O’Connell vs. McKay: A leaguie grills a rah-rah
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Cooper Cronk is Brett McKay's only NRL cross code pick (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Brett Crockford)
Despite that outrageous slur on my person regarding The Voice a few weeks ago, Expert column colleague Ryan O’Connell and I still regularly discuss our respective codes on and outside of Roar threads, be it on email, Twitter, or whatever.
For something different this week, we’ve decided to ‘grill’ each other with five pointed questions about our games.
To make it interesting, I didn’t get Ryano’s questions until a few hours before my usual deadline last night. So these answers are what came instantly to mind, meaning there was little time to dodge the questions, or do any research. And the clock was ticking as I put these together too – editors wait for no-one.
Ryan O’Connell: Does Australian Rugby currently have the depth to support five Super teams?
Had you put this question to me last year, or even March or April this year when the injury toll nationally was horrendous, I’d have argued that no, we don’t.
However, the re-emergence of the Rebels in the last month, and the Brumbies maintaining their standards with a third choice flyhalf, shows me that Australian rugby is starting to produce the quantity of players required.
Queensland didn’t have to forfeit any games due to injuries; the Force found some useful players in the club ranks, and the Rebels were able to snare a prop from the Brumbies. Zack Holmes is a Western Australian product of the Force academy that the Brumbies picked up while playing for North Sydney. The players are coming through.
But I reckon we’re at the limit currently. A sixth team is a good way off yet, and while the expansionists have good motives for their arguments, this is one crucial oversight on their behalf. Five teams will provide good numbers and opportunities for the next few years, but six is just too much too soon.
Ryan: It doesn’t seem to matter who the coach is, or who the players are, the Waratahs remain a constant disappointment. Is it simply a case of unfair expectations, or is something fundamentally wrong with NSW Rugby?
I think it might be a bit of both. Every year the Waratahs – or supporters, or the rugby media, for that matter – talk about this year being “the year”, but “the year” seems to be getting further away than ever.
The old Wayne Bennett line applies here: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got.” To do the same thing every year and expect a different result is either the height of optimism, or the very definition of stupidity.
There’s no doubt something needs to change. Jake White’s overhaul at Brumbies HQ is often cited as a good example of what’s needed, but maybe it’s simpler than that. Whatever it is, it must be recognised that the Waratahs operate in the toughest football market in Australia. Therefore, expectations have to be managed better, as well.
A Roarer made the comment the other day (and my apologies for not remembering who it was) that “forwards win matches, but backs spin the turnstiles” and that’s probably the place to start. The Waratahs firstly have to make their fans want to come to the rugby. Their finances are actually pretty good, but their product needs a lot of improvement.
Ryan: Who’s been the best player from each nation in the Super Rugby tournament so far?
Good question. Every comment that follows today will have a different opinion on this, so here are the three standouts for me.
In South Africa, there’s been a heap of quality players, and upcoming players that have stood up at different points (Goosen, Stander, Lambie to name a couple), but the one guy who’s really excited me is Stormers fullback, Joe Pietersen. The Stormers play a pretty conservative, defensive game, but if ever there’s a chance to counter-attack, Pietersen is among the best going. YouTube “joe pietersen highlanders try” and you’ll see what I mean.
In New Zealand, as good as Kieran Read has been for the Crusaders, as good as young Beauden Barrett’s been for the Hurricanes, Chiefs flyhalf Aaron Cruden is my pick.
Everything that’s been good about the Chiefs in 2012 – and they’ve been excellent – has come on the back of Cruden’s vision in steering the Chiefs around. Notable mentions go their very useful scrum, scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow (‘TKB’ as he gets abbreviated in commentary), and inside centre Sonny Bill Williams, but Cruden has taken his game to new levels in 2012.
In Australia, a month ago it would’ve been Christian Lealiifano; the month since then it’s probably been Kurtley Beale. Overall, I think Scott Higginbotham has been most consistent player.
It’s funny, when he’s played on the blindside, Higginbotham’s penchant for staying out wide didn’t endear him to me. Since switching to no.8 this year, however, he’s tightened up how and where he plays, and has really become a forwards leader for the Reds. He should be the first-choice Wallaby no.8 all throughout the international season, and he’ll be a massive pickup for the Rebels next season.
Ryan: If Robbie Deans is unlikely to be re-appointed as Wallabies coach, should he just be punted now?
See, I don’t get why people think it’s unlikely Deans will be reappointed for 2014 and beyond. Lordy told us over the weekend “it’s a given” that Deans would return to NZ, and that “the replacement hunt has begun”.
I’m sorry, but that’s just plainly untrue. Deans is contracted until the end of the 2013, and has two Bledisloes, two Rugby Championships, and a Lions Tour to steer the Wallabies toward before then. The current situation is that no decision will be made until the completion of those series. Success in any, and especially the Bledisloe, will go a long way toward Deans being extended through to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Had Deans said (or indeed, if he says) that he won’t be seeking extension, then sure, perhaps it is better to move him on sooner. But for the next 18 months, he’s the best man for the job. More silverware in that time only increases the likelihood of him staying.
Ryan: If you could poach one rugby league player to play rugby union, who would it be and why?
Prepare to be surprised. You can keep your Inglises, your Slaters, your Thurstons, your Cameron Smiths, and even what used to be your Israel Folaus. I have no interest in a Dugan, a Carney, a Beau Scott, or even a Matt Gillett (actually, I might have some interest in Matt Gillett.)
The only, repeat, ONLY current NRL player I would poach is Cooper Cronk.
And if given the keys to the ARU chequebook, I would just keep writing zeros until he said ‘yes’.
As good as all those aforementioned might be currently, Cronk is the only player I’ve seen who I could drop into a rugby side with no major remedial action required. This is obviously aided by Cronk’s rugby background; he was in the same 2000 Australian Schoolboys sides as Rocky Elsom, Mark Gerrard, and Peter Hynes, among others.
His vision, kicking and passing game, and rock-solid defence is precisely what you want in a modern-day flyhalf, and if he switched codes today, I’d play him against Scotland next week without hesitation. He’s the one that got away that annoys me the most.
Anyway, this has been a really interesting and really enjoyable exercise with the quick turnaround and I look forward to seeing how Ryano handles my questioning of his code tomorrow!
Brett McKay is a former non-tackling scrumhalf and not-quite-1st Grade middle order stalwart. A rugby and cricket expert for The Roar since July 2009 (having joined in Sept 2008), Brett has written for Inside Rugby and Cricket Australia, and is also PLAY Canberra's rugby correspondent. He tweets from @BMcSport
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