The X-Factor, by Mark Geyer
Iíve heard it alot in sport and everyday life through the years. Itís something that probably every sporting and corporate team has. Itís called an "X-Factor".
Just what is an X-Factor? Well this is something that has always intrigued me, so I have put on my investigative hat and went straight to the source (Webster dictionary), and we find that "x" means unknown quantity (also means roman numeral for 10), "factor" means something that contributes to the production of a result. Interesting stuff!!!
If we take the X-Factor theory and run it through the remaining 8 teams in the NRL finals, I believe each team has what you would call an "X". Not necessarily the marquee player, or even the go to guy, but a player who, if he doesnít play, or has an off day, he usually struggles.
Weíll start with this yearís minor premiers, Parramatta.
In a team made up of future internationals, the one player who springs to mind is Daniel Wagon. Wagon is a player with untold ability. Heís come along way from playing on the wing for the Dragons. Such a long way in fact itís now made him dangerous whether heís playing in the number 4, 6 or 13, and he adds a lot of underrated muscle to this Parra side, that already boasts some of the comps hardest men. Rarely mentioned in post game back slaps, he is probably one of the first picked each week in this juggernaut of a Parra side, that come September 30, are going to be very hard to toss.
Next weíll look at the Doggies. Their "X" factor certainly isnít an unknown but again, rarely makes the headlines. Smith is a player that, as far as semiís are concerned, would hard pressed in not being the leagueís most seasoned campaigner, a fact that will surely be recognised by Coach Folkes in his build up to the huge games. Smith has done it all; he is a true clubman and a player that, no matter what circumstances, you want him next to you in the trenches.
The Knights have a player that could be called their A, B, C and X, Y, Z man. Joey Johns. But they also have a player who has been playing right out of his skin this year, Steve Simpson. Simpson seems to have flourished in the absence of a fellow tall timber (Shiels, Fairleigh) this year. Their departure has made Simpson the Knights newest tall, athletic ball playing forward and he seems to be relishing his new task. Depending on how far the Knights go this season, look for Simpson to be on the Aussie selectorís short list for Kangaroo Bolter!
The Sharks have a team of tremendous athletes but when I come to their "X" Factor, he probably takes the cake. Paul Mellor. Big, strong, fast, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.....................sorry wrong bloke. But hey, heís pretty damn close. A couple of weekís back, I saw something I never thought Iíd see in Rugby League. Wendell Sailor being dwarfed in a one on one tackle. Mellor has been in and out of first grade since debuting as a child prodigy at 17. But his game against the Broncos that day meant that Mellor had finally arrived. That hit combined with his fellow "Gigantos" centre partner (Chris McKenna), make Mellor the perfect "X" factor.
Speaking of Wendell, we come to his Broncos. Undeniably, the leagues most dangerous team on their day, when fully fit. But the sad fact is that this is not a luxury the Premiers have had this season. With injury to key personnel (Gordy) and a rigorous State Of Origin series involving the majority of their team, the once invincible Broncos are really struggling at the minute. For the Broncos to lengthen their campaign this year, they will need all young guns firing. Webb, Carlaw, Harrison and Walker all have to step up to the plate. But the young gun who I rate as this teamís "X" factor is Brad Meyers. Big Brad has basically disappeared out of site since his one-man demolition job of the Blues in this yearís State Of Origin. Confidence seems to be the only factor in Meyers form reversal since the Origin series. But these semi-final games could just be what the doctor ordered for this humungus red head. He also has the ability to fill the "Wild Beast" role vacated by Tallis. Itís time for the sleeping giant to awaken, and when he does, I want front row seats.
In picking the Roosters "X" factor, I had no hesitation in nominating Pommy Import, Adrian Morley. "Strange choice" you may think, but he optimizes the "X" in "X" factor. "Unknown Quantity" since arriving on our shores with the "Gordon Tallis of English Footy" tag, a lot has been expected of this rampaging Yorkshireman. He has show glimpses of class in his 18 appearances, thus far, to suggest something big might be brewing. With his ability to put on a big hit when required or hitting the holes out wide of Freddy and co., he will certainly be a necessary cog in the Roosters chain. A lot of people have waited most of the year to see a fit and healthy Morley ready for combat. I think the time is just about right.
In looking at the Dragons team, it has obvious starts of great quality in Barrett, Blacklock, Gasnier, Ryles...........but similar to the Doggies, I have gone with a tried and true semi-final campaigner, Paul (Mary) McGreor, as Dragons "X" factor. Experience counts for plenty in the blockbuster games, and Mary certainly has plenty of that. A late starter to grade footy, it didnít take him long in becoming one of the games premier centres. Mary is also one of these players who spends lots of valuable time and effort in the nurturing of the younger brigade of his team. A very unselfish player, who when 100% (or even 90%) is almost impossible to stop. His guile and wisdom will go a long way to ensuring Dragons success in this yearís finals.
Last, but by no means least, is the success story of the year. New Zealand Warriors. What else can you say but, GREAT, GREAT, GREAT!!! Having the Warriors succeed means rugby league, as a whole is the big winner. This may be an old and overused cliché but, in this case, itís 100% true. Written off by many (me included) at the start of the year, they were thousands to make the 8. But under the astute guidance on Daniel Anderson, they have transformed themselves into a team that is not only good to watch, but is slowly changing the whole League vs. Union debate in the land of the long white cloud. All Black supports are methodically starting to catch onto this new craze called "Happy Footy".
Thatís exactly what they are playing, football that brings smiles to peoples faces. How refreshing. Good on you Daniel Anderson, you must feel proud in accomplishing what many thought was a non-event. Warriors making the Semiís.
So that brings me to the Warriors "X" factor. My original choice for an "X" factor for the Warriors was Monty Betham. Now that he has suffered a cruel injury, I think that the Warriors chances may also suffer.
Their whole season took a change for the better even though it was a controversial incident earlier this year in Wellington when Monty used Steve Reardonís head as a punching bag. From that day on, the Warriors had established respect. It might have been a controversial way to earn it, but earn it they did.
Even as far as going to fellow players, respecting his fighting progess by nominating him as the man not to get into a fight with, now that heís gone they will have to look to another member of their team to fill the void left by Montyís costly omission.
I believe the man for the job and the perfect "X" factor is Logan Swann. Coming back after a shoulder injury he should be the catalyst to ignite enthusiasm and destruction for the Warriors team. He brings that added class in attack and is a great one-on-one defender. He might not be as tough as Monty, but what he lacks in fighting ability, he makes up for it in football ability. A player who must perform to his full capabilities, if the Warriors are to progress.