Here's a not-news item. When The Eels run on to the turf at Telstra Dome next Sunday there won't be any welcoming applause - not even of the polite sort. The boos will be loud and long and the motivation deep and heartfelt. To know why, read to-day's missive from Jeff Wall in Crikey.
Talk of next Sunday’s NRL preliminary final at Telstra Dome in Melbourne between the Storm and the Parramatta Eels may have to take a back seat this week thanks to the obsession the Eels CEO has with driving the Storm out of the NRL.
Despite the on-field success the Storm have enjoyed since entering the NRL in 1998 – premiers in 1999, runners up in 2006, top eight placing in eight of the ten seasons they have competed in, and minor premiers last year and this year – the Eels CEO, Denis Fitzgerald, wants the Storm ejected from the NRL premiership.
The Eels had hardly begun celebrating their comprehensive win over the Bulldogs on Saturday night when their CEO, who at times makes good sense and other times makes complete nonsense, opened fire on their next opponents.
The off-field anti-Melbourne salvos will probably have two outcomes – the crowd at Telstra Dome will be even better than the Storm hopes (around 40,000), and the odds on premiership favourites will be even more fired up by the attack on their very legitimacy.
Fitzgerald is the longest serving CEO in the NRL. He has been at the Eels helm since 1978. He was one of the staunchest opponents of Super League and that partly accounts for his opposition to the News Limited owned Melbourne Storm.
A few years ago he compared promoting rugby league in Melbourne to promoting beach volleyball in Iceland. Yesterday he said the majority of the Storm supporters came from New Zealand or the northern states.
The Storm have been playing below their best in recent weeks – but still winning – and if they need some firing up Fitzgerald seems to have obliged.
The other preliminary final will be between the Manly Sea Eagles and the North Queensland Cowboys at the Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday night, after the Cowboys wiped out the New Zealand Warriors by 49-12 in Townsville yesterday.
The Cowboys captain, Jonathan Thurston, again laid claims to be the best player in the NRL, a claim that now enjoys wide support among the game's experts. The best, but maybe not the fairest. He has been charged this morning with a grade one dangerous throw and will miss Saturday night's preliminary final against the Manly Sea Eagles unless he can beat the charge before the Judiciary. The Cowboys will miss him: he's the one player capable of ending the Sea Eagles grand final ambitions. He will be represented by the "Perry Mason" of judiciary advocates, Geoff Bellew, SC -- who happens to be a former Manly Sea Eagles Chairman!"
The Sea Eagles coaching and administration teams won’t be interested this week in a media shoot out with the Cowboys. They know that if they can shut down Thurston, and fullback, Matt Bowen, a grand final appearance almost certainly awaits them.