Sunday Territorian 18 May 2014
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58 SPORT SUNDAY MAY 18 2014 NTNE01Z01MA - V1 Pearces big night could cost NSW slot THE only man under as much pressure to help deliver NSW a drought-breaking State of Origin series victory as coach Laurie Daley and embattled playmaker Mitchell Pearce is chief selector Bob Fulton. As the Blues yet again strive to overcome a horror build-up laced with injuries, suspensions and alcohol-fuelled offfield dramas, Fulton remains the one constant in NSWs sorry run of eight straight series defeats. The rugby league Immortal has helped pick all 24 NSW teams since Queenslands record reign began in 2006. Not even incumbent captain Paul Gallen, the only player to feature in all eight NSW series losses, has felt the pain of defeat more often than Robert Fulton AM. This is the question, Blues legend Brett Kenny said. A lot of people ask: when do the selectors get sacked? Weve lost eight series in a row and weve sacked seven players and its always the halfback. During the Blues most barren era, Fulton and his assortment of fellow selectors, including Daley, Ricky Stuart and long-time allies Bob McCarthy and Geoff Gerard, have employed four different coaches, five captains, six halfbacks and eight five-eighths. Most tellingly, the Blues have churned through no less than 15 different halves combinations since 2006 all while Queensland have had the luxury of deploying only three. No wonder the Blues have been at sixes and sevens for almost a decade trying to combat the wondrous skills of champion Queensland playmakers Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk. Thurston alone has played a record 27 consecutive Origin games, including every single one during the past eight series triumphs. While the Blues have chopped and changed, Thurston enjoyed six golden years at halfback alongside Lockyer before switching seamlessly to five-eighth in 2012 to accommodate Cronks arrival post-Lockyer. NSW have had no such stability in the playmaking ranks. Significantly, though, since the NSW Rugby League trimmed the selection panel to just two entrusting Fulton and the Blues coach with ultimate responsibility for the teams make-up in 2011 a semblance of stability has prevailed. But Pearce, who publicly admitted he was probably on his final chance to deliver before last years unsuccessful series, has thrown up a new election headache. Blues selectors name their squad on Tuesday. Recent incidents have cast a shadow over their preparations that must have the Maroons laughing all the way to Suncorp. So as the Maroons again enter the showcase series with an embarrassment of riches, the Blues are just hoping to avoid further embarrassment. Marshall endures grim loss in return BENJI Marshall admitted he was a bag of nerves before his St George Illawarra debut against Parramatta and vowed to help improve the Dragons after yesterdays 36-0 humbling by the Eels. The return of Marshall saw the sold out signs put up Pirtek Stadium for the first time in more than two years, but the 29-year-old was powerless to prevent the joint-venture's biggest ever loss to the Eels. The last time Marshall played in the NRL was for the Wests Tigers in their 50-22 defeat to North Queensland last September in Townsville and he conceded it was a tough baptism against a rejuvenated Eels side. I felt a bit of pressure out there and probably put too much pressure on myself to try to do something every touch, Marshall said. Theres a lot to work on. I thought defensively I was pretty solid, but a few of the options I took probably need looking at. I was nervous. I was probably more keen than anything to get out there because I was trying to be the creator and make things happen. Marshall only got the chance to train with halves partner Gareth Widdop once in the lead-up to the game and he said once the pair start to strike up a decent partnership the team will start to benefit. However, he said he was bitterly disappointed to be on the back of such a heavy loss. Gaz didnt train the first two days of the week so we didnt get a lot of time to put combinations together, he said. Yesterday was the first time we trained together. Theres definitely a lot of promise there and we probably need to regroup with the bye. Its probably come at a good time to have the break. EELS 36 DRAGONS 0 PARRAMATTA Tries: J Hayne 2 K Sio 2 C Norman P Pauli Goals: C Sandow 6 ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA Tries: Nil Goals: Nil Crowd: 18,631 at Pirtek Stadium Referees: J Maxwell, C James By IAN McCULLOUGH RUGBY LEAGUE Former Wests Tigers star Benji Marshall tries to find his feet yesterday during his debut for St George Illawarra against Parramatta at Pirtek Stadium Picture: MATT KING NRLs anger as Knights owner Tinkler fails to pay his players THE Newcastle Knights are in turmoil with owner Nathan Tinklers business group advising the NRL they would not invest further funds into the club until the current ownership dispute was resolved. Tinkler failed to pay the salaries of at least 20 Knights staff and players on Friday and the NRL has vowed to take action. Former billionaire Tinklers ownership of the Knights has been in jeopardy since he was unable to secure a mandatory $10.52 million bank guarantee by March as part of the terms of his 2011 takeover deal. His failure to provide the guarantee also meant the Knights Members Club could buy the club back from Tinklers Hunter Sports Group (HSG) for $1. Its believed the Members Club has served notice of its intention to take up that option and is waiting for HSGs re sponse. HSG chief executive Troy Palmer said the outstanding wages would be paid next week but more funds wouldnt be forthcoming until the dispute with the Members Club was settled. We have been negotiating with the NRL and the Members Club for eight weeks and had hoped the issue would have been resolved by now, HSG CEO Troy Palmer said. We made it clear the HSG would not invest further funds until the matter was resolved. We requested short-term assistance from the NRL for the outstanding wages. However, this wasnt forthcoming. HSG will ensure any outstanding wages are paid next week and hope the ownership dispute can be resolved immediately so the club can be adequately funded again. NRL boss Dave Smith said the peak body would move to rectify the problem. NRL head of club services Tony Crawford added: The actions of the Tinkler-controlled Knights towards players and staff are completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The NRL has demanded that the situation is rectified immediately because there is no place in our game for this kind of behaviour. The NRL will be assessing all options to bring this to a resolution in the interests of the Knights, staff, our fans and the broader rugby league community. The NRL would not speculate on what action it would take. Newcastle boss Matt Gidley admits its a tough situation for the Knights. It has been difficult for all involved and we hope we can reach a resolution regarding the ownership of the club as soon as possible, Gidley said. Test for Warriors THE Warriors NRL season may be moving in the right direction, but they know Canterbury will provide their real measuring stick. The Warriors take on the table-topping Bulldogs in Hamilton today with more confidence after morale-boosting victories over the Storm and the Raiders. Those wins helped convince the Warriors to appoint acting coach Andrew McFadden as head coach through to 2017, and he now faces the team who denied him victory in his first match in charge with a late comeback in round six. Weve built up some momentum, but there's no bigger challenge than the Bulldogs this weekend, McFadden said. I think its a really timely test for us. We need something like this to take us to another level. Its going to be a challenge, but I've got full confidence in our guys. I know they can do a job. The Warriors coughed up an eight-point lead with 12 minutes to go to lose 21-20 against Canterbury in round six at Eden Park, but should have gained enough confidence from that effort to know they can foot it this time. Among those to stand out that day was Ben Matulino, whose efforts in the second row before being injured have led McFadden to use him in that position rather than prop. Matulino made inroads into the Bulldogs defence in the previous game with some offloads, but he's also added another string to his bow being on the field for the full game, which he managed against the Raiders last week. Its my first 80 minutes since I was 12 so I'm pretty stoked, yeah, he said. Matulino has no doubt he and the rest of the Warriors pack hold the key to his team's chances of beating the big and impressive Bulldogs forwards. Theres no secret, you have to stop their forward pack.
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