Carney a ‘ghost’ of the player he was
EACH week, The Courier Mail's chief sportswriter Robert Craddock looks at the big talking points coming out of the NRL.
1. PONGA MAGIC
WHEN Newcastle signed Kalyn Ponga on a $600,000-a-year contract some experiences voices said it was a major gamble shelling out rock star wages on a rookie.
By market measures it was double what he was entitled to. Yet it could turn out to be cheap. There are very few players in league of which you think "Where is he? What's he going to do?'' but the captivating Ponga, is one.
A wonderful goosestepping try, some bruising defence and shrewd game management on his Knights debut against Manly suggests this was a gamble worth taking.
2. RETURN OF THE TITANS
STRANGE but true. The Gold Coast Titans have gone back to being the side they were before Jarryd Hayne arrived.
Yesterday's great scrapping success against the Raiders showed the Titans' grit of old, a quality that became diluted and faded when Hayne was there. Coach Garth Brennan promised entertaining football and he delivered. Well played
3. WORTH A MILLION
IT's only week one of the season but already we have sorted out the definition of a truly worthy million dollar player.
It's when no-one mentions your salary.
Johnathan Thurston and Cam Smith are on $1 million a year, yet you can go for months without anyone mentioning the figure in a story. People accept they are worth it.
You know a player is struggling to live up to the million-dollar salary when this figure is mentioned in every story about him, as it seems to be with Anthony Milford.
4. LOCKYER'S WISDOM
You can tell by Darren Lockyer's excellent column in The Courier-Mail on Saturday he is trying to be the burr on Milford's saddle.
Lockyer saw from close range all the hard work players like Thurston did off the field and wants Milford to respond accordingly. One of Lockyer's most insightful quotes came last year when he said at club level it's possible to float along on natural ability but unless you apply raw, sustained grit you can never be a State of Origin star.
5. JET STARS
We've dished out plenty to James Roberts over the years but he has emerged this season looking part-tank, part-Ferrari. It's a potent mix.
Given his turbulent history you run the risk of looking a dill if you give Roberts a wrap but he volunteered to do extra work in the off-season and deserves the rewards. Good effort.
6. FIVE STAR BRANDY
When Greg Alexander's rugby league career ended he was a kid with a squeaky voice who bought a truck because he was not sure what he was going to do with his life.
But the truck became redundant as "Brandy'' blossomed into one of the game's best and fairest commentators, whose opinions continue to be respected on both sides of the border.
7. BELLAMY BRILLIANCE
How far is Storm coach Craig Bellamy ahead of the rest?
On the weekend in Perth he had Cooper Cronk gone forever, Billy Slater gone for the weekend, Cameron Muster under huge pressure and Cameron Smith a few months shy of his 35th birthday.
And of course, the Storm bolted in ...
8. PAY PERTH
The rugby league show flew out of Perth yesterday but surely it will be back.
The crowd of just over 38,000 to the double header was a firm tick for the code and only reinforced Perth's standing as a future expansion option. It was music to the ears of former Western Reds player Mark Geyer whose Super League experience convinced him Perth has massive potential.
9. TIPSTERS NIGHTMARE
If you think picking the premiers is tough, try picking the wooden spooner?
Evenness is what makes the NRL a tremendous competition. The Warriors and Wests Tigers were many people's tips to win the spoon yet they both had rousing wins.
10. MARSHALL MAGIC
You don't have to be a Wests Tigers fans to appreciate the joy of Benji Marshall linked with his old club.
Marshall got a text message from Wayne Bennett before his sides upset win against the Roosters saying "be the Benji of old'' and sure enough, cramps and all, he delivered.
1. NOT-SO HOT TODDY
The debate over whether bad boy Todd Carney should be allowed back in the NRL has missed one crucial point - is he THAT good?
Is a 31-year-old Carney who has been out of the NRL for four years really worth the effort of stepping on the raging hot coals of a complex moral debate about risk and redemption?
Our spies watched Carney play for Northern Pride against Wynnum-Manly in admittedly difficult conditions on Saturday and were disappointed, feeling he didn't run the ball, was the least effective playmaker on the field and was a ghost of the player who won the Dally M medal eight years ago.
2. GET ON WITH IT
Rugby league's nitpicking play-the-ball crackdown does nothing for the game.
It killed several promising attacking raids stone dead on the weekend and the interpretation of it changes, not just from one game to the next, but between referees in the same game.
Some referees blew their whistles for this infringement with the zeal of prison guards spotting an escapee ... it's over the top.
3. THE BOOS BAN
Sometimes football callers need to be reminded the weekend's matches are inescapably linked to the controversial stories which precede them.
When Matt Lodge was taking the ball up against the Dragons the chorus of boos surged through my television set.
How loud were they are the ground? What was the vibe?
These are questions that needed to be answered but were surprisingly ignored. Rugby league is a big boys' game. No tiptoeing around the big issues is required.
4. BAD LOOK
NO matter what penalty Broncos young gun Jaydn Su'a cops for his cheap shot on Dragons prop Paul Vaughan this much is certain - he deserves it.
Dropping his shoulder into a player who was not even looking his way, was nowhere near the ball in a match which was long gone with four minutes to play ... dumb stuff.
5. RED-FACED ROOSTERS
NOT even the arrival of the popular Cooper Cronk can make Queenslanders cheer for the Roosters.
One of the biggest responses I had from Queensland fans yesterday was the joy at seeing the Roosters go down to the battling Wests Tigers despite the Roosters ability to turn their salary cap into a sombrero.
6. RABBIT STEW
REMEMBER those stories about South Sydney's plans to take their brand global after winning the 2015 premiership?
Sounded great in theory but after finishing 12th the last two seasons and a modest start to the season in Perth, right now they would settle for being big in Bronte. We bag the Warriors for underachieving. Souths record of one grand final in 45 years is far more chastening.
7. GET YOUR TICKETS
If Queensland country rugby league fans want an NRL team outside Brisbane they better vote with their feet.
Tickets for the Titans game against the Dragons in Toowoomba on March 25 have been worrying slow on what will be a big day for the code.
8. LUKE WARM
Warriors hooker Issac Luke is the slimmest he has been for 12 years and claims he is desperate to play well because this is the last year of a three-year deal.
Shame he could not have been as driven in the first two years of the contract when the club promised so much but delivered diddly squat.
9. TREASURE HUNT
The Broncos could not win a premiership with Ben Hunt but may find it considerable harder to win one without him.
Unable to match the massive offer by the Dragons, the Broncos did not put up a major fight to retain Hunt, who was spotted as a 12-year-old by recruitment legend Cyril Connell. Thursday's loss to the Hunt inspired Dragons shows he will be a hard man to replace.
10. LODGE'S CHALLENGE
Matt Lodge will just have to live with the fact that people's view of him off the field will tarnish their view of his performances as a player.
Despite throwing an intercept pass and other occasional errors he still ran more metres than any other member of the (modest) Broncos forward pack against the Dragons and was generally sound. Yet he was still savaged on social media for having "a shocker''.
It could be a long year.