The top eight storylines heading into the NRL finals

Tom Rock Columnist

By Tom Rock, Tom Rock is a Roar Expert

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    State of Origin is mercifully over for another year, so it’s time to shift the focus back to where it belongs – club footy. With only seven rounds left until the finals, here are the top eight storylines that I’ll keeping an eye on.

    Sky Blue thinking
    Ok, one more bit of Origin before we completely move on. There’s still the small matter of who’ll coach the New South Wales side in 2018 and beyond. The general consensus is that Laurie has done his dash, and discussions around who’ll replace him have been spreading faster than Cameron Smith platitudes in the Courier Mail newsroom.

    I would encourage the Blues to think big. Take all perception of cost, availability and allegiances off the table, and identify the best possible candidate for the job. The person capable of taking the talented collection of players Daley has assembled, and transforming them into winners.

    That man is Craig Bellamy, but only if he can take the job on a full-time basis. Bellamy possesses an unrivalled combination of passion, technical nous and man management skills, and the Blues could do with a healthy dose of all three.

    I know he previously came up empty at Origin level, but he was juggling the job with his Melbourne commitments. If he can completely commit himself to the task, I have complete faith he will be successful.

    Will Griffin get the Hook?
    The Penrith Panthers were deserved pre-season favourites. Gus Gould had assembled a cracking roster, Matt Moylan had the look of rugby league’s next superstar, Nathan Cleary was the competition’s most promising young halfback, and a breathtaking brand of ad-lib footy had just carried the Panthers deep into the 2016 finals.

    And yet, after 19 rounds, Penrith are sitting ninth on the competition ladder and are in real danger of missing the top eight. So what happened?

    According to Griffin, it’s all a matter of perspective. The coach believes those who labelled Penrith as pre-season premiership contenders don’t know their footy. I believe that Griffin’s statement is a complete cop out aimed at taking the pressure off his players and saving his own skin.

    The reality is that Hook is under immense pressure to retain his job at the foot of the mountains. The performance of his squad has fallen well below expectations, and he needs to be held accountable. If the Panthers qualify for the finals, Griffin keeps his job. If they fall short, well, maybe he can apply for the New South Wales gig.

    Anthony Griffin

    (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

    Better Knights to come
    At this point, not even Super Hubert can save the Knights from being awarded their third consecutive wooden spoon. To avoid this inglorious honour, Newcastle must win at least four of their remaining seven games. And while this might not seem overly challenging, for the struggling Knights, it’s the equivalent of climbing Everest with your shoelaces tied together.

    But the hopelessness of their situation doesn’t mean that there’s nothing left to play for. On the contrary, with the likes of Kalyn Ponga, Aidan Guerra, Tautau Moga, Connor Watson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Herman Ese’ese joining the squad in 2018, many in the current side are playing for their future.

    That desire to impress was on full display on Saturday evening against the Broncos. For the third time in a month, Newcastle stood toe to toe with a genuine contender, and almost produced a stunning upset. The Knights might not win another game this season, but they loom as an uncomfortable speed bump for a few aspiring top-eight sides.

    Can anyone weather the Storm?
    Watching the methodical manner in which Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk destroyed the Blues last Wednesday night, it begs the question – can anyone stop the Storm from hoisting the Premiership in 2017?

    The Sharks? Maybe. But probably not. Melbourne’s squad has significantly improved from last year’s decider, while the Sharks have slightly regressed with the loss of Mick Ennis and Ben Barba. How about the Roosters? They’re a chance, but a lot will rest on how Mitchell Pearce responds after yet another failed Origin campaign.

    North Queensland? Don’t think so. Not without Johnathan Thurston.

    The Broncos just struggled to beat the Knights, Canberra are no certainties to make the finals, and Manly might still be another year away from being legitimate contenders. Short of Melbourne’s spine contracting an acute case of spondylolisthesis, I cannot see another team halting this southern juggernaut. They just have too much quality across the park.

    In fact, one to 17, this may well be the strongest roster the Storm have assembled during their decade of dominance. Craig Bellamy is famous for turning water into wine, but he hasn’t even had to get his hands dirty this season. When you start off with a bottle of Grange, all you need to do it pop the cork and pour.

    Sea Eagles soaring
    I’ll put my hand up as one of the many people who wrote off Manly prior to the season. I thought Akuila Uate was finished, that Daly Cherry-Evans was overrated, that Martin Taupau would spend the season at the judiciary, and that Trent Barrett was way out of his depth as a first-grade coach. And once again, I have proven myself to possess the prognostic prowess of a used handkerchief.

    The Sea Eagles have been sensational this season – they are the real surprise packets of the competition. Bob Fulton’s keen eye for talent has stocked the cupboards with quality footballers, and Barrett has moulded them into a very tight-knit and tenacious unit. But are they a legitimate premiership threat in 2017?

    I would say yes. Unlike the Panthers and Raiders, who run very hot and cold, Manly play a very sustainable brand of footy. They have a quality spine, an improving pack of forwards, and strike power along the backline.

    The only factor that may prevent them from going deep into the finals could be their lack of big game experience. Pencil them in as contenders in 2018.

    Jimmy in debt
    With Origin now out of the way, expect to hear a lot more from James Maloney regarding his contract. The Cronulla playmaker believes he’s underpaid, and it’s hard to argue with him.

    Maloney has played almost 200 first grade games and nine Origins for NSW and has two premierships to his name. He’s also set to be paid less than Luke Brooks.

    Unfortunately for Maloney, he’s only got himself to blame for his current contractual conundrum. He agreed to these terms with Cronulla, and the Sharks are not obliged to change them just because Maloney’s not happy with his end of the bargain. They don’t have to, but they will.

    Releasing Maloney from the final year of his contract would be a smart move by the Sharks. They would rid themselves of a defensive liability and potential distraction, while simultaneously opening the door for Cooper Cronk.

    The addition of Cronk to the already formidable core of Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis, Valentine Holmes, Wade Graham and Josh Dugan would make Cronulla early premiership favourites in 2018.

    James Maloney Cronulla Sharks NRL Finals 2016 Rugby League tall

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    Flat brims at ten paces
    I understand where the players are coming from. They see themselves as rugby league’s primary revenue stream, and as such, they want a bigger slice of the pie. They’re also looking for a seat at the grown-ups table when the game’s big issues are being discussed and important decisions are being made. I get all that.

    However the players need to tread carefully. As it stands, the general public are indifferent on this issue. With club footy serving as a convenient distraction, the ongoing pay dispute between the NRL and the RLPA is just an annoying sideshow that people hope will just go away by itself.

    But as the Aussie cricketers are discovering, public sympathy for highly paid athletes wanting more money quickly evaporates when the threat of a strike is on the table. The players dragged this private matter into the public domain by using their Origin soapbox to criticise the NRL, and it will be interesting to watch how they navigate the uncertainties that lie ahead.

    Monday Madness
    The Monday following the final game of the regular season is fast becoming one of my favourite days of the year. Despite stern warnings from club and NRL officials, someone, somewhere, will do something stupid and find himself on the back page of the Telegraph.

    It’s inevitable. When you’ve got eight groups of young blokes on the cans all day after nine months of arduous training, something’s gotta give. And it will. Sometimes it involves an animal, other times it’s women’s clothing and there might even be a fight or two. But one thing’s for sure, it’ll be entertaining.

    5th Tackle Option
    Here are five quick thoughts on the action from Round 19.

    1. Unbelievable conditions on the Gold Coast. I expected to see Kevin Costner sailing past in his post-apocalyptic catamaran. The water pooling on the field combined with the blinding glare reflecting off of it were like nothing I have ever witnessed. It was like watching ice hockey at times, with bodies flying in every direction and nobody quite sure where the ball was. Sensational stuff.

    2. That was a massive win by the Panthers. With their season well and truly in the balance and their skipper on the sidelines, Penrith made the tough road trip to Manu Vatuvei Stadium and came away with the two points. Even more encouraging for Penrith fans was the performance of Nathan Cleary. The young halfback has delivered a steady sophomore season so far, but this was by far his most dominant performance to date. Good signs of things to come.

    3. And while I’m on the subject, it would be remiss of me not to praise the Warriors for their fitting farewell to club legend Manu Vatuvei. The Beast has been an incredible contributor to the game for both the Warriors and the Kiwi side for over a decade. He leaves the game with 226 first grade appearances, 28 Tests for New Zealand, 152 NRL tries (18th all-time), a grand final appearance, and a whole lot of respect.

    4. A Dave Taylor sighting!

    5. I’m not sure how much cardio Anthony Milford did during his stint on the sidelines, but he was looking very heavy on Saturday night. You have to wonder if the extra weight he’s carrying is having any impact on his speed and acceleration.

    Tom Rock
    Tom Rock

    A fair-weather Newcastle Knights fan, Tom doesn’t leave anything on the field. He always gives 110% and never forgets to give full credit to the boys. But in a game of two halves, it’s important not to look too far ahead, so Tom’s just taking it one week at a time. Follow him on Twitter @_TomRock_.

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    The Crowd Says (56)

    • Roar Guru

      July 17th 2017 @ 8:56am
      Mr X said | July 17th 2017 @ 8:56am | ! Report

      Hey Tom, Gould is too stubborn to admit he was wrong and get rid of Griffin. Even if we don’t make the finals, reports are Griffin will get re-signed.

      • Columnist

        July 17th 2017 @ 9:20am
        Tom Rock said | July 17th 2017 @ 9:20am | ! Report

        Morning Mr X. I’m not sure I agree. Gould was the driving force behind the signing of Ivan Cleary, and he was happy enough to can him when he believed results weren’t up to scratch. But I think Gus would only fire Hook if he had another candidate lined up. And I’m not sure who he would replace him with?

        • July 17th 2017 @ 10:11am
          Matt said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:11am | ! Report

          There is more going on at the Panthers than is being made public. Off field issues have been a major disruption this year to the Panthers. As it stands the Panthers, Raiders and Dragons will be in a log jam for the final spot in the eight and may sneak into the finals. And a Panthers team riding on a high of confidence could play havoc.

          • Columnist

            July 17th 2017 @ 10:19am
            Tom Rock said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:19am | ! Report

            I think the team has been heavily impacted by the loss of Bryce Cartwright as well. Injuries and off-field distractions have completely derailed his season.

    • July 17th 2017 @ 8:58am
      Andrew said | July 17th 2017 @ 8:58am | ! Report

      RE Knights: For what it is worth, I believe SKD could be available for them this week..

      • Columnist

        July 17th 2017 @ 9:21am
        Tom Rock said | July 17th 2017 @ 9:21am | ! Report

        He’ll add something in attack. I don’t think he will necessarily help them win more games, but at least he brings a wealth of experience and is from a winning culture.

        • July 17th 2017 @ 9:48am
          Mike from tari said | July 17th 2017 @ 9:48am | ! Report

          As long as he holds onto the ball.

    • July 17th 2017 @ 9:23am
      bear54 said | July 17th 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

      1. Bellamy’s success as a coach comes down to one man: Cameron Smith. He’s been the common denominator in every thing that’s gone right for Craig and when it hasn’t (Origin failure and 40-0 GF flogging from Manly) Smith has either been on the other side or missing from the Storm. Once I see Craig Bellamy coach for a couple of years without his brilliant number 9 and achieve the same level of success I’ll agree he can have another go at NSW.

      2. Who replaces Griffin at Penrith if he get’s the punt? Just another article recommending a coach be sacked. These are a daily event on this website. It’s the easy part of the equation, the hard part is finding the coach who will improve the team in his place. No one ever offers a suitable replacement.

      • Columnist

        July 17th 2017 @ 9:37am
        Tom Rock said | July 17th 2017 @ 9:37am | ! Report

        Morning Bear
        1. I think you are being outrageously unfair to Craig Bellamy by stating that all of his success is based on the presence of a single player, and then using a single GF loss and Origin failure as proof to back it up. What about all of those players that have flamed out at other clubs, come to the Storm, and then flourished? What about the wrestling style (which I hate) that has made Melbourne, and Smith in particular, the most consistent defensive side over the past decade? What about the incredible training regimes that the Melbourne players endure every off-season, practicing under intense fatigue to sharpen their decision making under duress? All of these things come form Bellamy, not Cameron Smith. Bellamy has had success because he is a great coach, and that success has been mightily helped along by the presence of great players. But to discount Bellamy as a coach based on the presence of one player is not fair.

        • July 17th 2017 @ 10:02am
          bear54 said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:02am | ! Report

          You may not like it Tom but it’s undeniable. There is no evidence of Craig Bellamy achieving any success without Cameron Smiths involvement. Smith on the other hand has led a legendary Queensland team dominating for more than a decade and an Australian team with it’s fair share of victory laps as well. Bellamy’s only involvement was coaching NSW against Smith for three series losses racking up just 2 wins from 9 attempts.

          The Storm has had a lot of success over the last dozen years with a rotating cast including Matt Orford, Cooper Cronk, Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Gareth Widdop, Ryan Hoffman, to name a few, supporting Smith. The 2008 GF rates a mention because Smith was suspended and in his absence Bellamy and the rest sustained the biggest hiding on record for a premiership decider. The only conclusion is when you take Smith away from Bellamy he’s no better than Brad Arthur or Neil Henry.

          Should the Craig leave to coach Penrith, as an example, and match his win ratio with the Storm then I’ll give him due credit…… unless Cameron Smith goes with him.

          • July 17th 2017 @ 10:18am
            Duncan Smith said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report

            You’re dealing in hypotheticals. Most of Bellamy’s games (say 90%) he has Smith in the team. The other 10% has been when either a) origin players out as a group, leaving a weak club side, b) NSW up against greatest Qld team in history or c) against a red hot Manly in 08 grand final when the score blew out in the second half.

            While Cameron Smith is a big advantage, it’s a stretch to say Bellamy is nothing without him. The question is hypothetical anyway.

          • July 17th 2017 @ 11:30am
            Greg said | July 17th 2017 @ 11:30am | ! Report

            Bellamy also has a losing record in City Country fixtures as well……..It’s not that Bellamy lost Origin, it’s HOW he lost. The only coach to go down 3-0. Naming Anthony Quinn and Steve Turner as his wingers. Dumping Nathan Hindmarsh from the team. The only coach in history to name his captain (Gidley) as a bench player. And the worst one of all – handing 19 yr old Mitchell Pearce his Origin debut! Bellamy should be nowhere near any rep team ever again.

          • July 17th 2017 @ 12:30pm
            Albo said | July 17th 2017 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

            I tend to agree with you bear54 ! Whilst Bellamy might be a good coach he benefits greatly by having Smith in particular, along with Cronk & Slater as his deputies , ensuring all on-field instructions have been carried out leading to over a decade full of success. I am pretty sure, I could give the Storm coaching gig a fair shake if I had Smith , Cronk & Slater on the field executing my wily plans ! I mean what would I need to tell them ?

          • July 17th 2017 @ 1:52pm
            KenW said | July 17th 2017 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

            The sample of 1 Origin series and 1 GF is too small to be anything except anecdotal.

            But I otherwise agree with bear54, Bellamy’s career is completely tied up with Smith’s career. Where Smith fits on an all-time lists of greats is arguable but he is clearly the best player I’ve ever seen at making those around him better. It’s just the sheer amount of good decisions the man makes, when to run, when to pass, when to kick, who to get the ball to – everything actioned cleanly, smoothly and quickly. The players around him have more space and better opportunities than players in other teams.

            The Storm’s much hyped ability to discover talent in washed up players could be attributed as much to Smith as Bellamy then. However I think it’s actually mostly hot-air, they’ve had some success but their hit-rate doesn’t appear better than most other teams in the comp. If Uate, Vaughn or Jarrod Wallace were playing for the Storm we’d be hearing all about how their amazing systems are the cause of these players rise after switching to new teams this year but they’re not, so I guess they’re just doing it all on their own.

            • July 17th 2017 @ 5:29pm
              Greg said | July 17th 2017 @ 5:29pm | ! Report

              Bellamy had three Origin series and won only 2 games in three years – he has the worst record of any coach in the NRL era. To suggest he should be given another crack is just wrong.

        • July 17th 2017 @ 10:25am
          spruce moose said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

          “What about all of those players that have flamed out at other clubs, come to the Storm, and then flourished?”

          Yes Tom, but you can also make an argument saying they flourished because they got to play with utter legends of the game.

          If I was a player wanting to improve and flourish, then I’d much rather getting the ball from Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk than any other hooker and half.

          I think Bear54 is wrong to just point it all back to Smith. Smith, Cronk, and Slater being in the spine are the key reason.

          Bellamy once had Smith, Cronk, Slater, Inglis and Folau in the same team. NO team would lose when you have that as your backline.

          I truly believe Bellamy has to win a premiership with another club if he wants to be mentioned as a champion coach.

          • Columnist

            July 17th 2017 @ 10:39am
            Tom Rock said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:39am | ! Report

            SM, I get your point about other players flourishing through playing alongside legends, but would the Big 3 have become legends if they have played for and under different coaches? Perhaps Craig helped make them what they are today, and without his instruction, they would have been good but not great players?

            • July 17th 2017 @ 10:43am
              Duncan Smith said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:43am | ! Report

              Yes you’re right Tom. Who knows how good the ‘Big Three’ would have been playing for, say, Gold Coast? No doubt Bellamy had a bit to do with making them the players they are.

              Anyone who thinks Bellamy is a mug coach, read his book ‘Home Truths’ for an insight into what makes him good.

            • July 17th 2017 @ 10:46am
              spruce moose said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:46am | ! Report

              Yes, the big 3 would have become legends if they played for different coaches.

              They were/are superb players under the instruction of Mal Meninga and Kevvie Walters.

              Folau is superb in any rugby code he plays.

              Inglis has been par excellence for two clubs.

              Widdop has been excellent for the Dragons.

              I concede Bellamy has probably been influential in shaping these players as stars, but I also think it’s fair to say that if Smith, Slater and perhaps Cronk are immortals in waiting, then chances are they would be awesome irrespective of who coaches them. Is David Waite responsible for Andrew Johns being a superstar? From what I read, Johns dominated all before him long before he played first grade.

              Besides, a permanent asterisk hovers over Bellamy as a result of 2010. I refuse to believe he had absolutely no clue about the salary cap. He surely can do basic maths?

              • July 17th 2017 @ 1:35pm
                Craig said | July 17th 2017 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

                Have you watched the dragons this year and last? Widdop has been awful.

              • July 17th 2017 @ 1:59pm
                spruce moose said | July 17th 2017 @ 1:59pm | ! Report

                Two ways to answer that

                1. They were near the top before he got injured. They have looked lost since.
                2. Well, you wouldn’t play as well if you didn’t have Slater, Smith and Cronk in your spine.

        • July 17th 2017 @ 10:27am
          The Shafe said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:27am | ! Report

          Have to agree with the Bear (and a bit with you). Bellamy is great at the culture side with time to develop it and has high standards which all helps. But Cam Smith is behind the Storm and Qld success. He is the on field general and his presence does more for the outfit than Bellamy. The one shot at Origin Bellamy had was very substandard. Cam is a true Legend, Immortal and whatever you want to call him. He’s greater than we all realise.

          • July 17th 2017 @ 12:33pm
            Albo said | July 17th 2017 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

            100%

            • Columnist

              July 17th 2017 @ 12:52pm
              Tom Rock said | July 17th 2017 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

              You guys are a tough audience.

              So as I said in my article, taking cost, availability and state allegiances off the table, who would you install as NSW coach???

              • July 17th 2017 @ 1:21pm
                bear54 said | July 17th 2017 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

                It should be Phil Gould but……

                Brad Arthur has a solid history of improving teams everywhere he has coached, including as an assistant to Bellamy in Melbourne. Yes, the normal thing these days is not to appoint an NRL coach but desperate times require desperate measures.

                Arthur is a no nonsense type who tells his players what he wants and demands effort. He get’s his point across without the Bellamy or Maguire histrionics and has achieved some solid results at Parramatta with a collection of role players. In a single season at Manly he helped a team of very, very good players get to the GF as an assistant to Toovey.

                At the very least I would hope Arthur could be an assistant to Fittler who may be the logical option given Gould doesn’t want the gig. Fittler has coached at NRL level and knows Origin inside and out so has enough experience to warrant the opportunity.

                It’s a shame for Daley but 4 losses from 5 series is as unacceptable as losing this series given our position at half-time in game 2.

              • July 17th 2017 @ 1:22pm
                Greg said | July 17th 2017 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

                Sterlo, Fittler, Kimmorley, Greg Alexander, Dean Pay, Jim Dimmock, even Matt Elliot……someone who hasn’t tried and failed before.

              • Columnist

                July 17th 2017 @ 5:43pm
                Tom Rock said | July 17th 2017 @ 5:43pm | ! Report

                Matt Elliot, that will do me.

        • Roar Rookie

          July 17th 2017 @ 1:39pm
          Joe said | July 17th 2017 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

          Tom you are 100% correct. Add to that it was Bellamy who shaped these players. They’re all on record saying that they are the players and people they are today because of Bellamy. That included Inglis. Also to say that these players would have been superstars regardless of Bellamy is wishful thinking. These players couldn’t get into the Broncos so they obviously weren’t that good. When he first started I doubt any Qld kid would have chosen the Storm over the Broncos…and that goes for NSW and Kiwi sides too. First choice would have been a home team with Storm close to the end of their list due to having to move and not so warm weather. Cronk started as a utility playing hooker and centre. Everyone now knows Munster’s story…scouts said ‘too soft’. Slater couldn’t get a gig and was on last chance saloon when he made the desperate drive to Melbourne for trials. Its not only the big names but also the likes of Dallas Johnson, Ryan Hoffman, Adam Blair, Proctor, Widdop all debut at the Storm under Bellamy. For all his years I can’t remember Bellamy purchasing a big name player…now compare that to other clubs and other coaches. In fact next season looks like a buying spree due to Cronk leaving but so far the only ‘big’ name is Sam Kasiano who plays off the bench at Dogs similar to Finucane who was the other big buy in 2014. No doubt Bellamy is one of the greats when it comes to coaching. In fact according to Joey Johns he rates him the best coach he’s ever seen.

          • July 17th 2017 @ 2:53pm
            Greg said | July 17th 2017 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

            Weren’t that good? Cronk played in the Australian Schoolboys team…..Munster played Origin in the under 20’s, he’s always been a good player as well….Slater is from Innisfail – 1,600km’s from Brisbane, he grew up as a Cowboys fan and had no desire to play for the Broncos

            The Big 3 were winning games together long before Bellamy got hold of them

            https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/db/e8/26/dbe826c455fa94c952dc81e3c3108a5a.jpg

            • Roar Rookie

              July 17th 2017 @ 3:39pm
              Joe said | July 17th 2017 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

              Sure they were playing together doesn’t mean they were anywhere near the Big 3 that they became at the Storm. As I said Cronk didn’t even have a position, he was a utility player and was turned into a 7 by Bellamy (via M.Johns) at the Storm. Billy couldn’t get into an NRL team until he came to the Storm…if he was that good and they were such a winning combination why weren’t they grabbed by the Broncos or in Billy’s case the Cowboys. The fact that he couldn’t even get into the Cowboys proves my point that they were nothing special. Oddly enough Munster was also in the Cowboys development squad but they didn’t think he was good enough. Munster played QLD 20’s after he was contracted at the Storm. He played hooker as a kid and missed out of rep teams because he was too short. Maybe of the lot Cam Smith was already a very good player and would likely to have got into an NRL team but the others were far from sure things.

              • July 17th 2017 @ 5:37pm
                Gray-Hand said | July 17th 2017 @ 5:37pm | ! Report

                The Broncos passed on Cameron Smith in favour of Barry Berigan (brother of Sean).

                All of these future immortals were absolute nobodies before they met Bellamy. That’s not a coincidence.

                Pointing to the GF loss to Manly as evidence that Bellamy’s success is dependant in Smith is faulty logic. Smith is arguably the best player and captain of his generation. Obviously Bellamy can’t sub in a player of the same quality on a week’s notice.

                Having said that, Bellamy isn’t the answer for NSW. Bellamy is the type of coach that builds a team to play to some pretty rigid structures. That simply takes more time than an origin coach has to work with.

              • July 17th 2017 @ 5:37pm
                Greg said | July 17th 2017 @ 5:37pm | ! Report

                Yes but Bellamy has no influence on the U20’s team. Bellamy made his coaching debut the same game as Slater made his first grade debut which means Slater already had the blinding speed he has built his career on. In his book ‘Home Truths’ Bellamy makes it crystal clear that he has no involvement at all in the retention and recruitment of players, he just coaches the team he is given. He may have written that to save his skin, or he may be the luckiest coach in history by having a superstar team built for him, either way we’ll never know.

    • July 17th 2017 @ 10:10am
      Bert said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:10am | ! Report

      The Melbourne Storm and a few ring-ins just beat New South Wales.

      Good luck to all the other teams.

    • July 17th 2017 @ 10:13am
      MAX said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:13am | ! Report

      The future Mrs Cronk wants to live on the northern beaches.

      It is a nightmare round trip from Collaroy to Cronulla several times each week.

      Coop has already agreed to coach the Storm halves.

      I doubt if Coop will be going to Cronulla , even with a helicopter clause.

      • Columnist

        July 17th 2017 @ 10:21am
        Tom Rock said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:21am | ! Report

        Morning Max. Cronk has agreed to coach the Storm halves ‘in the future’, but not necessarily next year. I reckon he’ll be back.

        Any why not get a boat? With decent breeze, Cooper could make it from Collaroy to Shark Park in about half the time it takes to drive there, and he could work in his tan at the same time. Win win.

      • July 17th 2017 @ 10:53am
        spruce moose said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:53am | ! Report

        I think the future Mrs Cronk needs to learn the art of compromise.

        He’s given up his career at Melbourne for her. She surely can give up living in the Northern Beaches for a year.

        It’s not like they will be priced out of the market later on.

        • Columnist

          July 17th 2017 @ 12:54pm
          Tom Rock said | July 17th 2017 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

          Having listened to Cronk and some of the weird stuff he comes out with in interviews, not to mention a visit to his website (kinda creepy), I think the future Mrs Cronk has already done a decent amount of compromising. Plus, he’s a Queenslander…

    • Roar Guru

      July 17th 2017 @ 10:22am
      Michael Keeffe said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:22am | ! Report

      “The Penrith Panthers were deserved pre-season favourites….and a breathtaking brand of ad-lib footy had just carried the Panthers deep into the 2016 finals.” I actually think this is way off the mark. Everyone bought into entertaining footy rather than actual performances when talking up the Panthers as pre-season favourites.

      At the same stage last year the Panthers had been highly inconsistent and were sitting in 9th place on 20 points (sound familiar?). They then won 6 of their last 7 mainly against weaker opposition. Other than beating the 5th placed Broncos they beat teams who finished 16th, 15th, 13th, 9th & 8th. Then they beat the woefully out of form Bulldogs in week 1 of the finals before bowing out to Canberra in week 2. Against top 8 sides last year they were 4 wins 7 losses. (this year they are 1 win 7 losses against top 8 sides).

      I hardly think that week 2 of the finals is going deep into the finals and their actual form (as opposed to entertaining style) hardly warranted them being premiership favourites. There is no doubt they should have built on last season and been better this year, but I think a bottom half top 8 finish or maybe on the fringe of top 4 would be a more realistic expectation than premiership favourites. I see only hype and not form being behind their pre-season favouritism.

      • Columnist

        July 17th 2017 @ 10:42am
        Tom Rock said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:42am | ! Report

        Michael, I never look forward to you commenting on my articles. You make way too much sense, and poke too many holes in my weakly constructed arguments.

        • Roar Guru

          July 17th 2017 @ 2:01pm
          Michael Keeffe said | July 17th 2017 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

          Just keeping you on your toes Tom.

          • Columnist

            July 17th 2017 @ 2:10pm
            Tom Rock said | July 17th 2017 @ 2:10pm | ! Report

            I can always count on you to keep me en-pointe

      • July 17th 2017 @ 10:48am
        Pomoz said | July 17th 2017 @ 10:48am | ! Report

        As a Panther’s fan I can’t really argue with this. The fact is the spine is very young. Cleary is 19, Edwards is 21 with 6 first grade games under his belt at fullback. Moylan has only just moved to 5/8th and is finding his feet. This is a young team and will be inconsistent.

        Losing Cartwright has also been a big loss because in spite of his mistakes he provides a lot of creativity and the Panther’s haven’t been able to buy a try against good defences this season.

        On the plus side, the team is becoming made up of more and more local juniors with the juniors starting to consistently provide first graders. Gus hasn’t got it all right, but the foundations are good and the Panther’s don’t have the cheque book to just go and buy more players like Manly and the Roosters do. I am quietly optimistic for next year.

      • Roar Rookie

        July 17th 2017 @ 11:26am
        Bunney said | July 17th 2017 @ 11:26am | ! Report

        Nailed it Keefe.

        Panthers have a light run home again, and again should sneak in. Hopefully the Titans pip them though, because they’ve at least proven they can beat the big boys occasionally.

      • Roar Rookie

        July 17th 2017 @ 1:49pm
        Joe said | July 17th 2017 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

        Yes, totally agree on the Panthers. I definitely think there was more hype than actual analysis when rating them as a top and premiership favourite before the season started. This weekends game against the Titans is going to be very interesting as both their season will hinge on the result.

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