League: Origin-depleted teams fail to draw fans

By Peter Jessup

Calls for the State of Origin to be played at a weekend free of NRL football will gather strength after crowd numbers took a big hit at the weekend, presumably because 26 of the big stars are missing from club action.

Only the Warriors who attracted 13,112 to their dismal 35-28 loss to South Sydney beat their season average so far (12,392).

The return of Wendell Sailor to rugby league did nothing to boost numbers for the Dragons who drew 11,432 (season average 13,191) to their 28-10 win over an Origin-depleted Brisbane Broncos. Sailor collected David Stagg's elbow mid-first half and is out for four weeks with a fractured cheekbone.

Just 10,195 turned out for the Eels-Raiders game, won 30-12 by Parramatta (usual crowd 16,685). They blooded 110kg 19-year-old 2007 Junior Kangaroo Tony Williams, Sydney born of Tongan descent, dubbed 'T-Rex,' and he made 176 metres for them so we'll see him again. Feleti Mateo ran that game from five-eighth.

Benji Marshall hit top form in the second half of the Tigers-Cowboys game at Campbelltown, topping several try-assists with a dancing one of his own towards the end of a 40-16 victory. The Tigers won with 16 after 2007 Kiwis wing Taniela Tuiaki was concussed by a high shot from Travis Burns in the 10th minute.

Burns went on report for that and again for dropping wing Chris Lawrence on his head in a lifting tackle. Just 10,448 turned out (Tigers' season average 15,580).

It was the Cowboys' sixth straight loss and finally a cut is beginning to appear in the competition points table. Souths are gone, the win over the Warriors just their second and that due to poor defence from the home side rather than attacking genius, and so are North Queensland who have just three wins from 11 and struggle for cohesion and enthusiasm. The Warriors blew their chance to stay with the pack on Friday night and will not be favourites when they go to Cronulla to meet the Sharks next Saturday, despite the expected return of Steve Price and Brent Tate from Origin and the likelihood Kiwis wing Manu Vatuvei will return from injury.

The Dragons, on 12 points, have benefited from two games against Origin-depleted sides, the Storm and now Brisbane. Canberra are on 12 thanks to four points from two byes. The Eels and Newcastle kept their hopes alive by winning at the weekend.

The worst crowd at the weekend was at the cavernous Olympic Stadium where 9565 mostly Bulldogs fans watched their injury-depleted side lose 22-12 in a lacklustre display against Newcastle, who were without their three best players in New South Wales Blues Danny Buderus, Kurt Gidley and Steve Simpson.

Nine Dogs players including star Sonny Bill Williams were invalided out and former Kiwis wing Matt Utai will join them after leaving the field with a knee injury that will sideline him for up to eight weeks.

The Dogs complained long and loud about a try claimed by skipper Andrew Ryan but the officials including video ref Bill Harrigan, who was not asked by ref Sean Hampstead to review the touchdown, agreed with the ruling that Knights half Jarrod Mullen got their first. Chris Bailey was their line-breaker.

Doubt surrounds the halves pairing for Queensland for Wednesday night's Origin II with Johnathan Thurston (hamstring) and Darren Lockyer (knee) both in doubt. The former is said to be a good chance, the latter 50/50.

Titans half Scott Prince was drafted into the Maroons camp to train in preparation and yesterday it was still not clear whether he would be released for the Titans-Storm game at Skilled Park tonight. Bookies suspended betting as a result.

MANLY, SHARKS POST SUNDAY WINS

Manly have soared to the top of the NRL table following a 42-0 humiliation of the Sydney Roosters at a soggy Brookvale Oval yesterday.

The Sea Eagles notched up their sixth straight win over the Roosters in the eight-tries-to-nil romp to lead the ladder on percentage ahead of Melbourne's clash with Gold Coast at Skilled Park tonight.

From the start the Sea Eagles picked the Roosters apart with skipper Matt Orford and Jamie Lyon wreaking havoc behind their dominant pack. The Roosters were missing Origin stars Willie Mason, Craig Fitzgibbon, Anthony Tupou and Nate Myles while Manly were without Brett Stewart.

After yesterday's other match, Cronulla coach Ricky Stuart praised halfback Brett Kimmorley's leadership after the Sharks survived Penrith's late fightback for a 24-22 upset. Missing key duo Greg Bird and Paul Gallen to State of Origin duty, the experienced Kimmorley shouldered the responsibility as the Sharks ran in five tries to four to move into a share of the competition lead.

Five-eighth Brett Seymour was outstanding, setting up three and scoring one of his side's five tries, while Luke Covell bagged a hat-trick as the Sharks looked far from a side that has struggled to score.

- additional reporting by AAP

- NZ Herald

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