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David White’s Blog

Plenty of Paine for Tim

He suffered a shocking thumb injury, and unfortunately for Tasmanian wicketkeeper Tim Paine it came at the wrong time in his career as his star was certainly on the rise.

A fantastic batsman – as he has proven over the years in domestic one-day and four-day competitions – Paine has also made a name for himself in the Big Bash League.

Peter Nevill and Matthew Wade have had their moments in the sun representing Australian in various forms of cricket.

Nevill has been praised for his efforts behind the stumps, but a lack of runs saw him dumped by Australian selectors.

In contrast, it’s the opposite for Wade – regarded as a better batsman than he is a wicketkeeper.

It’s a travesty that Paine did not succeed Brad Haddin as Australian wicketkeeper because at his best he is the complete package.

Paine should have played 50 Test matches by now, as well as a host of ODIs and T20s for Australia, and hopefully he will get his chance.

Sadly, though, Paine, aged 32, may have missed the boat, but he certainly would give Australia a much stronger look if he was to be selected in all three forms of cricket at an international level.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

State of Origin III preview

1. The return of Cronk is a massive boost for Queensaland as they clearly have the better halves pairing.
2. NSW definitely has the better bench and you get the feeling the Maroons may regret selecting Papalii ahead of Napa. Perhaps Napa would have been a better option than Lillyman.
3. The Blues don’t exactly have the best record at Suncorp Stadium in Origin deciders.
4. The Maroons will no doubt lift in front of their home crowd and will do everything to send Hodges off on a winning note, but there were worrying signs in Origin II and there’s no Slater.
5. Ennis has been in fantatsic form for the Sharks of late, so his inclusion ahead of Farah may be a shot in the arm for NSW.
6. There isn’t much between the rival packs, but Scott and Thaiday have got to lift for the Maroons.
7. The Blues have got an edge out in the backs, so Chambers and Gagai will certainly come under the spotlight.
8. After his shocker at fullback for Australia against New Zealand at Suncorp Stadium, Inglis will no doubt be primed for a big game.
9. A few players in the Queensland team are playing for their Origin careers and NSW could implode if Klemmer doesn’t keep his cool.
10. The loss of Slater is massive for Queensland and how fit is Gallen.
NSW by 6

Can the Blues save the Origin series or will it be sweet revenge for the Maroons?

1. Has to be a question mark in regards to the fitness and condition of NSW trio Paul Gallen, Brett Morris amd Robbie Farah

 

2. NSW won State of Origin last year when Cooper Croonk succumbed to injury – he is missing for Origin II

 

3. Mitchell Pearce just cannot produce the big play when required. Instead of preparing for a field goal in Origin I he went looking for a try. Trent Hodkinson is at fault as well. They also battled to gell in Origin I

 

4. The MCG crowd is bound to be in Queensland’s corner due to the influence of Melbourne Storm players Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Will Chambers

 

5. How fit is Billy Slater?

 

6. NSW has once again stuck with a bench that lacks speed. It’s good to have size, but the speedy blokes are hard to stop when players tire

 

7. The Maroons stuck at it for 80 minutes in Origin I. The Blues switched off after 40 minutes

 

8. NSW are no chance if they go looking for retribution following Origin I instead of playing football

 

9. How will Daly Cherry-Evans perform? If he has a decent game the Maroons will take some stopping

 

10. NSW must play as one unit and show more enterprise in attack. Someone from the Blues has to stand up. Josh Dugan had a tremendous game in Origin I, but clearly lacked support. Will Paul Gallen lead the charge? It may have been 11-10 in Origin I, but Queensland never looked like losing after hitting the front.

 

Tip – Queensland by 1-12 points

Let’s take a look how Origin I may pan out

1. Queensland at full strength. Michael Morgan a handy replacement for Daly Cherry-Evans. The only reason NSW won last year is because Queensland had injuries. Cooper Cronk was a massive loss as it was DCE who missed the tackle on Trent Hodkinson in Game 2 last year. Look what Queensland did to NSW in Game 3 in 2014.

2. NSW may rue not having a utility back on the bench. What’s Plan B if Mitchell Pearce or Hodkinson get injured? And who goes to dummy half if Robbie Farah ends up in the halves?

3. Pearce at five-eighth is a huge risk and did anyone see Hodkinson’s shocking attempt to tackle Roger Tuivasa-Scheck two Friday nights ago. Switching Johnathan Thurston to No 6 for Origin has worked for Queensland, but Pearce is no JT.

4. Darius Boyd might be in for a rough night. Has only just returned from exile and despite his experience there might be a lot of traffic heading his way. And how fit are Billy Slater and Justin Hodges?

5. Queensland has boasted a poor record in Sydney in recent years, but history suggests they have a habit of winning games that really matter. Josh Dugan is playing well, but can he make a fist of it at fullback in the absence of Jarryd Hayne?

Verdict: A few question marks surround NSW and there’s also no Paul Gallen. Queensland by 1-12 points.

Enjoy the game people.

 

 

 

 

 

Bottom line, wet weather cost South Africa a World Cup final spot

Poor old South Africa can’t take a trick can they?

Dudded by the rain back in 1992 in a semi-final against England, the Proteas were victims of the rain once again against New Zealand on Tuesday.

The Black Caps having to chase an extra 18 runs because of the Duckworth/Lewis system can be deemed to be unfair.

However, if it doesn’t rain South Africa would have easily posted more 350 runs.

Perhaps a bridge too far for New Zealand.

The fact that New Zealand also lost bowler Adam Milne to injury didn’t help.

We’ll never know what South Africa would have ended up with, but AB de Villiers and David Miller were flying.

Why is it that rain has a habit of intervening in a World Cup during the big games?

From memory, it hardly rained a drop in Australia in January.

That’s right, you couldn’t play a World Cup then because of the Big Bash League.

Please.

Brendon McCullum yet again produces a sensational cameo on Tuesday to at least give New Zealand a chance.

Corey Anderson then takes over, but he certainly had an element of luck on his side as it was hard to believe he didn’t have his castle knocked over at least three times.

South Africa didn’t help their cause either with two botched run outs and an important dropped catch (what was JP Duminy thinking!!!!!!!)

And the amount of boundaries the South African bowlers conceded off the last ball bordered on the staggering.

Dale Steyn was far from his best, but it’s hard to believe that Imran Tahir and Vernon Philander didn’t grab a wicket.

The fact that Philander played instead of Kyle Abbott, who bowled well against Sri Lanka, is something else that will haunt South Africa for years.

Looking ahead, the fact that New Zealand hasn’t played a game in Australia suggests that it could be a one-sided final come Sunday.

The Black Caps have more than an adequate batting line up, but how do you compare placid New Zealand wickets with a bouncy MCG pitch.

Australia and India would have been licking their lips when South Africa were eliminated on Tuesday.

Could be wrong as far as writing off the Black Caps, but the final does mirror last year’s NRL grand final.

Whoever won the Rabbitohs-Roosters preliminary final were always going to beat the Bulldogs by plenty.

Finally, in light of the famous under arm delivery, how symbolic would it be if Australia and New Zealand squared off in a World Cup final back at the MCG.

No denying the fact that English soccer is fair dinkum

Why is English soccer admired so much around the world?

When teams go into battle they have a crack.

There’s hardly any rubbish and the game generally flows.

Sure, there is an element of gamesmanship – but nothing like you would see in Spain, Italy or Portugal for example.

You can add certain South American teams to that list as well, especially at an international level.

Remember Brazilian star Rivaldo at the 2002 World Cup?

The English, as well as soccer lovers from throughout the world, just can’t cop it.

A lesson that Manchester United’s Angel Di Maria learned in a big way during the FA Cup quarter final loss to Arsenal.

He deserved to be booked for simulation in a pathetic attempt to win a free kick.

And he only compounded the situation when he made contact with referee Michael Oliver before receiving a second yellow card.

United teammate Adnan Januzaj deserved his yellow card as well for his dive in a desperate attempt to win a penalty.

There are good players in the top club competitions in Europe, no doubt, but the constant flagrant diving does leave a sour tatste in the mouth.

Say what you will about English soccer, but at least a majority of the players address the game in the right spirit.

And rarely is there a deliberate attempt by a player to get an opponent sent off in their quest to help get their team over the line.

 

It’s the start of a new season in the NFL

A preview of the 2015 NFL season will be posted on the www.sportsword.com.au website by Sunday, September 7.

We’ll nominate the teams that will most likely win their respective division in the NFC and AFC.

Then settle on the two teams who will advance to the Super Bowl.

And of course weekly tips will be supplied for the duration of the season.

The NFL is so even these days that picking the eight division winners will be no easy task, but last season we successfully predicted the two teams that would end up meeting in the Super Bowl.

Those teams were the Seattle Seahawks (NFC) and Denver Broncos (AFC).

 

 

 

Plenty of pressure on Maroons to perform in Origin III

There are a number of reasons why you can expect Queensland to lift for Origin III.

They will be joined by NSW at four-a-piece as far as sweeping the series is concerned.

Being swept 3-0 in Brisbane, especially after honouring Arthur Beetson at the start of this year’s campaign, will leave a sour taste in the mouths of every Queenslander.

And more importantly, Queensland players might well relinquish their spot in the Australian team to NSW players at the end of the year.

Subsequently there’s plenty at stake for the Maroons.

It’s amazing to think that the Blues have ended Queensland’s eight year reign by scoring just 18 points in two games.

Defence has played an important factor in their success, but down the track we’ll look back at the 2014 series and come to the conclusion that injuries cruelled the Maroons.

That might be a bit harsh on NSW, however not having to face the likes of Cooper Cronk, Corey Parker and Sam Thaiday was a bonus.

Unfortunately for the Blues that impressive trio takes the field for Game 3.

And on this occasion it’s NSW who have injury worries with Michael Jennings, Will Hopoate, Brett Morris and Anthony Watmough sidelined.

Had no hesitation tipping Queensland in the Games 1 and 2 as the head always rules the heart when it comes to tipping, but it was pleasing to see the Blues win both games.

As well as NSW defended in Game 1, the loss of Cooper Cronk would have freshened the wind in their sails.

Queensland’s preparations for Game 2 were severely disrupted, but they only have themselves to blame because come game time they butchered chances after seemingly having control of the match.

Forget that rubbish that the Maroons had to wait until the last minute before naming their side for Game 2.

Do you think that it would have taken five minutes to put the names and the numbers on the back of the jumpers?

No chance.

They knew days in advance what their side was.

And the way Daly Cherry-Evans snarled at the media when questioned if he would be named in the side for Game 2 was an indication that the Maroons were on edge.

On paper, it’s hard to believe that NSW has won the series as Queensland clearly have the better players.

What’s that saying.

A champion team will beat a team of champions.

How prophetic when assessing 2014.

Both teams will be desperate for victory tonight at a frenzied Suncorp Stadium.

Should the Maroons win they will boast that injuries cost them in Games 1 and 2, and it’s hard to argue that point.

With the players and depth at their disposal Queensland is capable of winning the series in 2015.

In contrast, should NSW win it will prove once and for all that they’ve finally got Queensland’s measure and that father time might be catching up with a few players.

The return of Cronk is huge and he only has to perform at 80 per cent to cause the Blues problems.

Apart from Jarryd Hayne, Josh Dugan, Josh Morris, Daniel Tupou, Greg Bird, Paul Gallen and Robbie Farah, it’s hard to settle on any other NSW player with the attacking class to trouble Queensland.

Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson have been solid without setting the world on fire.

James McManus could be in for a long night as he hasn’t exactly had a stellar season, while the likes of Trent Merrin, Aaron Woods and James Tamou need to justify their selection.

Look at the Queensland side and you’ve got the likes of Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Daly Cherry-Evans, Sam Thaiday, Cameron Smith, David Taylor and Matt Gillett who can wreak havoc with the football in their hands.

Will Chambers is on debut and after appearing in the headlines for the wrong reason leading up to the match he might see a lot of traffic come his way – both on the ground and in the air.

May not have picked the winner for Games 1 and 2, but it would be stunning if the Maroons didn’t get the cash on this occasion.

Will Blues capitalise on Maroons’ disruptive Origin II preparation?

Bottom line.
Daly Cherry-Evans plays for Queensland then the Maroons are a chance of saving the State of Origin series.
If he doesn’t – despite the fact that Ben Hunt is clearly on the rise – then NSW will more than likely seal their first series win since 2005.
DCE proved that on one leg he has the capacity to weave his magic following Manly’s recent hammering of Canterbury.
The fact that Queensland have delayed naming their final 17 proves that they’re giving their key players every chance to take the field.
Billy Slater has been given the green light, but how fit will DCE and Greg Inglis be come kick off?
Manly proved in last year’s grand final – when they clearly took a number of busted players into the game – that when it comes to the crunch they just didn’t have anything left in the tank as the Roosters cut loose in the final 20 minutes.
And the Maroons want to take injured players into a crucial Origin match!!!!!
The return of Sam Thaiday is a shot in the arm for Queensland, but the Blues have every reason to feel buoyant with Greg Bird returning to the side.
Although NSW has suffered these past eight years, Josh Dugan has made an impact at fullback and coach Laurie Daley had no hesitation naming him in the centres.
Will it work or will it backfire?
Considering that Dugan has made an impression as a fullback in the NRL for the Raiders and Dragons, and not as a centre, then NSW fans have every right to feel nervous.
Dugan has one good game in the centres for the Dragons against the hapless Sharks and that’s enough to convince Daley that he’s the right fit for Origin in the absence of Josh Morris.
It’s a huge risk, but Daley was keen to go into the match with players who had Origin experience.
Aidan Guerra proved that debutants – if they’re playing good football in the NRL – can stand tall in the Origin arena following his impressive display in Origin I.
And what’s wrong with Tigers centre Chris Lawrence, who is extremely under-rated.
Will Hopate was always going to play for NSW when Brett Morris succumbed to injury.
Despite a clearly disruptive preparation for Game 2, Queensland still boast better players and it would be ridiculous to write them off because in Origin I they were the only team who looked like scoring in the second half.
NSW defended admirably in Game 1, but to have any chance in Sydney they desperately need to find variety in attack.
Paul Gallen, Robbie Farah and Bird, as well as Trent Hodkinson, Michael Jennings and Dugan have to find that spark and not leave it up to Jarryd Hayne.
Losing Cooper Cronk to injury rocked the Maroons to the core in Brisbane, which perhaps confirmed to a lot of people that it’s not Johnathan Thurston or Cameron Smith who guides the Queensland ship after all.
And critics argue that Cronk should be punted for Cherry-Evans.
Go figure.
The loss of the Morris twins is massive for NSW because it was they who nullfied that lethal Greg Inglis-Darius Boyd combination down the left flank three weeks ago when Queensland were in the midst of their traditional late second half surge.
NSW supporters have every reason to feel optimistic when it comes to Origin II, but the simple facts are that Queensland have more weapons in attack.
A loss for the Blues in Sydney will see the Maroons grow another leg for Game 3 back in Brisbane.
Victory for the Blues would end eight years of torment for NSW supporters, but Queensland supporters will be quick to point out that injuries denied their team of making it nine series wins in a row.
Supporters of the Maroons have spruiked the success of their side for the past 30 years when they have fought back from adversity, but just imagine how they will celebrate if they end up winning Games 2 and 3 in 2014.
For NSW supporters, it would be unbearable and rest assured Queensland fans will rub it in with glee and delight.
Make no mistake, the Maroons can win Origin II, but if they don’t let’s hope that they accept the end to their incredible eight year domination with dignity.
Having watched every Origin game since it’s exception in 1980 and having lived in NSW and Queensland, it’s clear that supporters of the Maroons take defeat a lot harder than fans of the Blues.
For goodness sake, Queenslanders don’t even acknowledge the win by the Blues over the Maroons in California back in 1987.
Had the shoe been on the other foot those who bleed Maroon would continue to remind those who bleed Blue.
Heart says that NSW can win if they stick together as one unit, but the head says that Queensland will get the cash as they have too many players who can pull a rabbit out of the hat.
The fact that the Maroons have injury concerns leaves the door wide open for the Blues.
Finally, not knowing the Queensland line up compares to splitting teams in the NRL when it comes to making tips.
How can you settle on a side when you don’t know who is playing?
Good luck picking a winner, but, most of all, enjoy the game.

 

 

 

Maroons to dominate again as Origin celebrates 100 games

Hard to believe that today marks the 100th State of Origin match.
Unfortunately, those of us living in Muswellbrook in 1980 and 1981 at the time didn’t get to watch the game as Newcastle’s NBN television did not provide a broadcast.
Had to rely on the radio for coverage of the game.
Incredibly, if you were able to get reception from the Tamworth television station you were able to watch the one-off game in 1980 and 1981.
NBN got their act together in 1982 when the inaugural best-of-three series was created.
Happened to be on a flight from Cairns to Darwin in 2010 and missed the live broadcast of a game.
That means in 34 years, your author has only missed the coverage of three games on TV.
Apart from the 100th Origin, Game 1 of the 2014 series also marks 20 years since Queensland pulled off that remarkable last minute win over NSW at the Sydney Football Stadium – as it was known as back then.
Mark Coyne dives over for a try after the Maroons string pass after pass together before Ray Warren comes up with that famous line: “That’s not a try, that’s a miracle”.
Of the endless moments in Origin, you wouldn’t endure too much criticism if you were to nominate Coyne’s try as your No 1 highlight.
Sadly for us NSW fans, it looks like Queensland will make it nine straight series wins in a row.
The Maroons have incredible depth and unlike the Blues they boast far too many match-winners.
How tough will it be for the Blues to win the series?
This current Queensland outfit is arguably the best state team of any code in Australian sporting history.
How would they compare against the best provincial football teams in the world in the history of sport?
Even without the injured Sam Thaiday, Queensland still looks formidable, but NSW might be able to capitalise on three weak links.
The Maroons are a pretty loyal bunch, but there is no way Darius Boyd, Chris McQueen and James Papalii should have been chosen for Game 1 ahead of Will Chambers, David Taylor and Jacob Lillyman.
Taylor is stiff to miss selection.
Boyd can expect plenty of high kicks heading his way on Wednesday night as his form with Newcastle has bordered on the diabolical.
The fact that he played for Australia this year is a disgrace.
Once again, the Blues produce a juggling act in their quest to win a series for the first time since 2005.
Brett Hodgson was a terrific servant for the Blues, but his untimely pass in the closing minutes of Game 3 in Melbourne in 2006 continues to haunt NSW fans.
Thankfully, Mitchell Pearce has been punted from the Blues line up.
It’s horrifying to think that Pearce would have retained his spot as halfback had he not ventured to King’s Cross.
That means Roosters teammate James Maloney – who didn’t set Origin alight last year – would have been retained as well
The Blues were happy to select Bulldogs halves Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds, but one can only imagine what NSW selectors would have done had Maloney been in red-hot form.
Picking combinations for Origin has merit, but it also has its drawbacks.
Don’t think they pick combinations when it comes to the Australian side.
Selectors usually settle on the best players.
The loss of Andrew Fifita, Boyd Cordner and Greg Bird is a blow for the Blues, but even if they were available NSW still would have had to have produced a magic act to win Game 1.
The fact that Paul Gallen, Robbie Farah and Luke Lewis have only just returned from injury – regardless of their Origin experience – has got to enahnce Queensland’s prospects as well.
Depth is a major issue for the Blues if they had to re-cycle Beau Scott and Ryan Hoffman, and stick with Trent Merrin.
Would love to see Tariq Sims in a Blues jumper.
Like Reynolds, Gallen, Tamou and Scott, Sims would have brought a bit of mongrel to the NSW line up.
Daniel Tupou won a premiership with the Roosters, but Will Hopoate may have been a wiser option on the wing.
Hopoate has won a premiership with Manly and boasts Origin experience, and he has already established a healthy combination with Jarryd Hayne at Parramatta.
Tony Williams can make an impact from off the bench for NSW, but Queensland has got Daly Cherry-Evans up its sleeve.
Queensland just has far too much class and as they will also honour Arthur Beetson in Game 1 it could be an ugly night for the Blues unless they find the spirit that saw them grab an upset victory in Game 3 in Brisbane in 2009.
That’s the only Origin match your author has attended.
NSW won’t lie down, but Queensland will win.
Maroons by 10.

It wasn’t that hard last year, but AFL tipping will test you in 2014

It’s the start of the 2014 AFL season and picking winners might be a little tougher than what it was last year.

The Dockers, Swans and Hawks will take some stopping in the premiership race, but nominating the other five teams to fill the Top 8 is no easy task.

Little seems to separate the Cats, Tigers, Blues, Kangaroos and Magpies, and you’ve got to think that the Eagles, Bombers, Crows and Power will also be in the mix.

The Bulldogs finished with a wet sail in 2013 and could be the “dark horse” this year.

The Suns are expected to improve and will the Demons respond under the guidance of Paul Roos?

It could be a long year for the Saints and Lions, though surely the Giants will make an impression with the talent at their disposal.

That means at least 10 teams in line for the five remaining spots in the Top 8, which means that there will be a plethora of 50/50 games in 2014 – now there’s something tipsters can look forward to.

Winning on the road is essential when it comes to making the finals, but that could prove pretty tricky for a number of teams and subsequently they’ll no doubt be giving it everything when they’re at home.

It was no easy task picking winners in Round 1 of the NRL premiership and it could be a similar story in the AFL.

Perhaps this might help you out in your quest to work out who will make the finals and who will miss out.

The Tigers, Kangaroos, Power, Bulldogs and Eagles are expected to find another gear.

The Cats, Blues, Magpies, Bombers and Crows are handy outfits, but may struggle to find another gear.

We’ll just have to wait and see what transpires, which is an exciting prospect.

If the Hawks don’t go back to back in the race for this year’s premiership, then take it as a given that the Dockers or Swans will win the grand final.

That means that one of the preliminary finals will be an epic.

Super Rugby tipping is tough, but good luck picking NRL winners

The Super Rugby competition is in full swing, and tonight marks the start of the NRL premiership.

It is hoped that Super Rugby won’t be as predictable as it has been in recent years.

There are early signs that teams who have a habit of finding themselves at the bottom of the ladder are finally making a statement.

The Rebels and Lions fall into that category.

In contrast, teams who have dominated Super Rugby are showing signs of vulnerability.

Just look at the Crusaders, Bulls, Brumbies and Reds.

The Waratahs have made an impressive start, so will the Blues and Hurricanes – who have also been a big tease in recent times – finally reach their potential.

The Chiefs appear certain to feature prominantly once again come the finals, but will the Force and Highlanders be able to stamp their authority by stringing a number of wins together.

There have been a few upset results in the opening weeks of the Super Rugby and long may it continue.

There’s no denying the fact that the NRL is the most unpredictable competition when it comes to comparing the footy codes.

Picking winners last year was an extremely difficult assignment and come 2014 it’s no easy task nominating the likely premiers, the Top 8 or the wooden spooners.

Tipped the Cowboys to win the premiership last year and the Roosters, who ended up winning the grand final, were not even included in the Top 8 – although it must be said that 12 months ago the Broncos got the nod ahead of the Roosters when it came to completing the Top 8.

Got it right though when it came to picking the Eels to finish last.

The Roosters, who didn’t have too many injury concerns in 2013, are probably the team to beat this season, but let’s look at the teams who will more than likely miss the Top 8.

The Eels, Dragons, Raiders, Tigers and Broncos are no chance of playing finals.

That means 11 teams are capable of making the Top 8.

Was asked to settle on a Top 8 for the NT News recently and settled on the Cowboys, Roosters, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles, Storm, Warriors, Sharks and Titans.

That means the Knights, Panthers and Bulldogs miss out.

It was a toss up between the Titans, Knights and Panthers as far as filling the last spot in the Top 8.

It was probbaly foolish to leave the Bulldogs out, but look how they performed when Barba failed to take the field. Barba is no longer at the Bulldogs and it’s hard to see him duplicating his unbelievable form of 2012 now that he is at the Broncos.

If you won your respective NRL tipping competition then by all means stick to your routine, but you might find it hard to go back to back in 2014.

Your author has gone back to the drawing board after a pretty ordinary tipping performance last year, but is confident of striking back in style come 2014 so long as he knows who is playing before the teams take the field.

Forget the odds, history, injuries, form and home ground advantage, you’re virtually no chance in a NRL tipping competition if clubs change their team line up after you make your selection.

The Eels, Dragons or Tigers will finish last in 2014 and having to make the big call there’s every chance it will be the Eels for a third straight year.

Seattle winning Super Bowl by 35 points was certainly unexpected

The NFL has come to an end, and the result of Super Bowl XLVIII typifies the season in a nutshell.
The Seattle Seahawks were a genuine chance, but rolling the Denver Broncos by 35 points certainly came from left field.
It was totally unexpected, which just goes to prove how hard it was to get a gauge on the form book for the duration of the 2013-14 schedule.
Perhaps the San Francisco 49ers, whom the Seahawks toppled in the NFC Championship, were in fact the second best team instead of the Broncos.
Having the NFC and AFC champions meeting in the Super Bowl doesn’t necessarily pit the best two teams together in the biggest game of the year.
Seattle annihilating Denver 43-8 was nothing short of extraordinary, especially as both teams were the No 1 seeds in the NFC and AFC respectively.
Had every right to feel a litle chuffed after successfully tipping the two teams who would appear in Super Bowl XLVIII before the opening game of the 2013 season, but last Monday morning’s result bordered on the unbelievable.
Didn’t see it coming – then again not too many would have.
However, the Seahawks were red hot.
In contrast, the Broncos were diabolical – clearly their worst performance of the season.
And it has to be said that that analysis on Super Bowl XLVIII was based on the weather forecast.
It was mooted that it could have been the coldest Super Bowl ever played, but in the end the conditions were quite mild considering it was the middle of winter in the notoriously frigid north-east of the United States.
Probably would have stuck with the Broncos, but the “Bet of the Week” and “Happy Bet” may have been different.
Anyway, that’s hindsight.
Having followed the NFL for many years, punters can be assured that picking winners these days is hard.
Not once did  your’s truly pick the card, and to lose a host games in the final minute or in overtime became a monotonous event.
In a way, it’s good that the NFL is not as predictable as it was in the past.
It makes it more exciting, but for tipsters it can drive you around the twist.
Finally, the relentless antics of Seattle’s Richard Sherman kind of made you wish that Denver had won the game as Broncos star Peyton Manning personifies class.
Enjoy the off-season.

T20 might be on the rise, but give me a ODI any day

DID someone say that 50-over one-day cricket is losing its spark?
 
If last Friday night’s sensational finish at the Gabba didn’t get your juices flowing, then you’re definitely an individual who is hard to please.
 
And, yes, it did evoke memories of Michael Bevan’s masterful performance when he guided the Aussies home against the West Indies at the SCG on New Year’s Day in 1996.
 
They say that Twenty20 cricket is the new rage and that it won’t be long before ODIs become extinct.
 
Piffle.
 
As entertaining as T20 can be, it defeats one principle of cricket – an even contest between bat and ball.
 
It also prolongs the careers of former stars who should have been put out to pasture long ago.
 
And it has always been said that T20 was deemed a marketing ploy to attract the female supporter.
 
In other words, more people through the gate.
 
The ladies aren’t going to complain if there are plenty of sixes in a game that lasts just under three hours are they?
 
You won’t get too many of them to a 50-over game and good luck getting them to a Test match.
 
There have been many classic ODI games and innings over the years, but not too many T20 highlights come to mind.
 
Chris Gayle blasting a ton and Mike Hussey producing a match-winning innings in the Caribbean during various T20 World Cups do come to mind.
 
South Africa chasing down Australia’s 434 in Johnannesburg in 2006 and Ricky Ponting’s unbelievable innings in the 2003 World Cup final are two good reasons why ODIs should continue.
 
Earlier this month, New Zealand’s Corey Anderson scored the fastest ODI century when he hit triple figures off just 36 balls – albeit the game against the West Indies in Queenstown was cut to a 21-over contest because of rain.
 
Finally, England’s inability to post a win over Australia reminds you of the late 1980s and early ’90s, when no matter how well the Australians played in a Test or ODI they just couldn’t get the cash against the Windies.

Hard to fault A-League that’s going from strength to strength

Just love it when it comes to tipping on sport.
Always like to throw my hat into the ring or have my 20 cents worth – so to speak.
Hence, it didn’t take too much convincing when asked to provide my opinion for the Sportsword website.
Like to think that one experiences better days than bad days.
Last week was a disaster in the A-League.
Failed to pick a winner in the five games that were scheduled, although there were two draws.
However, not to pick at least one winner is by no means a highlight.
Let’s just say that to see the Phoenix, Glory and Roar topple respective opponents the Wanderers, Jets and Victory on the road came as a major surprise.
Full credit to the Phoenix, and Glory and Roar though – they were terrific.
It’s also a big tick for the A-League because it is starting to rival the NRL as a highly unpredictable competition.
The jury is still out when it comes to the Heart – despite sharing the spoils with the Mariners before their heavy defeat in Perth, but there are clear signs that little separates the other teams.
Yes, the Roar are in great shape at the top of the ladder, but anything can happen between now and the finals, and would you be willing to back the Brisbane outfit to win the 2013/14 title at this stage?
It’s great that most A-League games are toss of the coin affairs these days and it’s certainly a shot in the arm for a competition that continues to grow in strength.
To watch a game without feeling confident as to who will win can only be a positive sign.
Now if only A-League clubs could recruit stars from overseas who are not only under 30, but who can take the field and last 90 minutes on a continuing basis.

NFL playoffs are certain to make for some fascinating viewing

When it comes to sport you can pick any letter of the alphabet and there’s every chance I’ll express an interest.
Have so all my life.
This weekend marks the start of the NFL playoffs and nominating the four winners in the Wildcard games with confidence is an impossible task.
The Eagles and Bengals might squeeze home against respective opponents the Saints and Chargers, but the other two games are dead set lotteries.
The Colts-Chiefs is an even money bet and it’s hard to split the Packers and 49ers.
Yes, the home ground advantage will assist the Colts and Packers, but don’t be writing off the Chiefs and 49ers just yet.
The Chiefs were unbeaten for a major portion of the season and were stiff not to overcome the Chargers last weekend after resting a host of players.
The 49ers were considered a big chance of winning the Super Bowl at the start of the season after falling to the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII last February.
The fact that the 49ers are the fifth seeds in the NFC and face elimination in the first week of the playoffs is a disgrace.
The finals format in the NFL, and for that matter in the MLB, NBA and NHL, is ridiculous – but the Americans are reluctant to tinker with history.
To reward teams who win their divisions instead of rewarding teams with the best records is laughable.
Back to the NFL.
There was a time when picking the winners of games during the regular season and playoffs was a simple task, but not any longer.
That’s great because there’s nothing worse than having a competition that is predictable.
The evenness of the NFL these days makes it more enjoyable to watch and the next four weekends should be engrossing entertainment.
Finally, we don’t like to toot our horn at sportsword.com.au, but at the start of the year one did nominate the likely combatants for Super Bowl XLVIII.
The two teams that were chosen were the Seahawks and Broncos.
The Seahawks are the No 1 seeds in the NFC and the Broncos are the No 1 seeds in the AFC.
We’re a chance because the Seahawks and Broncos have the home ground advantage throughout the playoffs and if they win their next two games they will meet in the Super Bowl at Giants Stadium.
— David White

Even-money NRL grand final typified a magnificent season

It came as no surprise that the NRL grand final was a mixture of fluctuating fortunes for both teams.
It clearly illustrated how hard it was to pick winners in season 2013.
Ask yourself this question: Did you honestly feel confident that you had settled on a winner before kick off?
Were you confident to declare the Roosters or Sea Eagles as premiers at halftime?
It was an even-money contest.
The first and second half mirrored each other.
The Sea Eagles dominate the opening 20 minutes before the Roosters finished the opening 40 minutes with a wet sail.
The Sea Eagles appeared home and hosed at 18-8 in the second half before the Roosters once again rallied in the final 20 minutes.
Many argue that the Roosters got the “rub of the green” when it came to crucial refereeing decisions.
Hard to argue, but does every decision have to scrutinised?
The Roosters showed plenty of ticker to fightback in the second half after the Sea Eagles were awarded a penalty try.
When Matai scored a short time later it didn’t look good for the Roosters.
In the blink of an eye the Roosters regained their composure to seal victory and cap off a memorable season after missing the finals in 2012.
And it’s always good to see the minor premiers win the grand final, no matter the code.
As mentioned in previous posts, the Roosters were highly impressive when they defeated the Rabbitohs in the final round to claim the minor premiership.
That performance indicated that they were going to take some stopping in the finals.
The Sea Eagles were worthy grand finalists – I still reckon they were slightly lucky against the Sharks during the finals – and you get the impression that injuries cost them at the end of the day.
They were gallant in the grand final, but you get the feeling that the Stewart brothers, Lyon, Matai, Watmough, Ballin and Buhrer went into the biggest game of the year carrying injuries, and of course Fa’aoso was missing.
It may have been a different story had the Sea Eagles fielded a fit side.
To include Cordner and O’Donnell in their final 17 for the grand final was a courageous decision by the Roosters, but it perhaps proved the difference between winning and losing.
With both players on deck the Roosters had every reason to be confident.
Without them it may have given the Sea Eagles the advantage.
Upon reflection, Cherry-Evans was perhaps a worthy of the Clive Churchill Medal.
His kicking game had the Roosters on the backfoot in the first half and he was dangerous with the footy in his hand in the second half.
Of the other Sea Eagles, it was hard to fault Matai, Foran, Watmough and Ballin.
As far as the Roosters are concerned, you could say that they played well as a team as hardly anyone stood out.
Jennings and Maloney had their moments, Kenny-Dowall and Williams had their moments, and Minichiello and O’Donnell were solid.
It was O’Donnell who sparked the Roosters in the first half and, to be fair, Wiliams only came to life in the final 20 minutes.
Until then he was innocuous.
As a Roosters supporter, the grand final was a great result.

It’s been tough all year and NRL grand final certainly no different!

It’s extremely difficult to split the Roosters and the Sea Eagles in the NRL grand final.
That should come as no surprise because splitting teams thoroughout the 2013 premiership rounds proved a nightmare.
Most of the games turned out to be 50/50 contests – a term used often this year – and the grand final match up is no different.
The Roosters and Sea Eagles have match-winners all over the park and can turn it on in attack, but perhaps the Roosters have the edge in defence.
Pundits have given a million reasons all week as to why the Roosters and Sea Eagles can win the grand final.
What on earth can Sportsword offer?
Perhaps it’s that the Roosters entered the finals with a full head of steam after blitzing the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium in the battle for the minor premiership in Round 26.
In contrast, the Sea Eagles, who had players missing in the final round of the home and away campaign, suffered a shock home defeat at the hands of the Panthers.
The Roosters made it three from three against the Sea Eagles in 2013 with a stirring 4-0 victory in the opening week of the finals.
The minor premiers then went on the rampage in the preliminary final and although the Roosters appeared to have the Knights’ measure the Novocastrians seemed to lose the plot after losing Danny Buderus to injury.
The Knights made it to Week 3 of the finals after downing the Bulldogs and Storm, who were running on empty come September.
Against the Sea Eagles, the Roosters were dynamite in defence before showing their wares in attack against the Knights.
The Sea Eagles were far from disgraced in the qualifying final and although they got the “rub of the green” when it came to several big decision in the semi-final against the Sharks they were arguably the better side.
Down 14-0 against the Rabbitohs in the preliminary final, the Sea Eagles re-grouped magnificently to blow the red and greens off the park.
Yes, the Sea Eagles seemingly clicked into gear after a shocking start to the match, but it has to be said that a host of Rabbitohs players froze when it started to get a tight.
As well as the Rabbitohs performed for a major portion of the season, the biggest worry was that they had a number of players who would be exposed in brutal fashion if the team failed to fire as a unit.
That’s exactly what happened against the Sea Eagles, which was hard to fathom after overcoming the Storm – a side that has caused them troubles in recent years – in Week 1 of the finals.
The Sea Eagles won most of the “head to head” battles against the Rabbitohs, and more importantly they matched solid defence with exhilarating attacking football when the Rabbitohs inexplicably waved the white flag after 20 minutes.
The other good news for the Sea Eagles is that no team had posted four wins over the same team in the one season, but the Roosters were by far the better side when they triumphed at Brookvale Oval (16-4) and Allianz Stadium (18-12) before prevailing in an epic qualifying final.
Yes, the Sea Eagles almost turned the tables three weeks ago, but they threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Roosters and still couldn’t get over the line.
As well as the Roosters defended in the qualifying final, they offered nothing in attack when the Sea Eagles launched a second-half blitzkrieg.
The Sea Eagles displayed exceptional grit against the Sharks and Rabbitohs, but the likes of Brett Stewart, Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai, Anthony Watmough, Glenn Stewart and Jamie Buhrer could not possibly be 100% fit.
And the loss of Richie Fa’aoso is a blow as he provides plenty of mongrel.
Surely Joe Gualavo won’t be rushed into the 17 at the 11th hour.
The Roosters were terrific against the Knights and you wouldn’t expect them to make changes to the side, but their hopes will soar if Boyd Cordner and Luke O’Donnell return from injury because their impact off the bench could prove the difference between winning and losing.
Supporters of the Roosters will feel the nerves if Cordner and O’Donnell are excluded from the final 17.
The other significant aspect in regards to the Roosters and Sea Eagles is that they’ve basically fielded similar teams during the finals, which will guarantee continued cohesion come Sunday.
The battle of the halves will have an important bearing in the final result, but rival forwards Sonny Bill Williams (Roosters) and Glenn Stewart (Sea Eagles) are sure to have a massive say in proceedings.
Hooker Matt Ballin is a consistent performer for the Sea Eagles, but he could have his hands full matching opposing rake Jake Friend, who has been outstanding for the Roosters during the finals.
Winger Joseph Leilua was horrendous for the Roosters when they lost the 2010 grand final to the Dragons, so Daniel Tupou will have to be switched on or Sea Eagles flyer David Williams – like Jason Nightingale three years ago – could have a field day.
Mitchell Pearce (Roosters) and Jorge Taufua (Sea Eagles) are the players who will cause respective supporters plenty of consternation come game time.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Roosters) and Anthony Watmough (Sea Eagles) will rip in from start to finish.
Sam Moa (Roosters) and Brenton Lawrence (Sea Eagles) cannot afford to take a back seat or their team could suffer as a result.
Finally, we tip with our “head” and occasionally with our “gut” at Sportsword, not with our “heart”.
If you still can’t separate the Roosters and Sea Eagles then you may want to consider the following.
Roosters
* Their six shut-outs this season is an NRL record, while they have also held a team scoreless in a half of football on 19 occasions.
* In the three games against the Sea Eagles this season, the Roosters did not concede a point in the first half.
* After an epic qualifying final, the Roosters have enjoyed a relatively easy path to the decider.
* The Roosters were ranked No.1 in attack and defence at the end of the premiership rounds.
* The Roosters ended the home and away schedule as minor premiers.
Sea Eagles
* In two of the games they lost against the Roosters, Brett Stewart and Kieran Foran were spectators because of injury.
* Truly awesome against the Rabbitohs for the last 60 minutes and will trouble the Roosters if they bring that form to the table on Sunday.
* They have plenty of grand final experience – they were premiers in 2011 – and boast arguably the best backline in the premiership.
* Against the Sharks and Rabbitohs they looked dead and buried before rallying to post memorable wins.
* The Sea Eagles ended the premiership rounds in fourth place.

Can the desperate Hawks thwart the Purple Haze?

It’s the battle of the AFL’s best attacking team versus the competition’s most miserly defence.

The Hawks have scored more than any other club this season and averaged 22 points per game more than the Dockers during the home and away season.

But the Dockers have clearly the best defensive record and the way they stifled the Swans in their preliminary final last Saturday night has persuaded plenty of observers they are capable of upsetting the Hawks, who have long been premiership favourites.

Memories of last year – when the Hawks were also the season’s best attacking team and grand final favourites, but lost to a Swans side who had been the competition’s best defensively – play into that thinking.

Both clubs are near full strength.

The only team change made by either side from the preliminary finals was the Hawks’ loss of Brendan Whitecross, the sub last weekend, to a serious knee injury.

Jonathan Simpkin, best afield for the Box Hill Hawks in the VFL grand final last Sunday, is his replacement.

Grand final nerves could play a part for both sides.

The Hawks let themselves down with poor kicking in last year’s grand final and were again shaky on that front in their narrow preliminary final win over the Cats.

While the Hawks carry the burden of expectation, the Dockers have to deal with having just two players – Zac Dawson and Danyle Pearce – who have grand final experience.

Both sides are strong everywhere, but on paper the Hawks could have an edge in attack.

Hawks star forwards Lance Franklin, Jarryd Roughead and Cyril Rioli were all quiet in their club’s preliminary final though.

The Dockers are unlikely to allow them many easy scoring chances, so they must seize their opportunities.

This match does mirror the 2001 premiership decider.

Back then, the Bombers, who were the defending premiers, snuck by the Hawks in a controversial preliminary final at the MCG.

Meanwhile, the Lions, who ended the year with a wet sail, obliterated the Tigers at the Gabba.

Like the Bombers 12 years ago, the Hawks battled their way to victory over the Cats.

The Dockers, who have timed their run superbly, have been outstanding during the second half of the 2013 season and wiped the floor with the Swans last weekend.

Like the Hawks-Swans grand final last year, the Hawks-Dockers encounter is yet another evenly matched affair and it’s difficult to split both teams with confidence.

 

 

 

 

Home-and-away tips tough enough, now for grand finalists

NRL Finals – Week 3

Preliminary Finals

RABBITOHS v SEA EAGLES

Expert View (from wire services):

The Sea Eagles looked out on their feet towards the end of their clash with the Sharks and only a John Morris brain snap prevented Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen being awarded a potential match-winning try. How the Sea Eagles respond against a rested Rabbitohs line-up will be the main issue here.

Having nullified the Storm so brilliantly in Week 1 of the finals, the Rabbitohs will be desperate to go one better than last year and earn a grand final berth. Injury clouds hover over several players from the Sea Eagles, including Jamie Lyon, Anthony Watmough and Jamie Buhrer, while fullback Brett Stewart is again in doubt as he tries to overcome a hamstring complaint.

The Rabbitohs have no such dramas and their giant pack will be out to test the Sea Eagles’ stamina right from the kick off. If the Sea Eagles can withstand a likely barrage from the Burgess brothers and the rest of the Rabbitohs pack and keep the game tight in the first 20 minutes, they’ll be hoping nerves might creep into the Rabbitohs’ players and fans.

Sportsword View:

The Rabbitohs were too good for the Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval and Bluetongue Stadium, and on each occasion many tipsters would have had their money on the Sea Eagles. It was following that win over the Sea Eagles in Gosford that many rugby league fans would have been convinced that the Rabbitohs were a genuine premiership threat in 2013.

After a lucky win over the Cowboys in Week 2 of the finals last year, the Sea Eagles once again had the “rub of the green” against the Sharks last weekend. There was doubt surrounding the try scored by Watmough and how Taufua’s try was given the green light defied belief. The Rabbitohs haven’t done much wrong this season, but the likes of Goodwin, Walker, Farrell and Tyrrell will have to bring their A grade game to the table because they are definite weaknesses.

The Rabbitohs may have the Sea Eagles covered in the forwards, but the Rabbitohs are going to have their hands full containing the Sea Eagles backline. The match-up between halves Reynolds and Sutton from the Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles pair Cherry-Evans and Foran might well play a crucial role in the result.

The Sea Eagles are busted and, as mentioned, were fortunate to escape with a win over the Sharks, so the Rabbitohs will have no better chance than to surge into their first grand final since 1971.

ROOSTERS v KNIGHTS

Expert View (from wire services):

They’re the ugly ducklings of the NRL finals but the Knights have put in arguably the two most complete performances to reach the grand final qualifier. Confident and classy displays against the Bulldogs and Storm have shown Wayne Bennett’s “Dad’s Army” must be counted as serious contenders.

The Knights have also avoided serious injury dramas. Halfback Tyrone Roberts appeared to be in agony after crumpling to the turf late against the Storm but is expected to play against the Roosters, while NSW Origin winger James McManus will return in place of Kevin Naiqama.

The Roosters will be rested after their week off and welcome back prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves from suspension. A visit from ASADA in the middle of the week and reports the club sacked a sports nutrition company last year after some players recorded elevated levels of human growth hormone might also prove an unwanted off-field distraction.

Bennett’s game plan is the key. Last week, the Knights comfortably beat the Storm despite being behind in several key statistics. If the super coach has found a way of unlocking the Roosters’ miserly defence, it’ll be a crucial factor for the Knights.

Sportsword View:

Let’s put things into perspective. The Roosters ended the premiership season as minor premiers and the Knights finished seventh.

After two hiccups against the Sharks and Titans late in the season, the Roosters hit back in style to overcome the Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles in two classic confrontations. They turned it on in attack against the Rabbitohs and produced the goods in defence against the Sea Eagles.

The Knights have ended the season in slashing fashion, but they were no match for the visiting Roosters back in Round 20 when they succumbed to a 28-12 loss. Yes, the Knights have eliminated last year’s grand finalists in the opening two weeks of the finals; however, the Bulldogs had been consistently inconsistent all year and the Storm proved that they were unlikely to fire a shot in the finals after an inept display against the Sea Eagles in a vital match at Brookvale Oval on the eve of the finals. Remember that the Knights almost got the Storm in Melbourne earlier in the season.

The Roosters welcome back Waerea-Hargreaves and there is every chance Boyd Cordner will return. The Knights are capable of pulling off a remarkable win and if you were a Roosters supporter you’d have every right to be worried if Kurt Gidley was playing.

The last time Bennett lost a preliminary final was against the Roosters in 2002 when he was coach of the Broncos.

— David White

 

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