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From The Couch: Round 7

What is Wrong with Ricky Stuart? It defies belief that New South Wales Origin coach Ricky Stuart is plumping for Jarryd Hayne to play five-eighth.
From The Couch: Round 7
by NRL

What is Wrong with Ricky Stuart? It defies belief that New South Wales Origin coach Ricky Stuart is plumping for Jarryd Hayne to play five-eighth. Were his two failures in the past not enough for Stuart? Hayne has oscillated between disinterested and out-of-place when tried at five-eighth. If he gets picked for Origin in the No.6, I'll be all over Queensland 3-0. His laziness at the back shouldn't be mistaken for any kind of notion that he is playing out of position. This is to say nothing of the raft of five-eighth options available and the complete failure of moves to manufacture five-eighths in the past. Mark Gasnier, anybody? All fans of NSW should be extremely worried.

NSW Origin Selection - The Pack: There are plenty of players in contention but here are the forward pack contenders for Origin I.

Prop: We have to assume Paul Gallen will play prop. That is where he has been selected for Australia and he dominated for NSW there in 2011. That leaves one other starting spot and one or two bench spots to be fought out between Tim Mannah, Trent Merrin, Keith Galloway, James Tamou, Aiden Tolman, Michael Weyman, Luke Douglas, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Kade Snowden and perhaps even Aaron Woods. On form, it will come down to Tamou, Merrin, Tolman and Galloway. At least it should. For mine, Trent Merrin should be the first prop picked. He is in outstanding form. James Tamou is flying and has to be there. Keith Galloway has the runs on the board but I fancy Aiden Tolman is going just a touch better. If Tom Learoyd-Lahrs or heaven forbid, Jason King, gets picked ahead of these, then it is time to blow the system up again. While I would take Gallen, Merrin, Tamou and Tolman, I get the feeling Tim Mannah will get the edge. Ricky loves him and will likely go with Gallen, Merrin, Tamou and Mannah.

Hooker: There are legitimately four contenders for the Origin spot with incumbent Michael Ennis, former skipper Danny Buderus, Robbie Farah and Ryan Hinchcliffe in the mix. Farah is unlikely. He is not Stuart's kind of player and he has failed miserably on the Origin stage before. He is also not one for me. The selection of Danny Buderus for Country and the form of Ennis suggests Buderus is the hot favourite for a call-up. He is certainly the form No.9 of the contenders and deserves a recall. Ryan Hinchcliffe is every chance of winning the bench utility if Kurt Gidley does not come up. Buderus will and should get the nod.

Backrow: Luke Lewis will be one starter. Take that to the bank. If Glenn Stewart is fit, he should be another. Anthony Watmough, Beau Scott, Ben Creagh, Greg Bird, Tony Williams, Chris Houston, Feleti Mateo and Tariq Sims fighting it out for the remaining starting spot and a probably two bench spots, maybe one. Stuart loves a big body so it wouldn't surprise if he went with Tony Williams and he is addicted to Greg Bird, who is a certainty under Stuart. Watmough performs at Origin level and probably needs a show while Chris Houston, for mine, has been one of the best forwards in the comp to open 2012. Stuart will go with Lewis, Bird, Watmough and either Glenn Stewart or Tony Williams while I would run with Lewis, Stewart, Houston and Watmough.

Stopping the Long Kick: An increasingly prevalent tactic that has come into popular being over the last few seasons has been the defensive kick dead to prevent attacking fullbacks returning the ball. It started with John Cartwright instructing Titans skipper Scott Prince to do it against Melbourne to stop Billy Slater. It worked. Since then, it has become ever-more popular, used to great effect by Jamie Soward on Friday night against Newcastle. There has been much consternation and rightfully so. We want the ball in play. The one way to stop this kind of kick would be to give the ball back to the receiving team from the point of the kick if the ball goes dead from a kick outside the 20 metre mark. It is a simple solution and one that will prove immediately effective in stopping dour kicking that prevents exciting running.

Unfair: The NRL has been unfairly attacked by the populist rugby league press over its relationships with betting companies. The main crux of the argument is that the NRL accepted cash based on betting company profits rather than turnover. There is no question the NRL would have received more cash had it adopted a turnover model. It also would have been playing an extremely high-risk game that could have netted nothing had the likely result for the court case ? the Racing NSW challenge being thrown out ? got up. League needed money quickly. It got it. The next agreement will no doubt be based on turnover and plenty will be reaped. The NRL was rightly whacked about being left behind a few years ago when they refused to engage with betting companies. Since then though, the NRL has made plenty from the punt and it is totally unfair to go after David Gallop's team for getting it wrong. Hindsight is 20-20, even for Phil Rothfield.

Rep Selection Notes: Thoughts on all the rep teams selected for the upcoming weekend:

Australia: The selection of James Tamou is a blight on international rugby league. I know this is the silly populist view but it is madness that he is not a Kiwi. Having said that, if eligible, he certainly deserves his spot in the team. The biggest disgrace was the selection of Dave Taylor. Taylor is one of those project players that infuriate me. He has done nothing this year and has alienated himself from club coach Michael Maguire yet gets picked to start ahead of far more deserving candidates like Matt Gillett, Beau Scott, Greg Bird, Chris Houston, Aiden Tolman, Petero Civoniceva and Josh McGuire, to name but a few. David Shillington can consider himself very lucky. The backline picked itself. The bench is fine ? even Daly Cherry-Evans as the utility ? though it would have been nice to see Ryan Hinchcliffe picked.

New Zealand: I love the selection of Shaun Johnson. He is a superstar and his combination with Benji Marshall will be electric. The centres look a little thin with Gerard Beale playing his first game of the year in the position. The forward pack looks strong though the selections of Frank Pritchard and Adam Blair are both questionable. Fuifui Moimoi and Kevin Proctor were both stiff. Sam Perrett was unlucky to miss out.

City: Jarryd Hayne at five-eighth is just stupid. I'm not sure how deep City are at centre or in the backrow but leave me out of BJ Leilua and Corey Payne. It was great to see trier Jamie Buhrer get a chance.

Country: The overlooking of Jamie Soward for Jarrod Mullen is just stupefying. Soward is a much better player, a much more reliable player, the Origin incumbent and a better prospect. His snubbing is appalling. Danny Buderus' fake injury was disappointing but hopefully it is enough for Ryan Hinchcliffe to force his way into the NSW team. The omissions of Aiden Tolman and Kade Snowden were a little perplexing, particularly when impostor Tom Learoyd-Lahrs was picked. Luke Douglas finally gets a well-deserved call-up. Chris Houston would have been a far better selection than Ben Creagh.

A Strong Stance: Well done to the NRL for suspending Robert Lui for a season. I am very much against the NRL intervening in minor off-field matters but major issues such as domestic violence, particularly when a player has admitted guilt, should be treated with a heavy hand. Lui has twice attacked his ex-girlfriend on Mad Monday. He is nothing but a coward and will be lucky to play first grade again.

Show Some Smarts: It is about time more teams started using the short kick-off. These days, with the ability of kickers and the athleticism of chasers, the prospect of getting the ball back is about an even money shot, particularly when it isn't expected. The upside - possession in the opposition half with a full set of six - is huge. And the downside is minimal. More teams should try it far more often. It would be nice if not every team just followed the same old conventions

About Time: Finally, outstanding North Queensland winger Kalifa Faifai-Loa was given a chance in the top grade by belligerent Cowboys coach Neil Henry. He scored a try, made Rugby League Week's Team of the Week and was generally excellent. Play him Henry, just play him!

Welcome Back: It was great to see Ray Cashmere back in first grade. He added some real starch to the Tigers pack and even found the tryline in his first NRL appearance in four years. Cashmere is not only a pretty big reason behind the Tigers' sudden turnaround of form and a fair argument as to why the NRL needs a proper reserve grade competition. The push is on for a full-on reserve grade with Toyota Cup shifted to Wednesday evenings ? it would be wonderful for the game if some of the new big-money television deal went to the re-establishment of reserve grade just so every club had a Ray Cashmere to call on in their time of need.

Nice Eye Bleed: Krisnan Inu's eye bleed was one of the best bust-ups of the season. Probably the best moment of his career as well.

Best Recruitment of NRL Era - Brisbane: Over the next 16 weeks, I'll take a look at the best and worst recruitment class of every team in the NRL era. We'll look at the biggest coups, the major screw-ups, the best years and the worst. The only players considered as those who had played first grade previously with a different premiership club. Note that the Origin/internationals recruited for a club that debut after they have left the club don't count.

Best Year: 2005. Reacquired Justin Hodges and Brad Thorn and lost only Carl Webb, Michael De Vere and Brad Meyers. Both Hodges and Thorn played in the 2006 premiership for Brisbane.

Worst Year: 2009, just ahead of 2008. The Broncos went all-in on Israel Folau, who was solid for two seasons before defecting to the AFL, with their only other competent pick-up being Ben Te'o. In the loss column were internationals or Origin players Darius Boyd, David Stagg, Michael Ennis, Ben Hannant and Greg Eastwood, the first of which won a premiership with the Dragons within two years and the latter four who guided Canterbury to the 2009 minor premiership.

Best Buy: The Broncos have recruited a heap of internationals and Origin players over the last 15 years, picking up 15 established rep players (skewed by five players who first played rep footy at Brisbane and returned to the club after a spell elsewhere) and turning another three into rep players. Their best get though has probably been Justin Hodges, who debuted with the club in 2000-01 before spending three years at the Roosters. Since returning he has played 11 Tests, 11 Origins and won a premiership and has widely been regarded as one of the best centres in the game.

Worst Buy: Joel Clinton joined the Broncos from Penrith in 2008 on a big-money deal but lasted just two seasons after rightly being panned as soft and gutless.

Worst Loss: Brisbane have lost some huge names ? many who have returned ? and have usually been able to replace all losses but the two players who have the club really didn't get the most out of were Ashley Harrison and Scott Prince. Prince went on to become an international and a premiership player and has probably been the club's worst loss.

Origin/International Players Recruited:
Already: (15) Kevin Campion, Luke Priddis, Harvey Howard, Ben Ikin, Kerrod Walters, Richard Swain, Paul Green, Darren Smith, Motu Tony, Justin Hodges, Joel Clinton, PJ Marsh, Israel Folau, Ben Hannant, Petero Civoniceva

Became:(3) Casey McGuire, Ben Hannant, Peter Wallace

Origin/International Players Lost:
Already: (16) Glenn Lazarus, Darren Smith, Kevin Campion, Justin Hodges, Luke Priddis, Brad Meyers, Carl Webb, Casey McGuire, Shaun Berrigan, Petero Civoniceva, Brent Tate, Darius Boyd, Greg Eastwood, Ben Hannant, David Stagg, Joel Clinton

Became: (8) Anthony Mundine, Ashley Harrison, Chris Walker, Scott Prince, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Neville Costigan, Michael Ennis, Dave Taylor

Injury Update: The big injury news to come out of the weekend is, of course, Danny Buderus, who withdrew from City-Country because of it. Buderus showed no signs of injury in his 77 minutes against Newcastle and it wasn't specified what his injury is. The interference of Wayne Bennett in the matter is most disappointing and Buderus' withdrawal is another unnecessary blow to a very important part of the annual rugby league calendar.

Travis Burns (Penrith): Busted his mouth and suffered a concussion against the Tigers. Won't miss any time.

Terry Campese (Canberra): Tore his medial meniscus in his left knee and went in for surgery on Monday. Could be out for up to eight weeks though four is more likely. Sam Williams will get his chance in the top grade.

Gavin Cooper (North Queensland): Hobbled off with a leg concern but won't miss any time.

Robbie Farah (Tigers): The Tigers hooker took a pretty big concussion against Penrith and with the game in hand, no risk was taken. He will play for City this Friday.

Jamal Idris (Gold Coast): Appeared to tear his hamstring again against Manly and it would seem he is looking at another 3-4 weeks on the sideline.

Steve Matai (Manly): Picked up a neck injury and it is unclear how long he will miss. His injury should see Dean Whare switch to the centres.

Jarrod Mullen (Newcastle): Has a corked quad but in the middle of the Origin halves race, won't miss his chance with Country.

Chris Sandow (Parramatta): Was clutching his shoulder late in the Sharks loss but that may have been more an excuse. He could have a Matt Orford like "injury" in round eight.

Fun Fact : The City Cup, much like the mid-season competitions played later, was a highly regarded knockout competition held between 1912-25 and in 1937, 1945 and 1959. South Sydney won the most City Cups (4), followed by Eastern Suburbs (3), Western Suburbs (2), Newtown (2), Balmain (2), North Sydney (2), Glebe (1) and St George (1).

Fun Fact : The Preseason Cup/Wills Cup/Craven Mild Cup between 1962 and 1981 with St George winning (4), South Sydney (4), Eastern Suburbs (4), Canterbury (2), Balmain (2), Penrith (1), Newtown (1), Parramatta (1) and Manly (1).

Fun Fact : Western Suburbs won the only version of the Ampol Cup in 1963.

Fun Fact : The Endeavour Cup was held in 1970-71 for teams that did not qualify for the finals: Newtown won in 1970 and Cronulla in 1971.

Fun Fact : The Amco Cup/Tooth Cup/KB Cup/Panasonic Cup was a midweek competition held between 1974 and 1989. Balmain won it three times followed by Eastern Suburbs along with Parramatta and Manly who were victorious twice. Western Suburbs, Cronulla, South Sydney, St George, Brisbane, Western Division and Combined Brisbane all won one tournament.

Fun Fact : The Toohey's Challenge Cup was a pre-season competition held in 1978 and from 1990-95. It was won by Brisbane and Canberra twice and Norths, Illawarra and Souths once.

A big congratulations to Rugby League Project, who have collected all the results for these near-forgotten tournaments. They do a tremendous job at preserving our history and should be widely lauded for their contribution to the game.

The 2012 Willie M Medal: The runs have started to come from a couple of old favourites with Parramatta halves combo Ben Roberts and Chris Sandow moving into a tie for second with three and two votes respectively. Roberts pulled out all his old tricks as the Eels tried to level the scores late against the Sharks: he kicked on the second tackle, dropped the ball, threw horrible passes. Sandow wasn't there at the death. He had already been dragged by coach Stephen Kearney. Mitchell Pearce is also making a move, collecting two points for another inept showing against the Cowboys. He surely won't be picked for Origin this year.

St George Illawarra v Newcastle
3-Timana Tahu (New)
2-Jarrod Mullen (New)
1-Kade Snowden (New)

Brisbane v Canberra
3-Josh Papalii (Can)
2-Joel Thompson (Can)
1-Josh McCrone (Can)

Melbourne v Canterbury
3-Josh Reynolds (Bul)
2-Jason Ryles (Mel)
1-Dene Halatau (Bul)

Sydney Roosters v North Queensland
3-Mitch Aubusson (Roo)
2-Mitchell Pearce (Roo)
1-Braith Anasta (Roo)

Manly v Gold Coast
3-Matt Ballin (Man)
2-Vic Mauro (Man)
1-Jason King (Man)

New Zealand v South Sydney
3-Shaune Corrigan (Sou)
2-Dylan Farrell (Sou)
1-Dave Taylor (Sou)

Cronulla v Parramatta
3-Ben Roberts (Par)
2-Chris Sandow (Par)
1-Esi Tonga (Par)

Penrith v Wests Tigers
3-David Simmons (Pen)
2-Luke Walsh (Pen)
1-Blake Austin (Pen)

Leaderboard
11: Tim Moltzen (Tig)
7: Steve Michaels (GC), Mitchell Pearce (Roo), Ben Roberts (Par), Chris Sandow (Par), Willie Tonga (Par)
6: Ben Hornby (Dra), Jerome Ropati (War), David Simmons (Pen), Timana Tahu (New)
5: Roy Asotasi (Sou), Adam Cuthbertson (New), Dylan Farrell (Sou), Matt Groat (Tig), Chris Lawrence (Tig), Mark Minichiello (GC), Ben Pomeroy (Cro)

Rumour Mill: There is pretty strong mail that Ricky Stuart has agreed to terms with the Canberra Raiders. A deal won't be announced until the end of the Origin series but it would take a miracle to force the board to change its mind. Luke Burt has been linked with a move to Cronulla though the money/cap gap between the Sharks and the Eels remains significant. Willie Mason is expected to sign with Newcastle in what would be the dumbest decision ever made by Wayne Bennett. I refuse to believe he would even consider it. Ben Hornby is expected to announce his retirement soon while Lote Tuqiri is rumoured to be joining him.

Power Rankings:
1. Melbourne 7-0 (1)
2. Brisbane 6-1 (2)
3. Cronulla 5-2 (3)
4. Canterbury 4-3 (4)
5. St George Illawarra 4-3 (7)
6. North Queensland 4-3 (8)
7. Newcastle 3-4 (6)
8. New Zealand 3-4 (12)
9. Manly 3-4 (5)
10. South Sydney 3-4 (9)
11. Canberra 3-4 (10)
12. Wests Tigers 2-5 (14)
13. Sydney Roosters 4-3 (11)
14. Gold Coast 2-5 (15)
15. Penrith 2-5 (13)
16. Parramatta 1-6 (16)

What I Like About ... the Melbourne Storm: Aside from being the most impressive team of 2012, one that is damned exciting to watch with three of the best players you could ever hope to see, I took great heart from the fact they will play the American Tomahawks in October in New York City. America is the great hope for rugby league and efforts by the likes of the Storm to play over in the United States can only be good for the game. Let's hope the match goes ahead and is a real positive for the code in America.

Betting Market of the Week: What runs through Dave Taylor's head when confronted with an opposition tackle.

It is time to throw a stupid pass: $1.30
I'll aim for the outside shoulder and kick like a pussy: $2.00
I wonder if I can get a tutu big enough: $2.50
Nothing?nothing ever goes through Dave Taylor's head: $1.10

Moniker XIII of the Week: With the versatile workhorse Dean Young retiring, we this week come up with the best Deans to ever play premiership rugby league.

The Deans
1. Dean Raper (28 games for St George)
2. Dean Carney (108 games for Illawarra/Cronulla/Newcastle)
3. Dean Bell (60 games for Eastern Suburbs/Auckland)
4. Dean Collis (105 games for Wests Tigers/Cronulla)
5. Dean Moon (17 games for Illawarra)
6. Dean Widders (159 games for Roosters/Parramatta/Souths)
7. Dean Schifilliti (184 games for Illawarra/Souths/NQ/Adelaide/Parramatta)
13. Dean Young (193 games for St George Illawarra)
12. Dean Lance (198 games for Newtown/Canberra)
11. Dean Hanson (61 games for Illawarra)
10. Dean Pay (184 games for Canterbury/Parramatta)
9. Dean Treister (161 games for Cronulla)
8. Dean Sampson (14 games for Gold Coast/Parramatta)

Analysis: The Deans are extremely limited despite having four internationals in Bell, Pay, Young and British prop Sampson. There are no legitimate halves, the three-quarter line outside Bell is ordinary and the fullback has not much going for him. The pack is tough but this side will not cut it.

The Coaching Crosshairs: The drums are beating louder and louder that Ricky Stuart will be appointed Canberra coach in 2013 with another heavy defeat counting heavily against David Furner. The Raiders have started 3-4 but have only rolled two 2-5 teams (Gold Coast and the Wests Tigers) and one 3-4 team at home (New Zealand). Stuart wants back into coaching and Furner is not going to get the results with all the injuries at the club to save his job. Furner will see out 2012 but that will be it.

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: Well now I've seen it all. In one of the most amazing sights ever seen on a rugby league field, the Special Needs Penguin broke the Parramatta line (well a pathetic attempted tackle by turnstile Esi Tonga at any rate) then drew Jarryd Hayne and dummied right past him to score a try. He managed to make a bit of a mess of it all with three dropped balls but that was one hell of a moment.

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 7: Melbourne-Canterbury, 12-6. There were some real crackers over the weekend including Cronulla's win over Parramatta but for quality defence it was tough to beat Melbourne's tight win over Canterbury. It was a game of desperation with a sense of finals footy about it. Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater have not been contained better all year while the entire team have not been pressured more defensively all season. This was a game fought about between two quality sides led by two very smart coaches.

Correspondence Corner: Zig, Bryson Goodwin is rubbish but Jonathan Wright makes him look like Ken Irvine. You are being very harsh on Ben Lowe though. I think he is quite talented, a real worker. The gap between Toyota Cup and first grade is television driven but it is ridiculously annoying and it means you never get to see the end of it if you arrive at the ground at a civilised time.

Gareth, those who want the shoulder charge out are muppets. Terry Campese, even before the injury, was too far behind and deservedly so considering his erratic form this year. Hopefully he finds his best in 2013. Jarrod Croker in Origin? He shouldn't play in first grade. He rates as one of the worst defensive centres I've ever had the misfortune of seeing. Why every team doesn't just pepper the Raiders' left-hand defence all the time is beyond me. It is super seeing the Sharkies up and about and bloody good for rugby league. Imagine how they would go if they had enough coin for a CEO!

Yeahgood1, with stringent rules, rugby league can and should embrace monied private ownership.

Mike From Tari, benefit of the doubt is nothing but some idiotic concept dreamed up by Robert Finch and Bill Harrigan to help justify ludicrous and sometimes criminal calls.

Arthur, I'm surprised the Dragons haven't been linked to Kieran Foran either.

Mav63, if Jarryd Hayne is picked at No.6, it certainly won't matter who the rest of the team is.

Bousinball, round eight has some cracking matches with the two Anzac Day games likely to be close to sell-outs, the Broncos-Titans to attract plenty and Canterbury-Manly to draw a big Friday crowd.

Col Quinn, that is amazing that you were at the '72 final. What are your memories of the day and the tournament?

Davey G, players who hit the head are punished for the most part and that is fine.

Craig, Canterbury-Souths was a fizzer and it had nothing to do with the result. Just the inept handling and slow nature of the match.

Keith, I understand the reason for some of the discord but Robbie Farah irks plenty in the game. There are troubles at the Tigers, at any rate. And thanks for the TNT t-shirt advice?I've been in contact.

Nick, Ennis is likely playing hurt but he shouldn't be on the park if he is going to play like such a liability. I praise his courage but his form has been abhorrent. Hopefully he can turn it around but I won't be putting any money on it.

Dan, well, Adam Reynolds staying down was very ordinary.

Doubter, if Queensland wasn't so stable in its selection, I would give them a good once over. I can do their backs for you in seven words though: Slater, Boyd, Inglis, Hodges, Tate, Thurston, Cronk. Only one up for grabs is the Tate wing but he is the clear front-runner given Willie Tonga's ineptitude. Bryson Goodwin was abhorrent. Perhaps I was blinded by Jonathan Wright's poor form there.

Beard Watch: Young Warrior Ben Henry came of age against South Sydney with a sublime display but standing out even more is his fantastic facial hair, choosing to run with the musketeers moustache/beard. He could be a 19th century Frenchman. Good work in the innovation stakes.

Watch It: The 1980 BRL Grand Final between the Norths Devils and the Souths Magpies was a classic, marked by wild brawling, a close score and some magnificent rugby league. There were plenty of familiar faces participating - Kiwi legend Mark Graham, Greg "The Turtle" Conescu, Joe Kilroy, Dave Brown, Billy Johnstone and, of course, the great Mal Meninga before he had played for Australia - and some exceptional play with Mal showing signs of his future dominance even then. Of most enjoyment to me: the field goal shot inside the opening 20 minutes to take the score to 3-2. Watch it here.

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