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From The Couch: Round 22

Canberra Raiders, I Am Available: Canberra Raiders chief executive Don Furner announced last week that a full review would be conducted into the abomination that has been 2011, a complete and utter disaster by any measure.
From The Couch: Round 22
by NRL

Canberra Raiders, I Am Available: Canberra Raiders chief executive Don Furner announced last week that a full review would be conducted into the abomination that has been 2011, a complete and utter disaster by any measure. In the past, the likes of Warren Ryan and Michael Hagan have been called in. And, of course, nothing has changed. The Raiders need a hard marker. They need someone who understands rugby league. They need me. Luckily for them, I offer my advice free of charge and with only minimal aggro as I do have some affection for the club, having lived in Canberra for the better part of eight seasons.

So here is what has gone wrong and here is what must change:

1. Coaching: It is embarrassing that David Furner still has a job. By any measure, he is a total and abject failure. His record is abysmal. In three seasons, he has a 29-41 win-loss account (41.4%) with starts of 2-7, 3-6 and 1-8, a clear indication that the Raiders are entering the season short on fitness, underdone on hard work and underprepared for the physicality of football. He won't delegate to his assistants. He won't attempt to grow as a coach. He is a poor man manager and communicator. He is tactically inept. He is too soft, often refusing to wield the axe when it needs to be flourished with gay abandon. He offers little in the way of player development. Furner only has a job because his brother is the chief executive and the board both gush over his name and are too stupid to actually do anything for the benefit of the football club.

Simply see the comments of board member John Mackay in May, who was part of the decision to extend Furner's deal to 2014, which would make him the second longest serving coach in club history: "We regard David as one of our favourite sons,'' Mackay said. "If we had a choice between David and someone who was there to win games and nothing else, we'd have David every time. He'd have to lose another 30 games. We're not looking for other (coaches), we've got David Furner and we're really happy about that. He has my support and the board's support, which runs deeper than a losing streak.''

It will be embarrassing if the Raiders keep Furner for 2012, which, of course, they will.

2. Board: The Raiders this year have operated with morons like John Mackay on the board and have yet to replace Jim Murphy, who died in May. Chairman John McIntyre said the club was in no hurry to replace him. The board is so out of touch, so unprofessional and so content to accept mediocrity that it is apparent there needs to be a high level cleanout. Hopefully those who care can organise the numbers.

3. Roster: On paper, the Raiders went into 2011 with a roster that appeared to be premiership material. They appeared to have a few weaknesses but with a quality pack, a world-class fullback and a premiership-winning halfback, all seemed to be fine.

The first mistake was showing faith in Matt Orford. I'm not going to blame the Raiders fully for Orford other than to say they should have been more vigilant in checking his health. There was no point in bringing in a crock, which he has turned out to be. He seemed a good stop gap for the injured Terry Campese on paper but it obviously hasn't worked out that way. While many good judges thought the move solid, the due diligence done, or not done, by Canberra needs to be brought into question.

And as such, the Raiders have oscillated between fair to downright abysmal in the spine. Josh Dugan is wonderful when fit but that hasn't always been the case in 2011. Alan Tongue is not right for hooker but Furner won't make the tough call on him. Josh McCrone is probably more hooker than half but has been pretty poor this season. Sam Williams was thrown in the deep end when he wasn't ready. This is to say nothing of the appalling call not to re-register Travis Waddell as backup post-June 30, an appalling oversight indicative of how the club is run at present.

The outside backs have been dreadful when it was thought they would be a strength. Joel Thompson was seen as a long-term solution in the centres but his form has been susceptible. Jarrod Croker is not a first grader until he fixes both his ability to tackle and his understanding of space. Blake Ferguson and Daniel Vidot have both been huge disappointments. Vidot won't play another 10 first grade games. There is little depth below this lot, sadly, with Drury Low about the only player with upside.

The pack has also been incredibly poor. Bronson Harrison has been a swinging gate in defence. He doesn't deserve a first grade spot. Brett White has added nothing. Tom Learoyd-Lahrs has regressed. David Shillington and Joe Picker have both not had their finest seasons. Shaun Fensom and young Josh Papalii are about the only two forwards who can hold their heads up.

So the Raiders need to do a few things with their roster. They will get Terry Campese back but they will still need a high grade half to perhaps give Williams another year to develop. They need to cut Alan Tongue and play Glen Butriss with a new hooking purchase. Paul Aiton would be worth examining. They need to find an effective fringe running backrower to replace Bronson Harrison. Picker could do this but hasn't grasped the opportunity. Perhaps Joel Thompson moves back there. They need to find one, maybe two, quality centre options. They need both a strike player and a Matt Cooper-like defensive player.

4. Attitude: The general attitude of the club has stunk all year. There is no doubt the division caused by the Joel Monaghan incident and subsequent fallout in the off-season tore at the fabric of the club but it is apparent there is little commitment to training and worse, little pride in the jersey. Bronson Harrison is the prime offender. His defence has been embarrassing. Jarrod Croker, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Trevor Thurling, Brett White and Josh McCrone have hardly been any better. The players simply aren't caring and it is sad to see.

5. Player Development: The Raiders won the Toyota Cup in 2008. Seven of that side has gone on to play first grade but only Shaun Fensom and Josh Dugan have gone on to be deserving regular first graders constantly improving. Jarrod Croker is a regular in first grade but his position is questionable. Compare that to the losing team that day, the Brisbane Broncos, who have had 11 players go on to the NRL with six members of that team regular starters in the high flying Brisbane Broncos' strongest 17. Players stall in the Raiders system. The likes of Sam Williams still have improvement in them but players like Croker, Josh McCrone, Daniel Vidot and Joe Picker just don't seem to get any better and with the exception of Josh Papalii, there seem to be few knocking down the door for a first grade spot.

6. Injuries: The Raiders have been unfortunate with some injuries. The loss of Terry Campese has obviously had a major impact and has largely been unavoidable. But the persistent recurring injuries to Josh Dugan, pectoral injuries to David Shillington and Glenn Butriss, Matt Orford's groin injury and a string of other soft tissue injuries do not reflect well on the medical procedures in place at the club. Players either aren't prepared well enough, aren't given the right treatment or are rushed back from injury too early, with the club being one of the least durable in the NRL. The Raiders need to look at the Storm as a model.

Unless a few of these needs are accounted for, the Raiders face another season marred by waste and underachievement as the Canberra faithful grow evermore weary of waiting for the club to actually show some genuine promise.

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Phil Gould Must Be Listened Too: Phil Gould was smack bang on the money with his call to arms on Sunday, declaring the NRL had not done enough to protect the game in Western Sydney.

Gould, rightly, was livid that rugby league's lack of direction caused by a disjointed and convoluted administration that has allowed the AFL to gain a foothold in the area. It is a major concern. Nobody expects GWS to be a success. Even long-term, it is doubtful they will even be viable. But the AFL's intrusion into schools, community programs and local governments could impact on rugby league and it could impact on both the expansion aims of rugby league and the potential pool of talent the game will have to draw from in the future.

If rugby league is to expand, it simply has to have its heartland sewn up. If it is vulnerable at home, it can't risk stretching its resources into new markets. It is a most basic military strategy. The NRL needs to marginalise the AFL so much in Western Sydney that it remains exactly what it is now: a total non-factor. But allowing them to gain some standing now means they will need to fight a much tougher beast later on.

More worrying is the fact the AFL could poach some quality athletes who would have been rugby league players. Rugby league has always drawn the best athletes. Sure, the AFL gets the runners and the freakish beanpoles but rugby league gets the toughest and the fastest, those with the most explosion, those with the abilities to do freakish things. The continuing renewal of the game comes about because of the depth and breadth of new talent constantly emerging.

Be sure and certain of two things: firstly, rugby league will never die out in Western Sydney and secondly, the AFL have a scorched earth mentality that aims to cripple any sport not its own.

But this can't be the way rugby league looks at the west. The west will be won if the AFL never becomes relevant. If it wins a niche, the battle for league isn't lost but it becomes a stalemate that easily could have been avoided.

One of the Independent Commission's most important tasks will be to develop an efficient, streamlined and workable administrative structure followed by a clear and effective plan for how to lock-down Western Sydney as a rugby league heartland. The game needs to get wise. It needs to be more involved in schools. It needs to be more politically active. It needs to get more help from the big end of town. It needs to have clear policy direction and a clear vision for the future and it needs to be making moves to implement that plan immediately.

Phil Gould knows the west. He knows rugby league. He is one of the few in the game to understand the ruthless nature of the Australian Football League. He needs to be listened too.

Peter Peters is a Total Moron: How dare Peter Peters have the gall, the utter hide, to question Darren Lockyer's suitability in becoming an Immortal. The washed-up hack who has held no relevance in the media since the 1980s and is so out-of-touch that he makes the Wok look like the future had this to say about Lockyer in the week the champion Broncos five-eighth equalled Terry Lamb and Steve Menzies on the all-time games record list: "There is a push for Lockyer to join that rarefied company after a few years in retirement but I don't buy it. If he was to go in before Andrew Johns then that would be a joke. People try to tell me Lockyer has usurped King Wally as the greatest Queenslander of all time because the Brisbane captain has done more at NRL level. They have clearly overdosed on the Bundy [rum]."

The only joke here is Peter Peters.

Lockyer is a treasure and Peters has done nothing constructive for the game, arguably, ever. He simply pushes the Manly barrow on his radio program while hiding behind a veil of objectivism. He is rude beyond belief to callers and guests. He clearly has little understanding of the modern game. He is a total irrelevance and to suggest Lockyer doesn't belong to a discussion involving the all-time greats of the game is a sad indictment on Peters' life. It simply shows that no matter how long in the game some people have, they clearly have no understanding of it.

This Friday Darren Lockyer will become the first player to reach 350 NRL games. It is a truly wonderful performance from one of the all-time greats. He deserves the respect, the honour and the gratitude of every rugby league fan as he rides out of the game he has given so much too.

Parramatta Are a Total Disgrace: What more needs to be said? There are about a dozen Eels who will be extraordinarily lucky to be given a first grade spot next week. It was an appalling effort, one of the worst I have seen on a football field. They didn't show up and they threw the towel in early. If you were a Parramatta fan, you would burn your jersey and demand the heads of Paul Osborne, the board and arguably Stephen Kearney. David Gallop should seriously look at throwing them out of the competition. I'd rather see the Central Coast Bears than the bollocks they put up on Monday night.

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Let's Try the Magic Ball: So the reports have it that a magic ball that can detect forward passes may not be far away. This column is extremely supportive of trialling it in end-of-season matches that will have no bearing on the finals makeup. I am dubious to its viability but rugby league has always embraced change, welcomed innovation. Few games have evolved so much and few have been quicker to welcome technology. The game of today is vastly different to that played 25 years ago let alone a century back. Few sports went to video officiating quicker. So if we can eradicate the forward pass from the game with 100% accuracy, we would be foolish not to get on board. Let the trials begin.

State of Origin, 2016: Let's fast-forward five years to have a look at how the teams, roughly, will look. The common school of thought is that Queensland's period of dominance is coming to an end with Darren Lockyer and Petero Civoniceva sure to be done and many of their other stars aging. Perhaps not. There is a fairly strong likelihood that the spine will remain intact, at least for four years, while all the Queensland backline will remain available with the exception of Justin Hodges. Up front, Matt Gillett, Martin Kennedy and Aiden Guerra will join the hardened prop duo of Matt Scott and Ben Hannant. New South Wales have some promising hopefuls like Shaun Fensom, Kyle Stanley and Chris Lawrence but there are no strong hookers emerging and halfback will continue to be a worry. The Blues will probably pinch an Origin series in the next five years but they will have to earn it against a Queensland team that will lose very few players.

Queensland
1. Billy Slater (33)
2. Darius Boyd (29)
3. Greg Inglis (29)
4. Israel Folau (27)
5. Jharal Yow Yeh (26)
6. Johnathan Thurston (33)
7. Cooper Cronk (32)
13. Nate Myles (31)
12. Sam Thaiday (31)
11. Matt Gillett (27)
10. Ben Hannant (31)
9. Cameron Smith (33)
8. Matthew Scott (31)

14. Dave Taylor (28)
15. Aiden Guerra (28)
16. Martin Kennedy (27)
17. Chris Sandow (27)

New South Wales
1. Josh Dugan (26)
2. Akuila Uate (28)
3. Chris Lawrence (27)
4. Jamal Idris (26)
5. William Hopoate (24)
6. Jamie Soward (31)
7. Mitchell Pearce (27)
13. Shaun Fensom(27)
12. Paul Gallen (34)
11. Tariq Sims (25)
10. Aiden Tolma (27)
9. Michael Ennis (32)
8. Trent Merrin (26)

14. Tim Mannah (28)
15. Kade Snowden (29)
16. Joel Thompson (27)
17. Kyle Stanley (25)

A Legend Honoured: If there was one place to be over the weekend, it was in Junee where Ray "Rabbits" Warren, an undisputed legend of the game and a true rugby league gentlemen, was honoured by a bronze statue at Dobbyn Park. It is a wonderful honour that drew the likes of premier Barry O'Farrell, Nine boss David Gyngell and radio broadcaster Ray Hadley. Warren has been the voice of rugby league for well over 30 years and when he is done, he will be remembered in the same class as Frank Hyde as the preeminent voice of the code.

Parity is King: One of the primary reasons the National Rugby League is the best and most popular sporting code in Australia is parity. There is no major sporting competition in the world more even. On a weekend where the AFL had six favourites start at $1.11 or shorter with five margins totalling greater than 40 and two over 100, rugby league's average margin is down to 13.0, as low as it has been in the NRL era.

A slight comparison with the AFL:

NRL AFL
Premiers since 2001: 9 7
Time since all 16 teams played a final: 2007 2001
Average Most Wins (07-10): 18.25 19.13
Average Fewest Spoon Wins (07-10): 5.75 3.5
Avg Most to Fewest Difference (07-10): 12.5 15.63

Considering AFL teams play two fewer games per season, the gulf in parity, which the AFL is obviously trying to achieve, is massive. The NRL has got it right with parity. It must continue to be vigilant in regards the salary cap.

Challenge Cup Classic: The Challenge Cup final for 2011 has been decided and it came after a couple of cracking semi-finals.

In the first, Wigan ended a 13-year Wembley drought with an 18-12 victory over St Helens as Michael Maguire's reputation continues to grow. Wigan led 18-2 at the 64-minute mark before allowing a couple of tries late. Maguire has done a magnificent job at the Warriors and has them entering the final as firm favourites.

In the second, we saw a classic. Castleford looked home for all money. The upset was well and truly on as Rangi Chase inspired the Tigers to an 8-2 lead. Leeds made heavy inroads but Cas were courageous, defending stoutly, holding firm, their first Challenge Cup final since 1992 in touch. But a late Leeds try left Kevin Sinfield with a shot from the sideline, which was both straight and true. And after Chase missed a sitter of a field goal, Sinfield again proved the hero, nailing an extra-time penalty from wide out. It was heartbreaking for the Cas faithful, many who were seen weeping in the stands afterwards.

The final will be played in three weeks at Wembley with the cherry and whites strongly favoured to down Leeds.

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Nine's Big Debt: I read with great interest in Monday's The Australian that Nine has a $3.6 billion debt that needs to be serviced by 2013. The powers-that-be at the network had to answer some heavy questions from creditors at a meeting on July 28. The general feeling seems to be that Nine will struggle in their negotiations to refinance it. There is also a feeling that CVC Asia Pacific, who own Nine, are losing some patience with what will soon be a "high profile" debt.

Upon reading this, I couldn't help but wonder, with some glee, how this will impact on the next round of television rights negotiations. David Gyngell seems to think Nine won't lose the rights but the final call will not be his, at least when it comes to the size of the cheque that will need to be cut. CVC is a private equity firm without any attachment to rugby league. They will have a price and won't go a cent above it.

Seven and Ten are closing every day on winning the rights.

The Ric Flair Honorary Bleed of the Year: There have been some good bleeds this year but Matt Hilder's effort on Sunday after copping Josh Dugan's stud to the forehead was magnificent. Hilder tackled Dugan, bumped his head on the Raiders fullback's hip and then was slow getting up. Keen for a quick play-the-ball, Dugan jumped to his feet and accidentally planted a stud deep into the melon of Hilder, who started bleeding like an abattoir pig. It was exacerbated by the fact Hilder has the fresh face of a 12-year-old choir boy. Plenty of blood, plenty of tape and to my eye, he should be the face of the game, blood stained and all, for 2012.

Raiders Excuse No.325: This week the Raiders didn't lose because of poor tackling, a total lack of composure, an embarrassing attitude and shocking halves play. This week they lost because of the tribal aboriginal dance before kick-off, which saw spears located not too far from the Raiders players faces.

Welcome Back, Trent Cutler: Trent Cutler was back in first grade with the Bulldogs, his first game at the top level since 2007. Cutler's 23 minutes were his first in almost four years to the day. The second generation local is a popular player at the club and considering Canterbury's woes out wide, he may find himself playing more.

Nice Work Frank Pritchard: It is good to see Frank Pritchard try last Friday night in the win against the Cowboys. Pritchard trying, of course, is nearly as rare as Halley's Comet. I wouldn't put my last on him turning out a similar showing this week though.

Brisbane Rugby League History: One of the great disappointments about the nationalisation of rugby league has been the loss of over 80 years of history in the Brisbane Rugby League. While the great deeds of the Sydney league became the history of the game in Australia, it is often forgotten that for the better part of last century, the Brisbane Rugby League was the equal or very close too of the NSWRL. Teams like the Fortitude Valley Diehards, Brothers, Wynnum-Manly, Easts Tigers, Wests Panthers, Souths Magpies and Norths Devils and players like Vic Armbruster, Wally Lewis, Gene Miles, Peter Gallagher, Tom Gorman and Duncan Hall.

So we here at From The Couch are going to do something about it. We have spoken to the wonderful rugby league altruists at Rugby League Project and they are keen as mustard to put the history of the BRL into their fine site. We just need to find the history of the competition in terms of player lists and scoring. So if anyone has any long history or knows where any scores and player lists can be found, please email me at nicktedeschi@hotmail.comor get in touch directly with the RLP boys.

Let's not let the BRL slide into history. It has too rich a culture for that.

A Wonderful Blog: While on Rugby League Project, Andrew from the site has a fantastic blog with some interesting rugby league tales from days gone by. It gets a ringing endorsement from this author. Check it out here.

Prediction: Matt Elliott Will Return to Bradford: I come to this conclusion after reading that Adrian Purtell has signed with the Bulls. Matt Elliott, of course, loves Adrian Purtell more than life itself. Since Elliott has moved on, it is believed the two have exchanged extended letters of longing and love, of rugby league and remembrance. With Bradford coach Mick Potter every chance of returning to Australia to coach Canterbury in 2012 and Elliott a Bradford premiership and Challenge Cup winning coach, a return to Odsal Stadium could well be on the agenda.

Farewell Preston Campbell: In the end, the Titans utility made the right decision. After contemplating going around another season, Preston Campbell, a truly tough and inspiring champion of the game, decided the time was right to retire.

There is no doubt that Campbell has achieved more than nearly any other player. While he won a Dally M Medal in 2001 while at Cronulla, a premiership with Penrith in 2003 and managed 261 games as a 73kg, 167cm player, scoring 86 tries and 885 points, it is his work for the indigenous community that will be his strong and memorable legacy.

Campbell has done so much as an ambassador for indigenous Australians and was the driving force behind the new season opener, the NRL All Stars match. It is a wonderful legacy to leave.

The diminutive utility is a player that rugby league should be and is, mighty proud of.

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Injury Update: It was a weekend with plenty of injuries as some big names went down, a number of whom won't be getting up.

Glenn Buttriss (Canberra): The Raiders hooker, who makes the team look much better when he is on the field, tore his pectoral muscle and is out for the season. Unable to bring Travis Waddell back into the team, Alan Tongue will likely share duties with a makeshift option or a debutant.

Ben Hannant (Brisbane): The Broncos prop damaged a hip flexor and will be highly unlikely for this Friday night.

Jason King (Manly): The Manly co-captain tore his pec, the latest in a long string of player to do same, and will not play again this year. He won't be any loss to the Eagles.

Chris Lawrence (Wests Tigers): The unlucky Tigers centre has hurt his hamstring just as he was running into some form. Will most likely be out until the finals.

Steve Matai (Manly): Clutched his shoulder in the last minute of play but needed to as he hadn't hobbled around indicating an injury all game.

Nate Myles (Roosters): Hurt his lower leg in the hammering against the Eagles. Brian Smith said he could have gone back on if the game was close. Won't miss any time.

Corey Parker (Brisbane): Busted up good and proper and needed stitches in his cheek. Should be right for the Cowboys clash.

Scott Prince (Gold Coast): The horribly out-of-form Titans halfback has had his season from hell capped off with a broken arm. William Zillman will reportedly shift to halfback.

Jamie Soward (St George-Illawarra): Was clutching his back midway through the second half of the loss to the Tigers, playing a key role in the Tigers win with a rubbish attempted tackle. Turned out to be spasms but isn't a long-term worry.

Glenn Stewart (Manly): Took a bump on the arm late in the win over the Roosters and came off more as a precaution.

Willie M Medal Voting: Take the tip. Two of the worst defenders in the NRL where white headgear on their melons and green jerseys on their backs. The defence of Sam Williams and Jarrod Croker on Sunday against Newcastle was disgraceful. Williams may be young and slight but he has to show some desire, a want to get physical. He looks like a scared boy at present, and one that perhaps needs to get a fair flogging from the coaching staff. And Croker simply allowed Adam MacDougall to run rings around him. MacDougall, of course, is 116 years old. Williams may be a dubious first grader at present. Jarrod Croker isn't one. Full stop.

Canterbury v North Queensland
3-Ben Jones (NQ)
2-Matt Bowen (NQ)
1-Corey Payne (Bul)

Wests Tigers v St George-Illawarra
3-Jamie Soward (Dra)
2-Robert Lui (Tig)
1-Michael Weyman (Dra)

Melbourne v Penrith
3-Luke Walsh (Pen)
2-Ryan Walker (Pen)
1-Petero Civoniceva (Pen)

Brisbane v New Zealand
3-Manu Vatuvei (War)
2-Ben Hunt (Bri)
1-Elihas Taylor (War)

Cronulla v Gold Coast
3-Chad Townsend (Cro)
2-Ricky Leutele (Cro)
1-Beau Henry (GC)

Newcastle v Canberra
3-Sam Williams (Can)
2-Jarrod Croker (Can)
1-Daniel Vidot (Can)

Manly v Sydney Roosters
3-Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Roo)
2-Anthony Minichiello (Roo)
1-Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Roo)

South Sydney v Parramatta
3-Taniela Lasalo (Par)
2-Casey McGuire (Par)
1-Luke Burt (Par)

Leaderboard:
18: Blake Ferguson (Can)
14: Matt Orford (Can)
12: Jarryd Hayne (Par), Robert Lui (Tig), Jarrod Mullen (New)
11: Greg Bird (GC), Krisnan Inu (NZ), Steve Michaels (GC), Bodene Thompson (GC)
10: Preston Campbell (GC), Wade Graham (Cro), Michael Jennings (Pen), Antonio Kaufusi (New), Kris Keating (Bul), Jason Ryles (Roo), Clinton Toopi (GC), Matthew Wright (Cro)

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Fun Fact : Raiders opponent Josh Papalii was three years old when Newcastle's Adam MacDougall made his debut in 1995. Akuila Uate, who he has formed a partnership down the right side with, was seven.

Fun Fact : Ken Nagas was New South Wales' top tryscorer in the 1997 Super League Tri-Series with four. Steve Renouf and Tonie Carroll both scored two for Queensland while Ruben Wiki scored two for New Zealand.

Fun Fact : Brisbane's Steve Renouf topped the 1997 Super League World Club Challenge tryscorer list with 13 ahead of Ken Nagas (Canberra-11), Wendell Sailor (Brisbane-11), Russell Richardson (Cronulla-11) and Ryan Girdler (Penrith-11).

Fun Fact : Nathan Merritt became only the 37th player to score five tries in a game against Parramatta and only the seventh player since 1977 to achieve such a feat.

Round 23 Selection Notes:
North Queensland: The Cowboys get three huge ins with co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott and winger Kalifa Faifai-Loa all named to return. They replace Ben Jones, Will Tupou and Ashton Sims, who will likely drop off the bench.

Brisbane: David Hala replaces the injured Ben Hannant in the Broncos' only change for Darren Lockyer's record-breaking 350th game.

Penrith: In a shock move, Steve Georgallis has named Michael Jennings at fullback. It will give the exciting Jennings a chance to get more involved, something that has been missing from his game all year. David Simmons moves to the wing and Junior Vaivai comes into the centres. Luke Lewis is out again with Bathurst product Harry Sejika returning after illness. Kevin Kingston has been dropped to the bench for Nafe Seluini.

Wests Tigers: Mitch Brown replaces Chris Lawrence in a hefty downgrade while Todd Payten is back from injury to ride the pine.

New Zealand: No major changes at the Warriors with Joel Moon replacing Lewis Brown, who will be fighting for the last bench spot with Ukuma Ta'ai after Elijah Taylor was dropped following an ordinary showing against Brisbane.

Newcastle: Rick Stone isn't interested in changing a winning team.

Parramatta: Stephen Kearney has named the same team he named last week though after the embarrassment of Friday night, I would expect significant changes come game time.

Manly: Jason King is done for the year so George Rose moves to the starting team with Darcy Lussick winning a bench spot.

Gold Coast: Preston Campbell looks like he will finish his first grade career as a starter, replacing Scott Prince. Greg Bird has been named on an extended bench but will start in place of Luke O'Dwyer if ruled fit to play.

Melbourne: Jesse Bromwich is the only scheduled change, the promising prop forward replacing Adam Woolnough.

Canberra: David Furner, in true David Furner fashion, has made only forced changes after their hiding at the hands of the Knights. Daniel Vidot is out on compassionate leave while Glen Butriss has torn a pectoral muscle. No backup hooker has been named while Reece Robinson is in for Vidot. It is criminal that Jarrod Croker has been named again.

South Sydney: Dylan Farrell shifts to wing with Shaun Corrigan moving to the centres.

St George-Illawarra: Wayne Bennett is sticking to his guns as the Dragons desperately try to get their season back on track in a replay of last season's Grand Final.

Sydney Roosters: Brian Smith has named an unchanged team to that which was hammered by Manly but with Todd Carney, Nate Myles and Frank-Paul Nuuasaula under investigation from the club after breaking a booze ban, significant changes could follow.

Cronulla: Colin Best will start from the bench in the only point of interest with Cronulla's team. Paul Gallen has been named and will contest his striking charge but if found guilty, will be replaced by Anthony Tupou.

Canterbury: Ben Roberts is back and if his form in the last Sharks game is anything to go by, he will end the Dogs' season on Monday. He comes in for the suspended Joel Romelo.

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Power Rankings:
1. Melbourne (17-3) LW:1, R:1-4
2. Manly (15-5) LW:3, R:2-13
3. Brisbane (14-6) LW:4, R:2-14
4. St George-Illawarra (12-7-1) LW:2, R:1-4
5. North Queensland (13-7) LW:5, R:5-16
6. New Zealand (11-9) LW:6, R:4-14
7. Wests Tigers (11-9) LW:7, R:3-9
8. Newcastle (11-9) LW:8, R:5-11
9. South Sydney (9-11) LW:9, R:8-13
10. Canterbury (9-11) LW:11, R:1-12
11. Penrith (8-12) LW:10, R:8-16
12. Sydney Roosters (6-14) LW:12, R:5-16
13. Cronulla (7-13) LW:13, R:7-16
14. Canberra (6-14) LW:12, R:8-16
15. Parramatta (5-14-1) LW:15, R:8-16
16. Gold Coast (5-15) LW:16, R:9-16

LW: Last Week, R: Range

Rumour Mill: There were rumours doing the rounds last week that Josh Dugan and Greg Bird could find themselves at Canterbury soon if Ricky Stuart gets the head coaching job which, sadly, is looking increasingly likely. Justin Morgan seems like the prime challenger though. The Hull KR boss has an emerging reputation and has thrown his hat into the ring. Josh Miller has been linked to Melbourne with the versatile and hard hitting Raider now on the open market and Craig Bellamy having a real fondness for players of Miller's type. Paul Aiton may be on the way to the Titans next year but is having second thoughts since the emergence of Matt Srama. Shaun Berrigan looks set to win another one-year deal at the Warriors after a fine return season. Canterbury are chasing emerging Roosters backrower Aiden Guerra. On the Roosters, it has been rumoured that Todd Carney has been well on the drink the last few weeks, which would go some way to explaining his horrid form.

Betting Market of the Week: What was going through Neville Costigan's head after he charged down a Josh Dugan kick and seemed certain to score, only to spill the ball unchallenged over the line:

Jesus Ye Lord, I'm about to get a very rare try: $3.25
How can I play for both Queensland and Papua New Guinea: $4.50
Dirty thoughts about Wayne Bennett: $3.00
A tumbleweed: $1.90

Moniker XIII of the Week: With Canterbury champion Andrew Ryan announcing his retirement last week, we find the best Andrews of all-time. Ryan has been an absolutely wonderful stalwart of the game whose career will stall just short of the 300-game mark. His 67 tries are remarkable for a forward while his willingness to adapt his game has been an oft-ignored hallmark of his game.

The Andrews
1. Andrew Leeds (177 games for Parramatta/Penrith/Wests)
2. Andy Currier (26 games for Balmain)
3. Andrew Ettingshausen (324 games for Cronulla)
4. Andrew Farrar (248 games for Canterbury/Wests/Illawarra)
5. Andy Morton (XX games for North Sydney)
6. Andrew Walker (145 games for St George/Roosters/Manly)
7. Andrew Johns (249 games for Newcastle)
13. Andy Norval (106 games for Eastern Suburbs)
12. Andrew Hart (140 games for Illawarra/St George-Illawarra/Souths)
11. Andrew Ryan (287 games for Parramatta/Canterbury)
10. Andrew Gee (255 games for Brisbane)
9. Andrew McCullough (70 games for Brisbane)
8. Andy Platt (35 games for Warriors)

Andrews analysis: The Andrews have a distinctly international feel with Englishmen Andy Platt and Andy Currier getting in the team after stints with New Zealand and Balmain respectively. Legendary British halfback Andy Gregory also would have made the team had he not encountered arguably the greatest halfback of them all, Andrew Johns. Johns, along with centre Andrew Ettingshausen and lock Andy Norval, were named in the 100 greatest players of the century. The halves are obviously strong with Johns partnered by dual international Andrew Walker. Andrew Leeds is solid at the back while Ettingshausen and Andrew Farrar are a top class centre pairing. Andrew Ryan is clearly a high class player. The weaknesses are the wing, though Andy Morton was an international in the infant days of the game. Andrew McCullough and Andrew Hart were lucky inclusions. The Andrews would be very hard to beat.

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What I Like About...Sam Kasiano: Kasiano reminds me of Mitch Newton. For some reason, memories of the lumbering, gigantic Canterbury prop of the 1990s amuse me. They didn't at the time, when he was throwing dumb offloads and doing Jason Ryles before Jason Ryles, but it does now. Newton played 106 games in the blue and white, making approximately 511 errors over the time. Kasiano hopefully has more control. But at the moment, I doubt it.

Obscure Score of the Week: Canada-Jamaica, 40-10. In front of 1500 diehards turned out to watch the Wolverines win their first ever international match against the Jamaicans. On a hot day, Canada overturned last year's 24-point Atlantic Cup loss with a resounding win. Winger Danny Tupou (perhaps rugby league's most popular name these days) scored a double and Stu McReynolds had a personal tally of 16 points in what was an historic win.

Coaching Stocks:
5: Craig Bellamy: Another typically dominant Storm display in what you would expect
4.5: Wayne Bennett: It may be time to panic if the Dragons keep blowing leads
4.5: Anthony Griffin: The Broncos are playing with so much desire and flair at present
4.5: Des Hasler: The Eagles were relentless in hammering the hapless Roosters
4: Ivan Cleary: Warriors lost no admirers in their close lose in Brisbane in good show
4: Tim Sheens: Seems to have overcome midseason malaise with huge win over Dragons
3.5: Neil Henry: No Thurston but that doesn't account for the lack of discipline v Dogs
3: Rick Stone: Thrilled with point scoring and flair but need to stay focussed til death
2: Steve Georgallis: Gave an honest showing against Melbourne but never in it
2: John Lang: Possibly too late but Souths have finally started putting it together
0.5: Jim Dymock: Dogs season remains alive thanks to a necessary win v Cowboys
0: Shane Flanagan: Disgraceful showing against the Titans with their season now done
-3: Stephen Kearney: The most disgraceful, shameful performance from a team this year
-3: John Cartwright: His players finally managed to find something and get the win
-6: Brian Smith: The Roosters were beaten early and he may find himself out soon
-9: David Furner: The Raiders were a total and utter disgrace, an embarassment

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: Other famous Pomeroy's include American politicians Earl and Duane Pomeroy, motocross racer Jim Pomeroy, poet Ralph Pomeroy, jazz trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, killer Jesse Pomeroy and sexologist Wardell Pomeroy, who personally recorded approximately 6,000 sexual histories.

The Game of the Year Nomination, Round 22: Brisbane-New Zealand, 21-20. What an absolutely wonderful affair, a free-flowing rugby league experience played out by two contenders with two very striking identities battling for a top-four berth with one of the game's greatest players equalling one of the games great records. A Manu Vatuvei horror show saw the Broncos jump to an early lead but the game was turned on its head when Shaun Johnson went 75 metres to score the try of the year for the Warriors. Kevin Locke gave the Warriors the lead at the 28 minute mark but some sublime backline play, primarily from Jack Reed, put winger Gerard Beale over. 12-8 at the turn and there was more to come with the Broncos getting to a 20-12 lead with converted tries to Reed and then the always reliable Matt Gillett. The Warriors were back soon enough though when former Bronco Shaun Berrigan scored and a penalty goal tied the teams with 10 minutes to play. We came down to a field goal shootout. It seemed made for Darren Lockyer. But Locky couldn't get a clean shot. It was up to Peter Wallace to kick the winner. The match was almost tied at the death by Shaun Johnson but it wasn't to be. On a night when Darren Lockyer tied Terry Lamb and Steve Menzies' games record, the Broncos were victorious.

Fantasy Team of the Week:
1. Nathan Merritt (Sou)
2. David Mead (Sou)
3. Adam MacDougall (New)
4. Greg Inglis (Sou)
5. William Hopoate (Man)
6. Josh Reynolds (Bul)
7. Chris Sandow (Sou)
13. Paul Gallen (Cro)
12. Liam Fulton (Tig)
11. Chris Houston (New)
10. Aiden Tolman (Bul)
9. Issac Luke (Sou)
8. Luke Burgess (Sou)

14. Kurt Gidley (New)
15. Matt Gillett (Bri)
16. Shaun Fensom (Can)
17. Sam Thaiday (Bri)

Waiver Wire Advice: Chris Houston has firmly entrenched his way into my personal gratitude after his performance on Sunday. Squarely beaten in my Fantasy Football League Grand Final by those damned Rylstone Ridgies, Houston had what you would call a monster game. He saved the Grand Final with his try, try assist, three line breaks, 27 tackles and 128 metres. He is a big game player and with Supercoach finals approaching, he is the kind of player you want in your team. At just under $250,000 bring him in to get a job done. Had Parramatta not capitulated on Monday night, it would have been a match winning show.

Correspondence Corner: Tobias Williams, Andrew Ryan certainly is a champion. He will go down as one of the all-round rugby league good guys, who put in every week on the field and never caused any trouble off. He will continue on as a legend because that is what he is and will always be remembered as same.

Renegade, you are right: the Dogs-Roosters wasn't a great game. But it was interesting, like seeing a poodle mount a German Shepard.

Mike from Tari, Daniel Anderson hasn't got his timing right yet. But at least he adds an interesting take and one that resonates with the modern game, something the Wok no longer has.

Reggie, Hayne was mighty close to the votes, mighty close indeed.

Doubter, I didn't do the Manly game so I'm not sure how close Jamie Lyon was to the votes but to my eye, he was ordinary at key moments.

Regarding Ricky Stuart, I would still be appalled if he got the job but signing Josh Dugan and Greg Bird would certainly ease the blow. Dugan is the best young talent in the game and Bird is the kind of threatening backrower the Dogs need. But if given the choice, I would leave them all.

AB78, Raper and Villisanti are both up there (Brad Godden never played for Australia, he was only selected for the 1992 World Cup touring squad) but I think Kaufusi has them covered.

Harris, the Bulldogs board is dumb for dumping Ryan for reasons that seem entirely philosophical. And Ben Roberts was the most deserving, injury or not.

Beard Watch: The moustache is on the comeback, mark my words. We've had Greg Bird's Origin 'tache. Justin Horo has gone the porn look. And now Aiden Guerra, up and coming superstar and personal favourite of this column, has endeared himself even further with a wonderful school boy/1930s dandy upper lip covering that fills the heart with joy.

Watch It: Shaun Johnson's try against the Broncos was the best individual try of the season. It rates as one of the best individual tries I have ever seen. He skated across the turf with the grace of Johan Olav Koss and the speed of Schillaci, shooting, weaving, stepping. It was the most exhilarating try one could ever hope to see. Caught flat-footed as his Warriors teammates offloaded indiscriminately 25 metres out from their own line, Johnson picked the ball off the turf and exploded off the mark, stepping past Sam Thaiday and through prop tandem Ben Hannant and Scott Anderson, beating an ankle tap attempt from Andrew McCullough, running right around highly regarded and speedy fullback Josh Hoffman and then completely bamboozling wing combination Jharal Yow Yeh and Gerard Beale before diving over. Watch it here. It was truly astonishing.

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