From the Couch - Number Four
2005

EnergyAustralia Stadium on beautiful Sunday afternoon provided the setting for FTC?s first road trip of the year as Newcastle hosted Canberra in their Round 8 clash. As a football specific stadium it has few rivals with the surface rising slightly out of the bowels of the two stands and the grassed hills at either end. The Western Stand throws a gradually increasing shadow over the field and creates a setting perfect for Sunday afternoon football.

Contrary to reports suggesting the game was the worst of the NRL season, the 15,000 in attendance would have easily disagreed with that observation had the Knights come away with the points. For the Newcastle fans yet another loss was magnified by the fact their opposition actually had an injury list that matched their own (prior to the game at least) and their own side was firm favourites entering the game. But in an absorbing defensive battle the luckless Knights were on the wrong end of the score line once again. However, despite losing all three games of their current home stand, the Knights fans cannot complain about the variety of games they?ve seen. Against the Warriors they had the game won on the back of Andrew Johns at his best, only to lose the game to a frenetic Warriors comeback after Johns suffered a broken jaw with 15 minutes to go. Then the Bulldogs took away the points despite a gallant fight back that just fell short when winger Trent Salkeld elected to run infield with some space available in the corner. And finally after repelling Canberra?s attack time after time in the first half to go into halftime only 2 points down, the Knights then failed to capitalise on copious amounts of field position and possession to lose by 4 after a gripping second forty.

Despite the results, the football on show at the newly configured stadium has been entertaining or boring, depending on your point of view. For the fan who wants to see attacking brilliance and plenty of points on offer - the Warriors game well and truly delivered, and for the fan who wants to see exciting comebacks when their team looks gone - enter the Bulldogs game, and for the purist who would prefer to see two teams grind away at each other with never say die defence and deal with adversity on the run - then the Canberra game delivered.

In the current day NRL the media loves trumpeting the qualities of the first two games because they are deemed more ?exciting?, however had the latter contest been an Origin game it would have been labelled a classic because of gritty defence and never say die mentality. And yet we will keep reading articles this year that say how attack is dominating the game and the amount of points being scored is out of control, but when a tough low scoring game is dished up it gets carved up. One article pointed out all the significant errors in the game, but honestly you could dissect any game and come up with the same if not more significant errors. It all depends on your point of view.

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Still on Newcastle, speaking to some of the fans as they left the ground allowed FTC to gain the following insights: ?The boys are trying hard but it is just not our season, if Joey comes back we?ll win some games maybe.? ?We (the fans) turn up every week and we still will, but losing regularly never gets any easier to take, 2001 seems a long time ago.? ?I?ve been watching the Knights since ?88 and we used to earn all our wins with guts and determination, we couldn?t take a trick today but we?re gutsing it out, our defence was great so that?s something to build on.? And finally a word from the small contingent of Canberra fans who could be heard on the Southern Hill throughout the afternoon. ?If your team has won a game this season, clap your hands...? The Raiders Army in one of the more cheeky chants this season.

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Is EnergyAustralia Stadium the only place you will see a group of boys carrying their body boards around the outer and a group of girls coming in the gate at halftime decked out in their netball gear? To coin the Chief perhaps only in ?My Newcastle, My Newcastle?. They also had a 5 question trivia competition for season ticket holders at halftime. See how you fare with these three of the tough Newcastle focused questions (answers at the bottom of FTC): 1. Name the three former Newcastle players who played for New Zealand while with the Knights.

2. Name the two former Australian internationals that played for the Knights with a surname beginning with M.

3. What year did the Knights reserve grade side win the competition?

4. FTC Bonus Question: Name the two former Newcastle players that shared the same first and last names.

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Five Things I Think (I unashamedly borrow this idea from Peter King, the superb Sports Illustrated NFL writer who actually has ten things each week)

1. Billy Slater can count himself lucky this is the first suspension he has copped this season for attacking the head of an opponent. While Slater may not be the biggest player on the field any player that is no excuse to continually jump into tackles on runaway players who break the Storm?s first line of defence. Fox Sports commentator Laurie Daley made note of Slater?s technique fault in a recent game in Canberra and Melbourne and Slater should not be surprised the wildly inconsistent NRL Judiciary finally came to charge Slater for attacking the head of an opponent with ?contrary conduct?. In the Canberra game Slater?s forearm clearly smashed the face of Alan Tongue and forced him to the ground with the arm around the melon after the Raiders utility had slipped through the line yet he attracted no charge. I am a big fan of what Billy Slater brings to the game but this may not be the only time he cops a suspension for a tackling method that sadly lacks legal technique. 2. Shaun McRae has certainly wielded the axe at Souths after having a week off with the bye to consider where the Bunnies had to improve. Unknown halfback Mick Moran comes in for media darling Joe Williams who only a few weeks ago was being compared rather loosely to Andrew Johns. The halfback spot at Souths has been a constant merry-go-round since their re-admission in 2002 which has seen the likes of: Brad Watts, Blaine Stanley, Brett Sheehan, Willie Peters, Troy Robinson, Dean Byrne, Rhys Hanbury, Brett Kearney, Shane Walker, Williams and now Moran. And there?s a good chance I?ve left one or two players out of that list. 11 halfbacks in 3 1/3 seasons, it?s an astonishing statistic. Williams will be back in 1st Grade sooner rather than later and is their best option but Moran has a chance to impress at the top level to keep the pressure on Williams. While on the sackings forward Luke Stuart is the man most harshly dealt with as he rarely plays a bad game and has put his heart and soul into the club and will earn his spot back very soon. 3. There?ll be plenty said about the merits of the City-Country game as a NSW selection trial, but at the end of the day the place the game holds in the league calendar is an important one. While the Origin Series rightfully holds pride of place in the middle of the season, the lack of genuine in-season Test Series for a long long time means that another representative game is vital to adding extra bright spots in the season. The Anzac Test is a great spectacle to kick off the rep season, but the City-Country clash is a great appetizer for the Origin Series as it opens the door for more players to push their claims for representative jerseys and thus increase the interest level from the fan base in each round leading into the contest. 4. With City-Country this Friday and the much anticipated Origin Series coming later in the month, openings at club level for talented youngsters to step up and audition themselves for a permanent NRL spot later in the season. Here are a couple of names to watch out for in the coming weeks: a. Greg Inglis, Storm ? hyped speedster is set to get a chance prior to Origin with Billy Slater suspended at fullback after making his debut on the wing a few weeks ago. Is tearing up the Qld Cup with his tryscoring ability and should impress during Origin time. b. Ben Rogers, Panthers ? I have a big opinion of this kid?s ball playing ability and he has the size to play lock if Trent Waterhouse gets the call-up for NSW. Has a handy kicking game to boot which makes him an even bigger chance of playing for the Panthers if Craig Gower makes the bench for the Blues. c. Michael Gordon, Panthers ? pointscoring machine in Premier League after joining the club in the off-season. Can play fullback, centre or wing and with the likes of Rhys Wesser, Luke Lewis and Luke Rooney likely Origin bound, Gordon could get a chance to impress in Round 11 against the Sharks. d. Cooper Cronk, Storm ? while better known than the rest of this group (thanks largely to his name), Cronk will get the next month to show the NRL if he can direct a side around the park. Matt Orford?s hamstring injury opens the door for Cronk who has played mainly hooker and lock off the bench in the top grade but with no other recognised halfback in the organisation the Storm will look to the 21 year old against the Rabbitohs in Round 10. e. Mickey Paea, Roosters ? If as expected Craig Fitzgibbon, Michael Crocker, Chris Flannery and Anthony Tupou come heavily into Origin calculations, then the 1st Grade door may open for the most talented of the Paea boys and the 19 year old forward might step right in. Roosters fans are patiently waiting for this exciting prospect to make an appearance and it could come in Round 17 against the Knights. 5. After going 15/17 on our predicted Test team (missing Tonie Carroll and Ben Kennedy while Trent Waterhouse replaced an injured Jason Ryles), FTC will take a quick stab at the NSW and QLD sides for Origin I in 2 weeks time. NSW: Minichiello, Rooney, Gasnier, Cooper, Lewis, Barrett, Kimmorley; Bailey, Buderus (c), Ryles, Hindmarsh, Fitzgibbon, Hill. Bench: Wing, Tupou, Waterhouse, Simpson QLD: Wesser, Slater, Tonga, Berrigan, Slater, Lockyer (c), Prince; Price, Smith, Civoniceva, Thorn, Carroll, Johnson. Bench: Ross, Flannery, Nutley, Bowen. The suspension of Michael Crocker may open the door for Cronulla prop Danny Nutley or Brisbane second rower David Stagg to make the squad, given Crocker will have no games under his belt prior to the May 25th Game.

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2005 NSC CONSISTENCY RATING - CR? - AS OF ROUND 8

TEAM CR 1. COWBOYS +12.0 2. BRONCOS +9.5 3. SHARKS +8.0 4. SEA EAGLES +7.0 5. RAIDERS +5.0 6. STORM +3.0 7. PANTHERS +3.0 8. WARRIORS +0.0 9. EELS -2.5 10. TIGERS -2.5 11. BULLDOGS -3.0 12. ROOSTERS -4.5 13. DRAGONS -6.0 14. RABBITOHS -8.0 15. KNIGHTS -17.0

Eliminating the Bye from the table and weighting wins/losses at home and away gives the CR for 2005 so far. ? The table topping Cowboys have a healthy lead in the CR after two convincing wins over the Panthers and Roosters, of their 6 wins so far this season the Cowboys have won 5 of those games by at least 11 points or more. ? Manly?s heavy loss to the Broncos at Suncorp saw them drop from outright 1st on the CR with +10.5 to 4th with +7.0. Melbourne fell 3 spots from 3rd to 6th thanks to the Sharks 30-10 win at Olympic Park. ? Canberra and Manly have only suffered two losses this season but both have been by 20+. ? The Warriors continue to lose close games, their 16-14 loss to the Panthers at home was their 3rd 1-10 loss this season following on from the massive 10 games they lost by that margin last season. ? How the mighty have fallen, not only have the Dogs and Roosters fallen on the table their CRs are abysmal given their consistency over the past three seasons. The Bulldogs are -3.0 and the Roosters -4.5 after both posting CRs in excess of +40 last season. ? The hapless Knights are on track for an unwanted record, since 2002 the lowest CR in a season was South Sydney (twice) in 02 and 03 with -48.5, Newcastle?s current -17.0 equates to a -58.0 CR over 24 rounds. But that figure assumes they will not win a game the rest of the season which is highly unlikely.

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Trivia Answers. 1. Sam Stewart, Tony Kemp, Adrian Shelford (the crowd however was convinced one was John Schuster) 2. Adam MacDougall, Adam Muir. 3. 1995 4. Steve Walters ? one a halfback from Newcastle competition in the late 80s-early 90s and one a hooker who played for Canberra, North Queensland and Newcastle.

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From The Couch will appear on League Unlimited every second Thursday, and is archived on the Nicolson Sports Consultancy Website www.nsc.leagueunlimited.com. You can reach Warrick Nicolson via email at nicolsonsc@yahoo.com.au and an assortment of correspondence will be featured each FTC.

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