Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ricky in a Sticky Situation

The judgment was final and the verdict was swift. 

Today Ricky Stuart has been officially sentenced to three years hard time at the maximum security institution that is the Parramatta National Rugby League Club.

His crime? Masquerading as a successful rugby league coach. He was found guilty on all counts. The verdict was unanimous.

A stoic Stuart stood stony faced as Chief Justice Roy Spagnolo began his final summation, but was unable to conceal his obvious revulsion and horror as the sentence was revealed. Courtroom attendees claimed that Stuart looked ‘a broken man’ as the bailiff put a blue and gold scarf around his neck.

Distraught members of the Stuart family sobbed as Spagnolo delivered his decision, with one family member vocal in pleading for leniency, claiming that Ricky did not deserve such harsh punishment.

Spagnolo disclosed that it was Stuart’s mismanagement during his final years at the Sydney Roosters, followed by middling performances throughout his tenure with the Cronulla Sharks that really shaped the outcome.

Stuart’s team put together a compelling case and argued vigorously in Stuart’s defense. They cited his premiership win as a rookie coach in 2002, followed by consecutive grand final outings in 2003 and 2004, as obvious examples of Ricky’s high caliber coaching ability.

Prosecutors countered that even Nathan Brown would have been able to lead that star studded Roosters line-up to victory, but quickly withdrew their statement when reflecting on Brown’s record with the St George-Illawarra Steelers.

The crux of the defense was Stuart’s most recent outing as NSW State of Origin coach, where the Blues took Queensland to the absolute brink of defeat across the three game series.

The prosecution strenuously objected, calling for any evidence from State of Origin to be declared inadmissible. They claimed that any sporting event where Paul “Fatty” Vautin had a credible coaching record be deemed irrelevant to points of law. Spagnolo agreed, throwing out the vast majority of Stuart’s defense strategy, and with it any chance he had of winning the case.

In his closing remarks the prosecution referred to Stuart’s delusional belief that Jarryd Hayne would excel as a five-eight as a prime example of Stuart’s complete and utter inability to accurately evaluate talent. A court reporter would later claim this was the hammer blow that sealed Stuart’s fate.

In the judge’s final review Spagnolo created some controversy by openly declaring his excitement at seeing Hayne playing in the halves for the Eels next season, drawing sniggers from the jurors and courtroom gallery alike. Spagnolo was swift in wiping this statement off the record.

Outside the courtroom Ricky’s management team voiced their disappointment at Spagnolo’s verdict, but defiantly declared that they will be investigating all available avenues with which to fight the decision. A close confidant of Stuart’s was convinced a loophole would be found, citing the precedent set when Daniel Anderson, and more recently Stephen Kearney, successfully applied for early parole.

Eels fans supporting a stay of execution had established a picket line outside the courtroom. As news of the guilty verdict quickly made its way outside they could be heard wailing in anger and disbelief, unsure of the full ramifications of the decision but knowing it could only mean more misery.  

An appeal is expected to be lodged as early as next week.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Saving Nathan Hindmarsh

This is an open plea to John Grant, Roy Spagnolo, club chairman, coaches, Eels fans and all footy fans to save Nathan Hindmarsh.

The Eels used to be a club in disarray. Now, after the sacking of Stephen Kearney, they are an absolute laughing stock, second only to the New York Knicks as the worst managed club in world sports (maybe).  

SIDENOTE: Personally I don’t think Kearney is the problem. The second coming of Christ couldn’t coach this rabble of a team to success.

Nathan Hindmarsh has made more tackles for the Eels, NSW and Australia than the Spanish Influenza took lives. He’s run more miles than Burke and Wills, and he’s got more crack than the Grand Canyon. If you look at his body of work it can be argued that he’s the greatest Eel of all time. I know he doesn’t have four premierships like Sterlo, Bert, Guru, Crow, Zip Zip and Mr. Perpetual Motion…but he didn’t have teammates like that either. He’s just unlucky he wasn’t conceived in 60’s instead of the 70’s. For this we have to lay blame on Mr. and Mrs. Hindmarsh.

However we can’t fault the genetics. Whatever mix of X and Y chromosomes came together that romantic evening in 1979, scientists need to bottle it and start making replicas. Nathan’s not built like Michalangelo’s David, but he’s got an arse the size of Phar Lap and within is a big block, natural aspirated, heavy horsepower engine that seems to have no expiry date.

Just look at these stats (courtesy of our good friends at Wikipedia):

  • NRL Career: 313 games (As of 21 April 2012) 1998–present
  • Parramatta Career: 313 games (Most First Grade games played for Parramatta) 1998–present
  • Average Tackle Count – 49.91 (2011)
  • First player in NRL history to achieve 10,000 tackles
  • Third player in NRL history and first Parramatta player to pass 30,000 running, attacking metres

  • 17 games for NSW 2001–10;
  • 23 Tests for Australia 2000–09;
  • World Cup 2000, Tri-Nations 2004, Tri-Nations 2006, Four Nations 2009
  • Prime Ministers XIII 2005, 2008, 2011(Captain)

  • Provan Summons medal: (fan's choice for player of the year) 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011
  • Dally M Second Rower of Year: 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006
  • International Forward of the Year: 2004
F#cken WOW!

Plus, he’s also a great guy to boot. I don’t know him personally, but he named his sons Archie, Buster and Rowdie!!! Seriously. You just know that a guy who can bestow dogs name on his kids is a heck of a fella. We should all buy him a beer just for that.

Canvass every active player in the league and I guarantee they’ll all agree to a man that Hindy deserves a premiership before he retires more than anyone else in the game. He is universally respected across the board, which is something very few footy players can claim.

To John Grant, I beg you kind sir. Please use this newly created Independent Commission to invent some new loophole which will allow Hindmarsh to walk away from the Eels this late in the season and join a contender without salary cap implications.

To Roy Spagnolo, release him from the hell that has become the Parramatta Eels. I know it’s not in the clubs interests…not that you seem to be motivated by the clubs best interests…but look deep within that black heart of yours and find some compassion for one of the greatest clubmen in the history of the game.

To rival GM’s and coaches. Pick up the phone and contact the Eels. The phone number is (02) 8843 0300. Put in a bid to buy out his contract effective immediately. Heck, I’m so distraught by the prospect of Hindy going winless that I’d even cop the Dogs buying him and winning the premiership this year.

Hang on, let me give that last idea some more thought. I’m very emotional right now.

To opposing players next time you face up against Nathan, just shake his hand and say ‘sorry mate, wish you were here.’ It might seem like an empty gesture, but he needs all the support he can get right now.

To fans across the nation, contact your team and tell them you want Hindy in your club colours.

And to all the fans out there in cyberspace, post thousands of comments of support on this site to show the world that we all want Hindmarsh to be saved!

I don’t care about the efforts to save the endangered left handed bi-sexual Panda from the northern Chinese province of Shanxi. We need to focus all of our positive thoughts and energy into saving Nathan Hindmarsh.

My fear, more than Hindmarsh retiring without ever experiencing a lap of honour on Grand Final day, is the realistic prospect of Nathan going on a violent rampage like Michael Douglas in Falling Down. And whilst I’d love to see Hindy blow of some steam by directing an eight punch combination at the Eels board, it’s not how he deserves to go down.

Let’s all get together.

Let’s save Nathan Hindmarsh.

Monday, July 16, 2012

United, Berba and sexy football

Now that Euro Polkraine is well and truly behind us it’s time to look forward to the 2012/13 English Premier League. Last season was a classic, providing more twists and turns than a Labor leadership spill, with a final day climax bigger than anything in Ron Jeremy’s impressive resume.

As a devotee to the Church of the Red Devil I was devastated that the petro-power of Manchester City took the EPL crown last season, despite doing their level best to completely balls it up on the final day.

To challenge the noisy neighbours Sir Alex has continued with his policy of re-tooling with youth, which makes a lot more sense that re-tooling with tools. Liverpool FC, wearing their ‘University of Hindsight’ t-shirt, have seen the error of their tool policy as they look to send Andy Carroll packing, even if they only get some magic beans in return.

United’s youth brigade will be better for their experience last season. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are both playing under the massive burden of being English defenders who can kick the ball straight. Hopefully they don’t drown under the weight of expectation. Jonny Evans returned to form after a disastrous campaign in 2010/11, which means he’s back to being a great fourth choice centre-back. Chicharito suffered from the dreaded second season blues, but is too good a player not to fulfil his destiny as Ole Gunnar 2.0. Tom Cleverly received a great tour of the United medical facilities last year. Hopefully he’ll get a chance to walk onto Old Trafford in 2013. Meanwhile Danny Welbeck showed flashes of brilliance coupled with moments of Emile Heskey. He could go either way.

The new signings are interesting. Youngster Nick Powell has promise, having scored a handful of goals for the St Patrick’s Under 15 B’s last year. Only time will tell if he has Ryan Giggs potential or if he’s channelling Liam Miller aka the next Roy Keane! Shinji Kagawa is a proven performer after an excellent season with Borussia Dortmund. He should make a positive impact on our massive debt at the very least.  

Young Mickey Owen has moved on, having amassed 1,324 Carling Cup goals but only 2 Premier League goals wearing his United shirt. Under the terms of his departure Owen is still obliged to fax Sir Alex his race tips every Friday. The twins Rafael and Fabio Da Silva have finally been separated, with local doctors confident surgery was a success. The procedure should leave minimal physical scars, but untold emotional damage could be irreparable. And United fans bid a fond farewell to Park Ji-Sung, who was so initially underrated he became vastly overrated. Park will forever be remembered for killing any chances United had of toppling City, using a Jedi mind trick to get a start in the disastrous local derby.

Unfortunately for United Sir Alex is still no closer to signing that truly world class midfielder who’ll be able to fill in the massive void since the retirement of Roy Keane. Giggs continues to defy logic by trotting onto the park week in week out. His alleged extra curricula activities with the-laws have had a positive effect on his longevity, but his walking frame is in dire need of repair. Scholes’ return to the top flight was nothing short of miraculous, but how he’ll cope when his colostomy bag needs to be emptied every fifteen minutes is to be determined. Anderson is no closer to fulfilling his potential. His compatriot Kleberson was a flop, but at least has the moniker ‘World Cup winner Kleberson’ on his CV. Anderson is still just Anderson. Darren Fletcher looks to be on the verge of retirement having failed to take a decent dump since 2006. Ashley Young officially graduated from the Jurgen Klinsmann School of Diving Excellence in the offseason and should be good for a least a few penalty shouts each home game at best. Nani still looks like he’s a better fit for a Jackson 5 tribute video. And Michael Carrick continues to be as inspirational as a David Gallop press conference.

The only players who truly set themselves apart last season were David De Gea, Antonio Valencia and Nemanja Vidic. De Gea played with the confidence of a newborn giraffe in his first few weeks at Old Trafford, but transformed into a world class keeper by seasons’ end. Toni V is an absolute bulldog who scares the crap out of opposing fullbacks. He’s a one trick pony but what an amazing trick, and singlehandedly carried the team to the brink of glory last year. Meanwhile Vidic showed his value when sitting on the bench injured whilst his teammates conspired to concede three goals against the might of Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford.

There is talk of another player being brought into the fold, but if it’s not Bastian Schweinsteiger or Mesut Özil I’m not interested.

What interests me most if the future of Dimitar Berbatov.

Berba is one of the most polarising figures in the history of Manchester United Football Club. The vast majority of fans insist he’s a useless, lazy sod who spends most of his time on the field drifting in and out of consciousness. On the flip side a minority believe he’s one of the most naturally gifted footballers currently playing the beautiful game, and despite his lack of effort and urgency, has the capacity for real genius.

I confess I’m a card carrying member of the latter.

Berba’s style is so languid it borders on sleepwalking. The way he coasts around the field you’d think his sole focus was to perspire as little as humanly possible. He reminds me of the 1980’s tennis great Miloslav Mecir.

Yet despite his apparent disinterest on the field, Berba has a first touch that would make the late Peter Roebuck blush. Whilst Rooney combines power, pace and aggression and Scholes can thread any needle with a pass, no United player has the capacity to do with the ball what Berba can. Check out the YouTube clip below for an example of one of the most breathtaking and sexy pieces of footballing brilliance I’ve ever witnessed.  

Honestly I could watch that all day.

I know Berba is an overpriced pain in the arse, a flat track bully more at home in a sleazy Eastern European nightclub, a tumbler of Chivas in one hand and a cigarette permanently stuck to the other. But he’s the only pain the arse we have who has the capacity to inspire with moments of magic like that.

And just like the guy who puts up with his annoying girlfriend because she’s great at giving...advice...I’ll stick with Berba in the hope he can deliver yet another gorgeous moment of footballing brilliance.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Just how do you compare?

Expert Roarer Ryan O’Connell posted a great piece this week on Magic Johnson versus Michael Jordan (, which sure enough spurned some great debate.

I’d like to weigh in with my two cents worth.

Sports fans love nothing more than building lists and making comparisons (teams, players and/or eras). While the life’s blood of being a fan might be barracking for your colours, the fringe benefit is the analysis, counter-analysis and psycho-analysis that come with following your chosen sport.

Who are the top ten left handed goalkeepers, Chris Evert or Martin Navratilova, list the top five d#ckheads in squash, Wally Lewis or Brett Kenny, name the worst ten pin bowlers over 117kg…the debates go on, and on, and on.

Ryan’s Magic versus Michael is just another layer on a gigantic onion.

On face value it’s a silly argument. Jordan is universally accepted as not only the greatest baller of all time, but one of the greatest and most dominant sportspeople of them all. And when you look through his resume it’s extremely difficult, nigh impossible, to make an intelligent counter-argument.

Personally I was never a Jordan fan. I’m not saying I don’t think he’s the best player it’s just that I’m a Pistons fan. I grew up watching the Bad Boys knock Jordan on his arse year after year, and I absolutely loved it. While everyone else was clamoring for number 23 jerseys, I was cheering each time Laimbeer knocked down a three, Rodman pulled down a board or Zeke crossed over for a lay-up.

I guess I’ve always been attracted to teams or individuals with a bit of mongrel, and who rise above their limited natural physical abilities to excel. It’s probably why Roy Keane is my favourite Man U player above some of his sexier colleagues, or why Tim Morrissey is my favourite Sydney King...I guess that says a lot (not entirely good) about me.

I digress.

Whilst I can’t honestly say I think Magic is a better player than Michael, I do think the comparison is a hell of a lot closer than it appears on face value.

As Ryan rightly pointed out statistically Jordan is well ahead of the game. And with the advanced metrics available now, the argument for Jordan is pretty much tighter than a nun’s…let’s just say watertight. But for mine stats only tell a microcosm in this story.

     Cricketers and baseballer players live and die by their stats. It’s far easier to measure the quality of players from static team sports, and then make an informed comparison. Difficult to argue against a batsman who has over 10,000 careers runs at an average of 50 plus, or to compare a player against Bradman even though most of us never saw the great Don swing his bat in anger. A career average a pubic hair below 100 will do that for your legacy.

     In flowing team sports, like football, league or basketball, comparisons are harder to make because of so many variables, many of which aren’t measurable. Two things stick out for me when looking at Magic and Michael: 

     1. The discrepancy in their ages/eras
     2. They played different positions/roles

By the time Michael made his first NBA finals appearance, Magic was a 10 year veteran with five championships and three MVP awards. Sure they went head to head a few times in the regular season, but unlike Magic versus Bird or Russell versus Wilt, there isn’t a lot of head to head to go by. It can also be argued that Magic played against much tougher competition in a pre-expansion NBA. The quality of teams he went up against, whether it’s his arch nemesis Celtics or the Pistons, Sixers or Rockets, were of a higher standard than the diluted 90’s league post Magic and Bird.

More important though, IMHO, is the fact that they played two very different roles for their respective teams. As a point guard Magic’s primary role was as both a creator and facilitator on offense – and he was arguably the greatest ever in this capacity. Whilst he had the ability to score from just about anywhere – driving the lane, posting up or shooting the three – his first priority was to ensure his teammates were involved in the game. As good as guys like Cooper, Scott and Worthy were I guarantee playing alongside Magic had a profound effect on how their careers are measured. And this is one of the great intangibles that cannot be calculated when you review Magic’s career. Put Worthy alongside a different point guard in that era and sure he would still have been an All-Star, but a Hall of Famer? There can be no conclusive answer, but I think it’s a valid question. How do you quantify the impact Magic had on his teammates? It can’t be done, but since basketball is a team sport, it’s a key point when evaluating how good a player is/was.

I’m not trying to build a case that Magic is better than Michael, I’m just trying to say (which Ryan did far better than I) that it’s a lot closer than people might think.

There is a range of advanced metrics that have been developed as part of player evaluation. PER, plus/minus and adjusted points per iso can keep a stats geek very excited on a lonely night. Whilst all of these are great (especially for the fans) a lot of them don’t account for the flow of the game - tactics, coaching ability, foul trouble, teammates and a range of other immeasurable that make up team sports.

If a player has been saddled with 5 fouls and the coach keeps him on the floor, more than likely he’ll play softer D so he doesn’t get fouled out. The stats will paint a certain picture but it doesn’t make him a poor defender. If your guards can’t stay in front of their man and you’re constantly challenging shots and getting called for fouls it doesn’t necessarily make you foul prone. If a starter is stuck with his bench warmers and the team is getting blown out his plus minus goes down. If you put Kevin Love and Dwight Howard on the same team its likely no-one else is going to get a board. Doesn’t make you a bad rebounder. If you’re the only guy capable of dribbling and hitting a shot and you’re playing with four Ben Wallace prototypes its more than likely you’ll put up 30 plus per game. You’re not the next Kevin Durant though.

There are so many facets to the game that aren’t visible when number crunching. So when you’re comparing Magic versus Michael, it’s important to look past just the stats and to read the story of their respective games.

Magic revolutionized basketball. He made it possible for big men to be considered point guards. He had the genuine capacity to play five positions on offense. He made his teammates immeasurably better, and played in an era when the league was far more competitive. Whilst he wasn’t a great on ball defender, his immensely high bball IQ (now how do you evaluate that!!!) made him an excellent team defender. He had genuine crunch time cojones and was, by all accounts, as obsessive about winning as Michael, Bird and Russell. Five rings are testimony to that.

Michael will still be the popular pick, and it’s probably the right one. But if you know anything about team sports, it’s not a home run by any stretch on the imagination.