Eels’ Sandow needs to work his way back
I hold grave concerns for the playing future of Parramatta halfback-in-exile Chris Sandow. Eels coach Ricky Stuart dropped him to NSW Cup and kept him there this weekend despite an injury to his replacement Luke Kelly. The next six months are key to Sandow’s future. He has to put his head down and work hard to prove to Stuart that he should be a big part of the Eels climb back up the premiership ladder.
If the Eels let Sandow go, the kind of money he is currently on will be a distant memory. No NRL club will be able to risk paying him anywhere near that, even the English Super League clubs will baulk.
Sandow is the kind of player we all love to watch. He plays with a smile on his face and with an unpredictability that comes from natural gifts that just can’t be taught. But in Stuart’s defence, Sandow just hasn’t been performing at the level needed from a highly paid halfback. Part of the problem is that his style of play doesn’t fit well within a structured game plan. The Eels need Sandow to deliver the game plan and be creative as well – it’s obviously not that easy.
I hope for the sake of the game Sandow fights back and regains his place among the best halfbacks. He’s an entertainer and rugby league needs them. The fans flock to see players like Sandow and Sonny Bill Williams. Williams will have a couple of weeks off after his high shot, which wasn’t a shoulder charge, on Willie Mason. Williams is one player the NRL has to retain, offer him whatever he wants, the fans just can’t get enough of seeing his incredible talents.
There was sad news this week with the death of Graham Murray. I never played under Murray, but I did have the opportunity to have a chat with him occasionally back when he was coaching the Hunter Mariners. They were tense times in Newcastle, with locals divided and fiercely supporting either the ARL’s Knights or the Super League’s Mariners. The players and coaches never felt any animosity towards each other. Murray enjoyed a beer and a punt so it was understandable that I would run into him every now and then. He seemed like a great bloke and will be missed.
Murray’s old club North Queensland Cowboys have decided that current coach Neil Henry has run out of time to produce the results they expect from such a great line-up. I wasn’t alone in tipping the Cowboys to win the premiership this year. With Johnathan Thurston steering the ship and Australia’s props dominating up front, a lot was expected. It’s hard to blame Henry, but I guess the buck has to stop somewhere. I’d be looking closely at whoever made the decision to let James Segeyaro go. Segeyaro has been playing some great football for the Panthers and the Cowboys have really lacked spark out of dummy-half.
The Cowboys’ season is all but over, but there is still a mad scramble going on for top eight positions. Newcastle are just in the eight on 22 points and take on Brisbane this weekend. The Broncos are four points behind on 18 and this is shaping as yet another must-win game for them. It pains me to say it, but without props Willie Mason and Kade Snowden, I can’t see the Knights winning this one against a desperate Brisbane side. The Broncos don’t handle failure well, in their proud history they haven’t had to very often. Missing the finals this year will be seen as a failure but I’m tipping big things from them next year with a couple of big acquisitions. I think Bulldogs star Ben Barba and Raiders talent Anthony Milford will both end up in Brisbane colours next year and they’ll be a premiership threat once again.
The Warriors are just outside the eight on 22 points, just two points behind Cronulla who they will host in another vital contest. I can’t see New Zealand losing this one at home, they just continue to impress as they roll towards the finals.
Another game which could make a difference to the final positions of both teams is the Raiders’ clash with the Storm in Canberra. Melbourne were beaten by the Warriors last week in a game that was typically brutal. They have to endure the travel back from New Zealand and then up to frosty Canberra. The Storm need to win this to keep themselves firmly in the top four, but I can see a Raiders upset. The Raiders always seem to go well against the Storm and have built yet another great home record this year. It will keep the green machine in the chase for the finals.