Well, the NRL competition has started and we’re in that “phoney war” period when a couple of freak results gives the table a lop-sided upside-down look.
That means two wins for the Warriors have placed them in the top four, when they were most people’s pick (mine included) for the wooden spoon. Add to that two stirring wins for the Dragons, Panthers and Knights, and suddenly the ladder looks like someone turned it upside down from the end of last season.
Of course, the stars so far have to be the Wests Tigers (although by the time you read this, the wheels may well and truly have come off) who at the time of writing have beaten the two Premiership favourites in the Roosters and the Storm, both in low scoring tight matches. You can say a lot at the Tigers, but until now you could never really say they were the type of team that could grind out a win in a pressure situation, Ivan Cleary is obviously some coach – even if the sight of Sandercock sat next to him as assistant makes me feel physically ill.
Meanwhile, Mahe Fonua is still playing in reserve grade for the Western Suburbs Magpies (was man of the match and scored a try this week), and hopefully may get his chance soon. But the thing is whilst they are over performing, they aren’t going to change a winning formula. I still say he’ll be back in Super League within 2 years – hopefully at Hull.
Throw into the mix an incredible game between the Sharks and the Dragons where the team playing with the wind direction dominated each half (and I’ve not seen that in YEARS), and the obligatory Broncos v Cowboys drama-a-thon that was literally decided by the padding on the post, and its been a breathless drama filled start and no mistake.
The game of round 2 always looked like it would by Manly v Parramatta though. On paper, two very evenly matched sides with only the injured Clint Gutherson missing from the Eels line-up. What was witnessed out at Brookvale (I refuse to call it “Lottoland”) however, was nothing short of an annihilation.
Listening to Eels coach Brad Arthur’s press conference was interesting though. He basically threw his hands up and said, “one of those days”. It was hot, over 36C at kick off, and to see your side 18-0 inside about 15 minutes and have to do an enormous amount of defence in those conditions must have been terrible for him as a coach. It can’t have been much fun for the players either to be honest. 54-0, that’s a bitter pill to swallow for any club, and it will be interesting to see how they bounce back from that.
The other major drama over here has been the Matt Lodge issue. For those that have missed this, here’s a quick precis….. Matt Lodge is a talented, young back rower that, whilst contracted to the Wests Tigers a few years back, went on a drunken rampage whilst on holiday in the US. He broke into a poor family’s home and destroyed property, punched people and basically held them hostage until the police arrived whereupon it took tasers, pepper spray and a shed load of cops to subdue him.
He agreed to pay the family compensation and was hastily sent back to Australia, where he was immediately sacked by the Tigers, and signed to a second tier contract at the Broncos and immediately Wayne Bennett slapped a press ban on him and kept him under wraps.. Since then he’s apparently trained the house down and was selected for round one.
As soon as the team list hit the press, all hell let loose. The family in the US went public and declared that they hadn’t received a cent from him in compensation – of course that was immediately countered by people pointing out that he can’t pay them (over $2million US) until he’s playing and earning good money. Journalists very smartly then started comparing Lodge to Carney, who despite a chequered past hasn’t been convicted of anything since leaving the NRL, and only left Cronulla thanks to the “bubbler” incident involving his own piss. The NRL are dragging their feet to register him at the Cowboys who have offered him a contract, but allowed Lodge to be registered? Odd to say the least.
Then Wayne Bennett, with his usual amazing PR, refused to answer questions about the situation, and hence in the first game of the season, Lodge was booed whenever he touched the ball, and had a very average game—throwing a pass that ex-Bronco Ben Hunt intercepted before racing away under the posts.
By this point people are now fearing for the welfare of the player who is so under the microscope that he must be feeling insane pressure. So, between games one and two, the Broncos announce Lodge will give an interview. He actually came across well, very contrite and said he was focussed on making himself a better man, and repaying his debts to the victims and getting on with his life. He also said that he was proud that he’d never hit a woman.
Problem is, he has. He pleaded guilty to assaulting his ex-partner including throwing her from a moving car. What a charmer.
The next few weeks will be interesting, will the Tigers wheels fall off, can the Warriors keep winning, will Canberra ever fulfil their potential, will the Broncos stand by Lodge? All will be revealed, but one things for sure, as a start to a season, there’s never been one quite like this..
Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.
Rich – Twitter @pommyrich