Our spies have a scoop on Jarryd Hayne and Willie Tonga ahead of Parramatta's clash with the Warriors, which will feature two Kiwi coaching rivals.
COACH v COACH: Parramatta mentor Stephen Kearney and his Warriors counterpart Brian McClennan will be in close contact this year, with the former keen to chase up fitness and injury updates in regards to his New Zealand Test players, but all chivalry will be temporarily put on hold when the duo go head to head for the first time on Monday night.
McClennan, of course, is still looking for his first win as an NRL coach while Kearney is desperate to break his 2012 duck following the disappointments of last season and an opening round loss to Brisbane a week ago.
“It will be a real challenge for both of us in that sense,” Kearney told NRL.com this week. “I know myself, I’m really looking forward to us performing well and ‘Bluey’ (McClennan) will be keen to get his first win as well
“Having said that, I’m not so worried about the Warriors. My concern is with what we need to achieve throughout the match. I feel that if we can do that we will give ourselves a great opportunity. This year we have some players in there that can really do some damage in attack but we need to focus on what we need to do.”
McClennan was actually assistant Under-16s coach at the Warriors while Kearney was playing for the first grade side in 1995 before McClennan moved on to coach Bartercard Cup sides Hibiscus Coast and Mt Albert. Kearney left for Melbourne in 1999.
Ironically, their paths never crossed in a professional sense but their coaching careers do have some synergy with Kearney taking over from McClennan as Kiwi national coach in 2008. They are the only two New Zealand coaches in recent times to have enjoyed series wins over Australia, with McLennan snapping a 27-year hoodoo by winning the 2005 Tri Nations and Kearney going on to win the 2008 World Cup and 2010 Four Nations.
“Unfortunately I never got to play under ‘Bluey’ but it’s a small rugby league community in New Zealand so we cross paths on regular occasions,” Kearney said. “I know him fairly well and I think he’ll do well at the Warriors.”
Kearney said he was hopeful of a far superior display by his Parramatta side this week after they struggled to make inroads against Brisbane in an 18-6 loss last Friday night.
“Our defence held up really well on our tryline in the first half but we were a little disjointed at times. We lost one of our halves (Ben Roberts came off injured late in the first half) and we were missing some key players in Jarryd (Hayne) and Willie (Tonga), so it was a little difficult to get a gauge,” he said.
The Eels haven’t lost consecutive home games to start the season in 54 years.
DOUBLE BOOST: On the topic of Parramatta, our spies within the Eels camp report that both Jarryd Hayne (knee) and Willie Tonga (hamstring) are “extremely likely” to take their places against the Warriors on Monday night. Hayne was close to playing last week and even completed a late run on the treadmill before erring on the side of caution. The nine-day break ahead of this week’s clash has worked in his favour. Tonga’s troublesome hamstring has responded well to treatment and his presence in the centres will be a great boost to a side looking for some attacking spark.
TICK-TOCK TALK: In a week when referees were in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, referees bosses Bill Harrigan and Stuart Raper were secretly full of praise for Gerard Sutton after his clever handling of a tricky situation late in Monday night’s Rabbitohs-Roosters clash.
Tensions threatened to spill over after Jared Waerea-Hargreaves gave his side a sniff of victory with his 77th-minute try and with the visitors still needing to score again, Sutton could be heard yelling: ‘The clock is ticking Roosters!’.
“We highlighted it in our video review this week because the players dispersed in an instant,” Raper revealed to NRL.com. “It’s not something that will work in every instance but we have been trying to encourage our referees to use that sort of initiative this season.”
The advice proved more than useful for the Roosters with Anthony Minichiello finishing off a stunning 70-metre movement to steal their last-gasp win just moments later.
Without Sutton’s prompt the argy-bargy may well have continued and left the Roosters no time to pull off the match-winning play.
WHO’S COUNTING: Dragons winger Jason Nightingale needs just one more try to reach 50 for his career, but it seems the milestone isn’t ranking high on his radar. “I had no idea and 50 is not much of a milestone,” he said. “[Brett Morris] is almost up to 100 so I think once I get up there I’ll start counting. Fifty – it will be good but I’m not sitting around waiting for it to come.”
WASH-UP: The big wet across NSW certainly had an impact on the players last week with the 273 points scored across all eight games the lowest aggregate since 2007. Notably, only six players made their NRL debuts in Round 1 – including Great Britain and new Bulldogs prop James Graham. That compares to 11 debutantes in Round 1 last year.
PROUD POP: There was no prouder man at Homebush last Monday night than Daniel Mortimer’s father Peter after his son returned to the NRL football for the first time since being dropped to NSW Cup by Parramatta early last year. Mortimer was thrown a lifeline by the Roosters in 2012 and impressed in the side’s remarkable come-from-behind win over South Sydney.
“He is just loving having the football in his hands again,” Peter said ahead of the Roosters’ clash with Penrith this Sunday. “That’s all he ever wanted.”
The three-time premiership winner with Canterbury said that his son deserved a second chance after refusing to give up last year despite being on the outer at the Eels.
“He never let it get to him,” Peter said. “I’m proud that he just put his head down and kept giving 100 per cent. In the end he was fortunate that Parramatta gave him permission to look elsewhere and that circumstances at the Roosters allowed him the opportunity. He’s just thrilled to be able to play first grade again.”
Meanwhile, Mortimer has been named on an extended bench for Sunday’s clash, with Braith Anasta returning in the No.6.