After a stellar career, it was time to bow down to the King of Rome as the Eternal City said arrivederci to Francesco Totti this week.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday as the 40-year-old brought the curtain down after 786 games in the Giallorossi jersey.
A one-club man if ever there was one.
After a long journey, Gatland’s men have arrived in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Tom Dumoulin wins the 100th Giro d’Italia, Ons Jabeur is pretty excited about becoming the first Arab woman since 2008 to win a Grand Slam main draw match, at Roland Garros, where All Blacks legend Dan Carter also enjoyed a day out.
This year NSW should stand a better chance than most of breaking the stranglehold Queensland have had on the State of Origin for more than a decade.
The Maroons have lost two of their star players in Greg Inglis and Jonathan Thurston, and failed to recall Billy Slater, leaving them with just two of the magical spine that has dominated the series for the past 10 years – hooker Cameron Smith and halfback Cooper Cronk.
The Blues have also assembled a powerful squad with many of the stars of the Kangaroos team that thrashed the Kiwis 30-12 in the ANZAC Test, including former very bad boys Blake Ferguson and Josh Dugan, David Klemmer, Aaron Woods and new captain Boyd Cordner.
Queensland have also been forced to gamble on some new faces – Anthony Milford and Dylan Napa – something they have not had to do for over a decade.
The Maroons also no longer have the invincible Mal Meninga as head coach, who won all but one of the 10 series he coached. He is replaced by the more human Kevin Walters, now in his second year.
But like I say ‘should’ – and as I have learnt with great regularity in the past should is a very bad word.
So as a proud New South Welshman I am determined this year not to get my hopes up of a Blues series victory for only the second time in 12 years.
Thus in the interests of crushing any faint flickering hopes of my fellow New South Welshman, here are the five reasons why the Cane Toads will win – as usual.
They’ll win because they always win
Winning is a habit, just like losing, and over the last decade the Maroons have acquired the habit of winning. Even with the Blues 30 points up with five minutes to go, you would still back the Maroons to find a way to win. All the good teams do, it’s called a winning culture – like Manchester United under Ferguson, the Aussie cricket team under Steve Waugh and the All Blacks under… well, anyone.
They have two games in Brisbane
Home ground advantage is magnified by around 1000%, especially when that home ground is Suncorp Stadium. The NSW players are mentally tarred-and-feathered before they even get into the ground as their bus is forced to navigate the infamous Caxton Street, just next to the ground, where Queensland fans gather to point, jeer and do something much worse – smile – as the Blues are delivered to the Maroon-coloured lions waiting in the Coloseum.
It means more to Queenslanders
Away from State of Origin week, Queenslanders are actually very nice people – I’ll even admit to having a couple as friends. But come game time they turn into rabid, one-eyed monsters, screaming at the top of their lungs to ‘Kill the Cockroaches’ – better known as New South Wales.
That kind of manic support is hard to suppress and rubs off on the players making the ones in blue fear for their lives and the ones in the other colour grow another six inches.
They have the best players
They actually don’t – this year definitely. Without Inglis, Matt Scott and Thurston the Queensland team looks distinctly, well… beatable, especially in the forwards where the NSW six should mash them. But even if they are not the better players they still believe they are and in the white hot cauldron of Origin that’s all that matters.
In a tight finish Queensland always find the big play
And State of Origin games are always close. In the last 20 State of Origin matches stretching back to 2010 only three have been decided by more than ten points.
Queensland always end up winning but they like to keep it as tight as possible for as long as possible to cause maximum pain to watching New South Welshman so they can snatch the W in the final seconds.
As the clock ticks down trust Smith, Cronk, Darius Boyd, someone you’ve never heard of or Inglis to pop up and grab the winning points.
But wait on… Inglis isn’t playing. Maybe, just maybe, this is NSW’s year. Maybe we might…
No, no – don’t let me go there!
State of Origin No1 is on OSN Sports 4 HD at 13:30 on Wednesday, May 31.
Adelaide and Greater Western Sydney continue to set the pace at the top of the ladder with 32 points after 10 rounds. Both had strong wins on the weekend with the Crows trouncing Fremantle by a century (143-43) at home and the Giants holding on to beat West Coast (98-90) in Perth. Both wins were impressive in their own way: Adelaide for the sheer scale of their hammering of the previously well-rated Dockers and the Giants for gutsing out a narrow win over the sixth placed Eagles. The losses allowed the Bulldogs and Richmond to leapfrog the WA teams as they beat St Kilda (90-50) and the Bombers (81-66) respectively. Hawthorn and the Pies also both won.
In a shortened round due to the State of Origin on Wednesday, lower placed teams took advantage of missing stars to knock off higher ranked opponents. The Raiders beat the Roosters 24-16, with the Tri-colours missing Mitchell Pearce, Boyd Cordner, Blake Ferguson, James Maloney and Dylan Napa – just to namea few. The Warriors put away the under-strength Broncos 28-10 while the Sharks made good use of the presence of a recently retired Blue, Paul Gallen, who inspired a 9-8 win over the Bulldogs.
The rejuvenated Brumbies virtually booked their spot in the playoffs with an impressive 39-15 win over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. The surprise stars for the ACT based team were fullback Tom Banks, who crossed for a first half double, and replacement winger Andy Muirhead, who had to take two weeks off his job as a delivery driver just to accompany the Brumbies to South Africa and Argentina. Muirhead also crossed for a double late in the second half as the Brumbies secured back-to-back victories after edging out the Kings 19-10 last weekend.
Gary Anderson has ranked his victory at the Dubai Duty Free Darts Masters among the best of his career after beating world No1 Michael van Gerwen to retain his title at the Irish Village on Thursday night.
In a repeat of last year’s final, ‘The Flying Scotsman’ defeated reigning world champion van Gerwen 11-7 in an explosive contest in front of a sold out crowd.
Anderson and van Gerwen have made a tradition of producing thrilling finals after serving a masterclass in the World Championships in January – and in Dubai, both players showcased their stellar ability to average over 110.
“It’s a brilliant win for me. The scoring was great and it just shows what an old boy can still do,” said Anderson.
“A few years ago against a player like Michael, I would have just packed in and given up. Now I believe I can catch them and get on a roll.”
Despite winning over 60 trophies – including back-to-back world titles in 2015 and 2016 – Anderson admitted there are only five trophies on the mantelpiece at his home in Somerset, one of which is from Dubai.
“I’ve won a lot of trophies but so far in the house I have five – two world championships, Dubai, Auckland and Tokyo. You get trophies and you get trophies. I keep the ones that stand out. The Dubai trophy is fantastic. I’m over the moon,” said the 46-year-old.
Anderson, who fired 12 180s and averaged 110.88 throughout the contest, battled back from 3-1 and 5-3 down to lead 9-6 with a stunning run of six legs in seven, before a double four sealed his second title in the desert.
Gary Anderson...— DDF Darts Masters (@DubaiDarts) May 25, 2017
Phil Taylor ✅
Peter Wright ✅
Michael van Gerwen ✅
110 average in the final...
Worthy Champion! 🏆 pic.twitter.com/IXeRNKCgWG
He said: “I just kept playing, kept on his tail and hope he’d make a mistake. I think I went into the first break 3-2 down, then 5-5 in the second break and then game on. It was as simple as that.”
“If (Michael) gets in front, he usually steamrolls you. I had to keep the pressure on. The 180s were coming good. I hit the chequers at the right time.”
Van Gerwen, who himself averaged an impressive 110.46 and hit six 180s, had beaten the Scotsman six times in their previous eight meetings.
Their rivalry is among the most intriguing in sport at the moment and will be a fascinating feature on the PDC World Series of Darts for the rest of the calendar year.
“I played some great players, but to play lads like Phil Taylor and Michael, when I retire I can sit back and say I’ve played them and beat them. Not a lot of people can say that,” added Anderson.
Earlier in the evening, Anderson overcame Peter Wright 11-8 in the semi-final, averaging 99.29 and hitting four 180s, while van Gerwen advanced to the the showpiece finale with an 11-3 victory over Wales’ Gerwyn Price.
The PDC World Series of Darts continues in July and the next stop is the Shanghai Darts Masters in China.