The Big Issues Vol 2

So a couple of weeks ago I harped on about the second tier salary cap. Well, since then we’ve had even more issues with it.

Tigers junior, Luke Brooks, was given special dispensation by the NRL to play in the Tigers’ match against the Dragons. Whilst I don’t support the second-tier cap I believe that it should actually be enforced until the game does away with it.

Since then, the Parramatta Eels approached the NRL for the same dispensation for young forward Kenny Edwards. The NRL said no because he isn’t a junior. I honestly don’t understand what that has to do with it.

Parramatta are guaranteed a wooden spoon. Whilst the NRL are doing what they should’ve done to Brooks, it’s now an unfair situation for Parramatta. The NRL shouldn’t be picking and choosing when to apply the second-tier cap. It’s either enforced or removed.

Now on to the Top 25 salary cap. Ian Schubert is the current salary cap auditor and his role, as outlined by the NRL on their website is to “Monitor each club’s Salary Cap position throughout the year based on the information provided by clubs.” 

He is also permitted to investigate discrepancies that may arise. When a club makes a salary cap infringement then they are issued with a breach notice.

No where does it say that the auditor can value a player in the same way he valued Israel Folau. If a player wishes to play for an agreed amount of money with the club, provided it is within the cap, then his contract is to be registered.

Schubert has done next to nothing in his role. All major salary cap breaches such as the Bulldogs in 2002 and the Melbourne Storm scandal in 2010 were revealed due to disgruntled former employees of the clubs and subsequent betting plunges.

Not only that but Schubert had a celebrated playing career with Eastern Suburbs (Roosters), Manly and Western Suburbs. Now I’m not suggesting he is doing anything wrong in regards to these clubs.

However, in the interest of fairness and transparency, how does the NRL appoint a former player to audit his former clubs? That does not happen anywhere else. If it did there would be an obvious conflict of interest.

In my opinion Schubert should be removed from his post and replaced by someone with no affiliation to any clubs. That person should be someone familiar with the workings of the NRL but should not have played the game at a professional level.

So the ASADA investigation has collected its first scalp with Raiders winger Sandor Earl admitting to having peptide injections. It was revealed he had the injections whilst playing with Penrith due to a shoulder injury.

Penrith have stated that Earl was administered the injections off-site by an independent doctor with the club paying the bill. Earl has also said he has offered his assistance in exchange for a lenient punishment.

This is yet more negative press for Canberra who have been put through the ringer this season. First they had Dugan and Ferguson drinking instead of training, resulting in the sacking of Dugan.

Then they sacked coach David Furner even though up until yesterday Canberra were in the finals race. Ferguson is currently on walkabout even though he is contracted with them and now Earl has admitted to the drugs charges.

For the good of the game I hope Canberra can continue to function well and be a competitive side.

Next week I will have a special on the Under20’s and NSW Cup.



The Dilemma of Mitchell Johnson

Ahhh Mitchell Johnson, where to begin. Australia’s enigmatic fast bowler. On one day he can run through a batting order faster than a hot vindaloo. The next, he can make Harmison’s first ball of the 2006/07 series look like it was bowled by Glenn McGrath.

In Australia’s most recent Twenty/20 triumph, we were treated to the best and worst of Mitchell Johnson. His first over went for 17, three of those balls were dots, four of those 17 runs came from an edge.

Johnson, even when bowling erratic, can bring about a chance. His next over was a wicket maiden. Which is next to unheard of in an international Twenty/20. His next two overs combined leaked 30 runs, but he also took another wicket.

So, what do the selectors do with him? The main reason he dropped out of the Test frame was due to a foot injury but also the rise of bowlers such as James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Patrick Cummins.

Johnson has generally performed well on fast pitches. Namely the WACA in Australia, but also in Durban and Johannesburg. His combination of pace, angle across the right-hander and late swing has left South African and English batsmen scrambling to find a way to combat him.

Even in the last Ashes series on Australian soil, when Johnson was far from his best, he played his best game at the WACA after receiving coaching from Dennis Lillee.

Retired Australian speedster, Brett Lee, has called for Johnson to be included in the squad to face England in this upcoming summer. His reasoning being that Johnson has real, genuine pace to trouble the English.

When in form, Johnson is one of the best fast bowlers in the world. He has produced plenty of devastating spells, netting himself seven 5 wicket hauls. One of which included the impressive figures of 8/61 against South Africa in 2008.

His Achilles heel is that his worst is far from his best and this is the gamble Australia will take if they play him in the return series this coming summer.

Johnson should play in the Sheffield Shield and produce quality bowling before being added to the squad. However, the one test I would like to see him included in, almost regardless of form is the WACA Test.

Johnson has claimed at least five wickets in every test he has played at the venue and will be a challenging proposition for the English batsmen who struggled when Mitchell Starc was on target in the winter series.

So let’s take a look at Mitchell Johnson’s Test record to see whether he’d be worth the gamble. Johnson has played 51 Test matches, taking 205 wickets at an average of 30.93 runs per wicket. Compare that with “the greatest bowler in the world” in James Anderson.

“Jimmy” has played 86 Test matches, collecting 324 wickets at 30.20 runs per wicket. There are 119 wickets and 35 Test matches between them but Anderson’s average is better by just 0.63 of a run.

However, in Australia’s current batting predicament, Johnson could also be a valuable contributor with the willow. I know we shouldn’t be picking a bowler on his batting ability but it must take some part in the selection process.

Johnson has a batting average of 21.97. Not bad for a tail-ender. He also has a Test century to his name, scoring that against the number 1 test attack in the world in South Africa. It wasn’t a century to be sneezed at given he cracked Dale Steyn for six to bring up his ton.

“Mitch” also has seven half centuries to his name. There’s no doubting that he could be useful with the bat in hand. Given when he debuted the Australian middle order was nowhere near as brittle as it is today, his runs were healthy bonuses to an already terrific total.

Nowadays they would be considered gold. An ability to bat may be what seals the deal for Johnson come the Australian summer.

I truly have no idea which way the selectors will go. I’d say Johnson will be heavily considered on his Sheffield Shield performances but also, when they arrive in Perth, on his Test record at the ground.

I’d almost expect Johnson to have a spot in Perth barring either terrible form or injury. But the gamble is playing him on surfaces such as Sydney which isn’t generally a quick wicket but misdirection can leak runs.

Johnson truly is an enigma of cricket and Australia hopes that when the English land down under that Mitch is pushing his case for a Test recall.

Why Ricky Will Stay at Parra

So rumours have been flying around that Canberra have offered Ricky Stuart a multi-million dollar deal. Supposedly it’s $7million over seven seasons.

I believe it would be fair to say that a seven year deal in rugby league is ludicrous to say the least. No player or coach signs a deal for seven years, it’s simply too long in professional sport.

Canberra have not confirmed that they have offered him a contract and Parramatta chairman, Steve Sharp, has said no offer has been received, nor has Stuart talked to him about it.

The main reason Stuart has been drawn into this is due to his connection with Canberra. He represented the club in the 80’s and 90’s and is one of Canberra’s favourite sons, leading them to multiple premierships when Tim Sheens was at the helm.

Parramatta’s co-captain, Jarryd Hayne, has stated that Stuart assured the playing group that he will finish what he started at Parramatta. 

“Ricky spoke to us the other day … he pulled us aside and assured us that what he  started here is something he wants to keep going and he wants to finish.” Said Hayne in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.

Stuart is said to have a good relationship with his players at Parramatta and will be determined to complete what he set-out to do. 

No source of substance has stated that Stuart is leaving Parramatta or that he has even been tabled an offer from Canberra. So far it has mainly been hearsay and rumours. 

Stuart does not seem to be a coach who would leave a job half-done and given he has marched 12 players and recruited nearly half a dozen to the embattled Eels it would be unlikely he would walk away from them.


Earl Suspended for Peptide Use/Trafficking

Former Panther and current Raiders winger, Sandor Earl, has admitted to using and trafficking the peptide CJC1295. It is rated as being unfit for human use.

The punishment for use of a banned substance is generally two years. However, the trafficking of a banned substance carries a penalty of between four years and life.

Canberra have released a statement, saying that they believe the charges against Earl relate to a period before he (Earl) joined the club.

The Penrith Panthers have confirmed that they paid for Earl’s medical bills and subsequently the peptide injections.

Panthers Group boss, Warren Wilson, was adamant that Earl received the treatment offsite and that the injections were not sanctioned by Penrith.

It is said he received the treatment due to a shoulder injury suffered in 2011 whilst playing for the Panthers.

Earl has said he will continue to assist with the investigation, hoping to obtain the benefit of substantial assistance provisions.

Earl is currently the only player named in the investigation but expect more names to be revealed as the investigation continues.

NRL CEO David Smith has stated that the player interviews with ASADA will be concluding soon and as such the investigation will be nearing its conclusion.

Brooks stars in game he never should have played in

Luke Brooks made his NRL debut for the Tigers tonight and played a superb match. His kicking game was terrific and he ran the team like an experienced campaigner, even scoring a try himself.

However, let me remind you why this kid made his debut. Because the Tigers appealed to Ian Schubert to allow Brooks to play. The second-tier salary cap was preventing him from making his debut as the Tigers had used it all.

Now, whilst I’m not in favour of the second-tier cap it is a part of the game that every club must abide by. Schubert’s reasoning for allowing Brooks to play was that it had no effect on the finals.

But Ian, there are 16 teams, not just the Top 8. What about the Dragons and Eels? The Dragons found out how good Brooks is and now sit four points above the Eels with Parramatta having a game in hand.

For me Brooks should never have made his debut. This ruling by Schubert stinks of double standards. In the interests of transparency how do you agree to let the Tigers break the cap to win one match?

So let’s say by some miracle Parramatta win their last three matches and St George lose their last two. Sure, people will say that they still had a chance to avoid the spoon but, is it not unfair that they were put in that position because the player that beat them in Round 24 was technically not supposed to be playing?

And what about Parramatta? They have been unable to debut a number of juniors this season because of the second tier salary cap but they have been out of finals contention for half the season.

If the NRL want to get serious about enforcing the salary cap then a couple of things need to happen. They need to get a new salary cap auditor, not an ex-player. Either raise the second-tier cap substantially or remove it entirely. And actually enforce it, with only situations such as the Matt Moylan case giving lee-way to clubs.

Brooks was not in Moylan’s position. The Tigers had a fit halfback but wanted to debut a rookie so he could play a game this season. If the ARLC want to be taken seriously then they should never have allowed this to happen.

Watto Silences Critics

Shane Watson compiled a masterful innings on day one of the fifth test to put Australia in a commanding position. Criticised heavily before the match due to poor form, the middle order batsman, turned opener, turned middle order, turned first drop showed just how talented he is.

Admittedly I was one of those critics. During this series he has shown an inability to play the straight ball, covering his stumps and finishing up plumb LBW. 

He did have one close shave of LBW during his innings but was over-turned upon review. His innings was one counter-punch and aggression.

Watson targeted debutantes Simon Kerrigan and Chris Woakes. Dispatching them all over the ground. Kerrigan in particular was under fire, leaking 53 runs from his eight overs.

It was the Shane Watson that saw him win back-to-back Allan Border Medals in 2010 and 2011. He was dominant yet measured in his approach. Reminiscent of Matthew Hayden in his prime.

Even leading wicket-taker Graeme Swann wasn’t immune when Shane Watson smacked the spinner into the stands.

Even when a Stuart Broad bouncer hit him flush in the jaw there was no backing down. Instead he shook it off and later collected his third test century.

Watson is a frustrating player to watch. One match he can be awful and unable to hit anything in the middle. The next match he can murder the bowling attack.

For his talent he deserves a better test record. A test average of 35 with 20 half centuries could easily be a lot better if he’d been able to convert more of those chances.

Watson’s fantastic innings came to an almost equally impressive end. Appearing to have hammered James Anderson for another boundary, Kevin Pietersen took a superb, diving catch to dismiss the centurion.

Now provided this rain holds off Watson could easily have played the knock needed to allow Australia to set a massive target.

Will the Swiss Maestro call it time?

Roger Federer, the world’s greatest ever male tennis player, appears to be on his last legs. A man, who at his peak swept all and sundry before him, will enter the US Open with his lowest ranking in 11 years.

He is currently ranked seventh in the world. A far cry from the invincible form that saw him sit atop the rankings for 237 consecutive weeks.

Federer has announced he will continue to play on into next year. He has signed on to the Brisbane International as his lead-up to the Australian Open.

Tennis great, John McEnroe has himself said that Federer can’t win another grand slam title. There’s no question that Federer is on the way down. Physically he is not the same as he was at his peak.

However, to rule him out of ever winning another grand slam title is a big statement to make. Federer is a champion and has shown he can win from anywhere on the court, on any surface.

His last win was at Halle, in Germany when he won an ATP tournament. It’s not as illustrious as a grand slam but it still shows that he’s got the capability to win tournaments. 

I feel as if Federer is slipping off in the same way that Ricky Ponting fell off the mantle for Australia. His powers are not what they once were and he’s up against opponents that no longer fear him.

However, even when it seemed that Ponting was on his last legs, he pulled out a century and double century during his final calendar year. 

Federer has had repeated success at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon. With seven Wimbledon crowns he is the king of the court there. A player such as Federer, when really, he has nothing to lose, is a dangerous proposition on his favourite surface.

Don’t be surprised if, in about a year’s time, we see Federer lift the Wimbledon trophy once more and then witness the greatest man to hold a racquet announce his retirement. 

I believe he has one more grand slam left in him and if his recent interview with “The Australian” is anything to go by, he wants one more.