Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 4 2015

@hamishneal

Like the way of five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed from round four of the NRL.

Beaten in golden point by the Bulldogs, after holding a handy lead, the Wests Tigers might be guilty of adopting a conservative approach in terms of their attack to start the year. This is highlighted by the reluctance of their young halves duo to take on the line. Luke Brooks at halfback and 5/8 Mitchell Moses ran only six times combined against the Bulldogs with one of those efforts coming after Brooks snaffled a kick when Canterbury was hard on attack before running 80 metres to score. With a 79% completion rate in the second half the Tigers had sufficient possession to ‘ice’ the game. Their enthusiasm for attack has waned since week one having ran on 20 occasions in the opening four games between them but with a large bulk of those runs, seven, coming in their opening win over the Gold Coast. Brooks in particular has a crucial kicking game close to the line but teams will soon realise what the ‘go-to’ play is likely to be. Perhaps the motto in coming weeks should be ‘a ball in the hand is worth four on the scoreboard.’

It was the Tigers in round three that almost assured their fate when they failed to score twice early on against South Sydney and in round four it was Manly cruelling their own chances almost before the game had begun. The Sea Eagles got their second set of possession after the Dragons had their seventh in a surprising early period at Win Stadium. This left Manly having made 57 tackles to the home side’s 12 and it didn’t get much better once Manly got the ball. Geoff Toovey’s side completed only eight of their 16 sets in the first half. Despite all their wastefulness they only lost the game 12-4, with both sides scoring one try.

Atop the NRL and unbeaten after a month the Newcastle Knights opened the scoring against Penrith with the rare play of a side running it on the last. With the Panthers possibly expecting a chip to the corner Knights pivot Jarrod Mullen fed a short ball to Chris Houston for the forward to crash over after seven minutes. So far the Rick Stone-coached side have 14 tries, it took them six games to reach that mark in 2014 under Wayne Bennett. Fantasy players with the Knights outside backs, or even Chris Houston, will be rejoicing in the league’s new entertainers.

North Queensland played their ‘snatch victory from the jaws of defeat’ card on Monday after trailing 16-4 to Melbourne before a field goal-kicking festival saw Johnathan Thurston pilot home the deciding point. The Cowboys were pretty limp in attack in the first period completing 67% of their sets. The compressed attack with little support play was fairly simple for Melbourne to handle. In their final attacking raid of the half Thurston slipped a ball back inside for one of the Cowboys props to run onto, this was followed with a quick scoot from dummy half by Rory Kostjasyn but on both occasions the lack of further support play nullified any of the enterprise. Conserving energy close to the break could have been the reason for that specific attacking set, which was ultimately futile, but the lack of variety in the opening hour of the game was concerning.

There was no place to hide for the Raiders on Sunday at Allianz Stadium but their disrupted defensive lineups must be concerning to Ricky Stuart. The late change which saw Jeremy Hawkins come in to replace Sisa Waqa on the wing meant already inexperienced defensives blocks were forced into more changes. Shaun Kenny-Dowall then Roger Tuivasa-Sheck both scored inside 11 minutes as the Raiders left side defensive trio of Mitch Cornish (inside) Jarrod Croker and Edrick Lee were tormented. With the Raiders outside backs, bar Croker, changing a lot in the last year due to form, injury or new signings the groups have simply had little time to form combinations to be confident thus causing panic on occasions. Plenty of sides will be beaten by the Roosters this year but a thrashing to the tune of 34-6 so early in the season could set the tone for an underwhelming campaign.

An NRL Trade Period – Be careful what you wish for you just might get it

@hamishneal

Because Manly couldn’t synchronise different contract finishing dates for arguably their two best players the topic of an NRL Trade/Free Agency period/s is once again de rigueur.

Two key points to start with:
– Why are we now going ga ga about the perceived injustice to fans of a club (the Sea Eagles) that is one of the most successful in the last decade having always made the finals and even won the competition twice in the last seven seasons. Canberra should feel the most aggrieved of any NRL club with regards to taking a moral high ground and losing talent in the last ten years so let’s put that to bed please. Let’s also remember the Sharks have been in the competition sicne 1967 without ever wining, so don’t feel too bad for Manly.
– It’s not fair on the kids that buy the player’s jersey when they sign for a new team at the start of a season. Give me a break… since when did NRL jerseys have players names on them? It’s not to the same degree as say national teams where a player ‘moves through’ a jersey and until clubs start retiring player numbers like the MLB and NBA, it’s an argument of little weight. Parents can simply explain to kids they buy jersey for the team not a number, and they should support a club, not a player.

Departing pivot Kieran Foran weighed into the debate stating “I just think having to do your contract at the start of the year when you still have a year to run, I don’t think it is right….” I’m sorry, but ‘having to’? Find me the person, at either Manly or Parramatta, who put a gun to Foran’s head or kidnapped his family and forced him to sign this contract now. I want them found! Foran pointed to two periods for moves during a calendar year as the solution.

Let’s say then for instance the NRL Transfer Period is decided upon to have two one-month windows similar to world football competitions and those months are designated as November and May. This will allow for off-season moves and what we will call the Disgruntled Fringe Player Move (DFPM.) The rules could be that the agreements can only be negotiated, signed and announced in the set period/s. Sounds great and simple, works in football why not rugby league? I’ll tell you why – because in 2014, the Top 14 (the French club rugby union competition) signed a deal with Canal +, a French Pay TV outfit, worth approximately AU$589 million over five years. Add to this the fact that every leading French Rugby club has a Russell Crowe-type cashed up owner (Toulon alone have an annual budget of AU$41 million.) The French domestic season starts around August, and the off-contract NRL player that mulled over the move in May but decided to wait it out until November is then essentially free to leave to anywhere else in world sport, except another NRL side. Said player could sign for a Top 14 side, and if their team doesn’t make the NRL finals, they would have only missed one month – a comparatively small period in what is possibly a three-year deal.

The departing player could also join Superleague, who with a new competition structure in 2015, would benefit from an elite-level NRL player for the final weeks of their competition which now culminates with a group of eight teams at the end of the season. At the other end of the competition with relegation now a concern a club with funds to spare may part with a transfer fee for a star player to avoid the drop.

How does this all impact NRL? You can almost guarantee the player’s manager won’t sit back and say ‘oh well if you wait three months you might get X amount in November to join the Cowboys.’ NO, the manager will say take the money and the owner of the Top 14 side will happily pay a transfer fee if they really wanted the player there for pre-season. As mentioned above Superleague is now a viable option also. This is market forces at work and it will happen.

The above example is not meant to be a dramatic, ‘sky is falling’ scenario, as few ex-rugby league players feature in Top 14 currently. It merely serves as an example of how the NRL is one option in a wider spectrum of world sport. There are options such as this for NRL players outside of Australia’s domestic competition. Options such as this is potentially why a model such as the AFL’s end of season “trade week” wouldn’t work in rugby league. An AFL players’ options of where they can transfer to are limited to essentially the other 17 AFL clubs within the league (without drastically changing sports), and while NRL players don’t have the transfer options of an A-League player – essentially any one of 20+ clubs in 200 countries around the world – their options are greater than that of an AFL player, making a standalone, end of season transfer window difficult.

One altruistic way to actually build a bank to stop these player movements to other sports could actually be for the NRL to say any transfer fees paid by overseas professional sporting clubs are banked into a central fund to be used as a top-up for a designated ‘marquee’ player at each club. A marquee player at each clubs is a far better use of such an exemption then an arbitrary ‘star player fund’ option currently mooted by the NRL.

Some simplistic solutions for the trade period, such as the above, also have in-built advantages to certain clubs. One possible option is to say players can sign anytime, but you can’t announce until the free agent signing period. However, a potential snag I see with that one is it advantages Sydney clubs in so far as any late movement for a player who hasn’t signed until/during the period which requires the player to actually move where they live (i.e to another city) means the deals made later sees, inevitably, clubs like the Raiders and Cowboys may have to pay overs late in the signing period to secure that player. Even if they have sufficient funds to do so.

If a club entered the trade ‘announcing period’ having already secured 20 of their top 25 they also don’t know the other possible club/player moves. If their top three targets are at other clubs and haven’t publicly announced their intentions (I would assume clubs would have to tell each other who moves and when they do it) they can still sign them but depending upon market value may only be able to afford two of them or perhaps all three on short-term contracts (again that advantages a Sydney club if a player is only offered a short-term deal to move interstate because of the rush of the ‘leftover’ players.)

Briefly, It’s worth noting talk about player movement will always occur. It’s folly to think designated windows will shut down talk of movement. If anything it could increase, given players and coaches of other teams plus managers tend to meet in general anyway. One of the most popular podcasts on the ESPN Radio platform is the NBA trade period series (yes series – there are multiple episodes) done by Grantland’s Bill Simmons and his multitude of guests which offers a variety of specific insight to wild speculation.

Whilst I realise I have presented pitfalls of a trade/transfer window in the NRL and haven’t offered a real solution there is a valid reason, that’s because anything needs to be linked to any salary cap restructure. Any financial incentives, such as the ones suggested above, need to be taken into account into any cap changes. A trade period is one part of player movements and salaries and should be treated as such. It can’t be tackled independently of every other aspect.

So, yes trade period. Bring it on. But be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.

A-League 1,000: The Climb Down Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on the coming weekend’s A-League action which includes double Roar and double Wanderers.

Brisbane Roar v Western Sydney Wanderers, Wednesday – Suncorp Stadium
This game starts a wretched period for some A-League sides thanks to the FFA’s stubborn move to play through FIFA international windows. Overall it’s luckily the National Youth League finished a fortnight ago so there are plenty of fringe players looking for a game in A-League clubs. An inexperienced Western Sydney outfit were simply inept against Newcastle, who were made to look a top six side. A Roar side missing the likes of Matt McKay may lack some fluidity in transition so that will be an advantage for the visitors.

Big game for: Frans Thijssen. I’m not sure if the Brisbane coach gets paid win bonuses but he may need the cash as he should be paying a fine after questioning the integrity behind the abandoning of Sunday night’s game. At one stage in the post-match press conference, he said “that’s not an honest competition” in reference to the ending of the match midway through the second half.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Lineups. Normally it’s the dartboard job for the Wanderers starting eleven but with four players away on international duty, injury concerns regarding Thomas Broich and Henrique now missing for the season, Brisbane’s line-up could be interesting given they will face a rare in-form Melbourne City outfit on Saturday who are occupying the spot on the ladder Brisbane want.

Melbourne Victory v Central Coast Mariners, Friday – AAMI Park
Archie Thompson is very much ‘Mr A-League’ in Melbourne, and he did things in style in Adelaide having been restored to the starting line-up in recent weeks. Defensively, despite falling behind early, the Mariners were good on the weekend at home. They had a 92% rate of success in tackling and forced Perth to shoot from range for more than half their attempts. Missing international players, Kevin Muscat’s side faces a settled Mariners squad. A potential banana skin? Melbourne still have Finkler et al, so probably not.

Big game for: Home ground advantage. Heading into the finals, Victory will want to get back to winning ways at home after their recent defeat to Wellington.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The Mariners attacking force. With Matt Simon heading out the door, the Mariners have all but conceded the balance of the season will be played without a traditional forward structure. I still think they should have chased Joel Griffiths with an eye to the 2015/16 season as their focus.

Melbourne City v Brisbane Roar, Saturday – AAMI Park
After we wrote off Melbourne City last week, despite their sixth spot, we here at A-League 1,000 ended up with egg on our faces. Aside from an early corner and late flurry in the first half, the visitors did little in Sydney until their late winner. Come this Saturday night, Brisbane will possibly be feeling the affect of their game in wet weather on Sunday followed by a midweek match, so it’s a perfect chance for Melbourne to move into consistent team territory.

Big game for: Harry Novillo. French winger Novillo is likely the key to John Van’t Schip’s side making a push if they finish in the top six. Can he bring his team together in the absence of Aaron Mooy?

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Brisbane’s focus. Hard to get a sight on Brisbane for this game but if they fall here they might be focusing on the Asian Champions League.

Perth Glory v Western Sydney Wanderers, Saturday – nib Stadium
With both Melbourne Victory and Sydney failing to win last week, Perth coughing up a late equaliser was a bit more bearable for the West Aussies, but will still be a cause for concern after getting more of their 12 attempts on goal, five, compared to the home side’s three. It’s possible this may be the game in this cycle of matches that Tony Popovic rolls out the likes of the inexperienced Daniel Alessi (17 years old) and 18 year-old Jonathan Aspropotamitis. Forward Joshua Sotirio, 19, probably would have got a run also but he has been called up for Olyroos duty.

Big game for: A more attacking outlook from Kenny Lowe’s team. In Gosford, the Glory resorted to one in five passes as a long ball, but at home against an under-manned Wanderers they should really be more positive.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Perth getting one in the ‘W’ column. I get the feeling Perth might want to win here. If they lose, they really become the ‘nobody believes in us’ team.

Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC, Sunday – Westpac Stadium
The A-League game most impacted by the international window is somewhat saved by the fact All Whites coach Anthony Hudson has moved on/seen enough of some experienced Kiwi internationals, so the likes of Andrew Durante and Glen Moss should be available here. In addition to the injury arguments of the Wanderers, Graham Arnold won his battle to see Terry Antonis relieved of international duty but the 21 year-old won’t be available for the Sky Blues due to the stand-down rules.

Big game for: Wellington’s fringe players. The likes of Jason Hicks could perhaps get an extended run this week with New Zealand playing South Korea.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Shane Smeltz, front and centre. Kiwi striker Smeltz will get his time to shine against one of his former sides with the absence of key man Marc Janko, so it will be interesting to see how the 33 year-old goes playing the full 90 minutes.

Newcastle Jets v Adelaide United, Sunday – Hunter Stadium
Is the Adelaide bubble bursting? Melbourne shot-stopper Nathan Coe kept Adelaide from running out winners last weekend, as Jopsep Gomabu’s men reeled off 12 shots on goal to Melbourne’s four but, more significantly, coughed up the lead 15 minutes from the end. In a finals intensity encounter, how can Adelaide be expected to win in say Perth or Wellington if they can’t ice that sort of a game? Newcastle are closing in on more player signings and any wins from here on in will do well to attract players to the side still wracked by internal issues.

Big game for: Newcastle’s forwards. Edson Montano was given the start this week but it will be interesting to see if Phil Stubbins stays with the winning combination, particularly up front, this weekend.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: How will Adelaide perform away from home? The South Australian’s haven’t won away since January 5 but did smash Newcastle 7-0 later that month.

The betting bit one serious one not
Trap round. Cue *leon lights*. The hitherto never to be trusted Melbourne City ($2.05 at TAB to win on Saturday) into a ‘Judas Smeltz’ banner from the Yellow Fever on Sunday at the Cake Tin?

Profit: $32.20 (based on ten unit investment)
Record: 12/22 Sydney pls…

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 3 2015

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed from the third round of the NRL.

Not many sides will get as close to scoring two tries in the space of six minutes against reigning premiers South Sydney this season as the Wests Tigers did on Sunday. On either side of the field Pat Richards (ruled out offside) then Kevin Naiqama (bundled into touch) both went close before the Tigers opened the scoring via Robbie Farah after half an hour. The visitors didn’t score again as the Rabbitohs ran in four tries with the early phase of the match in an odd way deciding the encounter. sides will need to score more than three tries to beat Souths in most games so teams must take their chances.

Recently we have spoken a lot about missing tackles but after an 0-3 start it’s the workload of Ben Barba in defence that would be of concern to Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan. The pivot has had to make 58 tackles over the first three rounds, missing seven in that period. Whilst that figure is not unusual for halves Barba is used to making less than half that amount of tackles most weekends as a fullback so his body isn’t conditioned to the amount of hits. For example the most tackles of any fullback this weekend was Greg Inglis with 12 tackles (Kurt Gidley named at #1 for Newcastle made 28 but was playing at dummy half for a large part of the game.) A tired Barba is less incisive on attack, and that’s even before we consider his experience as a first receiver. His pending suspension from the weekend could be a blessing in disguise with regards to the Sharks halves combination.

Speaking of players who have played fullback Gidley’s use has given the Knights a further attacking angle in been able to utilise Sione Mata’utia as well as the rest of Newcastle’s talented starting backline. Notably with two wins away from home, both in Queensland, to start the season makes it probably one of the most impressive 3-0 starts to a season for some time, even if they rode their luck on Sunday. The one element that will need work is the communication at the back after the first Aidan Sezer try made both Mata’utia and Akuila Uate look a bit daft. Time in the role for 18 year-old Mata’utia and more work with his back three teammates should see that aspect improve.

Normally it’s the week after matches played in heavy rain or extreme heat which can have a negative impact on sides in terms of fatigue but how will the Sea Eagles and Bulldogs go after the match on Brookvale Golf Course.. er Oval. Playing at ANZ Stadium and Win Stadium respectively in round four it will be interesting to note the fantasy numbers for the forwards for both sides in particular as they may be able to run with more confidence. On Friday night two Bulldogs players, bookends Aiden Tolman and James Graham, made over 100 running metres (117 and 114 respectively) but they were topped by the Sea Eagles Luke Burgess who ran for 119 metres. By way of comparison four Bulldogs player clocked up over 100 running metres in their 32-12 demolition of the Eels the week prior.

Despite an eight-point loss Penrith fullback Matt Moylan was impressive all round. In the period just before the break the 23 year-old made a great tackle on Aidan Guerra far enough away from the line that the Roosters forward was forced into a double-movement. A short time later with quick presence of mind Moylan dashed forward to take a quick tap and zipped passed the inattentive Roosters defenders to race over halfway. The play was ultimately crucial in setting up the phase of tackles which lead to the Jamal Idris try. He also laid on the try for James Segeyaro which gave the Panthers a chance late in the encounter. Notably NSW coach Laurie Daley, speaking on Sky Sports Radio’s Big Sports Breakfast Weekend on Sunday, said Moylan was one of three players (along with Josh Dugan and Brett Stewart) in line to play full back for NSW and a lot of aspects about Moylan’s Monday effort would have impressed Daley.

A-League 1,000: The False Finals Hope Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on the coming weekend’s A-League action.

Sydney FC v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships, Friday – Allianz Stadium
Back-to-back home games for Sydney FC coming after an exciting win should ensure a good crowd for this match against the now free-scoring Melbourne. Well, they scored freely in their last game at least, but that was ‘only’ against Newcastle. The false finals hope continues to burn for the Victorians after seeing off a side which is showing the effect of sacking five of their better players. Graham Arnold will be filthy his side shipped four goals on the weekend and it will be crucial for Jacques Faty to solidify the back half of the pitch. The visitors have added another overseas player and the ‘pre-season during a season’ continues on. Will this team be used to each other for round one next season?

Big game for: Sydney consistency. With an away game in Wellington before hosting Adelaide, the Sky Blues would want to see off a side who are borderline to make the finals.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Response of the ‘City’ conglomerate. In the week Manchester City got tipped out of the UEFA Champions League what pressure is there on the Australian arm of the franchise? As it stands, the worldwide conglomerate has (and will) only win the Australian National Youth League this season*.

Western Sydney Wanderers v Newcastle Jets, Saturday – Pirtek Stadium
Another week of drama at Newcastle, with players and staff having their wages paid late again. Maybe they should start showing up to training late to make a point? Coming off a clean sheet in Seoul, the Wanderers will be buoyed by this result and a defensive focus might be enough this weekend if the Wanderers forwards fire.

Big game for: Nikolai Topor-Stanley. After a host of ex-Jets have scored against the Novocastrians in recent weeks it’s surely an apt time for the native Canberran to find the net. However, as he played midweek we are not sure if he will feature on Saturday.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Radovan Pavicevic. Young forward Pavicevic usurped Edson Montano in the Jets startling line-up last weekend, so it will be interesting to see which way Phil Stubbins goes on Saturday. As we have discussed before, there is more pressure on overseas players to perform and if he is left out of the starting XI again one would have to query what motivation the Ecuadorian would have for the rest of the season.

Adelaide United v Melbourne Victory, Saturday – Beer Sauce Burger Stadium
Probably the worst thing for a stuttering Adelaide is the gap between games, having been beaten twice in a row the Reds got back on deck with a win over the Mariners in what seems ages ago. Josep Gombau’s side face another side which struggled for a fortnight but got a much-needed win.

Big game for: The keepers. With goals galore in the A-League recently, I get the feeling this game might be the weekend’s best and both Messrs. Galekovic and Coe could be in for a bit of work.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: United’s ambition. Adelaide have enough of a gap to ensure a finals spot bar a huge capitulation but do they have enough on the sides above them to break into the top four as Perth continue a mini-slide.

Central Coast Mariners v Perth Glory, Sunday – Sauce Bottle Stadium
Going back to a great pre-season game in 2006, I always look forward to it when the Glory play in Gosford. Having hit a rough patch, Kenny Lowe’s side face a Mariners outfit who won their only fixture to date under interim boss Tony Walmsley. As mentioned, the West Australian’s are on a mini-slide but is a low key match (away from home, middle of the day on Sunday) enough motivation to get them a win which could potentially return them to top of the log?

Big game for: The Mariners strike force. Given the Central Coast (who are yet to appoint a new coach) have decided not to renew Matt Simon’s contract, the pressure on players like Nick Fitzgerald to deliver has increased for the final part of the season.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: What’s next for the Central Coast? The ‘dead cat bounce’ win at home after the axing of Phil Moss was negated after falling in the garden state. How much life in the Mariners this season?

Brisbane Roar v Wellington Phoenix, Sunday – Suncorp Stadium
The chorus of people death-riding the New Zealand franchise will be wanting a Brisbane win here as they seem to have trouble coping with the success of Ernie Merrick’s side after a solid triumph in Perth. Brisbane have already beaten the ‘Nix in Milton this year, having won in the first game back after the Asian Cup, when both sides saw their Socceroo reps return within 48 hours of taking out the continental title. The Roar’s variety of goal-scorers in recent week (added to by Devante Clut on Wednesday evening) means the home side has as many threats in the final third as the visitors.

Big game for: Albert Riera. Whilst the recent plaudits for Wellington have fallen to their strikers and attacking force, it wll be the role of the former Auckland City player in screening his back four that will prove crucial in shutting down Brisbane’s in-form attack.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Brandon Borello starting. Benched in the A-League with ACL workload in mind before a solid effort on Wednesday night, it would no doubt be probable for the exciting youngster to start and be run into the ground until a replacement is needed, if at all.

The betting bit one serious one not

No reason to get off Sydney as yet ($1.80 at TAB) into a ‘We got the better Jets’ banner at Parramatta.
Profit: $42.20 (based on ten unit investment)
Record: 12/21 Sydney again but they needed five goals.

*Season defined as the Southern Hemisphere summer season and the corresponding Northern Hemisphere period of time. NB: NYCFC have won a game in the MLS but Yokohama F Marinos are yet to get off the mark in the J-League in 2015.

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 2 2015

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the second round of the NRL.

Whilst in can be folly to look at trends after only two matches it’s interesting the Sydney Roosters have only received six penalties in their first two games, the least of any side to date. In week one the count was 10-2 in favour of the Cowboys, who the Roosters did beat, but the visitors got no penalties in the second half before getting two in each half of their 34-26 lose to South Sydney on Sunday. This sort of scenario isn’t unusual for the Eastern Suburbs outfit under Trent Robinson (during their title campaign in 2013 in 22 out of 26 regular season games they gave away more penalties than their opponents) but it can be energy-sapping and reduces their chances of picking up ‘piggyback penalties.’ However it means their forwards might make more tackles for fantasy players.

Unsurprisingly it was another side that was thrashed in week two were we had a player really let down his side defensively. In Bathurst Gold Coast back-rower Lachlan Burr missed nine tackles as his side conceded eight tries in a 40-0 defeat at the hands of Penrith. In fairness to the 22 year-old he made 29 tackles and reeled off ten hit-ups. But do poor performances like this mean the Titans management would be more likely to want their suspended quintet back ASAP. Certainly it would be good for the depth of Neil Henry’s side. Even Dave Taylor at his most unreliable is unlikely to miss nine tackles.

After a disappointing opening round defeat in Newcastle Warriors coach Andrew McFadden probably wouldn’t have thought a 66% completion rate would have got his side home in week two but it did as the Penrose-based side won 18-6. Completing only 27 of their 41 sets, and whilst there was no serial offender (five players made two errors and five had one) will be concerning for McFadden ahead of their back-to-back home games in the next fortnight.

In worrying times for Dragons fans the Red V have scored only two tries in the opening fortnight and one of those was a low percentage chip to Eto Nabuli in week one. The same play didn’t work on Monday night late in the game against the Wests Tigers when St George Illawarra were beaten 22-4. Paul McGregor’s side made 18 errors, as did the Gold Coast. By way of comparison limp Cronulla made 13 errors when they lost at home to Brisbane. Fair to say Dragons outside backs are drop-worthy in your fantasy competitions if you have requisite depth.

Last week we noted a Rabbitohs play which is likely to generate a lot of points for them this season but this week the side they played on Sunday missed a chance for some points prior to half-time. As time expired Roosters winger Shaun Kenny–Dowall scampered across the field before ultimately getting tackled in possession however at one stage he opted not to pass to team-mate James Maloney. Given the Roosters were into the home side’s half I wonder why they 5/8 wasn’t calling for the ball to slot a field goal. It’s always puzzled me why more sides don’t play an option like this late in the half when on attack rather than submitting to the tackle. You may recall the 2012 game at Parramatta Stadium when the Tigers were almost run down 31-30 after coughing up a 31-0 lead with 13 minutes to go. The difference was a Benji Marshall field-goal slotted just before the interval. Whilst the 2013 premiers ultimately fell to defeat on Sunday surely it was worth a stab?

A-League 1,000: The Handshake Edition

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on the coming five days of A-League action.

Western Sydney Wanderers v Melbourne City, Wednesday – Parramatta Stadium
The first of two games in three days for the red and blacks as their fans look to pitch tents at the stadium to save on travel time. Whilst a moment of brilliance saw the Wanderers miss out on a point in Brisbane they have probably got the best possible opponent in the form of a Melbourne side who also lack a killer instinct. Despite firing in 30 crosses against the Central Coast, John van’t Schip’s side delivered little quality as has been their want this season.

Big game for: Kerem Bulut. Whilst Derby goals make the highlight packages, it’s the goals in the ‘lesser games’ which are a strikers stock-and-trade. With Mark Bridge joining the Wanderers injury list, the 23 year-old’s role has become more significant.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The mid-week crowd figure. One could forgive Wanderers fans for getting ‘football fatigue’ given the rapid-fire nature of their current schedule of games. But with the club averaging under 13,000 (12,436) for non-derby fixtures (aka, most games on their schedule) these are the sort of fixtures that need to be well attended to present a compelling business case for any ground redevelopment/ new facility.

Adelaide United v Central Coast Mariners, Thursday – Beer Sauce Burger Stadium
Looking for their first back-to-back triumph in season 2014/15, the Mariners (including Fabio Ferreira) meet an Adelaide side who have made a habit of embarrassing New South Wales sides this season (see Jets, Newcastle) but appear to have plateaued in recent weeks, resorting to one in five passes been a ‘long ball’ in falling to Wellington – a very un-Adelaide like ploy. The Mariners continued to kick their bunny last weekend, completing a season double over Victoria’s light blues and whilst they had less chances on goal – 16 versus nine – there were better quality in holding possession.

Big game for: Isaka Cernak. The journeyman 25 year-old had possibly the game of his life on Sunday but needs to continue to produce efforts like that to command a regular starting spot. Any new Mariners boss, if they know the A-League, will be unlikely to be sold on his ‘body of work’ in the last few years. One swallow doesn’t make a summer and all that.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: When the Mariners make their substitutions. All three changes were made with three minutes left last weekend which seems very odd. Given they had the lead for 13 minutes it’s somewhat puzzling all three needed to be made at that time.

Western Sydney Wanderers v Melbourne Victory, Friday – Parramatta Stadium
Déjà vu back at Parramatta for the Wanderers. After a combustible match against Perth, the Victory have a chance to go top on goal difference against what could be a side impacted by further injuries depending on their result on Wednesday. Kevin Muscat’s side has had three goal-scorers in the last fortnight, none of them named Besart Berisha, so the home defence will be under pressure from the start.

Big game for: The roulette wheel in Tony Popovic’s office. This wheel has landed on….Juric…okay Tommy you can start tonight. In fairness to Popovic, the aforementioned injuries to his front-men will make the workload on his strikers in the coming fortnight difficult.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Melbourne entering what can be a volatile atmosphere, on and off the pitch, in Parramatta might not be the best next game after their match against the Glory. Hopefully the navy and white crew are able to keep calm in the face of any tension.

Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships v Newcastle Jets, Saturday – AAMI Park
Pending their Wednesday night result, the visitors could go into this match on tenterhooks as a top six spot could be further in jeopardy. As we have stated in previous weeks, Newcastle haven’t been that woeful (all things considered), and Phil Stubbins’ unit did well to hold firm as Sydney peppered their goal with 24 attempts on Friday night. We have already covered an ineffective attack from the home side but their saving grace could be one moment of quality might be enough against Newcastle.

Big game for: Josh Kennedy. The settling down time is well and truly over, and it’s time to start banging them in big fella. Yes you are still adjusting, but you are an international (who had ambitions of being in the Socceroos Asian Cup squad merely two months ago), and a return on investment is needed – even if the investment is coming from many, many oil monies.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The new guy. Down the track Joel Griffiths has said he wants to potentially return to Newcastle, but it will be interesting to see how another axed player, Jet Kew Jaliens, goes with his new team.

Perth Glory v Wellington Phoenix, Saturday – nib Stadium
Wellington embark on the longest trip in a world domestic football competition to face another flat-lining contender when they meet Perth. Two shots on target won’t win you many games of football, so Perth will be somewhat happy with a point from their match-up in Melbourne, but the fallout sees them without Mitch Nichols due to suspension. With both their noted goal-scorers netting last weekend, one of Nathan Burns or Joel Griffiths will be hoping they can go on a Marc-Janko-like run in the next three months.

Big game for: Wellington’s defence. The Phoenix backline will again be key after a clean sheet came last week despite issues, including the suspension of Manny Muscat and an injury concern for skipper Andrew Durante prior to the game.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Durante crunching Andy Keogh in the first tackle, just for fun.

Sydney FC v Brisbane Roar, Sunday – Allianz Stadium
The ever-entertaining Sydney FC meet Brisbane, another side in great form after the Asian Cup break, to round out five days of A-League. Milos Dimitrijevic, who Graham Arnold had noted as a potential Johnny Warren Medal winner, provided a calming influence for Sydney and was crucial in holding Mitch Cooper and Zenon Caravella at bay during the encounter in Newcastle. His role on Thomas Broich will be critical to Sydney’s success, while Frans Thijssen will no doubt want more of the same from Brandon Borello, following two goals in as many games both here and abroad.

Big game for: Jamie Young. The 29 year-old has returned to the Roar starting line-up after number one keeper Michael Theo picked up another injury, and he will be well tested here. He made four saves against the Wanderers but could potentially keep out double figures of shots against a rampant Sydney outfit.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Nothing in particular, just the game as a whole. Both sides are playing well, Brisbane have their tails up locally, and are coming off a positive result in their last ACL game. All signs point to a high-quality fixture.

The betting bit one serious one not
We will back up on Sydney ($1.95 @ TAB) to see off Brisbane into comedy goal-keepers tifo at Parramatta this week.

Profit: $32.70 (based on ten unit investment)
Record: 11/20 Sydney, Janko, Thanks.