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Last week’s rankings in brackets plus their win-loss record. 1 BRISBANE (2) 6-1

They are hard to resist when Darren Lockyer, Karmichael Hunt and Justin Hodges start working their magic together in attack. Every other team knows those players must be stopped, but it’s a lot easier said than done. 2 BULLDOGS (3) 6-1

It’s fitting that Michael Ennis has a surname that rhymes with menace, because that is what he is to the opposition once he opens his bag of tricks. The Raiders prepared to deal with him, but still couldn’t reduce his influence. 3 ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA (4) 5-2

Keeping the Roosters to zero put them back on top when it comes to least points conceded in the NRL this season. They have given up just 77 points in seven games – an average of just 11 per game. 4 GOLD COAST (1) 5-2

They went in without forward leader Luke Bailey and dynamic five-eighth Mat Rogers against the Panthers and it contributed significantly to their loss. Player ins and outs are critical in such an even competition. 5 WARRIORS (6) 3-1-3

They should have beaten the Storm in Melbourne. The Warriors finished the stronger and it was there for them to win in extra time, but Stacey Jones hooked a field goal attempt from in front and it hit the post. 6 NEWCASTLE (5) 4-3

Their loss to the Tigers, after leading by 14 points well into the second half, could come back to haunt them. There were extenuating circumstances due to injuries on the day, but you’ve got to finish games like that off. 7 WESTS TIGERS (10) 4-3

They were in big trouble against the Knights until Benji Marshall extracted a blinding last 20 minutes from himself to turn the game around. He can’t do that all the time, but it’s nice to know that he can do it. 8 PENRITH (12) 3-4

The introduction of Luke Walsh at halfback not only served them well in that key spot – it helped some other pieces fall into place, too. Their win at home over the Titans was solid – and something they can build on. 9 SOUTH SYDNEY (11) 4-3

They didn’t have a lot to spare in their six-point win over the Sharks, but at least it was an improvement on their previous form at night – three losses from three games and a total of just 28 points scored. 10 MELBOURNE (9) 3-1-3

Began well enough against the Warriors, but were going up and down in the one spot by the time normal time ended and were lucky to escape the extra 10 minutes with a share of the points. They’ve still got problems to solve. 11 NORTH QUEENSLAND (13) 3-4

They finished off their win over the Sea Eagles with two spectacular tries that were vintage Cowboys efforts. They are heading in the right direction, but still have a way to go before they find their best form. 12 MANLY (7) 2-5

They tried hard against the Cowboys and got down the opposition’s end often enough to win the game, but came up short. It was a game that cried out for Brett Stewart’s involvement – had he played, they probably would have won. 13 CANBERRA (8) 2-5

Flew out of the boxes to lead 12-0 against the Bulldogs, but were overhauled before halftime. They have only won one out of three home games this season and need to start turning that around against Penrith this weekend. 14 SYDNEY ROOSTERS (14) 2-5

Have not scored a point in their last three halves of football. Imagine if they came up with zero against the Sharks this weekend they would fair dinkum have to call it quits and become spectators like the rest of us. 15 PARRAMATTA (15) 2-5

They were willing against the Broncos, but they wasted opportunities and you’re never going to get away with that against top opposition. They are just going to have to keep working hard and hope to get a result that way. 16 CRONULLA (16) 1-5

They came up with easily their biggest total of the season against the Rabbitohs, but at the same time they allowed the Rabbitohs to come up with their biggest total since round one. They just can’t find a way to win.

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CRONULLA coach Ricky Stuart played an extraordinary role before last night’s NRL judiciary hearing, re-enacting the suspect tackle made by Paul Gallen and claiming his repeat offender was “playing on eggshells and broken glass”. And the coach’s starring role worked.
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Gallen was found not guilty by the panel, leaving him free to play for the Sharks in Saturday’s match against the Roosters.

Earlier, the judiciary also cleared Bulldog Michael Ennis, ruling that his alleged chicken-wing tackle on Canberra fullback Josh Dugan was tender enough to escape a one-match ban.

The dual “not guilty” findings were both achieved by counsel Geoff Bellew, who created enough doubt in the minds of the judiciary panel of Mal Cochrane, Sean Garlick and Mark Coyne to hand down the surprise findings.

Gallen claimed he didn’t hit Wing with his shoulder or arm, instead saying he hit Wing with his chest. Wing was concussed and missed a large portion of the game. “It was the pec [pectoral muscle] that hit him,” Gallen said.

The Sharks lock claimed the tackle was “a good tackle” and denied that his upper arm or shoulder hit Wing on the jaw.

Stuart then acted out the tackle with Gallen in the middle of the room and passionately defended his player.

Stuart spoke about Gallen “playing on eggshells and broken glass” because of his bad record and noted that, while the tackle looked poor, his player made no reaction to suggest he may be “stuffed”.

Afterwards, Gallen said he was satisfied with the result – but when asked about Stuart’s unprecedented demonstration, said: “I don’t know if it helped me, the character thing wasn’t the best”.

Earlier in the day, at a NSW State of Origin squad gathering, Gallen had admitted he might have to tone down his aggressive style after the Sharks threatened to fine him over his latest brush with the judiciary.

“It shocked me a little bit,” Gallen said when asked about the prospect of being fined by his club. “If I have to tone things down in order not to get fined, maybe that has to happen.”

Gallen will now have the chance to press for an Australian Test jersey, with selectors to name the team on Sunday for the Anzac Test on Friday week.

Meanwhile, Ennis will now take part in this Sunday’s clash against Wests Tigers, installing the Bulldogs as favourites – and setting up a head-to-head clash with Blues State of Origin rival Robbie Farah.

Ennis argued that he had been trying to remove the “forceful” pressure applied on his throat by the ball carrier, that he had tackled Dugan without significant force and that the arm had never been extended beyond his back.

“I am very grateful for the hearing … my representation was really good and I am very pleased with the result,” Ennis said. “This is another week, there are a few to go yet and it is important to get the preparation right and important to get back to training”.

When asked about the importance of clearing his name of being associated with the chicken-wing slur, Ennis replied: “I would rather scrub the chicken wing [talk]. I will talk about the tackle.”

Ennis said he had tackled Dugan to shift him onto his back, but also to remove Dugan’s hand, which was against his throat.

“I moved his arm to get it out of my throat,” Ennis told the judiciary. “The degree of force applied was not a great deal.”

Ennis told the judiciary he had never used wrestling techniques and nor did the Bulldogs coaching staff teach any wrestling techniques.

Bulldogs coach Kevin Moore, who was at the hearing, said after the decision was handed down that he was happy with the result. “I didn’t think there was too much in it,” he said.

Moore said the Bulldogs team had spent the past few days in recovery because the next match was on Sunday.

“Because of that, we haven’t had to move players around, so it hasn’t had any impact on our preparation for the Wests Tigers match,” Moore said.

with Glenn Jackson

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WHEN he was 10 years old, James McManus’s family decided to swap the drizzle of Scotland’s highlands for the stifling heat of Katherine in the Northern Territory. "It’s a bit out in the sticks, but I loved it," McManus says.
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He went from balancing a round ball on his boot to learning how to pass a Steeden. "I’d never heard of rugby league," he says. "I didn’t understand any of it. When I came to Australia, I played a couple of games and I spent most of it offside, telling people to kick me the ball."

Today McManus has firmly established himself in the Newcastle side and yesterday was sized up for his suits and uniform as a member of the 40-man Blues Origin squad. The 23-year-old is a strong chance to make the final cut and run out for NSW on the wing this June.

"First and foremost, I want to play well for my club," he says. "It really means a lot to me this year. We’re looking to do big things at Newcastle and we don’t want to be sitting there watching TV in September. I want to play well for my club and anything comes off the back of that is just a bonus."

Knights teammate and fellow Blues squad member Kurt Gidley thinks McManus is a fair chance for an Origin jersey.

"Since his debut, he hasn’t a missed a game playing first grade, which is a great achievement," Gidley says. "His rise to where he is today, it’s a credit to the hard work he’s put in. He’s one of the most dedicated trainers. He stays behind, as most blokes do, to do extras. But Jimmy has been like that from the start."

Today, only a slight tinge of his Scottish accent can be heard in McManus’s voice. His accent was so thick when he touched down in Katherine that, aside from his family, people really didn’t know what he was trying to say. "No one could understand a word I saying," McManus remembers. "A lot of the time, I couldn’t understand a word that they were saying as well. With time, two years, I lost the accent."

After spending three years in Katherine, surviving a flood that tore through the town, he went to Palmerston High School in Darwin, studied the game of rugby league on television and was chosen by the Northern Territory Institute of Sport on their rugby league program.

"It took me a lot of watching," McManus says. "A lot of following it on TV. A lot of schoolyard stuff and finally after that I put my hand up to play the game."

At an Australian schoolboys championship, he was spied by Knights recruiter Warren Smiles. "He’s studied the game hard," Smiles says. "He knew what he wanted and he knew he wanted to play NRL. He was very intense and mature. He’s always worked hard to do everything right."

Before he lived in the heat of the Top End, before league, he lived in Fochabers – a village in the district of Moray. "It was a pretty obscure little place but it was good." His childhood memories of Scotland? The "blankets of snow" in the wintertime, "drizzle and soccer".

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In-form St George Illawarra winger Brett Morris has played down the prospect of a reunion with brother Josh at the Bulldogs next season.
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Morris yesterday revealed he had deliberately held off contract negotiations to focus on securing a place in the Dragons line-up under Wayne Bennett.

Bulldogs recruitment boss Peter Mulholland yesterday said Morris was a "player of interest" for the club, with the future of goal-kicking winger Hazem El Masri in doubt beyond this year.

Since leaving St George Illawarra at the end of last season, Josh played a starring role for the Dogs in the opening rounds, scoring five tries before suffering a foot injury which will sideline him for several weeks.

Brett’s impressive early season form for the Dragons has resulted in him securing a starting wing position ahead of Kiwi international Jason Nightingale for Sunday’s clash with the Warriors.

Brett said yesterday he had not considered his future beyond this season.

"I’m just going out there every week and trying to do my job and trying not to give Wayne (Bennett) a reason to drop me," he said.

"I’m just going out there and trying my hardest and, at the moment, it’s paying off. The rest will take care of itself."

Mulholland admitted Brett’s name had been discussed during Bulldogs recruitment meetings.

"He is certainly a player of interest," Mulholland said.

"But we’ll just keep watching and monitoring, we’re in no hurry to move on recruitment.

"Brett is a specialist winger and we’re probably more looking for a centre-wing player, but it is certainly open for discussion."

Morris is one of several Dragons off contract at the end of this year, with prop Justin Poore and back-rower Ben Creagh among those negotiating new deals.

The Bulldogs are unlikely to chase either player after recruiting star forwards Ben Hannant, Michael Ennis, David Stagg and Greg Eastwood from the Broncos this year.

Mulholland said the Bulldogs’ immediate priority was to extend Eastwood’s contract, before looking to boost depth in the backline.

Ability in the outside backs is something the Dragons have no shortage of, with Morris acknowledging the battle for spots was ultra-competitive.

"I don’t think we’ve had this much depth in the past and all the guys who are there are playing really well at the moment," he said.

"It’s pretty tough to hold a spot and anyone can come in and do the job."

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Knights hard man Ben Cross shed tears in the Campbelltown Stadium dressing rooms on Sunday, devastated by the realisation he had played his last NRL game this season.
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The premiership-winning NSW Origin enforcer had ruptured the biceps tendon in his left arm midway through the second half of the Knights’ 26-24 loss to Wests Tigers.

His former Newcastle and NSW teammate Danny Buderus suffered the same injury against the Cowboys a fortnight before the end of last season and Cross, who was on the field at EnergyAustralia Stadium that night, knew in his gut what he was dealing with.

He did not need to wait for an MRI scan the following day or the explanation yesterday by Knights medical officer Neil Halpin to confirm the inevitable.

The 30-year-old front-rower would have to wait until next year to lead the Newcastle pack again, and his chances of retaining his NSW jersey were gone.

But Cross was not forlorn for long.

"I’ve got an aunty suffering cancer at the moment, so that puts it all into perspective," he told The Herald yesterday.

"It’s a torn biceps at the end of the day. Surgery can fix that."

Cross will see surgeon Des Bokor in Sydney today and hopes to go under the knife on Friday to have the tendon reattached to the bone.

Dr Halpin said it would be four to six months before Cross would be fit enough to play again.

Dr Bokor performed the same procedure on Buderus, Knights rehabilitation manager Adrian Brough mapped out his recovery program, and it took him six months before he resumed his career in England for Leeds.

He and Cross have swapped text messages and spoken on the phone several times since Sunday afternoon and Cross has been buoyed by the fact Buderus made a full recovery.

"Bedsy said Broughy helped him a lot with his rehab and that sort of stuff," Cross said. "That all went well for him and he’s back playing and he hasn’t had any dramas with it so that’s all positive same surgeon, same recovery program, so that should all help."

Cross said he suffered the injury tackling Tigers tank Taniela Tuiaki in the lead-up to Beau Ryan’s 62nd-minute try. When he emerged from the tackle and looked at the crook of his left arm, there was a hollow where the tendon had been attached only moments before.

"His knee went straight into it and I just knew it went straight away," Cross said.

"It’s not even a partial or 50 per cent tear; it’s torn all the way through, so it needs to be all reattached."

Having played just nine games for the Knights last year because of a string of niggling injuries, Cross had started all seven this season and was steadily building towards the form he displayed consistently for Melbourne in 2007.

"We were getting a good roll-on and as my form was starting to go along nicely, we were starting to come into the right time of the season with rep footy and all that sort of stuff, but most importantly it was about the Knights," he said.

"We were going along nicely and slowly getting players back instead of losing them, then one half of footy seemed to shatter a few of those things."

Cross said he would strive for a medical miracle and try to make it back on the field this season but, in the meantime, will help the cause by working with the coaching staff.

"Hopefully I can add a bit of coaching input, do a bit of work with the forwards, a bit of preview and review on the video," he said.

"That’s something I wouldn’t mind getting into after footy so I might as well do a bit now while I can, and I’ll find something away from footy to keep my mind occupied.

"There’s a very small glimmer of hope for the semi-finals, but it’s about a six-month injury with the repair. If you tear it again, you’re stuffed and you’ve got to start all over again."

"I’ve got an aunty suffering cancer at the moment, so that puts it all into perspective."

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