Congrats to Billy Slater on winning the Dally M Player of the Year medal. Despite a number of willing competitors, Billy the Kid was far and away the stand-out performer this year. Congrats also to the rest of the award winners, all worthy recipients in their own right.
Scanning through the team of the year and I got to thinking (I do that occasionally). Despite the fact that the winners are arguably the dominant player for their position this season, they’re not always the most exciting players to watch.
With excitement and inspiration the theme for the day – especially after Nole’s exciting and inspirational US Open victory over Rafa Nadal – I give you my 2011 NRL Billy Slater All-Stars. A team comprised of the most exciting players in the NRL, and a team you’d definitely part with 20 chips to watch.
FULLBACK: It’s the Billy Slater All-Star team so Billy Slater has to be the first player named. I used to think he was a little over-rated. Someone who hit the gaps, had a great turn of speed, and was made to look good by the ball-players around him. This season dispelled that idiotic notion. Slater is head and shoulders above every other number 1 in the NRL. His kick return always gains meters, his timing is impeccable, excellent kick chase, can create a gap, has developed a great little grubber game and is an above average defender. Almost zero flaws in his game.
WINGS: For me a no-brainer. Nathan Merritt and Akuila Uate. Merritt is a try scoring machine with phenomenal pace. It’s amazing that he never seriously enters the State of Origin discussions. Give him and inch of space and he’ll run rings around you and take a mile. He’s Nathan Blacklock 2.0, a guy who can sniff out a try from anywhere on the park.
Give Uate an inch and he’ll steamroll right over you ala Jonah Lomu in his prime. Anyone who saw Uate score four meat pies against the Bunnies during the last round of the regular season will have to admit this guy is an excitement machine. In my opinion this pairing should be together when the NSW Blues are announced for SOO in 2012.
CENTRES: Inglis, normally a shoo-in for this position, has been poor and injury riddled most of the year. The fat pig from Manly – you know who I mean – I wouldn’t pay to watch unless he was being poked with a big stick. The Steelers centres, Cooper and Gasnier, are quality but boring as batsh#t. I’m going with Justin Hodges and Steve Matai. I know it’s been a hard year for Hodges with injury, but he’s an absolute beast when fit. The other guy is a total effing psycho and capable of taking someone’s head off at a moment’s notice.
5/8: Benji Marshall. I’d be surprised if this wasn’t the pick for every rugby league fan. Easily the most exciting player in the competition and – I’m committing high treason – the closest thing to Brett ‘Bert’ Kenny since...well...Brett Kenny, the greatest five-eight of all time.
HALFBACK: Chris Sandow. I’m not saying he’s the best half going around. Certainly Thurston and Cronk have that covered by a country mile. I’m still not convinced that he’s the guy to lead the Eels around the park in 2012 – although it’s a massive upgrade from Jeff Robson. But he’s certainly fun to watch. From length of the field tries, to big shoulder charges, to brain explosion field goals...Sandow offers the complete highlight reel. I’ve just got nightmares about him eating too many kebabs in Auburn to and from training next year and blowing up like a blimp!!!
LOCK: Paul Gallen. The absolute hardest of hard men. An absolute gladiator on the field. This guy looks like he was chiselled from stone and genetically engineered to inflict pain.
SECOND ROW: Not the most exciting group to choose from. Lots of grinders and tacklers and a real dearth of Gordon Tallis types who’ll terrorise opposition defenders with tackle bursts and 40 metre line breaks. I’ll go with Gareth Ellis for international flavour and Anthony Watmough for the possibility of public urination and head-butting of sponsors.
SIDENOTE: My thoughts on Dave Taylor. Taylor is the most over-hyped player in the comp, and one of the reasons Souths missed the top eight. I know he can run over wingers and smaller centres at will, but as a forward his job first and foremost is to hit it up, gain metres and hit hard in defence. Especially given all the injuries in the Souths pack this year. Taylor needs to forget the dream about being a ball playing back, roll his sleeves up and do some hard work. Although he adds some value out wide, he’s forcing the rest of the forward pack to pick up the slack as they cover in his absence. Man up Taylor and pick on guys your own size.
PROPS: Adam Blair and Matt Scott. Two of the league's big boppers who never take a backward step
HOOKER: Cameron Smith...I’d happily pay money to watch him live so that I could hurl abuse. He might be the closest thing the NRL has to a Greco-Roman wrestler, but he’s also the best player in the game. Zero flaws with all the tricks and buckets of courage.
UP: Nole Djokovic. Three Grand Slams, 10 titles in 2011, six finals victories over Nadal, only two loses. Throw in his Davis Cup victory late last year and we’re looking at possibly the greatest 12 month stretch in tennis history. Every match is epic because Nole never gives up on a point, regardless of how hopeless the situation. He’s the only player who has the capacity to bully and break Nadal’s game. Just a phenom right now
UP: Sam Stosur. Finally an Aussie woman steps up to the plate in a Grand Slam. Sam did it in real style, dismantling Serena Williams in straight sets. A rank outsider in the Final, Stosur showed the sort of composure that has eluded her in the past. If she can maintain that level of play, more Grand Slam titles are right there for the taking.
UP: Rafa Nadal. An excellent show of sportsmanship as runner-up. Always gracious in defeat
DOWN: Serena Williams. Can’t say the same about Serena
UP: The Wallabies. Great start to the Rugby World Cup. The Wallabies are really hitting their straps at the right time. France, England and South Africa look shaky. The All Blacks always choke in the big moments. Maybe the William Webb Ellis trophy is there for the taking?
UP: The Haka. Regardless how many times I’ve seen the Haka it still makes the hairs on my neck stand up. Just brilliant sporting theatre.
Best described by Englishman Richard Cockerill who went toe-to-toe with the Haka on his Test debut: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfX5G3jIXWQ&feature=related
Love the version the All Blacks performed against the Wallabies – Kapa o Pango: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQeHErp42CY&feature=related
Nothing better than when the Islanders face off against each other – All Blacks versus Tonga. Listen to the crowd just go f#cken nuts when the Tongans start advancing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eGCsEQ15L4
UP: Greater Manchester. United and City look like turning the English Premier League into a two horse canter already. Just wondering if the noisy neighbours can keep up
DOWN: ‘King’ Kenny Dalglish. How about that for a Liverpool revival?!?! Making sorry excuses and blaming a referee’s conspiracy already. Poor form Kenny...poor form.
UP: Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing. Again!