A Nichey Niche Convo - Panthers, Dragons, Mahrez And Kiwi Steve

Sometimes the Diggity Doc and the Wildcard talk to each other...

Diggity Doc - El Wildcardo, I don't mess around; who do you want the St George Dragons to sign and more importantly do they need to sign anyone?

Wildcard - Ah Doc, you offer a difficult question. This close to the start of the season it's pretty mental that so many players are still moving clubs and the Dragons tend to be in for those opportunistic singings. But ya know I don't reckon they need anyone. Well, none of the guys moving around anyway. We bought a centre in Kurt Mann, Josh Dugan's talking about moving back there (I'd rather him at FB, tbh), Pete Mats is only getting better, same for Euan Aitken. They've only lost one important player anyway in Trent Merrin. Now, if a massive forward becomes available, mate, I want them to snap him up, that guy just isn't there at the mo. Someone tell Ben Matulino that Shaun Johnson thinks he's a dick or something.

DD - That's the weird thing my friend - they don't need any of these players they are apparently chasing. Peter Mata'utia is the best Mata'utia and Aitken enjoyed a breakout season this year. I actually think that they Dragons are trying to please those fans who wanted bigger and better signings. What are your thoughts on Jack Bird? He left St George to join rivals Cronulla and now it's a battle between sharks and dragons (a weird Game of Thrones spin off) for Bird's signature.

WC - I'm not really sure what to think about him, really. He left and it always sucks to lose a young player before you get to see what you've got in him, but he made his name as a half for Cronulla and that wasn't his bag at the Dragons U20s. It's also not something we need anymore, so I'm not crazy about that. Although, doing a lil research here, he has one year left with the Sharks. Benji has one year left with the Dragons. I wonder if that's what they're looking at? You wanna be careful with investing too much in an older, injury-prone player like Benji even despite how good he's been for StG.

DD - Investing in injury-prone vets and one-season rookies is always a wobbly path to go down. Investing in a proven performer like Peta Hiku however, well that's a great move by the Panthers.

WC - Man, I was just reading this thing the other day about European football and how there's a tendency for players to get big money transfers after one season. They based it on this economic principle from the 70s that suggested that 'everyone gets promoted until they reach their level of incompetence'. Jack Bird's had one good season with moments of averageness in there. I'd be skeptical if it weren't that he was a junior with StG so they know a little more about him. The Peter Principle it was called, named after the dude who came up with it. Peta Hiku's been around long enough that we know what he can do (anywhere in the backline except the dominant half). That's a really good get by Pennie, bringing in one kiwi to replace another in Lewie Brown. Are you buying the Panthers (who always seem to get the best out of the player movement market) as a genuine rebound team in 2016?

DD - Always capable of little gems like that aren't ya? Shout out to Peter and Peta. Yes I'm riding the Panthers as they now have arguably the best backline in the NRL: Moylan, DWZ, Whare, Hiku, Mansour, Soward and Wallace. More importantly they have halves depth in Te Maire Martin and Zach Dockar-Clay along with the Jennings brothers, Waqa Blake and Isaah Yeo. Young but hugely talented.

WC - Do they still have that Will Smith dude? He was always good for a headline, handy player too. To be honest I never thought he was any worse than Moses M'bye, who I'm still waiting to see what all the fuss is about. But then I tend not to be so generous to the Dogs. I guess with the Panthers it's a matter of keeping them on the park, which is what killed them last season after a semi-final spot in 2014. Coz that forward pack has been something decent for a few years and they just added my boy Trent Merrin. I definitely feel like nobody takes them seriously though because they don't have a marketable superstar playmaker yet (them Aussie media, they love their marketable superstars). Give it a couple months of a fit Matt Moylan and that'll change though.

DD - Will Smith goes good, even if he will end up playing elsewhere in the next three years or so. You are correct there and all of this could come without Uncle Ivan which is weird. Anthony Griffin might have walked into a gold mine. If Griffin can't lead the Panthers to a winning season then he might look a bit silly.

WC - I did always feel like Will Smith was a little fresh, to be fair though. Not one who always controlled a game, it was a bit wild, wild west when he played. All he needs is some more focus, which should help him fit in more with the men in black at Penrith. Don't wanna be one of those bad boys that never quite made it. Maybe a switch would be best for him if he's really gonna get jiggy wit it. Hey how are you feeling about Nines these days, what with edition III coming in fast in two months?

DD - My only issue with the Nines is how much the 'NRL stars' line gets pushed to sell tickets. That's a bit rough as it is still a new event and you can't get complacent about marketing and so on. It is a dangerous game to play though as the whole player burnout issue continues to linger. Shaun Johnson and Billy Slater are both coming off season ending injuries so it's easy to grab them for marketing duties plus the Kangaroos had no games in November. Point being there will be a time when there simply as many 'stars' at the Nines as there are now. I don't see that as a bad thing though as the Nines is all about the young/fringe players but when your whole marketing push is about star power it gets a bit funky.

WC - Yeah, for sure. I've been to it both years but I doubt I'll go this year and that got me worried that, with the event confirmed in AKL 'til 2018, maybe the Nines has one of those typically down years as always happens and then the powers that be immediately do what they always do and blame the fans for not turning up to an event that you've identically marketed every year. Because it's a great event, people enjoy it, though I don't know if it's settled into it's long term identity yet. Like, is it a dress up sevens party or is it a circus of sporting elite or is it a genuine competition that they're all out to win or what is it? Of course I'm probably underestimating the whole thing, but when they start trialling new rules I get sceptical. The advantage rule oughta be better than the extra point conversion thingy they tried at the All Stars a few years back at least.

DD - At the moment it is kinda in the middle of being a serious competition, a warm up event for the season and a big old party. They haven't quite nailed their own identity yet huh? So you're predicting a down year for the Nines?

WC - Maybe not predicting it, but I wouldn't be surprised. I hate the way promoters here complacently expect people to turn up and then they blame them when they don't. But the Nines has a solid reputation so far, they should be alright. I wonder if it needs the Warriors to win it for it to fully take off beyond all gimmick value. How are you enjoying still being in the Champions League? As a United fan, I'm pretty jealous of Arsenal's consistency at the moment, just wait 'til Arsene retires though.

DD - Watching United stutter gave me great joy mate. I'm never gonna boast about consistency as a Goooner, I am thoroughly enjoying United's misfortunes though. How long are you giving coach LVG at the helm to right the ship ... or at least try to right the ship.

WC - He's got 'til the end of his contract after next season and then he's said himself that he'll retire. He won't be sacked. He just has to do better and it'll be interesting to see what happens now that he's had this disaster. The problems aren't as deep as they probably appear though. The defence has never been better there's just no balance. Gotta find a way to bring some creativity in there is all, too many players are being stifled and others have played themselves out of form. It's a confidence thing at the moment. I'd argue that they just need to play higher up the park. A higher defensive line means more room to advance in the midfield which means more room for the attackers to drift into space and be an option. The worry is that this isn't that quick of a defence (Smalling aside) so that opens up the counter attack. Hence what I say about balance. As for Arsenal, mate, you won't know how lucky you are until it's gone. We had it (better) with Fergie and (worse) then with Moyes taking over. You'll get it when Thierry Henry/Patrick Vieira is managing.

DD - Henry will love the punditry too much and Vieira is up to his ears in City's sky blue so I'm eyeing up Dennis Bergkamp to take over from Arse. Who's your favourite Premier League player right now?

WC - They said the same thing about Gary Neville's punditry mate and yet there he is. Eventually they wanna put their money where their mouths are. Vieira was being groomed at CIty but if they get Pep Guardiola then all bets are off. Bergkamp's a very good call though, he's number two at Ajax at the mo but word is Swansea have been putting in some feelers. My favourite player, well in my predictions this week I raved about how well Romelu Lukaku is playing these days (far better than Diego Costa at the club that sold him). Plus his buddy Ross Barkley's a great one to watch. I've got a long list of dudes I enjoy watching but to balance that with form, I'm gonna lock in Riyad Mahrez of Leicester, Doc. The Algerian international (fun fact, both Leicester and Algeria's teams are nicknamed 'The Foxes') who has scored or assisted 16 goals this season and has more successful dribbles than anyone else. There aren't many more exciting things than a defender getting skinned and left on his arse. Do you sympathise with these managers always getting sacked, by the way? Or is it just the nature of the beast?

DD - And all the 'big' clubs will come calling for Mahrez right? Well as long as a manager is given sufficient time to prove his worth then yeah no worries. Unfortunately the nature of the beast in football especially doesn't usually allow a coach to ride the ups and downs that take place at every club. Faith and trust go along way whether it's a club owner showing faith in a coach that they appointed (if you hire a coach and then fire him swiftly, you've gotta cop some blame) or a coach showing faith in players ... like Mike Hesson has done with a few BLACKCAPS.

WC - True, remember the criticism that Hess took early on? What with the Otago Boys Club and all that. I've been feeling pretty bad for Garry Monk after he was sacked by Swansea after 2-3 poor months having served that club in various ways (player, captain, coach, manager) for the last 11 years. It feels wrong to let him go but then Swansea is a club that is as well organised as any and they didn't make a rash decision. Things do change. Though the last thing you want is a coaching roundabout like at the NZ Warriors the past few years. Which reminds me, even if there's nothing else to really say about them at this stage, it should be pointed out that since the last convo, the Golden State Warriors still haven't lost a game. And there's a team rolling with an interim coach. As for Riyad Mahrez, yeah, I'd be shocked if he's still at Leicester in 12 months. Shocked.

DD - Many people picked the Indiana Pacers to end the Warriors' streak, which didn't eventuate as the streak continues. Who's in that tier below the Warriors at the moment? The greatest sporting organisation (San Antonio Spurs) have gotta be in that mix.

WC - Yeah, the Spurs are the only team in the tier below them. After that you probably get the Cavaliers, the Pacers, the Raptors and the Thunder (who've won four on the trot, chur Steve). What's fascinating is that the all-time record is 33 wins in a row, and with the end to last season the Warriors are (at the time of writing) at 27 wins - tied second with LeBron's Heat. And if things go on as they're progressing  then who should the Warriors play on Christmas Day (US Time) to tie the '73 Lakers' record but LeBron's Cavs - a finals rematch. Then it's the Kings to beat the record, before they lose to the Mavericks the next game. Is that me being wishful? Of course. But it's now down in writing for when the prophecy comes true. (Otherwise they'll probably just go 82-0).

DD - How's big kiwi Steve been going?

WC - Well if you believe the telly news then he's just put on an offensive MASTERCLASS in scoring (eleven) points against the Hawks. To go with being one of the best defenders in the history of the game. The truth is that he's doing a solid job as an NBA starter, holding his ground on defence, not getting as many rebounds as he probably should but then that'll happen when Kevin Durant and his hyper-long arms are at small forward. His main role, and why he's not losing that starter spot no matter how modest his numbers may get, is setting those high picks for KD and Westbrook. Those guys don't care how things go so long as they get their shots. Steve gets them their shots with the space he creates. It's an undercover crucial aspect of their offence. Interesting note: while we were doing this thing, and I was talking about how the Dragons don't need a centre and I hate the Bulldogs and all that... the Dragons went and signed Tim Lafai. Any initial thoughts there aside from the egg on my face?

DD - There's a lot to love about Steve and perhaps my favourite thing about him is his assisting role to two of the best players in the NBA. Sure Durant and Westbrook would be awesome without Steve but they must love everything that he offers the team and as you said, their individual games as well. Ah the Dragons, well that makes things interesting with Aitken and Mata'utia as they could be competing for one centre spot. Lafai is good though and let's be fair; he's better than Aitken and Mata'utia. He's big and has good footwork, plus we've often talked about depth and the Dragons suddenly have a fairly deep roster.

WC - Especially coz Steve doesn't try to step on their toes by like, ya know, scoring points and taking shots and stuff. In fairness the Dragons probably needed another face in the backs, and you may as well buy someone better. Kurt Mann is in that chat too but it doesn't change anything coz there's a left wing spot open too (probs for P.Mats). I'm glad you like the depth there coz I have a feeling not too many are tipping this team to make the eight. I mean, at least two teams gotta drop out for the Panthers and Warriors, right? Damn, the Sea Eagles too. Hmm... Well there's always one team that just has a horror season.

DD - I'd say there's a few low key contenders to drop out and the Bunnies may be leading that list. Want me to get you a souvenir in Manchester while I link up with LVG, who wants some peptides?

WC - Oh for sure, mate. Sir Fergie's latest book would be a cracker for the stockings, under the circumstances. Maybe send a few peppies Jacob Spoonley's way after his gaffe's for Auckland City Friday morning. Poor lad. Pleasant travels Doc. Catch ya next week.

DD - Adios chief