Down Under Blog: #44 That was the year that was

Pommy Rich gives us all the mis-dealing's in the NRL in his world famous Down Under Blog.

So, another domestic season has wrapped in both hemispheres and there’s that feeling of begrudging admiration for the clubs that were ultimately triumphant.

Melbourne and Leeds are two teams that people tend to love to hate, but there’s no denying that the Cam Smiths, Billy Slaters, Danny McGuires and Rob Burrows do turn it on in the big games. Both Grand Finals were marked by a team that was ruthless against a team that looked like it was a game too far for them.

Now, all eyes are turning to the Rugby League World Cup, and as I write this the eligibility row is rumbling on with players jumping ship from Australia and New Zealand to play for Pacific Island nations.

The thing is, this has been happening in reverse for years. Petero Civoniceva was about as Fijian as you get, yet played a boat load of times for Australia, right up until the final international tournament of his career when he came out of retirement to turn out for the island of his people.

At one point about 70% of the NZ side was made up of Samoans and Tongans with those nations full of fringe first graders who didn’t get the call up for the big boys. I’m glad that players are concentrating on representing the country of their birth (or at least heritage) with Tonga in particular looking like an awesome squad.

Unfortunately, this is going to keep happening when we hold a 14 team tournament when the game is played predominantly in three countries. If handled right, though, this could have the same effect as the salary cap has had on the NRL, a true levelling of the playing field, making for some amazing games.

Tonga Samoa

This time every year I take you all back to the predictions I made pre-season and give myself a mark out of 10, and this year I’m actually quite proud of myself. There are, as usual, some glaring errors, but overall I reckon I wasn’t too far off.

Super League – My top four was Warrington, Wigan, Hull and either Leeds or Castleford with Warrington beating us in the GF. Bottom four was Salford, Huddersfield, Wakefield and Widnes, with Rovers making the Million Pound game and losing again by a point (wishful thinking).

Verdict – Well, I spotted the resurgence of Leeds, and had us finishing third, but the least said about Warrington the better. I only had one of the bottom 4 right too, with Rovers securing promotion with a game to spare. I also had Leigh finishing in the top eight. I’d give myself about 3/10 here.

Challenge Cup – I had us retaining the cup and even predicted us beating Wigan in the final too. My only blip was thinking Rovers would draw Toronto away and that their team bus would hit a wayward moose.

Verdict – Mystic Pom. I’ll give myself a generous 9.5/10.

Hull FC Wembley

NRL – Canberra Raiders beating NQ Cowboys in the Final, Melbourne barely scrape into the eight. Big improvers would be Parra and the NZ Warriors. Tigers, Manly and Bulldogs missing the eight with Newcastle bottom.

Verdict- Well Canberra were pants this year. My long-awaited downfall of the Storm has been postponed for yet another year and the Warriors were frustratingly bad yet again. I got the Knights, Tigers, Bulldogs and Cowboys predictions right though. 3/10.

State of Origin – I said Queensland 2-1 and I was right. I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted how it would happen – especially at half time in game two when It looked like NSW would kick on and win the series.

Verdict – Spot on. 10/10

Sackings – I said Jason Taylor at Wests Tigers to go first, with Robinson (Roosters), Maguire (Souths) and Hasler (Bulldogs) the other casualties. With Betts at Widnes and Sheens at the Dobbins to go over in old Blighty

Verdict – Well Taylor went first, followed by Maguire and Hasler at the end of the season. Robinson had a great season at the helm of a resurgent Roosters, so I got that one wrong. How the hell Betts still has a job is anyone’s guess, and I didn’t spot the disastrous season that Smith would preside over at Warrington leading to him “parting on mutual consent”. On that note, Steve Price who’s replacing him was a class A car crash in his stint in charge at St George a few years back so that should be interesting.

Other Stuff – I also mentioned that Rovers supporters would take the piss whenever Kelly had a less than 10/10 performance, and that happened although the MOS third place has quietened them down a bit! It was nice of them to put Jordan Abdull on a diet for us too.

I said that despite winning the cup and another top four finish there would be a mystifying lack of international recognition for Hull FC’s English contingent of players…… The squad is picked tomorrow as I write this, so we’ll see, but if Shaul, Watts, Taylor, Sneyd and arguably Houghton and Connor aren’t picked it’ll be yet another example of our absolute need for an England based coach in charge of the national side.

The amount of time Bennett and his staff must spend digging up English Grandparents would be better spent by an English coach watching SL week in week out and picking a team in form, rather than trundling the likes of Chris Heighington and Chris (English, honest) McQueen out.

Verdict – we’ll see!

Hope to see a load of you all in Wollongong in February..

Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.
Rich – Twitter @pommyrich

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