By The Mug Punter
It's the one we've all been waiting for.
All the controversy and drama is in the rear view mirror and it's Everest Day at Royal Randwick.
The Mug Punter brings his best and brightest tips to The Pioneer Australia once again.
Track: Heavy 9
Bias: Inside the track will play
The Mug doesn't like betting on any two-year-old race at this time of year but he does like the look of #9 Anaheed which is very good trail on the heavy track. The Mug's suggesting three units on #9 Anaheed.
Race two is an absolute highway race and The Mug is steering clear.
The Mug Punter is a very big fan of #6 Unguarded which showed out a good run last start and comes from a very good stable. He also likes #1 Cristobal which also put out a good run last start and likes a wet track. The Mug's going for four units on #6 and two units on #1 with a two-unit Quinella on #1-#6.
The Mug reckons #9 Kaonic could be the best bet of the day. He's backed it every start and he's in front. Kaonic is great on a wet track and The Mug loves it for today. Ten units on #9 Kaonic.
#3 After All That
#1 The Monstar
The Mug's not a fan of this race but does like two horses, #1 The Monstar and #3 After All That. He's taking two units on #3 and two units on #1 with a three-unit Quinella on #3-#1.
#3 Jungle Edge
The Mug's calling this horse the best wet-track horse in the whole world and that says something. He loves #3 Jungle Edge in a big way and will be riding it home hard. Five units on #3 Jungle Edge. The Mug also likes two units on #9 Tactical Advantage and a four-unit Quinella on #3-#9.
The big one, The Everest.
The Mug's giving out no tips on this one as anything can win, but make sure you check out his Facebook page 'The Mug Punter' for his MYM on The Everest.
#12 Egg Tart
What can The Mug say about this one? Just get on this one, #12 Egg Tart. He loves the wet track and loves the 2000m run. Throw seven units on #12 Egg Tart.
Steer clear of this one, there's nothing worth investing in.
The Mug's tips for the last of the day are pretty soft. Have something small on #1 Bryan and #2 Revenire to win or even each-way.
Best bets, best value and a quick look at Caulfield
Race One - #9 Anaheed
Race Three - #6 Unguarded
Race Six - #3 Jungle Edge
Value of the day
Race Five - #3 After All That
Moral of the day
Race Four - #9 Kaonic
Race Two - #1 Comicas
Race Six - #2 Fiesta
Race Seven - #10 Noire
Race Eight - #5 The Cliffsofmoher
Race Nine - #1 The Autumn Sun
Race Ten - #8 Brimham Rocks
Good luck and good punting!
The Mug Punter
By Daniel Lang - Managing Director
Latest confirmed transfers
Cowboys snare Dragons winger
The North Queensland Cowboys have confirmed the signature of former St George Illawarra Dragons winger Nene MacDonald, adding significant firepower to their backline.
Not long after the club captured former Bulldogs, Broncos and Sharks fullback Ben Barba from UK Super League club St Helens on a one-year deal.
Papua New Guinea star MacDonald joins the club on a three-year deal and adds a much-needed extra body to a Cowboys side undergoing a significant off-season transformation.
Panthers re-sign young forward
The Penrith Panthers have continued to lock-down key personnel with the announcement young prop forward Moses Leota has signed a three-year extension at the club, keeping him at the foot of the mountains until the end of the 2022 season.
23-year-old Leota was already under contract for the 2019 season, but the extension sees him remain as one of the core nucleus of young forwards alongside Viliame Kikau and New South Wales representative prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
Touted as one of the "hardest working"players at the club by Executive General Manager Phil Gould, news of extending Leota's deal has been received well by the Penrith faithful.
Melbourne farewell a number of players
The Melbourne Storm have confirmed the departure of a number of players at their end of season awards night.
Veteran club legends Ryan Hoffman and Billy Slater have both ended their careers and were paid heavy tributes by the club while forward Tim Glasby will depart the club to take up a three-year deal with the Newcastle Knights.
Alongside Glasby, Slater and Hoffman, the club also announced Louis Geraghty and Lachlan Timm would not be back with the club in 2019.
Tigers add Roosters youngster
The Wests Tigers have confirmed the capture of 22-year-old centre Paul Momirovski from the 2018 premiers Sydney Roosters.
Momirovski joins the battling Tigers on a two-year deal through to the end of the 2020 campaign and adds further depth to a backline boasting a handful of unique talents.
The youngster managed one game for the Roosters in 2018, scoring a try during the Chook's 20-12 win over the Titans.
With on-going concerns over the future of Tigers coach Ivan Cleary, bringing in a handy player like Momirovski will be some rare good news for the western suburbs club.
Penrith confirm departures
The Penrith Panthers have used the club's 2018 Merv Cartwright Medal night to confirm the departure of a number of high-profile players.
Supremo Phil Gould was visibly emotional as he confirmed Tyrone Peachey, Corey Harawira-Naera, Christian Crichton and Maika Sivo would depart the club for greener pastures in 2019 while Peter Wallace and Tim Browne were both given fond farewells as they brought the curtains down on their careers.
Decorated club captain Peter Wallace will remain as part of the coaching staff, as will Browne who's career ended prematurely due to a bowel injury.
Penrith also confirmed Corey Waddell and Soni Luke would not be with the club next season.
Dragons players on the way out
The St George Illawarra Dragons have confirmed a number of off-season departures from the club, including the high-profile retirement of long-time winger Jason Nightingale.
The Dragons confirmed Leeson Ah Mau will leave the club to take up a deal with the New Zealand Warriors, the club where he made his debut back in 2009, while Patrick Herbet, Hame Sele and Reuben Garrick will not be returning to the Red V in 2019.
New Zealand international Nightingale has drawn the curtains on a long career at the highest level, finishing his 12-year career as a one-club player with the Dragons.
The depatures, along with the move of Nene MacDonald to North Queensland has allowed the club to bring in Mikaele Ravalawa, Jonus Pearson and Jason Saab.
By Daniel Lang - Managing Director
While the Melbourne Cup has always been thought of as the 'race that stops the nation,' for those who prefer horsepower to horses, the Bathurst 1000 at the picturesque Mount Panorama circuit is truly the greatest race in the country.
In early October every year, hundreds of thousands of fans flock to the historic track, many camping through the wind, rain, sunshine and sometimes hail that ensures the Central West town cops all four seasons across a weekend.
The big race is on again this weekend, and with that in mind, we'll take a look at those expected to be fighting it out for the Peter Brock Trophy at the end of a grueling 1000km event on Sunday.
Car #1 - Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell (Red Bull Holden Racing Team)
Picture credit: Supercars
One of the more experienced duos in the field in 2018, defending Supercars champion Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell rank amongst the favourites to claim victory in this year's Bathurst 1000.
Whincup, a seven-time series champion and four-time Bathurst winner has had his fair share of bad luck over the last few years at the famous circuit, but he was faultless as the pair rode to victory in the Sandown 500 two weeks ago and they have been right on the pace in a tricky week so far.
Having taken provisional pole in Friday's qualifying session with a blistering lap, Whincup is the favourite to claim pole in Saturday evening's Top 10 shoot-out and looms as a key contender for the Peter Brock Trophy on Sunday.
Dumbrell, a former series regular, is one the best co-drivers in the field and his experience and pace will act as the perfect foil for Whincup and should ensure the #1 car will be at the pointy end of proceedings throughout each session and the race.
My tip: Winners
Car #17 - Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat (DJR Team Penske)
Picture credit: Fox Sports Australia
The man who set the all-time lap record at Mount Panorama in 2017, Scott McLaughlin returns to the famous Bathurst circuit with a point to prove.
Much like Jamie Whincup so far this year, McLaughlin set the pace and was amongst the best cars in every session last year before his blistering lap in last year's Top 10 shoot-out, lifting expectations higher and higher each time he or Frenchman Premat stepped out onto the circuit.
Then, in a perfect ode to the cruelty of the Mountain itself, the pair failed to finish the race as car #17 sputtered to a halt with Premat behind the wheel. For the Frenchman, it mean being temporarily stuck on top of the Mountain, for McLaughlin it meant much more.
The Bathurst DNF ultimately played a major role in the championship fight as McLaughlin surrendered his season-long lead on the final day and for any success this year, he'll need to overcome some serious demons.
My tip: Top five
Car #97 - Shane van Gisbergen and Earl Bamber (Red Bull Holden Racing Team)
Picture credit: Red Bull
The current series leader, no one comes to Bathurst with more form on the board than Shane van Gisbergen.
Paired with Kiwi Earl Bamber, van Gisbergen will once again be amongst the top-end contenders on the Mountain in 2018 as he and the Red Bull Holden Racing Team chase a return to the ultimate summit.
Bamber comes with a strong touring car pedigree and has barely put a foot wrong so far in Australia, putting in a solid shift as he and van Gisbergen brought home car #97 in second place at the Sandown 500.
The main man, Shane van Gisbergen has never won the Bathurst 1000 and 2018 could be his very best chance at getting the last monkey off his back.
My tip: Top five
Car #9 - David Reynolds and Luke Youlden (Erebus Penrite Racing)
Picture credit: David Reynolds
One of the genuine characters in the field, David Reynolds managed to stun the world alongside Luke Youlden as Penrite Erebus Racing pulled off an unthinkable race win in the 2017 Bathurst 1000.
It would be madness to rule out the defending champions, but with the pedigree and bank balances of the Red Bull Holden Racing Team and DJR Team Penske in front of them, it would need to be another case of keeping their noses clean and being in the right place at the right time rather than outright dominance across the whole weekend.
My tip: Top ten
Car #12 - Fabian Coulthard and Tony D'Alberto (DJR Team Penske)
Picture credit: Driven
The stablemate of race favourite Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat, Car #12 of Fabian Coulthard and Tony D'Alberto has not featured right near the pointy end much so far across the weekend but if things fell their way on Sunday, they have the experience to take advantage.
Coulthard has slipped behind McLaughlin as the lead driver at DJR Team Penske, but being the first of the pair to grab a Bathurst 1000 win would go a long way to restoring parity between the two.
Like the Reynolds/Youlden entry, there's no expectation that Coulthard and D'Alberto will be at the front of the pack all Sunday, but if they're in the mix at the backend, they could strike.
My tip: Outside the top 10
Car #25 - James Courtney and Jack Perkins (Mobil 1 Boost Mobile Racing)
Picture credit: Mobil 1 Boost Mobile Racing
It has been a tough transition for the former Holden Racing Team outfit as they've moved to a new ownership structure under Walkinshaw Andretti United but the veteran former champion has been impressive so far this week.
Courtney and Jack Perkins have been together for some time now and come to the Mountain as a comfortable, experienced pairing capable of chalking up a top five finish should things fall their way throughout a long, long race on Sunday.
Like most outfits in the field, the WAU boys will be looking enviously at the setups rolled out by Red Bull and DJR, but they are more than capable of throwing a few punches of their own.
My tip: Ninth
Car #888 - Craig Lowndes and Steven Richards ( Autobarn Lowndes Racing)
Picture credit: Supercars
When fan-favourite Craig Lowndes confirmed 2018 would be his last season as a full-time driver, there was the expected outpouring of emotion.
That raw feeling should be well and truly on show this weekend as the seven-time Bathurst winner takes to the Mountain for one last crack at the Bathurst 1000.
Alongside long-time co-driver Steve Richards, Lowndesy has had his share of in-car gremlins over the week leading into Sunday's race, but with their canny ability to steer around avoiding trouble and a top ten starting spot, it would take an idiot to discount Car #888 as we draw close to the end of another 1000kms on Sunday evening.
My tip: Top ten
Car #33 - Garth Tander and Chris Pither (Wilson Security Racing)
Picture credit: Supercars
The Great thing about the Bathurst 1000 is that pretty much any car in the field could end up at the pointy end as we draw down to the end of a 1000km marathon on late Sunday evening.
With that in mind, I can't discount a wily veteran like Garth Tander.
A three-time winner here in his previous stint with Garry Rogers Motorsport and the factory-backed Holden Racing Team, Tander's return to the GRM fold has been tough for the lanky West Aussie but it's races like the big enduro at Bathurst that bring out the best in him.
Paired with the solid Chris Pither, Car #33 could be well in the mix this weekend.
My tip: Top ten
Car #55 - Chaz Mostert and James Moffatt (Supercheap Auto Racing)
Picture credit: Chaz Mostert
Another former winner of the great race, Chaz Mostert only narrowly missed out on the Top Ten shoot-out and will likely have a pretty handy race car come Sunday.
The former Ford Performance Racing mob at Tickford have struggled mightily in 2018 but have looked pacey in the wet so far this week and will back themselves to be on the pass when the flag drops on the big race.
Mostert is a brave and handy steerer and backed by James Moffatt, it would be a foolish move to completely discount Car #55.
My tip: Top ten
By: The Mug Punter
As we get set for a mammoth day of racing at Randwick on the back of a wet and wild week in Sydney, The Pioneer Australia is happy to confirm we have partnered with The Mug Punter to bring you a detailed look at a big day of racing.
With Thursday and Friday's big precipitation numbers, the form has been done for a heavy track.
Track: Heavy 9
Rail: 6m 1600m - W/P, True Remainder
Bias: RAND = 6m with strong home-run tailwind, wide running no advantage
Form: Heavy track
#3 Yulong January
#1 Royal Celebration
These are my two bets in race one. The Mug suggests three units on #3 and one unit on #1 and a quinella (#3-#1) for five units.
The Mug will be steering clear of any bets in race two. Not a fan of the high way races.
This is the only runner the Mug likes in this race so he suggests two units each-way as it comes in with very good wet track form.
#3 Just Dreaming
#4 Magic Alibi
The Mug suggests three units for the win on #7 Insensata, two units on #3 Just Dreaming and one unit on #4 Magic Alibi with a Trifecta (#7-#3-#4) for $6 (100%).
#13 Data Point
The Mug is feeling bullish on this one as #13 Data Point loves the wet and he's a big fan of Michael Kent. He suggests six units for the win on #13 Data Point and two units on #9 Zourkhan. Additionally, the Mug likes five units on the Quinella (#13-#9).
The Mug likes two units each-way on #2 Aylmerton, three units for the win on #3 Jonker and one unit each-way on #8 Spain with a $6 (100%) Trifecta on #3-#2-#8.
#1 Thinkin' Big
#6 Mickey Blue Eyes
The Mug has opted for five units for the win on #1 Thinkin' Big, one unit each-way on #5 Dealmaker and one unit each-way on #6 Micky Blue Eyes with a $6 (100%) Trifecta on #1-#6-#5.
#5 I Am Serious
This one is The Mug's Moral of the Day. He's loading up 10 units on #5 I Am Serious for the win. This is a quality horse and it genuinely loves running in the wet.
#4 Za Zi Ba
The Mug likes four units on #5 Warranty for the win, three units for the win on Za Zi Ba and five units on the Quinella (#5-#4) in this one.
Best bets, best value and a quick look at Flemington
Race One - #3 Yulong January
Race Four - #7 Insensata
Race Five - #13 Data Point
Race Three - #2 Cosmologist
Moral of the Day
Race Eight - #5 I Am Serious
There is no stand-out Quaddie in today's selections.
Race Six - #3 Perast
Race Seven - #1 Avllius
Race Nine - #3 Invincibella
Good luck and good punting!
The Mug Punter
Make sure you check out The Mug Punter's Facebook page for all his news, information and up to the minute tips.
By Daniel Lang - Managing Director
With the 2018 NRL season in the rearview mirror, the Sydney Roosters off celebrating a much-deserved Grand Final triumph and 15 other sides plotting how they're going to bring them down and win it themselves next season, it's worth casting our eye over which high-profile stars remain un-contracted for next season.
It's probably fair to suggest that had things panned out a little differently on the last Sunday of the season, we may have been here memorializing the fine career of Cameron Smith.
But with Grand Final defeat fresh in the memory, Smith looks likely to play on in 2019 and while I can't imagine he'll do so anywhere but in Melbourne, it does remain interesting that he and the club have yet to come to terms on a new deal.
Both Smith and the Storm have publicly confirmed they want their incredibly successful partnership to continue, but until a contract is signed, speculation will continue to grow about a possible swansong move away in a similar move to former long-time friend Cooper Cronk.
I'd suggest it's still more likely Smith will be in a Storm jersey come 2019, but there is a growing school of thought he might wind up finishing his career back in Brisbane, where he started out as a youngster with Norths Devils.
Tevita Pangai Junior
Perhaps one of the most exciting young forwards in the game, Brisbane will be desperate to lock down Tevita Pangai Junior for a lengthy period but as things stand, he's still on the market.
After an acrimonious split with his former management team, Pangai Junior can't officially sign a new contract until November and has previously stated he has no interest in leaving Brisbane but with the ongoing issue between club bosses and coach Wayne Bennett yet to play out, nothing is set in stone just yet.
Bennett won't be at the club in 2020, but should he leave early, Pangai Junior, who is fiercely loyal to his coach, may opt to follow the veteran mentor elsewhere.
Much like Cameron Smith, most expect tevita Pangai Junior will be staying put in 2019 and beyond.
Sutton, a long-time club legend at Redfern, turned back the clock and put together a fine season in 2018 but as things stand, he is off-contract and looking for a new gig next season.
Having passed the 300 game milestone for the club this year, the veteran back-rower is keen to play out another season for the Rabbitohs, but he's yet to come to terms on a new deal with the club which gave him his start way back in 2004.
Coach Anthony Seibold has publicly stated he's keen to bring Sutton back for 2019, so this one appears another formality on the face of it, but until the deal is done, speculation will continue to mount.
Despite his strong resurgence last season, it's unlikely many other clubs would be interested in luring Sutton away from Redfern, even on a one-year deal.
Despite suggestions the Queensland representative winger remains keen on a controversial switch to the back-row, Corey Oates appears to be highly in demand and could be one of the few high-profile off-contract stars who could yet switch clubs for the 2019 season.
There is plenty of interest in Oates around the league, with the Bulldogs reportedly deep in negotiations with Oates' management team, but his asking price appears to be a stumbling block to a deal being sort out in the short-term.
Corey Oates has been one of Brisbane's best over the last few seasons and looms as a highly attractive marquee recruit for a number of clubs around the league.
Will the 'Hayne Plane' take flight again in 2019?
The veteran back is a highly controversial and divisive figure in rugby league circles and would probably not have any other clubs interested in his services for next season should he and the Parramatta Eels not come to terms on an extension of the one-year deal he took to return to the club after an ill-fated spell with the Gold Coast Titans.
While Hayne is yet to go on the record with his plans for next season, there is a school of thought that he may decide to take another crack at making it big in Fijian rugby.
One of the younger brothers of former representative star Michael Jennings, Robert Jennings came of age at South Sydney in 2018 and you'd have to expect the club are keen to keep him around at Redfern over the next couple of years.
Jennings bagged 19 tries this year as the finisher on a dangerous South Sydney backline and looked to have come to grips with club footy at the highest level.
For his part, it's safe to assume Jennings will want to continue working with coach Anthony Seibold and there appears no real reason the club would want to part company with him at this stage. Another one where a deal seems likely before too long.
By Daniel Lang - Managing Director
Her first tilt at an NRLW Grand Final may have ended in heartbreak as the Brisbane Broncos, the form side of the inaugural competition ran riot, but the last effects of Taleena Simon's story will speak many volumes for those who witnessed history in the making.
Having grown up kicking around a battered Steeden around Redfern's famous Indigenous housing complex 'The Block,' Simon has always been a natural with a ball in her hands or at her feet, but it will be her choices and path that stand out as a shining example to many young kids facing the same challenges early in life.
Simon doesn't shy away from her roots, she's on the record as saying she "loved her Redfern childhood," but given the environment and choices of so many before her and as many after her, it's telling that Taleena Simon could sit through the temptations of drugs and alcohol or a life of crime, take a long, hard look at the ultimate devastation they cause and rise above.
It's a cliche around the world, often wheeled out when a young Brazilian soccer star rises from the favelas to play for the Selecao or a young kid from inner Los Angeles makes it to the NBA, but choosing sport, dedicating her life to being fit and active will have played a huge role in Taleena Simon's life.
Rugby league was Simon's way out of a life that could have ended up down the same path as many others, just another sad statistic.
"There was a lot of drugs, alcohol around The Block when I was growing up, but I jest kept my focus on footy... some of my family and friends were affected by drugs and alchol," she told The Daily Telegraph's Jessica Halloran.
"I didn't want to be like that. Just seeing them like that made me stay away from it."
Discipline and drive pushed Taleena Simon from a rough life on The Block to the Koori Knockout tournament where she saw women playing the game she loved for the first time.
She was hooked.
Fast-forward to Sunday's epic Grand Final day and a good crowd settling in early at Sydney's ANZ Stadium.
Melbourne Storm skipper Cameron Smith would later call the same crowd disrespectful for their treatment of the retiring Billy Slater, but as the NRLW Grand Final kicked off the day's proceedings, it's worth noting the inspiration in the eyes of so many young boys and girls who were watching the very best the women's game has to offer in this country,
Women's sport in general has taken huge leaps forward in Australia over the last two years and Taleena Simon is yet another face of the game finally earning the recognition and respect she deserves.
It ended in defeat, it ended without the spoils of triumph, but for Taleena Simon as with the many other women on the park on Sunday afternoon, the inaugural NRLW Grand Final was a complete success from start to finish.
Did you watch the NRLW Grand Final? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
By Daniel Lang - Managing Director
The 2018 NRL Grand Final will be held at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium. The former Olympic venue has been the host of the big game since 1999 when it took over from the Sydney Football Stadium.
The contest is slated to kick off at 7.20pm, but as anyone who has ever watched a high-profile game of rugby league can attest, actual kick off could be anywhere between then and midnight. My money is on the ball leaving the kicking tee at around 7.28pm, however.
This year’s decider brings together the two best sides throughout the regular season. The Sydney Roosters finished the home and away portion of the campaign on top of the ladder with 34 points and a points differential of +181.
Melbourne also finished on 34 points courtesy of 16 wins and a bye, but fell behind the Roosters after a last round loss to the Panthers dipped their for and against to +173.
Both sides have managed to peak and hit their best form right at the business end of the season and have glided through the finals campaign undefeated but with both sides facing disruption and selection headaches over the coming week, preparations aren’t ideal on either side of the fence.
For the Roosters, the fitness of star halfback Cooper Cronk looms as the biggest concern over the next few days. Cronk finished last week’s win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs with a ‘severe rotator cuff injury’ and remains in serious doubt of taking the field this Sunday afternoon.
Given his direct importance to Sydney’s attacking structures and creativity, coach Trent Robinson will be sweating on Cronk’s fitness right up until the last minute.
Across the border and into Melbourne and the Storm have their own selection hang-ups this week.
Melbourne’s issues are not injury related but a trip to the judiciary for star fullback Billy Slater will hold the attention of fans and neutrals everywhere in the lead up to the big dance.
Melbourne Storm: 1. Billy Slater, 2. Suliasi Vunivalu, 3. Will Chambers, 4. Curtis Scott, 5. Josh Addo-Carr, 6. Cameron Munster, 7. Brodie Croft, 8. Jesse Bromwich, 9. Cameron Smith, 10. Tim Glasby, 11. Felise Kaufusi, 12. Joe Stimson, 13. Dale Finucane, 14. Kenny Bromwich, 15. Christian Welch, 16. Brandon Smith, 17. Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 18. Ryan Hoffman, 19. Jahrome Hughes, 20. Sam Kasiano, 21. Cheyse Blair, Coach: Craig Bellamy.
Sydney Roosters: 1. James Tedesco, 2. Daniel Tupou, 3. Latrell Mitchell, 4. Joseph Manu, 5. Blake Ferguson, 6. Luke Keary, 7. Mitchell Aubusson, 8. Jared Warea-Hargreaves, 9. Jake Friend, 10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho, 11. Boyd Cordner, 12. Isaac Liu, 13. Victor Radley, 14. Dylan Napa, 15. Zane Tetevano, 16. Paul Momirovski, 17. Ryan Matterson, 18. Lindsay Collins, 19. Nat Butcher, 20. Sean O'Sullivan, 23. Cooper Cronk, Coach: Trent Robinson.
While I’ve already spoken in some depth about the battle between centres Will Chambers and Latrell Mitchell, it is worth noting once again how important their contest will be to the overall Grand Final in 2018.
Both star representative centres at the peak of their powers, we get the chance to see young firebrand Latrell Mitchell look to put another one over the current Queensland and Australia centre Will Chambers who is amongst the consensus best centres in the game.
Mitchell and Chambers aside, the contest between the two hookers also poses an interesting side note to this one.
Melbourne probably hold the edge here given the wealth of experience and crafty guile of Cameron Smith, but with Jake Friend clear to play after some discipline concerns of his own, the Roosters will be very happy to see their dummy-half on deck.
Friend gets through a mountain of work defensively and his smooth transitional play with the ball in hand helps build the sort of platform that Cooper Cronk, Luke Keary and James Tedesco have played off all season. Friend’s importance will be magnified if Cronk is unable to take the field.
Sydney’s defence is one of the very best units in the competition and they’ll back themselves to restrict a gritty but unspectacular Melbourne attack.
Despite boasting the likes of Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr, the Storm still find themselves grinding teams down and winning on the back of the wrestle through the middle more often than not so expect the likes of Dylan Napa, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Victor Radley to play key roles in locking down the middle third of the field.
In stark contrast, the Roosters need more out of their attacking weapons. While they were able to overcome South Sydney last week, they only managed 12 points in the process and their attack looked borderline clunky for large stretches, which will concern Trent Robinson.
Obviously plenty will hinge on the availability of Cooper Cronk, but if he’s unavailable, the weight of pressure on Luke Keary and James Tedesco will either make or break two very gifted players.
Fullback Tedesco left the Tigers to play on the biggest stage and win trophies, so he’ll need to lift if he is to realise that dream in 2018.
Despite leaving the club next season, winger Blake Ferguson also looms as a key figure in this one. The winger has averaged nearly 200 run metres per game this season and kick-started many attacking sets with his strong kick returns and general ball-running.
Prone to the occasional error, however, Ferguson will need to be near perfect on Sunday evening.
Despite Billy Slater’s looming battle with the NRL judiciary, Melbourne somehow manage to come into this contest the more settled of the two sides.
Craig Bellamy’s troops are as clinical and professional as ever and they’ll be up for the grind of another tight contest on Sunday night.
While Slater’s availability will be a crucial sidenote for the Storm after he was charged for a shoulder charge on Cronulla winger Sosaia Feki in the Storm’s preliminary finals win, the rest of the unit is fairly settled and look to be coming into this one with a ‘business as usual’ frame of mind.
Prop Tim Glasby has been cleared of a rib injury and will be on deck to help Melbourne win the battle through the middle of the ruck against the Chook’s big boppers. The Grand Final will be Glasby’s last as a Storm player before moving north to link up with the Newcastle Knights in 2019.
Melbourne were clinical and ruthless as they dispatched Cronulla last week but the performance and importance of Billy Slater could be seen as an added concern if he’s ruled out this weekend.
For the Storm, the control and dominance of Cameron Munster also looms as a huge key to how they approach Sunday’s Grand Final. Interestingly, Munster made his name filling in for Billy Slater at fullback a couple of years ago but has boomed in recent seasons, earning Queensland and Australia representative jerseys and positioning himself as a marquee superstar.
The big day
These two sides only met once this season, with the Storm coming away with a narrow 9-8 victory courtesy of a field goal from veteran rake Cameron Smith and it’s fair to expect a similarly tight contest this time around.
Grand Finals are notoriously tense and hard-fought at the best of times, but with two sides evenly matched and both facing disrupted preparations, this one could go right down to the wire.
At the risk of sitting on the fence or upsetting one bandwagon over the other, I'll tip a tight contest that could well even enter extra time to decide a winner. Melbourne by 1 point.
By Ahmad Khawaja
Credit: Powershots Photography
The Big Picture
The indoor cricket calendar is winding up as the biggest tournament of the year hits the shores of New Zealand this week. The World Indoor Cricket Federation (WICF) Junior World Series of Indoor Cricket is taking place in Christchurch from Saturday as the city plays host to four other countries vying for the title of Junior World Champions in their respective grades.
The triennial event was last held in Brisbane, Australia in 2015 where Australia performed a clean sweep of all the grades. Unsurprisingly, they have been the dominant side in previous editions of the tournament, similar to their senior teams. New Zealand and South Africa have also been victorious previously.
This time around teams from South Africa, England, Australia and Singapore are travelling over to join the hosts and a New Zealand A side (tournament hosts may enter a second development side into a WICF international tournament). They will compete in grades featuring the 13 & Under Boys, 15 & Under Boys, 17 & Under Boys and 17 & Under Girls' teams.
The tournament kicks off on Saturday 29 September and will be held at the Action Indoor Sports Stadium Hornby, regarded as one of the premier indoor sports facilities in New Zealand. The opening ceremony begins at 4pm and then it will be straight into the action with the first matches taking at 6pm that evening, and the finals being held the following Saturday 6 October.
The fixture schedule has been released and is available on the Indoor Cricket New Zealand (ICNZ) website (https://indoorcricketnz.org.nz). Daily updates and reporting will also be available on the website and partner site The Pioneer Australia (https://thepioneerau.weebly.com). Streaming of matches in the final three days will also be available to watch through streaming partner BLive and will be shown on Facebook through the World Indoor Cricket Federation, Indoor Cricket New Zealand (ICNZ) and Indoor Cricket Canterbury Facebook pages. Those details will also be available later this week.
Bringing Junior Indoor Cricket into the spotlight
Credit: New Zealand Cricket
Christchurch played host to the New Zealand Junior Provincial Championships back in July which was a great success as an unprecedented 28 teams entered the competition, making it the largest Junior Provincial Championships hosted in New Zealand. Australia's junior programme continues to move from strength to strength with their National Junior Championships continuing to bring out some exciting new talent. This year they had two sides from Singapore come over to compete in the 13 & Under Boys and 17 & Under Boys' divisions respectively, which added another layer to development at the world junior level.
Tournament director and ICNZ Cricket Executive Mark Cini is looking forward to the event and the hosting of a successful tournament. “It’s going to be huge. Including teams, officials, parents and spectators, we are expecting upwards of 1,000 people to be present for the event, which is massive in context, especially coming off a successful Club Nationals tournament here just two weeks ago”, said Cini. “We are 24 hours off the first lot of teams arriving. From what I have heard all trainings have gone well and there will be practice sessions this week before the tournament starts. All information has been rolled out to the sides and the facilities are ready. We are just working on final preparations now”.
Cini was also excited at the prospect of showcasing Christchurch and the Canterbury region to visiting teams, and recognised the work done by local businesses to support the event. “Firstly, the WICF should be applauded for awarding the event to New Zealand. From a city point of view, it gives us the opportunity to host a world event and showcase New Zealand and Christchurch, providing hospitality to the visiting countries”, said Cini. He continued “we’ve had great support from the Christchurch City Council, and other local businesses which will offer attractions to teams (there will be a rest day on Wednesday 3 October) and we are very grateful for that”.
Australia come in as favourites, but New Zealand ready for challenge
As expected, the Australians will arrive looking to assert themselves as the dominant force, just as they have in previous tournaments, but New Zealand will have the hometown support behind them. “We probably have stretched ourselves a bit with eight teams, but in saying that we have 80 quality players lined up across the grades. New Zealand have gone about their preparation quietly, and will really get into it once the practice games start. It works both ways – there is a bit of expectation playing at home, but at the same time they will have all the support behind them”, said Cini. “Team Black will certainly be ready to go come game time”. New Zealand will also be bolstered by having players who have played at world tournaments before, including 21 & Under representatives Ryan James, Saffron Wilson and Skye Bowden.
“Australia are the favourites for sure and come in with the reputation and quality in their sides. South Africa have equipped themselves very well and I think are a very underrated side. And it’s just great to see England especially come over. Whilst Singapore always commit to playing tournaments even though they are probably the least funded; that’s outstanding”, exclaimed Cini.
In any case, the tournament is shaping up to be an exciting one. There are a record number of children playing indoor cricket in New Zealand at the moment, and it’s an exciting time to be playing the sport. With the Junior World Series taking place this week, it’s another step forward for the development of Junior Indoor Cricket.
By Daniel Lang - Managing Director
They've locked horns at club and State of Origin level in spectacular fashion, but the 2018 Grand Final could provide the biggest and brightest stage yet for the ongoing battle between Storm veteran Will Chambers and Roosters superstar Latrell Mitchell.
Mitchell has been the revelation of the 2018 NRL season as the Rooster's best player in a star-studded lineup and he will take his place back in the side after a stint on the sideline suspended while Chambers, long regarded as one of the best centres in the game has vowed to win the personal battle that could go a long way to determining who finishes Sunday night with the Provan-Summons trophy.
The pair put on a spectacular show during a heated and tense State of Origin campaign, but with the Blues coming out on top and ending a three-year stretch of success by the Maroons, Latrell won the contest on a narrow points decision over Chambers, something the Queensland and Melbourne star will not have forgotten when he lines up across from the 21-year-old centre from Taree on Sunday night at ANZ Stadium.
It was clear to see throughout the Origin campaign that Chambers, a noted niggler who is happy to get stuck into the odd verbal stoush on-field did his best to unsettle his young opponent with his mouth as much as with the football in hand, but Mitchell rose to the occasion for Brad Fittler's Blues and was amongst their best in a 2-1 series win.
Mitchell missed last week's preliminary final win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs after he was suspended for a crusher tackle and while they were able to overcome the Bunnies in the end, it was clear the Chooks missed the x-factor that he brings to proceedings.
Will Chambers himself has spent time sitting on the sideline after suspension for crusher tackles, but it will be how the fiery pair face off on the hallowed ANZ Stadium turf that could go a long way to deciding how the Grand Final unfolds.
It's currently advantage Latrell, though that could change in the blink of an eye. Will Chambers is a highly capable star and he enters the contest part of a Melbourne juggernaut aiming to roll on while the Roosters sweat the availability of star halfback Cooper Cronk.