Discussion in 'St George Illawarra Dragons' started by getsmarty, Nov 29, 2016.

  1. True_Believer

    True_Believer Juniors

    Jul 1, 2015
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    GONE are the days when an NRL coach can march into a press conference and say: “If these blokes don’t aim up, I am going to drop them.”

    The simple fact is the salary cap doesn’t allow it, which is why responsibility must be shared from the top down. For failure and success.

    It brings us to the team sitting on top of the NRL ladder.

    Ben Hunt has made one hell of a difference at St George Illawarra. But just like blaming players after a loss, don’t be fooled into thinking this is all Hunt’s doing.

    Remember, the Dragons have the least amount of third-party agreements of any club, giving up almost a $2 million advantage to some.

    But they still managed to beat Brisbane and sign Hunt to partner Gareth Widdop in the halves while keeping a quality overall roster that is now the envy of many.

    How? What you see now is the result of meticulous planning and stringent salary-cap management.

    When Dragons coach Paul McGregor came out before the season and said “this is the best squad I have coached”, many thought it as a dangerous comment.

    “He was putting himself on the line saying that,” Dragons head of recruitment Ian Millward agreed.

    “But he was also being really honest.

    “It’s taken a while and a lot of good people in the organisation to buy into how our recruitment works.

    “The coach has got to buy into it. Our CEO is driving it. Our football manager is a vital part. And our CFO is a real key.”

    This is the process that leads to success.

    It’s no secret the Dragons needed a top-class halfback and when Hunt signed, many believed they paid too much.

    “But we had a criteria,” Millward explained.

    “We wanted someone who had played 100-plus games. Someone who had played a grand final. Someone who had played Origin or Test football. Someone who came with a real presence, a genuine halfback who could manage a team.

    “Twelve months before, we’d gone down to see Cooper Cronk, myself and Mary.

    “(Cronk) was very honest. He said he was eventually going to be moving to Sydney but he didn’t know when.

    “So we knew we had to move on in the marketplace.”

    Importantly, they also knew their budget.

    Chief financial officer Jamie Barrington arrived at the club seven years ago and since then, the Dragons have not once spent over the cap.

    Before joining the Dragons, Barrington worked at the players’ union, so has a complete understanding of how the cap can be manoeuvred while still playing within the rules.

    You’d be surprised how many clubs constantly stuff this up. Then again, maybe you wouldn’t, given how many get caught out.

    “There is so many things you can do if you have got the best CFO,” Millward said.

    “And when all the numbers are crunched, he says, ‘Well, this is the max we can go’.

    “The CFO is working in conjunction with you, saying, ‘We can’t get to 2020 and say we have got no money left but we have only got 14 players. We are in shit now’.”

    It’s a fine line.

    Overspend in one area and you have to take short cuts in another.

    That’s where many clubs gets themselves in strife, and ultimately end up blaming the players.

    “The game is getting so tough, you have to hold your nerve in recruitment,” Millward said.

    “If you become reactive you will get inconsistent results.

    “Sometimes fans want a quick fix. But you can’t run a club that way. We’re constantly looking at the big picture.

    “If the coach or the board ever ask us can we look at your succession plans for under 16s, 18s, 20s NSW Cup and first grade, we can get out the paperwork tomorrow and show them.

    “Now, it doesn’t always turn out how you want, but our key is the process and the planning.”

    Which is how it worked throughout the entire Hunt deal — from the very first phone call to Hunt’s agent, Col Davis, in late September 2016.

    Millward and football manager Ben Haran flew to Brisbane twice before Hunt and his partner Bridget came to Wollongong to meet McGregor.

    Not long after, Hunt’s agent was back on the phone.

    Millward still recalls the conversation: “He basically said to me, ‘There are four B’s in the Hunt family. There is Ben, Bridget, (their toddler) Brady and the Broncos. We are going to drop one of the B’s off. He’s going to become a Dragon’.”

    Millward and Haran returned to Brisbane. For two days they finalised every detail before Hunt toasted the deal.

    Millward got straight on the phone to McGregor and chief executive Peter Doust. “They were over the moon.”

    Just like the fans were last Sunday as the Dragons continued their march. “I really enjoyed the game, but your mind is always ticking,” Millward said. “2019. 2020. 2021 ...

    “We are not always going to get it right. But we feel if we take our time as a group, you are giving yourself the best chance to get it right.”
    Drag Queen, ALSGI, getsmarty and 2 others like this.
  2. Dennis Papaioannou

    Dennis Papaioannou Juniors

    May 5, 2017
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    Excellent article informative and insightful.
    Provides a lot of confidence about our recruitment processes and cap management actually.
    The only thing I take exception to is the throw away comment from Millward
    "sometimes fans want a quick fix"
    A little patronizing and stupid especially considering the management of the roster and the coaching function since the departure of Bennett.
    I don't call 6 years of miserable results as being acceptable by to fan base.
    So I think that comment was not fair and totally baseless.
    There is also a little matter of the appointment of the coach.
    What "criteria" did they use to appoint McGregor?
    ALSGI and getsmarty like this.
  3. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
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    KICKOFF: Dragons duo a perfect match
    Dragons Den News
    SYNERGY: Dragons halfback Ben Hunt has worked seamlessly with new halves partner Gareth Widdop since arriving in Wollongong, steering the Dragons to four wins from four starts. Picture: Adam McLean.

    RECKON Gareth Widdop and Ben Hunt are sick of talking about each other yet?

    Understandably, their answers are starting to sound more scripted than a David Warner press conference. How much more can they say than what they’re saying out on the paddock?

    They may quickly tire of media questions about their burgeoning combination but, the way they’re playing together, it’s not hard to picture them in the WIN Stadium sheds singing Just The Two of Us: We can make it if we try, Just the two of us, building castles in the sky.

    Of course the line of questioning is nothing new for either man. Widdop was asked as much about Benji Marshall, while in the world’s only truly rugby league mad city, Hunt and Anthony Milford were a pairing subjected to almost the same scrutiny as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

    The questions will keep coming, win or lose – though admittedly easier to answer following the former. It’s why the men who wear the 6 and 7 get paid the big bucks, in Hunt’s case the big, big bucks.

    Matching NRL halves is a lot like Married at First Sight. ‘Experts’ can throw a pair together based on certain traits and attributes, but until they’re sleeping in the same bed, you don’t know how it’s going to work out.

    Sometimes people made for each other just can’t seem to make it work. Others who seem chalk and cheese, write symphonies. It’s less about having the perfect half as it is about having the perfect pair. A look at the teams who’ve started the NRL season well is an illustration, as is a look at those who’ve fallen short of preseason expectations.

    Hunt and Widdop are the form pair and it shows in the Dragons ladder position. Along with smearing egg on a lot of faces (this columnist’s included) Blake Green has brought that synergy to the Warriors. Shaun Johnson was obviously missing from their big win over the Roosters last week, but indications are they are a match made in heaven.

    At the Tigers, Luke Brooks, under the guidance of a rejuvenated Benji Marhsall, is showing why he was one of the most hyped young halves in recent memory. In seasons’ past, he and Mitch Moses looked like two twin brothers fighting over the top bunk.

    It’s how Moses, literally, now looks alongside Corey Norman at the Eels. At the Broncos, fears that Milford and Kodi Nikorima were to similar have proven founded. Milford’s a stubby, Nikorima’s a throw-down, but they’re the same drop.

    Even genuine stars aren’t guaranteed to work. The Cowboys remain the glaring example. Jonathan Thurston, the future immortal, and Michael Morgan the player of last year’s finals.

    Sure, Morgan looks less than fully fit, but Thurston’s return appears to have put him back in his shell. At the Roosters, there’s no doubting the qualities Luke Keary and Cooper Cronk possess, but they haven’t quite made it click.

    And for the slam dunk, the glowing example, look at James Maloney. Great player certainly but, as purely elite as some of the names listed above – perhaps not.

    And yet success has followed him everywhere he’s gone and, without fail, all his halves partners have thrived alongside him. There were fears his arrival at Penrith would stifle Nathan Cleary. Like Marshall’s influence on Brooks, it had the opposite effect.

    Then last week, with Cleary injured, Maloney made a seamless shift back into the role of on-field general. It just shows how often we misunderstand what it means for a half to be a good “foil” for another. We want the game-breaker with the game-manager. We want the on-field general with the improv star. We want the game-planner with the no-planner.

    Really, as Hunt and Widdop have shown this season, a successful halves pairing have all the aforementioned attributes, stirred with a big dose of selflessness.

    Don’t believe me, ask them. They’ll be expecting it.
  4. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
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    Veteran’s call for NRL loyalty card
    Dragons Den News
    Dragons veteran Jason Nightingale in action in his debut NRL season in 2007.

    DRAGONS stalwart Jason Nightingale has called on the NRL to look at salary cap measures that reward loyalty from clubs and players as the ‘one club man’ continues to inch toward extinction.

    A Renown United product, Nightingale will play his 250th game for the Dragons on Friday at a time in which the player transfer market has never been more volatile. He said he would support measures that would make it easier for players to remain with their junior clubs.

    “I think rewards need to be put in place because I think my affiliation with this club is something that’s gone a long way to making me the player I am today,” Nightingale said.

    “I think the NRL’s looked at a few different options for rewarding clubs that keep their juniors. I’d love to see more of that so you don’t have guys playing for five different clubs. I don’t think players want to do that either.

    ‘We understand it’s a business but, when you are at a club for a long time, you feel part of the place and it means a lot to me to be part of this club for so long.”
  5. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
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    Dragons 2017: Omens stack up for Nightingale milestone
    Dragons Den News
    MILESTONE MAN: Dragons veteran Jason Nightingale will play his 250th game against South Sydney at Jubilee Oval on Friday. Picture: Adam McLean
    A COUPLE of errors and a lairy try celebration?

    It’s not what you’d normally associate with the career of Dragons veteran Jason Nightingale, but it’s what he best remembers from his NRL debut at Jubilee Oval in round eight, 2007.

    “My first touch ever was a dropped ball,” Nightingale recalled ahead of his 250th game on Friday, fittingly at the same venue.

    “Benny Hornby gave a perfect pass and I think in my head I’d already run and made a break and done everything but in the end I’d left the ball behind.

    “And I remember scoring a try in that corner over there. That was pretty special off some good hands from Matt Cooper.

    “I remember putting it down and doing a Ben Tune swan-dive type of thing, lairing up after making two errors and thinking you’ve made up for it with one try.”

    It’s why the now 31-year-old has promised “very little post-try celebration” should he get across against South Sydney in game number 250, but the ground itself feels as special as it did that night back in 2007.

    “I remember so vividly, being able to play in front of home fans against Penrith,” Nightingale said.

    “In the second half I remember running out onto the field and we were chasing the kickoff and that’s probably the moment it hit me.

    “It was halfway into the game but I just thought ‘how good is this’. It’s what I’d wanted to do for such a long long time and wanted to keep doing for as long as I was able.

    “That’s when it really sunk in, how big this club is and how big an opportunity it was to play in the top grade.”

    It’s ironic that, from that memorable debut, the self-confessed “awkward thing” has become a fan, coach and player-favourite for his ability to minimise errors and for the understated way he goes about his business.

    “I’ve been reasonably lucky with injuries and that sort but I’ve worked pretty hard to be consistent,” Nightingale said.

    “There’s been times where I haven’t played the best game in the world but I’ve really tried to limit my bad games. I think keeping that consistency brings a bit of trust from your staff and your playing group.

    “That’s one thing you want to hang your hat on when you retire, being someone people can look to and trust and know what you’re going to deliver week in week out.”

    Delivering week in week out is something his side has managed so far this season, with four wins from four starts but it’s the clinical nature of the wins that’s most impressed Nightingale.

    “The way we’ve been able to manage games in the last month is what’s really stood out,” he said.

    “We’ve started like this the last few years but I don’t think we’ve played as consistently well for as many minutes. We’ve had a lot of patches where we’ve played well for half an hour and blown teams off the park but [this year] we’ve been a bit more grinding.

    “That obviously comes back to your forwards but also having the halves to get you around the park.”

    Friday’s match will continue a love affair of sorts that Nightingale shares with Souths, having played against the Rabbitohs in his past two milestone games.

    “I was looking at a card the other day and my 150th game was against Souths and my 200th was against Souths,” he said.

    “We won both of those game. I think it was golden point in my 150th and we beat them at the SCG in my 200th so hopefully that’s a good omen for Friday night.”
  6. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
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    Vaughan and Nicholls square off in unfamiliar territory
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    Paul Vaughan and Mark Nicholls had a gentlemen's agreement during the Charity Shield that they would look after each other despite one wearing the Red V and the other donned in cardinal and myrtle.

    Any such arrangement has been thrown out the window for Friday's clash between St George Illawarra and South Sydney, which marks the first time the old Canberra pals have opposed each other in an NRL match.

    "I sent him a message a week before [the Charity Shield], just saying 'gentlemen's agreement, we'll take it easy on each other, it was pretty cool coming up against him," Dragons prop Vaughan said.

    "I don't think [there's an agreement] now that we're in full NRL competition."

    The pair haven't spoken this week, but plan to catch up after Friday's game .

    Much water has passed under the bridge since Vaughan and Nicholls first met each other during high school, while they were working their way through the lower grades at the Canberra Raiders together and playing club football alongside each other at the Gungahlin Bulls.

    Vaughan was a Canberra product who never experienced higher representative honours as a junior, while Nicholls was a strapping fitness fanatic from the Riverina town of Leeton and was always one of the most highly regarded young forwards in the country.

    "I looked up to him a little bit," Vaughan said.

    "He went through Junior Kangaroos and all NSW [junior teams] and I didn't do that when I was younger. He had all the junior rep teams down pat, which I wasn't fortunate enough to be a part of.

    "He started out in the back row actually, he was a pretty good back-rower when we started coming through Canberra, had a massive work-rate, obviously a very good defender and his attack was pretty good, too.

    "Back in SG Ball [under 18s] I tried to do the same sort of work-rate that he did. His stats were always very good, he's always been a class player."

    Nicholls and Vaughan have stayed close off the field since parting ways at Canberra, and the pair caught up earlier this year for former Raiders teammate Jarrad Kennedy's engagement party.

    Making his mark: Nicholls hits the ball up for South Sydney.

    Photo: NRL Photos
    Vaughan also had Nicholls and his parents around for dinner in Wollongong a couple of weeks ago.

    But Friday's blockbuster at Jubilee Oval is new territory for the duo who have played so much football alongside each other.

    Nicholls was the first to leave the Raiders, departing for Melbourne at the end of 2015.

    He missed his first season in purple injured, but managed nine games from the bench last year before fielding a phone call from Souths coach Anthony Seibold and moving to Redfern. Those nine games at the Storm didn't include the round nine clash against Vaughan's Dragons.

    Vaughan left the Raiders a year after Nicholls to join St George Illawarra for three years, and has emerged as one of the competition's leading props and a potential bolter for Brad Fittler's Blues later this year.

    "He had a fantastic year [in 2017], he was in calculations for Origin, they were talking about him anyway," Nicholls said.

    "We came through the grades together and had a similar story, we were always fighting for the same position or sharing the position which was good.

    "You can draw inspiration from players like that, that have changed clubs and went on to bigger and better things."

    As fate would have it, Nicholls looks set to start again on Friday after reg
  7. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
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    The tricky dilemma facing the Dragons over the future of Jason Nightingale

    It’s not just about Ben Hunt. Nor is it just about James Graham.

    The Dragons’ sudden conversion into a genuine premiership contender is also the tale of two wingers, Nene Macdonald and veteran Jason Nightingale, who on Friday night, against South Sydney at Jubilee Oval, plays his 250th match for his beloved club.

    Milestone man: Jason Nightingale plays his 250th NRL game on Friday night. Photo: Quinn Rooney
    During the pre-season, coach Paul McGregor approached Macdonald and asked him which side of the field he wanted to play: stay on the right side, where he was playing last year, or move over to his preferred side on the left.

    Nightingale — who has always put team first, player second — did not utter a word of disapproval even though he would’ve known all the glory was out there on the left edge of the attack.

    Wonder try: Dragons winger Nene Macdonald scores against the Sharks. Photo: NRL Photos
    In the first month of the season, Macdonald has realised the potential that's always been there: a 110-kilogram Papua New Guinean Mack Truck with the touch and aerobatic finish of a winger half his size.

    He’s scored four tries thus far and two of them — one against the Sharks and then last Sunday against the Knights where he had three blades of grass to work with — were pieces of art.

    A former Australian schoolboy, Macdonald has long been capable of this type of play. His problem has been his lack of discipline off the field, so much so that other clubs have shied away from him in the past.

    So much so that he's not secured long-term at the Dragons. They want him to remain hungry. And he is.

    More controversy: Israel Folau. Photo: Dion Georgopoulos
    Others believe the tragic death of his Kumuls teammate, Kato Ottio, who passed away after collapsing from severe heatstroke at training, has had a profound influence.

    Macdonald, 23, was the only NRL player to attend the funeral in Port Moresby and since returning has focused on making the most of his career.

    Nightingale, 31, has always been that sort of player since securing a regular starting position following Wendell Sailor's decision to retire in 2009.

    They were “big shorts to fill” — Del’s words, not this column’s — but Nightingale made the most of it with his slightly smaller frame.

    Here’s the stat they’ve been talking about at Dragons training this week: only four players have notched up 250 matches, played more than 30 internationals, scored more than a hundred tries and won a premiership.

    Billy Slater, Darren Lockyer, Brad Fittler … and the little Renown United junior affectionately known as "Gypsy", a nickname given to him by former coach Wayne Bennett because "I'm not always where I'm meant to be and when he first came I didn't have a home!"

    A tricky situation is brewing, though, because Nightingale’s career is coming to a close and nudging one-club legends towards the exit is never easy.

    Dragons head of recruitment Ian Millward has beautifully crafted the club’s salary cap to have all of its big guns secured long-term, something that adds stability. The only leading players in the top 30 coming off contract this season are Leeson Ah Mau, Jeremy Latimore ... and Nightingale.

    While a round-eight deadline was agreed to in the off-season about his future, later in the season now seems more likely.

    "I feel great now," he says. "But it might be different later in the season. I would never want to stand in a young player's way, or if the club wanted to go after someone else.

    "I remember when Wendell retired. He called me when I was touring in England with the New Zealand side, and he said that he was retiring and wished me all the best.

    "I would do the same thing."

    Then Nightingale adds this: "I could never play for another club. It just wouldn’t feel right."

    Would you expect him to think any other way, putting the club first, himself second?
  8. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
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    Loyalty a two-way street for Nightingale and Dragons
    Tanisha Stanton
    Thu 5 Apr 2018, 03:01 PM

    Jason Nightingale never wanted to leave St George Illawarra so he'll be forever grateful to the Dragons for allowing him to reach his 250-match milestone as a one-club player.

    On several occasions when Nightingale had been off contract there had been temptation to venture elsewhere, but he couldn’t see himself wearing anything other than the Red V. And neither could the club.

    The club junior and 2010 premiership winner will return to where it all began at Jubilee Oval to celebrate his milestone when the Dragons host the Rabbitohs on Friday night.

    It was just over a decade ago when Nightingale ran out onto the field at Kogarah for his first time, making his debut against the Panthers in round eight of the 2007 season.

    On home soil for another big occasion, "Gypsy" has been honoured for his achievement with his signature embroidered onto his treasured No.5 jersey that has seen him through a tremendous career.

    "To be able to play 250 top-grade games for this great club is something I never thought I'd be able to achieve and something I feel very grateful to be able to have achieved," he said.

    "My affiliation with this club is something that’s helped me a good stead and has been a big part of the player I am today.

    Nightingale: It’s very exciting

    "When you are at a club for a long time you get that affiliation and you feel part of the place and it's pretty hard to want to leave."

    The quiet achiever has represented the New Zealand Kiwis since 2008 which has made him a hot commodity among various NRL clubs, with the New Zealand Warriors and Cronulla Sharks putting offers on the table over the years.

    "When you come off contract you have to look at your options, but I suppose number one, I never wanted to leave and number two, the club's always been great in negotiation, they've always come to the table," Nightingale said.

    "It means a lot to be a part of this club for so long and the people that have been here with me since day one and players that have come and gone have really made this place very special for myself and have helped that decision along the way.

    "Every time I am off contract my number one goal is to stay here and play for the Dragons. It's been a pretty easy deal to be done, multiple times."

    Coming up against the Bunnies is significant for a few reasons.

    "My 150th game was against Souths and my 200th was against Souths and this will be another great occasion against the Rabbitohs and I'm very privileged to be able to play here at Kogarah," Nightingale said.

    Jason Nightingale scores on debut in 2007 at Kogarah. :copyright:NRL Photos
    Paul McGregor described the last four years of coaching Nightingale as "an honour" and "a blessing".

    "It's an outstanding achievement when you look at Jason's career. He's scored over 100 tries, he's won a premiership, 250 games and 30 Tests I think he's one of four that have done that," McGregor said.

    "An outstanding achievement from a very good person. He's got a strong character. Every time he takes the field, he's never beaten."

    Nightingale's 250th
  9. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
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  10. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
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    Dragons survive late scare to notch fifth straight win
    Local Sport
    ON THE BOUNCE: Dragons players celebrate their fifth straight victory in Jason Nightingale's 250th game. Picture: AAP

    ST GEORGE Illawarra went to 5-0 to start the season, but it was by the skin of their teeth as they outlasted South Sydney 16-12 at Jubilee Oval on Friday night.

    The Dragons had won just two of their last 12 games against the Rabbitohs – including the 26-22 loss that started their slide out of the finals race in round 22 last season.

    They conceded to tries in the finals five minutes to go down by two that night and coach Paul McGregor may have felt a tinge of deja vu as the Rabbitohs crossed twice in the final nine minutes on Friday.

    After a dominant first half from the hosts, the flood gates looked set to open when Matt Dufty raced 60 metres to take a 14-2 lead three minutes into the second half.

    However, it was all the visitors from there and when Cody Walker finally crossed with eight minutes to play the comeback was on in earnest.

    Greg Inglis scored two minutes later and youngster Adam Douehi nailed the sideline conversion to put the game back on a knife edge at 16-12.

    It cut a 14-point buffer to just four, but the Rabbitohs couldn’t find the go-ahead try, with Walker spilling the ball cold 20 metres out from the Dragons line.

    McGregor said the win showed a new level of maturity in his side.

    “We wouldn’t have won that game last year, it’s fact we didn’t win that game against Souths last year,” he said.

    “We did this year which tells me that we’re going the right places. We had no possession in the opposition half in the second half and we defended our line courageously set after set.

    “Souths make it ugly, the rucks always slow, it’s hard to generate anything. There were a few things tonight that went against us a little bit and we fought through it.

    “We got a good try [Dufty’s] after halftime, we forced an error and scored that try to jump out to 14-2 and then we just had no field position for the whole second half.

    “It was very quick around the try-line but we still found a way to get in the right spaces time after time. To come away with a win is outstanding.”

    The Dragons had only one try to show for their 70 per cent possession at halftime, though it was luckless opening stanza for Nene Macdonald.

    The Queenslad Origin aspirant got across three times in the first half only to be twice denied by the video referee and a third time by a millimetre of sideline chalk.

    Replays showed Macdonald was clearly held up in the 13th minute, but his second denial from video official Steve Chiddy in the 32nd minute raised the ire of the Kogarah faithful.

    Macdonald finished off a sweeping back line movement and ran the ball under the posts, with on-field ref Gavin Badger sending it upstairs as a try.

    Chiddy looked at several replays before ruling that Tariq Sims had obstructed Rabbitohs half Adam Reynolds, who Macdonald brushed off en route to the line.

    McGregor said he was left baffled by the decision.

    “I’m as confused as you are,” McGregor said.

    “The two defender [Reynolds] jammed. When the two defender jams, he’s made a decision.

    “He came out of the line and he made a decision and he didn’t make the tackle. That’s all I’ll say.”

    It was a let-off the Rabbitohs dearly needed and Anthony Seibold’s men could consider themselves fortunate to trail by jut six at the break.

    It ensured veteran winger Jason Nightingale marked his 250th game for the club with a win, and continued a personal love affair with the Rabbitohs, at least as far as milestone games go.

    The Dragons’ previous two wins over Souths came in his 150th and 200th games respectively – but a 5-0 start to a season was still a first for the 31-year-old now in his 11th NRL season.

    It’s also a first for the club, and poses the question of just how far they can stretch it as they look to next Friday’s clash with arch-rivals Cronulla in Wollongong.

    Gareth Widdop opened the scoring with a penalty goal before a minute had passed after the Rabbitohs failed to complete the opening set of the match.

    Macdonald was denied the first four-pointer twice in the space of 30 seconds when he was held up over the line and forced into touch on consecutive touches with the line beckoning.

    Euan Aitken eventually posted the first try when he blew past Greg Inglis to cross in the right-hand corner.

    Widdop’s attempted conversion was waved away, keeping the score at 6-0 with 20 minutes to play before the break.

    Macdonald was denied again when he crossed in the 32nd minute only for video referee Steve Chiddy to find an obstruction by Tariq Sims in the lead-up.

    Having spent precious little time in Dragons territory throughout the opening stanza, Reynolds pegged the margin back to six with penalty moments before the halftime siren.

    It proved only a band-aid with Hunt scooping up an errant pass from John Sutton and finding a runaway Matt Dufty who dashed 60 metres to score just three minutes after the resumption.

    With the score at 14-2, the Rabbitohs continued to to press hard with Damien Cook and Robert Jennings going close to scoring, only for Nightingale to come from the clouds to make try-saving tackles on both occasions.

    Widdop steadied the ship moments later with his third penalty goal to push the lead out to 16-2 in the 52nd minute.

    Tries to Walker and Inglis set up the grand-stand finish down the stretch but the Dragons were good enough to hold on.
  11. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
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    Dragons remain unbeaten after win over Rabbitohs
    Dan Walsh
    Fri 6 Apr 2018, 09:46 PM

    The Dragons have survived the gustiest of green and red revivals to secure a club-record fifth straight win to start the season, downing the Rabbitohs 16-12 in heart-stopping fashion at Jubilee Oval.

    With just nine minutes to play the Dragons were cruising at 16-2, having lapped up almost 70 per cent of first-half possession and watched Bunnies linchpin Adam Reynolds forced from the field due to concussion.

    But with Cody Walker pulling a game-turning try out of his hat and Greg Inglis following suit two minutes later, Souths had the locals well and truly rattled.

    With all the running late in the piece it was a cruel dropped ball by Walker, the brightest spark in cardinal and myrtle by some margin, that eventually sounded the death knell for Souths.

    Until the Rabbitohs late resurgence, history had the Dragons daring to dream, even if their fans weren't.

    The Red V faithful have been burnt as recently as last year by their team's fade-outs, when six wins from their first seven games weren't enough for a top-eight finish.

    St George Illawarra centre Euan Aitken. :copyright:Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos
    But with 10 competition points in the bank already after just five weeks, a finals berth is now the Dragons' to lose.

    Of the 12 teams to start a season in the same fashion since 1998, only one has watched September from the sidelines – the Cowboys when Johnathan Thurston missed half the 2006 season with a dislocated knee.

    A rough and ready win over the fast-finishing Rabbitohs should only swell St George Illawarra's confidence, while Souths can take plenty of heart from leaving it all and then some on the paddock.

    The Rabbitohs' courage under fire was there from the outset, when Alex Johnston weathered the first of testing Dragons bombs that kept coming all night.

    The next time Ben Hunt took to the air Dane Gagai couldn't handle the swirling ball.

    But when the home side sent all 108 kilos of Nene Macdonald at them the pair somehow managed to hold him up boots and all, with Johnston's foot getting underneath the Steeden to save a try.

    Just as remarkable was the Dragons' first points. Rising centre Euan Aitken stopped, started and beat Inglis all ends up on the outside from close range.

    Gareth Widdop added a penalty goal before McDonald was denied again in the 32nd minute, this time by a controversial obstruction ruling against Tariq Sims which had the Kogarah faithful fuming.

    A penalty on the halftime bell put Souths on the board, but Matt Dufty's sublime speed soon after the break looked to have put the Bunnies to bed.

    With the Rabbitohs on the attack an errant pass found its way to Hunt, who in turn found Dufty on a 60m sprint to the line.

    A Damien Cook bust had Souths in striking distance soon after and Robert Jennings setting sail for the corner, only for Jason Nightingale to celebrate his 250th outing by crunching him into touch.

    The Rabbitohs kept coming, and the Dragons kept denying, before a clever run around from Walker produced the visitors' first try.

    Quick hands involving the Rabbitohs five-eighth a minute later had Inglis over for a try of his own and a grandstand finish was in the offing.
  12. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Jason Nightingale celebrates 250th NRL game for St George Illawarra Dragons in style
    • Dragon's Den
      Happy Dragon: Jason Nightingale celebrates after winning on his 250th NRL appearance. Picture: AAP

    • Rugby league doesn’t always throw up the fairy tale story. But for Jason Nightingale, he couldn’t have scripted his 250th NRL game much better.

      Running out onto his beloved Jubilee Oval at Kogarah in front of a packed house against traditional rivals South Sydney on a Friday night, with the Dragons winning 16-12. The only thing missing was a Nightingale try but the New Zealand international contributed at the other end of the field, producing two try-saving tackles with the Dragons under the pump in the second half.

      The Renown United junior, enjoying his 11th first grade season with the Dragons, has done it all in the red V. When he eventually hangs up his boots he will go down as one of the club’s modern greats.

      Only four players in the history of the game have played more than 250 games, scored 100-plus tries and played more than 30 internationals. Lockyer, Fittler, Slater… Nightingale.

      But it is his mentality as a club first, individual second kind of player that is why he is so loved at the club.

      “It’s really nice to win on an occasion for Jase too. For all the guys to find a little bit more [for him],” Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.

      “I’ve been fortunate enough to know Jase for a very long time. He’s a gentleman. A true professional in every aspect. And he’s never beaten on a footy field. And when you’ve got a player that’s never beaten they’re the ones you want to play with not against. And Jason typifies that.

      “He does everything possible in the hard parts of the game which is the back of the field to get his team in the right position. And the finishing, you’ve seen the somersaults, he’s a quality finisher, highly tough at the right ends of the footy field.

      “To do what he’s done, he’s not only done that but he’s scored 100 tries, 250 games, 30 Tests, won a premiership, the list goes on. It’s an amazing career and it’s still going.”

      Nightingale said the club was his extended family, having made a number of lifelong friendships.

      “It’s a pretty special place. I grew up in the area, a local junior. And I’ve been lucky enough to do this for as long as I have and I suppose it’s nights like these that remind you what you’ve done,” he said.

      “And also bring it back to the team and getting results like tonight is something that makes you feel better and get the reward for all the hard work I’ve put in and the boys have put in.

      “The club have been great. They’ve made it such a celebration for me that I couldn’t do anything but enjoy this moment.”
  13. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Barry Toohey column: Dragons prop Ah Mau in the sights of the Newcastle Knights
    • Local Sport
      After being beaten up in the forwards by a physical St George Illawarra on Easter Sunday in Wollongong, it is no surprise the Knights’ hunt for frontrow re-inforcements for next season is a priority.

      The club has already confirmed they have made inquires about enticing young tearaway Brisbane Broncos prop Tevita Pangai Jnr back to Newcastle.

      Leeson Ah Mau after scoring against the Knights last Sunday.

      But his $600,000 plus a season asking price is apparently not something the Knights will seriously entertain.

      The likes of Shannon Boyd and Josh Papalii are off contract at the Canberra Raiders while Bulldogs prop Aiden Tolman was shopped to the club earlier this season.

      But the word is the player high on the club’s wish-list is Dragons prop Leeson Ah Mau, who left a handful of would-be Knights defenders in his wake in scoring a powerhouse second half try last weekend.

      This column understands the 28-year-old Samoan international has already been in town for talks with club officials and a look around the city, a prerequisite for any potential new recruit.

      Ah Mau has loads of experience.

      He made his NRL debut for the Warriors back in 2009 as a 19 year old, has played 158 games in the top grade and has spent the past seven seasons at the Dragons.

      Despite his longevity, the thought is he is only just peaking as a player and his stats this season would seem to back that up.

      Despite playing less than 40 minutes on average off the bench, he is coming on and making a huge impact, averaging around 135 metres a game.

      In the Knights’ favour is the Dragons have plenty of high-priced forwards on their roster and will struggle to come up with a deal to keep him.

      Pangai threat no surprise to Fitzy
      He is rated the NRL’s hottest young frontrower but the rise of Tevita Pangai Jnr at the Broncos has come as no surprise to Knights backrower Lachlan Fitzgibbon.

      Pangi is a Newcastle Knights junior who the club desperately wanted to keep.

      But he slipped out of the system after his family left Newcastle and moved to Canberra when he was still a teenager.

      Broncos prop Tevita Pangai Jnr

      Fitzy clearly remembers playing alongside Pangai in South Newcastle juniors in an Under 17 grandfinal several years ago.

      “Tevita and Sione [Mata’utia] were both 15, playing two years up in the Under 17’s, and still killing it despite the age difference,”he said.

      “We had a good side and I think we won the grandfinal something like 42-0.”
  14. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Paul McGregor holds his tongue on ‘confusing’ NRL bunker call
    • April 7, 2018 12:11pm
    • Source: AAP
    Dragons coach Paul McGregor.Source: News Corp Australia
    PAUL McGregor couldn’t hide his displeasure at the match referees but has bitten his tongue to avoid another costly fine.

    The St George Illawarra coach admitted he was “confused” after winger Nene MacDonald was controversially denied a first-half try by the bunker in Friday’s gripping NRL win over South Sydney.

    MacDonald had the four-pointer taken off him after video referee Steve Chiddy ruled that lead runner Tariq Sims had obstructed Souths halfback Adam Reynolds in the lead up.

    Despite the Red V posting a gritty win, the Jubilee Oval faithful gave the officials a chorus of boos as they came from the field at fulltime.

    Sims appeared to stop short of the line and the only contact between him and Reynolds was made by the Rabbitohs playmaker who stretched out his arms to push away from the Dragons back-rower.

    “I’m as confused as you are,” McGregor said.

    “The two-defender (Reynolds) jammed in and when he jams, he’s made his decision. He’s come out of the line to make a decision and he didn’t make the tackle. That’s, that’s all I’ll say.”

    Bunker's big obstruction call

    McGregor was careful with his words after last year being slugged with a $10,000 fine after describing the referees as “embarrassing and incompetent” following a shock loss to Newcastle.

    The incident will only inflame debate about the obstruction rule which appears to be a source of confusion after Canterbury two weeks ago were given a try despite Will Hopoate taking out James Maloney in the lead up.

    NRL referees boss Bernie Sutton subsequently admitted his whistleblowers got the call wrong.

    Asked for his view on the MacDonald no-try, Souths coach Anthony Seibold said: “I’m not sure. I was happy with the call. So I’ll say it’s the right call.”
  15. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Sims puts his hand up for Origin
    Tariq Sims hopes his impressive early-season form can win him a State of Origin call. (AAP)

    St George Illawarra back-rower Tariq Sims says he's ready to make the step up to the State of Origin arena this year.

    Tariq Sims isn't shy about expressing his State of Origin ambitions and after building a reputation as one of the NRL's most feared enforcers he is doing his case no harm.

    The St George Illawarra back-rower added to his highlight reel of bone crunching tackles during a starring performance in the Red V's 16-12 NRL win over South Sydney on Friday night.

    Former NSW coach Phil Gould was effusive in his praise of Sims who left several Rabbitohs opposition players rattled during a dominant 75-minute performance.

    Two weeks after engaging in an enthralling running battle with the Gold Coast's Konrad Hurrell Sims was at it again on Friday night.

    He laid out Robert Jennings in the 56th minute before snapping Adam Reynolds and forcing him from the field for a concussion test in the final 10 minutes.

    While Sims' name hasn't been mentioned in the State of Origin debate for several years, he has arguably found career-best form in 2018.

    And just like teammates Paul Vaughan and Jack de Belin, the 28-year-old declared himself ready to take the step up.

    "One hundred per cent - I've made no bones about it, I really want to play State of Origin," Sims told AAP.

    "These next couple of weeks are really important, I want to make sure I show that I'm consistent and physically ready to step up to the Origin arena.

    "I'm not trying to look too far ahead and this is my main focus, playing for the Dragons."

    What's counting against Sims' push for a maiden Blues jumper is the deep well of back-rowers that coach Brad Fittler is able to draw from.

    As well as incumbents Boyd Cordner, Tyson Frizell, Wade Graham, Jake Trbojevic and Josh Jackson, the likes of de Belin and Angus Crichton are knocking on the door, forming a deep queue.

    Sims said he felt at home after being moved back to the left-edge back-row spot where he has played almost all of his career.

    When he arrived from Newcastle in mid-2016, he was used by coach Paul McGregor as a middle forward purely out of necessity.

    However, following Joel Thompson's departure to Manly, he has been able to shift back to the edge.

    "I only played in the middle when I first came here and that was to fill in a spot for a little bit," Sims said.

    "I loved my time in the middle, it's a different challenge.

    "To keep my spot on the edge, I've got to keep performing. I've still got a lot to do to perform for my team week in and week out."

    Source: AAP
  16. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Mann finding a new home in the middle
    Dragons Den News
    TOUGH STUFF: Dragons utility Kurt Mann (left) is embracing an unexpected shift to the middle of the park this season. Picture: Adam McLean

    WHEN Dragons utility Kurt Mann said he’d happily play “anywhere” this season, he never imagined he’d end up in the front row.

    Mann has turned out in every back-line position in his previous two seasons with the club since shifting from Melbourne at the end of 2015.

    He was pushing for a spot there again in 2018, but has instead been deployed in the middle of the park by coach Paul McGregor as part of his forward rotation.

    It’s quite literally new ground for the 25-year-old, but he’s enjoying the move in his side’s 5-0 start to the year.

    “You wouldn’t believe it, I played front row against the Titans [in roud four] and ended up there for a little bit against the Knights so, I’ve played every position on the field now,” Mann said.

    “I’m really happy to play that role at the moment. Everyone’s playing out of their skin so it’s hard to push for a starting spot because the team’s playing such good footy.

    “That’s my job at the moment and I’m really enjoying playing the middle. It’s a bit of a challenge for me and it’s something I’ve really liked.”

    Mann was frank when asked if he was given any indication from McGregor that he’d end up in the middle.

    “Not at all. I spent the whole preseason in the centres and in the trial against Hull I played in the centres and at five-eighth,” he said.

    “I did my calf right before the Charity Shield but I ended up on the bench for round one and it’s just happened from there. Mary just tells me to go out and play my normal game.

    “He wants me to play a ball-playing role and I’m really happy he’s showing that sort of faith in me.

    “It’s showing a lot of faith to play someone my size in the middle having never played there before. I’m really happy to have that opportunity.”

    Having been used mostly as injury cover, Mann said he’s jumped at the opportunity to clock more minutes and throw himself into his work as soon as he’s on the paddock.

    “You’re straight in the mix of it so you can throw yourself straight in there,” he said.

    “You don’t have to think too much. When you’re out in the centres you’ve got a lot of time to think about what’s happening and what plays they’re running.

    “When you’re in the middle it’s straight up and down and you’re just doing your best so that’s what I’ve really enjoyed about it.”

    Having shown plenty of faith in the Winton product in the past, McGregor admitted the seamless shift has been a pleasant surprise.

    “Kurt’s been playing that middle [number] 13 role for a number of week’s and he’s been building his time up,” McGregor said.

    “For the first three or four weeks we’ve given him 10 minutes, 15, 15, 20 and he deserved to get a shot earlier in the game.

    “When Jack de Belin needs a spell, Kurt’s that ideal 13 where he can really cover the middle through leg-speed, he can generate a quick play-the-ball for you and put on good kick pressure.

    “It worked OK so Kurt’s a 13 as much as a centre, fullback and five-eighth.”
    dragonssamy61 likes this.
  17. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
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    Aitken shows class in Origin audition
    Dragons Den News
    HOW GOOD: Euan Aitken. Picture: AAP

    HE’S 61 games into his NRL career, but there’s every chance Euan Aitken’s 22nd career try will remain the most memorable when all’s said and done.

    The 22-year-old left Rabbitohs skipper Greg Inglis clutching at air to score a crucial midway through the first half of his side’s 16-12 victory on Friday night.

    For a man chasing a maiden NSW jumper, blowing past one of Queensland, and the game’s, all-time greats is a fair feather in the cap.

    With hopefully a lot more highlights to come, Aitken said the four-pointer will remain a memorable one.

    “It’d definitely a special one,” Aitken said post-match.

    “GI’s an amazing player, he’s played so many Origins and Tests for Australia and he’s a world class player and a world class centre.

    “You’ve got to be aware of those players because they’re lethal. You’ve got make sure your defence is on-song.

    “He’s one of the best centres to ever play the game so it’s definitely a challenge to come up against that sort of player.

    “You want to put your best foot forward and I was happy to come away with a try.

    “I’ve always been the sort of player to challenge people and try and beat them one-on-one so it was good to do that tonight.”

    The effort certainly grabbed the attention of Blues coach Brad Fittler who was calling the game for Channel 9.

    He’s long been a fan of the Pambula product, but Aitken said his Origin ambition is a largely unspoken one.

    “It gives me some confidence but I’m not too worried about that at the moment,” he said.

    “As a kid you dream of playing Origin and if that comes this year I’ll be more than happy to play and I’ll put my best foot forward there.

    “I back myself in most situations like that. I just want to make sure I’m playing consistent footy with the Dragons and let that do the talking.”

    Origin call-up or not, it’s a strong return from a 2017 campaign that was plagued by hamstring and shoulder injuries and culminated on off-season surgery.

    It was the first time he’d faced such a run in his career, but he’s confident he’s well on the road back to top form.

    “I feel like I’ve still got a lot of improvement to come,” he said.

    “I had a few injuries last year but I think when I was playing, I felt I was playing some good football. I think that’s the key with me, being on the park and playing some regular consistent football.

    “I feel like I’ve got a lot potential there, I’m tapping into that and playing some good footy.

    “I’m happy with my game at the moment but I still think I can get better.”

    Aitken’s four-pointer took his overall tally to four tries from five games, matching the effort of fellow club-leader, and Origin hopeful, Nene Macdonald on the left flank.

    Macdonald and Lafai have managed seven tries between them, while Aitken has combined with Jason Nightingale for five on right, giving the Dragons plenty of across-the-park attacking potency.

    “We’re both going well, both edges, we’re both scoring tries and that’s what you want to see on the park,” Aitken said.

    “You want to see that balance in the football team where both edges can score. I think that comes down to Ben Hunt and Gareth Widdop being quality players and world-class halves.”
  18. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
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    Lomax hat-trick seals ISP Dragons win
    Tom Skolarikis
    Sat 7 Apr 2018, 05:00 PM

    St George Illawarra have grabbed a gutsy Round 5 win over the Newtown Jets at Henson Park on Saturday afternoon, with winger Zac Lomax contributing three tries for the Saints on their way to an 18-10 victory.

    in what was their third win in a row, the Dragons showed immense composure to bounce back from a 10-0 deficit early in the first half to score 18 unanswered points, 12 of which belonged to Lomax - the speedster playing a key role in the Saints’ march toward victory thanks to his superb finishing.

    Despite the Dragons dominating possession in the first 10 minutes, the Jets would post first points on their very first trip down to the St George Illawarra line, with Aaron Gray finishing off a quick backline movement that included a lightning-quick pass from Kyle Flanagan. Gray was the ultimate beneficiary, diving over near the touch-line in the ninth minute to make it 4-0 in favour of the home side.

    Newtown again looked likely side to score just a few minutes later after another strong movement that had the Dragons on the back pedal. But while the build-up had the Jets faithful on their feet, back-rower Scott Sorensen was unable to hold the final pass that would have seen him almost certainly crash over.

    However Flanagan would extend Newtown’s lead in the 26th minute thanks to an offload from back-rower Billy Magoulias, who found the halfback lurking in support inside the 10 metres, resulting in a try under the sticks. Flanagan would add the extras to take make it 10-0 in favour of the Jets - but that would be the end of Newtown’s deposits to the score sheet.

    Showing great composure, Saints would go on the attack just moments later, and within seven minutes of the break, finally opened their account for the afternoon when Lomax took a cross-field kick and raced over to score in the corner. It would be the beginning of a memorable afternoon for the Saints speedster.

    With seconds left in the first half, Lomax would punctuate a determined set of hot-potato football from the men in red and white to take his team into the break behind by just two points at 10-8.

    On the resumption, both teams traded opportunities close to their respective lines, but the Dragons would cross to take the lead in the 52nd minute, with Lomax grabbing his third of the match by plucking a well-weighted cross-field kick out of the air to score in the corner. Darren Nicholls’ third conversion attempt was waved away, leaving the Dragons ahead by 12-10.

    Saints continued their fightback in the 63rd minute when Jai Field grabbed himself a long-range try that would ultimately prove to be the clincher - the fullback showing immense pace to cross under the posts. Nicholls added the extras to extend the Dragons’ lead to 18-10.

    Newtown desperately fought to regain the lead in the final stages of the match with some strong attacking opportunities of their own, however the steely defence of the Dragons would hold, with the men in red and white deservedly taking home the two points.

    St George Illawarra Dragons 18 (Z Lomax 3, J Field tries; D Nicholls goal) def Newtown Jets 10 (A Gray, K Flanagan tries; K Flanagan goal)
  19. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
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    Ah Mau's bench impact has rivals circling
    Dan Walsh & Brad Walter
    Mon 9 Apr 2018, 03:30 PM

    Leeson Ah Mau's blockbusting impact off the Dragons bench may end up costing the surprise table-toppers as rivals circle the off-contract prop.

    The Knights are understood to be leading the pursuit of the 28-year-old front-rower, with Ah Mau recently sitting down with coach Nathan Brown and touring the Steel City, according to a Newcastle Herald report over the weekend.

    Ah Mau's preference has been to stay at St George Illawarra and the club is hopeful of retaining him, with talks between the two ongoing for some time.

    But his stunning 2018 form has coincided with the most important contract negotiations of his career, a situation that may see the Dragons priced out of the contest for his services.

    Ah Mau's transformation from starting prop to interchange weapon has seen him average just 36 minutes a game across the Red V's unbeaten start to the season, the least game time he has had since joining the club in 2012.

    But less is proving more for the Samoan international, who is punching out career highs for runs (11.6 a game), metres (125 a game) and tackle busts (3.4) while Ah Mau also snapped an 83-game try-scoring drought with a four-pointer against Newcastle two weeks ago.

    Dragons duo Tim Lafai and Leeson Ah Mau. :copyright:Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos
    The arrival of first Russell Packer and then James Graham at the Dragons has prompted Ah Mau's transformation from starting big man to impact man in recent years.

    While admitting a run-on start would be on most any player's wish list, Graham had nothing but praise for Ah Mau's contributions to the red and white cause.

    "He's been outstanding for us this year," Graham said.

    "[Ah Mau] and Jeremy Latimore, when they've injected themselves into the game they've been outstanding.

    "…In the past decade we've really seen it go from a 13-man game to a 17-man game. What that bench brings can almost be the difference and credit to Leeson, he's been absolutely outstanding.

    "I think like most middle [forwards] he'd want to start but he's playing out of his skin when he comes on for us, that's for sure."

    The Knights have well-documented cash to spend up front and have already signalled their interest in Broncos powerhouse Tevita Pangai jnr.

    Newcastle will hold fire on any decisions around veterans Chris Heighington and Jacob Lillyman for some time yet, making an experienced front-rower such as Ah Mau an attractive option given the promise shown by young props Josh King and the Saifiti brothers Daniel and Jacob.

    Closer to home the club has also resumed contract discussions with back-rower Sione Mata'utia, after a series of concussion issues raised concern about his immediate future in the game.

    But following an off-season without any contact work and exhaustive cognitive tests that cleared him to return to the paddock, both the Knights and Mata'utia are now hopeful of tying down the local junior for the long term.

    "Sione's a young Newcastle kid that has been here for a long time and we'd like to see him play his whole career here if it works out," Brown told

    "He's a player that is definitely a part of where we'd like to get to as a club and those discussions are ongoing."
  20. getsmarty

    getsmarty Coach

    Jun 23, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Graham hopes Denver Test gets green light
    Brad Walter Senior Reporter
    Mon 9 Apr 2018, 07:53 PM

    St George Illawarra prop James Graham has made a last-ditch plea to NRL clubs to support an annual Test in Denver that he believes could rival State of Origin for England and New Zealand players.

    A meeting of NRL club CEOs on Tuesday will discuss issues around travel, insurance and recovery procedures for players with representatives of the RLPA, NZRL, RFL and the RLIF, as the June 23 Test appears certain to go ahead.

    Despite NRL CEO Todd Greenberg, RLPA CEO Ian Prendergast and South Sydney CEO Blake Solly outlining their concerns on behalf of clubs in a letter last week, it is understood that the NZRL will make the final decision as the host nation.

    The NRL, clubs and RLPA believe that playing the match at altitude, the travel time to and from Denver and the short turnaround before their next game could expose players to a greater risk of injury, while they want to ensure their contracts and any medical costs are adequately covered by insurance.

    As the Test is scheduled for the stand alone representative weekend in the NRL and Super League, and has been sanctioned by the RLIF, the NRL could be asked to stand down any player whose club refuses to release him.

    Dragons and England Test prop James Graham. :copyright:Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos
    However, New Zealand officials are confident they can address the concerns raised by the NRL, clubs and RLPA after announcing last week that players would have the same insurance as players in State of Origin.

    Leading Kiwis players, including captain Adam Blair, have spoken out in support of the Test and Graham said England's NRL stars were also determined to play.

    ''I want to see the international game at the forefront of our game and this Test for us English lads and the Kiwi boys has the potential to be our State of Origin,'' Graham said.

    ''We don't have that [Origin] but we have got the opportunity to go and play in the United States in front of what I am being told is going to be a packed Denver stadium.

    ''People want to take that away from us. I get their reasons but we want to play.''

    With the Dragons due to play Parramatta on June 28, Graham and captain Gareth Widdop would have just two days after their return to prepare for the Thursday night match.

    The Warriors and Melbourne Storm, who are likely to provide the nucleus of the New Zealand team, are also scheduled to play matches on June 29.

    The NRL and clubs support the Test but believe it should be played at a venue which can be reached in a single flight, such as Hawaii, or preferably New Zealand.

    However, promoter Jason Moore, who bought the opening match of the 2015 Major League Baseball season to Sydney and is behind the 2025 World Cup in North America, has guaranteed the NZRL $500,000 to play at Mile High Stadium.

    It is understood Denver was chosen as the location because the time zone is beneficial for broadcasters in Australia, New Zealand and England, as well as North America.

    ''There is so much riding on this that we have got to get it over the line, we have got to get it done,'' Graham said.

    ''There are so many reasons for it to happen, not so many reasons for it not to happen or not genuine reasons in my opinion.

    ''Some of the things that have been put forward, I just don't think there is any merit in them and anything that has been put out there has been easily disproven.

    ''I understand why some people don't want it to go ahead, that is their prerogative. My prerogative is I want to see more international games.''

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