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Who is going to win the grand final? I told you already.
As a matter of fact, I told you straight after the decider last season, when I wrote: “All up, I am going to call it. Next year, the Panthers really are more at risk from hubris than Cronulla, Souths, the Cowboys and Parramatta. But if ever you saw a team well set up for a three-peat it is them. Penrith will win again in 2023.”
And I said the same early in this season, despite them losing to the Broncos in the first round, and even losing to – of all teams – Wests Tigers in April. Nothing I have seen since has changed that estimation. So let me three-peat in turn my prediction: Penrith will do it again.
They are too strong across the park and even when belting opposing teams, you always have the sense that they have another gear in them. I have watched a lot of their matches this year, as well as those of the Broncos. Brisbane’s best are indeed strong, particularly Reece Walsh, Kotoni Staggs and Payne Haas. But all up, the experience of the Panthers in the cauldron of a grand final, and their sheer class, will see them through.
No knock on comparing eras
Meantime, my SMH colleague Adrian Proszenko did an interesting yarn this week, chatting to the great Parramatta captain of the early 1980s, Steve Edge, about how the last three-peat team, which he captained – the Eels winning in 1981, 1982 and 1983 – might fare against the modern-day Penrith side.
“They would certainly give them a shake,” Edge said. “You only have to look at the back line: Peter Sterling, Brett Kenny, Eric Grothe, Steve Ella, Neil Hunt, Paul Taylor at the back – all great players in their right. The forward pack is equally as tough. Even Penrith would be happy to swap a few of the players.”
Peter Sterling, David Liddiard, Steve Edge and Steve Ella celebrate after the 1983 grand final with then-prime minister Bob Hawke.Credit: Fairfax Media
And yes, of course, comparing teams and players from different eras is fraught, but at least it generates great stories, which is what we are in the game for anyway. One of the best tellers of such stories – likely with lashings of apocrypha, but who cares – is former Australian fast bowler, Mike Whitney. See, back in the late 1980s, after a day’s play against the West Indies at Adelaide Oval where the late, great Dean Jones had been particularly stupendous with the bat, Whitney and Jones were sitting in the stands having a quiet beer, when who should pass by but Sir Donald Bradman himself.
Jones, being a particularly confident young man, leaps to his feet and warmly pumps Sir Donald’s hand, profuse in his exclamations of respect, profound in the expression of what an extraordinary honour it was to meet him.
“Tell me, Sir Donald,” Deano asked, “if you were still playing Test cricket today, what do you think your Test batting average would be?”
The way Whitney tells it, Our Don pauses almost 30 seconds before replying, obviously doing some serious mental calculations.
“Wellll,” he eventually said, in that wispy voice of his, “it’s very hard to say, but … I’d say I’d probably be around the 75-run mark …”
No sooner has Sir Donald come out with the figure of “75” than the inestimable Jones pumps up like a frill-necked lizard. As it happens, Jones is himself enjoying one of his best summers with the bat where he is averaging an incredible 65 in Test cricket, and it is almost too much to think that at that very moment he is within cooee of the finest batsman there ever was. Too much!
Jones is just letting the full glory of it all break upon him, when Sir Donald coughs, and adds a rider.
“Mind you,” he says ruminatively, “you have to remember I’m over 80 years old now …”
Campo’s criticism needs some structure
The fact that the Wallabies were shocking against Wales on Monday morning goes without saying. And yes, both Alan Jones and David Campese were scathing in their remarks.
I don’t disagree with their thrust, but only note that the track record of both men when it comes to the Wallabies since their own glory days, respectively as coach and genius, has been all but universally withering scorn. Jones was endlessly attacking Eddie Jones even back in 2003 when he took them all to the World Cup final. And Campo keeps endlessly carrying on about how Rugby Australia should give him a job to spread the good word on rugby, even when no one can remember the last positive word he said about anyone or anything.
Richie Arnold during the Wallabies’ loss to Wales at the World Cup.Credit: AP
Where I specifically disagree with my former teammate, though, is calling the Wallaby effort against Wales a “structured snorefest”. Seriously, Campo?
What was structured about it? To me, it looked like an upturned bowl of spaghetti meets the fall of Saigon – and that is the true mystery about it. I still have no clue how an Eddie Jones side could play with such a total lack of structure and cohesion, where no one seemed to have any clue what anyone else was doing and the most devastating winger in the game – Marika Koroibete – got the ball into his hands only enough to run for a total of NINE metres. Does that sound like a “structured snorefest” to you?
Alan Jones’ own criticism had no sense of them being overly structured, saying, “The players were aimless to the point of embarrassment. So whatever the so-called ‘gameplan’ was, it went out the window when they walked on the pitch.”
Whoever takes over from Eddie will have that as the first priority: restoring some structure, some cohesion, picking the same team several Tests in a row, with just the one captain.
LIV takes a hit from the top
Listen, I think in this space I might have mentioned, once or twice, the dual disgrace of Saudi Arabia dropping billions of dollars on LIV Golf as an exercise in “sportswashing” and the ludicrous denials of the likes of Greg Norman – even as they were filling their pockets with filthy lucre – that sportswashing was even a thing. Oh no, Greg, like Saudi Arabia, was just in it for the “game of golf”.
“No,” Greg said in November 2021, “I have not been used for sportswashing because I’ve been to Saudi Arabia, and I’ve seen the changes that have taken place.”
LIV golfer Bryson DeChambeau also ignored Saudi Arabia’s horrendous record on human rights as he filled his own pockets and called any connection between LIV and sportswashing “inaccurate”.
Tell ’em Bryson. “We talked about that last year and we already kind of kicked that to the curb,” he said. “It’s something that I truthfully believe is completely inaccurate. People have their opinions and their perspectives on it but we certainly don’t feel that way. We’re playing golf here.”
Even South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas denied the bleeding obvious earlier this year, when he insisted that: “LIV is not a representative of Saudi Arabia, LIV is a golf tournament. LIV Golf is here exclusively in its capacity, putting on a high-quality and elite golf tournament.”
Yes, folks, it was all just about the golf. Beheadings, what beheadings, officer? Mass torture? Not out on this golf course. Greg and I have seen no trace of any such thing. Spending billions on sport to put a shiny sheen on our shocking human rights record. Never heard of such a thing!
But here was Saudi Arabia crown prince Mohammed bin Salman – who allegedly ordered the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 – admitting on Fox News on Wednesday night what Norman et al so steadfastly denied: “If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by 1 per cent, then we’ll continue doing sportswashing. I don’t care [about the term]. I have 1 per cent growth in GDP from sport and I am aiming for another 1.5 per cent. Call it what you want – we are going to get that 1.5 per cent.” Game over.
What they said
New Zealand Warrior Addin Fonua-Blake wore such a lustrous black and gold shirt to the Dally Ms that he was asked if there was a Tongan influence behind the design, only to reply: “Tongan? It’s Versace.”
David Campese taking down old teammate Eddie Jones: “We cannot continue with a coach that thinks he’s bigger and more important than the guys that are trying to deliver. We cannot allow selections to be based upon compliance, we need people with balls to shape and own the game on the pitch, not to deliver an old man’s vision of archaic, bland rugby structures.” [See item.]
Rugby Australia chair Hamish McLennan ahead of the Wales match: “This is the Wallabies’ most important game since the Rugby World Cup final in 2015. For all the Wallaby detractors, don’t watch the game. I think King Charles will be barracking for Australia.”
Australian-born Irish player Mack Hansen after the World Cup win over South Africa: “It was like a Grand Slam on steroids out there. It was crazy.” It was. One of the most intense matches I have ever seen – and with a skill and cohesion level that the Wallabies did not even get close to.
Anthony Sharwood on Sam Newman’s call to boo the Welcome to Country before the AFL finals matches at the MCG and Gabba last weekend: “Didn’t hear a single boo, which shows that people think Sam Newman is a lot more offensive than Welcome to Country.”
Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots coach, in The New York Times on a Kansas City Chiefs star dating Taylor Swift: “Travis Kelce’s had a lot of big catches in his career — this would be the biggest.”
Ben Cousins, at the Brownlow, on his rehabilitation: “I feel alive again.”
Eddie Jones after the devastating loss to Wales: “I am 100 per cent committed to the Australian project. I came back to Australia to try and help but at the moment I am not giving much help, but that does not mean my commitment to helping has not changed. I am a proud Australian, I hate to see Australian rugby do as poorly as we have been doing, particularly during my reign.”
More Eddie: “I’m committed to coaching Australia. I really take umbrage that people are questioning my commitment to coaching Australia. To doubt my commitment to the job is a bit red hot.” Eddie, please. I have a message here from the Fair Dinkum Department: how can anyone not doubt your commitment when you are doing interviews with Japan for the top job?
Brisbane Lions co-captain Lachie Neale on winning another Brownlow: “It doesn’t sit well. I’m pretty rattled at the moment … I didn’t expect this.”
Broncos coach Kevin Walters on son Billy being in his side as the hooker: “If he does something well, I’ll really go out of my way to highlight it [during review], I’ll basically take the piss and be like, ‘I love you, Bill’. When he walks into the building, he’s ‘Billy the Broncos player’. When he’s at home, he’s my son. I trust myself to make the right decisions based on this club, not my family.”
Sonny Bill Williams on Tom Decent’s revelation that Eddie Jones, in the first year of a five-year contract with the Wallabies, had been interviewed by the Japanese rugby union just before the World Cup to be their national coach: “If I’m a player … I’m not following a guy that’s sitting having a meeting with another national team, potentially looking for another job days before you’re hopping on the plane to come to this World Cup.”
Team of the Week
Wallabies. May this last week ever after be regarded as the turning point, in Death Valley, the spot they came back from. The only high point in their disastrous 40-6 loss to Wales, was the extreme effort they put in. Everything else was terrible.
Penrith Panthers/Brisbane Broncos. The Panthers are in their fourth straight grand final and going for a third straight title. The Broncos are in their first grand final since they lost to Cowboys in golden point in 2015 and chasing their first title since 2006.
Brisbane. Can lay claim to being the sporting capital of Australia. Lions and Broncos in grand finals. Suncorp hosted the Matildas’ amazing World Cup quarter-final against France and the Maroons wrapping up Origin. And the Olympics are there in nine years.
Collingwood. Last year Collingwood missed out on the grand final by one point when they lost to the Swans; this year they extracted revenge by beating the Giants by one point.
Kalyn Ponga. Won the Dally M.
Jess Fox. Won a record 14th world title with gold in the K1 final world championships in London.
Titans and Newcastle. Meet in the NRLW grand final on Sunday.
Oscar Piastri. The Australian Formula One driver made it onto the podium for the first time, with his third-place finish in Japan.
Cricket World Cup. Begins this Thursday, I think, in India? Not sure, but I think it might be the one-day format. It is seriously hard to keep track. And I think our blokes have been playing somewhere recently and getting dusted?
Watch the NRL Grand Final Exclusive Live and Free on Channel 9 and 9Now.
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