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From The Couch: Round 26

The 2011 Willie M Medal: From The Couch is pleased to announce that Blake Ferguson has won the second annual Willie M Medal for the player who did more damage to his team's chances of victory than any other.
From The Couch: Round 26
by NRL

The 2011 Willie M Medal: From The Couch is pleased to announce that Blake Ferguson has won the second annual Willie M Medal for the player who did more damage to his team's chances of victory than any other. No player showed Ferguson's longevity of mediocrity, his penchant for poorness or consistency of crude play all year as the Raiders winger did all he could to contribute to Canberra's six-win, 15th placed season.

Ferguson had three worst-on-ground performances, against North Queensland in round six, against Newcastle in round seven and against Melbourne in round 19. The Raiders recruit also managed to poll two votes on six separate occasions, figuring in the votes in 10 games.

Ferguson's stats tell a pretty straight-up kind of tale. In 24 games, he managed 39 handling errors. Making only 110 tackles, he managed to miss 46. His first game without a handling error was against the Bulldogs on the final day of the regular season.

When Ferguson signed with the Raiders, it was thought that he would help push the Raiders into premiership contention. Rather, he had them in the chase for the wooden spoon all year.

Congratulations, Blake Ferguson, 2011 Willie M Medal winner.

Willie M Rollcall of Honour
2010: Chris Sandow (Sou)
2011: Blake Ferguson (Can)

Newcastle v South Sydney
3-John Sutton (Sou)
2-Issac Luke (Sou)
1-Chris McQueen (Sou)

St George-Illawarra v Penrith
3-Adrian Purtell (Pen)
2-Trent Waterhouse (Pen)
1-Mark Gasnier (Dra)

New Zealand v North Queensland
3-Ray Thompson (Cow)
2-Gavin Cooper (Cow)
1-Aaron Payne (Cow)

Cronulla v Wests Tigers
3-Anthony Tupou (Cro)
2-Dean Collis (Cro)
1-Bryce Gibbs (Tig)

Gold Coast v Parramatta
3-Clinton Toopi (GC)
2-Luke O'Dwyer (GC)
1-Bodene Thompson (GC)

Canterbury v Canberra
3-Jonothan Wright (Bul)
2-Jarrod Croker (Can)
1-Reece Robinson (Can)

Brisbane v Manly
3-Michael Oldfield (Man)
2-Steve Matai (Man)
1-Corey Parker (Bri)

Sydney Roosters v Melbourne
3-Troy Thompson (Mel)
2-Kevin Proctor (Mel)
1-Adam Woolnough (Mel)

Final Leaderboard
22: Blake Ferguson (Can)
19: Jarryd Hayne (Par)
16: Clinton Toopi (GC)
15: Jarrod Mullen (New)
14: Matt Orford (Can)
13: Preston Campbell (GC), Steve Michaels (GC), Bodene Thompson (GC)
12: Jarrod Croker (Can), Jamal Idris (Bul), Krisnan Inu (War), Michael Jennings (Pen), Robert Lui (Tig), Ben Pomeroy (Cro), Matt Utai (Tig)
11: Greg Bird (GC), Travis Burns (Pen), Kris Keating (Bul), Adrian Purtell (Pen), Jamie Soward (Dra)
10: Justin Carney (Roo), Wade Graham (Cro), Antonio Kaufusi (New), Jason Ryles (Roo), John Sutton (Sou), Matthew Wright (Cro)

Team Leaders:
Brisbane: Jack Reed (6)
Canberra: Blake Ferguson (22)
Canterbury: Jamal Idris (12)
Cronulla: Ben Pomeroy (12)
Gold Coast: Clinton Toopi (16)
Manly: Steve Matai (6)
Melbourne: Kevin Proctor (8)
Newcastle: Jarrod Mullen (15)
New Zealand: Krisnan Inu (12)
North Queensland: Ray Thompson (9)
Parramatta: Jarryd Hayne (19)
Penrith: Michael Jennings (12)
St George-Illawarra: Jamie Soward (11)
South Sydney: John Sutton (10)
Sydney Roosters: Justin Carney, Jason Ryles (10)
Wests Tigers: Robert Lui, Matt Utai (12)

A few facts from this year's Willie M Medal. Matt Orford picked up an astonishing 14 votes in only six games in what will likely stand the test of time as the highest average points per game. A total of 271 players received votes this year. Of the top 15 vote-getters, only six were dropped for form issues at some stage in 2011.

The Willie M Team of the Year: The Willie M Team of the Year is in and by God, it looks heinous. Sure, it includes eight internationals and two Dally M Medal winners but these 13 were as bad at their position as anyone else in the game. Wooden spoon winners Gold Coast provided four members of the team while Canberra, the Sydney Roosters and surprisingly semi-finalist Newcastle all had two players selected. Jason Ryles is the only player to keep his spot from last year though Dave Taylor, Krisnan Inu and Ben Pomeroy were saved by countback.

1.Jarryd Hayne (Par)
2. Blake Ferguson (Can)
3. Clinton Toopi (GC)
4. Michael Jennings (Pen)
5. Steve Michaels (GC)
6. Jarrod Mullen (New)
7. Matt Orford (Can)
13. Greg Bird (GC)
12. Bodene Thompson (GC)
11. Nate Myles (Roo)
10. Antonio Kaufusi (New)
9. Issac Luke (Sou)
8. Jason Ryles (Roo)

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Justified: Well, it didn't take Peter Peters long to prove what was stated in this column only weeks ago when he made the outrageous claim that Darren Lockyer wasn't an Immortal: he proved himself to be a moron. Peters was stood down as the Manly PR man after making a misogynistic and stupid remark to a female journalist trying to get a quote at the judiciary hearing of Glenn Stewart, telling her she was a "good sort". Peters will now leave the club at the end of the year not in disgrace but in what can only be considered humiliation. It is no surprise that Peters would make such a moronic statement. He is a beast from another time who is as belligerent as he is out of touch. Perhaps 2KY will see the light as well.

Caretaker Breakdown: Jim Dymock has supposedly firmed for the Canterbury job while Penrith caretaker Steve Georgallis is also reportedly in the mix. Here we look at the recent history of caretaker coaches.

Since 1990, 22 caretaker coaches have been appointed including 16 who had never previously coached senior rugby league in Australia. Of those, 10 were appointed to the position full-time with Jason Taylor the only caretaker to take a senior job with another club the following season. Six of those appointees only got another two years. Of all 23 caretaker coaches, only Graham Murray ended up leading that team to a Grand Final and it was questionable whether he was actually a caretaker or just a midseason appointment. For Jim Dymock, the outlook seems good. Clubs have a history of hiring caretakers. For Canterbury, it is miserable because they have almost never succeeded.

Arthur Beetson (Sydney Roosters, 1994): Took over after Mark Murray was sacked, his third stint in charge of the Roosters, but it was only a temporary hire with Phil Gould agreeing to join the club in 1995. Gould actually coached the last game of the '94 season after being fired by Penrith midway through the year.

Craig Coleman (South Sydney, 1998): Took over after Steve Martin and the Bunnies parted ways midway through 1998 and got the gig for 1999 and their return year in 2002. All seasons were fruitless.

Kieran Dempsey (North Sydney, 1999): Replaced Peter Louis in the middle of the '99 season, the Bears' last. He has not coached at a senior level since.

Wayne Ellis (Western Suburbs, 1994): Replaced Warren Ryan after the Wok fell out with Wests management in 1994. Didn't get the job in 1995, which went to Tommy Raudonikis.

Frank Endacott (Auckland, 1997): Replaced John Monie after Monie was fired during the Super League season. Lasted another year before being ousted himself. Was the Kiwi national team coach at the time and went on to coach Wigan and Widnes.

Brad Fittler (Sydney Roosters, 2007): Took the reins after Chris Anderson resigned 16 games into the 2007 season. Fittler guided the Roosters to the finals in 2008 but was fired a year later after the Roosters claimed the wooden spoon. He won't get another full-time gig again and is unlikely to chase a job.

Alan Fitzgibbon (Illawarra, 1995): The Steelers went back to their inaugural coach, and the reasonably successful Sharks boss, Alan Fitzgibbon when they fired Graham Murray at the height of the Super League war. Fitzgibbon was only ever a stop-gap measure who never wanted the job long-term and was replaced by Alan McMahon in 1996.

Shane Flanagan (Cronulla, 2010): Took over from Ricky Stuart with seven games to play and went 2-5, earning a new contract that has him signed until the end of 2012.

Murray Hurst (North Queensland, 2001): Took over from Sheens after Sheens was fired in 2001 and was appointed for 2002 but lasted only three games into the season, at which point he was fired after his team allowed 130 points. Ran as the Liberal National Party candidate in the 2009 Queensland election but lost.

Tony Kemp (New Zealand, 2004): Replaced Daniel Anderson midway through the disastrous 2004 campaign and was sacked after the 2005 season. Is now the Kiwi team manager.

Arthur Kitinas (South Sydney, 2004): The low-profile Kitinas replaced Paul Langmack at the end of 2004 but despite a push to hand him the job full-time, he was replaced by Shaun McRae. He went on to coach Balmain Ryde-Eastwood.

Dean Lance (Adelaide, 1998): Took over from Rod Reddy after a slow start after moving to the Rams following the death of the Western Reds. The Rams were wound up at the end of '98 and Lance has not coached in the NRL again, his only other spell in first grade coming with Leeds in 2000. He is the only coach to preside over the last campaigns of two clubs.

Bob McCarthy (South Sydney, 1993): After an insipid spell with the Gold Coast, McCarthy had took over the Bunnies in the middle of 1993 and didn't last long into 1994, resigning due to "health reasons". He has been a long-term representative selector since.

Ian Millward (North Queensland, 2008), Replaced Graham Murray in the middle of 2008 and after a 2-12 record he was not appointed on a full-time basis. He had no NRL experience but coached St Helens and Wigan previously. He went on to become an assistant at Canberra and has recently been appointed head coach at Castleford.

Graham Murray (North Queensland, 2002): Not really a caretaker after being brought in three rounds into the 2002 season to replace Murray Hurst but did start midyear. Murray coached the Cowboys from 2002 to 2008, leading them to their first Grand Final in 2005 and was the most successful coach in club history when forced out midway through 2008. It was Murray's last job in the NRL after spells with Illawarra, Hunter and the Sydney Roosters.

Mark Murray (Melbourne, 2001): The former Roosters and Queensland coach took over from Chris Anderson after Opes resigned sighting differences with management at the time, despite having led the club to a premiership in only their second season. Murray, who had been coaching Brisbane Norths, was given 2002 but after a disappointing season was replaced by Craig Bellamy, the best decision the club ever made. Murray is now CEO of Brisbane Norths, now known as Norths Devils.

Peter Sharp (Manly, 1999): Sharp replaced Fulton after the long-term Manly coach quit over his wife's health concerns and a poor start to the season seven rounds into the 1999 season. Sharp was appointed as coach of the Northern Eagles for three years and had a further year at Manly before he was replaced by Des Hasler. Sharp coached Hull from 2006 to 2008 but has been an assistant ever since, most recently at Parramatta.

Ken Shine (South Sydney, 1994): Took over from McCarthy and had a further three fruitless seasons at the Bunnies. Like most South Sydney coaches, he never got another first grade gig.

Royce Simmons (Penrith, 1994): The club legend took over the Panthers midway through 1994 after Phil Gould was fired. He had spent two years coaching Hull and went on to coach the Panthers for seven years, leading them to two finals appearances before being fired after the 2001 season. He is now coach of St Helens after being Tim Sheens' right-hand man at the Tigers.

Rick Stone (Newcastle, 2009): The current Newcastle coach took over from Brian Smith at the backend of 2009 after Brian Smith defected to the Sydney Roosters. Stone guided them to the finals and has done the same again this year but has been relegated to assistant in 2012 with Wayne Bennett joining the Knights. He has been named Bennett's successor but that is four years down the track and would likely win a job at another club if he put his hand up for a role.

Jason Taylor (Parramatta, 2006): Replaced Brian Smith after Smith's position became untenable following his decision to sign with Newcastle. Taylor had a successful run with the Eels but had signed on for the Souths job. He led the Bunnies for three years, taking them to the finals in 2007 before being fired and replaced by John Lang.

David Waite (Newcastle, 1991): Replaced the sacked Allan McMahon in 1991 and spent a further three years at the Knights, guiding Newcastle to the semi-finals in 1992. He went on to coach St George/St George-Illawarra from 1996 to 2000, taking them to two Grand Finals, before coaching Great Britain from 2001 to 2003.

Finals Matches Played Between Rivals:

St George-Illawarra v Wests Tigers
2010: St George-Illawarra 13, Wests Tigers 12 at ANZ
2005: Wests Tigers 20, St George-Illawarra 8 at SFS

Manly v North Queensland
2007: Manly 28, North Queensland 6 at SFS

Brisbane v New Zealand
First match

Melbourne v Newcastle
2000: Newcastle 30, Melbourne 16 at Newcastle

Dally M Predictions: The Dally M Awards go off this week and here are the annual predictions of From The Couch.

2011 Dally M Medal: Johnathan Thurston - May be optimistic but Thurston had a big lead when voting went under and despite the late push for Benji Marshall, Thurston's lead may be big enough. Those who will challenge are Marshall and Billy Slater with the bolter being Chris Sandow.

Provan-Summons Medal: Benji Marshall - Marshall's popularity continues to grow and having another good year, he might pip perennial winner Nathan Hindmarsh for the most popular player in the game.

Rookie of the Year: Gareth Widdop - Only played three games in 2010 so remains eligible. The award will almost certainly go to Daly Cherry-Evans but for mine Widdop has been the best rookie, slotting straight into the Storm team in an unfamiliar position. He has been outstanding.

Captain of the Year: Darren Lockyer- A sentimental selection perhaps but the Broncos have overachieved significantly this year and he is inspiring his team to an unlikely title run.

Coach of the Year: Craig Bellamy - A laydown for Coach of the Year. His performance to lift this Storm team to the minor premiership has been astonishing. In any other year, a first year performance like Anthony Griffin's would have him a certainty but you just can't compete with Bellamy's historic performance this year.

Rep Player of the Year: Cameron Smith - Won the Wally Lewis Medal and that is usually a pretty strong guide.

Best Fullback: Billy Slater - In what was a down year for fullbacks, Slater again shone bright and will certainly win his second Dally M Fullback of the Year award.

Best Winger: Nathan Merritt - This race is wide open with Merritt, Akuila Uate and Jason Nightingale the main hopes. Merritt has come home with a bang to top the tryscoring list and that is the best measure of a winger.

Best Centre: Jamie Lyon - It was a real down year for centres with Justin Hodges injured, Michael Jennings drunk and distracted, Chris Lawrence hurt, Greg Inglis unfit and Jamal Idris uninterested. So Lyon, on the back of a solid season, wins this almost by default.

Best Five-Eighth: Benji Marshall - The five-eighth gong is a race in two between Kieran Foran and Benji Marshall. Foran was second favourite for the award at one stage but Marshall has guided the Tigers to the top four and is favourite for it all so will win this.

Best Halfback: Johnathan Thurston - Thurston had a big lead when voting went under wraps and guiding the Cowboys from the wooden spoon to the finals, he is deserving of his fourth Dally M Halfback of the Year.

Best Lock: Paul Gallen - In a poor team, Gallen again shone, hardly playing a bad game in a losing cause. Shaun Fensom won't get mentioned but should be right in the mix while Dallas Johnson also deserves consideration for what he has done for the Cowboys defence.

Best Second Rower: Gareth Ellis - Ellis missed plenty of time through injury but when on the field, there was no more impactful second rower. Anthony Watmough and Sam Thaiday are probably both under consideration as well.

Best Prop :Matthew Scott - Scott started making a major impression in 2010 and marked himself as the best prop in the game in 2011, surpassing Petero Civoniceva and Ben Hannant in the process.

Best Hooker: Cameron Smith - Was again dominant in leading the Storm to the minor premiership. With Robbie Farah dropping off, this is a no contest. Smith will win his third Hooker of the Year award.

Rugby League Drinking Game:The rules are simple enough. Name a rugby league player. The person to the left then names a player with a first name who's initial is that of the last person's last name. If it is a double-bunger such as Mark Minichiello, the direction changes and it goes back to the last player. Participants drink until they can come up with a name. To make the game more difficult, limit it to a club or a year. This game is copyrighted to Christopher Parkinson.

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Farewells: This weekend we farewelled some champions of the game, some familiar faces and some real legends. Here are a few words for a few of those champions.

John Lang: After 393 games with three clubs and 10 matches as a Test coach, Lang sadly went out without a finals run. Lang is one of the most popular coaches of the last 20 years and he is also one of the best mentors. Not one for the big stick, Lang had a way that empowered the players. His career win rate of 54.7%, along with his one premiership and two Grand Finals are testament to that. He also never left a club worse off than he inherited it, a wonderful tribute to his ability and a sign of a truly great coach.

Andrew Ryan: The boy from Dubbo did well, very well. Ryan played 291 games, along with 12 Origins and 11 Tests, winning a premiership with Canterbury in his first match as a captain. Ryan at his peak was one of the best fringe-running backrowers in the game, full of skill and hustle. He always gave his all and that all was usually plenty.

Alan Tongue: Tongue never got his dues but 220 games over 12 years for the Canberra Raiders left him one of the most beloved Raiders of all time and one of the most respected figures in the game. He was the best tackler in the game at his peak and became a fine captain who was unlucky to go out on such a disappointing note.

Trent Waterhouse: The Penrith backrower burst onto the scene in 2002 and had a premiership by 2003 and a Test jersey the same year. He was never one of my favourites but he was a key figure in Penrith's surprising title run and was a solid club performer through 186 of his games. It was pleasing to see him get a farewell when injury seemed certain to prevent it.

Preston Campbell: The little warrior who was once thought too small to play first grade managed 267 games in an inspiring and courageous career that won him a Dally M Medal in his finest year. A tally of 86 tries and 903 points and a premiership are just rewards for a tough player who got the most out of his talents.

Anthony Laffranchi: He played five Tests and four Origins and won a premiership with the Tigers but Laffranchi was a grossly underrated player. A talented backrower who could play wide or tight, he was a true workhorse who had that little bit of brilliance about him, even topping the Titans tryscoring list with 12 in 2008. It has been a sad way for him to go, mired in injury and defeat, but Laffranchi was an excellent player who should have played a lot more rep football.

Shameful Prostitution: I was utterly disgusted on Sunday to see Canterbury having sold their ass and the tradition of the club for some stupid Star Wars promotion. For the first time that I can remember, and quite possibly for the first time since World War II when the club was forced to wear maroon due to the lack of white material available, Canterbury didn't don the blue and white. Rather, they wore some heinous black strip with two cartoon characters with light sabres doing some nerdy thing with them. This had to be a joke. But oh no, it was no joke and that was confirmed when Andrew Ryan, a club legend, ran out in his last game wearing black with a guard of honour made up of wookies, Darth Vaders, storm troopers and cheerleaders dressed as Princess Leia. It was bad enough that Canterbury whored its ass out but to do so in Andrew Ryan's last game was shameful. I've never been more embarrassed to be a Canterbury fan.

Best Celebration Ever: Andrew Ryan was excited when he scored a try in his last game so he naturally was keen to celebrate. He raced over to the bobcat placed there in his honour and very nearly castrated himself, apparently doing a hamstring in the process. An impressive way to go, Bobby.

Nice Headgear: Well done Matt Hilder for bringing back the old school headgear. None of this modern pansy headgear for him. Hilder is old school.

Tattoo Ban: It was pleasing to see the Sydney Roosters become the first team to ban players from getting tattoos midseason. It is hopefully the first step until we get tattoos out of the game. Next, ban all neck tattoos. Then, dump any player who gets something written in a foreign language. Follow that with anyone who has a picture of a person or some ridiculous message of inspiration. I am surprised the Roosters were first off on this but kudos to them for trying to finally smack their players into line.

Injury Update: The big finals injuries of concern are Josh Hoffman and Gareth Widdop, both who could be done for the year.

Maurice Blair (Melbourne): Left the field early in the last game of the regular season with a hamstring twinge and is in doubt for the Newcastle game.

Petero Civoniceva (Penrith): Tore his pectoral muscle, which looks set to rule him out of the Four Nations tournament.

Ben Creagh (St George-Illawarra): Went off with a knee strain but is unlikely to miss any time.

Josh Hoffman (Brisbane): Hobbled off with a knee injury that looked fairly serious. Possibly an MCL with a reappearance in 2011 unlikely.

Justin Horo (Parramatta): Got only 30 minutes in his return to the backrow before limping off with a calf injury.

BJ Leulia (Sydney Roosters): The Roosters winger hurt his hip scoring a try and didn't see out the Roosters win.

Jaiman Lowe (Melbourne): Damaged his knee and the backup Storm prop will test the depth of the forwards even further by missing 2-3 weeks.

Tim Mannah (Parramatta): The Eels prop damaged his hamstring early in the wooden spoon battle.

Sam Tagataese (Cronulla): The Sharks backrower twister an ankle but shouldn't have any long-term concerns.

Gareth Widdop (Melbourne): Hurt his ankle at the 50 minute mark and looks set to be out for 2-4 weeks in what is a major blow to the Storm. Rory Kostjaysin will play five-eighth.

Dean Young (St George-Illawarra): Had a knee complaint but his removal was more precautionary.

A Fine and Noble Tradition: One of my favourite rugby league traditions is that of a retiring champion or club legend taking a shot at goal in their final game. It is a fine honour, one that pays homage to a player who gave so much to the game. This weekend we saw three such legends honoured: Adam MacDougall, who surprisingly was fit at the end of the match to take it, Anthony Laffranchi and Andrew Ryan. Ryan managed two shots at goal after the Bulldogs scored twice in the last four minutes. The Bulldogs skipper missed his first one from out wide and then after winning a papers-scissors-rock shake with Michael Hodgson, slotted one from in front. Hopefully this obscure yet beautiful little tradition continues on as long as rugby league continues on.

Fun Fact : Players who received a farewell shot at goal in their last career game or game for a club over the last five years:

2010: Brett Finch (Mel), Jeff Lima (Mel), Ryan Hoffman (Mel), Aiden Toman (Mel)
2009: Craig Wing (Sou)
2008: Corey Hughes (Bul), Tonie Carroll (Bri)
2007: Matt King (Mel), Paul Bowman (Cow), Timana Tahu (Par), Ian Hindmarsh (Par)
2006: John Skandalis (Tig), Matt Gidley (New)

Power Rankings:
1.Melbourne (19-5) LW:1, R:1-4
2. Brisbane (18-6) LW:2, R:2-14
3. Manly (18-6) LW:3, R:2-13
4. St George-Illawarra (14-9-1) LW:4, R:1-5
5. New Zealand (14-10) LW:5, R:4-14
6. Wests Tigers (15-9) LW:6, R:3-9
7. North Queensland (14-10) LW:7, R:5-16
8. Newcastle (12-12) LW:10, R:5-11

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Rumour Mill: There has been speculation that recidivist Daine Laurie is going to be offered a lifeline by Newcastle in 2012. There has been a rumour doing the rounds that Canterbury have approached Craig Bellamy but I don't put any credence in that one. One team is believed to have backed itself over the weekend, a team that duly saluted, in what is a gutsy move in these heavy times.

Betting Market of the Week: The Roosters Mad Monday included:

A trip to the tattoo parlour: $1.67
Gambling, heavy drinking and prescription drugs: $1.80
A gushing tribute to Todd Carney: $26
Coca Colas and scrabble: $1001

What I Like About...Michael Hodgson: I love that Michael Hodgson is the ultimate team player. In his last game, Andrew Ryan appeared to offer Hodgson a farewell shot at goal but he deferred, giving it to his more decorated captain after a game of paper-scissors-rock. It summed up Hodgson and his career. He has always been the ultimate club player. Over a 204 game career that spanned 14 years and four clubs, Hodgson has always done the grunt work, providing what the team has needed with little fanfare. Rugby league is built on his type.

Moniker XIII of the Week: With Ken Sio making his debut for Parramatta on Saturday night, the first Ken to play in the NRL since both Ken Nagas and Ken McGuiness retired in 2002, we have gone old school this week and found a surprisingly strong team of Kens. Fun fact: Every Ken to play since 1994 has played State of Origin. The future is bright Ken Sio.

The Kens
1. Ken Thornett (129 games for Parramatta)
2. Ken Irvine (236 games for North Sydney/Manly)
3. Ken McGuiness (122 games for Western Suburbs/Wests Tigers/North Queensland)
4. Ken McCaffery (80 games for Eastern Suburbs/North Sydney)
5. Ken Nagas (142 games for Canberra)
6. Ken Wright (58 games for Eastern Suburbs/South Sydney)
7. Ken Wilson (12 seasons for Newtown/Penrith)
13. Ken Day (4 seasons for Manly)
12. Ken Maddison (178 games for St George/Cronulla)
11. Ken Kearney (156 games for St George)
10. Ken Stewart (9 seasons for South Sydney/Parramatta)
9. Ken Ashcroft (151 games for Eastern Suburbs)
8. Ken Charlton (9 seasons for Canterbury)

Kens analysis: The Kens have some wonderful players in their team with all-time leading tryscorer Irvine, international fullback Thornett and architect of the Dragons amazing premiership run Kearney, three of the game's 100 greatest players of all time. They are surrounded by some handy types with Wilson a wonderful kicker and Wright a rugby international in the halves, international Maddison in the backrow, Australian centre McCaffery and quality modern day players Nagas and McGuiness in the three-quarters. They would match any of the moniker teams we have thrown up so far.

Obscure Score of the Week: Orange CYMS-Bathurst St Pats, 22-18, Group 10 reserve grade preliminary final. The CYMS reggies made it a banner day for the club next Sunday when they host the Grand Final at Wade Park with teams in all three grades, the first time this has happened for the club. CYMS go into the game as an underdog against Bathurst Panthers but they can still take the game, no risk.

Coaching Stocks:
5: Craig Bellamy: Will be completely unconcerned about the loss but injuries a worry
5: Des Hasler: A mighty effort from an understrength Manly against a real contender
4.5: Anthony Griffin: His first year in the job has been excellent, just excellent
4.5: Ivan Cleary: Need to win this week but the Warriors can do some finals damage
4.5: Wayne Bennett: He was only foxing?the Dragons seem to be back on song
4: Tim Sheens: The Tigers got the money and a top four spot but a bit dicey v Sharks
2.5: Rick Stone: Another magnificent job to get the Knights into the final with that team
2.5: John Lang: The great coach went out on a sad note but he remains a champion
2.5: Neil Henry: Despite a big improvement in '11, the Cows fell to 7th when it mattered
2: Jim Dymock: Maybe coached himself into a job at the Dogs with a meaningless win
1: Steve Georgallis: The Panthers tried hard but injuries cost him in his last game
0: Brian Smith: He wanted Carney but deserves praise for the turnaround and tough call
-1.5: Shane Flanagan: Has an uphill battle to keep his job next year despite improvement
-3: John Cartwright: A wooden spoon was not what he was expecting this year
-5: Stephen Kearney: Avoided the spoon but next year the pressure really goes on
-16: David Furner: Should have been fired six months ago but has connections

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: Ben Pomeroy is like the bottom-of-the-pile booty call, always receiving a last minute call-up and so it was again on Saturday when he filled a bench spot after being dropped. He managed 12 wholly fruitless minutes.

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 26: Newcastle-South Sydney, 40-24. This wasn't a magnificent match but it was the important one of the round with the winner advancing to the finals and the losers eliminated. You wouldn't have known it the way South Sydney came out though, showing little heart or desire as the Knights were burned down their left side by a rampaging Akuila Uate, Chris Houston and Adam MacDougall. It was quickly game over and another season of discontent ended for South Sydney.

Fantasy Team of the Year: The best fantasy players of 2011...

1. Billy Slater (Mel)
2. Ashley Graham (Cow)
3. Mark Gasnier (Dra)
4. Jamie Lyon (Man)
5. Jason Nightingale (Dra)
6. Benji Marshall (Tig)
7. Daly Cherry-Evans (Man)
13. Corey Parker (Bri)
12. Shaun Fensom (Can)
11. Nathan Hindmarsh (Par)
10. Aiden Tolman (Bul)
9. Cameron Smith (Mel)
8. Luke Douglas (Cro)

14. Paul Gallen (Cro)
15. Chris Heighington (Tig)
16. Issac Luke (Sou)
17. Feleti Mateo (War)

Correspondence Corner: Tim Napper, if Jason Taylor becomes the Canterbury coach, there will be a whole shitstorm that you can't envisage the ramifications of.

Bulldogs Timbo, it would have been only fair if Canterbury were playing finals football because Manly were done because of 14 players on the field. I am still bitter about 2009.

Zig, I'm glad you like the Anthony Xuereb All-Stars! The Bulldogs coaching rumours are flying thick and fast and who knows what is going on but I surely hope Taylor isn't in the mix. We would all love Craig Bellamy and there has been a whisper doing the rounds that he has been approached but I don't believe them for a second.

Eddie, I don't dispute that Adam Blair is a grub. He is a niggler, a nark and a real pain in the ass to watch. You won't find many kind words about him in these pages. But he doesn't deserve five weeks.

Mike From Tari. I couldn't believe Matai wasn't into it. Is it a newfound maturity? I doubt it. Perhaps he just couldn't be bothered.

Happy, it doesn't matter what Brett Stewart was actually thinking, his launching attack signalled enough intent to involve himself in a fight he had no part being involved in and he deserved the heaviest penalty. Fights escalate because of stupidity like Stewart's.

Dragons68, Snapperhead I also thought the brawl was a fair advertisement for the game.

Nick, I agree that toughness manifests itself in different ways but I don't think seeing a couple of blokes go at it deserves a massive suspension. There is playing through injury, being small and physical, running hard into a pack?it is everywhere in rugby league. But seeing two heavyweights go at it isn't a bad manifestation either.

Dan, I wish I could help you there but I must have missed the incident featuring Gidley. Isaac De Gois loves a cheap shot too, don't mind that.

Beard Watch: I am fairly sure that Robbie Farah, with his full and thick playoff beard, looks like a rather animated garden gnome. It seems to be working though. He just scored his first hat-trick.

Watch It: 1987 was, in the words of Frank Sinatra, a good year. Here is that year's best tries with some real beauties including a chip and chase from Ron Gibbs, a wonderful piece of play from Dale Shearer and a super pass from Graeme Atkins to Eric Grothe. A great collection. Watch it here.

www.makingthenut.com


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