Sunday, November 6, 2011

Roaring forward.

The plaudits for the Brisbane Roar have been well deserved. They now sit at 33 games unbeaten and are two games shy of matching Eastern Suburbs' undefeated streak, making them one of the most successful Australian sporting teams ever. Granted, they have only won the one premiership so far, but the things they are doing for the A-League are not to be underestimated. They have introduced a style and structure of play that no team has been able to mimic or conquer.

Clearly the credit must go to Brisbane's coach, Ange Postecoglou. He pulled apart the team he inherited and brought together a squad of players who could adapt to his system. Many sides have attempted to disrupt the Roar's methodical structure, but as Ange said, they have thought ahead and planned for these disruptive tactics. He's always been one step ahead of his counter-part.

What frustrates most A-League sides is the Roar's persistence. They are unflappable and will keep coming at you for 90 minutes. They constantly have players in motion, using the width of the field. They always play out from the back, rather than hoping that the long ball will find someone. Their passing is immaculate and their fitness is unrivalled. What's most impressive is their patience. They may not make the break-through straight away but eventually they will get you.

The question remains, can other sides use the Roar as a model and lift their own standards, in turn, lifting the overall standard of the A-League?

You would like to think that the Roar's form alone would be enough to bring in the crowds. Unfortunately this isn't the case. A touch over 11 000 people witnessed the Roar rip apart Adelaide United. This is a very disappointing figure, considering that Brisbane had won all of their games before that match and are the defending champions. Why then, did they get such a poor showing?

We've seen how Kewell and Emerton have boosted memberships and crowd attendances for their clubs. They are huge international stars and the fans want to see their Socceroo heroes in action. But at what point do Australian audiences start rewarding their clubs for good form? The Brisbane Broncos get over 30 000 people to every game. The Roar will do well to get half that figure and they are playing the best football the A-League has ever seen.

Maybe it isn't enough for the Roar to be playing out of their skin. Maybe the crowd wants every team to be playing at Brisbane's level. That's easier said than done. We can only hope that the nine other A-League sides playing catch-up to the Roar can learn some lessons and make progress of their own. The Roar are showing the way forward and the other teams need to follow.

The television rights for the A-League will be expiring soon. Nothing would bring the dollars and the crowds in quicker than seeing 10 teams playing at the current level of the men in orange.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

One Way Road to Intimidation

I was incensed when I saw on the news this morning that the IRB has fined the French team for walking within 10 metres of the haka while it was being performed.

In a display of passion and competitiveness, the French linked arms and walked torwards the All Blacks in a 'V' formation to impose themselves on the haka, which I believe they're entitled to do. Why should New Zealand be allowed to intimidate their rivals without a right of reply from the opposition? It's ludicrous.

Just because New Zealand are the best rugby nation in the world doesn't mean they should be untouchable. Sure, they should be allowed to perform their traditional dance without being interrupted but what the French did certainly didn't disrupt proceedings. It all adds to the spectacle of the game. It's good to see that both teams are fired up for the game and ready to play.

No team should be punished for showing passion for their country, especially in such a harmless manner.

On another note, congratulations to New Zealand for winning the world cup. You got the feeling right from the start that this was their time. While France but up a great fight, the All Blacks had the nerve to hold on and secure their first world cup since 1987.

I shudder to think what the reaction would have been if they'd lost. For a rugby-mad nation like NZ, I'm sure they are basking in glory right across the nation. It will be interesting to see if they will continue their dominance over the next four years or if someone will be able to knock them off their perch. We shall see.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cooper Crisis

Quade Cooper has been put under the blowtorch in the last couple of weeks due to his lacklustre form in the Rugby World Cup. The question is, has it been justified?

He had an absolute shocker in the quarter-final against South Africa and was rightfully blasted for his shambolic display. This was followed by another average performance against New Zealand in the semi-final. His kick to start the game went out on the full, placing the Wallabies under enormous pressure in the opening 20 minutes. This set the tone for the whole game, Australia unable to break New Zealand's strange hold.

Despite Wallabies' captain James Horwill's reassurances that the pressure wasn't getting to Cooper in the lead up to the game, you only needed to take a look at him during the national anthem to know that he was under the pump. He looked like a man in deep thought, eyes closed, head raised, almost as if he were praying for a miracle.

Cooper's manager Khoder Nasser has defended the Wallabies fly-half, claiming that his reputation has given people unrealistic expectations. Nasser also cites the Wallabies achievements in the past year as evidence that the team as a whole has progressed.

You can read what he has to say here:

This is all well and good, but it doesn't excuse Cooper's performances in these crucial games. He is responsible for directing our attack. He has high expectations not only because of his talent but because he's playing in a very important position. It wouldn't matter who it was on the field, if they played like Cooper did they'd be copping it from every corner just like him.

His long term future in the game is in serious doubt. If he can't handle the pressure in the world cup arena he shouldn't be playing for the Wallabies at all. It remains to be seen if he can turn it around. Personally I think he would be more suited to rugby league where he'll have a lot more time and space to work his magic.

Champions of any sport know how to handle pressure. If Cooper can't hack it, it's time to step aside.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Locky Tribute

Growing up watching the Broncos, I marvelled at players like Allan Langer, Gorden Tallis and Wendell Sailor. They stamped their authority on the game in their own way. Langer was the playmaking architect, Tallis the fearless, raging bull and Sailor the rampaging show pony.

However, there was one player who had just as much talent as these three, if not more. He didn’t have a trademark short kick, he wasn’t physically intimidating and he wasn’t a loudmouth. He just knew how to play the game, and play it damn well.

Darren Lockyer made a name for himself as a five-eighth-come fullback. Bennett had two relative unknowns in Allan Langer and Kevin Walters in the halves so there was no space for the 18-year-old kid from Roma. Instead, Lockyer would spend the next two years trying to cement a first grade spot, coming off the bench to prove his worth. Seeing his young charge tear apart teams with his pace and deceptive footwork, along with his security under the high ball, Bennett decided Lockyer’s immediate future was as a fullback. Locky didn’t disappoint.

Mid-way through Lockyer’s career, he had already established himself as a Queensland and Australian fullback, and the world’s best. Critics were already saying that he would go on to become the greatest fullback in the game’s history. However, the departure of Kevin Walters from the Broncos forced coach Wayne Bennett’s hand.

Lockyer had always been groomed as a five-eighth before he started his first grade career and Bennett believed that the time for Locky’s switch was now. So, in 2004, Bennett made a bold move to switch Lockyer from no. 1 to no. 6. Many people questioned whether Lockyer could handle the move, believing the increased defensive workload would blunt his attacking game. There was also the question of just how good he would be in defence.

Like all champions do, Lockyer rose to the challenge, winning the five-eighth spot for Australia in the ANZAC Test just five weeks after making the switch. Sure, he took a while to adjust his running game, becoming more direct as the year wore on. His defence also copped a battering from critics. However, he’s improved his defence so much that he’s become famous for last-ditch try saving tackles.

We’d become used to seeing Lockyer score length-of-the-field tries with his incredible running game, ducking and weaving around players like they were nothing. I remember thinking how I’d miss seeing him score tries game in, game out. Lockyer had entered a new phase of his career – laying on tries…game in…game out.

Over the years we’ve seen him pull games out of the fire for Australia, Queensland and the Broncos countless times. It might be a field goal in golden point; that daring run on the last tackle to set up one of his teammates; that one and only player trailing on the inside, ready to swoop on a crucial offload. He could always be counted on. Locky has done it all. Just take a look at all of the records he holds. You wouldn’t even need to watch a game to know what sort of impact he’s had on the game of rugby league.

One of the main reasons Lockyer is being lauded as the next immortal is because of his ability to play at such a high level for so long. It’s a testament to his professionalism and toughness. No doubt he has played with many injuries without showing any ill effects.

Now, Lockyer has only a handful of games left to play for Australia. He didn’t get the fairytale finish with the Broncos by winning the premiership but he has had a wonderful year regardless. His Queensland side won their sixth straight series and his last memory playing for the Broncos will be kicking the winning field goal for his side against the Dragons at Suncorp Stadium in the finals series.

It would be fitting for the Australian captain to go out a Four Nations winner. Regardless of the outcome, he will forever be remembered as a rugby league legend. I think it’s safe to say there will never be another Darren Lockyer. Thanks for the memories.

Monday, August 31, 2009

I'm back..

Haven't posted here in aaaaaaaaaages. Not that anyone would have noticed. I last wrote about the beginning of the NRL season and now we find ourselves 1 week out from the finals.

The Wayne Bennett coached Dragons have been the most consistent side all year but now find themselves on the end of 3 losses. Bennett will want to sort out their attitude quickly or they'll soon suffer the fate of other Dragons sides who have choked in the finals.

The form teams at this stage of the season would definately be the Eels, Broncos and Titans. The first two teams are currently on lengthy winning streaks not long after having their title chances questioned as they sat outside the top 8.

Jarrad Hayne has almost single-handedly turned around the team's fortunes with his sparkling form while the return of the Broncos' origin stars from injury and a more consistent playing roster has seen confidence return in the ranks. Their defence has tightened up and are now pushing as real contenders for the title. Who can argue with that when you have players like Lockyer, Hodges and Folau in your team?

The Titans are continuing on their winning ways as well and will be assured of a top 3 finish which will be their best result since entering the competition a couple of years ago.

Meanwhile, the Dogs have almost certainly lost Brett Kimmorley for the season with a fractured cheekbone. While they beat the Warriors comfortably without him, they aren't exactly high quality opposition. Their title chances will seriously come under question without their main playmaker steering the ship.

So, what looked like a two-horse race has now changed into a battle royale.

My tip for the premiership is the Broncos...biased opinion aside.
Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

NRL Season Kick-Off

Well the NRL season gets underway tomorrow night with the dragons taking on the storm and the broncs playing the cowboys. The season launch has been marred by Brett Stuart and his foolish actions but let's not focus on that.

This year sees the introduction of two referees which will hopefully speed up the game. It will be interesting to see how tomorrow night's games are controlled. I'm just glad footy is back on again.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Aussie Open Wrap-up

Federer v Nadal. One of the greatest sporting rivalries in not only tennis history but sporting history in general. The Australian Open finally got to witness these two players face-off in the final.

Federer was the favourite almost entirely because of the fact that Nadal had been involved in the longest match in Australian Open history in defeating Fernando Verdasco. It would take a mighty effort from Nadal to recover 2 days later and defeat Federer but he managed to do it. He didn't do it easy either.

It went over 5 sets and the pure athleticism and endurance of Nadal was a sight to see. It now seems that Nadal has got Federer's measure. Perhaps we may be seeing a new era in which Nadal begins to take over from Federer as the greatest to play the game. He has a long way to go yet but it certainly seems as though he has Federer all worked out. It will be interesting to see how many other slams Federer can win this year given that he is one away from equalling Pete Sampras' record of 14.

The reaction of Federer was quite amazing as he broke down in tears in making his runner-up speech. Uncoincidently Rod Laver was on stage both times he has done this at the Australian Open but the agony of coming so close to equalling a marvelous record would have played the larger part. I'm sure he'll comfortably beat Sampras' record but he will have to get past Nadal if he wants to take the record and re-establish his no.1 position in the sport.

Meanwhile i can't wait for the footy season to start. The cowboys and bulldogs have recruited well in the off-season so they will be teams to watch. The biggest question is how the Storm bounce back after losing their 2nd grand final in 3 years. They have been on top for so long so when will they come crashing down? Time will tell if its this year or not.