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Monthly Archives: December 2018

Once more with feeling: Storm face old finals foes

MELBOURNE coach Craig Bellamy isn’t silly enough to claim there will be no emotion in Friday night’s preliminary final clash against Manly.
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The two clubs have battled regularly and – in the case of last year’s infamous Donnybrookvale clash – violently. They have also clashed in grand finals in 2007 and 2008, giving the feeling that the history between the two sides is incomparable to any NRL clubs over the past five years. Combine that with a grand-final qualifier and Bellamy fully expects emotion. Just not the variety that causes sideline brawls and send-offs.

”You’d hope that we have some emotion about it, because it’s a pretty important game,” Bellamy said yesterday. ”We have to channel our emotion into what we do out there and making sure we’re doing what helps us perform well. That’s all we’ll be concerned about.

”There’s obviously been some things in the past between the two clubs but that is in the past and that won’t matter come Friday night.”

Melbourne beat the Sea Eagles in the 2007 decider, while the Sea Eagles returned the favour in 2008. Both teams went on to win a grand final subsequently, although, as we all know, Melbourne’s two victories since 2007 are followed by a hefty asterisk.

Recent history has been more maroon than purple. The Sea Eagles are the current premiers, while the Storm were bundled out at this stage of the season last year, losing to the Warriors in the preliminary final. That led to suggestions that the Storm could not lift in the finals, that their forwards were too small and that they were too reliant on Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk. Bellamy admitted he changed his team’s routine this year in a bid to avoid a repeat of last year’s loss.

”We probably haven’t worked as hard as we did last year [during the break for the semi-finals],” Bellamy said. ”When I say ‘hard’, we haven’t had as many sessions as last year. We just thought ‘we’ve got the week off, so we may as well make the most of it and rest up a little bit’.”

Bellamy sees different circumstances and a different team, too.

”We’d like to think we learnt a few of things from last year. At the start of the year, we thought we needed a couple of bigger bodies in our team and we’ve done that. We just need to make sure that we train well this week and hopefully put a good performance in on Friday night,” he said.

One big difference from last year is the fact that the Storm were the standout team of the qualifying finals stage, in contrast to 2011. And they accounted for South Sydney without five players who could ordinarily demand selection – Jason Ryles (hamstring), Todd Lowrie (pectoral muscle), Anthony Quinn (calf), Will Chambers (hamstring) and Sika Manu (back). All could be set for a return against the Sea Eagles.

”Hopefully I’ll have a few headaches there,” Bellamy said. ”All of them are coming along pretty good. A couple of them, we’ll know [today] whether they’re right to play and a couple of them, we won’t know until Thursday. But we’ll give them until Thursday.

”The guys that have been out have played most of the year. We’ll pick what we think is the best team out of what comes out of our injuries.”

The Sea Eagles have not been at their best through the finals but Bellamy is wary as they historically produce their best football at this stage of the year.

”It was a tough, physical game, which is what you expect from Manly,” Bellamy said of the Sea Eagles’ semi-final win over North Queensland. ”At this time of year, they’ve got a very battle-hardened side … They know what semi-finals are about.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Souths build Saturday night fever

RabbitohsA RECORD NRL finals crowd of more than 75,000 is set to pack ANZ Stadium for Saturday night’s preliminary final after South Sydney and Canterbury members yesterday snapped up 20,000 tickets.
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The Herald was told that 8000 tickets were sold in the first 30 minutes – about the same number that had been sold by 4pm for the other NRL final at Melbourne’s AAMI Park between the Storm and Sea Eagles on Friday night.

The NRL said Manly members had bought 6 per cent or 480 tickets, with the rest sold to Storm members in Victoria. In comparison, Rabbitohs members had bought 9350 of the 17,000 tickets sold by 4pm for the club’s first preliminary final since 1971.

The breakdown of tickets sold was 55 per cent to Souths members and 45 per cent to Bulldogs members.

With members of the clubs involved having until 8pm yesterday to purchase tickets, officials estimated that more than 20,000 would be sold before they go on sale today to the general public. Based on those figures, the NRL is on track to surpass the 74,459 crowd that attended the 2009 preliminary final between Canterbury and Parramatta at ANZ Stadium.

The Rabbitohs and Bulldogs have been the two best supported Sydney teams this season, with Canterbury’s average home attendance of 21,963 second only to Brisbane.

Souths’ average home crowds of 18,904 were the fourth best in the NRL, with Newcastle third. With a similar crowd expected for Friday night’s AFL preliminary final between the Sydney Swans and Collingwood, it will be the biggest sporting weekend at ANZ Stadium since the 2000 Olympic Games.

“We are on track to move 20,000-plus tickets today in the pre-sale,” Swans chief executive Andrew Ireland said. “This great early response, plus the huge interest shown from approximately 10,000 ANZ Stadium members, has set the scene for a blockbuster crowd for Friday night’s game.”

The record crowd for an AFL finals match outside Victoria is 71,019, which was set when the Swans played Brisbane at ANZ Stadium in 2003. Sydney and Collingwood played before the biggest-ever AFL crowd outside Victoria when 72,393 watched their 2003 clash at ANZ Stadium.

ANZ Stadium managing director Daryl Kerry said: “This is potentially one of the biggest footy finals weekend in Sydney sporting history, and it is certainly the biggest since the Olympic venue was built.

”The AFL and NRL could reasonably expect crowds above 60,000 – possibly even higher – on both nights.”

The NRL grand final at ANZ Stadium on September 30 is already sold out, with 14,000 tickets reserved for members of this weekend’s winning teams.

Direct trains from Central to Sydney Olympic Park, and major event buses are in place for the AFL and NRL finals matches at ANZ Stadium this weekend.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Spoilt for choice

THE All-Australian team was announced last night. Hawk Josh Gibson wasn’t in it. This won’t have been a surprise to him, for he didn’t even make the short list.
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As an oversight, it was like leaving Kramer out of a Seinfeld episode – you can get away with it but (for this year at least) the whole thing works better when he is there. As if to prove the selectors’ folly, Gibson went out a week ago and had the second most spoils in a final (16) since these statistics began in 1999. The record for most spoils in a final (21), incidentally, is held by … Gibson.

The qualifying final performance, coming as it did days after the shortlist was announced, will have left the selectors looking a little sheepish as he repelled ball after ball from forward thrusts.

Several football insiders and analysts have posited that Gibson might be the best spoiler in the game, if not the best spare defender. This is one of the vogues of the game, playing an extra man in defence to read the play and join any marking contest. Gibson knows when to leave his man and get across to help out his fellow defenders.

Matthew Scarlett, who retired last week, and Dustin Fletcher are regarded among the best defenders of the past decade, but both stopped playing on the best forward years ago. Their value was in taking a lesser player and joining other contests and being liberated to create with the ball running out of defence.

Gibson still often takes the best forward, but he can just as often take a lesser player and be available as the spare. Sam Fisher has been playing this role for St Kilda for some years, Nick Maxwell likewise at Collingwood.

“He is as effective as anyone going around at the moment because of the impact he has,” said Ben Hart, the former Adelaide defender turned Collingwood defensive coach, who saw Gibson up close in the first final and will be a keen observer as he takes on his old side this week.

“He reads the play really well and realises his man is not going to get used so he gets back and assists the other defenders,” Hart said. ”If you haven’t kept him engaged with your movement or the way you are moving the ball then you know he is going to get around there and get to the ball.

“One way [to combat him] is to use his man, but it does not always work that way because he will get in dangerous positions to get used. But the thing is to try and separate him as well. If the two key forwards can separate, he hasn’t got enough room to get across and effect a spoil.”

Gibson’s effectiveness is also in creating a rethink in the minds of opposition midfielders about subsequent attacks. When a side finds itself playing squash with the footy into the forward line, as Collingwood did in the first half of the qualifying final, it reconsiders how to go forward, which creates its own pressure on the ball carrier, giving tacklers time to move in.

The fact that Gibson punches the ball 20 to 30 metres makes it hard for sides to apply defensive forward pressure.

“I think what makes him so effective is that Hawthorn’s pressure around the footy is so great that you can’t be as precise going forward as you would like,” Hart said.

Collingwood’s defender Ben Reid also plays the same role at times, such as he did last Saturday night, but his greater effectiveness in a best-on-ground effort was to mark, not spoil.

“For me personally it is more about having the defence mindset first,” Reid said.

“You can’t think to mark it if it is not the right opportunity, it’s all about the timing and knowing when to do it and not. First and foremost it is defence first.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

State of mind gives Pies the wood over Swans

‘The Magpies know that it will be tough and attritional on Friday.’COLLINGWOOD’S 11-game winning streak over Sydney is a talking point in the lead-up to the preliminary final on Friday, as it should be. While it is a way off the longest head-to-head streak in the competition’s history, it is a lot of games over a long period, stretching back to 2005.
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It would appear to indicate some kind of match-up or tactical advantage to the Magpies. Yet that can be questioned since teams change constantly and, in the past few years, both coaches have changed, too.

The rivals will talk down its significance, Sydney because the last thing it wants is for its players to fear a preliminary final; Collingwood because it does not want to be seen to be assuming anything. In the end, Collingwood half-back Harry O’Brien probably puts it best. ”The recent games have been quite close,” O’Brien told The Age yesterday. ”That 11 in a row can be quite distorted, but certainly I’d rather be on this end of it than the other end.”

In this case, it is not just the 11 straight wins that will be discussed, it is also Collingwood’s ability to win at ANZ Stadium, Sydney’s secondary home. The Pies have won the past seven encounters between the teams at the Olympic stadium. All of which means they can attack this knockout final without trepidation.

When they met in round 20, it was a dogfight. Adam Goodes had a set shot at goal inside the last couple of minutes to put Sydney in front, but missed. Travis Cloke kicked the game-winner and then in the last few seconds, best-afield Dayne Beams put the icing on it. Collingwood won by eight points and laid 90 tackles, a season-high.

The Magpies know that it will be tough and attritional on Friday. ”The games are always close,” said O’Brien. ”We know what to expect from Sydney. They play a similar brand to us, they like a contested game. It’s predictable, but we think of ourselves as predictable, too. That’s probably why Sydney has always been around the mark as a finals team.”

In 2010 it was Cloke (six goals on Heath Grundy) who proved the difference, but only just. A Tadgh Kennelly turnover in the hectic final minutes gifted Collingwood the match-winning goal. The Pies won by six points but could have argued their early inaccuracy kept the Swans in the contest.

Both teams play the contested brand of football and there are other links, such as the presence of two sets of brothers (the Reids and Shaws) on opposite sides, and personified by ruckman Darren Jolly, a premiership player with both clubs. Jolly, who crossed in 2010, is still in touch with former teammates such as Ryan O’Keefe, Goodes and Jude Bolton, whom he was intending to text yesterday with congratulations on his 300th game. ”I’ll be out to spoil the party,” he said.

The ruckman was dismissive of the significance of the streak, saying that players don’t have time to ponder it. ”Is it 11?” he said. ”Bloody hell. To be honest, I wouldn’t even know. We match up well against them, we play well in Sydney, we travel well in general. Look, we’re not going into the game thinking it’s going to happen because of that. Sydney’s a different team, it’s finals. It’s all irrelevant then. It’s external talk. We don’t talk about it internally.”

The only point he would concede was that the Collingwood players would go in optimistic. ”It gives us confidence going in, knowing we can play well there. We’ve proven that we can beat them there. It’s a little head start, but once the ball’s bounced, it’s forgotten.”

Jolly, O’Brien and defender Ben Reid made the point that Collingwood’s ability to win at ANZ Stadium was not so much an enjoyment of that venue, but part of the club’s broader love of the challenge of playing interstate.

”We’re a close group,” said Reid. ”We love getting away together and having some fun. We have a few laughs and it’s good company to be in. We enjoy the challenge of going interstate and trying to knock a team over.”

O’Brien said the Pies would come to work, literally. ”We have a great process we follow. When it’s away from home, there’s an element added. You’re on business. That’s what we talk about. ‘Come in, get the job done, forget the distractions we might have here. Just get in and out’.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.