Who are your favourite players?

We could discuss the greatest players of all time for the rest of our lives. But everyone has their favourites. So just who are your favourite rugby league players of all time? I’ll post mine below.

1. Nathan Hindmarsh (Parramatta Eels)

The long haired second rower with the funny bum had a work ethic unmatched in the rugby league world.

A barnstorming second rower in his early days, Hindmarsh moved to the middle of the field later in his career and his defence became his greatest asset.

Many a time he was the last man chasing a runaway winger, forcing him to touch down out wide rather than under the posts.

His ability to pull off that try-saving tackle was unbelievable, often coming from nowhere to either drag his opposition down or hold him up.

The care free attitude of “Hindy” was also an endearing quality and his imitation of Jamie Soward in his farewell match was just icing on the cake.

2. Andrew Johns (Newcastle Knights)

Off-field dramas aside, “Joey”  was a fantastic and exciting player to watch. His ability to control a match practically on his own is nearly unparalleled in the modern game.

It pains me to say this but his performance in the 2001 Grand Final was sublime. I’m a Parramatta fan but Johns tore my beloved Eels to shreds in the first 40 minutes.

Joey was also a symbol of greatness for all New South Welshmen. He dominated Queensland and by the end of his career was probably the most respected Blues man north of the border. Even if those cane toads don’t show it.

3. Darren Lockyer (Brisbane Broncos)

Where would Brisbane be without their future immortal? Lockyer drove not only Brisbane, but Queensland and Australia as well to long periods of dominance.

He proved he was the best in the world in two positions and was a true gentleman of the game.

I’ll never forget how he got Brisbane out of jail against the Eels in 2008. He wasn’t even supposed to play the game but his perfectly weighted kick on full time delivered the Broncos an unbelievable four point win.

He adapted and played to his strengths meaning he went out on top of his game. Once blessed with quick feet and the ability to glide across the field, age caught up with him.

But where his feet grew slow his mind grew fast. He developed one of the greatest kicking and passing games that rugby league will ever see. Effortless and pinpoint accurate.

4. Jason Smith (Canterbury, Parramatta, North Queensland, Canberra)

One of the toughest players in the modern era, he left his mark at each of his four Australian clubs. Blessed with some of the softest hands and an unbelievable timing that belied his oft. frequented position of lock, Smith was one player I really respected.

I remember some of his time at Parramatta and how he would command the ball, time and again putting his outside backs through the smallest of gaps.

His toughness allowed him to leave his passes until the final second, often seeing him pummelled by defenders but managing to put his man into space. A trait still not seen in most halves today.

He did all this on a diet of cigarettes, beer and meat pies. The last I heard of Jason was him playing Country rugby league. Setting up a few tries before being sent off after punching one of his opponents.

5. Luke Burt (Parramatta Eels)

The diminutive back is a legend out Parramatta way and one of the Eels’ most loyal servants. His career saw the end of the small outside backs and the rise of the freakish super athletes in the modern game.

Although he was small Burt had an amazing turn of speed which he carried throughout his career and what he lacked in size he made up for with his brain. In another life he would’ve been a perfect halfback. A position he played in once and the Eels won.

He had a near sixth sense of how to out-smart the opposition. I still remember when, on a last tackle against the Bulldogs, he spotted a set of tired markers and no fullback at home. He stabbed a grubber in behind the line and scored un-challenged.

At one point he made a habit of beating the first defender on almost every one of his kick returns during his peak.

A consistent goal kicker, Burt was underrated in that department, yet many a time he landed the pressure kick from the sideline. You can have your Yow-Yeh’s and Ferguson’s, I’ll take Burt any day.

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Inverarity to fall on his sword?

It’s the cliche used in sport and life in general, you live by the sword and you die by the sword. For Cricket Australia’s Chairman of Selectors, John Inverarity, it appears that he will soon fall on the sharp blade.

His endorsement of Shaun Marsh appears as his most ill-informed decision. Not only will Marsh travel to South Africa, he will more than likely fill the crucial number 3 position. Yet his Test and First Class records leave a lot to be desired. 

A key finding of the Argus report, commissioned following our capitulation against England in 2011, was that selections were to be based on a player’s record. For a batsman such as Marsh, it is his average and runs scored that should determine his Test fate. 

However, according to Inverarity, he has potential. At 30 years old I’d say that Marsh should’ve fulfilled his potential by now but his First Class average of 35.07 is proof that he has never scored the runs that he should have. 

Cameron White is a surprising omission from the squad. White not only has potential but a first class record to back it up. His claims for a long Test career were probably harmed by being able to bowl some form of leg spin and was almost purely judged on that at Test level. 

His first class average of 40.78 is quite good for a middle order batsman and he would more than likely do an admirable job at number six. But it is his recent Sheffield Shield form that sees him fulfil the criteria for selection as set by the Argus Report.

He has scored 1,066 runs at an average of 43 since the start of last summer for the Bushrangers. He is the same age as Marsh and has captained his state for a decade. He has the runs on the board and leadership qualities that are needed.

Inverarity has been known to make decisions based on short form performances, George Bailey being a case in point. Bailey never had the First Class record to support his Test selection but the selectors deemed that consistent performance in the ODI team would instantly be transferred to the Test arena.

They admitted their mistake there but have now regressed by selecting Marsh, at least in part, based on his recent ODI form, making two key half centuries in successful Australian run chases. 

Another man dumped from the Australian Test side is none other than the incredibly in-form Marcus North. He was dropped due to issues of form in 2010 but if you are dropped based on form then surely you ought to be selected based on your form. 

He has scored 593 runs at 98.83 with three centuries and two half centuries. In a 21 Test career he scored five Test centuries and three half centuries. His early form in the Australian side saw him average around 60 before his drop in form saw his average drop. 

The world number one Test ranking is at stake here. I’m all for building towards the future so I’m happy to see Alex Doolan on tour. However, why not take people with Test experience such as White and North? They are in form and would be more than able to step into the Test arena as specialist batsmen. 

I give credit where it’s due and Inverarity’s decision to select Mitchell Johnson was a risk but a calculated one at that. On more than one occasion Johnson has run through a team and it was a punt that Johnson would perform against England with a 5-0 win proving the selectors right.

This time though it appears that the blade that sliced through conventional logic when selecting Johnson will turn on Inverarity and his men. He has ignored what was once the tried and true method of picking men in form at Shield level and that is a recipe for trouble. 

Tour Down Under Preview

With Marcel Kittel taking out the People’s Choice Classic the first race of the cycling year is about to begin. So just who will threaten to take out this years Ochre jersey, which sprint king will take the points and who will conquer the mountains?

The man nicknamed the gorilla has arrived down under and will be a big chance of taking home his third title. Greipel has the team around him to do so and with very little climbing this year the big sprinter could easily take both the overall and points jerseys.

Challenging him though will be a couple of home town heroes. Cadel Evans and Richie Porte headline the Australian representation in their national race but not far behind is the newly crowned Australian National champion, Simon Gerrans.

Evans tends to use the earlier season races as a tune up for his big shot at one of the grand tours later in the year. He’s competitive and has the team to ride for him but this early on in the season I don’t think we’ll see Evans in Ochre on Australia Day.

Richie Porte will also use the race to get some km’s into the legs and will once more have a brilliant Sky Team around him but he will have to make do without Chris Sutton who broke his wrist in the Classic.

Gerrans has won this race twice before and will be carrying the green and gold on his shoulders. His ability to climb and sprint will push Greipel a long way in the overall where Gerrans can pick up time bonuses on the climb.

Don’t count out Caleb Ewan. The impressive young rider is on the roster of UniSA and won the Bay Classic earlier in the year. Heavily supported by Cadel Evans and Matt White, Ewan may well be the dark horse this year.

For the points it will be a big battle between Greipel, Kittel, Mark Renshaw, Matthew Goss and should Goss come to grief, Michael Matthews will be up to the task. Renshaw is known more for his lead-out work but is an admirable sprinter.

Greipel, Kittel and Goss will more than likely face off in France later this year with the added pace of Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan making those three weeks even more interesting. But here in South Australia I believe Goss has what it takes to win the points.

He has a near Robbie McEwen ability to sprint off both a train and a solo effort, the home town support will also give him that bit of extra adrenalin. Up against Kittel and Goss, the points will be a highly sought after affair.

And whilst the King of the Mountains isn’t really pursued heavily, Australia having more hills than mountains, the jersey will still be on offer. Simon Clarke appears to be Australia’s best chance given his love for the breakaway but there are Spaniards lining up for that with Movistar fielding almost an entirely Spanish team.

Movistar haven’t taken the TDU lightly, fielding Javier Moreno, JJ Rojas and Jose Ivan Gutierrez. Garmin-Sharp, Lampre-Merida and Belkin will all be interested in any breakaways without having any clear overall contender.

A special mention also goes to the man of 1000 faces, Thomas Voeckler who has had to withdraw following an accident with a car only hours after landing in Australia. The Frenchman sustained a broken collarbone in the collision.

And where would professional cycling be without Jens Voigt. An incredibly popular member of the cycling world he will be starting what seems to be his final season and it will hopefully see a few more highlights from the affable German. 

So bring on the Tour Down Under and the cycling season I say.

Gerrans Wins Australian Nationals

A fantastic ride from Simon Gerrans and Orica-Greenedge has seen the Melbournian win the race for the second time in his career. With Gerrans expected to race the Tour de France this year, it will see the Australian Road Champion’s jersey appear in the peloton.

He had to work hard for his win, beating none other than Richie Porte and Cadel Evans to the finish in a tense final 10 kilometres. Gerrans has credited team mate Cameron Meyer with giving him the support he needed to bring it home in the final kilometre.

A breakaway hit off the front of the peloton early on which featured Luke Durbridge, Simon Clarke, Andrew Hansen and Steeve Von Hoff. With the pressure being piled on and the breakaway unable to sustain itself Orica-Greenedge took over at the front of the peloton.

Cadel Evans and Richie Porte had managed to tuck themselves away in the peloton with Porte having just one rider from Sky with him and Cadel the only Australian BMC rider. Evans said before the race he knew he would have to rely on himself completely and that he could threaten.

At the front of the peloton it was Cameron Meyer who went away. A time trial champion, he hoped to make it over Mt. Buninyong on his own but was soon joined by Gerrans and Evans.

With Evans outnumbered and being double-teamed by the Orica riders, it had shades of his solo effort against the Schleck brothers in 2011 on the Galibier.

 

Soon though the pressure was taken off him slightly when Richie Porte joined them. Over the following 1.5 laps the four fought for position with Gerrans content to sit at the back.

Meyer attacked a number of times with no success before Richie Porte went off the front. Evans sat behind Meyer comfortably, refusing to work for Orica-Greenedge and hurt his own chances of a podium finish.

As they descended from Mt. Buninyong the pressure amped up. They had caught Porte who was sitting behind Gerrans and continually threatening to burst past them. Evans was happy to sit in the middle with his metronome like cadence helping him mark any moves.

Richie Porte tried to launch just over one kilometre from the line but was marked by Gerrans. Then it was Evans, who held a two bike-length lead before Simon Gerrans was able to kick into his sprint and finish a comfortable winner and Australian champion for the second time.

The second position finish was a personal best at the Nationals for Evans who had never landed on the podium in Ballarat before. Richie Porte finished third, Meyer fourth and Jack Bobridge closed out the top five.

In one week some of Europe’s best will arrive in Adelaide for the Tour Down Under with Cadel Evans also racing the event to kick off the Pro-Tour circuit and also begins his preparations for a tilt at the Giro d’Italia.

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(From Left): Porte, Gerrans and Evans on the podium.

South Africa the Real Litmus Test

With the Ashes wrapped up and Australia playing an attacking brand of cricket, attention has begun to be turned towards the upcoming tour of South Africa. The Australians will face the World Number 1 Test Nation and will want to continue their good run of form.

With no disrespect to England (Well OK a little bit, we are looking at a 5-0 whitewash), South Africa will provide a much sterner test. They have a mentally strong batting line-up with their opening bowlers ranked numbers one and two respectively. 

On recent form the Australians will be in with a chance. South Africa struggled in their first match against India, scoring just 244 in their first innings with India then blunting Steyn in their second innings; the paceman returned figures of 0-104, the first time he has gone wicketless in an innings.

Also working in Australia’s favour is the retirement of Jacques Kallis. For close to two decades, Kallis has been the mainstay at the number four position as well as being the extra seamer to collect useful wickets. 

However, Australia’s batting must overcome their first innings stutters. South Africa will not back-down in the same way the English have. They need to build big innings and put the onus back on the South African bowlers, importantly they have to really attack Imran Tahir.

The spinner can be easily put off his line and leak runs when attacked, forcing the seamers to carry a bigger workload. In contrast, Australia’s Nathan Lyon has managed to both tie up an end and then attack when given the opportunity. His combination with the fast bowlers has been crucial.

Australia’s bowlers will need to be incredibly disciplined and not get frustrated when they aren’t collecting wickets. South Africa’s batsmen are very mentally strong and are patient enough to wait for the bowlers to bowl to them. 

Looking at South Africa’s batting line-up, they are still powerful with out Kallis. Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen open the batting with Hashim Amla currently the best Number 3 in the world. AB de Villiers, JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis all float in the middle order with all of them capable of extended innings.

Michael Clarke will once more be the key for Australia but with the top order all beginning to reach good form, they will need to allow Clarke to press on when he reaches the crease, not trying to marshal a salvage mission with his middle order.

Quite obviously Mitchell Johnson will lead the bowling attack and has had plenty of success against South Africa. He has been involved in match-winning spells in both Australia and in South Africa, with his combination of pace and late swing making life difficult for the batsmen.

The big advantage for Australia will be the availability of James Faulkner, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Jackson Bird for the tour. All with Test match experience, they will be terrific replacements should any of the frontline fast bowlers pick up an injury.

If Australia want to become the best in the world then performing and beating the best is the way to do it. It’s all well and good to cash in against a demoralised and split English side in the comfort of your own backyard, it’s different being tested away from home and having to really perform under pressure

Faf du Plessis celebrates his century at Adelaide in 2012 during a mammoth innings to draw the match.

Michael Clarke celebrates his double ton against South Africa at the Gabba in 2012.