Matt Cleary

Author's posts

Oct 27

World Cup scoreline flatters Australia after England put wind up hosts | Matt Cleary

The Kangaroos won the opener 18-4 but England can take plenty from the game despite letting a good chance slip“The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one,” declared Ogilvy, an astronomer, in the theme song from The War of the Worlds,…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/oct/28/world-cup-scoreline-flatters-australia-after-england-put-wind-up-hosts

Oct 02

Melbourne claim NRL premiership with champions across field | Matt Cleary

It isn’t just the Big Three that have made the new premiers one of the best teams in NRL history – quality runs throughout

Veteran thoroughbred racing journalist Max Presnell once asked a coterie of colleagues and horse people a simple if complex question: what constitutes the definition of a champion? And the best answer came back from an old trainer, Arthur Ward, who said: “A champion horse doesn’t just beat another top-class horse, he donkey-licks them.” Step forward your NRL champions of 2017, Melbourne Storm, who donkey-licked North Queensland Cowboys – and everybody else – right upside the head.

Related: Melbourne Storm blow away Cowboys to secure NRL premiership

Related: Churchill medallist Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk coy on NRL futures

Related: NRL grand final 2017: Melbourne Storm v North Queensland Cowboys – in pictures

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/oct/02/melbourne-claim-nrl-premiership-with-champions-across-field

Sep 27

Scott Bolton: the Cowboys enforcer charged with out-bullying Melbourne | Matt Cleary

The rugged North Queensland prop has the task of putting the frighteners on the Storm in Sunday’s NRL grand final

Scott Bolton has a certain look about him: slightly hang dog, a hint of stubble. It’s a old school look. He could be 27 or 42; he’s sort of ageless. It’s like he was never young, like his head has been carved from a mighty cedar or mountain redwood by Native Americans and left to sit on the plinth of his neck, defying the elements, impervious to pain, glaring at his enemies.

Related: NRL officials warn that referees are willing to use sin-bin in grand final

He’s approaching – if he hasn’t already reached it – ornament status

Related: Josh Addo-Carr’s blistering form no surprise to those who watched him grow | Joe Gorman

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/28/scott-bolton-the-cowboys-enforcer-charged-with-out-bullying-melbourne

Sep 24

Cowboys stick to what they know best on impossible run to NRL grand final | Matt Cleary

North Queensland know that if they just carry on doing what they do, at worst they will give a good account of themselves; at best they’ll go all the way

Kane Linnett is the Graeme Bradley of his generation. Like the Dragons centre of the early 1990s, Linnett is the tall, unfashionable type with the odd, angular movements, the direct running lines and, to the layman’s naked eye, the lack of discernible skill. Unlike “The Penguin”, however, Linnett isn’t even a cult figure. He’s just Kane Linnett – straight man. And he’s in another grand final.

Related: Cowboys’ fairytale continues into grand final with upset win over Roosters

The story of the 2017 grand final is the imperial Death Star versus a rag-tag bunch of feisty rebels

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/25/cowboys-stick-to-what-they-know-best-on-impossible-run-to-nrl-grand-final

Sep 17

Spirit of Jonathan Thurston keeps North Queensland humming in NRL finals | Matt Cleary

It’s long been said of the Cowboys they can’t win without their talisman, but as Saturday’s result against Parramatta proved, things have changed

A verily accepted wisdom heading into the finals series of this and every other NRL season is this: you must have your best people on the park to compete. You need your full complement fresh and fit and firing. You can’t head into big matches against big match opposition with guys on the bench from the feeder team, key men carrying injuries, and your halfback a 21-year-old Panthers reject who played junior footy for Turangawaewae RLC. That surely would not do.

Related: Cowboys shock Eels in boilover as unlikely finals run continues

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/18/spirit-of-jonathan-thurston-keeps-north-queensland-humming-in-nrl-finals

Sep 10

Parramatta’s nark not enough to unsettle ruthless Storm in NRL finals | Matt Cleary

Channelling Kenny Edwards’ attitude, the Eels managed to make Melbourne seem human for large sections of Saturday’s NRL qualifying final

In the replayed grand final of 1977, Dragons enforcer Rod “The Rocket” Reddy was ordered by coach Harry Bath to “take the gloves off” against the rugged Parramatta Eels pack. The Rocket was the hard man of a team known as “Bath’s Babes”, and cunning coach Harry Bath, 30 years in the game, told his rough-head to rough Parra up. Reddy was cautioned four times in the first 20 minutes. Today he’d have just about been arrested. And the Saints beat Parramatta 22-nil.

Related: Eagles win extra-time thriller over Port, Panthers and Storm victorious, Wallabies draw with Springboks and more: sportwatch – as it happened

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/11/parramattas-nark-unsettles-storm-but-eels-still-fall-short-in-nrl-finals

Sep 03

Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters the only NRL teams still standing

With Brisbane woefully inconsistent and the reigning premiers Cronulla ‘cooked’, it’s down to the Roosters to challenge the minor premiers.

After 26 compelling, vexed, hyper-physical and quite tiring rounds of this National Rugby League, the ultimate octet has been decided: the Storm, Roosters, Broncos, Eels, Sharks, Sea Eagles, Panthers and Cowboys remain in the hunt for the 2017 Provan-Summons Trophy. Of those there’d be realistically four, five at a pinch, still a-hunting, so let’s just say five hunters and three hunted. We also know this: following the Dragons is more painful than a huge needle (see also: Canberra Raiders), and the competition’s alpha buck male is the mighty Melbourne Storm.

There is some chance the punters know that; at this time of year there remain few secrets. All teams know what opposition centre has a left-foot step, what prop has a right-arm carry. Everyone’s been sweating up a treat since pre-season pre-Christmas, and it’s effectively come down to this: who’s fit, and who’s still standing, literally. The question is who the coach can put onto the field, knowing they are able play at their very best and play to a plan so many months in the making.

Related: Diamonds suffer upset loss to Ferns, Dragons crash out of NRL finals race and more: sportwatch – as it happened

Related: ‘A lonely sea of blue seats’: why ANZ stadium is nobody’s home ground

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/04/melbourne-storm-and-sydney-roosters-the-only-nrl-teams-still-standing

Aug 27

‘A lonely sea of blue seats’: why ANZ stadium is nobody’s home ground

The choice by the Dragons to host the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium is driven by money over sentimentality, and poses a risk for the do-or-die encounter

The PR man from ANZ Stadium was not happy. In a piece about an obstacle course race that ran through the bowels of the Olympic Park precinct (like those Tough Mudder endurance ones, just without the fire) I’d opined that ANZ Stadium has a “huge, ‘Soviet’ feel”, adding that: “It’s a long way from anywhere, the beer comes in plastic cups and big events are policed by dull goons in bright yellow bibs.” I did go on to pump the ground’s tyres by talking of “Cathy Freeman’s hot lap, John Aliosi’s golden penalty goal, and Billy Idol sitting mute aboard a flaming hovercraft shouting ‘We want some power!’ as the entertainment for the 2002 NRL grand final fell flat.” But it was the “Soviet” thing that clanged with the man from ANZ. And so he chopped out an email that said it was “ridiculous” to describe the precinct thus and that a “young journalist” (I’m 47) would surely benefit from a guided tour of the stadium and thus, presumably, become infused with the history and ghosts of “Australia’s home ground”, and go on to write nice things about it.

Related: Eagles and Bombers surge into finals, Dragons keep season alive and more: sportwatch – as it happened

Related: Canterbury Bulldogs’ upset of Manly fails to mask club’s listless NRL season | Matt Cleary

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/aug/28/a-lonely-sea-of-blue-seats-why-anz-stadium-is-nobodys-home-ground

Aug 20

Canterbury Bulldogs’ upset of Manly fails to mask club’s listless NRL season | Matt Cleary

Des Hasler’s charges finally played like their roster suggests they should at the weekend but the club’s malaise this season has shortchanged their diehard fans

Josh Morris leapt in the air and punched an imaginary giant in the face. He’d just scored a try under the posts that would take his team to a 14-point lead, and when he landed back on earth he was mobbed by happy team-mates who knew: we are going to win. And in Dog Land in 2017, such things are celebrated like Monopoly bank errors in your favour: as surprising as they are enjoyable.

Earlier winger Marcelo Montoya had twice profited from fine cut-out passes by Will Hopoate, who won the plaudits of the pundits. Yet it was Josh Jackson’s hard, incisive, and most importantly convincing decoy runs that twice sucked Manly in and exposed their flank. Jackson ran like he meant it.

Related: Melbourne Storm secure NRL minor premiership with hammering of Knights

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/aug/21/canterbury-bulldogs-upset-of-manly-fails-to-mask-clubs-listless-nrl-season

Aug 13

Spring is coming for NRL’s Provan-Summons Trophy contenders

With just three rounds left until the end of season 2017, the Storm look likely premiers, with the Roosters and Broncos their biggest threats

In the first week of the finals in 2013, Eastern Suburbs Roosters played Manly Warringah Sea Eagles in a game so hard, fast and physical that it was considered as good as State of Origin. It was visceral, side-to-side, and end-to-end. And the hits! Oh my, the hits. The hits just kept on coming. Indeed, so impregnable and fine were the D-lines of both packs, the Roosters didn’t make a single line break and won 4-0. It was a game that said: “behold, planet rugby league, your grand finalists”. It also declared, in a Game of Thrones sort of way: “Spring is coming”.

Well, Spring had already come. It was September 8th – but that qualifying final, first versus fourth, was a monster mash of hard-boned, super-competitive “Silvertails” who knew: the other mob is really good. Let’s bash them.

Related: Melbourne stake finals claim, Tigers shock Sea Eagles and more, Australia sportwatch – as it happened

Related: Ignore the hype or you’ll end up like Parramatta, Bennett warns Broncos

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/aug/14/spring-is-coming-for-nrls-provan-summons-trophy-contenders

Aug 06

Frank Winterstein leads charge but the jury is still out on Manly | Matt Cleary

Victory over the Roosters suggested a return to form but the Sea Eagles look light off the bench, even with all the weight, and may be brittle on the fringes

Frank Winterstein may be the biggest human in the world. Not just in Australia or the NRL or on Sydney’s northern beaches. But the biggest human in the entire world. Or so it may have appeared to 21-year-old Kiwi rookie Joseph Manu as Big Frank thundered towards him on Sunday afternoon like Paul Sironen on a promise, all froth and crazy eyes, nostrils flared like the maw of a frilled-neck lizard. It was the 37th minute – and the worm was about to turn.

Winterstein took the ball into contact and Manu bounced off like he had shirt-fronted a Brahman. The Manly second-rower stormed into space, ripped off footwork incongruous for such a man, and passed inside to the flying “Turbo” Tom Trbojevic who planted. Manly were back.

Related: Crows hammer Power in Showdown, Manly get back on track: sportwatch – as it happened

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/aug/07/frank-winterstein-leads-charge-but-the-jury-is-still-out-on-manly

Jul 30

Cameron Smith ensures Melbourne Storm machine keeps on rolling | Matt Cleary

The veteran played his 350th game at the weekend and, along with trusty lieutenant Cooper Cronk, showed no sign of slowing down

A friend of mine called Barry was a soldier on a base in Townsville in the early 1990s when he and a mate were wandering through a shopping mall and came upon Tom Berenger. Yes, Tom Berenger – the Hollywood actor you might remember from such films as Major League and Smokin Aces II: Assassins Ball – who was in Queensland to shoot Sniper, the Panamanian jungle war movie shot in the Innisfail hinterland.

Yet it was Berenger’s role as Sergeant Barnes in the epic, Oscar-winning Vietnam War film Platoon that most appealed to Barry and his friend. So they approached the man to discuss the film. “Barnes! Hey, Barnes!” yelled Barry by way of introduction. “Why’d you shoot Sergeant Elias?” Berenger smiled. Lowered his eyebrows. And went into character.

Related: Super League to stage Wigan v Hull regular season match in Australia

By half-time they were less soaring, proud sea eagles as mangy, one-legged, squawking gulls of Manly Corso

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/jul/31/cameron-smith-ensures-melbourne-storm-machine-keeps-on-rolling

Jul 11

Choking still a hazard for NSW Blues as do-or-die State of Origin decider arrives | Matt Cleary

Queensland are depleted and NSW have a great chance to end a Maroon dynasty but questions remain over the Blues’ ability to handle pressure

This is it. If New South Wales don’t beat Queensland on Wednesday evening at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium it will be time for the team, coach, NSWRL, and entire state of 7.544 million people to admit that it cannot be done. That they cannot beat Queensland.

Not these Queenslanders, anyway. Not these skilful hard-boned super-bots who’ve sported half a dozen of the greatest players there has ever been. These Queenslanders have just up and won and won, and beaten everything the Blue hordes have thrown at them. Ten series in 11 years – for a series that was once spookily close, it’s been nothing short of domination.

Related: Coaches head into zero sum State of Origin decider with all on the line | Nick Tedeschi

Related: Daly Cherry-Evans State of Origin snub raises questions in Queensland camp | Nick Tedeschi

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/jul/12/choking-still-a-hazard-for-nsw-blues-as-do-or-die-state-of-origin-decider-arrives

Jun 21

Never write off a champion: cool, smart Maroons prove old adage true | Matt Cleary

With a quartet of champion veterans on the field against New South Wales in Game II it was perhaps foolish to doubt Queensland’s State of Origin dynasty

After 50 minutes of Game II of State of Origin XXXVI this journalist – and I would suggest several other chroniclers of recent history – was cranking up the keyboard with variations of “It’s over – Queensland dynasty busted by marauding blue hordes”. Thirty minutes later I wondered how I could be so naïve, so foolish. How could I forget the old but true edict, “Never write off a champion”.

Related: Queensland keep State of Origin hopes alive with thrilling late win over NSW

Related: State of Origin 2017 Game 2: Queensland Maroons beat NSW Blues 18-16 – as it happened

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/jun/22/never-write-off-a-champion-cool-smart-brilliant-maroons-prove-old-adage-true

May 19

Super Rugby cull: Western Force not dead yet with Rebels feeling heat

The Perth-based club were the obvious choice to be axed a few months ago but a well-orchestrated campaign to save the club might just be paying dividends

In late March of this year it was reported that there had been in-principle agreement among the stakeholders of Sanzaar that South Africa would dump two Super Rugby teams and Australia one.

It was further reported that the Australian team would be the Western Force. And from this edge of the island continent of Australia it seemed a logical choice. If you had to dump one – and it appeared at the time that was the case – the loss-making, under-achieving outpost pioneer owned by the ARU and whose best finish in Super Rugby is seventh in 2007 seemed the logical choice.

Related: Australian rugby currently languishing about 10 years behind New Zealand | Bret Harris

Related: Australian rugby crisis: backing for idea to send players to develop in New Zealand

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/may/19/super-rugby-cull-western-force-not-dead-yet-with-rebels-feeling-heat

Apr 24

Souths cry injustice but introduction of ‘captain’s call’ is no solution | Matt Cleary

The game’s commentariat was outraged by a call on Friday but officials got it right and alternative avenues for review would only further confuse matters

It is said of South Sydney fans that even after a win they’ll race home to watch the replay and still be nervous about the result. From dear sweet Russell Crowe down, Souths supporters bleed the green blood of Ming the Merciless.

After Brisbane Broncos five-eighth Anthony Milford landed a drop-goal to beat the Bunnies by a point on Friday night, Souths fans, and with them the greater fanbase and punditry of this great game, dug out the pitchforks and demanded retribution. Demanded justice. Demanded that someone make the pain go away.

Related: Manly stun Raiders in golden-point NRL win as Broncos pip Souths

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/apr/24/souths-cry-injustice-but-introduction-of-captains-call-is-no-solution