Another non-Sydney grand final?

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Entering the second week of the NRL finals, there are three Sydney teams, two Queensland teams and Melbourne.

Looking ahead, a non-Sydney grand final is a probability, the second time in NRL history.

Two of the three Sydney teams – Sydney Roosters and Canterbury – play each other, while Cronulla has a tough trip to Townsville.

The Roosters would fancy themselves with 12 wins from their past 13 games; though Canterbury has momentum with six straight wins. Ironically, their last loss was against the Roosters in round 21. Either way, one Sydney team will leave.

The Sharks have to face the Cowboys on the rebound. So close against Brisbane and desperate to atone for three years of horrible finals luck, they will be hard to beat.

Let’s assume that the Roosters beat Canterbury and North Queensland beat Cronulla. The Roosters will travel to Lang Park to play Brisbane and Melbourne will meet North Queensland.

While the Roosters beat Brisbane in Sydney a few weeks back, they will struggle to beat the Broncos again at Lang Park, especially as the Broncos will be fresh and the Roosters will be coming off two hard finals. So let’s lock Brisbane in for the first grand final spot.

Melbourne will be rested and have the home ground advantage, while the Cowboys will have to travel from Brisbane to Townsville to Melbourne in three weeks. Melbourne’s home record is 8-4, while the Cowboys are 9-4 away. It’ll be a close contest but Melbourne home ground advantage will get them home.

So we have a Brisbane v Melbourne grand final. Good omens for Brisbane, as their last premiership was against Melbourne in 2006.

The big question is: how will Sydney react? It should still be a sellout. Brisbane fans will attend and surely Melbourne’s loyal band of supporters will make the trip over the border. Neutral fans can at least watch Cold Chisel. Manly (2008 and 2011), St. George-Illawarra (2010), Sydney Roosters (2013) and Souths (2014) have given Sydney their share of success, so they can’t complain too much.

Is a Broncos-Storm grand final good for the game? The Storm’s grinding style of footy aggravates some fans while a Broncos win would give Queenslanders more ammunition to brag about being the “heartland” of rugby league, something Sydney fans would hate.

Ideally the grand final should be against the two best teams of the year. While the Broncos have been excellent, the Storm have flown under the radar and seemed to have peaked at the right time. A Broncos v Cowboys grand final will probably have more attractive footy, but it’s easy to see the Cowboys become overwhelmed by the big stage and get flogged. At least a Broncos v Storm grand final promises a close game.

We’ll see what happens in October.

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Prime Minister’s XIII named

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The Prime Minister’s XIII to play PNG later this month has been named, with St. George-Illawarra’s Trent Merrin named as captain.

Coached by Ivan Clearly, nine clubs will be represented in the 18-man squad: Canberra (Jack Wighton, Jarrod Croker), Souths (Alex Johnston, Adam Reynolds, Chris McQueen, David Tyrrell), Newcastle (Dane Gagai), Wests Tigers (David Nofoaluma), Gold Coast (Kane Elgey, Daniel Mortimer), Manly (Jake Trbojevic), Penrith (James Segeyaro, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Jeremy Latimore, Tyrone Peachey), Parramatta (Tepai Moeroa) and St. George-Illawarra (Merrin, Euan Aitken).

The Prime Minister’s XIII has won nine out of 10 matches against PNG since 2005 (with a 24-24 draw in 2007), including a 34-16 win last year.

The 2015 Prime Minister’s XIII will play PNG at Port Moresby on September 26, with training camp in Cairns next Wednesday.

PRIME MINISTER’S XIII SQUAD

  1. Jack Wighton (Canberra Raiders)
    2. Alex Johnston (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
    3. Jarrod Croker (Canberra Raiders) 
    4. Dane Gagai (Newcastle Knights) 
    5. David Nofoaluma (Wests Tigers) 
    6. Kane Elgey (Gold Coast Titans) 
    7. Adam Reynolds (South Sydney Rabbitohs) 
    8. Jake Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles) 
    9. James Segeyaro (Penrith Panthers) 
    10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Penrith Panthers) 
    11. Chris McQueen (South Sydney Rabbitohs) 
    12. Tepai Moeroa (Parramatta Eels) 
    13. Trent Merrin (c) (St George Illawarra Dragons) 
    14. Euan Aitken (St George Illawarra Dragons) 
    15. Jeremy Latimore (Penrith Panthers) 
    16. Daniel Mortimer (Gold Coast Titans) 
    17. Tyrone Peachey (Penrith Panthers) 
    18. David Tyrrell (South Sydney Rabbitohs)

Green Days

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Green is usually associated with Kermit the Frog, a certain Spider-Man villain, leprechauns and money. It’s also been the dominant colour of the Canberra Raiders.

The Raiders have been wearing green since 1982, along with blue and yellow stripes (the official colours of the ACT). For those wondering, Canberran Patricia Taylor devised the lime green jersey, with four blue, yellow and white armbands. The green represented Hall Rugby League Club, the first in the ACT.

Unlike the iconic lime green, the Raiders logo was stolen from the Oakland Raiders, after original coach Don Furner spent time with the NFL team. Canberra’s logo resembled a stern viking rather than Oakland’s one-eyed pirate.

Canberra’s original jersey lasted from 1982-1996, through the club’s triple premiership era. There were some minor variations (like the collar alternating from white to blue), but the basic design remained. The lime green was also used for a tie-in with major sponsor Canberra Milk.

When Canberra joined Super League in 1997, a new jersey came with it. Due to the incredible lack of imagination, Canberra and Brisbane had the exact same jersey design. Predominately white, the Raiders Super League jersey had a green back with green spikey shoulder thingies, a blue collar and three blue arrows. The Raiders wore this strange jersey in the 1998 and ’99 NRL seasons before a much-needed makeover. While Brisbane have brought back their old Super League jersey, the Raiders have left theirs in the closet. Considering Super League was the last time Canberra got close to a grand final, maybe they should bring it back.

A new millennium meant a new look for Canberra, and it was quite dramatic. First was the logo update; gone was the old grey viking in the green and yellow circles, replaced by another viking with a striking lime-and-dark-green beard. While the basic design was similar, the multi-coloured beard made it stand out. Canberra’s new jersey was a departure from tradition, the green was much darker, accompanied by fluro yellow and black. The away jersey was a simple reversal, with white replacing dark green. While the addition of black was a surprise, it was still relatively faithful to the club’s colours.

The Raiders rebooted their jersey in 2003, with lime green and the traditional stripes returning. The stripes were much more prominent, draped across the shoulders and down the sides. The new (old) look signalled a much-needed return to form, with the Raiders finishing fourth but losing to Melbourne and the NZ Warriors in the finals.

Canberra celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2006 and went back to the original design. Yes, the green was darker, and the sleeve sponsors obscured the traditional white, blue and yellow stripes, but it was still a good jersey. The jersey gradually morphed to the heritage lime green, which they kept until 2012.

Canberra’s 2012 jersey was controversial. Going back to the darker green, the blue, yellow and white V stripes were too similar to the Sydney Roosters jersey. Again the away jersey was a simple green-to-white reversal.

Canberra’s current jersey returned the lime green and the traditional armbands, located on the shoulders, unimpeded from the sleeve sponsor. We’ll conveniently forget the horrible yellow away jersey for now.

Canberra have had plenty of alternate jerseys as well; ANZAC, Women In League, Auckland Nines, Indigenous, Heritage and a special centenary of Canberra blue and yellow jersey. The Raiders were also a part of the Marvel Super Heroes promotion, wearing a Hulk jersey in 2014 and 2015, which includes a torn chest revealing green Hulk abs. While a good initiative, Canberra have lost both Hulk games. It’s likely to continue, so the hoodoo can be broken.

In 33 years, Canberra have stuck to the basic lime green with the blue and yellow stripes. Kermit would be proud.

Bangladesh tour squad announced

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Australia has announced their Bangladesh Test squad for next month.

Cameron Bancroft and Andrew Fekete will make their debuts while Adam Voges has been promoted to vice captain. Both Bancroft and Fekete played in the recent ‘A’ tour to India.

Joe Burns, Patrick Cummins, Glen Maxwell, Usman Khawaja and Stephen O’Keefe all return to the Test team. O’Keefe was picked ahead of Fawad Ahmed, who struggled in tour games in the Caribbean and England. 

Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Peter Nevill, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc have been retained from the Ashes series.

Voges, on the verge of being dropped during the Ashes series – replaces the injured David Warner as vice-captain.

Steve Smith will captain his first full series after Michael Clarke’s retirement.

Bancroft – just 22 – has played 24 first class games for Western Australia, scoring four hundreds and six fifties.

Fekete, a 30-year-old pace bowler, has played 18 first class matches for Tasmania, taking 62 wickets.

Australia will play two Tests against Bangladesh before a home summer against New Zealand and the West Indies.

SQUAD: Steve Smith (c), Adam Voges (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Joe Burns, Patrick Cummins, Andrew Fekete, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Peter Nevill, Stephen O’Keefe, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc

The Hughes legacy

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A lot has happened since Phil Hughes’ tragic accident at the SCG in November 2014. Australia beat India at home, won the World Cup, beat the West Indies, and lost the Ashes and beat England in the ODI series.

Eoin Morgan’s injury in the final ODI showed while time heals, Hughes’ memory will never be forgotten.

Morgan ducked a Mitchell Starc bouncer and took it flush on the helmet. The Australians were quick to rush to his aid. Starc was visibly shaken by the ball and took time to compose himself.

Remember the Adelaide Test when Mitch Johnson hit Virat Kohli? It was the first major incident after Hughes’ death and Johnson and the Aussies were understandably shaken. The previous summer Johnson was staring down and sledging the Poms as he tore through them physically and mentally, scaring them with his electric pace. We all recall Michael Clarke’s “get ready for a f%$^&$# broken arm” sledge at the Gabba. How times have changed.

The Hughes incident will stay in the memories of Australian players forever. While Clarke was exemplary after Hughes’ death, standing up and doing Australia proud despite his tremendous personal pain, it took a toll on him and hastened his retirement six months later.

Hughes’ death affected ordinary Australians too, with black armbands, the ‘put out your bats’ social media tribute and regular reference to the numbers 63 (Hughes’ score when he was hit at the SCG) and 408 (his Test player number). One junior batsman even retired at 37, saying he had finished Hughes’ ton for him. A beautiful gesture.

One legacy from Hughes’ death has been modified helmets, with new neck protection. Helmets have come a long way from Tony Greig’s ridiculous biker helmet in the seventies. They’re a necessary part of the game and need to evolve with it.

If there’s one positive to come from Hughes’ legacy, it’s the eradication of the ‘ugly Aussie’ tag. When Australia were dominating world cricket from the mid-nineties to the early 2000s, they played the game hard and ruthless. Steve Waugh, for all his virtues as a captain and batsman, wasn’t above a bit of ‘mental disintegration’ to weed out weaker opponents. Australia were so dominant and bullish is was almost depressing. Australia battered teams into submission, not afraid to twist the knife.

Now Australia have perspective. They’re no longer the belligerent, unbeatable force. During the home summer against India, the Australians were focused on honouring Hughes’ memory. When Steve Smith scored his Adelaide ton, he walked to the big 408  and looked to the heavens. It was a fantastic gesture and showed the true nature of the gentleman’s game.

Yes elite cricket is a high-pressure game driven by results, but the new Australian attitude has show there’s room for compassion and respect. Hopefully Hughes’ memory remains in the hearts and minds of Australian cricketers for generations to come.

Aussie begin rebuild

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After a humbling Ashes defeat, Australia entered the ODI portion of their UK tour. It was a fine series; Australia carried their World Cup momentum to lead 2-0, England won the next two, including a 600 run classic at Headingley, with the Aussies clinching the series win a big win at Manchester.

While a one-day series may seem inconsequential after the Ashes loss, it’s an important building block for the future. Remember 2013, when Australia – and Mitchell Johnson – used the ODI series to prepare for the 2013/14 Ashes. With Michael Clarke, Chris Rogers and Shane Watson retiring, the ODIs were an audition for Test places, starting in Bangladesh next month and a home summer against New Zealand and the West Indies. The Kiwis should be competitive (they won the Hobart Test in 2011), but the struggling Windies will be fodder for the hungry Aussies.

SOUTHAMPTON: Australia opened the series with a comfortable win at Southhampton. Defending 305, Australia’s pace trio of  Nathan Coulter-Nile (2/39), Pat Cummins (2/48) and Mitchell Starc (2/55) dismissed England for 246 in 45.3 overs.  Shane Watson chipped in with 2/39. England looked strong at 1/112 before Jason Roy (67) fell. James Taylor (49) and captain Eoin Morgan (38) provided some support. Australia’s innings was built upon the top three: openers David Warner (59) and Joe Burns (44) complied 76, with 44 from captain Steve Smith and 23 from George Bailey. Australia were 6/193 before Matthew Wade (71*) and Mitch Marsh (40*) added an unbeaten 112 in the last 13 overs.

LORD’S: Australia went 2-0 up with another big win. Similar to Southampton, Australia exceeded 300 batting first and contained England’s chase. Morgan’s 85, Taylor’s 43 and Roy’s 31 were the only resistance to Cummins’ 4/56 from 8.3 overs. Smith (70), Mitch Marsh (64) and Bailey (54) scored half centuries, supported by Glen Maxwell (49) and Watson (39). Smith and Bailey compiled 99 for the second wicket. The only negative for Australia was Warner fracturing his thumb, missing the rest of the series and the Bangladesh tour.

MANCHESTER: England struck back with a 93-run win at Old Trafford. This time, England batted first and made 8/300. Taylor scored a century (101), with fifties from Roy (63) and Morgan (62), Taylor and Morgan sharing a 119-run third wicket stand. Australia were well positioned at 2/106 after 21 overs when Aaron Finch (53) fell. A rearguard 42 from Wade delayed the inevitable.

HEADINGLEY; England tied the series with a three-wicket win in the closest game so far. Chasing 300, England won with 10 balls to spare. Captain Morgan hit 92, supported by Ben Stokes (41), Taylor (41), Roy (36) and Johnny Bairstow (31).Cummins (4/49) took his second four-wicket haul of the series. Australia were in trouble at 3-30 before Maxwell (85) and Bailey (75) compiled 137 in 21 overs. Wade again made a valuable late-order half-century (50*).putting on an unbeaten 84 for the eight wicket with John Hastings (34*).

MANCHESTER: Australia secured the series win a comfortable eight-wicket win. Chasing 139, Finch (70*) and Bailey (41*) compiled an unbeaten 109 for the third wicket as Australia reached 2/140 in 24.2 overs. Earlier Mitch Marsh (4/27) and  Hastings (3/21) dismissed England for 139 in 33 overs. England captain Morgan suffered a nasty blow to the head from Starc and retired hurt for 1. The injury deeply affected the Australians, especially Starc, still carrying the memory of Phil Hughes.

Wallabies fan ready for World Cup

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NOTE: this is a parody article

Wallabies fan Trevor  Araya is looking forward to the upcoming World Cup in the UK.

He’s taken leave time from work so he can watch every Wallabies game on TV

‘I looked at our group and it looks pretty easy. We’ll smash Fiji, Uruguay, the Poms and Wales easy.’

With rising enthusiasm, Mr Araya poured over the intricately mapped fixture guide he’d been working on.

‘So we’ll win pool A, we’ll play the winner of pool B, which’ll be South Africa. We’ll piss that in no probs.’ Then we’ll probably play France in the semis, another easy game. Then…’

Suddenly, Mr. Araya went quiet, clutching his fixture guide anxiously.

‘…shit, we’ll have to play the All Blacks in the final, won’t we?’

Crestfallen, Mr Araya sat down on the couch, head in hands.

‘The Kiwi blokes at work still give it to me after we lost the Bledisloe again. I thought we had it after we won in Sydney. Then…’

Slowly, Mr Araya got up, took off his Wallabies jersey, tore up the fixture list and  and threw them into the fireplace.

‘Never mind. I’ll go on a holiday instead.’

How Times Have Changed

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One of the more durable innovations from the Super League debacle has been the video ref. Once used responsibly as a way to overturn bad decisions, it seems like every try is analysed upstairs.

It slows the game down. At its best, rugby league is an exciting, free-flowing sport. The relatively simple rules (at least compared to rugby union), keeps the game moving. Relying on the video ref may create some drama for the television, but use it too much and the game grinds to a halt as the forensic analysis occurs. Some cynics would say the advertising exposure on the TRY/NO TRY screen (anyone else have the urge to eat KFC after the game?) is the reason for the increased use of the video referee. Commentators even argue about what the video referee can rule on? Does he rule on incidents directly before a try? If not, how far in the set does he go back? It’s all rather confusing.

Cricket’s had the same problem. Simple decisions turn into an episode of CSI and every piece of equipment is sponsored (advertising is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?). The umpires also check no-balls “just to be sure”. Of course, any decent umpire should be in position to judge no-balls in the delivery stride, not wait until something important happens.

The overuse of the video ref doesn’t help the main referee’s confidence. A decision they would have confidently made ten years ago now immediately goes upstairs. Like eating the packet of Tim Tams on the kitchen counter, you know you shouldn’t do it, but you do it because it’s there and nobody’s telling you not to do it.

A recent addition has been the referee giving a try/no try verdict before the video referee gets involved. Like cricket, there has to be sufficient evidence to overturn the original decision. One  major fault with the video referee is the slow-motion replays. What looks like a fair try at regular speed begins to look suspicious when played frame-by-frame. Play the same frames enough times and a certain try become more doubtful. Was the try-scorer onside? Did he have enough downward pressure? Was his foot near the sideline? We all remember the “Rowdy Roddy Peeper” promo from The Simpsons, where Groundskeeper Willy is made to look suspicious with dramatic music and some strategic close-ups.

One innovation has been the Captains Challenge in the NYC. It allowed the captains to do their best Shane Watson impersonation and  challenge any dubious ruling. Each team was given one incorrect challenge per half. If the challenge was right, they kept the challenge. Get it wrong and it’s gone.

This idea has merit, with some tweaking. Rather than leave it to the players (whose judgement is clouded anyway), hand it to the referees (the men and women PAID to make decisions). Give them three decisions a half (six per game). Once the three have been used (regardless of the result), that’s it. This may reduce the reliance on the video ref. It would probably make the video ref’s job easier too. Rather than sit in the box all game, not knowing how many calls they will make, they know they will make a maximum of six decisions per game. Less time wasted needlessly analysing every single little decision and more time to do their job: officiate meaningful decisions. This could slowly give the on-field referees power again and courage to chance their arm and make an on-field call like their granddaddies used to do.

Is this likely to happen? Probably not, but it’s worth discussing.

Why Canberra deserve to come back.

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Canberra is known for many things: the cold weather, the politicians, Floriade, the AIS, the roundabouts and the Raiders and the Brumbies.

They’re also a rising force in Australian cricket, participating in the Futures League and the women’s competitions (as the ACT Meteors)

The Canberra Comets played in the Mercantile Mutual Cup in from 1997-2000. A lack of success and local support saw the Comets dropped from the competition.

Gradually, Canberra have rebuit, with Michael Bevan, Brad Haddin and Nathan Lyon representing Australia. The ACT Comets won the Futures League four-day competition in 2010/11. More importantly, Manuka Oval gained floodlights, meaning limited-overs internationals were now financially viable. In February 2013,  Australia played the West Indies as part of Canberra’s year-long centenary celebrations. Manuka Oval hosted three matches in this year’s World Cup, the 2013/14 Sheffield Shield final and the 2015 Big Bash final. While it’s unlikely to host a Test match anytime soon, regular ODIs  and T20s are all but guaranteed.

When the Matador Cup was extended last year, Cricket Australia missed a chance to bring the Comets back. Instead a “Cricket Australia XI” was introduced, a team of upcoming players not selected by their states. While it gives fringe players vital exposure, surely the Comets deserved another chance? Take the best of the CA XI, add a few locals and you’ve got a competitive Comets side ready to go. Commercially the Matador Cup is well behind the all-consuming Big Bash (Nine have the  Matador Cup’s TV rights but dump it on GEM), so it won’t matter if it takes the Comets a while to win.

In another boon for Cricket ACT, former South Australian, Tasmanian and Victorian batsman Aidan Blizzard is ACT’s new Director of Coaching and Education, as well as the ACT Aces’ inclusion in NSW’s regional Twenty20 tournament.

If cricket is serious about becoming a genuine national sport (unlike the NRL and AFL, which are tied to traditional state boundaries), they need to consider the Comets again.

Coming Home

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Controversial South African-cum-English cricket Kevin Pietersen is heading home, signing for the South African Twenty20 competition in October and November this year.

PIetersen will play for the Dolphins in the “Ram Slam” Twenty20 Challenge before another stint with the Melbourne Stars. The Dolphins are based in Durban and Pietermaritzburg, where Pietersen was born.

With his Test comeback hopes gone, KP has to console himself by travelling the T20 circuit. Never the greatest team player, KP is the epitome of the new global freelance cricketer, travelling from one T20 tournament to the next.

KP’s 104-match Test career was shrouded by controversy, often overshadowing his belligerent batting talent. Pietersen rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way, including – crucially – Andrew Strauss. The former England captain, now Director of Cricket, denied Pietersen a coveted Ashes comeback despite a triple century for Surrey.

Despite his “Walking Ego” reputation, Pietersen impressed for the Stars last year as the BBL’s second-highest run scorer (293 at 41.86). While not as popular as former teammate Freddie Flintoff (who would later win the Australian version of “I’m a Celebrity….’), his strong performance for the Stars showed fans what he can do if he puts the ego away. While his aggressive batting was a liability in Test cricket (some of his dismissals smacked of self-absorbed arrogance), it’s perfect for T20.

Regardless of his performance, Pietersen’s experience will be a boon for the Dolphins, who have won just one T20 title (2013-14) in the tournament’s 12-year history.