News Limited's leading sports columnist, Mike Colman writes for Suncorp Stadium about the issues and personalities associated with the three codes of football played here. Agree or disagree, his weekly column "What Do You Reckon" certainly engages the fans.
I reckon Justin O’Neill is going to be the X-factor for Kevin Walters’ first-ever Origin side. There was plenty of discussion about who Kevvie should bring into the backline following the retirement of Justin Hodges and the injury that ruled Billy Slater out of the series. As I said in this very space after the first game of the NRL season, Corey Oates was made for Origin. With every match he played from then on, he became more of a certainty to make the team this year. O’Neill was never as much of a talking point. People were far too interested in whether Kyle Feldt would get a maroon jersey, and if Gavin Cooper should get the nod ahead of Nate Myles. Let’s not forget there was even a push for Kevvie to lift his ban on Dylan Napa after one huge game against the Rabbitohs. While all that discussion was going on, O’Neill was quietly going about his business – and Kevvie was taking notice. If anyone has any doubt about whether O’Neill can handle the biggest arena in the game, they should have a look at a replay of the grand final. His performance was absolutely outstanding. The only question that Kevvie and the other Queensland selectors faced was whether O’Neill would be better off his Cowboy team-mate Feldt alongside him, rather than sticking with Dane Gagai whose season with the cannon-fodder Knights has been anything but enjoyable. I understand it was the last decision they made, and I reckon it was the right one. Gagai will be like a kid in a candy store getting the opportunity to play on the end of the best backline in the game – and no matter who is outside him, Justin O’Neill is going to be around for a long, long time. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Gavin Cooper’s time has come. There has been plenty of talk in recent days about whether the Cowboys forward will ever get the nod to play Origin, but it seems to me there will never be a better time to bring him into the Queensland side than this. I know that the Maroons have always had a policy of sticking with the tried and true, but in recent years there have been plenty of newcomers brought into the side and while club form doesn’t always translate to Origin, no other forward candidate can boast what Cooper can. That is, that he is Johnathan Thurston’s favourite go-to man. You only have to look at tape of last year’s 52-6 shellacking of the Blues at Suncorp Stadium to see how much Thurston enjoyed having his Cowboys team-mate Michael Morgan alongside him in Origin. It was reminiscent of the way the Storm trio of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater have seamlessly taken their club partnership to the next level. Slater won’t be there this year of course, so why not add another club pairing to the mix in the shape of Thurston-Cooper? Cooper scored 11 tries last season and has bagged a try a game in the last six rounds of this season. The stats aren’t available, but if you guessed that 15 of those 17 tries were from Thurston passes, you wouldn’t be far off. Now I’m not saying that we should just hand all of the Cowboys an Origin jersey and say “go out there and play against the Blues like you do against the Broncos”. For starters I think the calls for Kyle Feldt to get a start for Queensland are way premature, but I reckon Cooper running off Thurston in the rarefied air of Origin would make the Blues’ nightmares even worse. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon if the decision-makers at the NRL want to see the rugby league capital of the world, they only have to come along to the double-header at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night. A full house of around 52,000, with fans travelling from four major city centres and three states to get here - to say nothing of the fact that the two best teams in the game hail from this side of the border … what more evidence do they need that Queensland is where the heart of the game beats strongest? Yet for some reason they seem determined to ignore Brisbane’s legitimate claim for a grand final. And not just because they are committed to Sydney’s ANZ Stadium, either. That they would even contemplate taking the game to Melbourne when ANZ is undergoing renovations, is staggering. They can say all they like that Melbourne can offer more seats, but surely this is about more than how many people you can fit into the stadium. Queensland players and Queensland fans have been the backbone of the NRL for years – and with news this week that Suncorp Stadium can provide a financial package the equal to, if not better, than any other venue in Sydney, it would seem a no-brainer. But you know what? We should forget about anything except enjoying a magnificent spectacle on Saturday. Queensland’s champions taking on two great opponents – one we love to beat; the other we love to hate – I reckon it doesn’t get any better than this. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon you shouldn’t wait too long to get your tickets for the Wallabies-England showdown at Suncorp Stadium on June 11. This three-Test series is going to be capital B Big. In fact, I’m tipping it to be the most absorbing and newsworthy international rugby to be played here since the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Why? I can sum it up in two words: Eddie Jones. The former Wallabies, Reds and Brumbies coach might not have been universally loved by officials and players, but you ask just about any journalist who’s had anything to do with him, and he’s right at the top of their favourites list. Say what you will about Eddie; call him obsessed, workaholic and a control freak, but one thing you can never accuse him of is being boring. He’s always got something to say, the more over-the-top, the better. The half-Japanese Australian was so combative at his press conferences during his stint with the Wallabies that the local media nicknamed him ‘Fighting Harada’ after the former boxer. Eddie has waited 11 years to coach a team against Australia and he’ll be absolutely fixated on getting some of his own back after being sacked as national coach in 2005. As he told me last year when he accepted the England job, “I didn’t divorce Australia, Australia divorced me.” I know for a fact that he was very disappointed when Japan just missed out on snatching a quarter-final spot against the Wallabies in the last World Cup. The chance to knock his old team out of the competition would have been like winning the lottery. Now 12 months later he’s got a better team and, after the drubbing the Wallabies gave England at Twickenham last year, even more incentive to get one over his old club-mate Michael Cheika. I reckon what might have been just another Test series has been taken to a whole new level, all thanks to the Jones Factor. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the Parramatta Eels deserve a pat on the back for the way they have handled the Keiran Foran situation. The club could have been following a blueprint entitled ‘How To Deal With Your Best Player’s Breakdown.’ Step one, offer unconditional support. Step two, get the best help available. Step three, give him all the time he needs away from the pressure of competition and, step four, be upfront with the media. Put that way it doesn’t seem all that difficult, but over the years clubs in all sports seem to have trouble working it out. The situation with Ben Barba back in 2013 is a case in point. What could have been dealt with quickly and effectively turned into an ongoing and very ugly saga. Not because the Bulldogs had done the wrong thing initially, but because they had not been transparent in their dealings with the public and the media in the first place. The Eels have learnt the lesson and because of that Foran will be able to get the time and care he needs to get his life back on track. Which, of course, is the main thing. Those so called “fans” who have called on Foran to “man up” and get back onto the field are, as former player Mark Geyer so rightly labelled them, nothing more that “online idiots”. Yes Foran is the Eels’ most valuable player, and yes he is paid good money by the club, but he is also a person. A partner and father dealing with the break-up of a long-term relationship and all the emotional and psychological stress that comes with that. The last thing Foran needs is the added pressure of carrying a football club and its supporters on his back. You can rest assured that if the Eels felt the need to give Foran “indefinite leave” to cope with his issues, that this is no easy-fix situation. Keiran Foran is universally respected as a player and a bloke. I reckon every rugby league fan, regardless of the club they follow, should wish him all the best for a full recovery. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the Victorians were cracking jokes by even suggesting the NRL grand final should go to Melbourne during ANZ Stadium’s refurbishment. Surely it was a late April Fools’ joke. Of course the people running events down there want the grand final – who wouldn’t? But there is a big difference between want and deserve. The grand final is more than just a revenue earner for the people of Queensland – and that is all it would be in Victoria. I take my hat off to Melbourne Storm supporters. They are true rugby league believers keeping the flame burning in hostile territory. Actually, that’s not really correct. The general populace of Melbourne aren’t hostile to rugby league; they are totally indifferent to it. Unless it is “their” type of football they couldn’t give a damn. Sure for the true Melbourne Storm faithful a Victorian grand final would be an experience they’d remember all their lives, but they would be a minority. The other Victorians in the stands might as well be at a circus: a chance to look at the animals and clowns and forget all about it the next day. I went down to Melbourne to cover the third Origin match in 2006 – the one in which Darren Lockyer snatched the Brett Hodgson pass to set the Maroons on the way to eight straight series. The next morning I went on a TV show with two Melbourne football writers to discuss the game. One gave it lip service, trying to show that he knew something – however tiny - about rugby league. The other canned it mercilessly and asked why it was even being held in his town. He was totally dismissive of the game and insulting about the people who had travelled to Victoria at great cost to watch it. “I’ve never seen so many bogans in my life,” he said. And these are the people who want the NRL grand final? I can tell you from personal experience that those who would go along would do so for just two reasons: because it is on, and so that they can compare it – unfavourably – to their type of football. Queensland has been carrying the NRL for years. The state has the best teams, the best players and the best supporters. I reckon Victorians can want the NRL grand final all they like, but Queenslanders deserve it. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Rugby League Week was onto something when they floated the idea this week that a Queensland B team could beat the Blues this Origin series. The magazine picked a side of up-and-comers and almost-theres (and an oldie or two) who could do the business for the Maroons, just like the old Australia A one-day squad back in the days of World Series Cricket. As RLW rightly pointed out, the Broncos scrum-base duo of Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford would walk straight into the NS...W side tomorrow if Laurie Daley could somehow doctor their birth certificates. The journo added the likes of Cameron Munster, Edrick Lee, Valentine Holmes, Justin O’Neill, Corey Oates, Korbin Sims, Jake Friend, Dylan Napa, Gavin Cooper, Ethan Lowe and Chris McQueen to make the Queensland B run-on side, and had Chris Grevsmuhl, Jake Granville, Ben Hannant and Daly Cherry-Evans on the bench. I would swap Kyle Feldt for Edrick Lee and bring in Moses Mbye as 18th man, but other than that, it’s a pretty decent outfit. Of course it’s all academic – especially with almost half the squad suspended for 12 months by coach Kevvie Walters – but I still reckon they could give the Blues a shake. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon we saw one of the great rugby league partnerships taking shape on Good Friday. I’m not just talking about a Broncos pairing here. From the glimpses we saw last week, Anthony Milford and James Roberts could quite feasibly go on to stand alongside some of the best in the game’s history. When Milford came to Brisbane just over a year ago there was talk of him and Ben Hunt becoming another Allan Langer-Kevin Walters scrum-base combination. That still could happen, but the combination of Milford’s step and Roberts’ sheer pace has the potential to take them to another level. It was there to see in Roberts’ try off Milford’s second-half break on Friday night. Check it out on YouTube; the way Roberts surged up alongside Milford and then left the rest of the field behind as he cruised to the line was a frightening sight for opposition coaches. For the first time since joining the club Roberts found the confidence to impose himself on the game – just like Milford did 12 months ago. If they can stay fit and motivated for the next few years I reckon the Milford-Roberts brand will one day roll off the tongue as easily as Langer-Lewis, Kenny-Sterling, Stuart-Daley and other great rugby league pairings. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Origin is coming early to Brisbane over Easter. Suncorp Stadium is hosting three enormous events over the holiday weekend and while most of the talk is about Friday night’s NRL grand final replay, there’s also a couple of Queensland versus NSW showdowns which will get the interstate passions bubbling. Saturday night the Roar take on Sydney FC in a match that is vital to their chances of a top two finish. John Aloisi’s boys hit a road-bump against Melbourne City but they are a different side with a big home crowd behind them, and any Queensland side taking on an outfit from down south is always assured of massive support at Suncorp. Sunday it’s the Reds against the Waratahs - to which, a couple of weeks ago, the reaction of most sports fans would have been ‘who cares?’ After their improved showing in securing a point against the Blues last week, things have changed. There’s a new feeling of optimism around the Reds camp and they might just pull off an upset, to cap off what I reckon will be one of the biggest weekends of sport in Suncorp Stadium history. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the loss of Billy Slater for up to eight months will be enormous for Queensland in terms of what he has meant to the team since making his debut 12 years ago, but not as great in terms of how it will affect the Maroons this series. Obviously no side ever wants to lose a player as talented as Billy the Kid, but happily for Queensland supporters Kevvie Walters has plenty of depth at fullback, just as Mal Meninga did when Billy was ruled out for Origin Two and Three last year. There are many judges who believe Greg Inglis is the best number one in the game, and Darius Boyd is no slouch either. With Dane Gagai and Will Chambers performing so well last year, Justin O’Neill a survivor of the Emerging squad fiasco, and hopefully Corey Oates back from injury in time, Kevvie has plenty of options to cover the loss of Billy and retirement of Justin Hodges. What cannot be as easily replaced is the spark and personality that Billy brings to camp. He is always “up”, always happy to interact with the media and public, and that enthusiasm translates into his performances on the field. The crowd rises to its feet when Billy has the ball, and they have rarely been disappointed. Mark Coyne’s 1994 try, in which the ball went through nine pairs of hands, is rightly considered the best in Origin history, but I reckon 20 year-old Billy’s double kick, chase and swerve around Anthony Minichiello at Suncorp Stadium in 2004 just shades King Wally’s 1989 effort as the best individual try of them all. What do YOU reckon.
I reckon Wayne Bennett is right in telling the media to be patient in waiting for James Roberts to hit his straps in Broncos colours, but they’re not the only ones. Roberts is going to have to be patient too. The Broncos play a very structured style of football, and right now that structure doesn’t include Roberts as much as he would like. It was plain to see in the season opener against the Eels that the majority of play went down the other side of the field, with good results. Corey Oates had a blinder with all the ball he was getting and Wayne Bennett isn’t going to change things just to give Roberts more action. When the ball did come Roberts’ way, he was over eager and rushed things. What he should do is look at the tapes of Justin Hodges to see how to get himself more involved in the play at times of his choosing. Hodges was never one to wait for the ball to come to him. He went looking for it; with his dummy half runs a huge part of the Broncos success over the years. At the Titans, where there was not as much talent around him, Roberts was the focal part of the attack. At the Broncos, he is just a cog in a smooth running machine. I reckon Hodges is correct is saying Roberts will be a big success at Red Hill, but that success won’t land in his lap – and it won’t come overnight. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the happiest man watching the Broncos get over the top of the Eels in round one would have been Kevin Walters. Not because he’s a former Brisbane captain and assistant coach, although that would have helped. No, Kevvie’s excitement would have had nothing to do with the past, only the future. Kevvie would have been looking at the first match of the season through maroon coloured glasses and he didn’t have to wait long to see the answer to his prayers in Corey Oates. When Kevvie was forced to ban eight of his up and coming players after they broke curfew at the Emerging Maroons camp it left a huge hole in his plans. Obviously all eight weren’t going to get close to an Origin call-up any time soon, but some of them sure could have – Anthony Milford, Ben Hunt, Valentine Holmes and Dylan Napa amongst them. Not having those players to call on should he be hit with a big injury toll left Kevvie in a fix. The sensational first half turned on by Oates against Parramatta, on top of his grand final performance last year, must have had Kevvie licking his lips – and breathing a sigh of relief. Oates might not play in the 2016 series, but just knowing he is there if needed is a huge boost. Looks very much like the kid is made for top-flight rugby league – he’s big, strong fast and can play wing or backrow. I reckon he’s got Origin written all over him. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the Broncos are on a winner with their “new” captain. When I say new, Corey Parker was co-captain with Justin Hodges last season and he has been part of the furniture at Red Hill for 17 years, so he’s no Johnny-Come-Lately. But that’s the amazing thing about him. At 34 years of age he doesn’t seem to have lost one iota of his enthusiasm, passion or on-field fitness. Not that those are the things that make him such a good selection. It seems to me that Parker epitomises everything that has made the Broncos the powerhouse they have become in such a relatively short time. From Wally Lewis through Alfie Langer, Gorden Tallis and Darren Lockyer, amongst others, the Broncos have had on-field leaders who inspire through their actions, not words. Best of all, he was brought to the club by the late great Cyril Connell, the veteran scout who the Broncos foundation CEO John Ribot once described as the best signing he ever made. I reckon if he was good enough for Cyril he’s got the pedigree needed to take his place alongside the great Broncos captains who have gone before him. What do YOU reckon.
I reckon an Indigenous All Stars game could be a huge money-spinner for the NRL. Just not in its current form. There’s nothing wrong with the concept of an indigenous game, but playing against an NRL or even “world” All Stars team is only ever going to be an exhibition game. That doesn’t stop big numbers showing up mind you. There will be close to 40,000 at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night and if Todd Greenberg can’t make a buck out of that he needs to buy a new calculator. Still, if Todd wants a real blockbuster that will give rugby league’s indigenous stars the showpiece they deserve, how about this: an annual “Test” match between the Original Aussies and the New Zealand Maori. The Kiwis have a red hot rugby union Maori side that plays against international teams, so why not a league version? England took on a Maori side made up of former Test players as a warm-up for the 2010 Four Nations, but how good would it be to see a side of current Maori stars running on against JT, GI and co in Brisbane? The Bledisloe Cup and Four Nations finals at Suncorp Stadium against New Zealand rival Origin for crowd numbers and passion. I reckon an annual Indigenous All Stars versus NZ Maori clash would be one of the biggest events on the sporting calendar – and give Todd Greenberg the cash cow he wants. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon those young blokes breaking curfew on the Emerging Maroons camp will prove to be the best thing that could have happened to Kevin Walters. Kevvie was always going to have to stamp his authority as Origin coach and this was the perfect opportunity. Banning players for 12 months who were at long odds to play in the 2016 series anyway is the ultimate win-win. He gets to prove he’s no soft touch, and it hasn’t cost him anything in terms of The Big Show. If you’re going to wield the big stick, far better to do it five months before Game 1 than five days before Game 3. How much would Laurie Daley have liked to have been in the same position over the last couple of seasons? Two years ago he copped it from NSW supporters when he dropped Mitchell Pearce for being a goose, and then last year he copped it from Queensland supporters when he didn’t drop Michael Jennings for being an even bigger goose. Although speaking of gooses, (I know, I know, it’s geese, but it doesn’t flow as well) how big of one do you have to be to not only sneak out of the team hotel after being told not to by the coach, but then get caught trying to sneak back in? I reckon some of these young fellas are lucky they can catch a football, because they’re never going to make a living as rocket scientists. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the NRL is on to a winner with the changes that have been made to the Indigenous All-Stars match. The concept was always a good one; giving a showcase to some of rugby league’s best talent, while at the same time providing an opportunity for Indigenous people to celebrate their heritage, but by changing the opposition to a World All Stars side, it has got even better. The inclusion of Sam Burgess alone is enough to give the February 13 match at Suncorp Stadium even more credibility. Not because Big Sam is the most popular personality in the game, but because he has something to prove – along with several other players named in the match. Robbie Farah will no doubt be wanting to send a message to his good mate Jason Taylor, and Ben Barba has plenty to play for in the number six jersey. James Roberts will want to have a good game too after all the fuss about his market value. But personally, I’d like to see the Indigenous side put up another good show to lend weight to an argument I’ve been pushing for years: that they should be recognised as a genuine international team and play Test matches. Well why not? If the NZ Maori can play rugby union internationals, why can’t the Australian Indigenous league side take on England, New Zealand, New Guinea, Fiji or Samoa? Surely they have as much right to play in a Rugby League World Cup as Lebanon or Greece or Ireland. They certainly have the players to give any side in the world a run for its money, and unlike some of the so-called “national” teams in the World Cup, they could field 17 footballers with a genuine emotional and spiritual affinity for their jersey. I reckon an Indigenous side taking on the Poms or Kiwis in a World Cup semi-final would be sensational. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the Maroons are in the best spot imaginable: a win-win situation. No matter whether they signed up Paul Green or Kevin Walters as coach, the QRL were on a winner. They are both great blokes with terrific football minds, and they are Queenslanders through and through. Because of his famous partnership with Alfie Langer and his time as one of Mal Meninga’s assistants during Queensland’s recent record run of success, Kevvie has the bigger profile in Origin, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Green had his moments in the game’s toughest arena as well. He was the man who moved from halfback to hooker to make way for Langer when Wayne Bennett called him back from the UK in one of the greatest two-card tricks of Origin history. At the same time, Kevvie’s credentials as a club coach seemed to be downplayed a bit in the to-ing and fro-ing over the Origin job. He learned the ropes under Bennett at the Broncos, took Ipswich Jets to a grand final, did a good job assisting Craig Bellamy at Melbourne and took Catalans Dragons to the semi-finals of the Super League in 2009. That’s not a bad resume and you wouldn’t be surprised if the Wests Tigers are now wishing they had opted for him to replace Mick Potter instead of Jason Tayor. Greenie’s credentials at NRL level are of course impeccable. You can’t do better than winning the premiership, and it doesn’t hurt your reputation to be the first coach to beat Wayne Bennett on grand final day. I read a lot from down south about the FOGs wanting Kev for the job. That just shows you how much times have changed. If the great Tosser Turner was still around there wouldn’t have been any discussion. If the FOGs (read: Tosser) had wanted Kevvie to be Queensland coach, he would have been Queensland coach. There was talk too, that Mal had recommended Kev as his successor, so why even talk the Greenie? Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Mal’s Maroons are inevitably going to go through a changing of the guard over the next few seasons and the QRL figured some new ideas were needed. Either way, as I said, I reckon the Maroons were holding both winning tickets in a two-horse race. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Good Friday should be renamed Great Friday for rugby league fans this year. The 2016 NRL draw has been very kind to Suncorp Stadium patrons; we’ve got the double-header on May 14, with the Cowboys taking on the Storm and Broncos against Sea Eagles; the return of ‘Hook’ Griffin with his Panthers on July 22 and the big regular season finish of Eels, Dogs, Roosters. But if there has ever been a more anticipated club match than the Grand Final replay between the Broncos and Cowboys on Friday March 25, I don’t remember it. Actually, I do remember it. Broncos versus Manly at Lang Park, round one 1988. The difference was that back then the Sydney hot-shots headed up to Brisbane thinking they were in for an easy afternoon against the competition newcomers. They never knew what hit them as Wally and the boys walloped them 44-10. This time around JT and co will be under no false illusions. This will be an absolute cracker. A few months back these two teams gave us the first all-Queensland grand final, the first (and possibly last) Golden Point grand final, and arguably the best-ever grand final. We can all be forgiven for thinking that Good Friday will bring us the best-ever club game as well. Which raises a good question. What was the best club match you ever saw? Plenty of old timers will opt for that first-ever Broncos win, although as an old Bears fan I still get goose-bumps thinking of a 26-12 win over Manly at North Sydney Oval one Sunday afternoon in 1984. While we’re at it, what’s your best-ever grand final? The Cows’ win was sensational, but I still reckon you can’t go past Raiders-Tigers in 1989. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Jonah Lomu should get a statue at Suncorp Stadium – and every other stadium where professional rugby is played, for that matter. It wouldn’t be right to say that Jonah was the reason that rugby turned professional – it was inevitable – but it was his performances at the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa that convinced the media money men that this was a game, and a personality, that could drive pay TV subscriptions around the world. Jonah inspired athletes everywhere to take up the game; and not just youngsters. Wendell Sailor first started thinking about making the switch from league to union when reporters began questioning how he would go in a one-on-one contest with the All Black superstar. When Dell went over to union he famously pointed to a set of turnstiles and said, “Watch me make these babies sing”. Well, if Dell got them to sing a song or two, Jonah was responsible for a string of operas and the entire Beatles collection. Nobody sold tickets like Jonah. In his eight-year international career, sadly cut short because of his illness, Jonah played just one Test at Suncorp Stadium – the 32-25 win to the All Blacks in 1996. Part of the first-ever professional Tri-Nations series, it was also the first time Queensland fans had the chance to see Lomu in action after his sensational performances in South Africa, and didn’t the turnstiles sing for that game. The roar and sense of expectation that went around the ground as Jonah ran on the field that day was reminiscent of the reaction as Wally Lewis led out the Maroons. Rugby – maybe even sport in its entirety – had never seen anything like Jonah Lomu before, and I reckon we never will again. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon John Grant and his wise men should stopping mucking around and appoint Mal Meninga Australian coach before he tells them to take a hike. To say he can’t coach Queensland at the same time is ridiculous. It didn’t seem to worry Michael Cheika too much that he stayed in charge of the Waratahs while turning the Wallabies around did it? More to the point, it didn’t worry the Wallabies, and it shouldn’t worry the Kangaroos if Mal is in charge of the Maroons either. Comparing what is happening in Australian rugby league now to what happened back in the 1980s is like comparing chalk and cheese. Terry Fearnley took away an Australian team in the middle of a fiercely contested Origin series, and it turned out to be a disaster, but that was back in the days when the Kangaroos were thought to be so far in front of everyone else that it wasn't funny. When Fearnley’s team lost to the Kiwis it was a bigger upset than Prince of Penzance winning the Melbourne Cup. Times have changed; the Kiwis are now the top dogs and it is a case of the Aussies catching up, not just staying in front. And why do the men in black have the wood on the Kangaroos? Because they play trans-Tasman footie with the same passion that Australians can only muster for Origin. If a Kangaroo side is ever to get back to the glory days it must become a true team, united in a common goal. A band of brothers who genuinely want to play for each other year after year. In other words, a team like the Queensland Origin side that Mal has moulded for almost a decade. The Origin spirit is what the Kangaroos need. Mal Meninga is the most successful State of Origin coach of all time. He was one of the proudest and most successful Kangaroos to ever wear the jersey in a playing career that included 40 wins from 46 Tests, and he knows the ins and outs of every rep player in Australia through either coaching them or studying them since 2006. I reckon it’s a no-brainer. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Sam Burgess should get back to South Sydney as fast as he can climb up the steps of James Packer’s jet. The way Burgess was treated by the English rugby community was appalling. He owes the game and its supporters nothing. He was used by the administrators to promote the Rugby World Cup and offered up as a scapegoat when the home team’s campaign fell flat. Being in the grandstand from day one of Big Sam’s abortive rugby adventure to its crushing end, I can tell you he was never a hope to be the star that England coach Stuart Lancaster and the local media made him out to be. His first representative game, against Ireland B, was embarrassing, and his second – a Test against France – was nothing more than adequate. After just a year in the game he did exceptionally well to hold his own in top company, but to say the expectations heaped on him before the World Cup were unrealistic is an understatement. They were a joke, and everybody except Lancaster and certain sections of the English press seemed to know it. No-one builds up their national sporting teams better than the English – and no-one rips them apart with as much relish when they fail. In Sam’s case they didn’t have to blame the entire team; the leaguey was the perfect fall-guy. No wonder he wants out. Sam’s rugby club Bath says he isn’t going anywhere and Leeds Rhinos say they’re in the market to pay a “transfer fee”, but with the price tag to buy out his contract said to be $1.7 million there’s only one person with the readies, and that’s Souths’ joint-owner Packer. I reckon Sam should ask his good mate Russell Crowe to put in a call to James, and write the whole thing off as a bad dream. What do you reckon?
I reckon Suncorp Stadium will have to put up the Standing Room Only sign if the Wallabies win the Rugby World Cup on Sunday morning. Michael Cheika’s team will take on England in Brisbane in June followed by the Springboks in September and I wouldn’t be leaving it too late to get tickets to both Tests. Has a side ever gone from the basement to the penthouse so quickly? When Ewen McKenzie resigned after the Wallabies’ last-gasp loss to the All Blacks at Suncorp Stadium a year ago, anyone tipping them to make the last two at the World Cup would have been accused of dropping into too many Caxton St bars on the way home. Yet they’ve done it, and in great style. Having been lucky enough to be up close and reasonably personal with this side as a reporter on the Spring tour of the UK I can tell you just what an amazing feat it has been. When they arrived in London 12 months ago – four days after Cheika had taken on the job – they didn’t have a clue what he was on about. To their credit they have bought into his philosophy on and off the field, and the results have bordered on the miraculous. When he took over the side its public image was at an all-time low. His aim was to give Australians a team we could be proud of. I reckon he’s done that, and we should all be right behind them on Sunday morning. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the current debate over the next Immortal only reinforces what I said here last week about Joey Johns. The whole system is flawed. Surely there has to be some sort of time span component and proper criteria in place so that we don’t have another case of “queue jumping” and that inductees are selected on merit rather than emotion or parochialism. What I wasn’t happy with was the way players from earlier eras were overlooked because memories of their feats had faded from memory. Former greats such as Norm Provan, Mal Meninga, Peter Sterling and Alfie Langer should definitely be considered for the honour. You have to wonder if Reg Gasnier and Graeme Langlands would ever have got a start if they weren’t in the original induction. I know for a fact that there were judges on the panel were too young to ever see Norm Provan play, and in years to come that disparity is only going to become more pronounced. Should an Immortal be chosen because of what he did, or because of what the judges saw him do. This week the debate has come down to between Big Mal and Darren Lockyer – Norm Provan seems to have been totally forgotten - and Wally Lewis is quite right in asking how come Alfie never seems to rate a mention any more? The Immortals concept came about because a magazine wanted to sell copies and some bottles of commemorative port. It has grown to become something that the public takes very seriously. I reckon it has to be organised just as seriously. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Andrew Johns should be stripped of his Immortal status. Failing that, the whole concept should be scrapped. I’ve made no secret of my feeling that the election of Johns to what has become known as rugby league’s highest honour was wrong – and it had nothing to do with anything he did off the field. My gripe was that there were other players who should have been selected ahead of him based on the era in which they played. In other words, he was a queue jumper. The memory of the sporting public is very short. Yes, Johns was a dominant player during his time in the spotlight, but no-one will ever convince me that he did more to deserve entry to the game’s most exclusive club than Norm Provan, Mal Meninga, Peter Sterling, Brad Fittler or Alfie Langer. That is one issue. The other one is the fact that, like it or not, the Immortal tag brings with it certain responsibilities. On a day when rugby league should have been celebrating one of its greatest ever grand finals between two superb football teams, what was splashed all over the headlines? Claims of a mother of three being insulted by an ex-player turned-TV commentator, complete with pictures of him asleep on an airport floor. On a scale of one to ten, Johns’s very public indiscretion at Toowoomba wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the shocking revelations that came out soon after his retirement, but it was made even worse by the five words that started every news report – ‘Rugby league Immortal Andrew Johns …’ If you are going to accept that title, you have to respect it. I reckon Andrew Johns is not worthy. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon on Sunday the Broncos will cap off one of the most amazing years ever by a Queensland team. To my mind the all-Queensland grand final rates right up there with the greatest “firsts” in the State’s sporting history, alongside the first Origin, the Broncos’ entry into the national competition, the club’s first premiership, the first Sheffield Shield win and the Commonwealth Games. It’s just that big: two Queensland sides battling out a competition that they were barred from competing in for almost 80 years. And while Queenslanders are holding both winning tickets in a maroon quinella, the achievement of the Broncos in reaching what the commentators now call “The Big Dance” is nothing short of phenomenal. When I watched the Broncos play their first game of the season, in the World Club Challenge in the UK, if you’d offered me 500-1 on them making the grand final, I wouldn’t have wasted my money. They won, but it was anything but convincing. They had a five-eighth who had next to no idea of what was going on, a “new” coach who was trying to rebuild a side that had unravelled in the six years he had been away, and their biggest signing was out for the first half of the season before a ball had even been kicked. Well look at them now. Wayne Bennett is Dally M Coach of the Season, Anthony Milford is being described as “better than Joey”, Darius Boyd is fit and in form, and the so-called “washed-up” Adam Blair has turned back the clock five years to when he was the number one forward in the game. But more than that. This team might not have some of the stars that took the club to six previous premierships , but it is as close, committed and confident as any side which has ever worn the club jersey. No wonder more than 100,000 people have walked through the gates at Suncorp Stadium to watch them play their last two games. I reckon these Broncos are incredible. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon if the Cowboys get to their second grand final with a win over the Storm on the weekend they can thank Paul Gallen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better performance from Matt Scott, and having the opportunity to run right over the top of his good mate Gall had a lot to do with it. Say what you will about Gallen – and I’m guilty of it more than most – but he sure brings out the best in Queenslanders. He really should take it as a compliment, but I guess when he was lying in the dressing room at Townsville last weekend packed in more ice than a Mr Whippy van, he probably wasn’t in the mood for looking on the bright side. Now we have both the Cowboys and Broncos just one win each away from ruining the NRL (that’s Newsouthwales Rugby League) party and fighting out the first-ever all-Queensland grand final. The Storm has been a quasi-Queensland side for years with the number of Maroons in the side, but the Cows are the real thing. And if Gall brought out the best in Scott, you can only imagine what his little mate Mitchell Pearce will do for the Broncos. No disrespect to the Storm and Roosters, they’re both mighty teams who deserve to be there, but I reckon if we’re ever going to see two Queensland sides run out for a grand final, these are the boys to do it. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon I’ve heard it all now. When Gus Gould said he felt “a little bit jealous” of the spectacle put on by the Broncos and Cowboys – and their amazing fans – at Suncorp Stadium last Saturday night I thought I’d better get my hearing tested. Luckily I had it on tape so I listened again and yep, that’s what he said. Still, who can blame him? When Darren Lockyer down on the sideline says that the atmosphere is right up there with Origin, you know something special is happening. And special it was. From the quality of the play to the involvement of the crowd, it was a blueprint for everything the game of rugby league should be. Matter of fact, it was everything a grand final should be. So much so, that Gus even said that he'd like to see the two Queensland teams both get into The Big One and have another crack at each other to decide the premiership. Difference would be , of course, that it would have to be played in Sydney in front of tens of thousands of NSW-centric spectators who would sit on their hands for 80 minutes. Sure the Broncos and Cowboys players put on a great show, but they were helped by the incredible atmosphere created by playing on the best rectangular ground in the country, in front of the NRL's most passionate fans. If Saturday's match proved anything -apart from the fact that Gus Gould can admit he's wrong - it's that Brisbane must host a grand final, and sooner rather than later. I reckon the days of anyone seriously believing that Sydney deserves a monopoly on the biggest club game of the year ended on Saturday. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the key to Saturday night’s all-Queensland blockbuster will be two Broncos who came into the season with giant question marks hanging over them. Adam Blair was lambasted for his lack of involvement when he played his first few games for Brisbane, and I admit I was one of many who felt that if Wayne Bennett could turn Anthony Milford into a five-eighth, he really was miracle worker. Well, wrong on both counts. Blair has gone from “why did they buy him?” to an absolutely vital part of the Brisbane pack, and like just about everyone else, I’ve run out of superlatives to describe how far Milford has come in a short time. But the Broncos’ finals charge could end all too soon if these two don’t hit top form over the next few weeks. It all starts on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium. On paper the Cowboys have the goods. Any side that runs out with Johnathan Thurston in its jersey is already in front. His combination with Gavin Cooper has been an under-rated X-factor this season and the Cowboys have the required muscle up front in James Tamou and Jason Taumalolo. On the other side of the field everyone talks about the combination between Ben Hunt and Milford, but don’t under-estimate how well Milford runs off Blair. I reckon the Broncos have shown enough in defence this season to suggest they will be able to shut down the rest of the Cowboys, but it will be whether Milford and Blair can match the spark of Thurston and his “Three Amigos” that will decide which side goes through to the preliminary final after the week off, and which one has to do it the hard way. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Paul Gallen is right when he says he needs to hire bodyguards for when he arrives and leaves grounds, but not to protect him – to protect the public. Gallen’s latest drama just further underlines the problems this bloke has. Seems to me just about every other player in the NRL – and other sports as well – manages to sign autographs for kids without ending up in a major brouhaha. Actually that’s not quite true. I remember Willie Mason getting himself into trouble by signing someone else’s name on a youngster’s poster because he thought it would be funny, but that just proves my point. Only an idiot or a bully would knock back, or insult, a young fan. Gallen denies that he swore at the kid, but he admits he may have refused to sign an autograph. Sorry, but in my book it’s the same thing. Doesn’t this bloke realise that the only reason he earns his six-figure salary is because the kids who look up to footballers talk their parents into taking them to games, paying for pay TV and buying merchandise? Of course, as always, Gallen is playing the victim, saying the boy’s father is the one in the wrong. Just like Nate Miles was the guilty party when Gallen punched him in the head, or it wasn’t his fault he used obscene language in abusing the NRL. What did they expect after suspending him for allegedly taking performance enhancing drugs? Oh, and by the way, that wasn’t his fault either – the club trainer made him do it. And this is the bloke NSW wants to build a statue of? I reckon Paul Gallen is a disgrace. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon any clubs talking about breaking away from the NRL and starting their own competition should think very long and hard about it. Seems to me we’re only just getting over the whole Super League fiasco 20 years on. The last thing Rugby League needs right now is another disruption which will turn away fans and put even more pressure on an already under-siege administration. I was a reporter in Sydney when the Super League war broke out and it was the most exciting, interesting story of my career. For about two weeks. After that it became an exercise in self-destruction. The game of rugby league had nothing to do with what was happening on the field. It was all about greed, lies and life-long friends turning on each other - and the fans turned off in droves In the end the ones who benefited most were the lawyers, with the player-managers coming in a close second. Some players might have pocketed a truck-load of cash up-front, but with the amount of public derision they had to cop, they’d tell you they earned every cent. Admittedly some good things came from Super League. Changes to the way the game was played, marketed and presented were long overdue, but it took years to win back the public’s faith. OK, it’s true that rugby league isn’t perfect right now, but it’s still great, and as long as the fabric of the game is intact, the rest can be sorted out. I reckon if Super League proved anything, it’s that spitting the dummy and walking away from the table can only end in tears. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Nick Kyrgios could have learnt an awful lot if he’d tuned into some US sport on TV last weekend. Nick proved once again recently that he is lacking somewhat in the maturity stakes with the disrespect he showed his opponent Stan Wawrinka. You have to wonder what would have been going through his mind if he watched the way Australia’s US PGA winner Jason Day and world number one Jordan Spieth treated each other as they came down the final stretch. They actually congratulated each other on good shots, chatted amicably as they walked down the fairways and, when Day sunk the final putt, Spieth was genuinely pleased for him. Then there was the performance of Jarryd Hayne in his debut for the San Francisco 49ers. Now there was a bloke who talked about getting out of his comfort zone who actually meant it. There were no money guarantees in Hayne’s move to the NFL, unlike other code-hoppers who talk about challenge but really see dollar signs. This was a million to one shot that needed guts, determination and humility – and it looks like coming off. But it’s not just the sensational results that both these young men achieved that should make Nick sit up. It’s that just like him, they went through some behavioural issues as they grew up. Happily for both, they woke up to themselves before they spun totally out of control. Jason’s mother was so worried that her son was headed off the rails after his father’s death that she sold her house to get him to the school where he met his coach and mentor Col Swatton. Hayne was your typical over-paid, over-confident rugby league rookie before discovering his roots on a trip to Fiji helped him turn it all around. I reckon Nick Krygios can do the same before he becomes a cautionary tale, but he better not leave it too much longer. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Ray Warren is going to leave the hardest shoes to fill in rugby league. When a top players retires we always think there’s never going to be another one like him, but if there is one thing I’ve learnt over the years it’s that footballers are like taxis. There’s always another one coming around the corner. Peter Sterling, Alfie Langer, Brad Fittler, Joey Johns, even the king himself, Wally Lewis, … every time one of the them hung up the boots you’d swear the world was coming to an end, but then along comes JT or Greg Inglis or Bill Slater or Cameron Smith, and the game keeps rolling along. But Rabbits is different. With news that he can’t see himself going too much longer the question over who is going to become the next voice of rugby league is one of the biggest in the game. Over the past 25 years or so there have been plenty of other callers, but to my mind anyway, none has come close to matching the mellifluous tones of the great Mr Warren. So who will be next cab off the rank? Ray Hadley is Channel 9’s number two, but he’s already as busy as a one-armed paper hanger. He’d have to give up radio to have the time to wear Rab’s many hats and I can’t see him leaving Singo. Andrew Voss has hung on like the creature in Alien after getting the boot from Nine a few years back, resurrecting his career in New Zealand then getting the call-up from Fox, but will Nine risk losing face and bring him back? It’s not their style to admit a mistake. The ABC’s Andrew Moore has a great voice, and head, for radio and I’d like to see him at least given a chance. Warren Smith does a solid job on Fox but why move from a good safe gig to enter the shark tank hat is commercial TV? Someone I would love to see get a start on Nine is Brandy Alexander. He’s so far in front as a number two/analyst that it’s no contest. No matter who they go with it’ll be a long time before anyone can come close to matching Rabbits. I reckon hearing his voice is as comfortable as pulling on an old pair of slippers. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Manly was the loss Brisbane had to have. The Broncos had been cruising along in clean air for a few weeks, beating teams that were struggling at the bottom end of the table, and earning all the headlines. In some ways you’d say that they couldn’t have struck Manly at a worse time and a worse place. Clubs invariably lift themselves when their coach is sacked. Look at the Cowboys when Neil Henry was shown the door a few seasons back. There is always plenty of emotion involved; rarely as much as with the sacking of a club legend like Geoff Toovey. An us-against-them scenario between players and management is often the spark a team needs, and nothing lifts a player like knowing that a new coach is soon going to be looking through the roster with the aim of cutting dead wood. Add in the fact that the Broncos were playing in front of a pro-Manly crowd in unusual surroundings at Gosford, and they were on a hiding to nothing. It wouldn’t be right to say that the Broncos were caught unprepared – the Sea Eagles away are never a soft touch – but they were hit with an intensity that they hadn’t been up against for some time. Looking at it another way, Manly came at exactly the right time for Brisbane. There’s nothing worse for a club than to finish at the top of the table and get tossed out of the finals in straight sets. Far better to identify some harsh realities at a time when they can be faced and addressed, ahead of the sudden-death matches. Wayne Bennett has been in similar situations before. I reckon he won’t be too concerned about one speed bump on the way to the finals. What do YOU reckon.
I reckon this is the season that Sydney’s nightmare could finally become a reality: the year when two Queensland clubs gate-crash the NRL’s biggest party of the year. It’s hard to know who would feel worse if it's a Broncos-Cowboys grand final: the league bosses who, except for the fact that north of the Tweed is the only place a game can pull a decent crowd, would like to forget that they ever invited Queensland clubs into “their” comp; the Sydney punters who bought grand final tickets hoping their team would make it through to the Big One and now have to sit through 80 minutes of two “foreign” sides fighting out the title, or the NSW-centric TV commentators who won’t have a “home team” to blatantly favour in their call. Or maybe it will be the Broncos and Cowboys supporters who make the trek down to Homebush knowing their hard-earned will be going straight into the coffers of NSW hotels, bars and restaurants, knowing it should be Queensland taxpayers benefiting from the sterling efforts of their athletes. It would serve the NRL and NSW Government right if Queensland supporters decided to stay home and watch the game on TV after the way they have monopolised the biggest club game on the calendar of the so-called “national” code. Of course that won’t happen. Broncos and Cowboys supporters are too loyal to their teams, and they deserve to be there when they make history, but I reckon if an all-Queensland grand final doesn’t make the people in charge of rugby league open up their eyes to the fact that the game belongs to the fans, and not the Sydney-based administrators, then nothing will. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Johnathan Thurston became an Immortal last weekend, and it has nothing to do with anything a bunch of judges decides next time they sit down to vote. If you ask me the whole Immortals concept went out the window when they picked Andrew Johns ahead of Mal Meninga or even Norm Provan. To me it was a slap in the face of history and a case of being blinded by the razzle dazzle of recent memory. How anyone could line up the records of Meninga and Johns and figure that Joey was more deserving than Mal is absurd. I don’t remember Mal playing too many Origin matches out of position because the selectors thought he couldn’t cut it. Sure Joey was a top player in his day, but was he any better than Alfie Langer, Peter Sterling or Freddie Fittler when they were dominating their eras? By leapfrogging them, does that mean the judges can never go backwards when choosing an Immortal, or are they saying that Joey was the best player of the past 30 years? Now it seems that the calls of four or five years ago for Darren Lockyer to be elected have been drowned out by the recent hype about JT. They better vote them both in quick before the next superstar comes along. Seems to me rugby league immortality lasts just as long as the memories of the people who were watching. That’s why JT has made it in my book. Great player as he is, it had nothing to do with any pass or chip and chase. It was when he apologised to that ballboy for kicking the tee away, and shook his hand. I’ll never forget that,as long as I live and I reckon that’s what makes an Immortal. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Melbourne’s self-proclaimed title as the “Sporting Capital of the World” just got booted into the top tier of the grandstand at Suncorp Stadium. We heard it from Phil Gould on the night of Origin lll when he said, “ANZ was great, Melbourne was great, but this is something else”. Knowing how much Gus loves all things Queensland, he must have almost choked on the words, but he was spot on. With a record breaking crowd, record breaking score and a lifetime of memories, it was one of the biggest nights in Queensland’s sporting history. And it was just the beginning. In coming days Suncorp Stadium hosts its first ever “quadruple header” weekend: an opening training session for the mighty Liverpool FC on Thursday, then Friday’s Liverpool versus Brisbane Roar blockbuster followed by the kick-off of the Wallabies World Cup season with their Test match against the Springboks on Saturday, and the table-topping Broncos up against the Wests Tigers on Sunday arvo. Cop that Melbourne. I reckon when the crowd starts singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ on Friday night, it’ll rattle the windows at the MCG. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the genius who came up with the idea of writing off the Maroons as too old and too slow in the lead-up to Origin III should get Queensland’s man of the match. If the Blues brainstrust didn’t know that laying down the challenge squarely at the feet of proud, experienced campaigners such as Corey Parker, Matt Scott, Nate Myles, Jake Lillyman and Justin Hodges was going to back-fire big time, then they haven’t been paying attention for the past 35 years. Still, you can’t blame them for under-estimating the effect the misguided master plan would have on Captain Fantastic Cameron Smith and his team. Not even the most one-eyed Queensland supporter could possibly have predicted the total annihilation the Blues received in the decider. The Maroons were beyond sensational. Back in 2011 Queensland was said to have played the perfect 20 minutes of Origin football when they raced to a 22-nil lead in Game III at Suncorp Stadium. On Wednesday night they stretched that to 80 minutes at the same venue. In reply to a belting in the forwards and Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk and co in full flight in the backs, the much-vaunted Blues pack could only resort to gutter tactics, resulting in nothing more than one penalty after another. This was a Maroons victory for the ages, and the record crowd lucky enough to be in the stands should savour it, for it is doubtful its like will ever be seen again. With Hodges definitely stepping down and other Queenslanders certain to follow, it is the end of a golden era. Sadly, some key Blues have also certainly played their last Origin, which is a real shame because the Maroons will no longer have Paul Gallen to belt, or Mitchell Pearce to run through. The scoreline might not have had the edge-of-the-seat closeness of some epic battle of the past, and despite the hype from their cheersquad in the southern media, the Blues were simply the worst, but I reckon this was close to being the most amazing Origin ever played. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the Maroons have got no-one to blame but themselves for the Robbie Farah-Michael Ennis fiasco. Imagine being suckered into a “gentleman’s agreement” with NSW. You only had to hear their captain Paul Gallen mouthing off about the affair to know they’re no gentlemen. Admittedly it was the Maroons who first used the “TBA loophole” to have Lote Tiquiri cleared to play in 2002, but after the Blues howled like two-year-olds the QRL accepted that it wasn’t in the spirit of the game and both sides agreed that it wouldn’t be used again. Until the first time NSW needed it, of course. The Wally Lewis Medal for best performance this series should surely go to Laurie Daley for the way he kept a straight face when he said that Farah was a good chance to play. If he couldn’t get through a short plane ride to Coffs Harbour, what hope was he of seeing out an Origin decider? Of course if Ennis so much as set foot in Origin camp he would have been ineligible for this week’s club game and, if found guilty at the judiciary, would have had to count Origin as his suspension. Unlike Lote 13 years ago, Ennis didn’t become TBA – To Be Announced – but Farah became TBKA – To Be Kept Around – instead. Gallen, in his warped perception, said the Maroons couldn’t whinge about NSW going back on their word (or Josh Jackson having his charge downgraded, or Michael Jennings getting a green light to obstruct police) , because Greg Inglis chose to play for Queensland instead of the Blues nine years ago. With that logic it’s a wonder when the ref asks him which side he wants for the coin toss that he doesn’t say, “What are the choices?” Still, I take my hat off to Gallen and the Blues for continuing to remind Queenslanders why Origin means so much. I reckon Wednesday night is going to be epic. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the NRL should change its name back to the NSWRL – the SW standing for “So What?” As in, so what if Josh Jackson lifted Jamie Soward and drove him into the ground? So what if the judiciary have been coming down hard on just this sort of offense in the wake of the Alex McKinnon injury, and so what if anyone who has been following the game this season knows that it was a two match suspension every day of the week? Still, what can we expect? Jackson is a Blue and there’s an Origin decider just around the corner. Before you call me biased, do some research like I have over the years. Check out Glenn Lazarus having his penalty loading discounted so he could play in 1988; or what about Nathan Hindmarsh and Jason Ryles being able to count a City-Country game – that they weren’t even selected for – as a suspension served in order to free them up in 2002. At least they were charged with an offense. Andrew Johns got off scot-free in 2004, but even that comes second to Jarryd Hayne in 2010. Five minutes before he was to appear, the judiciary changed the definition of his offense, let him off, and changed the definition right back again when he walked out the door. And while we’re on the subject, how does Laurie Daley figure Michael Jennings getting arrested for putting his hand on a cop in a blue uniform is less severe than Mitchell Pearce getting arrested for putting his on a girl in a yellow dress? Pearce, who had been playing like a busted piano gets dropped, but Jennings who is Man of the Match in a winning side, gets a pat on the head. I reckon the whole thing is a rort. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Mal Meninga should throw out the loyalty card when he picks a side for Origin lll. Mal has always been a disciple of the late great Tosser Turner and stuck by “his boys” through thick and thin – a policy that has worked time and again for Queensland over the years - but on what we’ve seen so far this series it is time for some changes. We all know that playing at Suncorp Stadium is worth points to the Maroons but whether the home ground advantage will be enough to counter the youth, power and aggression of the Blues in the decider is debatable. The NSW pack finished all over Queensland last time around and while there will be some forced changes with Slater and maybe Cronk on the sideline, Big Mal can’t just send the same team out again and hope for the best. No-one has a bigger heart than Jake Lillyman but the Maroons need the impact of Josh Papalii, and there’s also a big case for Dylan Napa to add some muscle. As for Daly Cherry-Evans, Mal has started with him twice in big games and he has yet to deliver. If Cronk is out, the tried and tested combination of Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan cries out for selection. With age getting the better of some of his stalwarts, Mal is going to have to make some big calls next year. I reckon he might as well do it now while Queensland still has one hand on the trophy. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the video referee who robbed Queensland of an Origin win on Wednesday night has done us all a favour. How he ruled a no-try against Greg Inglis is beyond me, but even so, he has set up a decider at Suncorp Stadium, and there is nothing better in rugby league than that. Now all that Queenslanders have to do is pray for Cooper Cronk to get onto the field. Maybe it was the mental pressure of knowing that he’s on the nose with his own supporters, or perhaps fatigue from the physical exertion of carrying all his money to the bank, but once again Daly Cherry-Evans failed to make the impression that Mal Meninga and Queensland required. An occasion in the first half when he and his captain Cameron Smith botched an inside pass, said it all. Smith and Cronk know each other’s games inside out. Together they control the play and move the Maroons around the park like chess pieces. Cherry-Evans, as his recent behaviour off the field showed, is an individual, looking to make the big break himself and hoping the others follow. Becoming a key part of the Maroons machine will come in time for the $10 million man, but right now time is something Queensland doesn’t have a lot of. I reckon they need Cronk back, and they need him fast. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Daly Cherry-Evans will be cheered by the Queensland crowd in Origin II but that doesn't mean they like him. No Queenslander will ever boo a player in a maroon Origin jersey, but it will take a lot of Wally Lewis medals before DCE is out of the doghouse. Even without the fallout from "The Great Brookie Backflip", the $10 million man has some big fences to mend. Let's not forget that the last time Cherry-Evans filled in for an injured Cooper Cronk, Queensland lost the game, the series and didn't score a try for the first time in 15 years. With Ben Hunt and Michael Morgan both playing the house down right now you wonder why Mal Meninga has given him a second chance. The answer? Mal has always said he'd stay loyal to his players and he's sticking to his word. Now there's a concept Cherry-Evans could learn a lot from. I reckon Queenslanders will be able to forget what DCE did to the Titans for 80 minutes next Wednesday night, but it will take a lot longer than that for them to forgive. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the Cowboys are a huge show to finally win the NRL premiership this season – and not just because they’ve notched nine on the trot. What convinced me was how they bounced back to beat Manly after a shocking call by the referees on the weekend. No other club in the competition has been dudded as badly by the whistle blowers as the Cowboys have in recent years. In three straight finals series we’ve had Kieren Foran’s blatant knock-on, the Sharks scoring on the seventh tackle and, last year, the video refs ruling a debatable Robert Lui knock-on to deny Johnathan Thurston a spectacular match-winner against the Roosters. There was no grand final on the line against Manly on Saturday but the nonsensical ruling by the refs to disallow a Cowboys scrum win against the feed was right up there with any of the previous crook decisions that have knocked them out of the comp. In previous years that call might have been enough for the Cowboys to drop their heads and say, “here we go again”. On Saturday, they regrouped and Jake Granville, Lachlan Coote and Thurston combined to put Matt Scott over for the winner. It helps to have players like those, plus Michael Morgan, James Tamou, Jason Taumalolo, Gavin Cooper and co in your roster, but I reckon winning grand finals is as much about refusing to be beaten as it is about talent. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Mitchell Pearce will prove to be one of the great Origin selections – for Queensland. Is Laurie Daley serious? Picking a half-back who has made two line breaks in 12 Origin matches is strange enough, but picking him out of position at five-eighth is lunacy. Maybe you could understand it coming from a coach who had played his entire career in the front row and had no insight into the importance of the number six role. Even then you’d be thinking that he’d packed his head into too many scrums. But this is Laurie Daley, the silky-smooth five-eighth who by his own admission froze like a deer in the headlights of a 4WD when he was pitchforked into his first Origin series at the age of 19 by Jack Gibson. You have to wonder what Jack would have made of Pearce being picked ahead of last year’s winner Josh Reynolds, or Pearce’s club-mate James Maloney – or just about any other NSW-eligible five-eighth in the game for that matter. Other than Pearce the Blues have picked a solid side but I reckon he’s the weak link the Maroons will be snapping like a twig all series. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Mal Meninga should go buy a lottery ticket, because his luck is well and truly in. Right now Big Mal’s NSW counterpart Laurie Daley is faced with the question that has been driving Blues’ coaches to distraction since Wally Lewis went to the barber twice a week – whether to go with loyalty, or form? Mal has no such problem. He can go with both at the same time. With just a week to go before the Maroons announce their team, just about every player in the selection frame is either hitting top form or well on the way to getting there. Billy Slater and Darius Boyd have returned from injury and proved their fitness with solid performances, Justin Hodges had his best game of the season against Penrith, Wayne Bennett’s tough love approach to Sam Thaiday has worked a treat and, after a two months in the doldrums Manly finally woke up and gave DCE a platform to show some spark. Matt Scott and Josh Papali were solid on the weekend after taking a while to hit their straps and JT has been the form player of the competition week in week out. The only one of the regular crew to be struggling is Nate Myles but as everyone knows, off-field issues have put him under enormous pressure. He was a long way off his best against the Kiwis and Raiders but that is the beauty of Origin. The Maroons’ set-up gives players a chance to leave their worries at the door and bask in a cocoon of mateship unlike anything else in Australian sport. Nate know this could be his last hurrah and he’ll be out to make the most of it. I reckon the only thing that can stop Queensland getting back in the winners’ circle is injury. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon we’re a mob of bad losers. In all the post mortem of the Anzac Test that I’ve read and heard, 99 per-cent is about how bad we were, with only a passing reference to how good the Kiwis were. Tim Sheens has got to be sacked, this player has played his last Test, this player is on his last legs, why was this player even in the side? Why can’t we just admit to the fact that we got thumped by a better side that were pumped up for a huge performance and delivered big time? All this talk about the Aussies being complacent is rubbish. What have they got be complacent about? The Kiwis regularly give us a touch up. If we don’t know that by know we’re kidding ourselves. It’s been going on since Olsen Filipaina and Clayton Friend were in short pants. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out. The Kiwis come together once or twice a year to play for their country. There’s no interstate rivalries or any other rep games that they consider more important. This is it. National pride is off the scale. The Kangaroos see the Anzac Test as a selection trial for State of Origin. If they were being honest they’d admit that they view Origin as a bigger stage, and they don’t want to get too matey with each other before they pull on those maroon and blue jerseys. Still, if the mighty performance of the Kiwis on Sunday showed us anything, it’s that we can never listen to their pleas to be allowed into Origin. I reckon they’d smash us. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the Blues still don't get it, and they never will. Last year, after NSW finally won an Origin series, we were told it was the start of a dynasty. They were even talking about putting up a statue of Paul Gallen outside their stadium for crying out loud. According to their coach Laurie Daley, after eight straight years of losing they had worked out how to win the physically toughest footie comp on the planet. And how was that? By copying Queensland of course. No more dumping players after one or two games. No more picking sides on club form rather than rewarding loyalty. From now on it was all about sticking with the players who had got the job done; creating an Origin side built on trust and mateship. And how long did it last? Less than 12 months. Already we have cracks appearing in the Blues power base, with Joey Johns saying he'd be "terrified" to go into this year's series with last season's halves Trent Hodgkinson and Josh Reynolds, and Daley's tepid response being anything but a ringing endorsement for the pair. There's even whispers of the Blues recalling Mitchell Pearce because "he's been there before". Sure has - 12 times for nine losses and no series wins. I reckon Pearce would be a great selection as Blues halfback. For Queensland. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the NRL administration is being saved by the players right now. There’s plenty not to like about some aspects of the game with supporters’ blogs chock full of complaints after every weekend. From the judiciary, to referees, to some club officials only opening their mouths wide enough to stick both feet in; it seems there’s always something for the fans to be upset about. But you’d have to be very hard to please if you weren’t impressed with the standard of football on show the past six weeks. What about last weekend with the Cowboys-Warriors, Sharks-Rabbitohs and, most of all, Raiders-Eels matches? They might not have been rugby league at its purest, but boy were they entertaining. And the best thing is, it’s not the competition favourites Souths and Roosters who are making the biggest noise. The AFL has been trying for years without success to work out a way to stop their competition being a two or three horse race. The NRL has managed it – or more to the point, the players have managed it with their performances. A soccer or AFL fan would no doubt tell you that NRL players are nowhere near as skilful as their players, but I defy any footballer from any code to control the ball in the wet like Cronulla did on Monday night. I’m not saying that the Sharks, Raiders or even Dragons are going to win the premiership – cream will always rise to the top – but I reckon this is the best start to an NRL season we’ve seen for years. What do YOU reckon.
I reckon Wayne Bennett is playing possum. At the start of the season Benny said it would be two years before the Broncos could win the premiership. From what they've shown the past few weeks he could be selling their chances short. About two years short. I'm not saying they will go all the way this season but they have certainly given their supporters reason to hope, and isn't that what sport is all about? Not everyone likes Bennett, but even those who bag him must respect him. If anyone had said after the drubbing they received at the hands of the Rabbitohs in round one that the Broncos would be top of the table five weeks later, you'd laugh in their face. Who's laughing now? So what has Bennett done to this team that is so revolutionary? Drop Sam Thaiday to the bench? Make them pay for any gear they lose? Disband the old fines system? All of the above and none of the above. He's just been Bennett. After that amazingly gritting win over the Roosters Bennett praised his predecessors Ivan Henjak and Anthony Griffin, telling reporters "they weren't as bad as you blokes made out". Maybe not, but recent results would suggest Bennett is every bit as good as those same reporters paint him. What has he got that the others don't? An aura. And I reckon that's what he's given back to the Broncos. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Bulldogs CEO Raelene Castle must have been kidding when she said the NRL had “drawn a new line in the sand” over the James Graham incident on Good Friday. Does she really believe that abusing a referee has ever been acceptable in rugby league – or any sport for that matter? The NRL simply acted the way they always have. It is up to the Bulldogs to draw the line in the sand. Never once in her short statement did Ms Castle condemn Graham, David Klemmer or Michael Lichaa for berating, intimidating and, in Lichaa’s case, calling referee Gerard Sutton a “dog”. She didn’t even name them. Like many, I am a huge James Graham fan. He is the type of player ever supporter would love to have in their side, but he has to learn to control his emotions for the good of the game. Biting an opponent in a grand final and shaking his fist in the face of a referee are hardly setting a good example. Just look at the way his team-mates, and club supporters, followed his lead on and off the field on Friday. Still what can be expected from the Bulldogs when you look at the attitude of those in charge? Coach Des Hasler has made his feelings for referees, administrators and the press well known. The line in the club statement saying that Ms Castle was only commenting “in light of the interest around the charges” was a thinly veiled inference that the whole thing was a media beat-up. You could be forgiven for thinking that Des had dictated it. I reckon if the Bulldogs are fair dinkum about cleaning up the image of the game they have to do some cleaning up of their own – starting from the top. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon we’ve just had the most interesting NRL round for a long, long time. It’s not often that you can tell how the year is going to pan out after just four weeks of football, but this one was like looking into a crystal ball. How good was it to find out that the Rabbitohs are beatable? And by the Eels no less. Up until fulltime on Friday night you’d swear the competition was a one horse race. You still wouldn’t bet against the Bunnies making it two in a row, but at least it gives the supporters of other clubs hope, and that’s what it’s all about. Just ask Knights and Dragons fans. Who’d have thought they’d be travelling how they are after four rounds? And, down the other end of the scale, Manly fans too. Crisis is an over-used word in rugby league, but if the Sea Eagles aren’t in one, they’re so close they can smell it. Other things that round four showed us are that Johnathan Thurston is still the man you’d want next to you in the trenches, Ricky Stuart is to continue his long run of outs at the Raiders, the Titans will be a force when DCE arrives, and Issac Luke needs to pull his head in. Oh, and I reckon Geoff Toovey better make sure his accountancy licence is up to date. He could be looking for a job soon. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the NRL might as well scrap the video official altogether if the performance by the referees at the Gold Coast on the weekend is the best they can manage. How video ref Gavin Badger could rule a try to Dane Gagai after Korbin Sims appeared to blatantly knock-on is the biggest mystery since Phar Lap. As Kevin Walters put it so succinctly on Fox Sports commentary, “That was a knock-on when I was in the under-7s, and it still is.” Add in Badger telling on-field referee Adam Devcich to sin-bin David Taylor for an infringement that was actually committed by Greg Bird, and you have to think that he should be sent down to under-7s. Not that Badger was the only ref dropping the ball on the day. The problem with the video system is that it takes responsibility away from the people who are supposed to be running the game – the ones with the whistles. Refs are now so frightened of getting decisions wrong that they simply don’t make any. Time and time again they “go upstairs” for rulings on tries that they should be giving themselves. There is no doubt that Badger was the only person in the ground or watching on TV who saw it as a knock-back – even after looking at seven replays - but I reckon the real question that should be asked is this: how did the two referees on the field miss it in the first place? What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Johnathan Thurston will be lucky to see out the season – and he won’t be the only one unless the NRL takes steps to protect its star players. The way Thurston was targeted by the Knights on the weekend was nothing short of a disgrace. It was reminiscent of the bad old days of the 1960s and 70s when the game was known as thugby league and the all-important female market was being turned off in droves. No-one wants rugby league to stop being a contact sport, but at the same time, crowds pay to see creativity, flair and imagination as much as collisions and confrontation. Not that the way Thurston was singled out had anything to do with legitimate defence. It was aimed at taking him out of the game, pure and simple. The same thing is happening to Greg Inglis. Opponents might claim they lift his legs to stop him standing in the tackle, but you don’t have to be Einstein to see their aim isn’t to stop him passing. It’s to have him carried off. It isn’t that far off an incident I witnessed in the 1980s when a coach, who is still connected with the game, sent out one of his players with instructions to re-break the leg of the opposition captain who was returning from a bad injury. Mission accomplished, they are still boasting about it years later. I reckon the NRL can make all the wiz-bang TV ads and commission all the fancy branding they like, but if they don’t protect their stars, they won’t have a game left to promote. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Manly supporters are kidding if they expect any sympathy over Daly Cherry-Evans signing with the NRL-backed Titans. I read an entry from one on Twitter that said, “Another example of Manly getting done over by the NRL”. To which the Poms would say, “You havin’ a laugh?” As one of my colleagues so succinctly put it, Manly have made an art form of ripping clubs apart – and with the backing of the people who run the game. Through the 70s until the end of the Super League War they were actually one and the same, with Ken Arthurson head of both organisations, keeping an office at Manly Leagues Club and another at Phillip St. Forget the fact that Manly’s first-ever first grade team was made up almost half of North Sydney players from the previous year – and was captained by an ex-Bear – just look at the talent Arko signed from other clubs during his time at the top: Ken Irvine, John Gray, Bruce Walker, Mitchell Cox, Paul McCabe, Cliff Lyons (Norths), John O’Neill, Ray Branighan (Souths), Noel Cleal, Kerry Boustead (Easts) John Dorahy, Ray Brown, Les Boyd, John Ribot (Wests). And that’s just the points of the compass. Throw in Michael O’Connor from St George and you could field a rugby union side. Add in the fact that Walker, McCabe Ribot and Boustead were all proud Queenslanders – as is the homeward bound DCE - and I reckon you’ve got the definition of karma. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon a lot of footballers are like children. They have to be kept busy so they don’t get into trouble. Which is why no-one will be happier that this week marks the start of the NRL than the NRL. Think about it. Almost without exception the biggest scandals that hit rugby league happen in the off-season or, even worse, around the season launch. Former NRL boss David Gallop used to call them “double demerit” periods, like times of extra police action on the roads, such as at Easter or Christmas. Over the years you could almost circle a date in your calendar and say, “something bad is going to happen right around now” – clubs playing up on pre-season trips, players getting shot at in Kings Cross the night before the launch, false allegations against a player the night of the launch, and now the catastrophe on the Gold Coast – this list goes on and on. It’s almost as if the bad eggs believe it’s their last chance to misbehave before the serious stuff starts. So if you think you’re happy that the footy season is finally starting, spare a thought for David Smith and co. They’ll be doing cartwheels. So how do they curb the problem? I reckon they should play footy all year round – keep those naughty boys too active and too tired to get into strife. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon any punishment dished out by the NRL to anyone found guilty of misbehaviour in the latest annual pre-season scandal should include a stint in the English Super League. Not as a player, as a supporter. Having just sat through the World Club Series on successive wintry nights in Warrington, Wigan and St Helens, I couldn’t believe the passion of the spectators, or “speccies” as they call them over here. They come out of their nice warm homes in rain and sleet and freezing conditions to cheer on the players. They sit there wearing five layers of clothing and chant and sing when they could be in front of an open fire watching the game on TV, and then they stand around afterwards to get autographs or just call out “well played, son”. It’s no different to the support the players receive in Australia, but under conditions you wouldn’t believe. I reckon some of our so-called role models should have to try being on the other side of the fence themselves once or twice to make them realise that without the goodwill of the fans, they wouldn’t have two-bob to rub together, let alone toss up against a wall. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon “Arizona-gate” could be just the spark the Rabbitohs need to go back-to-back. Speaking to Greg Inglis at the launch of the World Cup Challenge in Manchester this week I got the stock standard, “It’s brought us closer together” line. But you know what? I believe him. The one thing the high-flying Bunnies were lacking going into 2015 was the-whole-world-is-against-us mentality. Wayne Bennett cultivated it for years at the Broncos, and look how well it worked for them. Now Souths have got it. Team captain John Sutton getting belligerent in an Arizona bar might not have been a good look, but it was hardly a hanging offence. What made it special in the eyes of his team-mates was the way Luke Burgess came to his aid when the bouncers arrived. To them, that wasn’t a crime, it was a badge of honour. As Inglis told me, “We stick up for each other. That’s what teams do.” Fair enough, but the recent media blitz over the incident – and the NRL’s handling of it – and Sutton's subsequent sacking from the captaincy, have taken it from “what goes on tour stays on tour” in the eyes of the Souths' players to something else entirely. A solid dose of persecution complex. Nothing spells success in rugby league more than a good siege mentality, and now the Rabbitohs have got one I reckon they’ll be even harder to beat. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Queenslanders are in for a treat when one of the biggest musical acts in the world comes to Suncorp in July. A group called Liverpool FC. There have been some great musical performances at Suncorp over the years – U2, Robbie Williams, One Direction and Andre Rieu to name a few – but nothing even they can pump out can compare to the emotion of a packed stadium singing the Liverpool anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. The song has been heard around the world, but nowhere outside Anfield was it sung with as much passion as when the Reds played at the MCG two years ago. The YouTube footage of those amazing few minutes went viral, with millions watching in disbelief. Which means only one thing: it’s going to be even bigger in Brisbane. Victorians don’t get to play State of Origin, so Queenslanders just have to beat them at something else they boast about – being good supporters. Of course there will also be a game of football in there as well, with the Merseysiders taking on our own Roar and a win to the home side would be spoken about for decades. But regardless of the result – and come on, can anybody tell me the final score from that MCG match in 2013? – I reckon Queenslanders are in for the experience of their lives. What do YOU reckon.
I reckon the Titans would be crackers to offer Daly Cherry-Evans $1 million a season, and I reckon Daly Cherry-Evans would be just as silly to take it. Quite frankly, I can’t see how this whole reported deal is ever going to come off. One day, we hear that the Titans are as a good as broke and can’t find a sponsor; the next that they are on the verge of making DCE one of the biggest offers in the history of the game. How does that work? But forget the financial machinations of the deal for a moment and look at what it would mean to Cherry-Evans. Sure, it’s great money, but what would it do to his career? DCE has the chance to become one of the best players in the game, but will that happen behind the Gold Coast pack? They have three big name forwards in Nate Myles, Greg Bird and Dave Taylor, but how long will the Titans be able to hold on to them if all that money is being spent on Cherry-Evans? And when those three go, how will they be able to attract any decent replacements if there is no money left in the piggy-bank? I reckon if I was Daly Cherry-Evans I’d be heading to a strong club, and if I was the Gold Coast Titans I’d be investing in junior development so that one day I wouldn’t have to make ridiculous offers in order to attract someone else’s talent. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon Wayne Bennett is about to face the biggest opponent of his career. A bloke by the name of Wayne Bennett. No-one has come close the filling the giant shoes that Bennett left behind at the Broncos when he headed to St George-Illawarra in 2009. The big question is whether Bennett can fill them himself, six years later. I have to admit that when I heard Bennett was returning to coach Brisbane, I had my reservations. The man left an enormous legacy and a record that will probably never be broken: 21 seasons, six premierships, and a reputation that borders on sainthood. It is an act that is almost impossible to follow. What is the pass mark? What will his teams have to achieve for his second stint to be deemed a success? After all, players like the ones who ran out for Bennett-coached teams between 1988 and 2008 don’t come along too often and the man who discovered most of them, the incomparable Cyril Connell, is no longer with us. When Bennett left the Broncos, people said his greatest challenge would be winning a premiership with the Dragons. He did it. They then said he couldn’t turn the Knights into contenders. He got them to within one win of a grand final. But nothing compares to the expectation of matching, or even surpassing, what Wayne Bennett achieved at the Broncos last time around. I reckon if anyone can do it, it is a bloke by the name of Wayne Bennett. What do YOU reckon?