Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 24 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round 24.

It’s the issue that can’t be ignored and as a result for the second week running at Five Metre Gap we are looking at a key rugby league story, but this time it’s not about players who don’t know the on-field rules. As the fallout from the release of show cause notices to 2011 Cronulla Sharks players continues to hog the headlines it’s worth noting the much-maligned government agencies involved also (indirectly) serve a wider purpose. The whole scenario and recent reaction has been seen through the prism of two professional sports (and particularly two teams – Cronulla in the NRL and the AFL’s Essendon) and this is missing the point.

The report from the Australian Crime Commission which was released in conjunction with the February 2013 press conference highlighted many key aspects. This included how amateur sport and junior development pathway sport was at risk of increased use of performance enhancing drugs. A study earlier this year by University of Canberra and Griffith University confirmed ‘elite’ junior athletes from the ages of 12 were using PEDs with the sample of 900 survey participants noting 4% used the drugs. (Remember this is how many said they used the drugs – the real figure is probably higher.) This sort of behaviour is often in the hope of securing scholarships to elite private schools. But it doesn’t stop there. Two months before the above report was released, which you can read more about here http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/more-drug-education-needed-to-curb-junior-sports-doping-20140709-zt1f5.html#ixzz3BRtVXMtF, students from St Joseph’s Nudgee College were charged by Queensland police in relation to supply and/or possession of steroids. http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/st-josephs-nudgee-college-rocked-by-steroids-arrests/story-e6freoof-1226634149907.

So how, and why, are the two connected and why was the ACC report about the supply and use of PEDs relevant to all levels of Australian sport? One of the co-authors of the UC/GU study, associate professor in psychology Stephen Moston, noted young athletes believed around a third of adult elite athletes took performance-enhancing drugs. Perception often isn’t reality but elite level sport, whether it likes it or not, sets an example for all levels in their respective activity and when the top flight doesn’t employ sufficient checks and balances those at lower levels may see doping not just as a ‘back door’ way to their sporting dream but the method needed just to get noticed.

Back to the our weekend notes in true FMG style, As the New Zealand Warriors attempt to scramble back into the top eight after losing their last two games coach Andrew McFadden has not been shy to ring the changes. Former Eel Feleti Mateo will turn out in the NSW Cup this weekend having missed seven tackles in his last three matches and generally looking disinterested at times. It would appear the axing has been on the cards given the fact Mateo featured for only 22 minutes on the weekend as the Warriors were routed 46-12 by the Sydney Roosters in Auckland. This was the least amount of time for any of the Warriors bench players.

Another side just out of the top eight, but on the right side of a two-match streak, St George Illawarra may miss out on the finals in 2014 but are well placed for 2015 having upgraded Paul McGregor from interim to confirmed head coach and seeing Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop continue to improves as a halves combination. Given Marshall’s May arrival at the joint-venture club August represents his fourth month at the club. Marry this up with an NRL side’s pre-season, normally a November start, and fans are now starting to get to see now how the duo will go given adequate preparation time for 2015. Marshall has created tries in each of his last two matches, despite the fact those wins have come over limp Canberra and Gold Coast sides, it’s a hugely positive sign for the former Kiwi international. Tough away trips to Brisbane and Newcastle don’t make the finals an easy task coupled with the need for results to go there way but the Dragons are far better placed compared to many other sides currently outside the eight.

Although Johnathan Thurston pulled the strings to lead North Cowboys to a 22-10 victory over South Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Saturday evening the mood should not all be doom and gloom for Rabbitohs fans as Michael Maguire’s side completed 82% of their sets (31/38.) A host of errors by their outside backs cruelled the side but a one-game blimp to a side in the Cowboys who could easily be on a six-game winning streak might not be as concerning as some are making it out to be. Compared to some other sides who have multiple issues across the park Souths only need to tweak a few minor aspects on attack to be a force in the finals.

Finally, in another blow to the ‘day games are better games’ brigade Monday Night Football produced the least errors of round 24 as only 13 were logged in the encounter which saw Melbourne run out winners 24-10 over fourth-placed Penrith. The Storm were comfortable after two tries in four minutes from the 57 minute mark to Ben Roberts followed by Bill Slater, but it was a vastly better contest then some of the other weekend fixtures for the first hour.

@hamishneal

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 23 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round 23.

Here at Five Metre Gap we normally avoid making comment and instead tend to look at data in an endeavour to identify trends which can explain a team’s performance but after #ballboygate on Friday evening we couldn’t help but throw in our two cents about rule changes. Any amendment to the 40/20 restart scenario, and we are told it will happen – even as early as round 24, needs to be treated carefully. If the NRL reacted to every ‘wrong rule’ in a big game there could potentially be changes the week of a grand final creating a laughable scenario. Should of #Ballboygate occurred this weekend coming when the Sharks host Canberra in the fifth minute of the game it would be the eighth paragraph in the match report. Instant reaction to a rare circumstance should not be the default setting to dictate a rules change, especially when players can’t get the restart rules correct. It should be incumbent on players and their coaches to know the rules.

Manly looked lucky to defeat the Gold Coast 15-12 on Sunday afternoon after Kieran Foran appeared offside for his 33rd minute try. However the Sea Eagles were also making errors throughout the game and coach Geoff Toovey will be concerned at their completion rate of 66% (23/35) and may count his side lucky due to that aspect. The rate was Manly’s lowest completion rate (win or loss) since they defeated Cronulla 24-4 back in round six at Brookvale Oval completing at 63% in that encounter.

After the recent penalty pressure from Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy it’s interesting to note the Newcastle Knights are ahead 26-13 on the penalty count in their last three games. This includes when they were thrashed 50-10 by South Sydney in round 21 and does tend to indicate some sides may be more dominant in discipline but not able to necessarily replicate it in results. Newcastle won the other two games in the span (including the comeback triumph over Melbourne) but did not win any of those games easily despite the advantageous penalty counts.

Staying in Newcastle, which saw the Knights triumph over the Warriors 28-22. Veteran hooker Nathan Friend was benched again by Andrew McFadden with the former Titan playing only 41 minutes. The last time Friend was benched occurred in round 19 and that was the second time the Warriors have done that this season – all three matches when Friend doesn’t play big minutes have resulted in defeats.

Plaudits must go to Penrith not just for their gripping 23-22 win over North Queensland on Monday evening to complete the round but for their ball handling in the fixture. Despite the poor conditions the Panthers were able to complete 87% of their sets (33/38.) Their efficiency in this manner is coming good at the right time of the season as Ivan Cleary’s third-placed side had completed at 89% the weekend prior in their triumph over St George Illawarra. Whilst other games were impacted by rain on the weekend Penrith’s win was all the more meritorious given their opponents, the Cowboys, came into the game on the back of a four-match winning streak.

@hamishneal

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 22 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round 22.

After South Sydney registered an impressive win on Friday night there was a frank admission from playmaker Luke Keary that he spent part of the match ‘stargazing’. Livewire Keary, speaking on Saturday Triple M NRL after the Rabbitohs defeated Manly 23-4 at the Sydney Cricket Ground, said he was in awe of teammate Greg Inglis and at one stage ‘watched on’ not thinking to back him up before Manly custodian Brett Stewart pulled off one of his string of crucial tackles made on the night to prevent Inglis scoring a try. Ultimately it didn’t cost South Sydney but such a nugget suggests the Bunnies are starting to find the small margins required to win the big games. Souths fans will be hoping Keary backs up the play next time around.

Following a dramatic 32-30 loss to Newcastle Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy was at pains to point out his side was beaten 7-0 in the penalty count during the second half. He was particularly critical of Ashley Klein from the refereeing duo. Notably Cronulla was punished 6-1 in the first stanza of their four-point loss in Auckland to the Warriors but coach James Shepherd wasn’t anywhere near as vocal in his displeasure in that regard. Perhaps as a ‘senior’ coach Bellamy feels he has earnt the right to point out such discrepancies to deflect criticism from his side conceding two late tries. Rookie first grade James Shepherd was more muted despite the fact the Sharks face the unwanted moniker of ‘wooden spoon 2014.’ Whatever the case Klein has been dumped from officiating first grade in round 23.

After our note last week about the profligacy in defence of Ricky Stuart-coached sides (who have conceded 50 plus points on seven occasions in two years) it was the woeful Wests Tigers who continued their climb up the ’50 point infamy ladder’ on Saturday evening. Now having conceded 50 plus points on three occasions in two seasons, Mick Potter’s outfit completed a poor 63% (17/27) of their sets and conspired to miss 47 tackles. As an impressive North Queensland outfit wiped the floor with the joint-venture franchise in the 12 tries to one rout leaving Tigers fans hoping for a happier 2015 season

Third-placed Penrith keeps getting written off but yet again they dug deep to salute in Wollongong on Sunday. Running out 16-4 winners against the St George Illawarra Dragons Ivan Cleary’s side put in a true team effort with the bench players such as Tim Grant contributing solidly for at least 27 minutes each. This included a backline reshuffle after flyer David Simmons came off due to concussion.

We will finish on Monday evening’s 26-18 win to the Sydney Roosters over the Gold Coast and though normally we look at stats on the field in this column we will take a slight diversion to off the park and look at the crowd. The posted figure of 6,345 was less according to multiple people at Allianz Stadium so what is the solution? Are Monday night games most of the season the wrong move? Is it something else or is this is a one-off poor crowd for the defending premiers?

@hamishneal

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 21 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round 21.

Ricky Stuart is likely safe in his job at the Canberra Raiders due to a seven figure payout should the board dispense with his services, however Sunday afternoon’s 54-18 thrashing at the hands of the New Zealand Warriors extended an unwanted record for the 47 year-old mentor. It became the seventh occasion in the last two season that sides coached by the former Blues boss had conceded 50 plus points in defeat. To put that in perspective the next highest amount is two and that mark belongs to Mick Potter (who is on shaky ground with his role) and the Wests Tigers.

After a defeat in Bathurst, Penrith returned to the winner’s circle in defeating Canterbury-Bankstown 22-16 on Friday evening. The Panthers showed their potential impact in the finals series might not be done and dusted despite their current injury crisis. One set in particular in the ninth minute saw the Mountain Men show plenty of enterprise. A Dean Whare run followed by quick service out of dummy half in consecutive tackles by Matt Moylan and Jamal Idris saw Jamie Soward launch a kick early in the tackle count to put the Bulldogs on the back foot. The kick ultimately rolled out touch in goal but it showed Penrith have as much talent on their day as Manly or Melbourne to create an end to end set in only a few tackles. Given the fact Peter Wallace headlines a key group of Panthers players out injured for the balance of the season, it would have been heartening for Ivan Cleary to see his side produce such variety and enthusiasm when attacking, even out of their own half.

Plenty of people would have had a good chuckle about Nate Myles Marvel Comics-inspired comments regarding the Sims brothers of North Queensland but after the Gold Coast’s 28-8 loss it is clearly time for some navel gazing as the 13th-placed Titans slip further out of the finals race and this week see their coach John Cartwight leave by ‘mutual consent.’ The 29 year-old enforcer was responsible for three penalties as the Titans lost in Townsville. Granted Myles’ work-rate means he is liable to concede more penalties however as an experienced representative player he should know better. Whilst he conceded three of the Titans’ 11 penalties utility Paul Carter also earned the referee’s ere on three occasions.

Outgoing Newcastle Wayne Bennett produced a classic piece of deflection saying that South Sydney are predictable after his Knights were humbled 50-10 on Sunday afternoon in Cairns. Michael Maguire’s men completed 89% of their sets (33 of 37) which was the best of the round and made only four errors in a highly disciplined outing. Bennett may in turn out to be prophetic and Souths may not make the grand final or win it but the level of discipline will at least see South Sydney playing deep into the finals series whilst the Knights staff and players will be weeks into their holiday.

Parramatta’s 20-point triumph on Saturday afternoon against Cronulla was much needed for not only the two competition points but the points difference help it gave the Eels. The ninth-placed side have a minus 76 difference which will means they likely need an extra win somewhere along the way to overhaul North Queensland (106) and the Warriors (90) in the final five weeks of the regular season who are also on 24 points. Brisbane (48) and St George Illawarra (-55) who are two points behind Brad Arthur’s side both have a better margin in that column of the ladder so they will be worrying for the blue and gold fans.

@hamishneal