League: Coaches take blame for poor showing

By Peter Jessup

Winger Adrian Purtell scored two tries yesterday as the Canberra Raiders ended St George Illawarra's seven-game winning streak, beating the Dragons 19-12.

The Dragons, who entered the match in fifth place, fell behind 14-0 at halftime and the Raiders extended the lead to 18-0 two minutes into the second half. It was the 13th-placed Raiders' third win in its last 16 starts away from Canberra Stadium.

In the other match yesterday, the Bulldogs upset the Broncos at Brisbane 26-18.

Manly shot to the top of the NRL table alone after demolishing the Sharks at Cronulla at the weekend while other fancied teams fell to complacency.

There is a clear-cut bunch of frontrunners, with Manly who have already secured the usual cut-off of 28 competition points followed by the Roosters, Sharks and Storm who need one or two more wins from the last eight rounds as the likely top-four.

The Dragons, Titans, Broncos and Penrith who sit from 22 to 19 points may hold the bottom four spots, unless the Warriors, Eels, Knights, Tigers and Raiders who have 18 points can put a string of wins together. All those have been erratic all season.

The rest - Souths, Bulldogs and Cowboys - are gone already.

Complacency may have cost the Eels a finals place and Penrith's position in eighth remains shaky, especially as it appears they will lose their best forward, Kiwi Frank Pritchard, to a shoulder injury that may require reconstruction, ending his World Cup hopes, plus utility Luke Lewis who may be out for a month with calf and rib problems.

Unusually, a couple of coaches shouldered blame.

"I have to look at the stuff I did as a coach and look at our programme because there is definitely something wrong with what we did in our week, I definitely did something wrong," said Panthers coach Matt Elliot.

He could accept that some players might be off their game on any given week, but not all of them. "When your whole team is down I have to accept responsibility that something in our preparation was not right."

While the Panthers were dumped 30-18 at home by an injury-ravaged Newcastle side that was simply more enthusiastic, again raising questions about their drive to go all the way following the 12-all draw with an under-strength Broncos, across town the Roosters committed a worse crime in slumping 32-28 to the Titans.

Gold Coast were without six starters including their forwards and back leaders and co-captains Luke Bailey and Scott Prince and should have been put to the sword.

Instead they went up 12-0 in five minutes, before the Roosters started playing. They made it 28-16 but that was their last points, a brilliant defensive display by the Titans proving they are finals contenders.

The big find was Jordan Rapana, 18, from Wellington, who scored two tries on debut.

There may also be bad news for the Roosters with Kiwi utility Setaimata Sa suffering a shoulder injury.

Coach Brad Fittler conceded he had failed to get his side mentally ready for a tough and grinding contest. "We just thought we could turn it on when we wanted to."

Manly won 34-6 in front of 18,217 mostly Sharks fans, with home captain Paul Gallen declaring the Eagles the best team he'd played this season. The visitors were up 12-0 after 15 minutes and after completing 20 out of 20 sets of six, they led 22-6 at the break and the Sharks were done. The six tries to one margin is scary for other top-eight sides.

Souths again came from behind, 10-0 down to the fancied Parramatta after 13 minutes, to complete a 32-20 win in front of 17,897 at the Olympic Stadium. Their fifth win in a row too has come since they settled on rookie Chris Sandow as halfback, assisted by Craig Wing's subsequent return from shoulder surgery. They face the still-depleted Wests Tigers next weekend.

Eels face Manly at Brookvale Oval next Friday night.

Rumour has it that Dragons centre Mark Gasnier will this week sign a two-year deal with French rugby side Stade Francais, invoking a get-out clause in the contract which runs through 2010 because promised third-party sponsorships that were to bring him A$1 million ($1.27 million) on top of his club wage failed to materialise.

- NZ Herald

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