NRL Judiciary hand down shock Billy Slater finding

Melbourne Storm champion Billy Slater has been hit with a grade 1 charge, which would see him banned from the upcoming grand final.
Slater was penalised during the Storm’s win over the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks for a try-saving shoulder charge on Sosaia Feki during the first half.
The NRL Judiciary’s findings mean that even if Slater was to make an early plea, he would still be suspended.
Slater will all but certainly challenge the finding, given he has nothing left to lose, having announced his retirement earlier this year.
“It’s pretty hard to make a conventional tackle when you’re going across at top speed trying to save a try like that,” Slater said after the Storm’s win.
“It was just a collision.”

Five talking points from Collingwood vs Richmond

One of the pitfalls of being employed in sports media is that sometimes it’s easy to get too wrapped up in the work of providing coverage of sporting events and forget to enjoy the sport itself.
Another is that if your work involves forecasting results, it can almost be frustrating when things don’t go the way you expect – not because you’re at all wedded to your predictions, but simply because you take pride in your work.
These are both traps I’ve fallen into at times in 2018, but neither of them got me last night. Collingwood’s shock 39-point win to put themselves into a grand final and eliminate the flag favourites from finals was the kind of tour de force that simply demands your enraptured attention and deals away with all else.
It’s funny the way football works that history will be re-written pretty quick and pundits will be quick to point out all the red flags which should have tipped us off that a result like this was coming. And to be fair, in retrospect, they were there.
In my Sunday column at the end of Round 23 I pointed out that while Richmond were coming into finals on a six-game winning streak, three of their last four had been won by eight points or less.
The theory that it’s good for a premiership contender to have a loss somewhere in those last few games took another scalp on Friday night. The three teams left in the race – Collingwood, Melbourne and West Coast – all lost at least one of their last four home-and-away games.
In the same column I ranked Richmond’s fellow finals sides in order of how likely they were to topple the Tigers, and put Collingwood in first. My reasoning: “the Magpies have both the power and the confidence to upset the Tigers on the big stage.”
And in this week’s tips I said “If anything the finals series so far would suggest that September has favoured more those teams with potential than experience”, something I believe was true for both Collingwood and Melbourne this week.
Look at me trying to make myself sound smart. Don’t buy into it! I still tipped the Tigers. And these few moments where I thought a result like this could happen are needles carefully picked from a haystack of predictions that back-to-back flags for the Tigers was a fait accompli.
That however is the most beautiful thing about footy: its ability to deliver the unexpected. To paraphrase what Gandalf said about hobbits, you can learn everything there is to know about the game in a month, and after a hundred years it can still surprise you.
Last night’s game was the kind to make me fall in love with footy all over again, for perhaps the hundredth time if not the thousandth. It’s only a day on, but it was a match you know you’ll remember and speak about in hushed tones for decades to come, and even the most ardent Collingwood hater surely got swept up in it.
(Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)
De Goey and Cox deliver
Let’s fast forward back to Round 1 for a moment.
Mason Cox played a stinker of a game against Hawthorn and around the media, everyone was asking the question of whether it was time for Collingwood to end the American experiment.
Meanwhile, Jordan De Goey was sitting in the stands, unable to play due to injury but would likely have missed even if fit as punishment for a drink driving incident in the pre-season.
Who could have predicted that in six months’ time they’d kick a combined seven goals to deliver a grand final berth to a team that had finished a lowly 13th the year before?
Simply the stuff of legend.
Lynch watches nervously on
Gold Coast free agent Tom J Lynch is a Collingwood supporter born and raised but like most AFL players, put his allegiances firmly aside when he entered the league.
So much so that this year when given a choice between his childhood club and the reigning premiers, he made what many would think was the smart, rational decision and picked the Tigers (expect confirmation of this any day now).
How must he have felt last night then, watching the team he loved in his youth, a team he could be playing for next year if he wanted to, so thoroughly defeat the side he’s selected?
We’re probably over dramatising it a bit. But he’d only be human if he was having some second thoughts.
Treloar’s revenge
And speaking of players choosing between the Pies and the Tigers – after copping 12 months of flak, Adam Treloar is into a grand final.
Treloar of course famously said in a pre-season camp in November 2015 that he’d chosen Collingwood over Richmond because the Magpies had a better playing list.
It’s the kind of media-managed comment that means literally nothing but of course in the otherwise mostly barren media month of November it blew up, and when Tigers fans won the 2017 flag they certainly had neither forgiven nor forgotten.
It must have felt extra sweet then for Adam Treloar in the final quarter of last night’s match to deliver the killing blow – kicking a goal to end an early run in that term from the Tigers and put to bed any hopes of an unlikely comeback.
(Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)
Here comes a great grand final
The best part about last night’s result is that now no matter which way Saturday’s prelim between West Coast and Melbourne goes, we’re guaranteed an exciting grand final.
Taking the Tigers out of the race means there are three teams left who are all arguably on level footing or at least very close to.
The Magpies will either play West Coast who would come in with confidence remembering that they gave Collingwood a flogging at the MCG earlier this year, or meet Melbourne in a fairytale lover’s perfect match between the Flagpies and the Dreamons.
Either way after so long thinking of this year’s race for the premiership as being between Richmond and the rest of the world, it’s refreshing and exciting to see this sudden and unexpected turn of events. I can’t wait.

Seven talking points from Melbourne Storm vs Cronulla Sharks NRL preliminary final

The Melbourne Storm are the first team into the NRL grand final after cruising past the Cronulla Sharks in the first preliminary final at home. Here are my talking points from the match.
Should Billy Slater be suspended?
This is a really, really tough one.
If you look at other examples of shoulder charges and the letter of the law, he might be in a lot of trouble.
At the end of the day, Slater tucked the arm and made absolutely no attempt to tackle Feki, who probably would have scored in the corner without Slater doing what he did.
And while it wasn’t dangerous in the slightest, it was a shoulder charge.
Yet, this is the grand final, and you’d hate to see a player rubbed out for something like that.
The base penalty for a bottom grade shoulder charge is a suspension, so Slater is in a lot of trouble if the match review committee find him guilty.
Was this a shoulder charge from Billy Slater?
Given Latrell Mitchell was suspended for his ugly crusher tackle and Greg Inglis only avoided a suspension because of no carryover points, the precedent is there. And who can forget Cameron Smith being rubbed out of the 2008 grand final as the Storm went onto lose 40-0 to Manly, while Issac Luke missed the 2014 decider because of a dangerous throw?
Slater defended himself post-match.
“I was coming across at speed and actually thought Sosaia Feki was going to step back on the inside. It was a collision in the end,” Slater said after full-time,” he said.
“It was one of those things where both players were running at speed to get to a position.
“It would have been an awkward place to place my head if I had to duck down. There was no malice in it, I don’t think.”
The NRL have a huge decision to make – one I don’t envy one bit, but, if we are sticking to the rules, it’s worthy of a suspension.
» Update: Billy Slater has been handed a Grade 1 charge by the Match Review Committee.
Can anyone stop Melbourne?
Whether Slater plays or not will have a huge bearing on the answer to this question.
He is the key to any match the Storm play and proved his worth again last night, going out at the absolute top of his game.
When it comes to big matches, there is no one better and his combination with Cameron Smith is fantastic at the worst of times as they inspire their team to a level beyond what they should be capable of.
But even without Slater, the Storm are going to be hard to beat. Jahrome Hughes would be an excellent replacement, the kicking game and competitiveness of Smith still exists, the coaching of Craig Bellamy isn’t going away and the combination Cameron Munster and Brodie Croft have built is still going to be there.
More importantly, their forward pack, one of the best in the game is still going to exist.
If Slater is there, no one can stop Melbourne, which would have been the way in 2016 had he played and certainly made all the difference last year.
If he isn’t there, well, there is a chance Melbourne won’t go back-to-back.
Billy Slater of the Storm (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)
Luke Lewis – what a career
Before we go any further, let’s give a massive shoutout to Luke Lewis.
The second rower will hang up the boots following the Sharks’ loss last night, but he never deserved to go out behind on the scoreboard, and it was fitting he was the only Cronulla player with a try to his name at fulltime.
Try as he might, he simply couldn’t get Cronulla over the line last night, and by his own admission, would probably admit it wasn’t his finest night on a footy field.
Despite that, you always knew what you were going to get out of Lewis. Every time he stepped on the field, no matter where he was playing, what the circumstance was or how the game was going, you knew you were getting 100 per cent and a solid performance.
He never let anyone down did Lewis and deserves to be celebrated heading into retirement after a fantastic career.
Cameron Smith is still a master out of dummy half
While Slater is a gun – one of the best players to ever step foot on a rugby league field – he is made that much better by Cameron Smith, who seems to improve every player around him.
Whether it was organisation, picking the right plays or his incredibly good kicking game out of dummy half, he didn’t put a foot wrong last night.
I wasn’t counting, but it’s easy to pick at least three or four times Smith turned the tired Cronulla forwards around with a long-range kick, forcing Holmes to work it out of his own end and the backs to burn through plays as the forwards tried to get back onside.
Cameron Smith of the Storm (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Smith is the best dummy half kicker in the competition, and he proved it again last night.
Not just his long-range game either, with a sensational grubber kick for Billy Slater to score his second try of the game on the stroke of halftime.
That try all but sunk the Sharks, and the situational awareness to get the kick away was brilliant.
Cronulla’s halves and Holmes went missing
It was a rough night for Cronulla, and as the old saying goes, if you’re forwards aren’t in the battle, the halves may as well be in the dressing room.
While the forwards did get battered up the middle last night by Melbourne, the kicking game from Chad Townsend was particularly poor.
Even when they did get opportunities at the line, the chime in from Matt Moylan also wasn’t good enough.
Too often, they would pick out Billy Slater, take the wrong option or just put in a plain bad kick.
The impact of Valentine Holmes was also greatly diminished last night. He had some good returns from fullback after kicks, but a solid kick chase from the Storm all night kept him trapped and his popping up in support play or creation for himself was extremely limited.
After such a good game against the Panthers last week, it’s frustrating to try and work out why they were polar opposite this time around, and if the Sharks are to do anything next year, it’s a major issue they must address.
Melbourne’s forwards are hard to stop
If there was one point that could be made about the week off, it’s the obvious impact it had on the battle of the forwards.
While Cronulla were very brave in their efforts, playing understrength and busted up, the Storm dominated them in the middle third of the field all night long.
Whether it was big runs from Dale Finucane, Tim Glasby and Nelson Asofa-Solomona off the bench through the middle, or Joe Stimson chiming in from the edges, it seemed everytime the Storm needed a boost throughout the game, they would get it.
Don’t get me wrong, the Sharks had some very gallant efforts – Matt Prior was strong, and so was Aaron Woods after being called up to the starting side. Bukuya was reliable off the bench as well, but they just couldn’t match what Melbourne were throwing down.
The average metres per run prove the point.
Melbourne had 1,433 metres from 158 runs. Cronulla, 1,416 from 191. That’s a substantial difference in average per run and tells you why the hosts were able to build pressure despite not dominating possession.
Dale Finucane of the Storm celebrates with Cameron Smith (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
This is the end of Cronulla’s premiership window
The Sharks are always a side who are going to be there and about under Shane Flanagan, but this might be the end of their premiership window. It started in 2016, continued for three seasons and probably won’t in 12 months time.
Cronulla have proven the doubters wrong before. A majority thought 2017 was going to be a rough year after losing Michael Ennis, but they had a pretty strong season, as they have done this year.
So, while I don’t want to write them off, I’m saying they won’t be winning the competition.
Not only do they lose Luke Lewis, but Paul Gallen is another year older and may need a bit of luck to last the 25 rounds, Matt Prior is getting on, Jesse Ramien and Ricky Leutele are leaving the club and more importantly Luke Lewis has reired.
What the Sharks have had is a dream run. Maybe they can eek out one more year with Gallen still around, but they rely on their back row heavily, and without wanting to hurt Sharks fans, they won’t be in this position next year.
Roarers, what did you make of the match? Drop a comment below and let us know.

Roosters vs Rabbitohs: The ultra definitive NRL preliminary final stats preview

7:40pm, Saturday 22 September, Alliance Stadium. This is the last rugby league game at this ground.
In 31 seasons there have been some cracking games at Allianz Stadium. The Roosters featured in the very first game here, a 24-14 loss to the Dragons in round one 1988.
The second game at the ground was a 16-14 win to the Rabbitohs over the Roosters.
Now – after 708 games of top grade rugby league, including international and State of Origin matches – the old SFS will host its last league game. It is fitting that a ground that sits in the no man’s land between the Souths and Roosters turf should host this game as its finale.
This game pits the season’s best defensive side against the year’s best attacking side.
However, the crucial factor in this game is carry over points. Greg Inglis had none, so he’ll play in spite of his crusher tackle. Latrell Mitchel conversely had some and will sit out suspended.
That Inglis will be there – with his outstanding experience and leadership – while Mitchell and his stellar attacking game won’t is likely to be the crucial factor that decides this game.
Let’s look at why.
Team Stats – average per game 2018
Team stats


Line breaks conceded
3.3 (#2 NRL)
3.6 (#4 NRL)
+0.4 Rabbitohs

Missed tackles
21.5 (#1 NRL)
+3.5 Rabbitohs

Tries conceded
2.2 (#1 NRL)
+0.8 Rabbitohs

10.8 (#14 NRL)
+0.4 Roosters

Meters conceded
+58.8 Roosters

Penalties conceded
+0.2 Rabbitohs

11.1 (#16 in NRL)
8.6 (#3 NRL)
+2.5 Roosters

With the exception of their errors and offloads conceded, Easts have been the number one defensive side this season. While in no way miles ahead of the Rabbitohs, the tricolours consistency in defence is notable.
Further, if offloads conceded were a telling defensive stat how is it that the number one defensive side would be worst in that category?
Maybe it is about the quality of the offloads I guess, and the Bunnies have quality offloads.
Player Stats


Tackles made
J. Friend – 42.9
R. Matterson – 30.7
B. Cordner – 26.8

D. Cook – 38.6
A. Crichton – 30.7
C. Murray – 28.5
S. Burgess – 28.2

Missed tackles
J. Friend – 2.1
L. Keary – 2
B. Cordner – 2
V. Radley – 1.9
S. Burgess – 3.2
D. Gagai – 3.1
D. Cook – 2.1
T. Burgess – 2

Penalties conceded
L. Mitchell – 1
D. Napa – 0.9
J. Friend – 0.8
J. Waerea-Hargreaves – 0.7
S. Burgess – 1.1
A. Crichton – 1.1
G. Burgess – 0.9
A. Reynolds – 0.8
C. Murray – 0.8

B. Ferguson – 1.3
D. Tupou – 1.3
L. Keary – 1.2
J. Tedesco – 1.2
A. Reynolds – 1.3
C. Walker – 1.2
S. Burgess – 1.2
A. Crichton – 1.1

There are some awesome defenders in both of these sides. Jake Friend is tackling crazy and Damien Cook is not far behind him. Where Sam Burgess’ and Dane Gagai’s missed tackles are a worry for the Rabbits – and they will be targeted – no Rooster is a liability in the defensive line.
Here is one advantage for the Roosters of Latrell Mitchell and Dylan Napa being out: they are the club’s worst penalty conceders. A bit of cold comfort there really.
From these stats, the Roosters are highly likely to win the penalty count. Gus Crichton and Sam Burgess will concede them.
Further, Sam Burgess and Crichton will make errors. He has been averaging four missed tackles and two errors a game over the last six games.
Conversely, the Roosters errors are predominantly committed in attack, not in their own red zone – as evidenced by their leading error merchants.
Team Stats – average per game 2017


Line breaks
4.6 (#5 in NRL
5.8 (#1 NRL)
+1.2 Rabbitohs

Tackle breaks
+1.4 Rabbitohs

Tries scored
3.7 (#3 in NRL)
4 (#1 in NRL)
+0.3 Rabbitohs

Metres made
1446 (#2 NRL)
1460 (#1 NRL)
+14 Rabbitohs

Penalties received
7.8 (#14 NRL)
+0.5 Rabbitohs

+3.1 Rabbitohs

If the Roosters are the season’s best defenders, the Rabbitohs are certainly the year’s best attackers.
When put against each other their strengths virtually nullify each other. The only two things where and real advantage can be gleaned is that the Rabbits overall are 69 metres and 5.5 offloads to the good of the Roosters.
Player Stats


Tackle breaks
J. Tedesco – 5.7 (#1 NRL)
L. Mitchell – 4.4 (#4 NRL)
D. Tupou – 3.3
B. Ferguson – 3.1
B. Cordner – 1.4
J. Manu – 2.5

D. Gagai – 3.4
D. Cook – 3.1
A. Crichton – 2.8
C. Walker – 2.8
R. Jennings – 2.7

Line breaks
B. Ferguson – 23
J. Tedesco – 19
L. Mitchell – 18
L. Keary – 10
J. Manu – 10

R. Jennings – 18
A. Johnston – 18
C. Walker – 18
C. Graham – 12

Metres gained
B. Ferguson – 189 (#1 NRL)
J. Tedesco – 181 (#2 NRL)
D. Tupou – 151 (#6 NRL)
B. Cordner – 113

S. Burgess – 132
R. Jennings – 129
A. Crichton – 117
G. Inglis – 117

Tries scored
B. Ferguson – 17
L. Mitchell – 16
J. Tedesco – 9
J. Manu – 7

R. Jennings -19
C. Walker – 12
G. Inglis – 10
A. Johnston – 8

Try assists
L. Keary – 19
J. Tedesco – 18
C. Cronk – 15

C. Walker – 17
A. Johnston – 14
A. Reynolds – 14
D. Cook – 10

Line break assists
L. Keary – 17
J. Tedesco – 17
C. Cronk – 10
J. Manu – 8

C. Walker – 27
A. Johnston – 18
A. Reynolds – 14
D. Cook – 11

J. Tedesco – 1.1
L. Mitchell – 0.9
J. Waerea-Hargreaves – 0.7
R. Matterson – 0.7
J. Manu – 0.6

S. Burgess – 1.7
A. Crichton – 1.5
D. Cook – 1.1

How will the Roosters go without Latrell Mitchell? His tackle breaks, line breaks and tries have been essential to their success this year.
However, look at Blake Ferguson and James Tedesco’s attacking stats – they are awesome. The question is how much positive influence does Mitchell’s presence have on their stats? I think it is a fair bit.
A lot rests on Tedesco, Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary to make up for Mitchell’s absence. They certainly have the credentials to do it too.
Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds are such a huge factor in Souths chances. If they are on song, I believe they will win this game.
However, if they struggle – and they can – their opponents will feed on that. Tedesco was made for matches like this.
The wild card is whether Damien Cook can inject his considerable X-factor from dummy half.
The Danger Men
James Tedesco
The number one tackle breaker and the number two line breaker in the NRL this year. Last outing he made 240 metres and eight tackle breaks, while laying on three line break assists and two try assists. He could bust this match wide open.
Blake Ferguson
He may be leaving the Roosters after this season but he’s giving his all to the club. The number one metre gainer in the NRL this season, he has 17 tries to his name. The only question is whether he can do it without Latrell Mitchell on his inside. The Rabbitohs will be hoping the answer is no.
What can Ferguson achieve without Mitchell? (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Luke Keary
The words – as reportedly delivered by Russell Crowe – “You didn’t earn your money last year” signalled the beginning of Keary’s exit from the Rabbitohs, with whom he won the 2014 premiership.
It is a safe bet that Keary would really love to show Crowe just what his value is in this game. His 19 try assists, 17 line break assists and ten tries in just 21 games this season show he is definitely earning his pay from Uncle Nick this year.
Sam Burgess
I reckon big Sam is going to put all of the distractions behind him and show us all just how good he is at football this week. That will mean huge trouble for the Roosters if I‘m right.
Damien Cook
As above, Cook needs to have a big match here. He must be at his attacking best. I reckon he’s due for a blinder.
Greg Inglis
This will be Inglis’ 24th finals appearance. He has won 15 of those. He has won four out of the five that he has played at centre. As he demonstrated in this year’s Origin series, his leadership and big game experience can be incredibly influential. Expect him to assert his dominance in this game.
Tom and George Burgess
If the Rabbitohs want to win this then the twins must dominate. It is as simple as that. They must hurl their huge bodies at the Roosters pack relentlessly and cause havoc. Will they?
The Burgess brothers must rise. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
The History
The Roosters overall record
This will be the Roosters 2378th competition game. They’ve won 1255 of them (52.8 per cent)
The Rabbitohs overall record
This is the Rabbitohs’ 2372nd game since entering the competition. The have a 52 per cent win rate.
Overall between the sides
No two Australian Rugby league sides have played each other more than these two. Dating back to 1908, this will be the 241st game between the sides in all competitions. Easts have won 110, the Bunnies 124, and there have been six draws.
In the Sydney premiership – and its subsequent iterations – this will be the 219th game between the sides. Souths have won 113, the Roosters 99, and there have been five draws.
The last ten
The Chooks have won six of the last ten. That includes four of the last five. The latest match between the two – round 22 at ANZ Stadium – saw the tricolours run out 18-14 winners. However, the Rabbits were without Campbell Graham, Robert Jennings and Greg Inglis, and the victors had Latrell Mitchell and Dylan Napa playing.
At this Venue
This will be the 39th game between these sides at Allianz Stadium. The Roosters have the upper hand, winning 24 of them (63.1 per cent). The last ten have been split five a piece.
Here’s a weird stat for you: in spite of the massive number of games these sides have played against each other, this will be only their 11th finals match. So, just 4.6 per cent of their encounters have been finals. Further, this will be only their second finals game against each other in the last 80 seasons.
In 2014, the Rabbitohs beat the Roosters 32-22 in the Preliminary final at ANZ Stadium.
The final before that was on August 27th 1938 at the SCG, with Eastern Suburbs triumphing 19-10. That means the two sides have played each other 167 times in 80 seasons with only one finals game in that time.
Last time these sides played in a prelim, the winner went on to taste the ultimate success. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Robb Cox)
This is the very last game at this stadium and also the first finals game between these two sides here.
By round 11 of this season, the Roosters were sitting in seventh position, having won six and lost five of their games. They only lost three of their remaining 13 games to storm home to the minor premiership.
They’ve played 12 games against the other finalists this season, winning six and losing six. Four of those six losses have come at home. They’ve played other top four sides five times for a three and two record.
The Rabbitohs have won six of their last ten, but three of those losses were against other top eight sides (Sharks, Panthers and Storm).
South Sydney have played 13 matches against the other finalists this season – including the qualifying final and last week’s semi. They’ve lost seven and won six of them. However, against other top four sides they have won three and lost two. Their average score against the other top four sides is a 24-17 win.
The Roosters also have a three and two winning record against the other top four sides but their average score is only an 18-14 win. This suggests a 19-18 win for the Rabbitohs in this game.
Ashley Klein, Adam Gee
These two have never officiated a Roosters-Rabbitohs game together before, finals or otherwise. This is not surprising, as there has only been one final between these sides in 80 years.
Ashley Klein has run three games between these teams, and Easts have won all three, the last being the 14-12 win here at Allianz in Round 18, 2017.
Adam Gee has run one game. In Round 1, 2016 the Bunnies flogged their rivals 42-10 here at Allianz. There are only five members of the losing side backing up for this match, compared to seven winners.
Klein has controlled 34 Roosters games since 2009. The Roosters have won 19 of them (55.9 per cent). He has controlled 41 Rabbitohs games with the Cardinal and Myrtle winning 20 of them (48.8 per cent).
Adam Gee has controlled 12 Rabbitohs games – including their recent final loss to the Storm – and the Bunnies have won six of them (50 per cent). Under Gee’s control, the Roosters have won five of nine (55.5 per cent).
The Roosters lost their only finals game they’ve had under Adam Gee. That was last year’s Preliminary Final loss to the Cowboys at the venue. Conversely, the Rabbitohs have lost their only finals match under Ash Klein, their 2015 qualifying loss against the Sharks, also at Allianz Stadium.
Easts’ 40-14 2013 Preliminary final win over the Newcastle Knights was controlled by Klein, and it was also at Allianz Stadium.
Who is going to win and why
The Latrell Mitchell out is a big one, but the minor premiers still have Cronk, Cleary and Tedesco, so it’s not exactly like they are without extreme attacking class.
If that triumvirate gets on to,p then the Roosters will win. However, their pack is not stellar. They are very good and dependable, but they aren’t match winners.
Their opponents’ pack can definitely be match winners.
I’ve felt that this year the Roosters have won matches because their backline venom was so damn good it compensated for their lesser pack.
The removal of Mitchell dampens that venom – and gives the Rabbitohs a target in Joseph Manu.
If Souths are able to put off field distractions out of their minds – if – I think they’ll win narrowly.
Statistically predicted score: Roosters 20.4 – Rabbitohs 19.6
Prediction: Rabbitohs 1-12

Melbourne Storm spear the Sharks, look unbeatable in 2018

It was set up as potentially one of the most brutal and robust games of the season.
Two teams were prepared to grind through the middle and niggle and grapple their way to an ascendancy in the ruck. Both would then look to parlay that dominance into attacking explosions out wide on the back of their ‘go to’ men.
The home side would call on an excellent record at AAMI Park, channel the grand final victory of 2017 and aim to set up a fitting farewell for club legend Billy Slater.
The visitors from Sydney’s shire would only have to cast their minds back five weeks for belief. On that day they out-stormed the Storm in Melbourne and it went a long way towards guaranteeing a top four finish.
Thus, the Cronulla Sharks travelled to Melbourne to face the best team of the modern era, in a match to determine the first of two grand finalists.
If season 2018 has taught us anything, it is that predictability doesn’t exist in the NRL.
Strangely, the Storm defied that logic and did what many thought they would against the Sharks at AAMI Park.
In the end, it was a comfortable harpooning for the Storm, as they speared the Sharks to the tune of 20 to zip in the first half and continued the cull in the second.
Cameron Munster of the Storm (Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images)
Cronulla had a moment or two in the first forty, yet it was a controlled and disciplined first half from the Storm that set up an unassailable lead.
A double to Billy Slater and a brilliant try to Brodie Croft established a comfortable margin at the break and Scott Morrison was reportedly spitting chips in Kirribilli. His boys from the insular peninsular had their pants well and truly pulled down by the southerners.
The best front runners in the game were never going to let such a lead slip and set about grinding the visitors into the dirt in front of their home fans. It made a considerable statement to both the Roosters and Rabbitohs, who will belt the living heck out of each other later on tonight.
Whichever Sydney team manages to scrape over the line and earn the right to face Craig Bellamy’s men had better recover well and strategically plot a course of action far more effective than the one that the Sharks took into the Preliminary Final.
An early disallowed second-half try teased the Sharks but it took them the best part of 70 minutes to eventually cross the line. They did so with 11 minutes remaining when Luke Lewis scored a fitting try to round off a superb career with the Sharks, Panthers, New South Wales and Australia.
It reduced the lead to 22-6 in favour of the Storm after Cameron Smith had added a penalty goal early in the half.
From then on, the Storm did what they do so well and Bellamy will be proud of his teams’ execution of the game plan.
It was a plan that the Sharks and many others before them, were far from matching let alone combating, and it sends the Storm into yet another grand final.
If you find the Storm’s consistency a little boring and can’t quite work out how one little club in an AFL stronghold continues to appear at the pointy end of the NRL season, look no further than Craig Bellamy, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater.
They have been doing it for quite some time and despite the best efforts of the perennial challengers, the antidote to their dominance is yet to be found.
Good luck to the Roosters and the Rabbitohs. It will be an epic clash in Sydney tonight. The winner will have high hopes but I’m not quite sure either will have the tools to combat the clinical precision of the Melbourne Storm.

West Coast vs Melbourne: Preliminary final forecast

Perth holds no fear for Melbourne, so it goes. But there’s many more reasons for the Dees to feel confident heading into this afternoon’s preliminary final against the West Coast Eagles.
Will those reasons be enough to overcome a more rested opponents on their home deck? We’ll find out in a few hours time.
If momentum exists, and the evidence is scant that it does, then Melbourne holds the world’s most plentiful supply of it. The Dees have won eight of their last ten games, with a percentage of 147 per cent (which translates to an average margin of 33 points). In that time Melbourne has beaten Geelong, Greater Western Sydney, Hawthorn and West Coast.
The Dees have a decent track record in Perth in recent times too. Their last trip to Subiaco was a memorable victory, in one of the better games of the 2017 season. It was also the club’s first win out west against the Eagles since 2002, Tom McDonald’s decisive last kick of the game ending a nine game ground-opponent losing streak.
That carried to the club’s last outing in Perth, a 17-point win over the Eagles at Perth Stadium (a game I covered for The Roar).
As I said, if momentum is a thing, then Melbourne would appear to have it. But there are genuine Xs and Os reasons to be all in on this game, beyond it being the second last game of the AFL season.
And it begins at the selection table. West Coast has recalled single club journeyman Will Schofield as replacement for the injured Brad Sheppard, Schofield able to play the flex-defender spot with his strong marking and on-the-ground pace. It does make the Eagles’ defensive set look a little on the tall side, though Melbourne’s mid-sized forwards would have given them trouble anyway. That one was predictable.
Lewis Jetta of the Eagles (Photo by Will Russell/AFL Media/Getty Images)
Melbourne has made a more significant change, dropping half back Bayley Fritsch for the taller and stouter Joel Smith. Fritsch has played 23 games this season, and has been one of the reasons the Dees have been able to become such a powerful scoring side on turnovers.
He’s part of a relatively small defensive set, which has generally rolled with two tall defenders, three mid-sized and one small in Neville Jetta this season. Smith has played seven games this year, coming in as a third tall in two separate blocks in 2018.
The prevailing view seems to be Melbourne has picked Smith to assist the Dees account for the three tall forward set up of the Eagles: Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and a resting ruckman (mostly Nathan Vardy, and sometimes Scott Lycett). Through that lens that makes sense, but one can’t help but think Melbourne is reacting to something that shouldn’t even be an issue.
The Dees have conceded just 47 inside 50s per game – the second fewest in the competition – and they are worried about what the third (at best and probably fifth in reality) most threatening forward 50 target might do to them. And to ameliorate that they were willing to toss out a critical element of their winning formula. I don’t like it. It isn’t going to be the difference between a win and a loss, but every little bit helps – or hinders.
What makes it even more puzzling is the Dees beat West Coast a month ago on the back of its system. With a fast start in the books, Melbourne settled in to its work by beating up the Eagles around the ball and cutting off their kicking lanes in defence. But it wasn’t defence that won Melbourne the day.
The Eagles had about 50 minutes of possession, which on their season rate would suggest they’d score 89 points. They scored 91. Instead, it was Melbourne’s incisive attack, which scored 2.04 points per minute of possession against West Coast’s season long rate of 1.50 points per minute of opposition possession, which was the difference. And that is what Melbourne will need to do again.
West Coast’s defence has been sound all season, conceding 100 points just twice on the year. The first was Lance Franklin’s eight goal haul in Round One, and the second was against the Dees in Round 22.
Jeremy McGovern, Shannon Hurn and the rest of the crew have also been crucial to setting up West Coast’s outside kicking game, their decision making with ball in hand helping the Eagles navigate – or bust – opposition defensive zones.
Jeremy McGovern of the Eagles (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)
Melbourne shut this down in Round 22, with disciplined formations and a commitment to moving with the play as the Eagles attempted to switch. Now, it is important to note West Coast was missing two of its most important ball movement cogs in Darling (knocked out ten minutes into the game) and Kennedy.
It meant the Eagles struggled to find a bail out option down the line, and it allowed ruckman Max Gawn to intercept and rebound at will. This time, they are both in place, and while Kennedy looked awful in the first half he came into his own in the second.
Melbourne will feel confident that it can win the inside battle once again. The Dees were +14 in clearances and +25 in adjusted contested possessions on the game. The clearance number is outsize, even for Melbourne wins (+5) and West Coast losses (-6). The adjusted contested possession number is, however, about right: in wins Melbourne has averaged +23 on this metric, and in its losses West Coast has averaged -21. The critical issue in the last game then would appear to have been ball movement.
Can Melbourne bring the commitment and pressure that allowed them to disrupt West Coast’s ball movement, and counter quickly the other way? Their last three months suggests it is certainly possible. But the Eagles will have learned from last time out, and this time have a forward line more like the one that has gone scorched earth more often than not in 2018.
Jake Melksham of the Demons is seen in action (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
It shapes as a stellar final, with an interstate bottom half of the eight finisher given more than a puncher’s chance of victory. The market has West Coast about a half a goal favourite, though we’ll see if that carries to game day when the big boys get involved in the exchange.
Personally, I think home field advantage, the extra week off, and the very clear adjustments bought by the return of Kennedy and Darling to the West Coast side are enough to suggest there won’t be a repeat of last time out. Melbourne is a great football team that has the makings of a phenomenal one, but its 2018 run will end here.
West Coast will win, by six points, and the game margin won’t extend too far beyond that for most of the day. That’s my preliminary final forecast, what’s yours?

Billy Slater can mount a serious challenge to a shoulder charge

This article has nothing to do with the probability Billy Slater will miss next Sunday’s grand final if he’s found guilty of a shoulder charge from last night’s preliminary final against the Sharks.
It would be a tragedy if the 35-year-old fullback, arguably one of rugby league’s greatest footballers, ended his stellar career suspended, forced to watch his Storm teammates in the decider from the stand.
If he’s done the crime, he must do the time – there’s no argument.
But did Slater actually shoulder charge in the true meaning of the law?
Law-makers brought in the rule to stop defenders shoulder charging front-on and not using their arms.
That’s obviously a very dangerous ‘tackle’ of two players coming from opposite directions in a very physical collision.
That could create serious injuries like whip-lash where the spinal cord could be severed, and if the shoulder contact is lower causing busted ribs, and punctured lungs.
Not on – a very wise, and long overdue, law change.
But Slater wasn’t front-on, he was side-on to Sharks winger Sosaia Feki.
Was this a shoulder charge from Billy Slater?
He came from 90 degrees, where Slater’s left shoulder first came into contact with Feki’s right shoulder.
And Slater’s right arm was clearly visible across Feki’s chest, with Slater’s right arm across Feki’s left shoulder.
So it was never front-on, and Slater’s right arm was involved in the tackle.
Those are two damn good reasons why it didn’t qualify with the letter of the law of a front-on, no arms collision – a shoulder charge.
In fact, I very much doubt law-makers ever had a side-on shoulder charge in mind. They just wanted to rightfully stamp out the extremely dangerous front-on shoulder charge with no arms involved.
That hasn’t stopped the knockers going into meltdown on social media demanding Slater’s suspension, with many adding Feki should have been awarded a penalty try.
What a load of hysterical crap.
And only because it’s superstar Billy Slater for some tall-poppy chopping.
What makes it even more farcical is Slater is the smaller man by some distance.
He’s 178 cms tall, stopping scales at 89 kgs – Feki is 188 and 101 – no wonder Slater bounced off the Tongan.
So on the evidence of countless television replays, if Billy Slater is rubbed out of the big dance it will be a travesty of justice, and not what the law-makers had in mind when they brought the shoulder charge into play.

Finch set for Ashes trial in UAE

Aaron Finch’s expected Test selection in the UAE next month may have as much to do with his suitability to play in next year’s Ashes as it does his competence against spin.
Finch was a surprise pick in Australia’s 15-man squad for the two Tests against Pakistan but now appears almost certain to play the first Test, most likely batting in the middle order.
It has been widely interpreted that Finch was picked, in part, due to his assured handling of spin bowling in Asian conditions, albeit in ODI cricket. In that format Finch has averaged nearly 40 in Asia at a strike rate of 99, and across his career has averaged 48 against spin.
Against spin in ODIs, Finch uses his feet nicely, has a powerful sweep shot and exploits the full depth of the crease to cut and pull any deliveries which are marginally short.
The selectors will hope he can bat with similar fluency against spin on Test debut in the UAE, where Australia’s batsmen were flummoxed by the home tweakers last time they toured four years ago. In that series. leg spinner Yasir Shah and left arm finger spinner Zulfiqar Babar ran amok, combining for 26 wickets at 21.
On their more recent tours of Asia, Australia have talked up their horses-for-courses selection strategy, one which seems to have helped Finch finally earn a Test squad berth.
Is Finch the answer to Australia’s spin woes? (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
After announcing the squad to tour the UAE, Australian chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns praised Finch’s “sensational form” and said he added generous experience and leadership to the group.
What he didn’t mention was Finch’s success in English county cricket in recent years, something I believe may well have been a factor in his selection. Although The Ashes is still ten months away, it undoubtedly will be on the minds of the selectors as they look to mould a team they believe can finally win a Test series in England.
With doubt over the Test future of the banned David Warner, and question marks over the stability of Australia’s middle order, the selectors may see Finch as an Ashes insurance policy.
By getting him into the Test team now, should Finch thrive in the longest format in the UAE and across six home Tests this summer, he’ll be well prepared for his first Ashes.
On the surface, Finch does not look like the type of batsman who would be suited to playing against the Dukes in England. In ODI cricket he can be leaden footed, and tends to rely on his hand-eye coordination.
But the proof is in the pudding – the Yorkshire pudding, to be specific. Across 15 matches for that county and for Surrey in Division One of the County Championship, Finch has made 823 runs at 43. He has passed 50 six times in 20 innings across those stints, a good indication of consistency.
Finch clearly has improved as a batsman in recent years yet, as far back as four years ago, he was showing impressive aptitude against the swinging Dukes ball against good county bowlers. His first county ton, in 2014, came in a low-scoring match against a Warwickshire attack featuring four bowlers who had played Test cricket – Chris Woakes, Boyd Rankin, Jeetan Patel and Rikki Clarke.
Since then, Finch has piled up 2,297 runs at 49 in first-class cricket. While he has only scored five tons in that time, he has passed fifty once per 2.8 innings, a highly-impressive ratio.
Of course, none of this guarantees Finch even a modicum of success next winter against the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, or in the UAE.
But it will have given the selectors a reason to consider Finch as a strong option for the next Ashes, which in turn may help him get picked to make his Test debut next month.

World of Warcraft’s Jeramy McIntyre explains how the esport has grown

With the World of Warcraft Arena World Championship Asia-Pacific Regional Finals about to take place this weekend, we had the opportunity to chat to Jeramy McIntyre, product manager for World of Warcraft esports.
The competition will see Aussies facing off against Korea and Taiwan teams in Sydney to compete for a share of a $50,000 USD prize and a spot in the Global Finals to be held at BlizzCon 2018. This is the first esports event under the current Battle for Azeroth version of WoW and, as such, marks how much the game has grown as an esport over the years.
The Roar: The first time I actually saw WoW being played as an esport was at an esports bar here in Melbourne (GGEZ) with a bunch of friends who play casually. We were all a bit shocked that it was being played competitively in ways other than the typical PvP.
How did WoW transition into its current esports form and what support was required to help make this happen?
McIntyre: Well, first of all, that’s awesome. I love that you’re watching World of Warcraft esports in a very mainstream kind of way. I think that’s kind of the journey that we’ve been on over the course of the last 11 years, which is how long World of Warcraft has been developing esports programs.
If you look over the history of World of Warcraft esports in that time, we’ve gone from several different formats, many of them that reflect the game. We started with doing 5v5, then we moved down to 3v3 over the course of the next couple of years.
Within the last few years, we’ve definitely been investing more. I think one of the unique things that World of Warcraft as an esport has to offer is the actual diversity of gameplay.
Arena is kind of the core of the World of Warcraft esports portfolio and we’ve noticed that that has been expanding globally quite significantly over the last couple of years.
Laterally to that evolution, we’ve also been investing in different game types, specifically the Mythic Dungeon Invitational, which started out as a small, unique format and now is a global program that’s played in every country that World of Warcraft operates.
That diversity of the game itself I think is what’s really, really important and it’s what has led us to create these differing programs.
As we continue to make that transition, we see the return on that diversity of having multiple different programs that represent World of Warcraft esports. It’s definitely something that we are very interested in – trying to find new ways to highlight the actual gameplay itself.
The Roar: Would you say changes to the game itself or the current culture have had the biggest impact in making World of Warcraft a successful esport?
McIntyre: When I think about World of Warcraft culture and the community, it is something that is so large, so massive and so magnanimous that it would be very difficult for me to assume that anything other than that awesome community the huge driving force for us to create esports content.
That need, that want to be competitive and to play World of Warcraft on that competitive global stage has been a huge motivator for us as we begin piloting certain elements of our program, like MDI, which started out as a collegiate event only in North America.
Watching the appetite of the community grow beyond the program was what really helped provide meaning and reason for us to actually expand and continue to grow things like the MDI program. That being said, although we have that huge hunger from the community itself, we still definitely need to make sure that we can make those elements of the game competitive and fair.
It requires both the hunger from the community, from that audience, and the drive to want to do it and also from Blizzard, us recognizing that and being able to create the appropriate ‘obstacle course’ for a competitive esport.
The Roar: Are there any plans for more support or future events focusing specifically on ANZ competitions given our impressive record?
McIntyre: ANZ events have actually increased year over year for the last three years. This year, ANZ saw more online tournaments with a very, very community feel, which led to more competition and better gameplay that we’re seeing across the board in the region.
Very similar things are also happening in some of the other smaller regions like Korea. We see the appetite. We see the amazing gameplay and the passion of the players. It’s definitely on our radar for further expansion.
The Roar: How accessible do you think watching competitive WoW is for people who haven’t played the game? What has been done, or, are there any plans to help with this for people who aren’t hardcore players?
McIntyre: I think that’s one of the most difficult problems that esports as an industry has. How do we distil very, very complex and oftentimes subtle information and make it palatable for an average viewer to consume?
There’s many ways that we work on this to try to improve and streamline this to help grow our audience or make the cool element of competitive World of Warcraft esports more easily understandable to the audience.
One of the most recent things we did was creating a Twitch extension which moved a lot of that deep information away from the actual general broadcast. What that does is, for that hardcore audience that does want to go in there and understand those very subtle intricacies, it is now user-initiated.
They can hover over it with their mouse and they can dive as deep as they want. On our level from a broadcast perspective, we try to keep the audience as wide as possible, but also trying to provide avenues for our dedicated hardcore fans to gain the information that they want, whether that be for education or just trying to understand how certain teams are able to pull off different strategies.
The Roar: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
McIntyre: I think just one of the big reasons why we’re bringing the APAC Regionals to Sydney, is that we can see the level of competition that the region brings. We’re super excited for it.
We’re very, very proud that ANZ won the first Mythic Dungeon Invitational at the global level. We’re super excited to see how competitive ANZ was this time around as well. I think that as long as this community keeps on growing and is as hungry as it has been the last couple of years, you’re going to see more World of Warcraft esports coming across the water as well.

Slater is guilty but shouldn’t miss the grand final

‘Them’s the rules’ is an awful excuse.
I get why the shoulder charge needed to be banned. I didn’t like it at first but I get it. Shoulder charges can be a high risk, poorly controlled method of tackling.
Players were getting injured and as awareness of the consequences of head trauma increased it wasn’t tenable for the game to allow this tackle to continue.
Instead of carefully weighing up the best way to minimise the risk while maintaining the integrity of the game, the NRL impulsively jerked its knee and implemented a one-size-fits-all ban on the shoulder charge.
A grade one shoulder charge carries a 200-point penalty. That’s two games, pending discounts for early guilty pleas, for anything that’s deemed to be a shoulder charge.
The absurdity is that the shoulder charge was banned to prevent concussions, yet a shoulder charge that makes absolutely no contact with the head stills gets 200 points.
But wait, it gets worse.
A grade one careless high tackle carries zero points and ‘just’ a $1,500 fine as a penalty. A grade two careless is 150 points.
You’ve got to get to a grade three careless high tackle to get to 200 points which is the same as a grade one shoulder charge.
The problem with this is a high tackle is defined by the NRL as “contact with the head or neck” yet there are two gradings of ‘head high’ tackles which are deemed better – in this era of concussion awareness – than any shoulder to shoulder contact shoulder charge.
If we’re trying to minimise the risk of players sustaining head trauma and concussion injuries how is it that a tackle defined by its contact to the head has to get to a grade three before it’s treated as seriously as ANY shoulder charge, regardless of where contact is made?
Every week we see high tackles where the on-field penalty is deemed sufficient.
Billy Slater threw his body at Sosaia Feki to stop him scoring. It was a shoulder charge. No doubt about it. The arm was tucked and he led with the shoulder. It was brilliant.
In the 2011 Four Nations Tournament, Slater shattered his collarbone in five places performing a similar tackle before it was outlawed.
(Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)
The bravery to do it again, albeit seven years later, is almost unfathomable. But the game was on the line. Isn’t this exactly what we want from our heroes?
Slater didn’t make contact with Feki’s head.
He didn’t put Feki at risk of concussion – which is why the shoulder charge was outlawed in the first place.
He doesn’t deserve to miss a game – let alone a grand final – let alone his last ever NRL game.
Slater has played 318 NRL games. He sits second in the all-time leading try scorers list.
He’s won a Dally M, two Churchill medals and a golden boot as the world’s best player. He’s the best fullback I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t deserve to go out like this.
But all that is irrelevant. It’s not just about Billy’s fairytale, a rookie in his first season wouldn’t deserve this.
With an ill-considered, knee-jerk response rule the NRL has put itself in a position where it either needs to rub out one of its greatest players for his final game or compromise the integrity of their judicial system.
No win.
Worse again, is that regardless of which path it takes the NRL has hijacked the grand final lead up with its own incompetence. Again, no win.
The answer was so simple, ban the shoulder charge.
All shoulder charges attract an on-field penalty and a fine but only shoulder charges that make contact with the head attract a suspension.
Make it a massive suspension. Make it four or five or six weeks. That was the behaviour we were trying to eradicate from the game – not tackles like Slater’s.
That tackle should never have been made illegal, it’s what the game is all about.
I hope the NRL, the match review committee, and the judiciary find a way to get Slater off. I hope they find the intestinal fortitude to change this ill-conceived rule.
I want to see Billy Slater play one last time and for to have the farewell he deserves, win, lose or golden point.
I don’t want to see anyone else rubbed out for displaying the selfless courage our game demands.
Now, let’s talk about the seven-tackle restart rule…