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From The Couch: Finals Week 2

Bill Harrigan Cannot Possibly Survive: It is hard to see how referees boss Bill Harrigan and his sidekick Stuart Raper can survive this offseason after arguably the worst season of officiating in memory, capped by maybe the worst
From The Couch: Finals Week 2
by NRL

Bill Harrigan Cannot Possibly Survive: It is hard to see how referees boss Bill Harrigan and his sidekick Stuart Raper can survive this offseason after arguably the worst season of officiating in memory, capped by maybe the worst video referee decision ever given. That is a big statement considering some of the rubbish we have seen this year - the Greg Inglis and Justin Hodges tries in Origins I and III, the Darius Boyd double movement, the stream of inconsistent obstruction calls headed by the Canterbury try against the Wests Tigers - but the call to award Kieran Foran the try against North Queensland is like trying to argue that the sky is red or that Parramatta are a well-run team.

There is no point in even arguing about the try, one which played a significant role in ending North Queensland's season. To anyone with eyes, it was a knock on. Only someone like Steve Clark - one of those referees that do not understand the game and find it necessary to be the smartest - would have awarded it.

Bill Harrigan admitted the mistake but in the same instance defended "the process" that allowed the try to be given. It is that attitude that has allowed the standard of officiating to reach these depths of mediocrity. The refereeing won't improve because there is simply no accountability. Clark will be dropped for this week. But is set to be replaced by Sean Hampstead, the video referee responsible for two of the worst calls of the year. Harrigan answers to nobody. Referees and video referees who make serious fuck ups are quickly reinstated after a slap on the wrist.

Cowboys coach Neil Henry called the refereeing "incompetent". Henry may have been too lenient. It is been abominable at best and criminal at worst. As a text message sent to me on Friday night said, "Even Darcy Lawler wouldn't have pulled that stunt".

There was an uprising against Harrigan and Raper this year. They survived. It is hard to see how they can last the end-of-season review. If the ARLC has any bottle, they will install a new regime as quickly as possible, consigning Harrigan to a lifetime on the sidelines. He has fostered a culture that has eradicated personal responsibility, promoted "cuteness" and eroded confidence.

He has helped to ruin Origin. He has helped damage the final series. He may well ruin a Grand Final. It would be the most gutless call of the year of he was to survive.

Benefit of the Doubt Must Go: The worst rule in rugby league needs to be wiped from the books. Benefit of the doubt must go and it must go now. Benefit of the doubt makes absolutely no sense. Why should the attacking team get the benefit of any doubt? Worse, this rule is applied inconsistently. It encourages the shifting of responsibility and an arrogant approach to decision making. This rule has provided nothing but trouble for the game. The number of incorrect tries awarded has been astonishing. The rule provides nothing but inconsistency and needs to be stricken from the books forever.

Breakdown - Manly v North Queensland: In front of a disappointing crowd of just 16,000 fans - the Manly faithful should be embarrassed - the Sea Eagles, along with video referees Steve Clark and Paul Simpkins, ended the Cowboys' season. It was an unimpressive game and a far from convincing win. Manly jumped to a 10-0 lead and went into the break 12-6 up with Jamie Lyon's fitness proving key to the Eagles. The Cowboys probably should have been equal - they got the rub in the first half. But it wasn't long before they tied the scores through Antonio Winterstein - off what appeared to be a forward pass. Then came the referee calls that turned the match. Jorge Taufua score a questionable try - it was probably a double movement. Before the disgraceful call that sealed the match. It was a tough way for the Cowboys to lose. They weren't 10 points off Manly. The Sea Eagles got the win but there are some major issues with the team. Anthony Watmough has given away six penalties and made six errors in the last four matches and was particularly ill disciplined against the Cowboys. Tony Williams just refuses to put in, turning in an incredibly gutless performance despite two quality runs. Manly will need to lift a level to compete with Melbourne. North Queensland will rue an opportunity missed - brought about by poor officiating but also some uncharacteristically poor displays from veterans Brent Tate, Matt Bowen and Johnathan Thurston. The tools are there for the Cowboys but they need to make their run next year and have likely underachieved this year.

Breakdown - South Sydney v Canberra: A healthy crowd of 36,000 turned up to see this fairytale semi final - one of the only two teams not to reach a preliminary final during the NRL era would play in a Grand Final qualifier. This was a game that was fairly one-sided from the start. The decision to promote Issac Luke to the starting team proved critical, Luke keeping the Raiders on the back-foot the entire game with a sterling performance. In the end, class won out over momentum. The Rabbitohs seemed much better prepared for the Raiders than the Storm the week previous and it was most obvious in the form of playmakers Luke, Adam Reynolds and John Sutton. The Raiders had a chance before the break but a last-minute try opened the game up and allowed Souths to enter the second half sans nerves. And the second half played out like it with a loose Bunnies running through and around a tiring Canberra side who knew they were outmatched. The most disappointing moment for Canberra came in the second half when Reece Robinson gutlessly refused to dive for a ball in-goal that led to a Souths try. It was an easy victory for the Bunnies - but it may not be the best preparation for a team like Canterbury.

Top 20 Players Remaining: Looking ahead to preliminary final weekend, it is often two hard match-ups to pick. While games are often won and lost throughout the season on depth, finals games are won on class. Here are the top 20 players remaining left in the competition, ranked in order, based on past performance and current form.

1. Cameron Smith (Melbourne)
2. Billy Slater (Melbourne)
3. Ben Barba (Canterbury)
4. Greg Inglis (South Sydney)
5. Jamie Lyon (Manly)
6. Glenn Stewart (Manly)
7. Cooper Cronk (Melbourne)
8. Issac Luke (South Sydney)
9. James Graham (Canterbury)
10. Sam Burgess (South Sydney)
11. Brett Stewart (Manly)
12. Josh Morris (Canterbury)
13. Sam Kasiano (Canterbury)
14. Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly)
15. Josh Reynolds (Canterbury)
16. Adam Reynolds (South Sydney)
17. Kieran Foran (Manly)
18. Aiden Tolman (Canterbury)
19. Anthony Watmough (Manly)
20. Matt Ballin (Manly)

In the top 20, Manly have seven entrants, Canterbury six, South Sydney four and Melbourne three.

When restricted to the top 10, however, Melbourne and South Sydney lead the way with three each withy Canterbury and Melbourne both having just two entrants.

Melbourne's top ranked player comes in at No.1, Canterbury's at No.3, Sotuh Sydney's at No.4 and Manly's at No.5.

Melbourne have the top end class but a lack of depth after the Big Three. Manly are the only team with all four spine members included. Canterbury have just two spine members but have all three props.

For mine, if the preliminary finals were won on class alone, the Sea Eagles should topple Melbourne while Canterbury and South Sydney should be much closer.

May the McIntyre System Remain Dead: Long live the current finals system. For the first time since the NRL moved to a top eight system, the four best teams are the four last sides left. For once, fairness has prevailed. The ARLC may be a slow moving beast but it has done an outstanding job in punting the horrid McIntyre System. This is the fairest system we have and results have reflected same.

The Super League Vision Comes True: It appears rugby league is finally going to make an impact in China with Canberra and Manly set to play in front of 60,000 fans in Shenzhen. John Ribot's vision of Andrew Ettingshausen being a household name in China is closer to becoming a reality! Rugby league needs to be broader with its vision for the future and taking a premiership game to China is a wonderful idea. Hopefully the match gets signed off on and is a rousing success. Then, much like the NFL take a game to London every year, the NRL should look at taking a premiership game overseas annually.

Trent Barrett Appointed Country Boss: With Trent Barrett already named as Laurie Daley's No.1 lieutenant for NSW next season, it seemed only sensible that Barrett was put in charge of Country. Barrett has no coaching experience. This will add some very important skills to his repertoire.

Meaningless Field Goal of the Week: South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds didn't quite nail it but at 38-16, it was well appreciated.

One for the Trainspotters: The NRL saw a rare penalty try awarded on Saturday night, the first this author can recall in a finals match since the Craig Smith one that decided the '99 premiership.

Bad Luck, Orange CYMS: This column's favourite bush team, the mighty Orange CYMS, were unable to make it three premierships on the trot when beaten by the Lithgow Workies in Lithgow on Sunday. Bad luck boys.

Melbourne Sign Setu: Apparently Craig Bellamy is desperate for a player who cannot tackle and will not run.

Rugby League Song of the Week: This week, for Josh Papalli, "Big Papa Don't Preach" by Madonna

Big Papa I know you're going to be upset
'Cause I was always your little girl
But you should know by now
I'm not a baby

You always taught me right from wrong
I need your help, Papalii please be strong
I may be young at heart
But I know what I'm saying

The one you warned me all about
The one you said I could do without
We're in an awful mess, and I don't mean maybe - please

[Chorus:]

Big Papa don't preach, I'm in trouble deep
Big Papa don't preach, I've been losing sleep
But I made up my mind, I'm keeping my baby Gal
I'm gonna keep my baby, Gal ...

He says that he's going to ignore me
We can raise a little hell
Maybe we'll be all right
It's a fair fight.

But my friends keep telling me to give it up
Saying I'm too young, I ought not to dog it up
What I need right now is some good advice, please

[chorus]

Papalii, Papalii if you could only see
Just how bad he's been treating me
You'd give us your blessing right now
'Cause we are in ready to rock 'n' roll

[chorus]

Big Papa don't preach, I'm in trouble deep
Big Papa don't preach, I've been losing sleep
[repeat]

Oh, I'm gonna keep my baby, Gal
Don't you stop loving me Papalii
I know, I'm keeping my baby Gal

Injury Update: Both Manly and Souths escaped serious injury over the weekend.

Greg Inglis (South Sydney): Was seen hobbling on his ankle at recovery on Sunday. Souths insist nothing is wrong. Hard to see him not playing.

Jason King (Manly): Played just 27 minutes against North Queensland with a shoulder injury. Won't miss this week.

Nathan Merritt (South Sydney): Missed Saturday's win over Canberra with a shoulder injury but is almost certain to be back for the Canterbury game.

Fun Fact : David Furner coached his 100th game for the Canberra Raiders, the fifth of the seven Raiders coaches to reach the feat. He has a strike rate of 43 per cent. The only Raiders coach with a worse record is his father, Don, the club's inaugural coach with a 38.2 per cent strike rate.

Fun Fact : The record of Ashton Sims' teams in finals after the opening week: 2-4.

Rumour Mill: Despite Tim Sheens' denials, the New Zealand Warriors are very interested in his services and will attempt to meet with him. The smart money is on Sheens being in Auckland next year. Canterbury veteran David Stagg is wanted at Penrith. He won't be at the Bulldogs, sadly. Brent Kite is expected to sign with the Tigers after Manly's season comes to an end. His arrival could force Chris Heighington and Beau Ryan out with both linked to Cronulla. Esi Tonga is expected to be cut by the Parramatta Eels. Daniel Mortimer has been strongly linked to St George Illawarra.

Betting Market of the Week: Steve Clark's biggest handicap as a video referee is:

- His understanding of rugby league, compared with that of George Smith: $1.10
- Being a luddite, his most recent purchase of technology was a Beta video player: $1.25
- His vision, which has been compared with that of Sammy Davis Jr: $1.10
- His need to be the smartest person in the room, comparable only to Bill Harrigan: $1.04

What I Like About ... Brad Fittler: I may have already expressed my love of Brad Fittler in previous columns ... and I'm going again. He has found a nice niche on Channel Nine as the guy who was great at the game but doesn't take it too seriously. Freddie is wonderful when you don't want real serious analysis - just a bit of a laugh with a lovable bloke who enjoys his footy. The highlight each week of Freddie is his pass-the-ball competition on The Sunday Footy Show. He just kills it. Fittler is one of the few assets Nine has.

Power Rankings:
1. Canterbury 19-6 (1)
2. Melbourne 18-7 (2)
3. Manly 17-9 (4)
4. South Sydney 17-9 (6)

Moniker XIII of the Week: This week, we look at the players with the most finals appearances without a premiership.

The Oh-So Closes

1. David Peachey (17 - Cronulla)
2. Matt Sing (22 - Penrith/Sydney Roosters/North Queensland)
3. Ivan Cleary (19 - Manly/Norths/Sydney Roosters/New Zealand)
4. Mat Rogers (18 - Cronulla/Gold Coast)
5. Stu Kelly (15 - Parramatta/Brisbane)
6. Travis Norton (16 - South Queensland/Canterbury/North Queensland)
7. Jason Taylor (16 - Wests/Norths/Parramatta)
13. Scott Gourley (18 - St George/Sydney Roosters)
12. Geoff Gerard (25 - Parramatta/Manly/Penrith)
11. Nathan Hindmarsh (19 - Parramatta)
10. Nathan Cayless (21 - Parramatta)
9. Dean Treister (16 - Cronulla)
8. Jason Stevens (18 - St George/Cronulla)

The Coaching Crosshairs: If Tim Sheens is the man behind the Tigers' purported decision to move on Chris Heighington and Beau Ryan then no matter what the cost, Sheens has to go. Recruitment and retention has been a disaster for the Tigers the last two years. Gone are Bryce Gibbs and Andrew Fifita while in are Adam Blair, Braith Anasta and possibly Brent Kite. Tim Moltzen was pulled back from the Dragons. Gareth Ellis could not be kept in Australia. Sheens holds plenty of power at the Tigers and this kind of recruitment and retention should be a strong indication that his time at the club is done.

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: Ben Pomeroy at this year's Mad Monday.

Game of the Year Nomination, Finals Week Two: South Sydney-Canberra, 38-16. It wasn't a great weekend of action with the Eagles needing the help of the officials to get past a disappointing Cowboys outfit while Souths were smooth in getting over Canberra. The Bunnies played the best footy of the weekend with their sharp running up the centre of the ruck and playing some wide football off the back of that.

Correspondence Corner: Mark, I think staying down when you can get up is about the lowest thing you can do on a football field. It is disgraceful. I saw Canterbury trainer Tony Grimaldi almost hold Greg Eastwood down. It was embarrassing for the club and the game and is a pathetic act. I am not sure Tolman stayed down without reason though. He copped a fair whack to the face. Overall though Mark - I find it abhorrent.

Strettell, Ben Mautalino was certainly close to the Warriors' best this year but I thought his form tailed at the backend of the year. Still, very much a good year for the hardworking prop.

Bulldogtimbo, James Graham has been smashed all year and gets no calls. Referees almost seem to have a vendetta against him.

Jason from Brisbane, Alex Glenn is one of the most underrated players in the game and one of my favourites. Josh McGuire has a bright future and should have been picked ahead of Matt Gillett and Dave Taylor for the Maroons this year.

PolishEel, I'm not sure how much French Trent Robinson knew before coaching Catalans but I know his ability to have at least learned it earned him plenty of respect.

NSWWelshman, there is no question that Brett Stewart has been critical to the Eagles' structure but in his last three since his superb game against Brisbane have not been outstanding. He has scored three tries but made seven errors, just eight tackle breaks, has not had a try assist and has made just over 86 metres a game. Saying he is out of nick was clumsy - but he hasn't been at his most lethal best.

Renegade, it is all a matter of taste with what you like in footy and I enjoy it tight and tough in the finals and I thought the Bulldogs-Eagles game was a good display of that type.

Dan, I have very much come to enjoy "Big Papa's" work. He plays it tough.

Jiminy Cricket, I've never seen a winger with worse timing that Jono Wright. He constantly is too flat and then sharks infield like Adam Dykes at his best. The Inu signs are the most worrying. We know how bad he can play - and we are starting to see more of it in recent weeks.

Beard Watch: The last coach to win a premiership with facial hair was Warren Ryan, who won the 1985 decider with a moustache.

Join Us: If you like From The Couch and you like Making The Nut, join the Making The Nut Facebook page. Trust me: you'll enjoy it.

Chasing Greatness: Anyone looking for inspiration, rugby league style, should check out my new book Chasing Greatness, available in all good book stores. I've pulled the best quotes from Jack Gibson and Arthur Beetson to Bob Bax and Royce Simmons.

Watch It: With preliminary final weekend upon us, this week we look at the five best preliminary final games of the NRL era.

2000: Sydney Roosters v Newcastle. Freddie v Joey, these two had staged some great finals matches in the previous years and this game was no exception, the Chooks trailing 16-2 at the break before coming back in the second half to win 26-20 and play in their first Grand Final in 20 years. Watch it here.

2005: Wests Tigers v St George Illawarra: The Dragons were heavily favoured against the Tigers, who were in their first finals series. But momentum in front of a packed SFS got them into the decider and on their way to a memorable premiership. Watch it here.

2006: Brisbane v Canterbury: The Bulldogs looked to have booked themselves a spot in the 2006 decider when leading Brisbane 20-6 at the break. Then along came Darren Lockyer and Justin Hodges and a 31-0 second half saw Brisbane win their way to the premiership decider with the Storm, a game they would win. Watch it here.

2010: St George Illawarra v Wests Tigers: Five seasons after their memorable prelim, these two would square off again in a Grand Final qualifier. This time the favoured Dragons would get the money, winning 13-12 in controversial circumstances, a Jamie Soward field goal the difference. Watch it here.

1998: Canterbury v Parramatta: The Paul Carige game. Canterbury trailed 18-2 with 11 minutes remaining before staging the most famous comeback in finals history. Daryl Halligan kicked a goal from the sideline to level the scores in the dying seconds, Craig Polla-Mounter nearly nailed a 50-metre field goal and the Bulldogs would win easily 32-20 in extra-time. Watch it here.

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