The Brady Foray: Top Five Players of the Auckland Nines

By Jack Brady

The inaugural NRL Auckland Nines was an undeniable success. No matter if you were lucky enough to be in attendance at Eden Park last weekend, like yours truly, or were one of the thousands watching from the comfort of your own home – everyone was absolutely treated to game play never before seen on a Rugby League field. Whether you were left stunned, mesmerised, happy or livid – the Auckland Nines had it all.

While the North Queensland Cowboys prevailed as champions with a 16-7 victory over the Brisbane Broncos in the final, the real winners were the fans. Whether it be the crowd going utterly crazy over the New Zealand Warriors or booing ‘Kiwi traitor’ James Tamou whenever he went near the ball, fans trying to work the abacus determining whether their team could still make the finals and front-rowers scoring long range tries – Rugby League well-and-truly shone in a new and exciting light.

Walking around Eden Park was a spectacle in itself. Those wearing their team’s jersey were left feeling underdressed with thousands using the Nines as a fancy dress extravaganza. From thousands of minions to the Pope, Jesus to Hulk Hogan, Egyptians to Crayons, Policemen without pants and banana suits – the Auckland Nines ticked most boxes of every party theme in the book.

On the field, the Rugby League community embraced the fact that there were only two scrums the entire tournament, the magnificent try-scoring ability of Cowboys winger Zac Feldt and the massive left hand ‘don’t argues’ delivered from Melbourne prop Mitchell Garbutt as he ambushed his opponents during a spectacular 40 metre run down the sideline to score. Throw in the rather successful returns of Steve Menzies and Brad Fittler, the latter scoring a 70-metre intercept try, the numerous injuries suffered and the fact that every club managed to win at least one game and you’ll soon realise that the Auckland Nines was a recipe for success.

It is by no accident that the ‘Brady Foray: Top Five Players of the Auckland Nines’ come from teams who managed to outlast most others in earning their way towards the semi-finals. Without further ado, these players are:

5. Corey Parker (Broncos)

While the newly appointed Brisbane captain may have only scored one try throughout the tournament, one cannot deny how influential Parker is for his side fortunes – an influence that has proven to be essential for his state and country in recent seasons. With the Broncos looking to gel together quickly following the departure of Peter Wallace and the retirement of Scott Prince – Parker was an absolute lynchpin for the Brisbane Nines squad consisting of Round One hopefuls and up-and-coming halves Ben Hunt and Kodi Nikorima. Parker’s consistent presence in the middle of the field allowed for Hunt and Nikorima to flaunt their stuff out wide. Parker’s ability to keep the ball alive under-pressure is a world-class attribute and it goes without saying that without him, Brisbane would not have gone as far as they did in the competition.

4. Sam Tomkins (Warriors)

Brilliant First Impressions: Sam Tomkins

When Sam Tomkins signed with the New Zealand Warriors late last year, many pointed out that perhaps he was being paid more than he deserved considering he was an unproven performer in the greatest rugby league competition in the world. Those who watched him saw him play for Wigan in the Super League and in this past weekend’s Nines competition now know that he has laid the platform for a big 2014 season.  While he didn’t cross the white stripe, kicking a lone conversation – Tomkins had a hand in two tries and was a contributing factor in several others. His reverse-hand, half-field cut-out pass earlier in the tournament to halfback Shaun Johnson lead to one of the tries of the tournament. Tomkins was essentially the Warriors yin to Johnson’s yang. Expect a big year from the Englishman.

3. Sam Tagataese (Sharks)

For those present at Eden Park this past weekend you may have noticed the performances of Sharks prop, Sam Tagataese. While his bigger name teammate, Andrew Fifita made the ‘official’ team of the tournament, Tagataese undoubtedly overshadowed him when it came to crunch for Cronulla. Fifita, who in the semi-final walked off the field after abusing his teammates only to be saved by the halftime siren and in the meantime avoid the embarrassment of the camera’s glance, was rather disappointing in the pool games.  Tagataese, who’s barnstorming hit ups laid the platform for the rest of the side, will be forever known as the first man to score a five point try in Rugby League. His third try of the tournament, a brilliant 40 metre dash down the sideline, kicked off Sunday’s proceedings in the very first minute of play and allowed the Sharks to take advantage of the game from the get-go. Tagataese’s star will only continue to rise.

2. Shaun Johnson (Warriors)

The ‘official’ MVP of the Nines tournament – Shaun Johnson created brilliance after brilliance throughout the tournament with relative ease. His four tries, ten goals and [surprisingly] lone try assist laid the platform for his Warriors Nines side. Captaining the side for the tournament, Johnson and the Warriors blissfully made it through to the quarters without a hitch – the halfback forcing the local crowd to fall even more in love with him in the meantime. By mid-Sunday, Johnson was trying too hard to spark a magnificent play, by attempting to do so every set. A failed chip-and-chase on his own goal line in their quarter final against the Rabbitohs, while winning 17-0 signified the beginning of the end for the Warriors. A semi-final shutout to the eventual winners, North Queensland, completed this fall from grace for Johnson and the Warriors in what was otherwise a brilliant tournament performance displayed by the halfback.

1. Antonio Winterstein (Cowboys)

ON FIRE: Antonio Winterstein

Who would’ve thought he had it in him? Antonio Winterstein, a man who has played over a hundred games in the top grade in what could only be described as a solid career, arrived at the Auckland Nines and displayed skills never before seen from the 25 year-old. Perhaps it could be the format of the game that allowed Winterstein to shine? Otherwise this could be Winterstein screaming from the rooftop, showcasing he is ready to take his game to the level. Scoring three tries and assisting in another, Winterstein blasted opponents with speed, his strength in busting and palming off tackles and a sidestep to die for. Winterstein kicked off proceedings in the Grand Final against the Broncos by turning Josh Hoffman inside-out with an absolute glorious sidestep. His performances were just as deserving for MVP status within the overall tournament – hopefully he can find solace in being awarded the Brady Foray ‘Player of the 2014 Auckland Nines’.

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A 2013 NRL Retrospective and Grand Final Preview

By Jack Brady

It’s the one we’ve all been waiting for.

Manly and Roosters fans nerves peak as their sides face off in the big one, fans of the 14 other clubs look forward to the season’s end – to the end the disappointment and heartache before looking towards 2014. While journalists are just happy they get their weekends back for the summer.

In one way or another, everyone is looking forward to today’s game, the 2013 NRL decider. Before we look at the game, the Brady Foray wanted to take a look back on the season that has been – in a retrospective look on our season previews.

How Brady Foray predicted it

How it actually finished

1st: Melbourne Storm

2nd: South Sydney Rabbitohs

3rd: Canterbury Bulldogs

4th: North Queensland Cowboys

5th: Manly-Waringah Sea Eagles

6th: Cronulla Sharks

7th: Newcastle Knights

8th: Canberra Raiders

9th: Sydney Roosters

10th: Brisbane Broncos

11th: Penrith Panthers

12th: Gold Coast Titans

13th: New Zealand Warriors

14th: Wests Tigers

15th: St. George Illawarra Dragons

16th: Parramatta Eels

1st: Sydney Roosters

2nd: South Sydney Rabbitohs

3rd: Melbourne Storm

4th: Manly-Waringah Sea Eagles

5th: Cronulla Sharks

6th: Canterbury Bulldogs

7th: Newcastle Knights

8th: North Queensland Cowboys

9th: Gold Coast Titans

10th: Penrith Panthers

11th: New Zealand Warriors

12th: Brisbane Broncos

13th: Canberra Raiders

14th: St. George Illawarra Dragons

15th: Wests Tigers

16th: Parramatta Eels

Let it be known that the Brady Foray correctly predicted the exact positions of South Sydney, Newcastle Knights and Parramatta Eels while managing to pick seven of the eight teams in the top eight. Otherwise, like most punters, we predicted pretty terribly.

Our main man and Brady Foray wildcard Erratic Eddy traveled a little better with his predictions however.

Eddy made the call that Lote Tuqiri should give it up, to not write the Panthers off in which they had a better than expected season and that Corey Parker would be a fantasy powerhouse (which is as easy as a prediction as saying Channel Nine love anything to do with Sonny-Bill Williams). Perhaps he is a psychic genius though, having told Blake Ferguson to pull his head in before a ball had even been kicked this season (obviously he didn’t) before stating that Manly’s exceptional signings in Horo, Gower and Lawrence were all brilliant – a proven fact with all three men playing in the NRL Grand Final today.

Yet Eddy can’t always be right. He stated that St. George’s Josh Drinkwater would be the rookie of the year, Albert Kelly would be a wasted signing and Tony Williams would be a one of the best signings of season 2013. All proved otherwise.

Above all this we have a Grand Final to talk about.

Grand Final Preview

The experienced and the entertainers, Watmough versus SBW, Cherry-Evans & Foran up against Pearce and Maloney, the old heads and captains Lyon and Minichiello contrast the livewires Jennings and the Stewart brothers – Manly versus the Roosters.

No matter what aspect you look at this game from, the mouthwatering possibilities are endless. It has been far too long since a Grand Final has lived up to expectations but today could prove the difference.

We are in for a cliffhanger from start to finish and at the end of 80 minutes one club will be lifting the Provan-Summons Trophy as the 2013 premiership winners.

How They Line Up:

Manly-Waringah Sea Eagles: 1- Brett Stewart, 2- Jorge Taufua, 3- Jamie Lyon (C), 4- Steve Matai, 5- David Williams, 6- Kieran Foran, 7- Daly Cherry-Evans, 8- Brenton Lawrence, 9- Matt Ballin, 10- Brent Kite, 11- Anthony Watmough, 12- Justin Horo, 13- Glenn Stewart. Interchange: 14- David Gower, 15- Jamie Buhrer, 16- Tom Symonds, 17- George Rose, 18- James Hasson, 19- Peta Hiku.

Sydney Roosters: 1- Anthony Minichiello (C), 2- Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 3- Michael Jennings, 4- Shaun Kenny-Dowell, 5- Daniel Tupou, 6- James Maloney, 7- Mitchell Pearce, 8- Jared Warea-Hargreaves, 9- Jake Friend, 10- Sam Moa, 11- Aiden Guerra, 12- Sonny-Bill Williams, 13- Frank-Paul Nuuausala. Interchange: 14- Daniel Mortimer, 15- Mitchell Aubusson, 16- Issac Liu, 17- Dylan Napa.

Beauty and the Beast… Despite not being named, definitely expect young up starter and future Roosters captain, Boyd Cordner, and hardened veteran, Luke O’Donnell, to be playing on Sunday night. Cordner, who will be looking to cap off a stellar year that saw him play for New South Wales in State of Origin alongside being the recipient of Dally M Second Rower of the Year, will be an undoubtedly welcomed inclusion into a Roosters side searching for their first premiership since 2002. Moreover, what more could you want then former Australian and NSW forward Luke O’Donnell. When he’s not being suspended by the NRL judiciary, O’Donnell has proven his worth this season having come back from England. Expect Cordner and O’Donnell to leave their mark on this game once it is all said and done.

Brothers Unite… It was no surprise when Manly were down 14-0 last weekend against Souths with their backs against the wall that the Stewart brothers combined to put the first try on the board and instigate a comeback that brings us to today. Forget the Burgesses, the Stewart brothers are the best set of brothers in the modern day game, and daresay the best since the Johns brothers plied their worth for the Knights. Alongside the calming influence of Captain Jamie Lyon, the Stewart brothers will need to be on song if Manly are to secure their third premiership in six years.

One Man Show… The Roosters were a different side when Sonny Bill Williams went off against the Newcastle Knights last weekend. Up 34-4, the Roosters had no answer to a late Knights resurgence and a Joey Leulia brace of tries. Sonny-Bill needs to be on for the eighty minutes if the Roosters are going to outmuscle the big Manly forward-pack. Sonny Bill has made ridiculous inroads in most games he’s played this season. Sonny Bill Williams is that good and with him potentially leaving, this could be the Roosters last legitimate chance of premiership glory for quite a while.

All Cherries… Since Queensland won their eighth straight series one player has been playing like a man possessed. In a game where five surnames are hyphened, only one will stand tall in the maroon and white colours and potentially led Manly to premiership success. Something he did in his debut season. Daly Cherry-Evans is this man. Deservingly in the top two lines of betting for Clive Churchill Medal, Cherry-Evans has lead the side from the forefront the entire season and must continue to do so this game. Third in Dally M polling after 26 rounds, Cherry-Evans is the main man for Manly in their quest for another premiership.

Tip… Arguably, the Roosters have had the easiest road out of any club to a Grand Final in a long time. Regardless of their 4-0 victory over Manly three weeks ago, the Roosters have since had the week off and taken down an exhausted Newcastle Knights side coming out of two tough encounters. Alternatively, since the Roosters game, Manly have battled their way through draining games against Cronulla and a fast-starting South Sydney side. Roosters should win, if they don’t they would have well and truly choked. Manly are by far the more fatigued side coming into this game but don’t let it fool you into thinking that they will be easy pickings for the Roosters. Their experience will simply not allow it.

Manly by 4

Clive Churchill Medal: Daly Cherry-Evans

First Try Scorer: Brett Stewart or Aidan Guerra