Burgess and Graham best mates and rivals

Ultimate League: It’s not too late to sign up for our Fantasy NRL game 
Shanghai night field

Sam Burgess is unlikely to wake again in the middle of the night “panicking” about being robbed in South Africa by Ricky Gervais, and James Graham won’t have to worry any more about having a room-mate “who seems to hate wearing clothes at any time”.

With Burgess having been granted a release from South Sydney at the end of the season to play rugby union, last year’s World Cup semi-final at Wembley was almost certainly the last time the star English front-rowers will play together and the Good Friday clash between the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium is one of the few remaining opportunities for them to oppose each other.

While fierce rivals on the field, Graham and Burgess have forged a close friendship after spending seven years as room-mates in England teams and they meet up for dinner about once a month in Sydney.

“Apart from him always checking himself out in the mirror, he is a good guy to room with,” Graham said of Burgess. “I am going to miss having those times together over the next few years.”

Burgess said: “There is a lot that is different about me and ‘Jammer’, but we are honestly best of mates. He has been my roomie in England teams since 2007. When you live with someone for five weeks you get to know them pretty well and I have spent a lot of time with him away from footy, so we are proper mates.

“He has got some weird habits – he can’t sleep unless he listens to his podcasts at night – but he is a good roomie. He is good at making the cups of tea at night, so I think I will miss that.”

Ask Graham about the podcasts and he laughs as he recounts an incident during the England team’s high-altitude camp in South Africa before last year’s World Cup.

“I just have a bit of trouble switching off at night time, so I like to listen to the Ricky Gervais podcast and some of his old radio shows,” Graham explained. “I have listened to them 1000 times, so I know what is coming.

“I think I may have lost my earphones or something and I just played it on loud speaker. I thought I was being quiet but Sam panicked. He woke up and heard people talking in the room and he thought he was being robbed in South Africa.”

England coach Steve McNamara said Graham and Burgess are highly competitive, but they liked to “take the piss out of one another” at every opportunity.

Team manager Barrie-Jon Mather added: “Apart from the fact that Sam seems to hate wearing clothes at any time and Jammer has a weakness for crumpets, they did a fairly good job of covering up their activities from me in the World Cup.”

What neither attempts to hide is the fact they will do almost anything to win, as evidenced by the fact Graham and Burgess almost came to blows in a match between Souths and Canterbury in 2012.

McNamara said the pair had a “giggle” about it in the England team camp as they showed Test teammates footage of the incident.

“They are very close and they are good friends, but obviously when they come up against each other, they are as fierce as any rivals,” McNamara said.

Graham typically played down the incident, which occured after Burgess picked up a dropped ball from a kick-off and ignored the referee’s whistle to charge into his countryman at full pace.

“I don’t think it was much of a stink,” Graham said. “Sam was running it off a kick-off and I don’t think either of us heard the whistle. I tried to tackle him and boys have run in from both teams, but it was a whole lot about nothing.

“Sam plays the game hard and he is very competitive, you can see that watching him and obviously having spent some time with him you see that in his personality as well.

“He is competitive at everything he does: he is competitive at probably trying to look good, he is very competitive at trying to be the most stylish man in the team with England.

“You see it at training. He wants to be the best at everything he does, whether it be a conditioning drill or a weights session or anything else. He just wants to win and do well for his team.”

That determination to win has led to both being suspended for unsavoury incidents, Graham receiving a 12-match ban for biting Billy Slater in the 2012 grand final and Burgess this week admitting that his “squirrel grip” on Melbourne centre Will Chambers in August had tarnished his reputation.

However, their competitiveness has also made them into two of best players in the NRL: both are ranked in the top-20 players this season, according to Sportsdata’s contributor value rating system.

Burgess is No.2 overall behind Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah, while Graham is 19th. The only other props in between are Canterbury’s Aiden Tolman (eighth), Wests Tigers front-rower Aaron Woods (10th) and South Sydney’s George Burgess (14th).

Sam Burgess’ performance for England in last year’s heartbreaking World Cup semi-final loss to New Zealand is considered one of the best by a front-rower and he shaded Kiwis superstar Sonny Bill Williams for man of the match honours, but Graham wasn’t far behind.

“That game was the highest of highest standards, and they both showed in that game that they are two of the best players in the world in their positions,” McNamara said.

“Sam’s head-to-head with Sonny Bill got all the headlines and probably rightly so, but James was incredible,” McNamara said. “I remember a break being made by New Zealand and the cover play by himself – he ran nearly the length of the field.”

Burgess said Graham had been underrated for much of his three seasons at Canterbury.

“I think it took a while for people to realise what he brought to the club, but I always knew he would be good,” Burgess said. “James is super competitive, so it is always a good game against the Doggies. He has got great soft hands for a big fella and he does the hard yards when he needs to.

“He is a quality bloke and I love him to bits, but I always love playing against him because he is a great competitor and you always know what you are going to get from him.”

Are beards about to go out of fashion?

Illustration: Simon LetchOn the list of trend-setting publications frequented by the fashion conscious, the Royal Society’s Biology Letters would rarely make the cut.
Shanghai night field

But research by a team of Australian scientists published in the journal this week might just change that.

The study by evolutionary scientists at the University of New South Wales has lead to a startling conclusion: beards could be about to go out of fashion.

The scientists set out to explain what causes styles of facial hair to fall in and out of fashion using “negative frequency dependence”, an evolutionary phenomenon where animals gain advantage from having rare traits.

Male guppy fish, for example, have better luck mating and evading predators if they have less common colours and patterns, one of the scientists, Professor Rob Brooks, wrote on The Conversation.

With mating success, those colours and patterns become more common, eventually attracting the attention of predators and falling out of favour with female guppies.

To test the theory, the scientists compiled images of 36 men who had each been photographed clean-shaven, with light stubble, heavy stubble and a full beard.

Subjects were shown an image of each man, in a combination of levels of beardedness.

Bearded blokes were judged more attractive when presented in a series of mostly well-groomed men. Likewise, clean-shaven men were found less attractive when they were common and more attractive when they were rare.

So while bushranger-bearded hipsters may have been on a winning ticket two years ago, they might face diminishing returns now that everyone from AFL players to Hollywood movie stars have tossed away their razors.

Live NRL South Sydney v Bulldogs

Injury icon
Shanghai night field

s

League fan … the Duchess of Cambridge asks a couple of kiddies what the halftime score is in the Bulldogs-Souths match.

KICKOFF

live match icons

Big forwards set to collide as the traditonal Good Friday match hits Sydney Olympic Park.

ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park, Friday 4pm (AEST)

Last meeting: Rabbitohs 28 bt Bulldogs 20 at ANZ Stadium (round 24, 2013).

Head-to-head: Rabbitohs 66, Bulldogs 77, drawn 4

Referees: Shayne Hayne, Ben Cummins

TV: Live, FoxSports 1

Ladbrokes: Rabbitohs $1.80, Bulldogs $2

Betfair: Rabbitohs $1.92, Bulldogs $2.04

Michael Chammas writes: The Bulldogs have come into some good form, but so too have the Bunnies. Souths were brilliant in defence last week, without being able to show much in attack because of the wet conditions at Penrith. This is going to be a belter, but the Rabbitohs should get the job done.

Tip: Rabbitohs by 1

AAP writes: What better time for the Bunnies to get the chocolates than at Easter? However, downing second-placed Canterbury might prove more difficult than getting Bulldogs coach Des Hasler to ditch his beloved ‘‘fly under the radar’’ line. Souths have won their past two matches against the ’Dogs but Canterbury showed just why they can never be counted out in their come-from-behind, one-point last-round win over a heartbroken Warriors. On paper, they have provided another compelling reason. The miserly Dogs lead the competition for the least missed tackles (114) – albeit just ahead of the Rabbitohs (123). But it seems the Dogs’ tenacity and the unavailability of South Sydney forwards George Burgess and Ben Te’o (tripping ban) might prove too much for the Rabbitohs.

Key: Sam Burgess. The Rabbitohs’ forward has already impressed by leading the competition for metres gained (181m average per game) but will need to find another gear to make up for the absence of his brother and Te’o.

RABBITOHS: Greg Inglis, Nathan Merritt, Dylan Walker, Kirisome Auva’a, Bryson Goodwin, Josh Sutton, Adam Reynolds, Dave Tyrell, Apisai Koroisau, Luke Burgess, Kyle Turner, Chris McQueen, Sam Burgess. Interchange: Cameron McInnes, Ben Lowe, Jason Clark, Joe Picker.

BULLDOGS: Sam Perrett, Corey Thompson, Josh Morris, Tim Lafai, Mitch Brown, Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson, Aiden Tolman, Michael Ennis (capt), James Graham, Josh Jackson, Tony Williams, Dale Finucane. Interchange: Greg Eastwood, Tim Browne, David Klemmer, Sam Kasiano.

Hello, league fans. Welcome to round seven of the NRL season. ANZ Stadium co-tennants South Sydney and Canterbury are in action today. In the one change to the Bulldogs side, Sam Kasiano is back for the Bulldogs. Pat O’Hanlon is the man to drop off the bench for the Dogs.

The game hasn’t started and Des Hasler already looks unhappy. Maybe they were out of Bertie Beetle showbags when he visited the Royal Easter Show on the way to the game today. You can’t blame him. In other news, there is a great crowd on hand.

Both teams are on the field. You can’t help but feel a little bit excited about this game. Two good teams. Ideal weather conditions and a great crowd.

Souths were looking good on their first set, running the ball on the last. They seemed to have little trouble making ground in the middle of the field.

Souths kick off and we are underway.

5th minute: After a penalty got the Rabbitohs into a great attacking position, Sam Burgess made a handling error with the Rabbitohs pressing the Dogs line.

6th minute: Canterbury get bailed out with a penalty of their own. Now it is their turn to attack. It will be interesting to see if they can get their big men running at Souths No.7 Adam Reynolds.

8th minute: Another pressure-relieving penalty for the Dogs. It eventually goes out, but only after being touched by Nathan Merritt. Dogs on the attack. James Graham really looks to be in the mood today.

10th minute: Video ref time. Have the Dogs scored? They look to have scored, and the onfield ruling is try.

NO TRY. The try was denied due to the video ref ruling an obstruction play. Dessie’sd day is getting worse. First no Bertie Beetles. Now his side has been denied a try.

12th minute: Tim Lafai. What’s going on there? A simple dropped ball has given the Rabbitohs a great chance to attack.

The Rabbitohs come close but an errant pass costs them a try. A lucky escape for the Dogs. Both teams have looked dangerous in attack thus far.

Great crowd for today’s clash with @SSFCRABBITOHSpic.twitter爱上海同城论坛m/gI4J1LKLMs— NRL Bulldogs (@NRL_Bulldogs) April 18, 2014

SPOILER ALERT. Parents, those with friends and Easter Egg lovers in general. At half time we will reveal the must-have Easter goodie for all league fans. It is pretty good, and cheap.

18th minute: On the field, the Rabbitohs have stretched the Dogs to near breaking point again but failed to come up with a try. John Sutton’s long run downfield ended with another poor play on the last.

20th minute: James Graham and Michael Ennis are both struggling after a head clash. Both men and bleeding but Graham is staying on the field. What else do you expect?

21st minute: The Dogs escape again. This time  they get a kick away on the last but Nathan Merritt leapt too early and cost his team a try. Surely the Dogs can’t keep getting away with this.

Sam Kasiano is on for the Dogs. Just in case anyone was wondering, he remains one massive human.

Poor last tackle plays are hurting both sides. The Rabbitohs have been the worst culprits, but this time it is the Dogs who fail to get a kick away. Composure gentlemen, composure.

Another lucky escape for the Dogs. A ridiculous Tony Williams pass was knocked on by Souths forward Ben Lowe. How Souths haven’t scored yet is a mystery.

The ferocity of this game is starting to be felt. Michael Ennis is getting stitches in his head, Apisai Koroisau has a should injury and now Joe Picker is down for the count. Picker is being assisted from the field with what appears a chest or sternum injury. Luke Burgess is the only fit man on the bench for Souths.

33rd minute: A scrambling play ends with Souths penalised for obstruction. The Dogs have defended very well on their own line. If they can keep that up and the Rabbitohs’ injury plight is as bad as it seems, Michael Maguire’s men may be in for a long second half. Souths 2-0

For any Sharks fans reading, finally some good news. Adrian Proszenko  reports that Paul Gallen may make an early comeback from injury to play against the Roosters tomorrow. Read the story here.

35th minute: Dogs lock Dale Finucane placed on report for a lifting tackle. No injuries of any kind but you simply can’t tackle like that anymore.

36th minute: Souths finally score. Souths isolate Trent Hodkinson in defence and Sam Burgess charges at him. Hodkinson goes low but Burgess is simply too big. His third try of the season.Adam Reynolds converts. Souths 8-0

38th minute: James Graham didn’t miss Dave Tyrrell. What a hit. Tyrrell taken off the field. He is struggling. Graham on the other hand, he loves it.

30th minute: This game is heating up. Sam Kasiano started it with an impressive charge. Both sides are ratcheting up their defence. Another penalty helps the Rabbitohs. And there’s another one. Souths take the two points and lead 2-0. Adam Reynolds makes no mistake with an easy shot at goal.

In further injury news for the Rabbitohs, Kyle Turner won’t be back after undergoing a concussion test. Dave Tyrrell will also be struggling to come back on on the evidence presented as he was taken off.

That’s halftime. Souths lead 8-0 in a brutal clash. South deserve their lead but are facing a tough second half with a mounting injury toll. The Dogs are far behind but need to stop giving away cheap penalties and improve their ball security. If they do that they can still win this game.

OK. While the teams take a breather and assess the health of their players, it’s Easter Egg time. The official egg of the NRL is back again this year, and boy is it a beauty. There isn’t a lot to it, just a football-shape mass of chocolate. But wait, there’s more. On the outside of the box is a sheet with all 16 NRL teams and room cut out ladder. Talk about value adding. At a bargain-basement price of $10 it can’t be beat.

Warning: there is also an AFL Easter egg available that looks extremely similar. Don’t buy that one, the chocolate isn’t as good.

null

How the runners rate in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes

BOBAN: He doesn’t really get on with wet tracks, so has had an interrupted preparation since winning the Chipping Norton Stakes six weeks ago. His only run since was a midfield effort in the George Ryder Stakes on a slow track and one on which he has never been placed in three runs. Needs it drier.
Shanghai night field

IT’S A DUNDEEL: A five-time group 1 winner, which was runner-up in this race last year. He has been in the money at each of his three runs during this preparation. In the latest, the BMW, he started last and came in second, and appears to be peaking at the right time. Should be closer in the run and will be hard to hold out.

SACRED FALLS: A dual Doncaster winner after his late charge last week and loves soft ground. He has only had the three runs for the autumn, coming in fourth in the Canterbury Stakes and George Ryder Stakes before the Doncaster. Could still be on the way up and should be thrown in trifectas.

GREEN MOON: He hasn’t won since his Melbourne Cup victory in 2012 and has never won at weight-for-age. However, he was good when fourth in the Peter Young Stakes to start his prep and then runner-up behind Fiorente in the Australian Cup. He has a good 2000m record and could cause a surprise.

CARLTON HOUSE: He will carry the royal colours in the Queen’s race and has found form at the right time. He appreciated getting to 1900m when Parramatta Cup runner-up before leading until the final couple of bounds in the Ranvet Stakes. Will be ridden from the front and is the one they will have to run down.

HAWKSPUR: Queensland Derby winner last year. Has promised much but yet to deliver. It is hard to knock his form since being back in Sydney, third in the Chipping Norton Stakes, fourth in the Ranvet Stakes, fourth in the Doncaster last week. Looking for 2000m now and will be hitting the line hard.

MY KINGDOM OF FIFE: Won a Queen Elizabeth Stakes before a 2½ year injury lay-off. Formerly owned by the Queen, but is hard to recommend on his three since returning, although each has been an improvement on the one before. Others have better credentials at present.

TOYDINI: Another galloper that has had his autumn ruined by wet tracks. He has only been placed once in five attempts on slow and heavy tracks, and looked all at sea in the Doncaster. Look elsewhere.

LE ROI: Trainer Tony McEvoy holds a high opinion of him even after he bowed a tendon in the BMW last year. He has had two runs since including a last-up win over 1600m at Moonee Valley. He should finish in the first half of the field.

SILENT ACHIEVER: The form horse of the autumn. She is unbeaten since the blinkers, winning group 1 races at her last three run-outs. She was too strong for Carlton House at the end of the Ranvet Stakes, then commanding in the BMW. Likes soft ground and can’t be left out.

ROYAL DESCENT: It has been a year since she won the Australian Oaks by 10 lengths, which has proven to be her last success. She looked the winner in the Doncaster last week only to be run down by Sacred Falls. A winner of this course and has definite each way.

DEAR DEMI: She had a tremendous spring, third in the Caulfield Cup and runner-up in the Mackinnon Stakes but has failed to hit the same highs in the autumn. Didn’t beat a runner home in the Doncaster last week and would need a major form turnaround to be a chance here.

Kiwi jumps trainer might have to shout after Sydney Cup

Who Shot Thebarman is a horse to keep a close eye on. Photo: Fairfax NZHe is a throwback to a traditional New Zealand stayer, like Melbourne Cup winner Kiwi, but Who Shot Thebarman’s trainer Mark Oulaghan is not sure if he is up to the class of a Sydney Cup in the 21st century.
Shanghai night field

There is a long history of Kiwi stayers coming off the farm and winning Australia’s biggest races, but can a five-year-old which was roaming a paddock a little over a year ago add a Sydney Cup to his Auckland Cup triumph at just his 10th start?

“I know he can stay,” Oulaghan said. “I know he has class, but I don’t know if the form is good enough against these horses. I have to say he is weighted up to his best.

“I was surprised when he got two kilos for winning the Auckland Cup. It is a long way from the $7000 maiden he was running in this time last year to be in a $1 million Sydney Cup, but he is just a dead-set stayer.”

Oulaghan only got his hands on Who Shot Thebarman as a four-year-old after he had been broken in by his owners, the O’Leary brothers. Before that he had been let run free in a paddock for a couple of years.

At first glance Oulaghan thought the son of Yamanin Vital would add to his jumping team, but that quickly changed.

“He had just been in a big paddock running around how he liked, which is a wonderful environment for a horse,” Oulaghan said. “I don’t know if it helped him but it certainly didn’t hurt him.

“I did think we might be looking at the fences with him, but once we trialled him it was obvious he was a flat horse.”

A very good one at that.

He has started favourite at all but one of his nine starts and recorded six wins and two seconds, one of which was at his home track in the Manawatu Cup three runs back.

“That was disappointing because it was at Awapuni, which is home for us, and he didn‘t have a lot of luck and just went down,” Oulaghan said.

“He has just kept stepping up and as the races have got further the better he has been.”

The on-pace stayer was back in the winner’s circle in comprehensive fashion in the Avondale Cup before being too strong for Celtic Prince in the Auckland Cup over two miles on March 3.

Oulaghan sent Who Shot Thebarman to Australia a few weeks ago but decided not to start in the Chairman’s Handicap last Saturday.

“I just thought the heavy track would be too much for him and was mindful that he would have to back up this week,” Oulaghan said.

“Thius is the race we came for and we will find out how good he is, and whether we will be back in the spring.”