Rabbitohs Prepare For Aerial Storm

2013 Melbourne Storm HeadshotsBy STEVE MASCORD

SOUTH Sydney’s left side defence is bracing itself for a Cooper Cronk air raid in Friday night’s qualifying final, with Melbourne winger Justin O’Neill on the way to becoming rugby league’s most dangerous bomb chaser since Israel Folau.

Halfback Cronk kicking for O’Neill, with fullback Billy Slater racing through to capitalise, was a repeated tactic on Saturday night against Gold Coast and the Rabbitohs have taken note.

Facing up to the acrobatic, 186 cm O’Neill is 181 cm Nathan Merritt, who says: “Probably Israel would be (the best) – such soft hands and a great athletic jump He was awesome under the high ball and could snatch the ball out of the air.

“Cronk’s one of the best kickers in the competition.

“He’s got an accurate kick on him. He puts it in a perfect position for his outside men to catch so we’ve really got to work on our game, making sure we attack the football and get some numbers around the football.”

Joining Merritt in surface-to-air defence on the left will be centre Bryson Goodwin and back rower Chris McQueen.

“We’ve just got to be good in our kick defence – do your best, I guess,” said Goodwin. “They’re well known for their good catching ability down there and Cooper Cronk, his kick’s always on the spot.

“We’ll have a look at it on the video and see what we can do. You’ve got to be switched on all the time.”

Storm back rower Ryan Hinchcliffe says O’Neill, Cronk and Slater spend plenty of time rehearsing their triple-act.

“It’s something we work on each week,” he said. “I guess it comes down to how each team defends, whether their defender’s up in the line or whether he’s back. Cooper sees that. If the winger’s up, he kicks it over his head, if he’s back, they’ll just run it.

“He’s a great athlete, Juzzy, and when he’s got his game on, he’s very effective for us and it’s great to see he’s doing that well this time of year. It’s a big play in big games, especially the way teams defend up and in these days.”

There’s still been no decision on whether Gareth Widdop or Brett Finch will be fit to play on Friday, while Souths report no changes but some tactical alterations from coach Michael Maguire would not surprise.

Maguire told reporters on Wednesday he had spoken to firebrand forward Sam Burgess about tempering his tempestuous ways.

‘Everything that goes on in the game, you are always talking to your players about those incidences,’’ Maguire said at Redfern Oval on Wednesday.

‘‘He’s obviously disappointed, but the easiest way to fix that is make sure he goes out and plays the way he can and I’m sure he will this Friday.’

‘‘There’s many different ways he can focus his energies into what he does on the park and you see that every week.

“A lot of our conversations is about what he needs to do about playing for the team, as in the structures and the things we need to get ‘on’.

‘‘Our attack at times, particularly last weekend, wasn’t there to what we can do. Sam is a big part of that so a lot of that conversation is about him doing his part for the team.”

Filed for: THE AGE

Hoffman Tips Storm Team-mates As Maroons’ Next Gen

Ryan Hoffman/wikipedia
Ryan Hoffman/wikipedia

By STEVE MASCORD

MELBOURNE and NSW back-rower Ryan Hoffman disputes claims that Queensland is headed for an Origin slump because of its aging squad – citing two Storm team-mates as evidence of the Maroons’ continued vitality.

While Mal Meninga’s men are favourites to seal an eighth successive series victory over the Blues at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday, there is a popular argument that when the likes of Cameron Smith (30), Bill Slater (30), Cooper Cronk (29), Johnathan Thurston (30) and Justin Hodges (31) exit the scene, there will be a dearth of quality replacements.

“Everyone was saying ‘Queensland, where are they going to pick their side from?’ ten years ago,” Hoffman tells Fairfax Media.

“It was supposed to be a State Of Origin crisis. They found players. They’ll find some good players.

“There’s one like Willie Cambers, he’s ready to come in. Justin O’Neill … they’re very talented players. Willie’s been outstanding and Justin O’Neill, you need that bloke with finishing ability.

“And both of them are very talented defenders. When the time comes, they’ll be ready for Origin but hopefully it’s not for a few years yet!”

Chambers and O’Neill will form the cornerstone of the Storm side that faces its 2012 grand final opponent, Canterbury, at ANZ Stadium this afternoon.

Hoffman continued: “(Queensland have) blooded a few this year with (Chris) McQueen, (Josh) Papalii, (Daly Cherry) Evans.

“It’s good to see the talent coming through in NSW too. A bloke like Boyd Cordner, he’s 21, he looks like an Origin player already.”

Despite the Blues losing the previous clash by 20 points, Hoffman says NSW “draw our confidence from that defence in the first half.

“Queensland camped, and stayed a few nights, down our end in that first half. We defended quite well to hold them out.

“We watched some tape and found out there’s some opportunities there if we stick to what we do well. We gave them too many opportunities (though).”

Canterbury have regained the services of halfback Josh Reynolds after he was released from NSW camp on Friday, with Joel Romelo likely to miss out. It’s uncertain if Romelo will go back to the bench or be one of three players omitted from the squad named by coach Des Hasler on Tuesday.

The Storm report no changes, although it is uncertain if rookie Ben Hampton will spend more time at fullback or in the halves. Junior Sau and Tim Glasby are the likely bench omissions

Referee Gavin Badger is an injured withdrawal, with Gerard Sutton his replacement.

Teams for the match, which kicks off at ANZ Stadium at 3.05pm, are:

CANTERBURY: Ben Barba; Mitch Brown, Tim Lafai, Krisnan Inu, Sam Perrett; Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson; Greg Eastwood, Tony Williams, Frank Pritchard, Sam Kasiano, Michael Ennis (c), Aiden Tolman. Res: Dene Halatau, Josh Jackson, James Graham, Dale Finucane, Tim Browne, Martin Taupau, Joel Romelo (three to be omitted)

MELBOURNE: Justin O’Neill; Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Maurice Blair, Mahe Fonua; Brett Finch, Ben Hampton; Slade Griffin, Tohu Harris, Kevin Proctor, Bryan Norrie, Ryan Hinchcliffe, Jesse Bromwich. Res: Jordan McLean, Junior Moors, Siosaia Vave, Mitch Garbutt.

Referees: Gerard Sutton/Alan Shortall.

Filed for: SUNDAY AGE

FAR & WIDE: Number 30

Far & WideBy STEVE MASCORD

NEWLY re-signed Canberra prop Brett White is sitting by the phone waiting for the call to come from Ireland’s World Cup coach Mark Aston.

White was in the Wolfhounds’ squad for the 2008 tournament but had to withdraw through injury and is worried he may have been forgotten.

“I don’t know, they must be going alright over there,” White tells Far & Wide. “I got in contact with them when I was over for the World Club Challenge (before the last World Cup)

“I haven’t heard anything. I certainly am (interested). I was very close to my grandfather, who probably had the biggest influence on my life.

“He was Irish, came out from Ireland for the Snowy River Scheme in the fifties – Arthur Costello. He was the biggest influence on my life and my football career.

“To be able to play for Ireland, it would mean a lot to my family and myself. At the moment, I’ve been trying to just do the best for the Raiders and get back to the best footy I can play.

“If that happens at the end of the year, that would be fantastic.”

NSW five-eighth James Maloney also checked out his lineage to see if he was eligible for Ireland. “But it’s great grandparents, not grandparents,” he said with disappointment.

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THE latest country outside the World Cup to plan post-season internationals is Vanuatu.

Melbourne centre Justin O’Neill qualifies for the fledgling league nation but didn’t play last year against Greece.

However, he’s a huge chance of making his bow this year. Opponents and dates to be announce some time in the next week.

Elsewhere, Jamaica has just completed a very successful schools tournament and former St Helens and Samoa star Apollo Perelini will coach the United Arab Emirates Under 18s against Lebanon in September.

League is getting a surprising amount of newspaper coverage in the UAE, with The National reporting Perelini’s appointment in detail.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK