reunions, and the vision I see of him on TV now associates him more with Newtown, the club he joined from the Magpies.

Yet something stirred within, and he exhorted the old Magpies in the audience to achieve a victory over the Dragons, even if it was over a 30-year-old jumper.

Maybe it was his innate competitive spirit, rather than latent loyalty. After all, his combative approach bears no relationship with Wests Tigers' playground style.

Raudonikis and Wests Tigers' main man, Benji Marshall, both hurl themselves into the attack like a four-year-old running towards the tree on Christmas morning, but they do it in vastly different ways. It's akin to comparing a bricklayer with a cross-dresser.

More than once, Raudonikis said in reference to the Dragons' head-geared five-eighth, ''Geez, I'd love to run at that Soward.''

Ernest Hemingway once declared, ''Every writer owes it to the place he knows best to either destroy it or perpetuate it.''

I owe Wests and St George, and have always felt a duty to perpetuate them in anything I write, even to the point where people complain, ''Can you leave it another 12 months before you mention 'Dallas' Donnelly?''
I'd like to think Raudonikis has finally come around to the need to perpetuate Wests. He could never destroy it.

Visit the neat brick house opposite Wests Leagues Club at Ashfield, and you'll witness a busy band of archivists dedicated to Magpies history.
You'll see the original 1908 team photo; Jimmy Sharman's 1937 football boots; the Kangaroos diaries of Skinny McMillan (1930) and Alan Ridley (1934); the minutes of meetings from 1955-56 where members stood accused of being ''drunk and disorderly'' and ''fighting within the club precincts''.

The Wests exhibit was the largest part of the 2008 centenary rugby league exhibit in the National Museum.
The more quickly a club dies, the greater the need to nurture its past.
Western Suburbs NSW Cup team, with the magpie emblem on the jumper, plays Canterbury this weekend for the right to play in the grand final. However, constant rumours of budget overruns cloud the team's brave efforts.

Rich clubs will tell you spirit is the most important thing in football; poor clubs know it is money.
The Dragons have no need to proclaim their history. It lives still, with the team playing at Kogarah and the leagues club across the road.

They didn't select a Team of the Century because it would have been too hard, given the competing claims of the champions of different eras.

Walking into the old ''middle room'' at Kogarah - between the home side and visitors rooms - was like stepping into the Palace of Versailles, where the Hall of Mirrors became a narrative one, with champions such as John Raper standing beside photos of premiership teams, recounting their deeds.
The presence of all these ghosts, all these shadows, can be debilitating, especially for a coach.

When asked to compare coaching Wests with St George, I would say that at Kogarah you ate a little better but didn't sleep as well.
Being in charge of an heirloom is akin to walking around with dynamite strapped to your body.

You fear that if you make a wrong move, you could blow up the place.
This is why the appointment of Wayne Bennett as coach was so strategically successful.

He has won six premierships, more than half the 11 St George won in its world record streak. Does anybody win 11 anythings any more?
Bennett's personal record is a distraction from the club's proud past.
Tradition is a many-headed beast. It's like fire: it can warm you or kill you; cook your food or destroy it.
Bennett's own record is so glorious, he can internalise all this history and relieve the players of the burden of the past. He can shoulder the burden of expectation and the even weightier baggage of doubt that has come with the choker tag.

There's a saying at the Dragons that when you leave, they don't want to see you back for at least 10 years.
This is why the appointment of Nathan Brown as coach was a poor decision. To move straight from playing to coach at the same club is too big a challenge. The directors should have known better, given they put Craig Young, captain in 1979 and 1985, in charge of his former teammates, and then sacked him after 18 months.
But the board, perhaps realising the error was theirs, stuck with Brown.

''Their loyalty to Nathan was a big factor in me joining the club,'' Bennett once told me. And Young has returned, as recruitment officer and father of Dean, one of the club's most inspirational players.
He would be happy to shed the tag of ''last premiership captain''.
Like ''JD'' and ''Burgo'', Craig symbolises the former St George player - one with the holy man's capacity to forgive, and the betting man's zeal for a win.

JD and Burgo feared the Raiders, believing they had the wood on the Dragons. When Wests Tigers won on Friday night, the pair breathed a quiet sigh of relief, convinced the main obstacle to a St George Illawarra premiership had gone.

My problem is I have loyalty to both, and when confronted in the past with choices like this, I have always asked: Who needs the win more?

Wests Tigers last won in 2005; the Dragons in 1979.
Time and football can be cruel.

The Dragons need it more.

September 25, 2010

Final Match Report of 2010 - Bulldogs too good for the Magpies

The Magpies traveled to Leichhardt Oval to play in front of probably the biggest crowd of the season who had gathered to see them take on the minor premiers, Canterbury Bulldogs. The loosing team would bow out of the competition with the winner being rewarded with a place in the 2010 NSW Cup Grand Final.

Windsor Wolves were the first team into the grand final after beating Balmain Tigers in the first match of the afternoon. The Magpies were looking to keep one of the joint venture flags flying, but unfortunately it was not to be. Although the Magpies enjoyed their most successful season for around 20 years they came up a few points short at the end of this important game.

John Skandalis was a late inclusion in the team and showed throughout the afternoon why he was on the verge of playing for Wests Tigers against St George Dragons the previous night. He played strongly for long periods and certainly stiffened up the defense around the centre of the field.

The Magpies played an expansive game which caught the Dogs short on several occasions, but unforced errors would prove to be their achilles heel. Nua Akeripa and Junior Moors caused havoc when they ran the ball at the Dogs three quarter line, but a lot of their good work came undone when errors turned the ball over.

After capitalising on a dropped ball, Dogs second row forward Yileen Gordon found himself in good field position and at the end of a determined run he pushed over for the first try of the day. The attempted conversion from Josh Reynolds was waved away, but the Dogs had got off to a good start, leading the Magpies 4 points to nil.

For the next 25 minutes, both teams got to the end of their sets before putting in clearing kicks, however neither side could made a dent in their respective defensive lines. But that changed when Wests replacement forward Kurt Kara caught the defense napping. He gained around 20 metres before wing three quarter Gus Aiga scooted from dummy half, making another 20 metre run into the opposition’s territory. Magpie half and captain Nathan Waters called for the leather before putting in a long kick which was taken by Dogs fullback Trent Cutler.

A good defensive set followed before Dogs half Josh Reynolds turned the Magpies around with a fine attacking kick, which rolled into touch near the Magpies 30 metre line. After winning the scrum, Magpie fullback Rhys Pritchard chimed into the backline. He pushed off an attempted tackle before off loading to Gus Aiga who sprinted away from the chasers in a 40 metre run to the try line. Wests hooker Chris Corby added the extras, putting the Magpies in the lead 6 points to 4.

Over the next 6 minutes or so, the Magpies saw themselves under a lot of pressure. Presented with extra possession, the Dogs ran in two quick tries to take a 14 points to 6 lead into the sheds at half time. The first try was scored by fullback Trent Cutler after it appeared the ball was stripped from a Magpies grasp, but it went unnoticed. It was converted by Josh Reynolds with a further try to Dogs five eight Rhys Jack. Despite this setback the Magpies were well and truly in the game.

The second half was only 2 minutes old when Wests Magpies second row forward Nua Akeripa received a great ball from George Kepa. After beating the first line of defense he had a clear run to the line, but first he had to get around Dogs fullback Trent Cutler. The attack seemed to come to an end when Akeripa was grabbed from behind, but looming up on his inside was George Kepa. Akeripa flicked a good ball to his support player who dived under the posts. Corby’s conversion took the Magpies to within 2 points of the Dogs, 14 to 12.

Barely 5 minutes had expired when the Magpies were on the attack again. After receiving the ball from a kick, Wests forwards Michael Stolk and John Skandalis carried the attack over the advantage line. Waters followed this with a chip kick which was knocked on by the opposition. Alex Ranieri dived onto the loose ball. Trying to get to his feet to play the ball quickly, he was held down in the tackle. After receiving the penalty, the ball was collected by Kurt Kara who weaved his way through the Dog’s defenders to score a sensational individual try. Corby’s conversion ensured the Magpies would take the lead 18 points to 14.

The Dogs put in a high kick off to re start proceedings but when attempting to pick the ball up, a Magpie player knocked on. After the scrum win, the Dogs ran hard at the Magpie line. On the last tackle Dogs centre three quarter Shane Neumann found himself at dummy half. He picked up the ball, threw a dummy before running some 3 metres down the blind side to score his first try of the day. From a difficult position, Josh Reynolds potted the ball between the uprights. Dogs 20 Magpies 18.

In the next phase of play, the Dogs ran downfield gaining good field position, but in a heavy tackle they dropped the ball. The scrum was won by the Magpies, but they in turn knocked the ball on, giving the feed to the opposition. This lucky break put the Dogs on the front foot. On the last tackle they decided to run the ball again rather than put up an attacking kick. Shane Neumann positioned himself well to receive the ball before scoring his second try. Josh Reynolds took the extras, increasing the Dogs advantage 26 to 18.

Wests moved down field after the kick off and held the opposition within their own 30 metre line. After being tackled, the ball was spread across the Dogs backline to wing three quarter Heka Nanai. After a determined run down the side line, he appeared to be headed into touch, but somehow he got a ball away to replacement Daniel Harrison who scored the Canterbury Bulldogs last try of the day. Josh Reynolds conversion took them out to 32 points to 18 lead.

With 15 minutes left in the game, the never say die Magpies threw everything at the Dogs. They went close on a couple of occasions, but the Canterbury Bulldogs defense held firm.

In what was probably the try of the afternoon, Magpie prop forward Alex Ranieri received the ball on the last tackle. Summing up the situation perfectly, he put in a grubber kick which he chased at pace. The ball bounced into his hands and with 20 metres left to the try line he showed good speed before carrying a Dogs player over the try line with him. Kieran Turner added the extras to reduce the deficit to 32 points to 24.

The Mighty Wests Magpies tried to make up the points, but it wasn’t to be and in the end the Canterbury Bulldogs won the encounter 32 points to 24.

Head Coach Leo Epifania stated that he was very proud of the team’s achievements this year. Whilst he and the players were disappointed with the loss he was acutely aware that each player gave 100% and he could not have asked any more from them. He also thanked the Clubs support staff, volunteers, fans and sponsors for their support during the year. He also offered his sincere appreciation to Wests Ashfield Leagues Club, the Magpies major sponsor for their unwavering support.

In closing, the Magpies offered their congratulations to Windsor Wolves and Canterbury Bulldogs on making the 2010 NSW Cup grand final.

Scorers for the Magpies – Tries to Gus Aiga, Nua Akeripa, Kurt Kara and Alex Ranieri. Goals to Chris Corby 3 and Kieran Turner 1.

Leos best three – Rhys Pritchard, John Skandalis and Nua Akeripa.

Match Ball – player’s player Nua Akeripa.

Scorers for the Bulldogs – 2 tries to Shane Neumann, with 1 try each to Trent Cutler, Rhys Jack, Yileen Gordon and Daniel Harrison, whilst Josh Reynolds kicked 4 goals.

Best for the Bulldogs – Josh Reynolds, Brad Morrin, Nathan Smith, Trent Cutler, Tim Browne and Shane Neumann.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Week 3 Finals NSW Cup Preview - Wests v Bulldogs

The second Preliminary Final on Sunday will be played between two old combatants whose rivalry in our great game almost compares to that of Souths and Easts or even the Dragons and Souths for that matter.

While much uncertainty continues to shroud the existence of the proud Western Suburbs Magpies club, that will no doubt be the last thing on their minds this Sunday as they battle it out with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs for the right to advance to the Grand Final at ANZ a week later. After overcoming a stubborn Wentworthville Magpies outfit last weekend attentions would have immediately turned to exactly how they can overcome the Minor Premiers this weekend considering they have not been able to do so in two prior attempts this year. A narrow and ultra competitive loss at the Crest mid season was tempered by their more recent and far less competitive outing against the Dogs in Round 24 and coach Leo Epifania would have surely had some restless nights trying to work out how to overcome this Bulldogs juggernaut. And why wouldn’t he when you look at their side which would not look out of place lining up in an NRL fixture with the likes of Yileen Gordon, Corey Payne and Brad Morrin in the forwards complemented by the likes of Trent Cutler, Heka Nanai, Shane Neumann and Daniel Rauicava in the backs. The Dogs should be the fresher of the two teams as they, like the Tigers had the luxury of sitting back and relaxing last weekend while the other finalists were battling it out, but with that said I am sure coach Justin Holbrook has kept the boys ticking over in the interim and that they will turn up to Leichhardt on Sunday ready to play.

But with that said Wests have shown in the past few weeks that they are not here to merely make up the numbers and with the unpredictable and explosive Rhys Pritchard at the back and the steadying influence of Nathan Waters and Chris Corby in and around the rucks the Magpies are a real possibility of causing the upset here.

2010 previous meetings:
RD 13: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 20 def. Western Suburbs Magpies 14 at The Crest Stadium
RD 24: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 42 def. Western Suburbs Magpies 12 at Campbelltown Sports Stadium

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Vs Western Suburbs Magpies
Leichhardt Oval, Sunday, September 26
Kick-off: 3.00pm
Referee: Gavin West
Broadcast: Triple H 100.1FM (Link available via’s Weekend Game-Cast)
Broadcast: 2GB broadcasting LIVE & ABC Live updates (Links available via’s Weekend Game-Cast)
Broadcast: NSWRL Preliminary Finals Highlights to be aired on Fox Sports 2 HD and Fox Sports 2, Wednesday, September 29, 5.00pm

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Two NSWRL Cup Preliminary Finals will be played at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday, September 26.
Balmain Ryde Eastwood Tigers clash with Windsor Wolves at 1pm and will be followed by the match between Western Suburbs Magpies and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at 3pm.
The two winners will meet in the NSWRL State Cup Grand Final at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, October 3, as part of NRL Grand Final Day.

Entry to Leichhardt Oval on Sunday is $10 in line with the NSWRL finals price policy.
Wests Tigers wish Balmain Ryde Eastwood Tigers and Western Suburbs Magpies the very best of luck.
Balmain Ryde- Eastwood Tigers team
1 Sean Meaney
2 Lee Bennett (C)
3 Brett Lane
4 Gavin Cowan
5 Sam Latu
6 Darren Nicholls
7 Blake Lazarus
8 Al Schirnack
9 Ryan Carr
10 David Gower
11 Rhys Curran
12 Matthew Ryan
13 Jared Farlow
14 David Fifita
15 Willie Mataka
16 Jason Schirnack
17 Eloni Vunakece
18 Wes Middleton
Coach: Paul Fletcher

Western Suburbs Magpies team
1 Rhys Pritchard
2 Kieran Turner
3 Andrew Everingham
4 George Kepa
5 Gus Aiga
6 Ben Falcone
7 Nathan Waters
8 Duan Poaneki
9 Chris Corby
10 Alex Ranieri
11 Nu Akeripa
12 Josh Davis
13 Kurt Kara
14 David Harris
15 Troy O'Sullivan
16 Dean Rysko
17 Michael Stolk
Coach: Leo Epifania

St George Illawarra Dragons vs Wests Tigers Preview

Sorry Dragons fans, but the eerily familiar, déjà-vu like circumstances of this preliminary final are too blatant to overlook: in 2005 the week-rested Dragons trotted out as firm favourites to advance to the NRL grand final, but were ripped to shreds by the underdog Tigers – who went on to win the title the following week. Gulp.

So what’s changed to suggest that won’t happen again?


The Dragons have two years of grinding consistency behind them under the best coach in the business, including two minor premierships. Yes they were bundled out in ‘straight sets’ in last year’s finals race but their ruthless 28-0 demolition of the Sea Eagles a fortnight ago showed they have the mental focus required to take the title in 2010. For 60 minutes the Dragons strangled the Sea Eagles, repelled their best attacking efforts, then unleashed a barrage of tries in the final 20 minutes. It showed they are a disciplined, measured unit who can still turn on the strike-power when they need to.

Meanwhile the Tigers are riding a wave of enthusiasm and good form. They’ve won four of their past six, the two defeats narrow ones to the Titans (21-18) in Round 26 and Roosters (19-15) in Week One of the finals, when a try to Shaun Kenny-Dowall against the run of play in the 100th minute sealed the result.

Supposedly busted and riddled with injuries, they were given no chance against the Raiders in Canberra last week, but took that game by the scruff of the neck early and repelled a brave Raiders comeback.

Benji Marshall showed no signs of a knee injury that many feared would sideline him for the rest of the season, and all their troops left the nation’s capital fairly healthy.

Which brings us to this week.

The Dragons have had a fortnight to drill their squad, which is unchanged from the Sea Eagles win. Meanwhile the Tigers have made the odd shuffle on paper – Todd Payten moves from the back row to start at prop, with Liam Fulton elevated from the bench to start in the second row. Bryce Gibbs will enter the game off the bench, which also boasts Ben Murdoch-Masila, Sean Dwyer and Daniel Fitzhenry. Mark Flanagan is in jersey no.18 with the promising Andrew Fifita – who has only seen 23 minutes of game time in the Tigers’ past two matches – in no.19. (We doubt he’ll get a run.)

Some random points of interest: the Dragons have won 14 of the 16 times they’ve led at halftime in 2010; Neville Costigan, Jeremy Smith and Michael Weyman have each lost to the Tigers just once in their careers – but the Dragons have won only five of 13 games when playing in front of crowds in excess of 40,000.

Watch out Dragons: They need to watch Lote Tuqiri, Benji Marshall, Robbie Farah and the back-rowers Liam Fulton and Gareth Ellis… although not necessarily in that order.

Farah and Marshall are masters of the lateral drift, where they inflict pain on oppositions one of three ways: they’ll dummy outside before picking up Ellis, Fulton or Chris Heighington on the inside… or they’ll dummy to inside runners and shift wide to the flanks… or they may even run themselves.

The biggest worry for the Dragons is reading Marshall – the Tigers have thrown more dummies at the line than any other team (462). But the double whammy is Marshall is likely to throw four dummies in two seconds – then put on a sprint of his own. He doesn’t need to score points from such moves – he just needs to get the Dragons in two minds and start to break up their rigid defensive structure. If he can achieve this, the points will come.

On their side of the weakness ledger, Jamie Soward needs to have his best goal-kicking boots on. Over the past few weeks even the most accurate kickers in Michael Gordon and Jarrod Croker have missed ‘gimme’ shots at goal that have consigned their sides to defeat and an NRL exit. Soward is ranked 13th in the comp for goalkicking with a worrying 72 per cent.

The Dragons need to improve on their pressure-building down the other end too – they have forced their opponents into the fewest line drop-out restarts all year (just 24).

Watch out Wests Tigers: The Tigers need to unsettle the Dragons and not allow them to get into their rhythm. The Red V have completed more sets than any side all year (78.5 per cent), missed the least tackles (659) and conceded the fewest line-breaks (3.2 per game).

Also, they need to somehow find a way to limit Mark Gasnier’ impact – he’s scored 20 tries from his past 13 games against the Tigers, to become the most prolific tryscorer against them.

While they are the masters of razzle-dazzle within their own half (see below) the Tigers need to make sure they don’t surrender possession down their end of the field – something they’ve done far too often in 2010 (78 handling errors in their own half – second most in the NRL). They can’t afford to do that in a grand final qualifier.

Where it will be won: Defence. That might sound strange given the Wests Tigers are arguably the biggest entertainers in the NRL, but hear us out.

Tim Sheens’ boys are the masters of innovative attack – they’ve thrown the most passes within their own half (2480). They also lead the comp for tries scored from long range, with 23 originating from within their own half – the latest to Lote Tuqiri off a beautiful set play from a scrum last week. But here they come up against the most disciplined side in the competition, one that has given up a miserly 299 points all year (just 11.9 a game!) and let in just four tries from long range – the fewest by any side.

Neither team really has a weak side of the field – the Dragons have conceded an even spread of 20 tries on their left side and 19 on their right, while the Tigers have conceded 31 tries on each of their left and right sides. So, good defensive reads will be crucial for both teams.

But the Dragons’ scramble defence might hold the key – they led the comp with 121 try saves through Round 26, while the Tigers had a middle-of-the-road 88.

The history: Played 19; Dragons 10, Wests Tigers 9. The Wests Tigers have won five of the past eight clashes and hold a 3-2 advantage in games played at ANZ Stadium. But the Dragons have won the past two encounters, including a 34-10 win at Kogarah in Round 16.

The last time the sides met at ANZ Stadium, in 2007, the Wests Tigers scored their biggest ever win over the Dragons (27-8).

Conclusion: The pace of play in the first 20 minutes will provide a great guide as to how this game will pan out.

The Tigers are the masters of getting a roll on, having recorded the smallest percentage of slow play-the-balls all year (7.8 per cent). Meanwhile opposition sides have tried to negate the Dragons by slowing them down, restricting them to the highest number of slow play-the-balls (11.8 per cent). That suggests the Tigers are in with a show of dictating terms – although it should be remembered that despite all the muzzling efforts of other sides all year, the Dragons still won the minor premiership.

It should be a close game for a while, although logic suggests leg weariness from a hard past few weeks should affect the Tigers at some stage. When it does, the Dragons have the firepower to rip their opponents apart. Look for that to happen in the final 20 minutes. Dragons to win.

Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Ben Cummins; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Russell Turner; Video Ref – Steve Clark.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 7.30pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 10.30pm.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Finals Week 2 Preview - Western Suburbs v Wentworthville

The battle of the birds, take three in 2010, and this is the one that really counts. Despite Wests taking the honours in these sides’ previous two meetings in 2010 that will all count for nothing if they are to lose here. After some patchy performances at times in the last few months it would appear that Wests have been played into form courtesy of two consecutive meetings against the Wolves in recent weeks while Wentworthville came all so close to knocking off the Jets at Henson Park last Saturday but were unable to deliver the knockout blow when it was required. In team news Wentworthville has named the same side to take on Wests that almost got the job done against the Jets while Wests had the services of both Junior Moors and Daniel Fitzhenry last weekend and will have to wait until after Friday night’s NRL Final between the Tigers and the Raiders to once again find out if they might be available. Another potential wildcard for Wests is a couple of guys who have been out recently with significant injuries in Andrew Pearn and Jamie Sharkie. While neither has been named to play, considering what is at stake I would not be completely shocked to see one or even both of these guys on the park Sunday afternoon if they are anywhere near 100% fitness. Despite having lost their last two matches Wentworthville appear ready for what they know will be their last match of the year if they can’t produce the result they are desperately seeking. Close losses to the likes of both the Jets and the Tigers away from home in recent starts shows that they will be more than just nuisance value against Wests this Sunday. What a cracking way to start week two of the NSW Cup finals and one way or another it is certain that the Magpies will be facing the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in a preliminary final, the only question is which one?

 Western Suburbs Magpies Vs Wentworthville Magpies
Leichhardt Oval, Sunday, September 19
Kick-off: 1.00pm
Referee: Dave Munro
Broadcast: Triple H 100.1FM (Link available via’s Weekend Game-Cast)
Broadcast: 2GB & ABC Live updates from Leichhardt Oval

2010 previous meetings:
RD 4: Western Suburbs Magpies 30 def. Wentworthville Magpies 18 at Ringrose Park
RD 11: Western Suburbs Magpies 36 def. Wentworthville Magpies 16 at Campbelltown Sports Stadium

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Finals Week 1 Match Preview - Wests v Windsor

The Windsor Wolves will need to bounce back immediately from their 44-22 loss to the Magpies last weekend at Campbelltown Stadium. The Wolves looked lethargic and disinterested in what will surely have the Western Suburbs side brimming with confidence for their trip across the M7 for this one. Western Suburbs fullback Rhys Pritchard has been in career best form of late and the Wolves will have to watch his kick return because it was a thorn in their side last weekend. Joseph Paulo returns to the five-eighth role forcing Ryan Walker to fullback and Ali Beale to the wing with Robbie Lee missing out. Western Suburbs’ game plan will be simple. Play off the back of the superior kicking game of Nathan Waters. Waters, at times, looks to have the ball on a string and the back three from the Wolves will have to be on their games or Waters will take full advantage with one of his trade mark grubbers or cross field kicks. Wests are sweating on the return of lock Jamie Sharkie who may make a shock return from a neck injury while Frank Puletua and Masada Iosefa have both been named on an extended Panthers bench for their clash against the Canberra Raiders at CUA Stadium on Saturday. Can’t split the two. Windsor may have a slight edge with the home ground advantage.

Windsor Wolves Vs Western Suburbs Magpies
Windsor Sports Complex, Saturday, September 11
Kick-off: 3.00pm
Referee: Dave Munro
Broadcast: Hawkesbury Radio 89.9FM (Link available via’s Weekend Game-Cast)
Broadcast: NSWRL Match of the Round to be aired on Fox Sports 2 HD and Fox Sports 2, Wednesday, September 15, 5.00pm

Rhys Pritchard - NSW Cup Team of the Year

Well folks this is it! It is finally time to announce the NSW Cup Team of the Year for 2010.

Firstly we would like to start by thanking you all for your assistance and feedback via your comments on and also on our New South Wales Rugby League, Facebook fan page. We have had such an amazing response by you the public and the NSW Cup footy fans in kind.

This type of response just goes to prove what a passionate bunch of supporters the NSW Cup fans are and we will continue to work with you all in promoting what we feel is the best second tier rugby league competition in the world.

Secondly we promise you we have been monitoring your suggestions vigorously over the past few days and taking all of your feedback on board with an open mind and no preconceived judgments about any player in any position.

We fully appreciate that regardless of the makeup of this side that we are about to announce, that the debate will continue and not everyone will be satisfied but with that said, we have had a job to do and we believe we have done it to the best of our ability with no favour shown to any team or individual.

Just so this procedure is fully transparent let me explain who, we, are.

Our panel consisted of the two NSWRL Media Officers in Brad Preston and Jamie Anderson who have provided you all with the popular Weekend Game-Cast right throughout the 2010 season.

This innovation has allowed you the fans the opportunity to keep in touch with more of the NSW Cup action than ever before via TV, Radio, Game-Cast’s, Photo Galleries and Score Updates, and we thank you all for your support and hope to continue to grow this concept with your help in 2011.

In providing this service, both Brad and Jamie have each attended at least one NSW Cup match per weekend right throughout the 2010 season, and in a lot of cases often more. We also have access to the full match highlights which you the punter view each and every week on this very website. To top this all off, Brad Preston was also the NSW Residents Media Manager, and in this role was privy to many selection discussions which was also used as a reference when forming opinions for our selections.

While most fans giving their opinions on whom they feel should make the side often have formed said opinions based on only ever really focusing on their favourite side, and to be fair this is only human nature, but we feel we have a less influenced view whilst having probably witnessed a wider spread of matches involving more teams in the process.

The third and final member of our selection panel is the Chief Editor of Rugby League News, Terry Liberopoulos.

Terry’s knowledge of both the NSW Cup and the Bundaberg Red Cup is second to none and like our NSWRL Media Officers, Terry is present around the grounds each and every weekend as part of his role for Rugby League News.

A couple of final points before we move onto the side, the first being that it is important to remember that this side is purely the opinions of the above panels members and is in no way the opinions of any other NSWRL staff or affiliated members and that the side is named purely as a point of recognition for all of the players hard work.

The second main point being that the panel has absolutely no knowledge of the Official Player of the Year points and hence these points were not taken into account when forming our sides. So it is quite conceivable that a player who misses out on our side may in fact still go on to be named as the NSW Cup Player of the Year.

Also lastly we tried to balance out our selection with a preference given to players who have played the vast majority of their football this year in the NSW Cup, and not the NRL. So before you read on consider this point with regard to the non-selection of players such as Kane Linnett or Sandor Earl for instance.

Ok with all that out of the way, let’s move onto the fun stuff. Here is the NSW Cup Team of the Year for 2010.

1. Michael Lett (Shellharbour Dragons)
2. Kevin Naiqama (Central Coast Centurions)
3. Tuu Maori (Newtown Jets)
4. Jamie Simpson (North Sydney Bears) (VC)
5. Rhys Pritchard (Western Suburbs Magpies)
6. Gareth Widdop (Melbourne Storm)
7. Pita Godinet (Auckland Vulcans)
8. David Gower (Balmain Ryde-Eastwood Tigers)
9. Anthony Mitchell (Wentworthville Magpies)
10. Jesse Bromwich (Melbourne Storm)
11. Matthew Ryan (Balmain Ryde-Eastwood Tigers)
12. Daniel Harrison (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
13. Jared Farlow (Balmain Ryde-Eastwood Tigers) ©

14. Josh Reynolds (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
15. Daniel Rauicava (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
16. Tim Browne (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
17. Joel Edwards (Central Coast Centurions)
18th Man. Lancen Joudo (Cronulla Sharks)

Coach – Paul Fletcher

There it is… Now let’s look at each position a little closer and also hand out some honourable mentions to those who were perhaps a little unlucky to miss out, and trust me there is plenty of them which once again probably speaks volumes about the depth of talent in the NSW Cup.

FULLBACK - Michael Lett

Just about the first bloke picked, an amazing talent with speed to burn and an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time in both attack and defence. Our main point of contention was whether or not he was best suited at the back or on a wing spot. We felt he was best served at the back in this side.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS – Sean Meaney, Trent Cutler and Johnny Aranaga

WINGERS – Kevin Naiqama & Rhys Pritchard

Two of the absolute flyers in the NSW Cup. Would love to see them both in a sprint over 100m. Naiqama had a standout year that saw him rewarded with his NRL debut last week while and he also scored a vital try late in the NSW Residents victory over QLD while Pritchard has been one of Wests best all year. Pritchard also has the durability to fill in at the back and an NRL call up won’t be far away for him either.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS – Zoram Watene, Sam Latu, Troy Savage and Curtis Johnston

CENTRES – Tu’u Maori & Jamie Simpson

Another really tough position for selectors but Tu’u Maori has been really consistent for the Jets all season long in a side that seen its fair share of disruptions in the backs, Maori would also handle our goal kicking duties while Jamie Simpson is an amazing leader on the park for the Bears and despite their troubles this season he has continued to give his all each and every week and continues to play well above his size in the middle third of the park. Simpson serves as our sides Vice-Captain.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS – Byron Fruean, Jonathon Wright, Simon Williams, Andrew Everingham and Sione Lousi

FIVE-EIGHTH – Gareth Widdop

The main debate for selectors here was whether or not to class Widdop as 5/8 or fullback, ultimately we settled on 5/8, a position he has played for his club, the NSW Residents and also his Country this year. A rare talent and a real competitor. Certain to star for the Storm in the NRL on a regular basis in 2011 and beyond so we should enjoy his talents in the NSW Cup while we still have the opportunity.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS – Tom Humble, Ben Falcone and Darren Nicholls

HALFBACK – Pita Godinet

Potentially the most contentious selection and also the selector’s most arduous one given the wealth of talent in this position. The competitions most prolific try scorer when you factor in a month or so missed due to a substantial injury. There is little doubt the Vulcans would probably be in the finals had Godinet not gotten injured and his blinding pace in and around the rucks makes him potentially the NSW Cup’s best kept secret. A star in the making and would already be a household name if he played for a Bulldogs or a Tigers. Has an uncanny resemblance on the park to Ben Barba and will most likely end up in the NRL like him too.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS – Craig Trindall, Blake Lazarus, Nathan Waters and Scott Porter

PROPS – David Gower & Jesse Bromwich

There isn’t much left to be said about David Gower that has not already been said. A thorough professional in everything that he does and would be one of the first chosen in most teams, well except Tim Sheens’ apparently, while Jesse Bromwich continues to play like a bloke ten years older than he is and like his Storm team mate in Widdop, appears to be being fast tracked into Bellamy’s squad for 2011.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS – Aaron Sweeney, Sione Kite, Andrew Pearn and Johnny Mannah

HOOKER – Anthony Mitchell

A real pocket rocket that appears to have gotten stronger and stronger as the season has progressed. This progression lead to his NRL debut a few weeks ago and he didn’t look out of place there either. His impetus out of dummy half may prove to be Wenty’s wildcard as they head into the finals series.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS – Ryan Carr, George Ndaira, Rory Kostjasyn and Alehana Mara

SECOND ROWERS – Matthew Ryan & Daniel Harrison

A couple of red-heads form our back-row and no real surprise that they play for the sides that finished on top of the table. This wasn’t an easy decision for selectors which is evident by the number of honourable mentions handed out below but uncompromising and workhorses are two descriptions that aptly describe these two tyros and Matty Ryan can also fill in two or three passes wider if required.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS – Aidan Guerra, Taniela Lasalo, Lee Te Maari, Marvin Filipo, Josh Davis, Brock Molan, Mike Afioga, Hep Cahill and Jesse Sene Lafao

LOCK – Jared Farlow

Packing down at the back of the scrum is quite possibly one of the NSW Cups most underrated players in Jared Farlow. A tackling machine that can also serve as a deputy to Mitchell at number nine if need be, Farlow is a no frills type player that will never let the bloke beside him down and for this reason we have selected him to Captain this side.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS – Jason Baitieri, Michael Greenfield and Jamie Sharkie

THE BENCH – Josh Reynolds, Daniel Rauicava, Tim Browne & Joel Edwards

A real Dogs flavor on our bench but that is no real surprise as they are the Minor Premiers and deserve to have a number of players in our team of the year. Reynolds capped off a brilliant season with a 38 point haul against the Storm and picked up the top point scorers gong in the process. He is the perfect utility player as he can fill in at 6, 7, and 9 or even in the back row. Daniel Rauicava gets the nod also due to his durability. His ability to play up forward or in the centres with equal affect made him a must have on our bench while the two props in Joel Edwards and Tim Browne have both been hard toilers for their respective clubs all year and are both deserving of filling a spot in our side.

Our 18th man in Lancen Joudo would also come into our squad as he can cover a number of positions much like a Josh Reynolds or a Daniel Rauicava and he was like many others, somewhat unfortunate not to gain a spot on his own merit in the first place.

COACH – Paul Fletcher

In a split decision, Paul Fletcher got the gig just ahead of Justin Holbrook. After lengthy debate it was eventually decided (and we say this with absolutely no disrespect to the Balmain Ryde-Eastwood players) that Fletcher’s achievement in taking the Tigers to equal competition leaders after 26 rounds was perhaps slightly more impressive than Holbrook’s given the cattle in the farm so to speak. Once again with all due respect we believe when you look at the two squads purely on paper, you could make a fairly solid argument that more would be expected from the Bulldogs squad than the Tigers, thus making his coaching achievements this season all the more satisfying.

Well there it is folks, a fine team and one that could challenge any side in the NRL on their day I would dare say.

Congratulations to all of our players selected and good luck to all of those in particular that are still in with a chance of winning the 2010 NSW Cup.

But with that said we now throw it open to you, the fan, once again. Where did we get it right? Where did we get it wrong? In all honesty we could have named three or four sides and still not pleased everyone but once again I believe that just speaks volumes of the quality of players in our competition and that must be a good thing… right?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rnd 26 - Wests Magpies v Windsor Wolves

In what will be a dress rehearsal of sorts for week one of the finals series, the Windsor Wolves will head across to Campbelltown to take on the Western Suburbs Magpies. Both of these sides will head into this clash knowing they are set to face one another again a week later, but this time at the Windsor Sports Complex, regardless of this result. Windsor will be smarting after suffering a loss to the Centurions last week and after their last minute loss to the Jets a fortnight ago, the club will be desperate not to head into the finals on the back of three consecutive losses. The Magpies kept a dangerous Vulcans side scoreless in the second half last week and managed to scrape home courtesy of a Nathan Waters field goal. The important thing to take from the clash for the Magpies would have been the previously mentioned scoreless half. Not too long ago, Wests had the best defence in the NSW Cup but most recently they have conceded 38 points to the Jets, 42 points to the Dogs and 28 points in the first half to the Vulcans. If the Magpies are to compete for the 2010 NSW Cup, they will need to get back to allowing teams less than 20 points per game as they were doing earlier in the season and I expect them to take that attitude into this match against an ever dangerous Wolves outfit.

Western Suburbs Magpies Vs Windsor Wolves
Campbelltown Sports Stadium, Sunday, September 5
Kick-off: 1.00pm
Referee: Adam Devcich
Broadcast: Hawkesbury Radio 89.9FM (Link available via’s Weekend Game-Cast)