NRL round 21: NORTH QUEENSLAND 30 SOUTH SYDNEY 12 at 1300smiles Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD

THEY’VE lost two of their last three, fallen from the competition lead and star five-eighth John Sutton has joined the world’s best player on the club casualty list – but South Sydney are adamant they haven’t hit the wall.

Not much more could have gone wrong when the Rabbitohs hit 1300smiles Stadium last night. With five minutes to go, they were trailing North Queensland 30-0 and John Sutton had his sprained left ankle wrapped in ice.

He’s in danger of being out until the finals and sitting next to Greg Inglis in the grandstand. For weeks on end this season, the first Bunnies premiership in more than four decades looked inevitable but this shock loss leaves bitter rivals Sydney Roosters ahead of them on the table.

And on Friday, Souths face premiers and world champions Melbourne at AAMI Park.

“The way we played last week, we performed very well. We didn’t tonight,” said coach Michael Maguire, who said it was too early to speculate on how long Sutton would be sidelined after coming off in the 36th minute, when asked about his level of concern

“We’ve got to make sure we get something out of this game and take it into Friday night.”

Maguire also brushed off the fall from the head of the NRL just over a month from the finals. “We can’t focus on that,: he said. Our focus has to be preforming the way we know we can. There’s a lot of footy in front of us as well, a lot of games to be played.”

Halfback Adam Reynolds also twisted a knee while forward Jeff Lima was placed on report for a shoulder charge on Johnathan Thurston but prop Sam Burgess also flatly rejected the idea that the premiership charge has become bogged.

“Not at all,”the England forward said.

“Certainly it’s disappointing to lose the games but we’re not looking (at it like that). We’ll just move forwards. We’ve got Melbourne on Friday down there so we won’t be dwelling on that.”

phonto (1)The Cowboys, reeling from the death of former coach Graham Murray and the sacking of current boss Neil Henry, led 12-0 at halftime and should have extended that lead but for a disallowed Kane Linnett try after the resumption of play.

“Referee Devcich was out there saying ‘I can’t see a bobble’ but they took it off us,” said Henry.

But Linnett finished with a double anyway, while debut winger Kyle Feldt was outstanding and prop Matt Scott had run for 100 metres long before halftime.

“We spoke before the game about not doing it for any individual,” said Scott. “Things happened off the field during the week but we should be professional enough to get on with the job.

“Those of us who knew Muz (Murray), we grieve in our own time but when we’re out there on the field, we play rugby league.”

Scott even said he believed the Cowboys could still “sneak into the finals” even though it was :very frustrating” that they had left it so late in the season to turn on such a dominant performance

For Souths, Maguire said Inglis (knee) was “up and about” and would hopefully be back soon.
The gradulation of rookie Luke Keary will have to be fast-tracked after the Sutton injury. “Those sorts of things happen,” said Maguire.

“We weren’t playing to the quality we can when John went off anyway so we’ve got good replacements.”

NORTH QUEENSLAND 30 (K Linnett 2 B Tate T Sims R Lui tries J Thurston 5 goals) bt SOUTH SYDNEY 12 (B Goodwin G Burgess tries A Reynolds 2 goals ) at 1300smiles Stadium. Referees; A Devcich/L Phillips. Crowd: 13,045.

Filed for SUN-HERALD

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 16

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES
TIME for a history lesson. In rugby league we used to have no replacements and men would play on with horrendous injuries. Then we had two replacements, then four, and it happened less often. Then we had interchange. We used to have nothing between a sending-off and a penalty. There used to be no sin bin, no video review. Dirty and violent play decreased when they were introduced. You used to be able to play on with blood pouring out of a wound. Then we had the blood bin. Until two years ago, most players who were concussed continued on as a sign of courage. Until a year ago, there were shoulder charges. And until last Wednesday, there was bare-knuckle punching and brawls in rugby league. Save your breath, don’t fight the future. To quote Pearl Jam, it’s evolution, baby.
HALF A CHANCE?
WHILE most observers would regard replacing both NSW’s halves for Origin III as not so much hitting the panic button as pulverising it, Queensland great Gorden Tallis says the one combination he doesn’t want to see in blue is the South Sydney pairing of John Sutton and Adam Reynolds. “Would they be out of place in a sky blue jersey?” Tallis said on Triple M. “I’m going to be biased, I don’t want to see them in a sky blue jersey.” The pair’s coach, Michael Maguire, is usually reluctant to push his charges for representative selection but said: “It’s good for Souths (they’re not there) but they’d definitely be able to handle that arena. They just get better and better. Johnny Sutton just kicks the team around the park and Reyno kicks them around the park. I’m glad we’ve got both of them.”
RESERVES DRAGON THE CHAIN
WHAT’S wrong with the Dragons? You can point to the absence of a long kicking game, lack of creativity, injuries and more. But according to coach Steve Price – on Saturday night in the 25-10 loss to Penrith at least – it was their bench. “As a coach, I’m really looking for a lot more from my interchange bench,” said Price. “There were too many errors and penalties to come out of our interchange bench. That first eight minutes after halftime, we were bogged down defending our goal line for the first eight sets. That should not happen after halftime.” Amid reports that St George Illawarra had gone cold on Canberra halfback Sam Williams, Price said he was “not sure” if the Country Origin rep would join them next year. And although Penrith were briefly in the top eight at the weekend, their coach Ivan Cleary still says: “We are in a rebuilding year …”
BREAKING POINT FOR TITANS
THE departure of Jamali Idris with a broken ankle turned yesterday’s Newcastle-Gold Coast game irrevocably, with Newcastle providing the most ruthless exploitation in recent memory of a missing defensive player. But it could also have altered Gold Coast’s 2013 campaign just as decisively. Brad Takairangi is out until round 19 with a rib injury and yesterday PNG winger David Mead was forced to fill in as a centre. Luke O’Dwyer will be one centre. Marmin Barba, brother of Ben, could be ready for a call-up with William Zillman switching to the threequarterline. It’s been a good season so far for coach John Cartwright; tougher times are ahead. By the way, stats whiz David Middleton can’t ever recall a penalty try and a (possible) eight-point try occurring before.
A HULL OF A TIME
LAST year, Brett Finch gave up being a starting half for arguably the most famous rugby league club in the world, Wigan, to be back-up at Melbourne Storm and play NSW Cup. Craig Gower started this season as club captain at London Broncos and walked out to play off the bench on a modest wage in Newcastle. And now Michael Dobson has handed in the captain’s role at Newcastle to potentially be behind Gower in the pecking order at New Lambton. Super League’s stocks are sinking by the day and if the Rugby Football League are going to introduce an A-League-style marquee players system, as has been discussed, they had better fast-track it or there’ll be no marquee players left. It’s got to the point that RFL is considering another Socceroos measure – playing internationals on the other side of the world because that’s where the players are.
WHAT’S NEW? NOT QUEENSLAND WINNING
LATE on Wednesday night, some of my radio colleagues criticised the print media for zeroing in on the mass sin bin dismissals at the post-match media conference. According to them, “negative stories sell papers”. But that’s not the rationale at all. The word “news” comes from the same place as “comics” and “funnies”. The news is, literally, “stuff that’s new”. Queensland winning an Origin game is NOT new – it’s happened 49 times. Eleven players facing 11 in an Origin game, on the other hand, was rightly described by Ray Warren as “an historic period”. It IS new! Couple that with the fact just about everyone buying a paper in NSW and Queensland the next day would have seen the game, and getting reaction to the use of the sin bin was the biggest no brainer of the season for any trained journalist, none of whom would have had “selling papers” on their minds as they raced to meet deadlines.

Filed for SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Maguire: We Can Cope Without GI

South Sydney - Michael MaguireBy STEVE MASCORD

COACH Michael Maguire insists South Sydney will overcome a hurdle bigger than that currently provided by any opponent – the Origin-enforced absence of Greg Inglis.

Inglis was the talk of Suncorp Stadium on Friday night after his intervention turned a tense contest into a comfortable seventh win of the year for the Rabbitohs.

Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin admitted after the 26-12 loss that Maguire’s men were “too good” but reckoned Melbourne remain the best side he has come up against this year.

But with Origin in the horizon, Souths must learn how to maintain their momentum without the man NRL players rate the best in the competition.

“There’s a lot of football to go and we’ve got an Origin series to get through,” said Maguire, who laconically reckoned Inglis was “going alright out the back there”.

“I’m sure Greggy’s going to be in the Origin so we’ll make sure we sort that position out

“I’m really pleased with the players we’ve got underneath. Justin Hunt, he’s playing really well in reserve grade and we’ve got a number of other players.

“Dylan Farrell is coming back from injury. We’ve got a lot of good players we can put in those positions. We’ll assess that..”

Five-eighth John Sutton said of his custodian “he’s just a freak, he does it every week for us. I’m glad I’m playing next to him every week.”

“His returns really get us on the front foot and the boys really feed off his energy,” Sutton said.

Griffin expanded on the former Golden Boot winner’s influence. “With him at the back, they can roll forward and be patient and he’s receiving the ball….

“No matter where’s receiving it, whether it’s one of our kicks off their tryline or coming onto the back of some of their play, he’s just very hard to handle.”

Griffin, who went into the game without the injured Justin Hodges and Josh McGuire, had to concede his men had no answer when the Inglis-inspired Souths put their foot on the gas after halftime.

“I thought we were on top of the game at (halftime) but that first 15 minutes of the second half just blew us away,” said Griffin.

“It was enough. It was brief. It was some poor defence in the middle but it was the night.

“They were just too good. We just let them go. It’s a good lesson for us. They were obviously very good.”

Captain Sam Thaiday added: “They were tougher than us. We weren’t tough enough at all. We probably weren’t tough enough last week but … snuck through with a win.

“We probably got found out tonight.”

Maguire said centre Bryson Goodwin hanging onto the ball after Greg Inglis’ break, with Nathan Merritt scoring off the next tackle, summed up the difference between the halves.

“We pushed the ball in the first half and held onto it in the second,” said Maguire. “Our game? Our game is the second half, not the first.”

Maguire again said he was convinced winger Merritt was ready for Origin.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE WRAP: NRL Round 19 2012

By STEVE MASCORD

YOU would think that a Neville Nobody like me would appreciate the opportunity to have a greater involvement in the radio broadcast of the match of the season.

But when I learned that Andrew Johns had the flu and I was to be the sole sideline eye at last night’s Sydney Roosters-South Sydney epic, my feelings were less than enthusiastic. On Sunday night I got back from Canberra at 9pm. I got up at 2.30am yesterday to watch the Challenge Cup semi between Huddersfield and Warrington. Between 4.45am and 6am I slept again. And from 6am until it was time to leave for Allianz Stadium at 4.15pm, I wrote five stories for Rugby League Week including a 1500 word feature.

Monday is RLW deadline day. What I really needed was two coach interviews at 5pm, two at 9.30, checking on injuries during the game  and that’s it – which is the way some Mondays go for me on Triple M’s Monday Night Football, if I’m lucky.

Instead, I got a ringside seat for the closest thing we get to miracles now they’ve stopped adding chapters to holy books, an evening that should have reminded us all that rugby league is not just “product”, “content” or what might even be lucky enough to call work. After conceding two tries in the final three minutes to lose their last game against Sydney Roosters, South Sydney scored two in the same period to win.

These co-incidences do not happen elsewhere in the universe. We are involved in a group endeavour that somehow creates an environment for them to happen, like some sort of Hadron Collider – but better. As he waited to be interviewed on air after a loss he described as “gut-busting”, Roosters coach Brian Smith still had the wherewithal to muse: “That’s what’s so special about live sport. That’s why people watch it.”

Live radio can be scary if you psyche yourself out and it takes years to realise that if you stuff up, it’s no big deal. It’s not like you mucked up the moon landing and accidentally landed on Mars. It’s footy, after all. Before doing a sideline on the ABC, I scribble out a few notes – the team changes, weather and ground conditions on one page, a list of stats on the next, and a point on each player on the following two.

Sometimes you do not use even one of those points in a call, but it’s a nice security blanket to have.

Things went OK until fulltime but then the enormity of the game, the fact it would be talked about for years, and my fatigue kind of kicked in. As a print journalist, I would have been happy with the quotes we got from John Sutton, Issac Luke, Greg Inglis, Adam Reynolds, Brian Smith and Michael Maguire. So would my colleagues, just quietly, who were still waiting outside the Souths rooms almost an hour later!

But as a broadcaster, I thought I was a bit untidy – some unnecessary pauses and slight stumbling over questions. You want to do the occasion justice.

It didn’t help that Sutton and Luke were absolutely exhausted by the time I reached them a minute or so after the siren.. “We never give up in any football game, no matter how short the time is, and we just proved it then,” said Sutton. “There’s more bunnies supporters than Roosters supports here and it really helped get us home.”

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