Golf Capital – Horschel beats Day in playoff as Jang says bye LPGA

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, notes, and thoughts from the week. Americans Billy Horschel and Lexi Thompson had contrasting wins plus a top ten player calls it quits from the top tier.

horschelyahoosportsmay2017

Opening drive

Horschel’s triumph, his first since the Tour Championship in 2014, came after Day missed his par putt in the playoff which clinched Horschel the Byron Nelson and a spot back inside the world’s top 50 (44.) Day had a wild back nine – pitching in on 15 before hitting a spectator on 16 and then missing a birdie putt on that hole – so it may not be surprising he wasn’t as composed in the playoff. Hopefully Day will maintain his composure in bigger events coming up.

 

Following his refusal to play the WGC event in Mexico due to security concerns (in the end he didn’t qualify) I’ve not been a huge fan for the Floridian but from a playing point of view the 30 year-old who was once ranked as high as 12 in the world has experienced a turnaround and after missing three consecutive cuts was an outsider here but has now found some form. Horschel’s wife opened up about her issues with alcoholism  subsequent to the victory so I’m prepared to give Horschel a pass for his over-doing about security in Mexico when given his personal situation he could sensibly have taken off the last 12 months or so, or wound back his playing schedule stating it was family issues, and be done with it. I disagree with his assertions over perceived security issues in Mexico but at least he was honest and, under duress, the fact he’s picked up this win Texas is a nice story.

 

Speaking of recent family issues. Queenslander Day’s preparations for tournaments had resulted in some withdrawals but he’s now looking good (bar a couple of errors on Sunday) ahead of the season’s second major. (By the way read this if you haven’t already – it’s the definitive piece on Day and his family.) The US PGA tour stays in Texas for the Dean and Deluca Invitational this weekend in Fort Worth where Jordan Spieth is the reigning champion.

 

It’s not a major but Lexi Thompson has saluted on the LPGA Tour with little hint of controversy this time winning by five strokes in the Kingsmill Championship in Williamsburg . There were five rounds of 65 as the best score across the tournament and Thompson, 22, had three of them. Danielle Kang, who finished fourth, and Thailand’s Pannarat Thanapolboonyaras (T18) had the other two with Thompson’s third-round 69 her other score for what was 22 year-old’s eighth triumph on the LPGA tour.

 

On the Asian Tour Rattanon Wannasrichan lead from start to finish with two-stroke triumph in the Thailand Open in Bangkok. Waannasrichan, 21, vaulted up the rnakings from 404 to 239 with the win. In Sicily Alvaro Quiros won The Rocco Forte Open via a play-off but he scratched around all day and left the door ajar for Zander Lombard before the South African missed a simple putt on the second playoff hole. Spaniard Quiros had a five-shot advantage heading into the final day before a poor back-nine saw him roll back to the pack dropping four shots combined on 15, 16 and 17.  It was the 34 year-old’s first win since 2011.

 

Player performance notes

Players I’m interested in to see how they go with notes that interest me related to capital investment if that’s your thing. One of the European Tour’s big events for the season the PGA Championship, won by Chris Wood last year, takes place at the Wentworth Club. It’s also the first leg of the new Rolex Series – the new seven-tournament format replacing the old final series.

 

Under 20: Alex Noren. The Swede was eighth in this tournament two years ago and finished 10th last time out at The Players. A winner four times last year, including the British Masters.

 

20 to 50: Tommy Fleetwood. A winner already in 2017 Fleetwood hias the best greens in regulation stats on tour plus he was second last time out in China. That’s enough to show he can overcome a poor last two goes at this tournament.

 

50 to 100: Haotong Li. China’s Li rose to a career high ranking of 128 after finishing third in Sicily last weekend. Li’s played here before (T27) so will be used to the venue.

 

50 to 100: Thorbjorn Olesen. A winner of one of the key end of season events, the Turkish Airlines Open, Olesen also triumphed in the recent GolfSixes as half of Team Denmark. He did miss the cut here last year but will be better for the experience.

 

100 to 200 Andrew Johnston Last year’s final round at the tournament was hard work with only six players breaking 70, including winner Wood, but ‘Beef’ fired 67 and was only four strokes from the top. London native Johnston is not playing well but a return to a familiar venue should help.

 

100 to 200: Soomin Lee. The South Korean has recorded three consecutive top tens in Asia and this is a step up but the 23 year-old will have benefitted from his appearance here last year. We are also hoping for a Garcia-type inspiration Quiros got with his win after Lee’s compatriot Si Woo Kim won The Players.

 

Greens in regulation

In Western Australia it was a second victory of the season for Central Coast golfer Dimitrios Papadatos. His victory in the WA PGA Championship nearly didn’t happen as he almost elected to travel to the UK and miss the event at the Kalgoorlie Golf Club. Victory by a stroke “as the red dirt swirled” as reported by pga.org.au means Papadatos is in good form as he now focuses on Europe Sectional Qualifying for the US Open at Walton Heath in Surrey from May 29. It is one of 12 sectional qualifying sites but only one of two not in the USA.

 

Tap in

The premature retirement of recent Australian Open winner, 25 year-old Ha Na Jang, from the top flight LPGA tour came out of the blue with the current world number ten choosing to devote more time to her family. Whilst not as lucrative, Jang still intends to play on the Korean tour but it will not offer the opportunities for notoriety which had come her way after four wins in the space of 12 months, including the victory in Adelaide. Jang was involved in one of the more bizarre off-field incidents of recent years when a luggage mishap involving her father and fellow South Korean golfer In Ghee Chun. The latter was temporarily usurped by Jang for a spot in the Korean Olympic team but Chun eventually recovered to play in Rio and Jang missed out. Funny game golf.

Image via yahoosports.com

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 11 2017

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from round eleven of the NRL plus a look ahead to Origin I. The weekend started with victory for the premiers Cronulla on Thursday and finished in Perth with a win for Melbourne. The Storm are sole leaders on 18 points with the Broncos, Sharks and Roosters two points further back.

dragonsmay2017abcnetau.jpg

Thursday night saw Cronulla pick up their second home win of the season but, yet again at Southern Cross Group Stadium, they made hard work of it. Down 14-0 to the visiting Cowboys a second-half revival was enough to register an 18-14 triumph and their eighth win of the campaign. Their only other home win this season was a 19-18 triumph over the hapless Knights. The comeback was in a large part due to skipper Paul Gallen who ran for 206 metres from 18 runs but 147 metres alone in the second stanza. Retired from representative football after his last act of a goal for City Origin in Mudgee recently Gallen made 39 tackles and helped guide his team to an important win to maintain a top four spot. He was ably assisted by a strong overall team effort in the second stanza.

 

As the Broncos brushed aside the Tigers 36-0 on Friday night there was a surprise top metre-gainer in their pack in the form of interchange forward Joe Ofahengaue. In his 46-minute effort he ran for 142 metres in 16 runs and made 32 tackles to help lead the Brisbane pack to a dominant victory. Ofahengaue, 21, also provided the final pass for the last Broncos try. A regular on the Broncos bench since Tevita Pangai junior’s injury a month ago Ofahengaue hadn’t played more than 24 minutes this season until the weekend and the extra minutes this weekend came about after hooker Andrew McCullough was forced off with a head injury.

 

As the Dragons arrested a recent slide beating the Warriors 30-14 on Friday evening New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney must be scratching his head. The visitors did fail to convert a few opportunities in the first half so could have lead by more than 18-6 at the interval but what must be even more galling for Warriors fans was the fact that their side (despite scoring a late try) was so far out of the contest the Dragons were running the ball on the last tackle just to try some plays to see how they would go during the last ten minutes. When you are home side, even though they were playing in Hamilton, who need to be more competitive for the whole contest. At times it looked like an opposed training session.

 

When South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds went from the field for a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) it proved crucial as the notional ‘home’ side fell apart late in their sets with poor attacking options as the Storm won in WA on Sunday evening 14-6. This was typified by John Sutton who kicked one ball out of the full and kicked another dead, all within a short space of time. As they fell by eight points Sutton was given the role to take the last play kick options and the gulf in class between him and the two-cap Origin halfback Reynolds was clear. Chasing the game before eventually falling 14-6 Sutton’s two poor kicks came just before Suliasi Vunivalu’s decisive try six minutes from time.

 

With the State of Origin sides selected for game one, to be played on Wednesday May 31 in Brisbane, the back-lines (as in the selected 1-7 starters) for each side match-up evenly in terms of tries with 23 each so far this season but Queensland have a distinct advantage in creating try-scoring opportunities with six more try assists (23) recorded compared to 17 for New South Wales. Whilst try assists are not the only measure of try-scoring opportunities it is noteworthy that Queensland’s halves of Anthony Milford (Brisbane) and Cooper Cronk (Melbourne) have combined for nine tries with 12 try assists in their club games to date this season whilst the Blues duo of James Maloney (Cronulla) and Mitchell Pearce (Sydney) combining for eight tries with nine try assists. Despite the Maroons vaunted attacking dominance underscored by the fact they outscored NSW eight tries to six last season in their 2-1 series victory last year one of their backs, Justin O’Neill, hasn’t got a single try or try assist this season in the eight games he has played. The Cowboys centre has also failed to score in the Origin arena in the three game he played last year. From a NSW point of view the player with the least attacking output in the first 11 rounds is Josh Dugan with two tries.

Image via abc.net.au

 

 

Golf Capital – Kim wins The Players plus different paths for recent Masters champs

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, notes, and thoughts from the week. Si Woo Kim became the youngest-ever winner of  the ‘fifth major’ when he triumphed at The Players and England’s Matt Wallace vaulted into the top 140 winning the Portugal Open at the Morgado Golf Resort.

siwookimgolfchannelmay2017

Opening drive

Kim triumphed at TPC Sawgrass following three sub-70 rounds. This included a final round of 69 on a day which he was one of only two players who finished inside the top 11 and broke 70. Kim’s bogey-free card saw him win by three strokes from Louis Oosthuizen and Ian Poutler. Spain’s Sergio Garcia was on contention but shot 78 on Sunday to tumble down the leader board to finish T30 but that was nothing compared to the collapse of JB Holmes who started the day tied for the lead but finished 13 strokes from the winner in T41st after he signed for an 84. Golf can be a cruel game.

 

Having entered the week ranked 73rd, Kim has now won at least one professional title in each of the last three years and secured a tour card for the next five years. Kim won the tournament despite having suffered a back issue which required treatment on Saturday evening and has forced his subsequent withdrawal from this week’s Byron Nelson. At the age of 21 Kim has registered multiple withdrawals due to injury (three in the last year) so it is mildly concerning the South Korean is already, seemingly, injury-prone.

 

With a dual ranking Challenge and European tour event Matt Wallace was the victor in Portugal and the Englishman has now picked up full tour status following his three-stroke triumph over American Julian Suri and the rest of the field. Entering the tournament ranked 242 Wallace was prolific on the lower-tier Alps Tour and won with a score of 21 under. The Sicilian town of Agrigento hosts the Rocco Forte Open this week before the ET’s PGA Championship at Wentworth next week.

 

The LPGA resumes this weekend in Virginia with world number one Lydia Ko in danger of losing the top spot to either defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn or world number two So Yeon Ryu. When Jutanugarn won the Kingswill Championship last year it was her second triumph in 2016. The 21 year-old would go on to win on three more occasions – including the British Open. Also resuming this week is the Asian Tour with the Thailand Open in Bangkok.

 

Player performance notes

Players I’m interested in to see how they go with notes that interest me related to capital investment if that’s your thing. TPC Four Seasons, near Dallas, hosts the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson. The tournament was won by Sergio Garcia in a playoff last year despite the Spaniard finding water twice on Sunday. The Masters champ defeated Brooks Koepka in extra holes at the course in Irving, Texas.

 

Under 20: Brooks Koepka. Last year’s beaten playoff finalist here has notched a T16 and second in his last two individual stroke-play events.

 

20 to 50: Bud Cauley. I’m still on Cauley Island and his recent good results are supported by his T4 finish last year when he was two shots away from the playoff. Tees off in the first group on at the 10th hole on Thursday.

 

20 to 50: Tony Finau. The Utah native was T3 at the recent Texas Open and four top tens this year to his credit. T12 here last year with rounds no worse than 68 shows he likes the event.

 

20 to 50: Charl Schwartzel. The former Masters champ contended at Augusta. Has an early tee time on Thursday to get things rolling.

 

50 to 100: Sung Kang. The Jeju-born golfer has two top six finishes to his credit this season in tournaments played in Texas which included a T6 last time out in San Antonio. Ranked 85 in the world currently.

 

100 to 200: Zac Blair. If not for a third round 75 Blair would have been well in contention to win the Houston Open in early April. Has the ability to continue the trend of recent drought-breakers on tour.

 

Greens in regulation

With Garcia suffering a final day slide at TPC Sawgrass it was nothing compared to 2016 Masters champ Danny Willett who withdrew from the tournament citing a back strain and needing to take a break. This news came after Willett was been sacked by his caddie Jon Smart in his previous tournament at Hilton Head. Since his major triumph 13 months ago the Englishman has had four top ten finishes but he’s missed three cuts in his last six starts to go with the recent withdrawal. At 29 he’s not a spent force but it has not been a good few weeks for Willett. He is yet to announce when he plans to return to the tour.

 

Tap in

Former world number one Vijay Singh threatened to roll back the years and embarrass PGA Tour officials in the process when he found himself in the spotlight at TPC Sawgrass before finishing in T16. Remember the deer antler spray case? Well Fijian Singh, 54, is in the midst of a legal suit (which has been going since 2013) against the tour for how they handled the situation four-years ago. It wasn’t a return to his halcyon days (he’s not won since 2008) after Singh shot 79 on Saturday but officials may have been nervous after he started with rounds of 70 and 68. A trophy presentation could have been very awkward with the Hall of Famer still taking the authorities to task regarding the scenario which he still claims came about because he did not know the contents of the substance – which turned out to be banned. May honesty prevail.
Image via golfweek.com

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 10 + City-Country Shield

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points your may have missed from round ten of the NRL plus a new representative fixture. The Gold Coast produced a stunning comeback to beat the Storm during the Saturday night double-header in Brisbane which also saw the Broncos defeat Manly. The Sharks and Roosters both won on the weekend and share second with Brisbane behind Melbourne.

cq5dam.web.1280.1280

Friday night saw a Souths player make a case for Origin representation, and I’m not talking about Robbie Farah. Edge forward Angus Crichton, who made his NRL debut in round 19 last year, ran for 160 metres in 12 runs as the Rabbitohs beat the Tigers 28-8. Crichton, once an Australian schoolboys rugby union representative, had a first half (83 metres/five runs and one try) which was vastly superior to Origin incumbent Josh Jackson – who also plays on the right edge. In 80 minutes the night before, as the Bulldogs were beaten 30-14 by the Cowboys, Jackson made a miserly 54 metres from eight runs plus gave away three penalties. Whilst it was only the Tigers who have won just three times this season, if the result/effort is enough for Farah’s claims to be pushed for Laurie Daley’s side Crichton has at least done his hopes no harm – perhaps not for 2017 but at least in the near future.

 

Former Bronco Jarrod Wallace was the benchmark forward as the Titans upset the Storm 38-36 for their fourth win of the season at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday evening. Wallace, who joined the Gold Coast in the off-season after five years and 73 first grade games with Brisbane, ran for 212 metres from his 18 runs to go with his 20 tackles. Wallace, who has featured in every game for Neil Henry’s side this season, pulled off these statistics playing 53 minutes in the contest.

 

Having made his NRL debut in round nine Warriors winger Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad scored his first NRL four-pointer on the weekend in a bright spot for the New Zealand side as they capitulated from leading 28-6 to fall to defeat 36-28 at the hands of the Penrith Panthers. Cooks Island international Nicoll-Klokstad dotted down twice on Saturday in the first half the week after featuring for the Kukis when they were beaten 32-22 by Papua New Guinea. His try-scoring double means Nicoll-Klokstad becomes the fourth player from Melbourne club side Altona Roosters to score in the NRL – the other three are Drury Low, Gareth Widdop and Jeremy Smith. The latter two both played for the Storm during their career. Low and Nicoll-Klokstad both featured in the 2015 World Cup qualifier for the Cook Islands in which Tonga were 28-8 victors and got the Asia-Pacific qualifying slot at this year’s World Cup.

 

From the backs to the forwards another player who featured in the Pacific Tests in Sydney recently had a season-best’s effort in round ten – Fijian forward Daniel Saifiti. In the Knights’ 34-20 triumph over Canberra on Sunday the Newcastle middle forward ran for 201 metres from 20 runs and also made 21 tackles. Saifiti, who scored a try in Fiji’s defeat to Tonga in Campbelltown, hadn’t run for any more than 140 metres to date this season so his 60-minute performance was a key effort in the second win for Nathan Brown’s side in 2017. (However if you count the pre-season game in Queanbeyan the Knights have beaten Canberra twice and it’s only May – sorry to make it worse Raiders fans)

 

In an ironic twist from the New South Wales Rugby League Sunday featured the birth of a concept with the inaugural women’s City-Country Shield fixture played at North Sydney Oval. After City won the final men’s contest in Mudgee last weekend the first female match of this rivalry has been established to further enhance the pathway to the NSW women’s side who, for the first time in nearly two decades, will be defending their women’s origin title after wresting the crown from Queensland last year after a 8-4 victory on the Gold Coast. The 2017 contest will be played in July and NSW will head into the contest with City having won the shield 20-8 with the final try for the winners going to Cronulla-Caringbah Sharks winger (and former Australian rugby union sevens squad member) Kate Mullaly as they got out to a 20-0 margin before two late consolation tries to the visitors.
Image via nrl photos – nswrl.com.au

 

Golf Capital – Danes rule Sixes, LPGA’s Twitter bogey

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, notes, and thoughts from the week. It was the European Tour’s latest attempt at a new format (which I think is here to stay) as Denmark won Golf Sixes whilst Cory Crawford, Brian Harman and Sei Young Kim picked up victories across the Australasian PGA, PGA and LPGA tours, respectively.

 

denmark-golfsixesgolfdigest.jpg

 

Opening drive:

The Danes, and Thorbjorn Olesen in particular, have dominated team golf in the last several months with victory at the Centurion Club north of central London in the inaugural Golf sixes. Olesen, teaming with Lucas Bjerregaard, came from 1-0 down to take the last three holes and win the final 3-1 over the Australian duo of Sam Brazel/Scott Hend. This came after they had finished second in their group behind England before beating France then Italy in the knock-out phase prior to the six-hole final. The European Tour heads to Portimao this week for the Open de Portugal – a tournament which hasn’t been played since 2010.

 

Match play was the focus on the LPGA with Kim winning the tour’s first event in this format since 2012 beating world number two Ariya Jutanugarn at the Club de Golf Mexico to claim the Loren Ochoa Match Play title. The LPGA now returns to the USA in a fortnight heading to Virginia.

 

After a new format last weekend the PGA Tour returned to the traditional tournament format for the Wells Fargo Championship which saw a one-stroke win for Brian Harman in North Carolina. Harman benefitted from Patrick Reed’s collapse throughout the final round. Reed lead by a shot after 54 holes but finished in a tie for 12th with Harman also seeing off other challenges before getting a slice of luck on the 18th hole when he got a free drop before he stubbed a chip shot out of the rough near the grandstand only to then drain the birdie putt for his second PGA title.

 

Perhaps inspired by fellow Queensland golfer’s Cameron Smith’s recent win, but more likely suited to the weather conditions, Cory Crawford won the Papua New Guinea Open in Port Moresby on Sunday, but he needed six holes in a playoff before prevailing over Brisbane’s Brett Rankin. Rankin had a chance to win on 18 in regulation play before seeing his bogey on the 78th hole hand the title to Gold-Coast based Crawford.

 

Player performance notes:

Players I’m interested in to see how they go with notes that interest me related to capital investment if that’s your thing. The Players (aka. the fifth major) at TPC Sawgrass in Florida sees world number one Dustin Johnson play his second tournament back from injury after going close on the weekend behind Harman but also the return of world number two Rory McIlroy who hasn’t played since the Masters.

 

20 to 50: Justin Rose. Before he was second at the Masters the Orlando resident (when he’s in the states) had five top 15 finished in 2017 with three top four placings among those figures.

 

20 to 50: Justin Thomas. Thomas was T3 here last year and has won already in 2017. Playing with Bud Cauley he was also T5 in the recent team’s event on the PGA.

 

50 to 100: Daniel Berger. The Florida native, albeit from a different part of the state, has a recent T5 in Houston to his credit plus he wasT9 here last year.

 

50 to 100: Matt Kuchar. Since T4 at the Masters he has played twice with a T11 at the RBC Hertigate the best of the two results. He was T3 here last year with a closing round of 68 and that came off a T9 a few weeks prior at the 2016 RBC Heritage.

 

100 to 200: Patrick Cantlay. Paired with Patrick Reed Cantlay finished T14 in New Orleans and in two of his last three stroke-play event’s he’s come second and third. Few in this field, despite the quality, have that sort of form. He will be benefitted by an early tee time on Thursday.

 

100 to 200: Brian Harman. Last weekend’s winner Harman gets an early tee off time on Thursday and we’ve seen players not only when this season but contend or win at the subsequent event. The Georgia native has risen from 133rd to 52nd in the past 12 months

 

Greens in regulation

Denmark’s Golf Sixes win will be the first of many tournaments in this format just looking at how much the European Tour officials seemed to love their event. Even without multiple mega-star names the event went well timing wise with rounds done within 75 minutes if not less and changes in opponents throughout the day providing some great variety but, Golf sixes needs work…

 

-The scoring. Normally linked to the European Tour website, was linked to the event one and it was a hash. The scoreboards only appeared to be up when the tournament was taking place and the draw for the knockout stage wasn’t easily available.

 

-The walk-on intro. Yes it’s not dark and the players aren’t wearing socks like Dustin Johnson was for his tumble which caused him to miss the Masters but the steps down to the opening tee is asking for trouble. Why not just a tunnel?

 

-Why not names on the shirts? Most teams had themed shirts with Team Australia running Twitter polls to get fans to pick their choice but why not names on the players on the back? New fans need to know who they are watching.

 

Overall the event has a bright future but it was nice to hear honesty from Alexander Levy when the Frenchman and his teammate Gregory Bourdy were beaten in the knockout rounds. Levy told Vernon Kay he wanted the knockout rounds to be more than six holes – perhaps nine or 12. Similar to rugby sevens tournaments which have finals longer than seven minutes a half this idea has merit but might only work logistically for the final otherwise players could be playing 27 holes minimum on the final day.

 

Tap in

Perhaps scrambling for relevance after the recent rules controversy in the ANA Inspiration the LPGA, for the tournament in the first week of June – the Shop Rite Classic in New Jersey, ran a Twitter poll for a special exemption. The idea has been roundly hounded largely due to the sexism aspect when it appeared, on face value, that one player of the quartet in contention (Scotland’s Carly Booth) was clearly the best credentialed so logic would dictate she should have got the entry anyway. Booth, twice a winner on the Ladies European tour, lost out to India’s Sharmila Nicollet who is yet to finish inside the top 15 in the LET tournaments she has played. Developing opportunities for players from nations not usually playing on the LPGA makes sense but why not just have a dedicated spot for those players from developing nations? Booth’s Twitter following 35.9K followers is dwarfed by Nicollet’s of 358K. Astonishingly, or perhaps not actually, Booth didn’t even poll second. Nicollet got 39% of the vote with Blair O’Neal (who works for the Golf Channel) second on 30%. Booth polled 25% with Bolivia’s Susana Benavides on a paltry 7%. An utter trash idea and what should have been a chance for Booth, 24, to play on the LPGA.
Image via golfdigest.com

Five Metre Gap – Representative Round May 2017

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the representative round of rugby league in New South Wales and the ACT. The weekend started with a hat-trick of wins for Australia over New Zealand highlighted by the Kangaroos 30-12 triumph in the men’s fixture at GIO Stadium in Canberra. Saturday saw wins to England over Samoa 30-10, Papua New Guinea over the Cook Islands 32-22 plus 14 ranked Tonga upset world number seven Fiji 26-24. There was also a 24-2 triumph for Lebanon over Malta in the Phoenician Cup in Cabramatta before City beat Country in Mudgee on Sunday.

IMG_20170509_183102 (1).jpg

 

Leading 30-0 six minutes into the second half the Australian Kangaroos side coasted to a convincing win despite not scoring again in the contest. Both sides had a similar amount of possession (17 sets) in the first half with Australia failing to complete four of those and New Zealand five but it was what they did with the ball that underscored the difference between the two teams. Two of New Zealand’s early incursions in Australia’s red zone ended with ineffective kicks which returned possession to the hosts whereas Australia’s first two attacking kicks forced goal-line drop-outs – the second of those resulting in the opening try to Josh Dugan who scored off Johnathan Thurston’s kick.

 

Central Coast product Isabelle Kelly scored a try on debut as the Jillaroos, despite late changes and a new halves combination, over-turned the result in this contest from last year in Newcastle winning 16-4. Kelly, called up to start when Sam Bremner withdrew due to injury, dotted down early in the contest won by Brad Donald’s side. Unlike last year in Newcastle when Australia only made inroads into the Ferns’ right-side defence late in the contest the home side targeted this area earlier and were rewarded when Renae Kunst left the visitors clutching at thin air in some cases as she scored what turned out to be the decisive try .

 

Brisbane Broncos fans got a further look at a player that will be crucial for their forward pack during the stacked Origin period when Jaydn Su’a crossed for one of nine tries scored by the Junior Kangaroos as they vanquished their Kiwi counterparts 46-22 in the first game played on Friday in the ACT. Su’a’s try came seven minutes into the second half as Australia marched downfield scoring twice in the first two sets they had in the second stanza to go 40-0 up. New Zealand finally got on the board not long after when St George Illawarra fullback Steve Marsters crossed as part of mini-revival with three further tries.  Australia also won this fixture last were victorious 34-20.

 

Saturday’s Pacific Tests in Campbelltown in Sydney’s west were a display of the diversity in international rugby league with 11 tries coming from players not currently playing in the NRL, or the English Super League. Perhaps the most interesting non-NRL try-scorers came in the second game when Tonga edged Fiji 26-24. Penith’s Viliame Kikau notched a try for the Fijians and did Newcastle’s Daniel Saifiti but the two non-NRL try-scorers do have NRL connections. Formerly with the Melbourne Storm Under 20s Ben Nakubuwai, 21, joined the Titans this season but is yet to play in the top grade. At the other end of the age spectrum James Storer, 35, has played for Fiji for a decade. A two-game NRL player with South Sydney in 2003 Storer looked sharper than several current NRL hookers when he came on and scored with his first touch before the Bati eventually fell to Tonga. Storer is currently captain/coach of the Port Kembla Blacks who play in Group Seven on the South Coast of NSW.

 

Sunday’s City Country Origin fixture saw the pride of the metropolitan area of Sydney run out 20-10 victors over the boys from the bush in the last-ever version of the fixture. The maligned annual contest, despite been sanctioned by the NRL, has never really fit well in the calendar – especially since the addition of the April/May Australia v New Zealand test to the schedule in the last decade or so. What was interesting in the last edition of the 106-year concept was perhaps a reverse take on the seriousness of the game. Often it’s assumed the Country players have more to play for but twice Country forward Tariq Sims was bought down after making a burst by two City defenders. First was by the Eels Clint Gutherson who stopped Sims short of the line but the second effort was a quite brilliant chase down from Nathan Ross in the second half. Sims was grinning (perhaps when he realised he wasn’t going to make it to the try-line) before he was brought down by Knights winger Ross. The one-time Toulouse Olympique outside back not only tackled Sims to halt his progress but won the ball back via a one-on-one strip. Apparently Country players wanted to win that match more. Ross, ever the professional, showed otherwise and would not be out of place in a Blues jersey.

 

Image via Hamish Neal (personal)

A-League 1,000: The Now Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on the grand final of the 2016/17 A-League. Sydney FC, who won the Premier’s Plate comfortably by 17 points, will host second-placed Melbourne Victory in the decider.

 sydneyfctheworldgamesbsmay2017

Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory, Sunday – Allianz Stadium 
The Harbour City will host its fourth grand final, and the first to feature a side from outside of New South Wales, as Sydney FC bid for a third A-League final day triumph having swept aside Perth 3-0 in the semi-final last weekend. Victorian rivals, Melbourne Victory, are in their fifth denouement of ‘new football’ and bidding for what would be a competition-record fourth crown. This would see them join South Melbourne and Marconi as four-time grand final winners across the National Soccer League and A-League.

Sydney FC have won only one of the three deciders played in Sydney to date (05/06) but they didn’t play in the other two when Newcastle (07/08) and the Mariners (12/13) won their maiden crowns. Victory won through to a fifth grand final after Besart Berisha’s header gave the Melburnians a 1-0 win over Brisbane. Graham Arnold is looking for a fourth straight win in A-League finals as a coach, with his sides 6-0 in this period. Prior to that, the former Socceroos coach lost a grand final on penalties with the Central Coast (10/11) and exited the playoffs at the preliminary final stage when also beaten from the spot by Perth (11/12) – the season the Mariners won their second premier’s plate.

A Sky Blue triumph would be the fourth season running in which the Premier’s Plate-winner also wins the grand final. Interestingly, every time the Victory have won a grand final they have also won the ‘first-past-the-post’ competition that season, but their one grand final defeat was the climax of the 09/10 season when a Sydney FC side, under the guidance of coach Vitezslav Lavicka, prevailed via penalty shoot-out after the match was 1-1 after 90 and then 120 minutes. This was a season when Sydney FC were lucky to get the decider after the ‘Hand of (Chris) Payne’ incident in the preliminary final against the Wellington Phoenix.

That season’s final was also notable (not just for Kevin Muscat’s penalty miss) in that, due to Asian Champions League commitments, some Victory staff left the game during extra time! This was so they could get the team’s gear to the airport for the flight they were taking to Japan that night before an ACL game on the Tuesday (which they went on to lose 4-0). No such distractions this time around as neither side is in the continental tournament this season but will be in 2018.

In the three contests this season it has been all Sydney. As recently as March, Bobo’s goal was enough for Sydney to take the three points, while one goal was also the margin in January when FC came from behind in Melbourne to win 2-1. The Sky Blues also prevailed 2-1 in November in another match which saw Sydney concede first when Mitch Austin gave Melbourne the lead before David Carney’s double saw Sydney home. The Sydney-sider’s unbeaten run over the successful Victorian club goes back to last season when the two sides drew their round 21 encounter. Prior to that, a Matt Jurman own goal in January 2016 was the difference the last time the Navy Blues recorded a win in this rivalry.

From the last game at Allianz Stadium between the two sides it is perhaps illustrative that the contest featured prominent role to flankers. On that night, Jai Ingham and Marco Rojas created some chances for Melbourne but so did Sydney’s wide defenders, Michael Zullo and Ryhan Grant. After his sublime ball which saw Berisha score last weekend, we would expect Fahid Ben Khalfallah to start ahead of Ingham here as usual but the newly capped All White could play a key role off the bench. So too could Carney for Sydney, given his penchant for scoring against their opponents. The former Newcastle Jet would likely come on for Milos Ninkovic.

Both sides are at all but full strength with Bernie Ibini the only likely absentee for the home side after he limped off in the preliminary final. The forward has been influential in his mainly substitute appearances this season and this downgrades Sydney’s bench, but not by much.

berishagoalcommay2017

Leading goal-scorer, with Brisbane’s Jamie Maclaren, Besart Berisha has 20 strikes for the season, while Bobo (15) is Sydney’s leading marksman. Skipper Alex Brosque also has 11 for the premiers, with Kiwi Rojas (12) Melbourne’s next best in front on goal. Sydney’s advantage is their more accurate third rung of goal-scorers, with Ninkovic (nine) and Filip Holosko (eight) a constant threat. Both sides have capability from the dead ball situation, with Melbourne’s James Troisi and Sydney’s Brandon O’Neill great free kick exponents.

Aside from attacking spark the goal-keepers are an interesting study in this match. Melbourne shot-stopper Lawrence Thomas usurped the number one jersey from now-Sydney stopper Danny Vukovic during the season of their eventual run to the grand final win over Sydney FC in 2014/15. Vukovic’s move to back to NSW this season after his demotion was largely for family reasons, but has reinvigorated his game and resulted in 17 clean sheets this campaign. Thomas and Melbourne have the next best but that is nine. This is what could be the difference, and probably will be. Last week at AAMI Park, the Victory could, and should, have had a few goals inside the opening half hour but were stymied by Jamie Young in Brisbane’s goal. Given Vukovic’s record in goal, Melbourne probably need to score early. However even if they do, as Sydney have proved twice this year they find it easy to relax and use the time they have to rally back into the game.

Big game for: 
Waiting, waiting. Given Sydney’s ability to score late against this opponent, the Sky Blues will likely play a waiting game. Holosko’s 38th minute goal in the second encounter between the sides this season is the earliest Sydney have scored against Melbourne, the four other goals have all come in the second half.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: 
VAR. Despite the apparent smooth introduction of the Video Assistant Referee, there remain issues, chief amongst them the time taken for decisions and the related time added on. After Melbourne didn’t get a genuine penalty claim even reviewed last weekend it still seems the use of the technology is having teething problems in direction and focus of it’s use.

The betting bit – One serious one not
Probably should have gone Sky Blue all season. Would it mock them to get on board the bandwagon here? Either way Sydney to win, in 90 minutes ($1.75). After a historically great domestic season, not just in the A-League but in the annals of Australian football, it would be a shame if the hosts were tripped up here. But if it happened, I’m sure it would be a fun contest, much like when the ball-kid took the corner flag from Tim Cahill! That’s not a prediction for this game just something I still chuckle about from season 2016/17.

Record: 9/29

Profit: -$107.60
Images via goal.com.au and theworldgame.sbs.com,au