All Stars: the Good, the Bad and the Bizarre

All Stars match: The Good, the Bad and the Bizarre

THE GOOD

Indigenous domination

While some casual league fans have questioned the All Stars fixture, last night the Indigenous All Stars showed it still means something to them.

From the opening Indigenous war cry, it’s clear this game means more than just a pre-season trial and has more gravity than the Auckland Nines.

They took that passion onto the field, rushing to 16-0 lead after 12 minutes and the game was over. They eventually won 34-8, their fourth win from seven games. Man of the match Thurston was brilliant, scoring a try, kicking four goals and delivering a pinpoint kick for local hero Dane Gagai.

Gus Gould – a savage Nines critic – suggested the Indigenous All Stars should play more often, Indigenous All Stars should play more often, even playing in the World Cup or Four Nations. While a good idea in theory, it may be hard to implement.

Credit to the Newcastle fans. Officials may have been a bit nervous taking the All Stars away from Queensland, where big crowds are guaranteed, but the Novocastrians repaid the faith on a hot, humid night, with over 20,000 attending. After enduring just one win and a draw in 2016, Newcastle fans deserve to see some decent footy.

THE BAD

Croker’s Injury

Ricky Stuart and Canberra fans would have been stressing after Jarrod Croker injured his knee late in the first half. Luckily, he avoided ligament damage and should only miss four to six weeks. With Canberra favoured to challenge for the title, a bigger injury to Croker would have been a devastating blow.

While critics will say “why risk such an important player in a non-premiership game”, players can be injured anytime, even at training. Hopefully Croker is back on the field as soon as possible.

THE BIZARRE

Another year, another Bunker screw up

The NRL season hasn’t even started and already The Bunker has screwed up! David Mead’s try, which had sketchy evidence, was ruled a try. Why? Because before going to The Bunker, the referee ruled a try. This meant there had to be sufficient evidence to overturn it. For anyone with halfway decent eyesight, Mead appeared to be short of the line. The best side-on camera angle was obscured by the corner post! So the original ruling stood under insufficient evidence.

This exposed one of the major Bunker flaws. If the referee’s going to let the Bunker micro-analyse the try, why give an initial ruling? What’s wrong with saying “sorry mate, I’ve got no idea, let’s go to The Bunker.” That way, The Bunker can make an unbiased decision without needing sufficient/insufficient evidence to influence it. In that case, Mead’s try would have been disallowed. Then again, the same rule exists in cricket’s DRS, where the umpire makes a decision and Shane Watso – sorry, the batsman or fielding team –  reviews it and evidence is presented to uphold or overturn the original decision. The DRS isn’t a flawless system and the Indians resisted it for as long as possible, so maybe the NRL can learn from it and let The Bunker team make their own decision free from referee bias.

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Impressionable teenager looking forward to ‘cricket’ trip

With their team offically out of finals contention, the C Grade Seven Hills Bears cricket club are eagerly looking forward to their annual end-of-season ‘cricket’ trip to Thailand.

“The old club pres teed up this arrangement a few years back,” explained C Grade captain Ben ‘Macca’ McGuire. “We go over there, play some b***s*** T20 games against a local club and they pay for our trip and hook us up with a place to stay.”

The Bears’ newest member, 17-year-old Callum Price, is looking forward to it. Price impressed teammates this season with his tidy ‘keeping and batting and is looking to improve his game in Thailand.

“I can’t wait! I’ve been watching heaps of the Big Bash to prepare myself mentally. I want to score lots of runs and win every game!”

“Last year we lost by 100 runs, 10 wickets defending 20 runs and 209 runs. The boys were either still on the piss or hunting down the closest golf course. As long as we have eleven blokes each game, we keep our free trip,” explained Macca while studying a well-worn guidebook of ‘discreet’ local nightspots.
“I admire Cally’s keenness, but it’ll be wasted unless he can beat ’em himself. Next year’s trip he’ll be 18, then we’ll have some fun!”

A footy club’s bizarre new rule

The Goodna Goannas rugby league team has implemented a bizarre rule for the new season.
“Anyone mentioning the ‘T’ word gets an automatic one-game suspension and compulsory nudie run,” explained club president Garry Wade. “I don’t care if you’re the A Grade gun or a D Grade bency, no exceptions!”
Mr Wade’s strict new rule came after a recent trial game.
“The A and B Grade boys were celebrating a nice win back at the clubhouse. Eventually, things got heated between two of the A boys, chairs got thrown, beers were spilt, I had to step in. When I found out who they were arguing about, I was livid. That orange bastard has f***** over too many people already, he’s not taking my Goanna boys as well!”
The club previously had an unspoken rule of no religion or politics in the clubhouse.
“My boys are pretty good with that no religion/politics rule, even when they’re on the piss after a big game, but that buffoon just riles everyone up, I’d rather not take the risk.”
With behaviour on the improve (the original offenders have served their ban and done the nudie run), Wade offered a long-term sweetener.
“If we have more wins – across all grades – than mentions of him, I’m shouting the boys a trip to Bali in October.”

Kyrgios prepares for Davis Cup

Controversial tennis player Nick Kyrgios has prepared for Australia’s Davis Cup clash against the Czech Republic… by beating a group of 12 year olds.

Kyrgios, rebounding from his disappointing Australian Open, beat the entire Victorian Tennis Academy under 13 squad in just two hours.

Australian coach Lleyton Hewitt was impressed.

“Mate, Nick was blowing these kids off the court! They are the elites in their age group, but they couldn’t get nearNick’s monster serves.  He didn’t lose a single point. He was pumped up too, no dramas with losing interest here.”

Hewitt denied that Kyrgios should be playing more appropriate opponents to prepare for the Davis Cup.

“We’ve worked hard on Nick since the Aussie Open, slowly rebuilding his confidence. He’s still delicate and we can’t risk him backsliding by losing to opponents the same age and skill set. Easy wins against outclassed opponents is much better for him.”

Hewitt revealed the strange exercises to get Kyrgios back to peak condition.

“Every morning I make him read his bank balance out loud, then spend 10 minutes shirtless infront of a mirror, yelling motivational buzzwords. With Tomic out, Nick needs the supreme confidence of two brats to beat the Czechs. I’m confident he’ll do well.”

How to revitalise one day internationals

While too much sport may never be enough (mangling the legendary Roy and HG quote), Cricket Australia are pushing it with one day internationals.

From late September 2016 until the conclusion of the NZ leg of the Chappell-Hadlee series, Australia will have played seventeen ODIs: one against Ireland (a warm up game in Benoni), five about South Africa, six against New Zealand (home and away) and five against Pakistan. Compare that to six Tests (against South African and Pakistan) and the upcoming three T20s against Sri Lanka.

Aside from the 5-0 humiliation in South Africa, Australia have won seven from 10 (leading New Zealand 3-1 with one washout and beating Pakistan 4-1).

While that’s fine for Aussie fans, does anyone really care?

The Test summer had a lot of character. Australia were beaten heavily in Perth and Hobart, had a morale-boosting day-night win in Adelaide and beat Pakistan in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. After the Hobart belting, Australia found success with Peter Handscomb and Matt Renshaw (despite the absurd criticism against him), David Warner blazed in Melbourne and Sydney, and Nathan Lyon and Mickey Edwards became cult heroes (Lyon through the niceness of his garyness and Edwards through his lovely hair) and Brisbane hosted its first day-nighter. Pakistan – being Pakistan – were unpredictable but entertaining. They nearly pulled off a miracle in Brisbane, threw away a certain draw in Melbourne and were overwhelmed in Sydney. South Africa deserve credit for winning despite no Dale Steyn or AB De Villiers.

As for the one dayers, are they going to be remembered as fondly?  I doubt it. Pakistan’s win in Melbourne was the only time Australia were challenged in eight ODIs at home. The more exciting Big Bash walked all over the ODIs, with over a million fans attending BBL06 overall and Channel Ten doing a marvellous job.

So what’s the problem with one day cricket?

After forty-odd years, it’s become boring and stale.

Sure, the last World Cup was fantastic, but outside of big events, does anyone care?

Cricket Australia’s treatment of domestic cricket is a big clue; the Matodor Cup has been compressed into a one-month tournament in October. This summer’s competition started on AFL and NRL Grand Final weekend. It’s a far cry from the days when Nine would telecast the old Mercantile Mutual Cup (which aligned with the Shield season) on Saturdays and Sundays. The Matador Cup games are shovelled onto GEM and forgotten about.

With an ignored domestic comp and frequent “who cares” contests, one day cricket will slowly fade away. Some might say this is a good thing, as Test cricket and Twenty20 can coexist (how good was it to watch a Test match during the day and a Big Bash game a few hours later?), but there are ways to save it.

Nominate bowlers for extra overs: this was tried in the domestic competition a few years back, but it could be brought back. Before the toss, one bowler is nominated to bowl a maximum 20 overs. This could change the at times robotic ODI tactics. Is a game petering out in the middle overs? Give your nominated bowler (usually the best bowler or the one most suited to the conditions) a few overs to shake things up. With plenty of overs up their sleeve, captains can use their bowler in short spells when needed. During multi-game bilateral series or tri/quad series’, the nominated bowler would rotate every game; say Mitchell Starc bowls 20 overs at the WACA, its Josh Hazlewood’s turn in Melbourne. It may make teams think about when they rest players. This would eliminate the need for the dreaded “fifth bowler”, usually a batsman who bowls military mediums or flat, defensive off-breaks to eat up the overs without any real danger of taking wickets.

Employ a mercy rule: One of the worst things about one day cricket is the inevitability of it all. Say Australia scores 350 batting first, then reduces Pakistan to four for not many. The game is virtually over. While this happens in Tests and T20s, Tests go long enough for teams to recover from a bad start and one-sided T20 innings are over quicker than most blockbuster movies. What if there was a mercy rule? If the chasing team’s required run rate is in double figures or they have less than five wickets left by the 40th over, call the game off. With so much cricket nowadays, I’m sure the players would appreciate finishing an hour or so earlier. More time to celebrate the win/commiserate the loss, get a good night’s sleep and prepare for the next game. With most ODIs finishing fairly late, a mercy rule would give families more time to get home or – for single fans or big groups – more time to kick on after the game. While it may inconvenience broadcasters, think of what Channel Nine could do with the extra airtime? (on second thought, best to change the channel).

Batting substitutions: If a bowler can be removed from the attack when bowling badly, why not batsmen? If a team is chasing a big target and one of their batsmen can’t hit the boundary, the captain can substitute him for a more suitable batsmen. This could introduce some interesting tactics. If a captain wants to use a late-order hitter in the final 10 overs, he could forcibly retire an existing batsman for the hitter, without risking a wicket (which is precious in the later overs). The substitution wouldn’t be permanent, as the earlier batsman can come back if the big hitter gets out. This rule would need to be capped (say two subs a game) to stop some captains exploiting it though.

Have more games with associate nations: Arguably the best games of the 2015 World Cup involved the “minnow”associate teams. Ireland chased 300 against the West Indies, Scotland gave New Zealand a hell of a scare, Zimbabwe beat UAE in a high-scoring game, Sri Lanka were pushed hard by Afghanistan, then Afghanistan beat Scotland by one wicket, and everybody remembers Bermuda’s Dwayne Leverock and that catch.

 Rather then snooze through another Australian walkover, wouldn’t it be better to watch these developing nations play each other? Even games between minnows and the elite teams would carry a curiosity value, at least for a little while.  Of course, this would never happen, as there’s more money in another plodding seven game series between Australia and India. The ICC’s decision to limit the 2019 World Cup to 10 teams is horribly short-sighted, ignoring what made the 2015 version work.

Should the knockout comp return?

The early nineties were a stellar time for rugby league. Canberra and Brisbane’s domination helped the NSWRL expand its suburban Sydney roots, Tina Turner’s rock anthems promoted the Winfield Cup, the new 10 metre ruled opened the game up for more attacking footy and there was some decent pre-season footy.

Starting as the Channel Ten Cup (1990) and then the Lotto Challenge (1991), the Tooheys Challenge lasted from 1992 to 1995, coexisting with the  wonderful World Sevens. Amazingly, this was an era when coaches let their players play some meaningful footy in February.

As great as the Auckland Nines is, the complaining by some officials could jeapoardise it, with its future uncertain from 2018.

Is it worth reviving the pre-season knockout tournament?

There are plenty of advantages.

If worried coaches don’t want to commit their best teams, it won’t discredit the tournament, as they’ll probably be eliminated in the first round anyway. This frees up teams to play trial matches or continue to wrap their stars in cotton wool until the “proper” footy stars in March.

For teams who are fair dinkum about it, the rewards are there. A potential four weeks of must-win footy will give teams vital momentum leading to round one as well as test new players under match conditions. Back in the nineties, Canberra (1990 and 1993) and Brisbane (1991 and 1995) won it twice. Souths won in 1994 and enjoyed a bright start to the premiership before finishing ninth. Illawarra’s 1992 victory led to their maiden finals appearance that September. It shows that momentum gained in February pays off.

A revived knockout tournament would take the game to country areas. A month of meaningful footy – spanning NSW and Queensland – would be more beneficial than the outdated NSW Origin trial or the occasional premiership game.

Let’s say the knockout tournament comes back in 2018. The first weekend would feature a full eight games, perfect for fans starved of footy since October. The second weekend would be the quarter finals, semi finals in week three and the grand final in week four, ideally played a fortnight before round one.

ROUND OF 16:  Thursday night (Nine),  Friday night (Nine), three games Saturday afternoon/Saturday night (Foxtel), two Sunday afternoon games (2pm game on Foxtel, 4pm game on Nine), Sunday night game (Foxtel)

QUARTER FINALS: Friday night game (Nine); Saturday afternoon and Saturday night (Foxtel double-header); Sunday afternoon (Nine)

SEMI-FINALS: Friday night (Nine), Saturday night (Foxtel)

GRAND FINAL: Friday night (Nine).

That’s a total of 15 games with an even spread between Nine and Foxtel.

While club politics means it probably won’t happen and we’ll be stuck with risk-free trial games, a new knockout tournament would give fans some decent footy to watch in February.

Get ready for a controversial 2017

While most NRL fans are looking forward to watching footy again, one fan is eagerly awaiting fresh scandals.

Terry Doyle, a 40-year-old office worker, runs a popular rugby league blog FootyScandals.

“I used to run a regular footy blog a while back, but nobody read it and I got bored. I remember when Mitchell Pearce went nuts on Australia Day. It was all over the news and crappy tabloid shows. I thought, ‘I’d like a piece of this’, so I set up the new blog and quickly got readers. It’s all in the headline, get the bastards clicking.”

Mr Doyle said it’s changed how he’s watched footy.

“Most punters admire great tries and tackles but I watch players and think ‘which one of these idiots will be caught on a mobile phone blind drunk later that night?'”

Mr Doyle’s had plenty of inspiration in the off-season.

“I thought last year was great, especially with Parra falling apart, Jarryd Hayne comparing himself to Jesus and the grand final between the drug cheats and salary cap cheats. This off-season’s almost topped it. James Roberts nearly getting kicked out of the Broncos, Gus whinging about the Nines, Wayne Bennett whinging about whatever he wants. I’ve gotten so many hits on my blog, I can’t wait for the new season!”