Hinchcliffe's Origin odds shorten, Brett Finch eyes NRL return, Brisbane's Johnson fears and how Souths will handle Gallen...
CROCKER v GALLEN… It is looking increasingly likely that South Sydney co-captain Michael Crocker will go around one last time in 2013. It is understood that both Crocker and the Rabbitohs are leaning towards a new one-year deal, with a final decision to be made within the next three to four weeks. The veteran back-rower had been undecided on his future heading into the current season but told NRL.com he was feeling good.
“At this stage I’d like to go again,” he said. “The body is feeling good. I trained a full pre-season and I still feel like I’ve got plenty to offer out on the field. I’ve had a few discussions with my manager and we’ll see what happens in the next few weeks. The club will keep monitoring me and then we’ll have a few more discussions.”
Like Crocker, South Sydney management had also wanted to wait until the season was well underway to see how the 31-year-old was holding up but performances like last week’s against North Queensland, where he played the full 80 minutes and made 50 tackles, have certainly helped his cause.
Despite his fine form, Crocker faces a different challenge against Cronulla on Monday night when he lines up not only against one of the NRL’s form sides but the insatiable workrate of opposite number Paul Gallen.
Gallen has averaged a phenomenal 216 metres and 28 tackles per game this season with Crocker describing his efforts as ‘crazy’.
“His runs aren’t just simple runs either – he makes good metres and gets a quick play-the-ball,” Crocker said.
“You’ve basically just got to do your best to tackle him. Obviously he is playing with the ball a little bit more now but he is responsible for a lot of their go-forward. He is bringing players onto him, so it’s making everyone else’s job easier. The halves work off the back of that.
“We’ve got to be good defensively around the middle and try and slow their roll a little bit so we can nullify their halves.”
Asked if he considered it his responsibility to limit Gallen’s influence, Crocker said: “Oh I don’t think I can just follow him around the park – I’ll get too tired chasing him. As a forward pack we all need to do our best to nullify him.”
HINCH NO HUNCH… Craig Bellamy put a good case forward for Ryan Hinchcliffe to assume injured Newcastle skipper Kurt Gidley’s NSW bench spot for State of Origin I – and chances are that is exactly what will happen. Blues coach Ricky Stuart had already earmarked Hinchcliffe as his bolter for 2012 and with Danny Buderus officially ruled out and a cloud still lingering over Michael Ennis’ fitness, his stocks have risen considerably.
TRIBUTE TO DAD… St George Illawarra will be led out by a young boy named Josh Gavin when they take the field against North Queensland at Dairy Farmers Stadium tonight. Josh, who is just seven years old, is a huge Dragons fan and will be living out a dream after his father, Luke, was tragically killed while on military service in Afghanistan last year. The Cowboys have also chipped in by providing tickets to the game for his whole family.
FINCH TO RETURN?... Whether or not he rejoins the NRL next season remains to be seen but it is looking increasingly unlikely that former Canberra, Sydney Roosters, Parramatta and Melbourne halfback Brett Finch will stay with English Super League giants Wigan next season. Finch is currently weighing up his options with a number of rival Super League clubs and a few NRL sides making enquiries about his availability in 2013. Finch was considered by South Sydney as a possible replacement for Chris Sandow this season before he opted to see out the final year of his two-year deal.
GILLETT WARY… Brisbane might have scored a crushing 40-10 victory the last time these two sides met in the 2011 finals but according to back-rower Matt Gillett it is Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson’s amazing solo try against them five weeks earlier that has been the centre of attention at Broncos training this week ahead of Saturday’s trip to Auckland.
Johnson scored one of the greatest solo tries of all time in a 75-metre dash to the line that saw him beat six players in the process and Gillett says the Broncos haven’t forgotten about the damage the youngster can wreak.
“They are one of the most dangerous sides in the comp,” Gillett told NRL.com. “We can’t give them too much room to move and we really need to stop their offloads and their second-phase play.
“You can’t give Shaun Johnson too much room because we remember that try he scored against us last year. It was probably the try of the season and it came off the back of an offload. We’ll be keeping an eye on him, that’s for sure.”
Gillett is hoping for a big game himself this week as he continues his push for a representative debut in the coming weeks. Named 18th man for the Kangaroos in their ANZAC Test win over New Zealand a fortnight ago, the 23-year-old is right in the mix to join the Queensland squad when the sides are announced in just over a week’s time.
“It is definitely in the back of my mind but I need to keep playing good consistent footy,” he said. “If those rewards come then I’ll definitely be happy to put my hand up.”
WEYMAN’S ORIGIN UNCERTAINTY… Dragons prop Michael Weyman admits he has no idea where he stands in regards to State of Origin selection next week after missing selection in 2011. A veteran of four games for NSW in 2009-10, Weyman has been in fine form this season, averaging 101 metres and 22 tackles per game. But asked how he rated his Origin chances, the 27-year-old said he couldn’t afford to worry about it ahead of tonight’s clash with North Queensland.
“It’s out of my hands,” he said. “I just have to worry about playing good and doing my job. If I can do that and the coach and the selectors like that, I’ll be very happy. It’s an old cliché: you take it a game at a time… but that’s pretty much all you can do.
“Everyone plays to be part of those rep teams but there are a lot of players going for those positions. All I can do is control what I can control and try and play a good game.”
Weyman said he was still looking for more consistency this season despite his strong start.
“It’s up and down I guess – but that’s just football,” he said. “Some days you don’t feel 100 per cent but you still play. We’re getting some victories there anyway, so everyone is feeling good.”