WHAT DO YOU RECKON?
I reckon this weekend’s NRL round should be renamed ‘Maroons Hooker Trial Round’. In this column last week I wrote that Broncos number 9 Andrew McCullough was the game’s unluckiest hooker to be stuck behind Queensland legend Cameron Smith. Well what do you know? Seven days later Smith has hung up his rep boots and the door is wide open for McCullough. Trouble is, there’s two other top-class players who are dead keen to get through it before him. Wayne Bennett has made it clear that he believes that McCullough is the pea for the job, and Paul Green is just as adamant that his man Jake Granville would look good in maroon. Ask Roosters coach Trent Robinson and you can rest assured that he’ll vote for Jake Friend. Of course there’s only one coach whose opinion matters, and that’s Kevin Walters. The good news for Kevvie is that he’ll get the chance to see all the candidates under the best possible circumstances on the weekend. As luck would have it the Broncos and Roosters just happen to be playing each other at Suncorp Stadium tomorrow night. It’s a crucial game for both sides, but the battle of the number 9s will be worth the price of admission on its own. Then on Sunday afternoon the Cowboys are up against South Sydney in Townsville. With the Rabbitohs’ Damien Cook odds-on to be the Blues hooker and Granville keen to be the one lining up against him in Game 1, I reckon by Sunday night Kevvie Walters is going to have plenty to think about. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon we’ll see Queensland’s greatest-ever hooker running around at Saturday’s Suncorp Stadium double-header – and it’s unluckiest. The Storm’s Cameron Smith and Broncos’ Andrew McCullough won’t be lining up against each other, but it will be worth going along just to see them both in action. There’s little doubt that Smith will become an Immortal when his playing days are over. The 42 Origin matches he has played – and still counting – will make sure of that, but my question is this: if Smith hadn’t played those 42 Origins, how many would McCullough have played? Since 2003 Smith has missed just one Origin through injury. That was in 2010 and Manly’s Matt Ballin was his replacement. After the way he came back early from a serious elbow injury to take his place against the Bulldogs last week you wouldn’t rule anything out when it comes to McCullough but it would appear Origin might have passed him by. It’s not the first time a very talented player has been stuck behind a great one. I remember Queensland five-eighth Alan Smith telling me about his one and only Origin game, the first in 1980. After that, he said, Wally Lewis was handed the number six jersey “and that was that”. Even so I reckon Wayne Bennett wouldn’t swap McCullough for any other hooker in the competition – except maybe Cameron Smith. What do YOU reckon?
I reckon the double header at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday week could be prove to be one of the most important rounds of the season for the four clubs in action – especially for the Manly number 7. If the Sea Eagles and Titans are to stay in touch with the leaders they are going to have to pull off a couple of mighty upsets, and if the Storm and Broncos are to be a real force this year they’ll have to be absolutely ruthless against two teams that are desperate to stay alive. It all makes for a fascinating few hours of footy. The double-header concept has been a huge winner for the NRL since it was introduced and this will be the third time that Manly and Melbourne have each given up a home game to play at the country’s number one rugby league stadium. There’s no question the Sea Eagles will make a healthy financial profit from their decision to play on the road, but they’ll need a win against the Broncos to really make it worth their while. Both clubs have been hit hard by injury this season and giving away home ground advantage will only make it harder for the Sea Eagles in what will be a must-win game. Adding spice to the contest will be the fact that a keen spectator will be Queensland coach Kevin Walters who will get the chance to see a host of Maroons hopefuls in action, most notably Daly Cherry-Evans who has made no secret of the fact that he is sick of watching Origin on TV. As for the Titans chances against the reigning Premiers? Well, you wouldn’t back them with my money but given some of the results we’ve had so far this season I reckon anything is possible. What do YOU reckon?