John’s Ashes squad: I can’t be angry at you

Silver selection patriarch John Inverarity has unveiled Australia’s squad just in time for the upcoming Ashes tour in July, with the whole experience of the announcement being just plain weird.

I feel the restless unease usually saved for the breaking-in of a brand new set of rigid corduroy trousers in its aftermath.

The swinging selection jaw of John finally delivers a surprise-free squad.

The swinging selection jaw of John finally delivers a surprise-free squad.

Like for any team announcement by Inverarity, so predictably passé for its reliable doses of the baffling and clownish in recent times, I was ready to consume the regular gruel served.

I contorted my face to it’s vinegary setting, ensured my waving fist was warmed for some enraged shaking and then hung my stress-piñata in the garage ready for a decent thumpin’.

I turned to face the feature wall in my lounge room and prepared to angrily blabber to it in tongues to feel the tension release of remonstrating with paint via indecipherable grunts.

But in the end, none of this usual fired-up fare was required.

As the names were read from the swinging jawbone of Inverarity’s weathered head, I began to shake on the floor in a curled-up mess, blubbering like a common Brendon Goddard as my body went in to a state of disbelief.

I had become crooker than sun-dried feta cheese as the stark realisation dawned upon me.

This team had left me with absolutely nothing to whinge about.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This controversy-free squad covers all bases for a seldom-pleased cricketing tragic like myself, meaning online forums, Michael Clarke’s front doorstep and my feature wall may be getting some rare shoosh time over the coming days.

There’s players selected on the relevant benchmark of recent form. There’s no slaughter lambs plucked from humdrum-average obscurity to have their careers ruined. There’s the regularly requested inclusion of cool-headed experience.

There’s no Mitchell Johnson, Steve Smith or Glenn Maxwell.

And thank the Lord Jeebers, there’s Usman Khawaja.

And if you thought this required a photo for its Sasquatch-like rarity, then the spotting tourist in you would’ve short-circuited Instagram with what followed.

To add to a squad that doesn’t produce a spike in effigy sales, the boffins have organised a bloody sensible Australia A tour to precede the Ashes that involves seven members of the senior team.

So while we’re at home watching our footballers in blurred images on drugs exposes, our cricketers will have their hands clutching warmed beanbags in their pockets as they get acquainted with the chilly cricketing life in front of the boorish English.

What a brain-twisting tactical masterstroke. Steady acclimatisation over a reasonable period of time!

Who would’ve thunk it? And from our own think tank to boot!

Brad is back, baby!

Brad is back, baby!

I tried my best to sneeze at it, but came up with nothing but an unexpected smile that made me sick to my guts with withdrawals.

Australia’s Ashes squad is not an assembly of world-beaters, but it’s the best of what’s available with no seats on the plane wasted on expendables.

James Faulkner, Chris Rogers and Ryan Harris have been braining the game as recently as March and move out of ‘the mix’ and firmly in to Test calculations.

Brad Haddin’s selection is an acknowledged reversey, but didn’t we want some hard-nosed experience in the batting order after it regularly exploded to powder from higher-to-lower in India?

And what a luxury it will be to have a vice-captain that Michael Clarke can split a proverbial footlong sub with.

No tears for Matthew Wade please, because he’s in the squad too. After a forgettable bye-bleeding tour of the subcontinent for the Victorian, the selection panel have got the balance of reassuring hugs and time away from the microscope just right in his regard.

In excellent news for Ashton Agar, he has been left behind for senior honours, which is a late-arriving dose of pragmatism that has probably come 10 slow-bowlers too late. Someone on the panel has opened their eyes and discovered the horror of the bloodied killing field of our spinning gambles and decided enough is enough.

Unnecessary cleanup costs for street protests and endemic bleeding eardrum syndrome have all been avoided with Khawaja’s selection, however whether or not he plays is another question altogether.

Finally, we are leaving Johnson, Smith and Maxwell at home for a winter of reflection. No disrespect to this trio, but the left-arm quick is a psychologically damaged red rag to the bulls of the Barmy Army, Smith is a sitting duck to classy swing bowling, and Maxwell is just not very apt at the game.

Is this squad good enough to win us back the Ashes?

Probably not.

But at least we’ve squeezed the best out of what we’ve got.

Confucius say ‘always blog after upset win’

Much like this piece’s title, the following has always been one of the more popular proverbs from the divine Rugby Confucius.

‘If furthering your XV down the path of rectification is for what you strive, then one must firstly temper weaknesses and/or splash funds on talent.’

In 2013, the Waratahs have made it their trademark to start slower than a circa 1996 laptop, and it’s one of several factors that have cruelled their drive for improvement thus far.

However, last night against the Chiefs they channelled the words of rah-rah’s Buddha and addressed this irksome shortcoming by discovering a choke button and engaging it before halftime.

Nothing says 'upset win' like a vertical stacks-on.

Nothing says ‘upset win’ like a vertical stacks-on.

What resulted was a high-octane opening for the home side and a gutsy 25-20 victory, although with a bullish Chiefs riposte wedged in between that nearly had the fans reaching for the spiritual analgesic incense.

It was a dose of unlikely success against high-grade Kiwi opposition for the Waratahs and another stepping stone in the evolution of optimism under the tutelage of cranky grasshopper Michael Cheika, which he has made no secret of is more tortoise than hare.

With an obvious focus on reversing the trend for sleeping in, their bright beginning was powered by some appealing ball-in-hand play which propelled them to a deserved 15-0 halftime lead. It had the faithful tentatively high-fiving in the aisles and cautiously contemplating an unlikely boilover.

Despite this, it seemed normal transmission of heartbreak had resumed in the second half thanks to a barnstorming Chiefs bushfire which incinerated the Waratahs newly turned leaf, and five minutes from time when the 134kg Ben Tameifuna battered his way under the posts with minimal finesse to catapult the visitors in to the lead, the 15,000 faithful at Allianz had probably wished they were next door watching the Swans get pumped.

Cue the dice rolling required in these situations, a backtracking Chiefs defence and the hungry backing-up of former doorman John Ulugia, and the winning try was dotted down for the Waratahs to pinch sweet victory.

Like all Super Rugby wins in NSW these days, it was crucial for the Waratahs and their grand scheme. If they are serious about successfully implementing coach Cheika’s plan of just falling short of a semi-final berth this season, they desperately needed points at home before embarking on the always-unfriendly South African leg of their campaign.

Folau's excitement may subside if that attempted reach-around is successful.

Folau’s excitement may subside if that attempted reach-around is successful.

Those famous words of Rugby Confucius rang in the ears of many when it came to selecting the best on ground for NSW.

Like any cliché-laden backs-to-the-wall dogfight win against a top-ranked side, there were many contributors who made claims for the unfinishable pewter mug of booze granted post-match to those who left nothing in the tank.

In last night’s case, the standouts for the victors were the off-season pick-ups of Michael Hooper and Israel Folau.

Hooper is seemingly on long life batteries in the trenches and last night was no different. It’s difficult to ever remember him having a stale performance whenever he steps on a rugby field, and I find it hard to believe that some dirty tabloid scribe hasn’t linked him with Steven Dank.

As for Folau, he once again put on a blistering display of wide hole-running that was capped with points when he soared on the flank to take a Bernard Foley cross-field kick and touch down in the shadows of halftime.

But it was more so his desperate toil in defence that showed his leaps and bounds improvement is of Olympic triple-jump calibre when on two occasions he popped up as the last line to snuff out certain Chief tries.

Many will argue that he is far from the complete rugby product yet, but he nonetheless deserves my apology at least after I questioned his purchase by NSW Rugby earlier this year and wondered where he would fit in their high-profile backline.

He’s a padlock selection for Cheika nowadays, and he could be more than just bonus attacking arsenal on Robbie Deans’ bench later in the year.

As for the Waratahs, next it’s the Bulls at the High Veldt, a historical crime scene plentiful with many discarded cans of whoop-ass administered by the home side in contests past.

But with the words of Rugby Confucius in the scented air around the squad and it’s fans, I reckon they won’t be feeling too bad about taking on the South African powerhouse after the encouraging display of last night.

 

City vs Country is as dead as daytime soap

After broadcasting 45 gruelling years of steamy side-glances from bush league thespians, Channel Nine has made a major alteration to sick day protocol by cancelling the daily screening of worshipped soap Days of our Lives.

Unconfirmed reports from nameless sources say that CEO David Gyngell had grown tired of the program’s suffering standards, so he decided to allow his wallet to exhale by cutting the beloved drama loose for good.

It is widely believed that certain aspects of the show’s gradual disintegration had particularly dismayed the idiot box magnate.

Gyngell was ropable at the high turnover of a noncommittal cast, the exorbitant costs of shooting unnecessarily in exotic locations, plus the fading interest in a tired storyline and its rapidly dwindling levels of relevance.

These reasons naturally tell you that he should next be eyeing off the annual City v Country hoedown for dragging behind his white sheet of failed television to be shot.

With any luck, he will use his considerable clout at the NRL to blackmail David Smith in to tossing this meaningless 80 minutes a year in the trash receptacle along with other league relics such as leftover South Queensland Crushers merchandise and the Central Coast Bears bid.

If our game’s new CEO is interested in saving a nickel or two on a game that may only be seen on amateur camcorder in the future, then I’m sure he will be ‘all ears.’

Let’s be honest. Romantic notions and novelty value aside, the Mickey Mouse hitout between City and Country has become an unnecessary yearly stuff-around for NSW rugby league that produces more heartache than good.

This Sunday in Coffs Harbour, the age-old battle between mud huts and electricity will hobble out on to the representative stage clearly on its last legs after copping a brutal bruising from all involved over the last two weeks.

Laurie Daley can really wreck a good league soap.

Laurie Daley can really wreck a good league soap.

It begun with Blues coach Laurie Daley secretly revealing to the Fox Sports viewership on Matty Johns’ excellently named Monday Night program that he had already decided on 12 of his first 17 for the opening game of the series, effectively undermining the game’s trial value.

It was an embarrassing admittance from the man at the pointy end of this operation that should’ve come with a ‘spoiler alert’ warning, and it relegated the fixture to nothing more than a bathtub full of phoned-in routine with a measly drop of league-style Hunger Games.

Then after the teams were selected, a gaggle of talent made their feelings known by running for the hills clutching dodgy medical certificates.

Robbie Farah, Mitchell Pearce, Chris Lawrence, Aaron Woods, Jarryd Hayne, Josh Reynolds and John Sutton called in sick with the lazy ‘gastro’ excuse for City, while Brett Stewart refused to answer any calls from the Country Rugby League offices on Sunday night himself.

All of these supremely timed ‘injuries’ (which I have omitted from print in the interests of factuality) further degrades the reputation of the match as a watered-down exhibition of second tier talent.

And then there’s the cannibalism factor.

Why do we let our guys maim themselves at the hands of their fellow statesmen on a sub-par country goat track while Queensland stands by and smugly chuckles at our misfortune?

Don’t we have a perfectly good club competition for sustaining affliction?

Its self-harm at it’s finest, and we must remove the blunt scissor blade away from the wrist immediately, because I’m sick of hearing the ‘Johnathon Thurston laugh’ ringtone.

And finally, to those naïve and sentimental types out there who try to tell me there is an emotional investment in this match by players and fans alike, I ask they stop driving through the Harbour Tunnel with their windows down.

The trophy is not a high priority to the players, and I haven’t seen a rabid bunch of hicks baying for the blood of the chai-sipping yuppies at a match since the 1980s when KB was widely available as a useful projectile.

C’mon guys. The final grains of sand have passed through the hourglass. It’s time for NSW to move on from the insanity of persisting with this annual relic.

Let’s respectfully take it behind the white sheet and end it.

Half-Price Steve and his reborn Dragons no longer on the Wayne

Despite some distasteful trash talking at the scrum base and some disobedient novelty Steedens, another coat of restoration polish was applied to St George Illawarra on Sunday thanks to a blue-collar negation of the Wests Tigers.

Now with three straight wins, the famous Red V jersey is once again returning to being more palatable as a piece of sporting apparel rather than an effective tool for starting a fire.

In light of the discovery of life at Kogarah and The Gong, the condition of the Dragon Army has been upgraded from critical to stable. Collective considerations to switch to the greener pastures of supporting the Melbourne Demons have subsequently been canned, and earlier team goals set by the hierarchy, such as trying to cross the stripe more than twice in a game, have now been revamped to the upper crust aspiration of semi-final qualification.

Price overseeing his Nazi attacking practices. One pass per session only.

Price overseeing his Nazi attacking practices. One pass per session only.

One man who is now allowed back inside the leagues clubs of these respective heartlands due to this reawakening among the playing group is low-tariff coach Steve Price.

No doubt last night’s celebratory parmy and chips at the bistro defied the usual standards of club grub and tasted fairly sweet for the Dragons boss, a winner-winner-chicken dinner enhanced by the gutsy nature of the win at the SCG and the fact that it didn’t have to be consumed from under the pump.

On the back of an unlikely collection spree of competition points, the leanly-paid and highly-embattled coach is becoming familiar with operating in some unimaginable unicorn-filled fantasy world the likes of which he has never experienced.

That’s right, he’s tasted the clipboard-holder’s nirvana, a magical place where journalists don’t raise the possibility of a relationship with food stamps on a weekly basis and fellow folk don’t bemoan your existence on their club’s payroll on a daily basis.

Such treatment has been one of many demons that Price has had to constantly joust with since taking the keys at the Dragons.

To go with the around-the-clock speculation on his imminent knifing, there’s been one of the game’s highest derogatory meme counts on social media, plus a behemoth fan base with their full support behind him. To resign.

However, for all of the soul-tearing ability of these external pressures, probably the most debilitating hindrance has come from within.

Now I’m no Freud, but if devotion to a former ruler’s game plan is anything to go by, then I reckon Price has been biffing with that feisty old boiler known as self-doubt from day one in this highly scrutinised red-and-white hot seat of arse-combusting capabilities.

My no-frills psychoanalysis tells me that his own instinctive footy ideals have been regularly spurned from within, and then like a programmable novelty voice on a navigational device, his inner monologue speaks in the voice of Wayne Bennett and tells him to retain the status quo of playing the beige conservative-ball that served them so well in years gone by.

“I left a note on the kitchen table with your instructions for the weekend. Take out the bins, dust the blinds and play one-out error-free footy that makes Die Hard seem like The English Patient with its extended scenes. Keep it surly with the press and maintain the siege mentality. And stay out of my pantry!”

You guessed it. I reckon that even after he left for the Monopoly money of Nathan Tinkler, the waft of the supercoach has remained at the Dragons and consumed the ability of his replacement to break the mould.

However, with Price coming to the realisation in 2013 that he had to throw caution to the wind before he was thrown to the wolves, it may have finally begun a transition to coaching on his terms and sparked an attacking belief in the team to compliment their mega-sturdy defensive patterns.

It seems there is greater freedom to offload, to occasionally try and score points on plays other than the fifth tackle, plus a well-aimed rocket placed underneath Jamie Soward’s kicking game which has seen a tiny light appear in the tunnel for the Dragons fortunes and along with it, a pulse on Price’s stock value.

The week off for the representative round is ill-timed for the Dragons in terms of momentum, but it sets up a mouth-watering lead-in to what will now be a superb contrast of styles on Anzac Day against their partners-in-reinvigoration at the Roosters.

Sure, the unyielding domination of 2010 it certainly isn’t, and I’m adamant the chicken parmis aren’t cascading out of the bain maries at the respective clubs just yet. Price and the Dragons know they are only a loss or two away from having the team’s credentials back on council pick-up and the coach’s name linked with a role at Social Security.

But for Dragons fans, 2013 is not as bad as first thought. And at least for now the air is clear from the smoke of burning jerseys.

Can Smith sweep the four in 2013?

Monday night saw the banality of the universe maintained with another two competition points to the Melbourne Storm, a result which took the club to a record-equalling 13th consecutive win.

Yes siree, 2013 so far has been enterprise as usual for Craig Bellamy and his cartel of systemised androids. Death, taxes, yada yada yada.

Like always, at the pointy end of his painstakingly precise on-field operation is his three favourite sons, showing off and making everyone else look stupid with their skill, intelligence and larynx-high karate feet.

However, with all due respect to the outstanding kicking games of Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater, undoubtedly the naturally anointed Dad of this valuable triumvirate is the inexterminable Cameron Smith.

Melbourne’s super-spotless skipper has ticked the box for pretty much everything that’s worth achieving in rugby league. At the age of 29, his playing record is already of the highest degree of exemplary footballing nerdiness.

This is complemented by his fine work as a cordial dude off the field, where he’s considered not only an appreciated footy advocate, but also a stamp of approval for humanity as a likeable human being.

Smith is the kind of fella that inspires parents to have their kids play the game of rugby league. And why stop there? He even inspires parents to just have more kids.

Smith. He makes you look like a crap bloke.

Smith. He makes you look like a crap bloke.

Whenever he finally decides to call it quits from the game, leaving vanquished opposition hookers, NSW and uninspiring second-rate blokes of average repute to resume their existences, his post-career plaudits could really be anything.

But for all of his exploits and acclaim as a footballer, and his ability to accelerate growth at the junior level in grass roots footy and the population, his qualities as a forceful magnet for prized trophy goods could reach even greater untravelled heights in 2013.

This year he is staring at the opportunity of securing a four-piece set of regalia that would send the rugby league populace, including all of its superlative-dry scribes, stats freaks and prissy jewellery enthusiasts, twenty-four carat hog-wild with excitement.

With success already achieved in the World Club Challenge in February, and with State of Origin, the NRL Premiership and a World Cup all up for grabs this year, what’s the chances of Smith having his paws on an unprecedented four major trophies as a winning captain in 2013?

Can the woolly Brisbane-born hooker defy the odds of probability and be the prize-lofting face on quadruplicate presentation daises in one year?

Cast your mind back to the fanfare surrounding Darren Lockyer’s 2006 treble consisting of the Origin shield, NRL premiership trophy and Tri-Nations cup. It was a beefy sweep of the gift shop for the unassuming cueball from Roma that catapulted him to the Golden Boot and multiplied the already-high levels of affection he received from the public.

With 25% more spoils including a World Championship, the spread sitting in front of Smith in 2013 is a richer smorgasbord that stands to be more memorable if completed.

Barring a breakout of malaria in the south, the Storm should no doubt be in the mix for a deep September plunge, however they face such hurdles as the back-to-back hoodoo that has haunted defending champions for 20 years and the cruel ravages of the evil representative season.

As for Origin? There’s no doubt there’s a reliable pattern of positive results that has formed for Smith’s Maroons over the years, but with two games in Sydney in 2013, it could be a higher hurdle for Queensland than usual.

Then there’s World Cup glory where Australia will be red-hot morals to snare the crown, but as we all know, the Kangaroos have been the victims of unexpected burglary ambushes in the showpiece final before.

Can Smith add a spectacular accomplishment to a record that already borders on near-perfection?

It may be an early season pie-in-a-crazy-dreamer’s-sky that could be scuttled by any number of possible pitfalls.

But pouncing positions for a purse of prizes don’t get much more prime than this.

 

Let’s talk about six: who can cover for Todd in Origin?

New South Wales, we need a Todd Carney contingency plan.

It seems a rambunctious youth of whiskey and lead-footing combined with the rusting capabilities of the Shire’s ocean air is slowly beginning to render his body brittle and unreliable.

Right now, our incumbent five-eighth is sidelined with a busted ankle that will keep him out of commission until at least round seven. It’s an irritating and inconveniently timed absence that comes on the back of a nasty Achilles tear that took the majority of the off-season to heal.

As a state of seven-consecutive losers, we must act immediately on the anxious power that is generated from repeated beatings. Here in NSW, we cannot afford a slack preparation. Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat.

We must assume that the Sharks pivot will not prove himself in the handful of games before selection time, and that any assumption that he may rise from his sick bed to snatch his precious jersey back into his possession like a sky blue Gollum is nothing more than a grand delusion.

Cronulla’s famous science program may not bear fruit in time. He may remain lame. He may return with unflattering performances that are eye-wateringly repugnant. Or even crazy enough, he may not even be first choice for the role?

So we, the big family from the premier state, must discuss this now so to prevent another one of those Brett Finch midnight hour scenarios from ever happening again. Take a look at the understudies.

Josh Reynolds

Reynolds: ripe for a bruising.

Reynolds: ripe for a bruising.

This crazy-eyed Bulldog possesses energy, confidence and exuberance, the exact kind of qualities that the bullyboy Queensland team has enjoyed successfully bashing out of bushy-tailed rookies in the past.

Reynolds is the darling of the Sydney media and has had many backslaps and endorsements for selection from two-faced media brown-nosers, usually when he is sitting across the interview table from them. It’s the kind of two-bob tabloid rhetoric that has won rep jerseys in Sydney before.

James Maloney

The new Roosters man is showing all of the refreshed enthusiasm of a man who has just returned from a gap year, and that’s because he just has. I didn’t see him on the footy field in 2012. Did you?

Maloney ticks all of the boxes to be a walk-up start for NSW; he courageously runs direct, confidently pots goals with the accuracy of a crossbow and is on the payroll at the Sydney Roosters.

Kurt Gidley

After the ignominy of being the eternally wincing face of NSW’s 7-year subordination and our first ever benched captain- a decision by the selection panel that I still need video of to believe- Gidley has earned the right to be released from the shackles of a ‘specialist utility’ and given a spin in the hot seat.

We owe him the enjoyment of feeling like a real footballer for NSW. Let him be totally poleaxed in the opening set of play and then allowed to frolic in later game periods that aren’t within the patronising Buhrer-style sympathy minutes of junk time.

Gidley is an 80 minute player. He comes on in the 80th minute.

Gidley is an 80 minute player. He comes on in the 80th minute.

Jarrod Mullen

The quiet achiever of the group, Mullen has the experience and fortitude to stand up to the eyebrow singeing flames of Origin’s cauldron of encumbrance.

His premature taste of Origin from his pre-shaving days should stand him in good stead if selected. The agonising feeling of another scoreboard shellacking will feel entirely routine, and his now muscled-up rig will be able to safely withstand the horrific after-effects of more Mitchell Pearce hospital balls.

John Sutton

You just did a double take, didn’t you?

The key to a Sutton call-up lies within the selection panel’s deep affection for a convenient combination. If incumbent halfback Pearce gets measles, loss of physical dexterity or is just a victim of an evil Laurie Daley lie, then the next in line is Adam Reynolds. And who partners him at the Rabbitohs scrum base?

A Bra Boy, that’s who.

Josh McCrone

I’m including a Canberra Raider as a simple shout-out to the ever-maligned talent that plies their trade in the regional teams. If this bloke turned out his excellent form from the back-end of 2012 whilst wearing the colours of a Sydney club, he may be spoken of more frequently.

Unfortunately, having a phone that doesn’t ring at Origin time is what you get for choosing to live in Canberra.

Long weekend and season rudely soiled thanks to Souths

From the point of view of a card carrying pessimist such as myself, the major talking point from last weekend’s round of NRL will not be the glorious half-ton that my re-tootled Roosters poured on to the outstripped Eels at Allianz Stadium on Monday night.

Inside my cynical headspace, this titillating 80 minutes of tri-coloured league porn has taken a back seat to the gut-twisting horror that a successful rugby league team coming out of South Sydney can bring to those who live the league lifestyle in the East.

Yep, it’s like passing a piping hot stone to say this, but the Rabbitohs are looking more like they belong in the top four with every round gone. Maybe even higher.

Trust me, I’m ferociously uppercutting myself as my typing fingers form these words on the screen, but I reckon they even have the sufficient working parts to qualify for the NRL decider.

I'm already drafting legal action to claim my winter back.

I’m already drafting legal action to claim my winter back.

Of this prospect, I am genuinely frightened and in need of a Pull-up.

Last night in front of the Rooster demolition job, instead of enjoying some gleeful fist-pumping with every feathered cross of the tryline, I was too busy booking a provisional airline ticket to Sierra Leone for the October long weekend while planning the construction of my backyard bomb shelter, which if my hours of watching the Lifestyle Channel have taught me anything should be completed in around six months time just before the Grand Final.

As an Easts man who has walked this earth reliant on the Bunnies demise just as much as my own club’s success, can you blame me for such a reaction?

If this travesty occurs and Souths get within 80 minutes of the world’s biggest ever non-Hefner bunny party, then don’t call me. I’m going to be elsewhere, whether it be offshore, underground or on total sensory shutdown.

You can blame me for being ignorant of a good footy story or you can accuse me of plain Rooster fundamentalism, but there’s no way I’m going to stand by as a quivering witness to the unbearable tornado of neck tatts and Burgess brothers that’s primed to go abyssal on the finals this year.

Frankly, as a tri-coloured apostle, I would even consider it sheer negligence if I didn’t try and negotiate a reasonable price with a local manufacturer for a bulk purchase of earplugs and blindfolds in the meantime.

Sure, some may say that I might be soiling the pantaloons prematurely with the Melbourne Storm still holding the cards for outright premiership favouritism. The steamed-up coaches box window of Craig Bellamy overseeing the divine compositions of his holy trinity deserve favouritism, at least until his efficient machine malfunctions.

But if you had to pick a sole challenger, which you have agreed to do by reading this article, then surely it has to be the rock ‘em-sock ‘em-Rabbitohs in all of their fairytale-building glory.

They withstood the Des Hasler challenge by getting the Bulldogs to tap-out in a finals-like atmosphere on Good Friday, plus they have done that really irritating thing of winning games and then lamenting that they played below their best.

They have a handy bloke at fullback who seems rather adept at stealthily loitering for opportunities in opposition defensive lines that have been regularly perforated by a family of British blokes with unnaturally sized heads.

It disgusts me.

That’s why I’m getting in early with my magic mock by proclaiming Michael Maguire’s men as totally capable of qualifying for the decider and giving it a ruffle in 2013. That’s right, they’ll be there to stuff up your party on Grand Final day, so stock up on the franks and refuse entry to your pergola area to anyone that wears anything emblazoned with ‘Smith’s Crisps’ and who talks of ‘Tuggas’ and ‘Longbottoms.’

As for me?

I will be happily sunning myself in Western Africa if it happens, or chowing down on some delicious tinned asparagus under ten feet of soil while I shove cheap blue-tack in my ears.

It seems like a heavenly when compared to the thought of sighting a tickled-pink Russell Crowe.

Warming the Pine

Sport for those with comfortable couches.