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From The Couch: Round 14

State of Origin II Preview: I almost choked when I checked betting for Origin II and saw that New South Wales were favourites with some bookmakers.
From The Couch: Round 14
by NRL

State of Origin II Preview: I almost choked when I checked betting for Origin II and saw that New South Wales were favourites with some bookmakers. That is absurd. Queensland will win and win well, despite the match being played at ANZ Stadium.

Let's start with the supposed home ground advantage. New South Wales have won just 2 of the 7 games played at ANZ Stadium since 2007. The Maroons have scored 23-plus points in 3 of the last 4 matches at the ground. The Maroons aren't afraid of playing in Sydney. If anything, they appear to look forward to playing in the Harbour City.

And now let's go to the series opener. Queensland were at about 70 per cent. And they were without question the best team. Anyone who thinks NSW deserved to win game one is kidding themselves. The Blues could score but two tries, both from kicks, in a game where the Queensland forwards didn't dominate as per usual and Billy Slater had his worst game in seasons. There is far more upside for the Maroons.

I can't see how the Blues win this. Team selection for Origin II is marginally better but the entire side is outmatched and Ricky Stuart does not have it in him to coach a side that can score 18 points - and that is what the Blues will need. I see the Maroons being stronger up front this time around and I can't see the Blues' halves pairing improving significantly. There are just no scenarios where I can see the Blues winning outside of Queensland throwing it away.

Queensland should be big favourites because they are going to make it seven straight series victories on Wednesday night.

Prediction: Queensland 24 New South Wales 10

Pearce the Problem: It was pleasing to see the team from Sports Data come to my defence in relation to Mitchell Pearce's performance in Origin I. I was highly critical of Pearce and his lack of involvement. Many leapt to his defence. It turned out his effort was quite ordinary, at least statistically. Sports Data rated him 21st in its famed Contribution Value Rating, which takes into account 50 statistical indicators. Only six starting players in the match had a lower rating. There is a great myth that surrounds Mitchell Pearce. It comes about because he looks good playing next to Braith Anasta and because he is a real trier. The problem is he lacks the genuine creativity and the football smarts to be a top level halfback. The Blues would be better off with Jamie Soward or Peter Wallace in the No.7 jersey.

Matt Cecchin is an Arrogant Fool: If Matt Cecchin referees first grade again this season, it will be a disgrace of the highest order. Straight after ruining Origin I with his arrogance and insolence, he absolutely did his best to stitch up the Brisbane Broncos on Sunday with a display that was as disgusting as it was egotistical. The Roosters' first two tries simply weren't tries. Jake Friend never looked like getting the ball down on terra firma yet was awarded a try immediately with no referral to the video referee. Video evidence clearly showed Friend did not get the ball down. The following decision was worse. Rather than going upstairs again, he quickly awarded Tinirau Arona a try though he dropped the ball about a metre from the ground. It was embarrassing. That was to say nothing of Cecchin's role in the Lachlan Maranta "steal". Cecchin, Bill Harrigan's chief henchman in the refereeing civil war that has a touch of Shakespeare and a touch of modern-day Rwanda, clearly wants to be like his Hollywood idol. He should instead focus on being a half-decent referee rather than an arrogant little snot. It would be a scandal of Lewinsky-esque proportions if Harrigan again rewarded his lieutenant with a big-game appointment rather than drop him to the twos where he belongs. If he wasn't Harrigan's pet, he would not have a Grand Final and a Four Nations final, plus an Origin, on his resume. Before Harrigan came on board, the biggest game Cecchin got was a qualifying final. Since Bill got power, Cecchin has ascended rapidly to be in the top two refs in the game, supposedly. The Tony Archer/Luke Phillips/Ashley Klein camp are right - Harrigan has allowed refereeing standards to drop and he is playing favourites. Both Archer and Klein have copped the bum steer under Bill. Hopefully both thrive when Harrigan is ousted at the end of the season.

The Contenders: The contenders for David Gallop's old CEO job and their credentials.

Graham Annesley: Just elected to NSW parliament and is the current sports minister. Unlikely to give that up, particularly seeing as he has seen the inside of rugby league politics.

Mark Arbib: Has ruled himself out but the commission should pressure him to come across. A big league man who loves his Roosters, a renowned headkicker with strong political connections and he is used to the spotlight. He would be a very positive acquisition.

John Brogden: Former NSW Liberal leader who reportedly follows the Tigers. Was too immature for politics so is unlikely to be able to cut it in a really nasty game like rugby league.

John Fahey: Universally loved and respected former NSW premier and federal finance minister. Played reserve grade with Canterbury. Heads ASDA. His name hasn't been mentioned outside of these pages but he should be a leading contender. Age may count against him.

John Grant: Current chairman of the commission. Has been ruthless but reactive during his time in charge. Mercifully has ruled himself out of taking up the CEO role and becoming the Hugo Chavez of the NRL.

Todd Greenberg: Canterbury CEO and the man who is the deserving favourite. He has done a magnificent job at the Bulldogs, highlighted by the total turnaround in image, the positive recruitment and the luring of Des Hasler. He understands rugby league but isn't a product of its historical politics. Smart, has good connections and real vision. I would hate to lose him at the Bulldogs but if he wants the job, he should get it.

Stephen Humphreys: Son of Kevin Humphreys, the former League boss who left office in disgrace. Also a product of old school rugby league politics. It would be an ordinary look if he was named and it would just be another win for faction politics if he did.

Daryl Kerry: The ANZ Stadium boss has previously worked with SOCOG and has been given ticks everywhere he goes. As much as the joint stinks, he does attract the big events to ANZ. Is well in the mix.

Shane Mattiske: The interim CEO. Won't be a serious contender and said as much on ABC Radio on Sunday.

Grant Mayer: Former Manly CEO who went to work for AFL team Greater Western Sydney. Sharp and respected but is a longshot.

John O'Neill: Two-time ARU boss and former soccer CEO who will never, ever be welcomed in rugby league.

Katie Page: Respected retail boss who has sat on the NRL board before. An outsider.

John Quayle: Ray Warren's suggestion. He was certainly a man of vision when in charge of the game but his time has come and gone (he has admitted as much) and his appointment would be a step backwards.

Michael Searle: Haha, just kidding, the one-time golden boy is persona non-grata in League circles.

Peter V'Landys: The boss of Racing NSW. Did well with the recent betting fee court case but has not expressed any serious interest in rugby league and he has been viewed as a divisive figure in racing. Wouldn't be the worst but the NRL can do better.

Paul White: Brisbane chief executive and respected. Would be a smokey but there is no question the Broncos are the best run team in the game.

Warren Wilson: The Panthers Group CEO and former boss of the TAB and Sky. Has been anointed favourite by News Limited but one source at the TAB claim he was a "bully", that he lacked vision (he did not believe in the future of fixed-price horse and sports betting, which has boomed in the last decade) and that his own financial dealings have not been overly successful. Has been overlooked before (in 2002) and was overlooked for the commission. Too many crosses to consider.

The End of the Line: Those looking for an extended read on David Gallop, his time in charge and his legacy should read this piece, published last Wednesday on Making The Nut.

McIntyre Backs Furner: Canberra Raiders chairman John McIntyre made some interesting comments in an interview with Chris Wilson of The Canberra Times.

Mcintyre absolved David Furner for any blame in the 40-0 loss to the Tigers by saying the fans are "not justified in blaming the coach as a standout for it, they're not justified in blaming the board. The board's got bugger all to do with it, that sort of thing." Excellent way to bury your head in the sand.

He said David Furner will "most definitely" be in charge until the end of 2014. "David Furner's future has never been an agenda item at any board meeting." Raiders fans must be delighted.

When queried about Furner's winning percentage of 38 per cent, he said: "The winning percentage of a football team has got absolutely no correlation with the ability of a coach. None at all. It's more about the individual performances of those fellas to make up a team." Really? The winning percentage has nothing to do with coaching? The last time I checked, the main aim of rugby league was winning. The main aim of the coach was to get his team to win. McIntyre has a very interesting and some would say enigmatic view of the game.

On Neil Henry going to Queensland, McIntyre said "on reflection, looking at the results, he probably made the right choice." That must fill fans with confidence.

On himself: "I don't like to think that I'm a grumpy old man but I am pretty boneheaded. I have a lot of confidence in my ability to know whether the right person is in the right job." At least he is sometimes right.

Also in the wide-ranging interview, he said that Furner was extended at the end of 2010 to 2014 because the club feared Furner would be approached by another club and he rejected calls to step down by saying he lured Wayne Bennett to the club in 1987. It would be so funny if it wasn't so sad for the Canberra Raiders, a once proud club on its knees because of a moron like John McIntyre.

Happy 250th Craig Bellamy: Congratulations go out to Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy, who celebrated his 250th game in charge of the club last Friday night. Bellamy has done an outstanding job since joining the Storm in 2003 as a replacement for Mark Murray. In the decade in charge of the club, he has guided the Storm to two premierships, four minor premierships and finals in every year eligible. His win rate is an incredible 68.4 per cent. He has also built a culture that is the envy of every other club in competition, one that prizes defence above all, that is all about team and that has embraced innovation. There was the salary cap drama but that should do nothing to diminish Bellamy's standing as one of the great coaches the game has ever known. It is incredible that the Storm have never looked like bottoming out, continually bouncing back even when losing star player after star player. Perhaps his greatest performance was guiding the Storm to a 14-10 record the year the Storm were playing for zero points and then following it up with a minor premiership. Bellamy becomes just the 19th mentor to coach 250 premiership games with Bob Fulton's win percentage, second for those coaches who have coached 250 games, is 4.4 per cent lower than Bellamy's. He will forever be remembered as one of the game's greatest ever leaders.

Great Idea: Well done to those rugby league powerbrokers pushing for the winner of the NSW Cup and the Queensland Cup to tackle each other on NRL Grand Final day. It is a great shame that we do not have a proper reserve grade competition. It will hopefully be looked at by the commission. In the meantime, having these two play in the Grand Final - and possibly even engage in some "interleague" play or a midseason knockout - would be a sensational idea that would lift the standards of second-tier rugby league in Australia.

For the Trainspotters: A scrum win against the head in the Storm-Tigers clash on Friday night. That is approximately the first time in the last 11,389 scrums that one has been one against the feed. The man at fault was Storm prop Sika Manu.

Strange Siren: Those at the Roosters-Broncos game were utterly confused before halftime when the siren blasted about 30 seconds short of the break. It then sounded again as players stood flummoxed. With the rain teaming down, the referees just called the break. The NRL should certainly investigate the matter. Perhaps the Phantom Siren has returned?

Player Movements: Parramatta have finally made a good recruiting decision in luring promising young Storm half Luke Kelly, effective immediately. Kelly was excellent against the Tigers and would be playing first grade at most other clubs. He will soon be replacing Ben Roberts in the top grade.

The Panthers have also done well in securing the services of bustling forward Sika Manu. Manu is injury prone, which is a concern, but is very effective when right and the Panthers need a game-breaking backrower.

Recruitment in the NRL Era - New Zealand: The Warriors have been a fairly good recruiting team, luring some very big names from Australia as well as some very sharp under-the-radar buys. The club also rarely loses talent to other NRL clubs with their biggest problem being the exodus to England.

Best Year: There is no doubt that 2005 was the best recruitment year for the Warriors. In came legends of the game Steve Price and Ruben Wiki, who have the club five and four years respectively. Both captained the Warriors and both helped to fundamentally change the culture of the club. Price played for Australia throughout his stint in Auckland while Wiki is arguably the most beloved Warrior of them all. Neither played in a Grand Final but both did plenty for the team. Also coming in were Nathan Fien, who became a Kiwi international, and Todd Byrne, a solid contributor on the wing. The only disappointing loss from the massive cleanout, where most players went to England, was the loss of Thomas Leuluai, who will return to the team in 2013.

Worst Year: In 1999, the Warriors lost a host of big names with the biggest being Stephen Kearney, who still had plenty to contribute for the Storm for six seasons. Journeymen Tyran Smith and Sean Hoppe also moved on. The best signing was 27-year-old halfback John Simon, who gave the club two seasons.

Best Buy: The Warriors have typically been an astute purchasing club though that isn't the reputation they seem to have. Their best buy has been Price. Scoring him was a coup and he was absolutely outstanding in his five years, even accepting his demotion from captain with good grace.

Worst Buy: Krisnan Inu. Was absolutely hopeless in his 18 months with the team, spending a good deal of the time playing in the NSW Cup after some legitimate howlers.

Worst Loss: Nigel Vagana went on to score 103 tries in 169 games after leaving Auckland and was one of the premier centres of the 2000s, a genuine superstar while at Canterbury and a solid contributor at Cronulla and South Sydney.

Origin/International Players Recruited:
Already: (13) Kevin Iro, Quentin Pongia, Tyran Smith, Terry Hermansson, John Simon, Kevin Campion, Nathan Fien, Ruben Wiki, Steve Price, Brent Tate, Jacob Lillyman, Shaun Berrigan, Krisnan Inu
Became: (3) Richard Villasanti, Sione Faumuina, PJ Marsh,

Origin/International Players Lost:
Already: (17) Stephen Kearney, Quentin Pongia, Tyran Smith, Anthony Swann, John Simon, Nigel Vagana, Kevin Campion, Motu Tony, Clinton Toopi, Richard Villasanti, PJ Marsh, Wairangi Koopu, Nathan Fien, Evarn Tuimivave, Brent Tate, Shaun Berrigan, Krisnan Inu
Became: (2) Paul Whatuira, Henry Perenara,

*Super League Tri Series and International matches are recognised.
** Only players who went to or came from another NRL club are noted with the exception of English internationals.

Injury Update: Liam Fulton seems to have suffered the most serious injury of the week.

Travis Burns (Penrith): Sustained a suspected broken cheekbone just before halftime. No huge loss for the Panthers with Blake Austin likely to replace him at five-eighth.

Liam Fulton (Tigers): Was in a ton of pain with some sore ribs when he left the field against Melbourne. It would be a surprise to see him back in the next month. Gareth Ellis isn't far away and is the likely replacement.

Alehana Mara (Warriors): Suffered a nasty ankle injury but shouldn't miss too much time. The Warriors certainly hope not as they have no hooker available with top grade experience.

Tim Moltzen (Tigers): The Tigers fullback and Willie M Medal contender pulled out prior to the Tigers' game against Melbourne with a hip flexor concern. Will go for scans but may struggle to force his way back into the team.

Joe Picker (Canberra): A late withdrawal from the Knights game with an in-grown hair. Painful but he'll be available for selection.

Scott Prince (Gold Coast): Missed another game with a lower back injury. He will be back next week but appears to be totally busted.

Fun Fact : Gary Larson has played the most Origin games without scoring a try (24), followed by Trevor Gillmesiter (22), Martin Bella (21) and Steve Roach (17).

Fun Fact : The most State of Origin matches played by a back without a try is 14 by Terry Hill followed by Peter Sterling (13), Karmichael Hunt (10) and Brett Kimmorley (10).

Fun Fact : Ashley Harrison leads the current crop of players with no Origin tries in 13 games followed by Matthew Scott (9) and Corey Parker (6).

Fun Fact : 14 players have kicked a field goal in State of Origin with Andrew Johns kicking four and Ben Elias, Brad Fittler, Wally Lewis, Darren Lockyer and Johnathan Thurston two.

The 2012 Willie M Medal: The leading Willie M vote-getters after 14 rounds for each club:

Brisbane: Jack Reed (6)
Canberra: Jarrod Croker (10)
Canterbury: Michael Ennis, Sam Kasiano (5)
Cronulla: Ben Pomeroy (8)
Gold Coast: Steve Michaels, William Zillman (7)
Manly: Brent Kite (6)
Melbourne: Anthony Quinn, Jason Ryles (4)
Newcastle: Adam Cuthbertson, Kade Snowden (7)
New Zealand: James Maloney, Manu Vatuvei (7)
North Queensland: Antonio Winterstein (8)
Parramatta: Ben Roberts (12)
Penrith: Brad Tighe (7)
St George Illawarra: Ben Hornby (13)
South Sydney: Roy Asotasi, Dylan Farrell (5)
Sydney Roosters: Mitchell Pearce (9)
Wests Tigers: Tim Moltzen (12)

Melbourne v Wests Tigers
3-Anthony Quinn (Mel)
2-Lote Tuqiri (Tig)
1-Justin O'Neill (Mel)

Newcastle v Canberra
3-Peter Mata'utia (New)
2-Adam Cuthbertson (New)
1-Kade Snowden (New)

Cronulla v Gold Coast
3- William Zillman (GC)
2-Ben Pomeroy (Cro)
1-Aiden Sezer (GC)

Sydney Roosters v Brisbane
3-BJ Leilua (Roo)
2-Adam Henry (Roo)
1-Frank Paul Nuuausala (Roo)

Penrith v New Zealand
3-Lachlan Coote (Pen)
2-Etu Uaisele (Pen)
1-Luke Walsh (Pen)

Leaderboard:
13: Ben Hornby (Dra)
12: Tim Moltzen (Tig), Ben Roberts (Par)
10: Jarrod Croker (Can), Mitch Rein (Dra)
9: Mitchell Pearce (Roo), Timana Tahu (New)
8: Braith Anasta (Roo), Chris Sandow (Par), Antonio Winterstein (Cow), Ben Pomeroy (Cro)

Rumour Mill: There has been plenty of speculation that Penrith star Luke Lewis has signed with Cronulla. Lewis is said to be so disillusioned after losing the captaincy and so worried are the Panthers that Phil Gould met with him throughout the week. Lewis has previously signed with South Sydney before getting cold feet. There have been plenty of rumours doing the rounds about Warren Wilson and his time at the TAB with a source claiming he was a "bully" who did not actually see fixed-odds betting as a growth area. Newcastle are a club in flux with Wes Naiqama and Junior Sau both shopped around and could be gone before June 30. Canterbury could be interested as they are very thin in the outside backs. One player who will be at the Knights next year is David Stagg. Des Hasler foolishly has a diminished view of Stagg. Bennett knows what he can contribute and wants him at the Knights. Parramatta have seemingly missed out on another big deal with Darcy Lussick reportedly backing out to re-sign for less money with Manly. Jeremy Smith reportedly wants out at Cronulla. The club denies this but Smith could be on his way back to the Dragons. Sam Williams is supposedly on the outer at Canberra after falling out with David Furner and could be on the open market soon. Brett Finch will be at South Sydney next year.

Power Rankings:
1. Melbourne 11-2 (1)
2. Brisbane 9-4 (2)
3. Canterbury 8-5 (3)
4. Manly 8-5 (4)
5. South Sydney 7-6 (5)
6. Wests Tigers 8-5 (6)
7. North Queensland 7-6 (7)
8. Cronulla 8-5 (8)
9. New Zealand 7-6 (9)
10. Gold Coast 5-8 (10)
11. Sydney Roosters 5-8 (11)
12. St George Illawarra 6-7 (12)
13. Penrith 4-9 (13)
14. Canberra 5-8 (15)
15. Newcastle 4-9 (14)
16. Parramatta 2-11 (16)

What I Like About ... Dane Gagai: That 28 minutes into his Newcastle career and with just his third touch, Gagai put a simple step on Jarrod Croker to show up what a complete liability the Raiders centre is in defence. It is a joke that he remains in first grade.

Betting Market of the Week: Canberra Raiders chairman John McIntyre's next move on Canberra Raiders coach will be:

-To offer Furner a 36-year, $98 million contract: $2.40
-To rename the Raiders "The Canberra Furners" to get lock Furner in: $3.00
-To bring in Victor the Viking as an assistant coach: $4.00
-To storm Parliament House, launch a coup and name Furner our almighty leader: $6.00

Moniker XIII of the Week: With Craig Bellamy coaching his 250th first grade game.

The Craigs
1. Craig Wing (256 games for Souths/Roosters)
2. Craig Bellamy (148 games for Canberra)
3. Craig Teevan (103 games for Brisbane/Cronulla/Manly/Crushers/Gold Coast)
4. Craig Innes (60 games for Western Reds/Manly)
5. Craig Hancock (192 games for Manly/Balmain)
6. Craig Polla-Mounter (192 games for Canterbury)
7. Craig Coleman (266 games for Souths/Gold Coast/Wests)
13. Craig Fitzgibbon (263 games for Illawarra/St George Illawarra/Roosters)
12. Craig Salvatori (139 games for Roosters/Souths)
11. Craig Greenhill (116 games for Cronulla/Penrith)
10. Craig Young (234 games for St George)
9. Craig Gower (238 games for Penrith)
8. Craig Smith (153 games for Souths/Illawarra/Dragons/Newcastle)

Analysis: The Craigs are quite a strong team with an abundance of halves and props. So strong are the halves that Wing has been shifted to fullback, Gower named at hooker and Field left out altogether for the underrated Polla-Mounter. The pack is big and will have no problem going forward with an all-international six. Fitzgibbon and Young are both club legends. The outside backs are the weakness. Strong, but well beatable.

The Coaching Crosshairs: Wayne Bennett has earned the right not to be questioned. His record is without peer and he is widely revered by many players as the greatest coach the game has ever known. Still, he must be scratching his head as the Knights stumbled to another horrible loss, their sixth in seven games. Bennett has now won just 8 of his last 27 matches in charge.

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: With Shark Park waterlogged, there were always fears that the Special Needs Penguin's flippers would cause him grief. And so it came to pass with three handling errors in a very ordinary showing. Lucky the Sharks got the points.

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 14: Melbourne-Wests Tigers, 6-10. Though conditions were horrendous and all the big names were missing on Origin duty, the quality of this match was surprisingly high. The scores were locked at 2-2 at the break but the handling was good and the footy smart. The Tigers capitalised on a couple of errors and poor defensive reads gave the Tigers a handy lead and the Storm nearly pinched it at the death in an impressive showing without their big guns.

Correspondence Corner: AJL, I was once a member of the Raiders and they do treat fans poorly. John McIntyre and the Furners are stuck in 1986. The Raiders have gone to hell and there needs to be a monster cleanout at board, front office and coaching levels.

Col Quinn, controversy does create interest but I am of the opinion that everyone in Australia watches Origin anyway so who else is there to convince?

Tony Monero, you know I have long been an advocate of reserve grade and the old five-minute sin bin is a must. We should also have a pre-season knockout or a knockout cup and a sevens weekend, perhaps joined with the all-star game.

Mr C, Anonymous, I picked the Bulldogs to come 12th. They are 3rd. They have significantly overachieved for mine. They deserve an A. Look at their roster and where they are positioned.

Semipro, David Gallop was, without question a man of great character and dignity.

Anonymous, I like the idea of having an expert referee available in commentary - a bit like Mike Perrera on the Fox NFL broadcasts. But if it was Bill Harrigan, I'd shoot myself.

Beard Watch: Beau Ryan knows beards. His new bit of facial hair may be a little too manicured but it is good to see one of the game's superstars getting beardy.

Watch It: Sadly, rugby league has lost the kicking duel. It has probably been 20 years since we have had a decent one but nearly 30 years back, we saw three crackers in the semi-final between Canterbury and St George. Watch them all here, here. and here.

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