Blow it up and start again

in anger.

The writing was on the wall after NSW’s first offensive possessions. The Mighty Maroons locked out Woods and Fifita, slowed down the ruck, and made Pearce look like an amateur footballer (the jury is still out on that).

It is time for the executives of NSWRL to scrap the whole team, Laurie Daley included. There are players in the team who are part of the losing virus of the last decade – Hayne and Morris – and there are players who are quickly being infected with that same losing mentality. Hayne continues to underwhelm and is seen whinging to the referees more than making productive contributions to his team’s performance.

There are players who should not be picked and should not have been picked in recent years – Trent Merrin, Mitchell Pearce, Blake Ferguson and Robbie Farah. A bunch of has-beens and a bunch of had-so-much potential. The contributions by Pearce and Farah to NSW during their Origin careers has been, well, also underwhelming. Without failure, however, they continue to be picked. One must spit our their tea when Robbie holds a presser to announce his intentions to be picked for Origin.

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NSW needs to build around the future. In the same we Australian cricket rebuilt after the days of Warne, McGrath, Gilly, Punter and the Waughs, NSW needs to clean the canvas and build around its future stars – James Tedesco and Josh Dugan. Give James Maloney and Tedesco a few years together and you’ll have the same lethal combination we say between Cronk and Slater on the 2017 decider.

And Boyd Cordner – questions need to be raised why the captain’s armband was given to him and even more questions need to be raised over the animosity caused by the media circus when Boyd hurt his leg. Over-running the ball and never a leader on the field the fans just don’t see him as an impact player. An analogy run is making Adam Zampa the captain of the Aussie cricket team or J.R. Smith the leader of Cleveland. These types of athletes are not leaders and should not be given that responsibility. Take Cam Smith off the field for Queensland and you feel his absence. Not so much for Boyd Cordner – leave him on the bench.

NSW must address this disease. Away with Daley. Away with Hayne. Away with Pearce. Away with the politics. NSW and its fan cannot endure another decade of Queensland dominance.

 

 

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Review: BMW 2014 M135i

I had the opportunity to drive a 2014 plate BMW M135i through the winding roads of Mulgoa and Orchard Hills giving it a bloody good squirt while staying within recommended speed limits during this double demerit period. Those of you who have been in my Evolution 8 MR with me know I never cross the line with the law (…).

So what are we driving here? A 3-litre straight six with a twin-scroll turbo producing 235kw of power and 450nm of torque. The body is a four door hot hatch shape with a long nose and short back end. It is a tune down from BMW’s 1M – I think mostly because BMW realised it was too bloody powerful and there was opportunity to fill in the gap between what was a quick hot hatch then and what it is now. This car wasn’t touched by the M  department which is surprising because this car is the ducks nuts for the price ($30,000+ plus cheaper than the new M2).

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I don’t think I could find much wrong with the car in terms of performance and practicality. Jeremy Clarkson many years ago ripped it to shreds comparing it to VW’s Golf GTI but the two are not even in the same class. There is not point comparing a Toyota Hilux to a Smart Car and calling the Smart Car impractical for not being able to store your golf clubs in the non-existent boot.

The straight-6 gives a lot of torque down low when the turbo is asleep and lets you zip around quickly without hitting boost coming out of every corner – although doing this isn’t a bad habit. The turbo kicks in at about 3500rpm and revs long and hard to redline at about 9000rpm. One of the fun things about this car is how revvy the engine is – it almost obliges you to hit redline on gears 1-5 every time. And that leads me to the best thing on the car, and the thing that clinches the advantage over AMGs A45, which is the ZF gearbox. It is smooth and quick and you get an awesome burble shifting at the high rev range. The nice kind of VW burble – not the mechanical sound AMG has been producing for the last few years.

Rear wheel drive lets you get the car playing around out of every corner when the boost kicks in until the traction control kicks your ass back into a straight line. This car has a better dynamic stability control system than the Golf R. The test was conducted in Sport mode. Sport Plus is race mode and after losing a lot of traction with this setting in the past I didn’t dare play with it this time. Switch it back to normal mode and you are back in a tame 3-series-like luxury car.

The interior makes me feel like a driver in the series 6 RX-7 as all the driver controls and feedback mechanisms are driver orientated. You sit in a very snug cockpit which makes you feel like you’re part of the chassis. The leather seats are very nice (likely the old M3 seats re-used) and there are no cheap plastic-like materials used on the dash.

As against the Golf R the M135i presents a wholesome premium product while the Golf R is still a Golf 4 cylinder at the low end. As against the A45 AMG, I think AMG would be a little bit embarrassed having produced the world’s fastest 4-cylinder with a gearbox fit for the T-Model. It shifts fast but nothing like Golf R’s DSG or  M135i’s ZF. You get a bit of a lag in the A45 shift and feel like you’re never in total control of your rev range and it makes it hard to control if you’re racing a fast corner. The Golf R and A45 are also two-tiered in relation to power delivery. You either have laggy 4 cylinder nothing or you have full boost – the point being there is nothing in between. As mentioned above, the upperhand with the M135i is you get great torque down-low without turbo play.

I would say this car is quicker than the A45 around a circuit…but even if I am wrong, this car is a whole lot more fun. I think it is a much better package than anything else in its class and the new M140 would be even that much better.

I don’t know how to explain the feeling of being in an exciting car (it’s an exciting feeling?) but if you’re a car nut you know that feeling of being absorbed by the animation of the car at full throttle – the M135i/new M140i gives you exactly that. If you’re in the market for a hot hatch which are comparable to the A45, GTI, Golf R, or Megane RS, then you should consider getting the new M140i (the M135i is no longer in production).

Having driven both this car, the M140i and the M2, there is no reason why the the baby 1 series Ms should be overlooked (disclosure: I have an M2 on order due in September). I think I went for the M2 only for its badge and that wide body.

Baku: wow.

Where does one start on Baku? The first question asked, despite last year’s event, is where the hell is Baku? It’s the capital of Azerbaijan, a country bordered by names synonymous with civil unrest – Syria. Russia, Turkey and Iraq and Iran.

But mix oil money with a desire to become a tourist destination for the Western world and you have Baku – a quasi-Dubai precinct hungry for the attention of world sporting events. And it just hosted the best Formula One race in this hybrid engine era.

In a race filled with crashes, mechanical failures, fighting in the tight-corners, tyre punctures, driver penalties, a stubborn head-rest, a red flag and countless safety cars, this was one not to be missed.

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Hamilton finds himself in yet another nasty rivalry

As though the in-fighting with Nico Rosberg over the last 3 seasons was not emotionally and physically draining enough, Hamilton now finds himself in what is seen as a bitter and nasty rivalry with Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton has been quite vocal this season about how “enjoyable” the duel with Sebastian and the Ferrari has been in 2017 which should have been taken as a compliment by Maranello.

Enter Baku.

Vettel decided to retaliate against Hamilton during the end of a safety car stint after Vettel felt he was brake-checked. The data shows otherwise, Hamilton was not on the brake when Vettel accidentally slammed into his rear. But what was not accidental was Vettel then pulling alongside Hamilton and slamming into the Silver Arrow side-body. It was down-right stupid, a cheap-shot.

Whiting and race control handed Vettel a 10 second stop-go and there is a lot of noise about his discipline on the track. But the sport needs this. The underdog needs to be able to bite and growl and harass the leaders. To intimidate the team who has cruised the victory for the last three years is necessary. Vettel did not hurt anyone, he did not damage anything. This is a moment equivalent to Senna running Prost off to win the championship in 1990.

We have a dog fight on our hands now. Liberty Media and race control should just let the drivers race for the entertainment of the fans. The sport shouldn’t become a nanny state of affairs.

Stroll cruises to the podium

Apart from the irrelevant McLaren team, Stroll did what no other driver could – minded his own business. Next to all the scrapes, crashes, mechanical failures and strategy failures Stroll seemed to stay out of trouble with the only battle being to avoid Bottas bullying him at the finish line – unfortunately for the rookies, Bottas scraped second place from him by 0.1s.

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Finishing ninth in his home race in Canada Stroll seems to have turned a corner to a shaky start to his Formula One career. It puts to bed comments by the Formula One world at large that Stroll is not ready for the top grade and is there by the virtues of his father’s financial sponsorship.

The future of Baku

With its Monaco-esque street circuit, the challenges posed by the shade/sun spots, the tights bends and the quick, risky corners most would have to agree Baku must become a permanent fixture on the Formula One calendar. Limit entertainment to the Liberty Media era, and Baku is really the first entertaining race of this period. Not just for the exhilarating racing action, but because it gives the mid-field a crack at challenging the top-tier teams. For the first half of the race the good money was on Perez to bring home for Force India a podium finish…but for his team-mate once again ruining chances.

It would be a shame if Baku was not considered for the future of Formula One. Of course, this year’s fixture was a deal between Bernie and Azerbaijan. Given what we just witnessed, it would be good business for Liberty to reach a similar deal for 2018 and beyond.

7 races in: a two horse race

Only one thing has changed in the race to the 2017 Formula One Championship.

After Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement from the sport after winning last year’s Championship and Mercedes signing the relative rookie Valtteri Bottas the smart money would have been behind Lewis Hamilton to cruise to victory in 2017 without any real struggle.

Enter fatter treads and wider bodies. And that ridiculous T-wing. It appears that the engineers in the Silver Arrows garages have been caught sleeping because Russia (ex Bottas) and Monaco showed just how much better Ferrari’s car had been put together.

Fast forward to now, 7 races in, and it appears that this season will be all about Mercedes and Ferrari. The smarter money is behind Vettel to win this year’s Championship: he has a better engineered car than Lewis. What about Kimi? Well if Monaco is any indication, then Kimi is not in contention if Ferrari has anything to do with it. He is clearly the #2 driver to Sebastian notwithstanding Sebastian’s cracking laps after Kimi was brought into the pits in Monaco.

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Something has happened over the off-season at Ferrari. They are bold and open to taking risks. This is a far cry to the Ferrari we have seen in the last two years who were risk-averse, scared to make mistakes, and always second-thinking their strategy (which ultimately cost them many points in 2017).

Couple Ferrari’s new-found confidence and Liberty Media’s fan-focused style – driver on-track interviews, fan days, and access to behind-the-scenes activities – this year is off to an entertaining start. But for Russia no race has been too boring to watch but we still see a two-horse race in the constructors’championship.

As for Christian Horner and his Red Bull team – well, they’ve fallen even further behind and it is unlikely we will see Red Bull dominate the sport in 2017.

The other good news is Esteban Ocon who has secured points for Force India and is 8th in the title race. Future Lewis Hamilton? Perhaps – he certainly has the talent. And despite the Force India’s taking each other out in Canada it is exhilarating to see the two young guns Perez and Ocon fight it out.

Right at the bottom of any F1 table remain McLaren Honda. How heartbreaking Canada was. The rumour mill spun out talk of McLaren reverting back to Mercedes supply for 2018 which is a good move – but gut feel is that Alonso will quit F1 this year with the lack of championship team space available for next year. Alonso can’t take the beatings for another year- 5th is not good enough for him, a driver of his calibre should consistently be on the front row.

Vettel for the championship, Ferrari for the constructors’ title.

 

 

Not earned. Given.

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Well. That’s that. This year’s Finals series was a no-contest. I thought the Cavs could at least have been competitive and put up a fight but they are light years behind the Warriors, who made the Game 5 victory look easy.

After a strong start the Cavs fell in the second quarter victim to a 21-2 run by Dub City and from the 3rd quarter onwards it was just too difficult for the Cavs to get within an ear-shot of victory. They reduced the deficit down to 10, 7 and then 5. But the Warriors has a response each time.

And the difference? Whipping a dead horse with this one – Kevin Durant. His impact was far greater than imagined and he proved his talent without needing to worry about organising the offense, running the defence, or being responsible for his team’s losses. That’s a whole load of pressure off his shoulders.

But however great KD’s stats were this year, the result is an expected one and not an impressive one.

I said it today to a colleague – imagine adding Zlatan or Cristiano to Barca’s team. It would be absurd and insane. If one or two players failed, the other 2 or 8 would step up and fill the void. Enter the Warriors – Klay played under par this year without Bogut’s moving screens, Steph is a one-trick pony, Draymond is great on the defensive end. If any 2 of these players don’t perform, the Warriors play poorly. But enter Kevin-fill-the-void-Durant. He was the difference in Game 3 and he toyed with the defence in Game 5. He was too damn good.

It will be a shame to see another Cavs/Warriors Final series next year and I hope there are some interesting trades over the off-season to create a more competitive environment. I hope this whole idea of NBA super teams does not take off and we have at least one new team competing in next year’s Finals.

I don’t think LeBron will leave the Cavaliers. It’s just stupid to think he will leave Cleveland again. The writing is on the wall for players like Kevin Love, Deron Williams, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson. The Cavaliers have some deadweight which could free up space for a good big man – that’s exactly what they should target.

Here is an idea – perhaps KD will match LeBron’s act of returning to his home team to bring them a championship? Will OKC take Durant back? Hell yeah!

“We prevailed,” Durant said after Game 5. “We’re champions and we did it on our own floor.” This is the one thing I cannot stand about Kevin Durant. He is beating his chest with pride and joy as if he drove his team to a Championship. He hasn’t. He joined a Championship team. And hence the title – “Given.”

No changing of the guard

Well I have given away the saltiness with the title, haven’t I? This is not a changing of the guard from LeBron to KD. Heck, KD wishes he was half the player LeBron was.

Where were these statistics from KD when OKC and Russ needed it 3-1 up against Dub City last year?

KD has nothing to worry about on the GSW team. He doesn’t need to run offense, he doesn’t need to run defence, heck he probably does need to wipe the sweat off his brow. He only need to shoot when he gets the ball. Pretty easy gig.

On the other hand, LeBron is running the offense, the defence, the club merchandising, the finances, the legal work, public relation,

The Cavaliers are down and out this year – there is no coming back from 3-0. It’s not 3-1. It’s 3-0 and they have been outclassed in each game. I’d give the Cavaliers are chance if LeBron was 5 years younger. But he’s not. And the last 2 minutes of the first quarter told the story: GSW went on a 10-1 run while the King caught a short 2 minutes of rest.

There are few things granted in this lifetime – gravity, father-time and the Kardashian curse. Tristian Thompson has gone missing this year – 12 months after he started dating Khloe Kardashian. Another NBA player fallen to the Kardashian curse. This sounds silly – but the statistics of each of Khloe’s NBA love interests tells the same story – believe me, it’s a curse.

I am not sure why the Cavs ran that play with 12.4 seconds to go. Corner 3? Please. Love and Korver missed two corner 3’s prior to that play.

End saltiness here. The Cavs just aren’t good enough.

4-0/16-0.

Fifita finally delivers.

I have grown so out of love with rugby league over the last 5 years. The awful refereeing. The ridiculous off-field player behaviour. The bloody ordinary commentary.

But once a fan of State of Origin then always a fan. I have never failed to watch an Origin game since I can remember. In fact, I still remember walking out of a finance exam at university one Wednesday night to pop into a pub only to witness NSW get thumped by 30+.

And that type of game was a repeat over and over again. For 8 years. Until 2014 – yep we’ve broken the curse. And then surprise, Queensland take another two in a row. And who could have guessed otherwise? Thurston. Slater. Inglis. Smith. Cronk. Boyd.  With an ordinary supporting cast you would still back this six to win at least 2 of 3. Meanwhile NSW couldn’t figure out whether they were coming or going. Bad and inconsistent selections have plagued NSW for 10 years – and I can’t help myself but players like Robbie Farah should never have had the right to don a Blues jersey, great club player but not an Origin star. It was laughable for him to make himself available for selection this year.

Origin became boring and predictable. Like the Washington Wizards in the NBA, not even a few full strength schooners helped the embarrassment of being a New South Welshman during the 6 week Origin period.

But alas, 2017 is the year we as New South Welshmen celebrate. Who cares about the above six. Their days are far gone. Enter Fifita, Hayne, Tedesco, Dugan. What a performance by these guys last Wednesday. Watching the game was refreshing. It was as if the Queenslanders did what NSW has been doing for the last decade. Except they weren’t bad – they were just outplayed by a much better team.

I have disliked Fifita and Hayne for years. They are both ordinary players in any sense of the word during the regular season. But boy does Hayne have a sense of occasion. And Fifita finally presented his talent and gave a damn about the outcome. I have also been critical of Tedesco in the past but he also showed his talent.

NSW were quicker, tougher and more confident. I don’t think the return of Thurston, Slater or Inglis will reel back this series for Queensland as long as NSW bring their game to ANZ in Game 2.

Queensland – out-muscled, outplayed. outclassed. 2014 was a fluke but this might become cliche over the next 10 years.