Mutual agreement of terms a must to save World Club Challenge from impending death

If there was ever a sign that the NRL no longer have any interest in sending its teams to the UK for the World Club Challenge, this is it. The revamped tournament which began two years ago, featuring three teams from each league in a ‘series’ style format, has been cut to just two this weekend and if recent trends are any indication, in just two years the traditional fixture may cease to exist.

The World Club Challenge has been through numerous iterations since its inception as an exhibition match between Eastern Suburbs and St. Helens back in 1976, damaging the tournament’s reputation as a traditional rivalry worthy of both the fans attention and the respective boards’ resources. The regular reshuffling of the tournament’s structure, as well as the questionable qualifying methods and sporadic scheduling have been just as, if not more damaging, to the competitions relevance and integrity than anything else.

The differences between what the RFL and NRL governing bodies wish to get out of the World Club Challenge are world’s apart and this is at the core of their very one sided tussle for keeping the ageing concept alive.

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The Broncos take on Wigan in the 2015 World Club Series – Photo: Wigan Warriors

The Super League bosses are visionary’s who wish to turn the competition into something it isn’t and never will be; their over-inflated sense of the tournament’s self worth is damaging when they come to asses its popularity, but are driven by optimism when they consider what the ‘Big Brother’ can do for Rugby League in the UK. So much so that plans are already being put in place to shift a regular season Super League fixture to Australia to broaden its reach, while negotiations around the NRL moving a game off-shore and into its rival market are also reportedly underway. What benefits this has for the NRL outside of boosted TV ratings on UK cable television, it is difficult to tell.

The NRL, on the other hand, are the churlish, cashed up stepsisters who get what they want, when they want, and aren’t bothered by a total boycotting of the World Club Challenge because they lose nothing in doing so and have already cracked open parts of the Australian market, and as such, can foresee no great financial or profile raising benefits. It’s simply a clogging up of an already cluttered pre-season schedule that is running the risk of injuring one of its major draw-cards. The Nines are a far easier way for the NRL to grow its image and expand its geographical reach, that is, if these are indeed their goals for participation in the World Club Challenge/ Series. It doesn’t require conversations with its English counterparts and can therefore run its own show, hassle free. The single weekend is another rather attractive quality for a board that has bigger fish to fry than organising a pre-season kick-about – even if its worth more than the sum of its parts now that it is established and ready for expansion.

At the moment, they are a couple of sparring partners fighting for two very different causes. The Super League – to grow their brand by reaching out to Rugby League heartlands in the shadow of the EPL, which will, in turn, lead to boosted revenue and an increased playing standard as international talent is lured to the country. The NRL – to give their clubs exposure to an international market. But they are the power brokers in the great chain of Rugby League being and can do as they please. As such, they may prefer to stage a game featuring two Australian sides in the UK from which similar outcomes to those gained though the World Club Challenge will be derived, less the time consuming negotiations and revenue sharing with the RFL.

These are far from the only reasons the World Club Challenge is beginning to dig its own grave, however. When one competition has refused for years to send out its best players and make a decent hash of the innovation, and in doing so, fails to reward the paying public for their interest by treating it like a glorified trial, they single-handedly erode both the fans and sponsors faith in the concept, while also removing the semblance of integrity that has managed to hang around after a long history of mismanagement and miscommunication between governing bodies that stems right back to the rather spontaneous clash in 1976, which occurred just before the concept went into hiding for eleven years. In this regard, the NRL and its representative clubs have stepped up their game in recent times, suggesting that perhaps they might wish to give this competition the attention and recognition it deserves after 41 long and ill-fated years.

Many would be surprised to know that the Super League are the leading title holders of the World Club challenge by 12 to 11; if you can excuse the 22-team tournament played in 1997. But when you scan through the results to relive some of the great Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors victories, you are immediately reminded that the Australian teams were far from full strength outfits. Not necessarily through the mid 2000’s – the Brisbane Broncos took the field with a similar side to their premiership winning team of the previous year in their clash with St. Helens in 2007, as did Manly following their premiership triumph  – but most certainly since the formation of the new ‘Series’ format in 2015, even if the results have reflected poorly on the Super League. And yet, there are still claims that the gulf in standards between the NRL and Super League are responsible for the competitions flagging interest. How is that when, historically speaking, the Super League holds a slight advantage in the World Club Challenge stakes.

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The tussle for power continues – Photo: Getty Images

When NRL clubs have found themselves on the wrong end of a result, they generally blame jet-lag, the climate or the out-of-season fixtures. When they win, the opposition is not up to standard. It’s a merry-go-round of conflicting rhetoric more violent than the frequent changes that have accompanied the competition’s many different incarnations. There’s a stigma associated with the World Club Challenge/ Series and, as hard as it tries to shake it off through innovation and reinvention, it continues to hang around like a bad smell. But without a mutual understanding from all parties involved as to the importance of this competition in growing Rugby League at grassroots level and in general across the UK, the World Club Challenge will never become more than the eh ‘pre/ early -season filler’ it currently is. And that mutual understanding will never be achieved when one organisation reaps little to no benefits whatsoever from the concept in its current form. Compromises, made by the Super League, are therefore a necessity going forward if it hopes to ensure the competitions longevity. It must appease the golden goose in the interim in order for it to take a golden egg. And this will entail World Club Challenge games becoming more accessible and time friendly for the NRL’s biggest asset – fans across Australia.

Three years ago the Sydney Roosters played host to the Wigan Warriors in front of 37,000 fans at the Sydney Football Stadium. It was the first time the competition appeared to gain traction and the first time the fans bought into the contrived rivalry that has now become a tradition. If the two organisations wish to see this competition flourish into the successful, revenue and profile raising product it has always promised to become, but never amounted to, it must travel from country to country, stick to a specified structure and feature only the past years grand finalists in a one off game. Adding extra sides does nothing but detract from the Super League season already in play and undermine the importance of the fixtures that lie either side of it.

It’s a sound enough concept with solid foundations that has worked in other sports and, if treated correctly, can become a prestigious event that the grand finalists use as extra incentive in their quest for a premiership.

 

 

 

BLOG: Wholesale changes afoot for Dragons at season’s end

I like many other Red V fans sat frustrated for the better part of seventy-minutes on Sunday, as the Dragons turned out yet another performance bereft of attacking flair and defensive solidity. Unfortunately, this has become an all too familiar sight for this enigmatic side over the last few years. The result on Sunday was a predictable one. For only the first ten minutes of the game did the Dragons ever look like calling the bluff of the betting agencies. For the remainder of the contest, the Farah-less Tigers looked determined to end a tumultuous week off the field with a resounding victory on it. The young halves in Brooks and Moises were poised, level-headed and reverted to playing on instinct when sticking to structures failed them. They did what all good halves do. Challenge the line, link up with the big men, force repeat sets through effective last tackle kicks and suss out the defensive lapses of the Dragons. Most importantly, they manufactured tries through ad-lib football at stages when their attack appeared to have hit a rough spot. A refreshing, reassuring sight for Wests Tigers fans I’m sure. They looked a class above experienced campaigners Marshall and Widdop, who struggled to stamp any authority on the game. The performance was a minor improvement on the lackluster efforts of the last two weeks for the Red V. But it’s going to take radical improvements in both attack and defence if they are to get through a horror three week period against the competition heavyweights unscathed.

There’s no doubting that a clean out is imminent at the Dragons once the curtain is drawn on season 2016. The mediocre, steadily declining performances of recent seasons warrant this. Doust will be axed as growing fan unrest gains traction, while McGregor and his right-hand men will follow in the immediate aftermath. Since Bennet’s tyrannical reign came to an end in 2011, (I really should be more diplomatic given the Dragons won a premiership under his tutelage) the Dragons have finished 9th, 14th, 11th and 8th. Over these four seasons, their biggest achievements have been the sacking of a coach and the acquisition of a halfback who has failed to conjure up the flash in the pan success he showed a little under a decade ago. I admire the guile of Benji. His left-foot step was poetry in motion at the peak of his powers. He was, and still is, a commentators dream when he breaks the tackles of defenders two times his size to score a ninety-meter run away try. But for someone like myself who is so heavily invested in this club, I just don’t see him as an adequate fit for Widdop. That is, of course, if the six and seven is indeed the combination they wish to build their successes around in future. And it should be, given the Dragons habitual point scoring struggles – they sit just fourteen-points clear of the last placed Newcastle Knights in this regard. It would be unjustly myopic of me to suggest that the halves are the sole proprietors of the form slump, but then again, the stats tell an incriminating tale. Benji’s lateral running style leaves players around him flat-footed and confused when the ball is floated their way. The wrap-around play that he so often institutes is rarely executed with any degree of perfection and can be sniffed out and shut down instantly by defensive units. It’s a shame, because this ploy worked like clockwork for the West Tigers through several finals campaigns, albeit during the mid to late 2000’s.

On the other side of the equation is Gareth Widdop, who has been missing in action for the Dragons during several of the losses this season, not through injury or suspension, but through underperformance and limited involvement. His leadership has been equally non-existent, with calls now for his tenure to be prematurely relinquished just five months into its journey. In short, the Dragons attack is predictable, easily read by the opposition defence and prone to periods where it loses direction, either through frustration or lack of ideas. They require an inventive playmaker, someone who complements Widdop or Marshall – whomever they choose to carry on in the role, only one can remain – and can change the point scoring fortunes of the Dragons by playing what’s in front of them. We have, however, reached round 21, which indicates that the pool of free-agents is rapidly thinning. The Dragons have already lost out on the signature of Luke Keary that, up until the tricolours snuck under the radar to snavel him, they looked certain to secure. Its left many wondering what personnel changes, if any, will be made to upgrade the quality of the playing roster. All things being equal, and assuming they fail to lure Corey Norman, the Dragons will need to return to the negotiating table once more to increase the $300,000 contract extension offer to something more palatable for Marshall and his manager.

Mary McGregor said himself in the press conference following the game on Sunday that cohesion has gone missing at the Dragons this season because they’ve been without a regular spine. While this has had some bearing on the results, a clear inability to score points in attacking field position stems from more than a simple lack of cohesion. This appears to be McGregor’s superficial response in a futile attempt to divert attention away from his sides difficulties, and of course, the mounting pressure he faces in retaining his job as head honcho. Perhaps Geoff Toovey will give coaching another go despite the terms on which he and Manly parted ways if the Dragons and McGregor do fall out of love. His methods are tried and tested, while his bloody-mindedness and resolve would set the Dragons attack on the straight and narrow.

When the Dragons led the competition for a brief period last season, defence formed the crucial underpinning of their victories. In fact, it is what the Dragons claim to be the cornerstone of their game. It was difficult then to watch on Sunday as the Tigers strolled through untouched to score on two occasions. Even more painful was watching three defenders drop off a single player while others stood and watched in back play. There was nothing special about the pass from Halatau to Nofoluma, nothing that should have allowed the latter to breeze past the weary marker defenders and into a gaping hole with ease. But on this and many other occasions throughout the afternoon, the Dragons defence was sadly lacking, particularly up the middle of the field. So much so that the eighth immortal found it apt to lambaste their defensive incompetencies. Is this a confidence issue, or are they not trusting the man beside them? Perhaps we’re viewing the  results of more crude coaching methods?

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Feel free to chime in with your opinions below Dragons fans….

How the NRL is holding us to ransom over the National Youth Competition

For the past eight seasons, the NRL’s National Youth Competition (NYC) has been at the vanguard of junior player development. The new broadcast rights deal will, however, bring an end to the competition responsible for identifying and facilitating the games most promising under-20 talent.

The competition has long found censure in regards to its substandard quality. Scorelines are a case in point. Many concede that in a majority of cases the NYC leaves players ill-equipped and unprepared for the rigours of the big time in the NRL – particularly in regards to defensive structures and general toughness.

The concern is that these defensive inadequacies will filter into the first-grade arena and infect its superlative standard.

Game quality aside, the financial burden on both the NRL and its subsidiaries is arguably the greatest drawback of the NYC. Exorbitant running costs associated with interstate travel and accommodation, not to mention player and staff wages, are significant financial blows for NRL clubs to incur, particularly given that the competition offers little return on investment, monetarily speaking. Television and sponsorships are the only viable sources of income.

Finance and player development have become mutually exclusive in the NYC, effectuating a catch-22 situation for NRL clubs. In this case, without a short-term investment in the under-20s, the long-term gain of a talented youngster retained in the wings for first-grade is forfeited. This is a hefty fee to pay for an investment fraught with instability, particularly in an age of market volatility and third party agreements.

Keeping a player resolute to a club’s mantra in the face of a large pay rise is especially difficult for a club with little capital inflow. A 2015 report revealed that clubs such as the Newcastle Knights and Gold Coast Titans were ranked 12th and 13th respectively in terms of developing the greatest number of first-grade players from the NYC.

Unremunerative investments have unearthed further complications for the NYC. For a long period of time, an investment in the under-20s was nugatory and counterproductive for clubs like the Melbourne Storm. They yielded very few players directly from the NYC, as their under-20s side churned out players for the Cronulla Sharks and its NSW Cup affiliate across the opening six years of the competition. Instances of this nature have dramatically reduced over the past few seasons.

These ideologies aren’t empty platitudes, they are genuine concerns for a schismatic competition. One that appears boundless on paper, yet is frivolous and flawed in reality. One that, most importantly, is moving towards a foregone conclusion: the demise of the NRL’s most pragmatic junior rugby league pathway.

Pragmatic in the sense that imitating the NRL’s framework deals with reality, as well as the pitfalls and plateaus of being a professional rugby league player – training, travel, nutrition, media work and team camps. It just so happens that some of the perks associated with operating a competition of the NYC’s magnitude are simultaneously cracking open the nest egg of clubs which are struggling financially.

Despite the costs, we should still lend credence to a competition that has uncovered innumerable diamonds in the rough for the NRL. Throughout its eight years of operation to date, the NYC has provided us with a product that is fundamentally accessible – both for clubs and the public – and a means by which to assess the next crop of footballing maestros.

The NYC’s vastly populated alumni roll is a testament to this. In its inaugural season alone, the competition exposed some of the current day superstars – Trent Merrin, Ben Hunt, Ben Barba, Wade Graham and Gareth Widdop to name but a few. By removing the NYC, surely we are removing an essential bridge to first grade and compromising the health of the NRL over the succeeding decades.

Despite the copious number of threads validating the pros of the NYC, any and all approbation of this competition is rapidly eroding. With every season comes further calls for its neck by the rugby league fraternity, effectively blunting the cogency of any counter argument.

I for one wholeheartedly agree that this competition, while having served as an essential breeding ground for some time, is in need of a seismic overhaul in order to address both the financial and logistical concerns that are ubiquitous under the current system.

An ostensibly enhanced nine-week competition played across state lines in lieu of the Holden Cup looms as the most likely avenue for the NRL to take following the implementation of the next broadcast rights deal.

If the NRL was to sketch up a blueprint of objectives and requirements for an ideal NYC, they would be sure to appease any criteria pertaining to the enhancement of game quality. Without this, we are left with a competition that is ultimately sterile, commercially unattractive and unproductive in readying players with the physical and mental attributes that are required in the NRL.

That’s why a nine-week competition, while addressing the financial disquietudes, will repeat the failings of the NYC in terms of player development. It’s why any future competition must be played statewide – independent of the NRL clubs – thus acting as a feeder competition for the Queensland and NSW Cups.

This will allow young players, specifically forwards, to learn the ropes and complete their rugby league apprenticeships against seasoned pros. It’s why there must also be a steady progression and perspicuous understanding of the stepping stones between each of the SG Ball, Harold Matthew’s, under-20s and Queensland/NSW Cups.

A clear-cut pathway will ensure players – primarily those that are underdeveloped – avoid falling victim to the endemic flaws of the system, particularly during years when walking away from the game appears the most rational option. Not every player that graduates from the NYC is of the same pedigree as Nathan Cleary, Tom Trbojevic and Ashley Taylor, whose natural rugby league prowess and smarts have enabled them to make a seamless, untarnished transition directly from the NYC to the NRL.

Whatever you make of the current format and its logistical deficiencies, by no means should an under-20s competition be eradicated. The NRL has not yet succumbed to its steady disillusionment with the NYC, but it’s doing everything it can to hold us to ransom over it, while simultaneously heightening our intolerance of it.

These players are the future and the lifeline of the NRL. They must be treated accordingly, through the implementation of a sustainable rugby league breeding ground that is an untiring advocate of their development.

Originally posted at: www.theroar.com.au/2016/07/12/nrl-holding-us-ransom-nyc/

The Best Transfers of Season 2016

The first thirteen rounds of the 2016 NRL Telstra Premiership have been perhaps the most unequivocally clichéd of the competitions recent past. No less though have the contests been beguiling, results perplexing and viewing exhilarating. The statutory calibre of Rugby League in this country in recent times is utterly intoxicating for the staunchest adherents of ‘the greatest game of all’. The storylines interwoven throughout each and every game have led to a showcase to be etched in footballing folklore.

The men from the shire have returned to the fore, leading the pack in a season destitute of such unprecedented fairytales. Meanwhile, the magic of the Cowboys’ 2015 campaign continues to set a benchmark for the competition heavyweights in 2016.

We don’t have a product though without the indisputable talents of the games greatest players. This column takes a look at the best transfers of the 2016 season.

Matt Parcell

The acquisition of Matt Parcell by the Manly Sea Eagles as a replacement for the 217 game veteran Matt Ballin – whose ACL injury has all but ended his 2016 campaign with the Tigers – has proven fruitful for a club experiencing a turbulent period both on and off the field. Parcell possesses speed in spades, a quality that has seen him exploit tired marker defence to cross the stripe on two occasions this season. Just last Friday, amid the swirling arctic winds of GIO Stadium, Parcell scooted out of dummy half past the meager, although visibly fatigued, defences of Paulo, Wighton and Whitehead to score, and inspire a Manly resurgence. His game was earmarked for first grade following a prolific 2015 with the Ipswich Jets, where coach Shane Walker labeled him a ‘new breed of hooker’. Brisbane’s rake incumbent Andrew McCullough hampered Parcell’s game time in first grade last year and was a major contributor in his move to Manly.

Parcell’s passing accuracy, speed and dexterousness is paramount when linking up with Daly Cherry-Evans out of dummy half, allowing space for him to take the line on and time to produce attacking kicks at the back end of a set. It’s disappointing that this combination will experience a mid-season hiatus as Cherry-Evans waits cantankerously on the sidelines for his injured ankle to recover.

Parcell’s career is still very much in the embryonic stage. However, his fitness, passing adroitness and defensive know how will see him prosper on the northern beaches for some time, and could see him earn a maroons jumper in years to come.

Ashley Taylor

If you’re a Gold Coast supporter you’re rejoicing. If you’re a part of the Brisbane faithful, you’re questioning what could have been and bickering over the comparative qualifications of current halves pairing, Milford and Hunt. Taylor is arguably the most laudable transfer of the 2016 season. It’s hard to believe that just two years ago he was plying his trade in the u20’s. His running game, willingness to take the line on and refined kicking game are the archetypes of a modern generation halfback.

Taylor, alongside fellow new recruit Tyrone Roberts, has shown wisdom beyond his years and has already produced match-winning performances for the Gold Coast. Starting a career at playmaker can often be a daunting and unforgiving experience for young players, where ephemeral stints in first grade are symptomatic of poor performance. No such drama for Ashley Taylor however. In twelve games he has managed six try-assists while scoring four of his own with his crowning achievement, a clutch field-goal in the dying stages of lasts weeks clash with the Rabbitohs.

Sam Burgess

A year in the Northern-Hemisphere playing Rugby Union looks as though it has strengthened the mental and physical resolve of the big back-rower. His 2014 Clive Churchill Medal winning form has been ameliorated further in 2016. The only blight on his game this year is a proneness to drop the football at inappropriate periods of the game. In fact, he’s made the most handling errors of any forward in the competition this season. Despite this, Burgess’ damaging runs and copybook defence makes him one of the most balanced, consistent forwards in the NRL. Over the last month he’s averaged 185 running meters, and 32 tackles per game.

James Maloney

He’s the most improved five-eighth of 2016 and has been duly rewarded with a second chance in a blues jumper. The successes of the Sharks this season can be partly attributed to the Maloney-Townsend halves pairing, who have led the go forward from game one in 2016 and set up a number of tries. Maloney’s short kicking game has produced a plethora of attacking opportunities for the Sharks, while his willingness to take the line on has put the big men into holes in the opposition defence.

Though, as ardent followers will note, there are still qualms over the effectiveness of his defence. Across twelve rounds of the competition in 2016 Maloney has missed 53 tackles, second only to Ben Hunt (56) in the halves.

Notable Mentions: Aiden Sezer (Canberra Raiders, HLB), Chad Townsend (Cronulla Sharks, HLB), Michael Gordon (Parramatta Eels, CTW/FLB), Trent Merrin (Penrith Panthers, FR), Te Maire Martin (Penrith Panthers, HLB), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (New Zealand Warriors, FLB), Jordan Rankin (Wests Tigers, CTW/FB), Joseph Tapine (Canberra Raiders, 2RF), Nathan Peats (Gold Coast Titans, HOK) and Tim Lafai (St. George Illawarra Dragons, CTW).

Origin 2016: Are The Blues On The Precipice Of Starting A Dynasty Of Their Own?

Youthful exuberance will wear blue on Wednesday night, as Laurie Daley’s new look lineup seeks to turn the tide on a decade of Maroon dominance.

A number of pejorative overtones have been associated with the NSW side since its announcement last week, with critics quick to write off their chances against a seasoned Maroons side.

Amongst the perpetual angst that invariably aligns itself with the beginning of a new origin series, is concern over the inexperience of the Blues side.

No doubt Laurie had one eye firmly fixed on the future when he sat down to select his best seventeen. The changing of the guard as far as NSW are concerned is very much upon us.

The baby blue’s new look spine will feature two Origin debutants in Moylan and Reynolds, alongside veteran hooker Robbie Farah and recalled James Maloney.

If NSW are to challenge, or indeed win this origin series, heavy scrutiny must be placed on the kicking game of the halves.

In the past, field position has been forfeited by NSW through poor fifth tackle kick options. The Origin decider last year, which saw the Blues go down 52-6, was played almost exclusively in Queensland’s half.

Maloney and Reynolds must avoid recreating the mistakes made by Pearce and Hodkinson in last years trouncing, by producing penetrating last tackle kicks that force Queensland to start their sets inside their own red zone. This will eliminate the opportunity for Cronk or Thurston to produce an attacking kick and reduce the influence of Oates and Inglis in attacking field position on the left edge.

Given NSW’ fallible right edge defence, which was exposed during game three last year, it’s imperative that NSW limit Queensland’s time in possession in attacking territory.

NSW’s right edge defence would have looked quite fragile had Dugan lined up alongside his old mate Ferguson, and not been ruled out with an elbow injury at the weekend.

Morris’ inclusion adds stability to the defensive unit on the right wing, which would have appeared quite inexperienced without him.

Both Reynolds and Maloney have shown a propensity to take the line on in club football this year. This trend must continue if they are to tire out the Queensland defensive line and improve NSW’ go forward. The way they combine with the likes of Woods and Gallen off the back of quick play-the-balls will dictate the meters NSW gain from a set of six.

It’s no secret Origin contests are won through field position and possession, the refurbished halves combination holds the key to unlocking both of these for NSW.

If they can exploit the chinks in the impervious Queensland defensive armory, it will go a long way towards winning them the series.

Dylan Walkers selection as a bench utility tends to boggle the mind, his form at five-eight this year for Manly hardly warrants a rep cap. He is the only blemish on what can be described as a typically adaptable, sizable, defensive minded bench. Jackson Bird and Bryce Cartwright should consider themselves unlucky to have missed out on playing in the utility role.

Negatives aside, Walker has multiple strings to his bow that will serve him well in a blue jumper. His speed may well open the game up if he is injected into the contest during the last twenty minutes. Queensland’s forward pack will be beginning to tire by this stage, leaving open pasture down the middle of the ground for him to take advantage of.

Although he can play in a number of different positions, replacing Farah at hooker appears to be the most logical application of his speed. He will reinvigorate NSW’s go forward in the closing stages through quick darts out of dummy-half from around a tiring ruck.

His biggest challenge will be rivaling the class of his opposite number in Michael Morgan, who has proved difficult to contain late in Origin contests (pending Cronk’s injury).

Robbie Farah is another questionable selection as far as form is concerned. Having missed a total of six games this season for his club side, there are questions over whether or not he’s the right man for the job.

I can’t help but think that Farah is an exponent of the ‘loyalty program’ that Laurie Daley appears to have in place across certain positions within the blues side. Past performance doesn’t necessarily indicate future prosperity; the job should be entrusted to the player who has shown the best form in the lead up to Origin.

Michael Ennis’ form for the Sharks has far exceeded Robbie Farah’s contributions to the Tigers. The hallmark of his game in 2016 is his ability to link up with the big men close to the line. This coupled with his impeccable goal-line defence, and short kicking game is why he’s ranked even third on the Dally M leaderboard, and why in an alternate universe he’d have the number nine on his back come Wednesday night.

An inherent attribute of a NSW side is a strong pack. Some would even argue they are the lynchpins of the NSW side. The experience of Gallen and Woods in the front row will be asked to make plenty of runs throughout the game on Wednesday night, and lead the direction of the NSW attack.

The performance of the pack should also be judged on their ability to negate second phase football that Queensland will use as a tactic to disorganize the NSW defence and generate attacking opportunities.

Miscommunication between defenders has in the past allowed the likes of Corey Parker and Matt Scott to get an arm free and offload the football, causing the defence to slide in-field to compensate for missing defenders. This leaves an overlap on the edges for Inglis, Oates, O’Neill and Gagai to exploit.

For the young debutants in the side, half the battle will be getting over the nerves of a monumental occasion in their Rugby League careers.

NSW can claim the Maroons players are on borrowed time in the rep arena, but unless they show this through their performances, Queensland will continue to dominate them come the beginning of winter each year.

Nathan Peats – A New Beginning

Four weeks ago, Nathan Peats was touted as a smoky to replace Robbie Farah in the Blues number nine jumper. A month later, he’s the fall guy for the mismanagement of an inept board.

Despite the turbulence and injustices of the last few weeks, Peats churned out a stellar performance for his new club, helping them to a four-point win over competition heavyweights Penrith at the foot of the mountains on Sunday.

 After spending a brief period in the back row, the benching of Nathan Friend shortly before half time allowed Peats to return to his traditional role at dummy-half.

In his fifty-eight minutes on the ground, Peats made fourty-two tackles in a typically prolific defensive display. However, it was his attacking prowess that took center stage.

In the sixty-fourth minute, he burrowed his way underneath two Penrith defenders off the back of a Greg Bird play-the-ball to score a crucial try and regain score-line parity for the Titans.

His short runs out of dummy half during the second stanza caught the tired Penrith big men out of position, allowing the Gold Coast forwards to access open pasture off the back of quick play-the-balls. Bird and James both profited from Peats’ presence, running for 116 and 120 meters respectively.

His performance was bittersweet justice on two fronts.

Since their inception, the Gold Coast has struggled to lure star players to the club. Cherry-Evans’ backflip on a deal in July last year left a void in the halves, an issue that was further compounded by the subsequent injury to Kane Elgey, and departure of Aiden Sezer to the Canberra Raiders.

Ironically, through their absence, they’ve uncovered a future star halfback in Ashley Taylor.

If a positive is to be drawn from the unfortunate circumstances of the Peats move to the glitter strip, it’s that he will remain steadfast in a blue, gold and white jumper till at least the end of 2017, becoming one of the Gold Coast’s bigger marque signings since Scott Prince.

For the Titans, having an experienced head in the hooking role after Nathan Friend’s contract with the Titans expires at the end of this year, is crucial in developing its young spine.

Taylor, Elgey and Roberts will all benefit from Nathan Peats’ match awareness, which, despite him being just 25 years old, is amongst the most finely tuned in the competition.

The only negative I can see for the Gold Coast is that Peats is among four other hookers currently contracted to the Titans. Fortunately, he has plenty of experience playing in the backrow, particularly at lock, from his time at the Rabbitohs and can play in that position if circumstances require him to.

For Peats personally, the game against the Panthers signaled the start of a new chapter in his Rugby League career.

Despite the perceived silver linings, I still resent the circumstances in which Peats and Parramatta parted ways.

Just last year he played thirty-six minutes against the Roosters with a broken neck, toughing it out for his teammates and the pride he had in the jumper. It speaks volumes about the toughness of Peats, both mentally and physically, and the commitment he has to a team and its players.

His selflessness is a hallmark of the way he plays Rugby League.

When he became the sacrificial lamb to cure Parramatta’s salary cap deficit of $570,000, the comradery and mateship forged between him and his Parramatta teammates through two and a half seasons in the blue and gold was prematurely and unjustly relinquished.

It’s disappointing that in an age where cynicism and large paychecks trump club loyalty, that the one player who embodies fidelity is moved on through the ineptitude of an imprudent hierarchy.

Despite all this, Nathan Peats is a crusader for modern generation footballers. Upon learning his fate following the salary cap debacle, he had every right to feel betrayed by the administrators and the club, but his diplomatic responses to the media’s enquiries over his treatment is a testament to his character.

Instead of blaming others, Peats handled himself with the utmost dignity, acknowledging that Rugby League is a ‘business’, and remained optimistic about a new start on the Gold Coast.

I hope for both he and the Titans sake that karma takes its course, and they continue their ascendancy towards the top eight and beyond in season 2016.