Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 16 2015

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed from round 16 of the NRL plus a bonus representative game in Townsville.

Often is this column we look at raw figures or statistics but we thought we would take the time to highlight a great effort from Penrith forward Bryce Cartwright on the weekend. After costing his team a try when Dallin Watene-Zallazniak had a four-pointer scratched off when Cartwright interfered with a Wests Tigers defender the Panther made a crucial tackle, holding up a Tigers player and the ball up over the line in the ensuing set which saw his side maintain a 12-point lead. Penrith subsequently scored a field goal and three further tries to seal the game but Cartwright’s play at a pivotal moment in the encounter at Leichhardt Oval when he was able to respond from an attacking error shows the burgeoning maturity of the 20 year-old.

Two weeks ago we honed in on the impact, or lack thereof, of the South Sydney pack when they were humbled by the Wests Tigers 34-6 two weeks ago but back at ANZ Stadium on Friday night it was happier news for the Rabbitohs. Running out 20-8 winners over Manly John Sutton and Chris McQueen were rampaging on the edge with five and four tackle breaks respectively. This time it wasn’t left to bench players like Chris Grevsmuhl to attempt to lay the platform as the 2014 Premiers registered their ninth win of the season.

As Brisbane saw off Newcastle 44-22 on Friday night to retain top spot on the ladder the only negative for the Broncos was a major achilles injury for Josh McGuire. The Queensland forward hadn’t made an error or missed a tackle since round 12 when they beat Canberra and in those for games, including Friday night’s, he didn’t concede a penalty. Amongst that time the forward has been key for Wayne Bennett’s side. McGuire, 25, made 16 tackles and ran for 115 metres during 14 runs in his 38 minutes on the park at Suncorp Stadium. How significant will his asence now be for Brisbane?

As Cronulla upset the Johnathan Thurston-less North Queensland on Saturday night Sam Tagataese produced a superb effort off the bench. The Kiwi forward in his 31 minutes on the field made 11 tackles, but more significantly, also made 11 runs and broke seven tackles at 1300Smiles Stadium. Tagataese, 28, scored in the 49th minutes to help drag Cronulla back to within six points of the Cowboys who they eventually run down 24-18.

Finally in Origin news, well Interstate Challenge news, Queensland and New South Wales drew 4-4 in the #womensorigin game on Saturday. The NSW side have chopped a change focus in selecting their team in recent years but now seem to be almost on-par with Queensland as evidenced by the game in Townsville. Having lost recent ties including the 2012 game 34-10 in Penrith NSW have improved with coach Mathew Head and promise some interesting clashes in years to come. On the weekend Bega’s Kezie Apps provided plenty of dynamism for the visitors busting a match high seven tackles but Queensland’s solid defensive display which lasted until Isabelle Kelly’s 65th minute try was led by Heather Ballinger (37 tackles, 17 runs) and Tarah Westera (40 tackles, 14 runs.) However the workhorse effort from the game was Canley Heights Dragon Simaima Taufa-Kautai who made 242 metres for NSW from 31 runs to go with 31 tackles. The result meant the Queenslanders have now held the title for 17 years.

Jordan Spieth and the next 12 months

@hamishneal

As 21 year-old Jordan Spieth claimed victory in a tense US Open on Sunday at Chambers Bay in Washington State attention turned to the #spiethslam and the probability of whether the young phenom could/would continue his amazing run. Having claimed two victories on the US PGA Tour this year before his triumph at the US Masters in April the young Texan shot to prominence to the wider sporting public when he trounced the field by four shots at Augusta National.

To the west coast and the victory at the much-maligned course this June enhanced his burgeoning stardom but the tournament also casts doubts of the ability of Tiger Woods, who has won 14 majors, to add to his collection.

Will Spieth be able to match Woods’ majors record and if so, how quickly? We will set out to look at what the career of Woods shows us in terms of results in an endeavor to project what Spieth could do in the come twelve months.

39 year-old Woods, who failed to make the cut in the US Open, is a reliable recent example we have to project Spieth’s future results so let’s take a look at how his early runs compare with the early years of Woods.

Woods claimed his first major title in 1997, the Masters, but went on to (only) win twice more that year after his 12-stroke triumph. The Masters victory made him the youngest ever winner at 21 years and 104 days old. As an amateur the year prior Woods had failed to make the cut at the 1996 event unlike Spieth who was in contention deep into the 2014 Masters.

Interestingly Woods only won twice in 1998 with a best major performance of third at The Open. However linked to Spieth again Woods did win for the first time overseas (Thailand) claiming the European Tour’s Johnnie Walker Classic. After a ‘second year syndrome’ in 1998 Woods’ breakout in 1999 saw nine titles, the last four on the spin, and included a first US PGA title plus a maiden triumph on European soil. Thus Spieth is already ahead of Woods in that the gap between the first and second majors was two months not two years.

If this is the point which we use to project Spieth’s performance comparing him to Tiger after they have both won two majors Spieth needs to win ten times in the next twelve months to match Woods from the same period. In that stellar 12 months between when Woods won back to back US PGA titles, he claimed both Open Championships and only a fifth placing in the Masters that year halted a single year grand slam. The Florida native also triumphed in The Tour Championship

After his 1999 US PGA major triumph, again as a straight projection after his second major win, Woods won four of the next five available majors up to and including the 2001 Masters. During the ‘Tiger Slam’ which was capped by the 2001 triumph at Augusta Woods won his majors by 25 strokes. One of the major saw him need a playoff to win, when he won the 2000 US PGA in Kentucky over Bob May in extra-holes.

If we pick the majors Spieth has just won in 2015 at Georgia and Washington State in comparing to Woods it throws up some interesting numbers. After the year Woods won the Masters and US Open as his only majors, 2002, he didn’t win a major for the next two years – the 2005 Masters. Whilst picking up ten tournament triumphs from the 2002 US Open, including two match-play titles, Woods failed on the big stage.

Which one of you out there is willing to take it that Spieth doesn’t win any of the next eight available majors? No, me neither.

From April 2005 Woods took three years and three months to compile his next (last?) six majors. The 2008 US Open title was the last time he hoisted a major trophy.

Spieth, whilst still not yet world number one, seems on track to eclipse Woods in achieving a career slam if not the grand slam this year. However even if his was to win the career grand slam this year it would be some feat if he won ten other titles between now and the 2016 US Open to be held at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania.

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 15 2015

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed from round 15 of the NRL. Two sides, Parramatta and South Sydney, were on the bye.

Top of the table Brisbane won 14-12 on Sunday at AAMI Park against the Storm on the back of a great defensive effort but also some puzzling attacking from the home side. With 11 drop-outs sent by Brisbane to Melbourne’s attackers it underscored how much dominance Melbourne had in territory and possession such as the Broncos having to make 442 tackles compared to the Storm’s 327. What caught our attention was the Storms’ persistent pushing at the Brisbane line when it became clear Brisbane was just so dominant in defence. Elsewhere this weekend it took Johnathan Thurston three attempts to propel his time to victory via a field goal and I wonder if Melbourne could not have adopted similar strategy when say 15 minutes from time they weren’t breaching the Brisbane wall. Having not scored a four-pointer for the last 45 minutes of the game a field goal gives you hope to march back down the field and do the same again to tie the game. It would leave you open to Terry Lamb-esque ridicule (the former Canterbury star once potted a field goal with his team 12-10 behind thinking it would put them in front) but when something isn’t working you need a plan B. I suspect injured halfback Cooper Cronk would have done something like that if he was playing. I concede Melbourne will likely wear down teams in this fashion and get wins as a result during the season but if Sunday is any indication it may not be enough if come finals time.

In Melbourne Jacob Lillyman was used for relatively sparingly used for 26 minutes off the bench during Origin II but he was key for the Warriors as they won on the Gold Coast on Saturday. The Warriors forward ran for 212 metres off the bench on the Gold Coast. This was the most of any player in the match and the made 29 tackles to go with it as his side cruised to a 36-14 victory.

Staying at Robina and the Titans (6-8) were responsible for 42 missed tackles in the 22-point loss. The most penalised team in the competition had former Queensland representative David Taylor and fullback David Mead miss six tackles each on a poor night for Neil Henry’s outfit. In fairness to the Titans duo Peter Mata’utia also missed six tackles this weekend as his side were edged 19-14 by the Sydney Roosters on Monday night.

With both the futures settled for the Manly halves, one staying and the other going, Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans set about rectifying their lowly ladder position helping guide their side to 30-20 win over the Wests Tigers on Friday. Like the New Zealand Warriors and the Cronulla Sharks, the Sea Eagles scored three crucial tries in 12 minutes of less and put the game beyond doubt when Brett Stewart scored early in the second half. When Cherry-Evans set-up almost directly behind the dummy half in the lead-up to Stewart’s opening try it must have been the start of nightmare for Jason Taylor as his defenders knew whilst Foran was the ball runner if Manly changed the point of attack to Cherry-Evans should they have made the tackle the right-side of Manly’s could still do damage causing doubt to the inside defence. It will be something to watch for opposing coaches as Manly still have Jamie Lyon to return to their backline.

In our round 14 wrap we highlighted how damaging Chris Grevsmuhl was off the pine for South Sydney with four tackles busts as the 22 year-old out-performed a host of the Rabbitohs starters and this weekend Robbie Rochow found himself in that position as the Knights were edged 30-28 by Cronulla. Other starters had a higher workload but only one, Kade Snowden, broke more tackles. East Maitland junior Rochow made 26 tackles and had 11 runs but, significantly, he broke three tackles plus provided the final ball for NSW forward Beau Scott to cross six minutes before the break. Rochow also didn’t miss a tackle, make an error or concede a penalty. With a disjointed forward pack due to players like Jeremy Smith absent on account of injury Rick Stone could do worse than upping Rochow’s game time now that the 22 year-old has returned from his back injury.

Brazil look to extend youth dominance – Final preview #U20WC

@hamishneal

After a knockout phase with extra-time and penalties galore Brazil, easily, and Serbia, not so easily, have progressed to meet in the final of the 2015 Under 20 World Cup to be held on Auckland’s North Shore on Saturday June 20.

Final

Brazil v Serbia

Albany

Brazil are bidding for a sixth title at this level and will go in heavy favourites after they re-found their samba somewhere between Hamilton and Christchurch before putting away Senegal 5-0, having gone 4-0 up after about half an hour of play in the first semi-final on Wednesday.

At North Harbour Stadium, the venue for the final, Serbia made tough work of their semi-final having jumped out to a 1-0 lead after four minutes. They had upwards of 60% possession half an hour into the match until Mali sprung into life scoring through Youssouf Kone six minutes before the break. Into the second half Veljko Paunovic’s side slipped away spurning chances and giving Mali more possession before both sides got to the end of regulation without a winner. Ivan Saponjic’s extra-time winner saw Serbia through but what was significant looking towards the final was the Partizan Belgrade man was the beneficiary of the second phase ball after a header from the corner. Brazil will be careful not to concede corners as this looms as a big threat from the European side in the decider. Whilst the Serbia’s tall timber looms as a threat Brazil will feel they have the firepower to score early and often. Rogerio Micale’s biggest problem may be balancing his side’s star power. Notably Manchester United midfielder Andreas Pereira came off the bench again in the semi-final.

After coughing and spluttering their way through the first two knockout games, including when Portugal really should have beaten them in Wellington, Brazil started up their holiday campervan right first time in Christchurch and when on a scoring blitz with four goals in half an hour of play to put the hopes of Senegal to bed before the break. Marcos Guilherme netted twice as the South Americans quashed any concerns their fans may have had about scoring. Gone somewhat unnoticed in their scoring drought was the fact that, penalty shoot-outs aside, the Samba kids haven’t conceded for 502 minutes. They let in a goal last against Hungary eight minutes into what was their second pool game and it was only one of three they have conceded in the whole tournament. Serbia have also had their goal breached three times thus far.

Tip: Serbia

Third-place playoff

Senegal v Mali

Hard to get a read on this. Mali could be tired from playing extra-time at the end of a long tournament and Senegal might be tired from chasing Brazil for 90 minutes. My only hope is if Mali do concede a penalty, dubious or otherwise, we don’t see a repeat of recent games. Their behaviour in crowding and handling referees in consecutive matches was deplorable. A player sent off for such on the final day of the tournament would not be a good look. I’m hoping instead Dieudonne Gbkale or one of his teammate’s in the Aiglons pull off another stunning strike to get the crowd going ahead of the final. That said Senegal have been impressive bar getting smashed by Brazil.

Tip: Senegal

Five Metre Gap – Origin II 2015

@hamishneal

Live the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed from Origin II. Wednesday night’s game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground saw New South Wales square the ledger for 2015 after a 26-18 triumph.

The controversy from the period around Josh Dugan’s 71st minute try will be talked about post this match a lot but what was great to see for the NSW side was them running the ball on the fifth tackle to seal the game. At that point a field goal or forced repeat set would have been useful but the four-pointer and resultant conversion put it beyond doubt. Like we have seen in recent weeks in the NRL innovation early in sets and running it on the last has it’s rewards.

Having gotten run out of the match in game one the Blues forward pack took it to Queensland in game two with three of their forwards making up the top three metre-eaters from the engine rooms of each side. Aaron Woods and Ryan Hoffman both made 142 metres from 16 and 19 runs respectively whilst skipper Paul Gallen 133 metres from 17 runs rounded out that trio. The best for Queensland up front was Corey Parker with 117 metres from his 13 runs. By way of comparison in game one Matt Scott with 140 metres from 14 runs was the Maroon’s best.

In game one NSW’s outside backs came in for criticism for failing to run their side out of trouble early in sets, and elsewhere on the park, with Queensland more efficient with 81 runs from their backline to the Blues’ 55 in the ANZ Stadium clash. Interestingly the figure was less in game two with 51 runs for NSW in Melbourne but Queensland was far less than game one with only 56 runs. Another note how the forwards took control for the Blues.

Cooper Cronk’s absence for Queensland was well highlighted by NSW on attack forcing his replacement Daly Cherry-Evans to make 26 tackles, the most of any back in the match. The Manly halfback subsequently missed five tackles, a match high for any player.

After Matt Gillett drew Queensland ahead with his 47th minute try NSW fans were right to feel ill. It was the second time in the game the trailing inside defence had been left wanting for last year’s series winners. Matt Scott’s 12th minute try was of similar concern. This aspect in defence might be a key work on for NSW coach Laurie Daley ahead of game three in Brisbane.

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 14 2015

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed from round 14 of the NRL. Eight teams were on the bye with a host of big names also missing due to Origin duty.

This weekend provided an interesting look into the future for NRL clubs as some fringe players and various NBT’s (Next Big Thing) got a chance to shine across both Australia and New Zealand. Starting off in Auckland Jackson Hastings, who has featured sparingly for the Sydney Roosters off the bench in recent weeks, started at halfback in place of Mitchell Pearce and was influential in his side’s late 25-21 win over the New Zealand Warriors. After a slow start, including down 14-0 just before the break, Hastings and pivot James Maloney marshalled their team to their seventh win of the season. Hastings, 19, was incisive on the occasions he kicked producing some great midfield bombs and the cross-field kick for Brendan Elliot to score the visitor’s second try. Perhaps in a nod to his attacking prowess Jackson was in line to get the ball from scrums with the senior player Maloney feeding the ball on occasion. Not missed in defence the former Dragons utility was forced into making 21 tackles and held his own missing two of the 23 attempts.

On Sunday, despite a 24-12 defeat, the Bulldogs launched the NRL career of Shaun Lane and the 198cm forward performed creditably making 20 tackles to go with his 10 runs during 46 minutes on the park. By way of comparison team-mate Sam Kasiano in six more minutes on the park also had ten runs and made 22 tackles so the workrate output was similar. However Kasiano’s ability to break tackles and the fact he picked up a four-pointer underscore the difference his experience brings. The 20 year-old will also need to work on the four missed tackles. But given he has primarily featured in the Under 20s competition (aka touch football with NRL jerseys) until this year he has probably not been used to the consequences of so many missed tackles leading to tries given the high scores in the junior showpiece. Both Lane and the afore-mentioned Hastings are ones for the future for, fantasy and, real-life NRL sides.

Four of South Sydney’s starting forwards failed to register a tackle bust as the defending champions were humbled 34-6 on Friday night by the Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium. Starters Dave Tyrrell, John Sutton, Chris McQueen and Ben Lowe couldn’t trouble the Tigers in defence in that regard but bench forward Chris Grevsmuhl managed four tackle breaks in his time on the park. Contrast that with the winners who had Martin Taupau make eight tackles busts and it’s a good indication that Michael Maguire’s men simply couldn’t make any significant ground in their sets. The Rabbitohs totalled 1064 metres compared to the 1440 metres for the victors.

As the style of play of Queensland Cup side the Ipswich Jets has become more widely known in recent weeks thanks to TV coverage and an interesting article from Paul Kent of the Daily Telegraph it’s worth nothing kicking to advantage paid dividends this weekend. Gold Coast halfback Aidan Sezer rolled the dice on the second tackle and came up trumps with a 40/20 kick which led to a key Titans try to Kevin Gordon in their win over the Bulldogs. Essentially the Jets’ philosophy is to be attacking even if it means relinquishing possession early in a set. The Titans could have been facing the Bulldogs on attack with 30 seconds to go if there kick didn’t come off but it proved positive for the home side who up until that point had made the only 40/20 kick all weekend.

Finally, an apology to Parramatta coach Brad Arthur. Having played forward Daniel Alvaro for only six minutes in round 12 we tracked his progress and wrote in our round 13 wrap that the 22 year-old didn’t play at all as the Eels capitulated 36-30 at the hands of the Cowboys. That was wrong, after a Tuesday update the stats showed Alvaro played one minute of that game. We can only assume we glanced away from the screen for the minute in which Arthur decided to give the former Bronco his ever so brief cameo. The Mittagong junior didn’t feature against the Storm as the Eels shocked the home side 26-22.

Can the Samba Kids score? Semi Final Preview #U20WC

@hamishneal

Wednesday features the two semi-final at the Under 20 World Cup. Will the West African teams win through? Can the Samba Kids score a goal? Will Serbia score a win for Europe?

Brazil v Senegal

Christchurch

In a quite stunning stat for a nation seen as free-scoring Brazil haven’t netted in ‘regular play’ for their last 244 minutes of this tournament. The last goal came in the 86th minute of their final group stage game when Leo Pereira headed home against North Korea. It would be a flame-out akin to their senior side’s exit at last year’s World Cup if they were dumped out here without scoring in a third straight game. The shame would be even worse given they have to stay around and play the favourite game of Fifa, but no-one else, the third place playoff!

Manchester United’s Under 21 player off the year Andreas Pereira started the shootout for Brazil as they saw off Portugal who saw starlet Andre Silva amongst those unsuccessful from the spot and Pereira will be key against Senegal. All sides in the tournament have played a penalty shootout, Brazil twice, but Senegal’s might be the most impressive after Ibrahima Sy saved three times in the round of 16 shootout against the Ukraine and he could be called again here. Senegal were beaten in the final of the African Under 20 titles in March so do have the recent tournament pedigree at the pointy end of finals and any wastefulness by Brazil could be punished by the Senegalese. Uzbekistan Goalkeeper Dilshod Khamraev was busy as his side parked the proverbial bus during their quarter final against Joseph Koto’s side and were the least adventurous of the teams in the last eight. Senegal’s solitary goal courtesy of Mamadou Thiam 14 minutes from time saw the West African’s progress and given their recent record in tournaments would fancy their chances. However the fact it took some time for them to put away the Asian side would be concerning to Koto.

Tip: Senegal

Serbia v Mali

Auckland

German defender Niklas Stark missed a crucial penalty as the tournament surprise packets Mali progressed to the final four 4-3 on penalties after they had been 1-0 down after 38 minutes at the hands of the tournament favourites. What would be even more disappointing for the Europeans was Hany Mukhtar could have sent his side 2-0 up if he had notched his spot kick in regulation. This leaves Serbia as the surprise European team in the last four after they beat the USA following a see-saw shoot-out.

Each side has conceded once in the knockout phase but Serbia holds the whip hand having already beaten Mail 2-0 in Group D when the teams meet earlier in the tournament. Staniša Mandić, who missed in the shootout against the Americans, and Sergej Milinković, who plays for Genk in Belgium, both scored in that encounter in Dunedin. Serbia were turned over by Portugal at the semi-final stage of the European Under 19 title last year (the UEFA qualifying event for this tournament) and after they nearly botched an early advantage in the shootout will want to avoid the lottery of spot-kicks again. A concern for Mali would be talismanic goalkeeper Djigui Diarra. The shot-stopper is also their skipper and he was shown a yellow card for dissent in the quarter final against Germany so he would want to tread a fine line in the semi-final as any similar antics might not be viewed on well by officials. Serbia’s variety in attack could be useful given the attack they have impact players off the bench who have scored at crucial times already this tournament.

Tip: Serbia

The winners of each semi-final meet in the final on Auckland’s North Shore on Saturday with the third-place playoff earlier in the day at the same venue in Albany.