McKay vs O’Connell, round 2: a rah-rah grills a leaguie
The Melbourne Storm's Billy Slater (left) scores a try against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs during the NRL Grand Final at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Earlier in the year, fellow Roar Expert Brett McKay and I grilled each other about our respective codes. And now, with the NRL grand final and The Rugby Championship in the rear-view mirror, we thought it would be a good time to grill each other again.
I’m up this week, and Brett will face the music next week.
For the uninitiated, it’s your basic Q and A format. However, the twist is that the five questions are only supplied a few hours before our deadlines, meaning there is little time to check facts, ponder the questions deeply, or over-analyse. The responses are therefore off-the-cuff and are our immediate thoughts to the probing questions.
Brett McKay: At the risk of starting with an ‘I told you so’, the Melbourne Storm are the 2012 NRL Premiers. Which teams are most likely to challenge them in 2013?
Ryan O’Connell: That’s a frisky start! At the risk of replying to your ‘I told you so’ with an ‘I told you first’, I predicted the Melbourne Storm to win the 2012 premiership in my NRL season preview back in February. So back in your box, McKay!
It’s obviously very early for 2013 predictions, but seeing as this was just year one of Des Hasler’s rebuilding project at Canterbury, and they’re adding behemoth Tony Williams to an already imposing pack, it’s safe to assume the Bulldogs will be in the mix again next season.
I also think Souths will learn a lot from their finals experience this year, and with a healthy Adam Reynolds they could have easily made the grand final this season.
Manly simply had injury issues at the wrong time of the year, so there’s no reason why they can’t challenge for the premiership again.
Outside of this year’s top four? For the second year in a row, the Wests Tigers have used the off-season to build a premiership roster… for the Cronulla Sharks. Beau Ryan and Chris Heighington are fantastic additions, and along with Luke Lewis, it means the boys from The Shire may finally bring home that elusive title.
My smokey for next year? The Titans, who overcame a horrible start to the year – on and off the field – to finish the season strongly, and who will also be adding Big Dave Taylor.
BM: This isn’t designed to start a code war argument again, but do you share my thoughts that the NRL grand final feels a bit ‘tokenish’, after the grand spectacle of the AFL’s equivalent?
RO: Neither competition can control how well the teams will play on the day, so the spectacle of the actual game just comes down to luck and/or viewer preference of the sports.
However, you can control how the event is run.
I’ll be brutally honest and say I missed my first ever AFL grand final, as I was on a plane somewhere over Abu Dhabi. So I’ve only seen the Swans versus Hawks game, not the entire production. It would therefore be irresponsible of me to compare the two spectacles.
What I can comment on is the NRL’s show in a vacuum. And I thought it could have been much better. Delivering the trophy via a Black Hawk helicopter? Been done. An American pop/punk band singing before the game, one of them wearing a Souths jersey? Irrelevant, confusing and lame.
It’s the biggest day of the year for rugby league, and you have plenty of casual fans tuning in for perhaps the one and only time. For goodness sake, spend some money and make it a truly amazing spectacle from start to finish.
BM: How did you rate the new (but actually old) NRL Finals format?
RO: Anytime you have the best two teams from the season playing in the grand final, the system should be deemed to have worked. It’s really that simple.
Moving away from the McIntyre system was a smart move. The change offers greater protection for the top four teams, all of whom only need to win two finals matches to reach the grand final, while the bottom four ranked teams must win three. Additionally, the minor premiers and the team that finished second are guaranteed two home games.
How did I rate it? I’ll stop short of saying its perfect, but I think it’s great.
BM: Is there currently a bigger blight on the game than the situation that forces young Kiwis to choose between playing for their country or an Origin payday?
RO: In light of the scandal that has erupted over the Bulldogs Mad Monday celebrations, I think we can safely say that there currently is a bigger blight on the game.
But be that as it may, yes, representative eligibility remains a massive issue for rugby league.
Origin players currently receive $20,000 per game and New Zealand players reportedly receive $5,000 per Test.
You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to note the discrepancies in pay. And with players pushing for Origin payments to increase to $50,000 per game, you can’t blame young Kiwis for not wanting to leave approximately $150,000 on the table, if it’s offered to them.
I don’t have the perfect answer, but I would suggest some out-of-the box thinking is required to solve the issue. It may take some financial sacrifices from the Australian rugby league Commission, if they truly care about international football. In other words, propping up the New Zealand player payments.
Something certainly needs to be done, put it that way, because the eligibility rules right across rugby league are a complete farce. And for some reason, I now have the “That’s in Queensland!” tune stuck in my head…
BM: And following on from that topic to finish, have the post-season internationals run their course? How much interest will there be for this weekend’s Test in Townsville?
RO: It was interesting to note Australian Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens’ concern about the one-off Test versus New Zealand. Specifically, he was worried about the motivation levels of his players.
That should have sent alarm bells ringing. If the players themselves can’t get excited about the game, how is the public meant to?
The four Melbourne Storm players, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Ryan Hoffman, may struggle to get back ‘up’ from the high of their premiership win. While players like Darius Boyd, Brett Morris, Greg Bird, Nate Myles and Robbie Farah won’t have played for over a month.
It doesn’t sound like the ingredients for a great game.
To answer the question, I think post-season internationals that involve an overseas tour, or a tournament like the World Cup or Four Nations, still have their place. It’s a lot easier for the coaching staff to prepare the players for those types of games.
But I think one-off Tests are a completely different kettle of fish, and I question their merit at this time of the season. As such, I think interest in the Townsville game will be quite low.
Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.
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