Five Metre Gap – NRL Finals Week Three 2016

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the third weekend of the NRL finals. Melbourne and Cronulla are grand final-bound after victories over Canberra and North Queensland, respectively. We will also look at some of the other action below the top tier fixture with two other deciders this Sunday afternoon at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.

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The Storm will look to secure their second NRL title this decade, having beaten the Bulldogs in 2012, when they run out at Sydney Olympic Park’s main ground but it could have been a different story if late drama in Melbourne had fallen Canberra’s way. The 14-12 victory for Craig Bellamy’s side was their least impressive win for some time and the Storm’s defence (plus some Canberra errors) only got them home. However there is a weakness in Melbourne’s wide left defence with winger Marika Koroibete and centre Cheyse Blair missing three tackles each on Saturday night against Canberra. The use of second man plays and a confident running game of James Maloney if he switches sides occasionally can expose this for Cronulla.

 

Shane Flanagan’s side look to add to their sole top flight victory which was a 1979 Amco Cup (Knockout Cup) win in Sunday’s denouement to the season. A comprehensive 32-20 win over North Queensland might not be the best guide to the grand final but there are aspects the Sharks can take from their triumph. The impact of fatigue on North Queensland was apparent early, even allowing for the weight of possession on Friday evening in Sydney with the Cowboys making seven errors in the first half. After a try early in the second half things only got worse for Paul Green’s side and this was typified with bench forward John Asiata conceding three penalties, with two of those coming early in a tackle count allowing Cronulla to make easy metres against an already tired side. If they can catch Melbourne (who have had a day’s less rest) on the run by passing wide early in their tackle counts and targeting the Storm’s bench forwards, that aren’t quite at the elite level of their starters this could be beneficial.

 

From an attacking standpoint Melbourne, interestingly, only scored 14 points in their grand final triumph four years ago – the lowest for a winning team since Brisbane in 2000 who also notched 14 in beating the Roosters. It’s often irrelevant going back too far in the record books when you consider rule changes etc but it’s a stat Cronulla will be buoyed by. However it is worth keeping in mind Melbourne beat the Sharks 26-6 to secure the minor premiership in round 26 with tries coming on both sides of Melbourne’s attack, one from a deft Cooper Cronk kick which was spilled by Cronulla’s defence, and a late Jess Bromwich try close to the posts. Cronulla did lose three players due to injury in the first half of that encounter which gave Melbourne a significant advantage. Melbourne’s formula for Sunday might be playing Cronulla wide early when on attack but attack their tiring middle forwards in the second stanza. After the round 26 game Sharks centre Jack Bird would have had it pointed out to him about Blair blowing past him twice to score.

 

Making 228 and 176 metres in each of Cronulla’s two finals game to date Matt Prior, who featured in the Dragon’s 2010 grand final win, has been crucial in laying the platform for his team which has allowed his side to be in a position to usually make, at least, an attacking kick at the end of each set. Whilst for Melbourne Kiwi middle forward Bromwich (190 and 168 metres) has been Melbourne’s best performer in that regard. Keep an eye out for their half-time stats as anything under 80 metres for either in their first stints in the run-up to the intermission would be below par.

 

St George Illawarra’s second-tier side the Illawarra Cutters secured a spot in the State Championship fixture to be held before the NRL decider beating Canberra-affiliated Mounties 21-20 at Parramatta Stadium on Sunday. Drew Hutchinson’s late field goal secured the NSW Cup title and means they will face the Burleigh Bears who comprehensively beat Redcliffe Dolphins 36-16 to win the Queensland competition. The victory was Burleigh’s first Queensland Cup title in 12 years and means they will get the chance to secure a treble of Queensland wins in this match with the Maroon state having won the first two editions of this playoff. Prior to the ‘Mini-Origin’ fixture on Sunday the national youth (under 20) competition final will see Penrith face the Roosters, the former drawing from one of the state’s biggest pool of junior players and the latter drawing from one of the smallest. However it should be noted that despite the fact their junior zone is small the Sydney Roosters, due to their relationship with Wyong on the Central Coast, have recruited shrewdly from the district just north of metropolitan Sydney. A mention also to the game played in Port Moresby on Saturday afternoon, the Prime Minister’s XIII (made up of players not featuring in the latter stages of the NRL finals) dispatched Papua New Guinea 58-0. There was plenty of joy in the locals seeing their NRL heroes after a recent tragic incident in their own domestic competition which resulted in the death of a fan.
Image via theguardian.com

 

 

Golf Capital – Chun breaks major record, playoff finale time in Atlanta

@hamishneal

A collection of my golf thoughts from the week plus some player performance/form notes for the next few days.

 

Opening drive

 

South Korea’s In Gee Chun has claimed her second major, and first win this season, after she claimed the Evian Championship by four strokes on the shores of Lake Geneva in France. Finishing at 21 under Chun recorded the best ever major win in relation to par surpassing players like Tiger Woods, Jason Day and Henrik Stenson who’ve all won majors at -20. Chun opened with an eight under 63 and was tied for the lead after the first round controlling the tournament from the outset. Elsewhere on the weekend Francesco Molinari saluted for the second time at his national open winning the Italian Open having prevailed in the 2006 tournament in Monza. Despite it been only his fourth career win the victory was nothing to be sneezed at as Molinari had to hold off Masters champion Danny Willett getting home by one stroke. The duo finished three and four shots clear of the rest of the field.

 

Back at Evian-les-Bains Chun supporters, who had been comfortable since Thursday afternoon French time, had one moment to ponder possible doom when the 22 year-old had to be gently persuaded by her caddie David Jones to change club to a wedge and lay up before the water hazard on the 18th on Sunday when the LPGA Rookie of the year-elect looked like she was going to trying to drive it hard out of the left-hand rough and try to carry the water before the 18th green. Common sense prevailed and the world number seven was saved from a possible Jean van de Velde moment. Despite a disappointing finish in France Kiwi Lydia Ko secured the Annika Major Award for the most consistent players across the ladies’ majors this season. Points are awarded on a sliding scale from first to tenth in each tournament and Ko’s win in the ANA Inspiration and two other top three finishes were enough to win that award from Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn.

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Player performance notes:

 

Players I’m interested in to see how they go with notes that interest me and/or are related to capital investment, if that’s your thing. The Fed Ex Cup finale for the US PGA Tour is on this weekend in Atlanta with Dustin Johnson leading the elite field after three playoff events. On account of the TOUR Championship field having only 30 players we will only cover a few option this weekend after nominating Chun as one to watch closely last week.

 

Under 20: Patrick Reed. Recent winners of the event have come into the event finishing second in the standings and with the Ryder Cup on the horizon Reed, who has won in the playoff series already looks a strong hope.

 

20 to 50: Charl Schwartzel: The South African’s final round of eight under two weeks ago got him into this tournament and it was a quality round under pressure to qualify. The tee times here are set on ranking order and Schwartzel is out first with Jhonattan Vegas but the tee off is 11:40am local time so it may not be too much of an advantage as he isn’t off that early compared to a regular tournament.

 

20 to 50: Daniel Berger. Touted as a possible final Ryder Cup pick for the USA Berger probably needs a top five finish to impress. So has the required extra motivation and he’ll be hoping he can be named on September 25 after a big effort at here East Lake.

 

50 to 100: Justin Thomas. He’s not in super form and the tag as ‘next big thing’ can only run for so long until he gets a significant win. However he is in the field of 30, and has won this season, so anything can happen at his best.

 

 

Greens in regulation

The Asian Tour resumes with the Asian-Pacific Diamond Cup to be held in the Japanese city of Osaka with another Korean golfer Youghan Song among the contenders. Song won in January in Singapore seeing off Jordan Spieth. As we roll into spring events in this neck of the woods after the recent Northern Territory PGA Championship the PGA of Australasia moves to Noumea for the $140,000 South Pacific Open Championship which will be followed by tournaments in Fiji and Queensland in the coming month. The European Tour heads to Germany for the European Open at Bad Griesbach where Thongchai Jaidee edged Graeme Storm by a stroke. Thomas Pieters and Martin Kaymer, both Ryder Cup captain’s picks feature here before the Cup itself at Hazeltine in a week’s time.

 

Tap in

 

In golf innovation news, around about the time we published last week’s edition it was announced that the European Tour would trial elements of a six-hole format at the now-named World Super 6 Perth event. Co-sanctioned with the PGA Tour of Australasia the tournament concept is relatively simple to grasp and could provide an eye into the future of golf. The tournament at Lake Karrinyup Country Club in February starts as per a normal tour event with stroke play for the first three days. There is then a further cut after the third round which will leave the top 24 players to play six-hole knockout match-play on the final day with progressing to a final between two players and leaving us a tournament winner. It will provide an interesting dynamic for the tournament given the varying formats it will present the players. Finally it may provide an option for a big picture idea… if the men’s tour ever adds a fifth official major (perhaps a tournament located in Asia) maybe this could be the format?

 

Image via espn.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Five Metre Gap – NRL Finals Week Two 2016

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the second weekend of the NRL finals. Both home sides were victorious as the Cowboys won on Friday night in Townsville in a match that went into extra-time whilst the Raiders got over Penrith in Canberra on Saturday evening. North Queensland now face Cronulla on Friday night at Allianz Stadium whilst the minor premiers Melbourne Storm meet Canberra at AAMI Park on Saturday.

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After a week or so of off-field controversy Jason Taumololo was key in laying the platform for the Cowboys 26-20 extra-time win on Friday night over Brisbane. Running for over 247 metres the edge forward was always a threat and also made eleven tackles breaks. Related to the tackles breaks, and metres, gained Taumololo made an impressive 90 metres after first contact (by an opposition defender.) Taumololo was the best in his team for that key statistic studied by NRL clubs. The 90 metres was significant, and ironic, in that it matched as many metres as the Kiwi international ran in total when the Cowboys lost in week one of the finals 16-10 in Melbourne. He admitted he was below par in that contest and more than made up for it to have his team 80 minutes from back-to-back grand final appearances.

 

As Brisbane bowed out on Friday night it was interesting to note, despite the humid conditions and extra-time period of five minutes each way, Broncos coach Wayne Bennett used bench player Tevita Pangai Jnr sparingly with the former Knights lower grader (*who had been released by the Raiders in February to join Brisbane) playing only five minutes late in the contest. Bennett at one stage had Alex Glenn playing left centre when Tom Opacic went off after an hour. Despite Glenn’s versatility the Cook Island and Kiwi international was possibly fatigued when he was caught out of sorts as Cowboys centre Justin O’Neill crossed for his second try after 62 minutes. Brisbane was back in the game when Corey Oates dotted down seven minutes later but one wonders why Pangai Jnr, who played 21 minutes last weekend against the Titans, was given so little time.

 

It seemed a meaningless penalty as the Raiders wound the clock down to secure a 22-12 triumph over Penrith but getting to 21 points has been an important benchmark for Canberra this season. Ricky Stuart’s side has scored 21 points or more in every win this season but if they don’t pass 21 they don’t win either. Notably Melbourne have scored 16, 26, 16, and 15 in their last four home games so the men from the nation’s capital should go in with some level on confidence to their game in Melbourne if they can shore up their defence and maintain their attacking flair.

 

Canberra will need to counter Melbourne’s dynamic attack with impact from their bench and they showed it again on Saturday evening with Joseph Tapine running for 94 metres in his 41 minute stint but playing four minutes less off the bench Luke Bateman made an impressive 29 tackles, missing none. Kurt Baptiste is a capable dummy half runner if Englishman Josh Hodgson comes off, as he sometimes does late in the game, so this trio could be crucial to the Raiders success on Saturday night.

 

Despite the Storm’s favouristism Canberra have won in two of their last three trips to the Victorian capital, couple that with the Storm’s recent totals at home (not dominant even if they won three of those four games noted above) and the Raiders have every hope of making their first decider since they won the title in 1994. However Melbourne has a slim window left with Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk at their peak and it’s hard to see Craig Bellamy’s side throwing that away. The first preliminary final sees Cronulla host the Cowboys. Shane Flanagan’s side are bidding to play in their first grand final since 1997 (when Brisbane beat them in the one Australian Superleague decider) and have had a boost on Sunday with skipper Paul Gallen and fellow forward Sam Tagataese cleared to play. Focusing back on game planning by tomorrow (Monday) after two days of recovery reigning premiers the Cowboys didn’t pick up any new major injuries on Saturday evening and, like the Sharks, are set to see two key players return with winger Antonio Winterstein and centre Kane Linnett likely back from injury. Paul Green’s team, despite the travel they have to contend with, can absorb pressure in defence and launch long-range tries. I favour them to return to the grand final this year.

Image via abc.net.au

*an earlier version of this story omitted the fact Pangai had left the Raiders earlier this season. He is contracted to Brisbane until the end of the 2018 season.

Golf Capital – DJ wins at Crooked Stick, this time for the major in France

@hamishneal

A collection of my golf thoughts from the week plus some player performance/form notes for the next few days.

 

Opening drive

Before we get to winners from the weekend the tenth edition of Golf Capital column starts with a clarification, the Evian Championships is on this week in France. Not last week as we noted. I’ll blame fatigue but I can’t, I misread the LPGA calendar. The European LPGA had an event but the LPGA did not. We will get to the major later in the column.

 

With the PGA Tour’s playoff finale on from September 22 (yes, I’ve double-checked) Dustin Johnson enters in form after winning the BMW Championship from England’s Paul Casey with Houston-born Robert Castro third in the 70-player field on the weekend. Such is the nature of the FedEx Cup playoffs Johnson’s three-stroke victory in Indiana wasn’t the focus with players like JB Holmes sneaking into the 30-player elite field for the event in a week’s time at East Lake. South African Charl Schwartzel also made a charge during the fourth round with his eight-under 64, the best on Sunday, vaulting him into the top 30.

 

On the European Tour Dutchman Joost Luiten secured the KLM Open for the second time winning at ‘The Dutch’ course after Australian Scott Hend faded again. Hend eventually wound up in a tie for fourth after holding a lead for the second time in a fortnight. Olympian Hend has won three times since October last year but has missed some good chances in recent weeks in Switzerland then Holland for his first win in Europe. The European Tour heads south to Italy for the Italian Open to be held in Milan. The event was won by Swede Rikard Karlberg last year and the title was last held by a local when Francesco Molinari triumphed in 2006

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Player performance notes:

 

Players I’m interested in to see how they go with notes that interest me and/or are related to capital investment, if that’s your thing. We head to the fifth and final ladies major of 2016 in France – the Evian Championship.

 

20 and under: Lydia Ko. Everything outlined last week about the Kiwi world number one in this event last year still applies.

 

20 to 50: Suzann Pettersen. The Norwegian has won tournaments leading into this major and claimed the title in 2013. Good recent form.

 

20 to 50: In Gee Chun. South Korean Chun currently leads the rookie of the year standings and an early tee time in the first round could allow the world number seven to set the pace.

 

20 to 50: Sei Young Kim, the South Korean is the highest ranked player (six) to not have a major to their name. Based on the list of first time winners in recent years the 23 year-old is a strong chance.

 

20 to 50: Haru Nomura. A two-time winner this year, including the Australian Open when she beat home Ko. The Japanese golfer is looking to add to the nation’s good recent history in the tournament after wins for Ai Miyazato in 2009 and 2011.

 

50 to 100: Charley Hull, The English player was hamstrung by a third round 74 at the Olympics but the other three rounds of 68, 66 and 68 and eventual T7 finish was impressive. The 20 year-old just needs consistency.

 

100 to 200: Beth Allen. Only the 20th highest-ranked American the world number 89 placed T4 in the Australian Open at the start of the year and T6 in the Ladies European Masters recently so has some good form in, relatively, big tournaments in 2016.

 

200-500: Gaby Lopez. Sitting second to Chun in the rookie standings the Mexican picked up a T23 in Canada in recent weeks.

 

Greens in regulation

After the third of four PGA Tour playoff events three of the USA Ryder Cup captain’s picks were announced by Davis Love III. Holmes late charge on Sunday got him one of three selections along with Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar. Love has one more captain’s pick to be revealed for the event at Hazeltine with the world number seven Bubba Watson currently not in the USA team. Whether Watson’s prickly nature (highlighted by one of the ‘which player don’t you like?’ polls) means he eventually gets excluded we won’t know until September 25 for sure but the push seems to be for risings starts like one-time PGA Tour winners Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger ahead of the two-time Masters winner.

 

Tap in

Finally, a return to golf for Tiger Woods is in the offing with the 14-time major winner signaling his intention to return when the new season commences in October playing the Safeway Open in California. Woods’ is then set to travel to Turkey in November. However the decision to venture to the Turkish capital of Antalya seems odd. If you are returning from injury it would seem sensible to take a sensible path and control recovery as best you can. I realise the 40 year-old doesn’t travel in cattle class on the plane but the choice of venue for the second tournament has to surely be down to sponsors to undertake this schedule. The third event is his own Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December but the tournament in Turkey seems an odd selection.

Image via golfweek.com

 

 

 

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Five Metre Gap – NRL Finals Week One 2016

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the opening weekend of the NRL finals. Melbourne and Cronulla secured themselves the week off, and head straight into a preliminary final, with the Titans and Bulldogs eliminated by Brisbane and Penrith respectively. The Cowboys and Canberra will now host semi-finals this weekend after they suffered defeats to the Storm and Cronulla respectively.

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Five Metre Gap’s wrap of round 26 highlighted the efficient work of the Melbourne Storm in completing their sets and the adherence to the basics again laid the platform for Craig Bellamy’s on side on Saturday evening when they beat the Cowboys 16-10 in Melbourne. The result was a stalemate at halftime (6-6) after Cowboys’ winger Antonio Winterstein notched a four-pointer almost of the bell but it was a rare blemish in a half when Melbourne missed only three (!) tackles. Compare that with the 32 missed by North Queensland all match and it pinpoints the bedrock on which Melbourne base their game. Melbourne missed 14 tackles in the match, which was the best from all the finals sides on the weekend. Even allowing for the fact this statistic doesn’t note players who misread a play and fail to make the right effort to affect a tackle at all the figure is an important one from the minor premiers on a weekend when some sides who won games missed over 30 tackles.

 

Cronulla were the only side to win away from their home city on the opening weekend of the finals edging the Raiders 16-14 in Canberra. However one interesting aspect late in the game was coach Shane Flanagan’s decision to replace halfback Chad Townsend for tactical reasons. The former Warriors playmaker made way for Gerard Beale with Jack Bird shifting into the halves and Beale to centre. The following evening Fa’amanu Brown, who has featured for the Sharks in the top grade this season, guided Cronulla’s second-tier outfit the Newtown Jets to a 22-18 win over the New Zealand Warriors’ reserves. Brown, 21, laid on a deft left-foot kick for the Jets’s second try and the Christchurch-born playmaker displayed a clever general kicking game late in the match to run the clock down as the Jets secured the right to play the Illawarra Cutters (Dragons reserves) next Sunday in Lilyfield. If Brown can guide the Bluebags into the NSW second-tier decider Townsend’s spot could be shaky for the preliminary final in just under a fortnight.

 

In a beaten team Raiders bench forward Joseph Tapine was impressive running for 113 metres on Saturday evening in the ACT. Tapine was only seven metres short of starting forward Josh Papalii who was the Raiders’ best in that regard with 120 metres and the former Knight made some strong runs as Ricky Stuart’s team tried to get a decisive second-half try. The impact of Canberra’s bench forwards will be crucial against Penrith next weekend as the likely absence of hooker Josh Hodgson means the delivery from dummy half, whilst adequate from Kurt Baptiste is unlikely to be as crisp as the Englishman. Penrith will use everyone opportunity to compress Canberra in attack next weekend but the lime green forwards must not only make metres but provide quick play of the balls.

 

On the subject of Hodgson’s likely absence the loss of the former Hull KR rake was crucial from an attacking standpoint as the Raiders fell to Cronulla, and will be even more so for the Raiders if Blake Austin is also missing for the clash with Anthony Griffin’s team. It was notable that despite the absence of Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen (who was a pre-game withdrawal) and the injury to Wade Graham that forced him from the field early in the game the defence from the replacement players as long as it was the same or just below in terms of efficiency provided enough of a platform to starve Canberra of good attacking chances but allow the fight Cronulla playmakers to, even if they didn’t score freely, make easy ground in attack. The was highlighted by the fact two Sharks forwards Andrew Fifita and Matt Prior made over 200 metres each.

 

Of the two games coming up this weekend it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that each of the top four sides that will feature (the Cowboys and Raiders) could exit the finals in straight sets – losing both their matches. Brisbane, for all the controversy around their 44-28 win over the Titans, displayed great attacking prowess and have only lost to Melbourne since the start of August. In that period the Cowboys suffered a defeat to the Roosters, scoring only 10 points in that game, and have had far more travel to deal with than the Broncos. However Brisbane’s attack is heavily reliant on Anthony Milford with the playmaker running on 16 occasions in Friday night to fellow half Ben Hunt’s two runs. Bar only one occasion, Penrith and Canberra having been free-scoring recently having notched at least 22 points in each of their games since the start of August. The only exception to this for Penrith was their 15-14 golden point win over the Titans in round 25. Whilst for Canberra their 14 points on the weekend was their lowest total in the last month and a half. There is something about this Penrith side that impresses me and I’m not sure Canberra can win a semi-final if both Hodgson and Austin are missing.

Image via theleader.com.au

Golf Capital – McIlroy’s back and Ko seeks second French triumph

@hamishneal

A collection of my golf thoughts from the week plus some player performance/form notes for the next few days.

 

Opening drive

 

Closing rounds of 66 and 65 on the holiday weekend saw Rory McIlroy claim victory in the second of four playoff events on the PGA Tour when he overhauled Englishmen Paul Casey at TPC Boston. The weekend also saw wins for a German and Swede across the other main women’s and men’s tour events, but the focus was very much on events in New England. Winning on average almost once every year on the European Tour from 2001 until 2014 Casey had only claimed victory once in the USA and couldn’t convert a three-stroke lead after 54 holes with McIlroy recovering from a bad start on Friday to win by two strokes. With the spectre of Nike’s recent announcement that it will no longer design and produce golf equipment McIlroy was able to push aside the hordes of gear getting sent to him by other suppliers and make sure the ‘swoosh’ is prominent for at least the next few months.

 

Before Ulsterman McIlroy won on Labor Day in Massachusetts Swede Alex Noren won a second European Masters title in Crans Montana Switzerland when he defeated Australian Scott Hend in extra holes and Caroline Masson won the LPGA event in Canada, a career first for the German who has been on the tour for four years. The event preceded this weekend’s major in France which is the final for the year on the women’s tour.

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Player performance notes:

 

Players I’m interested in to see how they go with notes that interest me and/or are related to capital investment, if that’s your thing. We head to the third leg of the playoffs on the PGA Tour which is in Carmel, located north of Indianapolis.

 

20 and under: Rory McIlroy. Last week’s winner doubled up in the playoffs saluting last week’s venue and here in 2012. Course specialist alert!

 

20 to 50: Patrick Reed. The winner of the first playoff event was well in contention last weekend shooting no worse than 70 in each of his four rounds to finish T5.

 

20 to 50: Bubba Watson. Given the course layout the two-time Masters winner is favoured but he hasn’t set the world on fire recently with his recent best a T8 at the Olympics.

 

50 to 100: Gary Woodland. If not for a third round 74 Woodland would have been well in contention for at least a top five finish at TPC Boston. As it was T15 is still a respectable result in that field.

 

50 to 100: Russell Knox. Getting left out of the Ryder Cup team for Europe didn’t exactly fire up the Scot as he only opened with a 73 last week but then went on to record 67, 69 and 67 which tells me he got his head around the snubbing and back into some form.

 

100 to 200: Jason Kokrak. Another column mention for the Canadian-born player after a T8 last week in which he closed with a 66. On the bubble, as they say, for the final playoff event as he is currently 34th in the standings (the top 30 qualify.)

 

100 to 200: David Hearn. 100 players from TPC Boston are trimmed to 70 for this event and Hearn is in form. One to the biggest movers to ensure he features this week Hearn finished T8. The results meant he jumped 33 spots from 92 (well outside of contention) to 59th – comfortably playing this weekend but he still needs to jump another 29 places to feature next weekend.

 

200 to 500: Charles Howell III. The Augusta native has really been scratchy of late, including missing the cut at the Barclays, however he does rank in the top seven for par five scoring, a key stat on this course which favours longer hitters. The American needs to move up 18 places to make the final event.

 

Greens in regulation

 

The BMW Championship event is to be played at the Crooked Stick Golf Club whilst the European Tour event, the KLM Open, is played at a venue simply called ‘The Dutch’ in the village of Spijk. Surely this must be the best double header of names for a long time. Disappointingly the women’s major – the Evian Championship – is at the predictably named Evian Golf Club which really is letting the golf world down this weekend (*its not.) Course names aside, Lydia Ko returns to defend her title and seeks to become the first multiple major winner this season. Four of the top five in the world rankings have all scored a significant win this campaign if you include the four majors already played and the Olympic event. Ko, who won the first major of the season the ANA Inspiration, was emphatic winning this event last year by six strokes. Given the Kiwi secured silver on Rio and finished with rounds of 64 and 68 to tie for fifth last weekend she is in the right vein of form to win again in France.

 

Tap In

 

This column has spent recent weeks talking about what modern ideas the Olympic golf could give the professional tours, and the European Tour has recently signaled the possibility of having some six-hole events as it’s new modified format. However, occasionally reflecting on golf in the ‘olden days’ can be glorious. This terrific European Tour video piece which runs just under four minutes sees three current pros take on a fun golf idea. The challenge was to use hickory golf clubs over a short format event taking on the 2013 Hickory World Golf Champion Paolo Quirici.

 

NB: The earlier post got the wrong date for the final women’s major of the season. The Ladies European Tour does indeed have an event this weekend September 8-11 with the Ladies European Masters in Germany. The event at the Golf Club Hubbelrath located in Dusseldorf is the last pro event before the Evian Championship which is on between September 15-18. However the LPGA is on a week off. You can be rest assured the sub-editor who made this error after the first posting has been made to watch old clips of bad John Daly rounds on rotation.

 

 

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 26 2016

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the 26th round of the NRL. Melbourne secured the JJ Giltinan Shield for finishing in first place at the end of the regular season when they beat Cronulla on Saturday evening. The following afternoon saw Canberra defeat the Tigers to claim second spot, which in turn meant the Tigers threw away the chance to claim the last spot in the finals. This meant the Titans, despite losing on Saturday, finished in eighth spot.

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Minor premiers Melbourne, appropriately, finished the weekend as the side with the best completion rate 91% (31/34). Despite conceding more penalties (6-5) in beating the Sharks 26-6 Craig Bellamy’s side took advantage of their nearly four and half minutes more time in the opposition 20 metre zone. The use of the ball stat is particularly galling for Sharks fans whose side had two more sets, 37, compared to Melbourne but only completed 28. Cronulla’s 11-6 errors count was telling in the wash-up as Shane Flanagan’s side coughed up a chance to secure second spot – and the chance to ensure they didn’t need to leave Sydney to win the title.

 

One-time Dally M medalist-elect Josh Hodgson tuned up nicely for the finals series as the Raiders brushed aside the Tigers 52-10 on Sunday at Leichhardt Oval. Canberra’s rake scored a try and helped create two of Canberra’s first three four-pointers as Ricky Stuart’s side raced to a 26-point lead after 40 minutes. Hodgson was crucial in supplying fast delivery to the Raiders outside backs and his clever kicking game (three kicks for 93 metres) was again important when used effectively. Hodgson’s recent sanction saw him lose three points associated with the prestigious player of the year gong and as a result of his one-game ban his lost the chance to pick up three points so it could be said the former Hull KR hooker has lost six points in the medal count. Before it went behind closed doors Hodgson was the favourite to pick up the title. After his efforts on Sunday he might have just done enough to become the first British player to win the Dally M and the first Raiders player since Laurie Daley in 1995 to do so.

 

Staying with the number nine role and it’s interesting to note that whilst the saga around Robbie Farah’s departure from the Tigers has hogged the headlines the efforts of another veteran from a western Sydney club are worth noting. Four-cap New South Wales halfback Peter Wallace has slotted into the ‘9’ jersey with aplomb since a mid-season switch to the role at the Panthers. As Penrith dispatched Manly 36-6 in the last game of the regular season former Bronco Wallace dotted down in the first half as he helped steer Anthony Griffin’s side around the park and take a 30-0 lead into the break. Wallace got a rare rest when substituted in the second stanza. Interestingly another former NSW playmaker Jarrod Mullen could be headed into a permanent dummy half role given the Knights injury concerns after the 29 year-old played that role in their defeat to the Dragons. But Nathan Brown does have a host of young number nines available when fit next season.

 

Looking towards the weekend’s opening round of finals games I expect we will bid farewell to the Bulldogs and the Titans. Canterbury appear to be a team devoid of ideas in the ‘red zone’ having scored only seven tries in their last three games, plus they were beaten by Souths (who aren’t in the finals) by 18 points on Friday night. Bulldogs coach Des Hasler it yet to taste grand final success with this team as he did with Manly in 2011. The Gold Coast have been involved in two tight games decided by a field goal in the last month, beat the hapless Knights and were not at the races for most of the game as the Cowboys beat them 32-16 on Saturday night. That is not the sort of consistency needed for finals football. Jarryd Hayne’s displays of brilliance are still interspersed with blow-ups at officials and it just seems hard to see the Titans overcoming an experienced Broncos outfit.

 

In the qualifying finals, which will see the losers still stay alive, I think the minor premiers Melbourne will salute against the Cowboys. The fact they played another top side at home will assist Melbourne, as will they fact they don’t need to leave Victoria to qualify for the grand final. However the Cowboys have scored 90 points in their last three games. In Canberra I expect the Raiders to win on Saturday but with fullback Jack Wighton missing due to suspension, at this stage, it does tip the balance back in favour of the Sharks who have damaging runners from open play and Canberra would be negated in this regard if Wighton, their regular custodian, is absent.
Image via raiders.com.au