A tale of two Halves

There are some interesting halves combinations on display over the Rugby League representative weekend that are worth briefly casting an eye over for their potential impact on the results and the ‘bigger’ picture significance of these pairings…

The Anzac Test:

Usually a game for the Kiwis to demonstrate the fighting strength of a flightless little bird, I suspect New Zealand league fans are in for more disappointment as ‘the bros’ come together for a far too brief hui and get massacred by the juggernaut that is the Australian Rugby League team. The Kiwis struggle in these one-off games and are far more suited to the longer in-camp build up of tournaments where the brotherhood and mana flow, not the catch up over a latte let’s play a game of footy scenario of this type of fixture. While much of the attention has been focused on Tamou and the welcoming committee that will greet the Maori boy turning his back on NZ to play for Australia (yes, he can fondly reflect on Karmichael Hunt’s warm welcome that saw him stretched off the park in the opening minutes), the New Zealand halves combination is shaping up as an exciting prospect. The Kiwis have had a handful of useful halves in the day, Gary Freeman, Clayton Friend and more recently Stacey Jones, but with Benji Marshall getting joined by a Benji-like protegé in Shaun Johnson, they have arguably the best halves combination they have ever fielded (of course also acknowledging that Kieran Foran would be there barring injury and is certainly no slouch….he’ll probably be a Kiwi centre in the future). Whether they are or will be the best ever is tricky to ascertain but in terms of flair, skill, speed, passing and unpredictability, they must be considered a dynamic combination capable of tearing the Kangaroos to ribbons with off-loads, broken play, set plays and simply freakish plays (as Marshall has conjured up numerous times before for both his club and country). However, before anyone nips off to the bookies to wager their weeks’ earnings, let me make it clear that New Zealand will need the forwards to muscle up, contest, tackle, go forward and generally compete well against the Kangaroos for the halves to shine. That is, if the big boys can avoid getting drawn into a literal slug fest where they try to ‘smash’ their opposition and play the man rather the ball, then such a platform should allow the kiwi halves to exploit the rare gaps, tired legs or weaknesses should they present themselves. But exciting as it may be to see what these two can conjure and unleash, it is going to be a big ask for them alone to provide the difference.  So exciting, entertaining and potentially razzle dazzle from these hot stepping halves, but probably a bridge too far for the forwards to curb and control their aggression up front…let alone to actually defeat the Goliath’s of Rugby League.

Really not much needs to be said about the Australian pairing. While, no doubt, the retirement of Darren Lockyer is a massive void to full in terms of experience and big match temperament, in step the groomed Maroons/Kangaroos halves pairings who have the combination of flair and experience in Johnathan Thurston, and the consistency and composure in Cooper Cronk. Simply swapping the colour of their jerseys come representative time, and on the back of a similar set of  robust, skilful and mobile forward packs (the majority of which also switch green and gold for maroon jerseys when needed), these two should be able to contain most of what the Kiwis can throw at them with a little help from their big friends. However, Benji has managed to get one over Thurston on occasions, and JT is prone to losing his rag with referees, so getting him down on confidence or incensed over a bad call or play that goes wrong most likely will be a deliberate ploy for the Kiwis, either by hammering him in every tackle or by baiting the wild man within. Still, a classy and polished halves pairing that should reign supreme at international and state level.

City v Country

The competition for the NSW state of origin team halves spots will also be an intriguing second game to watch this weekend. By all accounts Mitchell Pearce has the number 7 sewn up, but the halves pairings of Pearce and Jarryd Hayne vs Jarrod Mullen and Todd Carney will be interesting.  Hayne is or should be a certainly for a sky blue jumper somewhere in the backline, but Carney’s resurgence has been spectacular. For a man prone to life with the bottle, and numerous benders, misdemeanours and failed attempts to stay clean despite ‘final warnings’ and resultant terminated contracts, his efforts in 2012 have been phenomenal and a major factor in the Sharks unexpected on field successes. Carney needs to restrict his celebrations to the field but at this stage is firming as Pearce’s partner for Origin, on the back of  this form and his previous combination with Pierce at the Roosters. Mullen is the dark horse and certainly not a poor player, but arguably would need the game of his life to re claim an Origin jumper. Other notable omissions – Peter Wallace (worth considering?) and Jamie Soward (you are the weakest link, good bye). If this is really a ‘trial’ for selection, then the battle between Carney and Hayne, two players who are fundamental to sparking their clubs into life and making things happen when they apply themselves, should be a salivating showdown.   Unfortunately, to the victor the spoils….or more realistically a poisoned chalice, as Thurston and Cronk await and potentially so too another Blues’ Origin debacle.

Down and Out

Two other players entrusted with the responsibility of sparking their clubs into life are currently needing resuscitation. Poor Terry Campese is out for another season due to injury and probably extinguishes the Canberra flame unless a very blunt attack can find some teeth …Josh Dugan will be over worked in this capacity.

While life is not so good for Chris Sandow. Leaving Souths with a swagger, some seemingly impressive attacking skills and enticed with a fat pay cheque, Sandow’s hardly been value for money and demoted to reserve grade on the back of his poor 2012 form with Parramatta. Sandow seems to have skipped training for pies, forgotten that defence is required on the field and is ‘General Disarray’ on attack. No wonder Coach Kearney thought enough was enough….at least Sandow still has the chance to redeem his and Parramatta’s fortunes, unlike the hapless Campese.

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4 Comments

  1. In terms of flair, Marshall and Johnson have it over Thurston and Cronk. It would have to be a first for NZ to look more dangerous in the halves than a Kangaroo side. The only thing which could be considered a concern for the NZ team could be the fact that the duo play in a similar fashion. Having said that, Marshall has become a supreme conductor of a football team so it might not matter.
    I think Carney has secured a blue gernsy, but the selectors are sniffing paint if they want to put Hayne train in the halves. Pearce is the man to partner Carn dog.

    Reply
  2. The Senior

     /  April 20, 2012

    Don’t underestimate Thurston. Remember, he played brilliantly when first joining Canterbury,as five eight.
    In a test i think he won’t be letting Marshall off the hook too easily.
    The selection of the NSW side will throw up the usual bolter. Does Stuart remain loyal to the team of 2011,or does he do the usual trick of selecting another uncoordinated side?

    Reply
  3. Anyone that underestimates Thurston does so at their own peril….time and time again he delivers, and I don’t think I implied that. Like Slater, he is prone to losing his rag when something doesn’t go his way (so if you can rattle him it can pay dividends), but he is a class act and no doubt one of the best halves of all time. Mr Brown, where do you think you’d slot Hayne into NSW if Carney and Pearce are the halves?

    Reply
    • Mate he has to be in the side because he just seems to produce the goods when needed. I think Morris or Stewart could do the job safely. But Hayne just seems to able to pull the rabbit out of a hat. For that reason, I put him at fullback, but only just ahead of Morris and Stewart.

      Reply

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Dane Eldridge Tries Hard

Contemporary rugby league surrealism and hot takes on Shane Warne

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