R.A. Ortuso’s NSW Blues Origin I Team

With Origin less than a month away, I thought I’d name my NSW Blues side to take on Queensland on June 1st at ANZ Stadium.

Keep in mind, I would’ve awarded Tedesco and Morris with spots on the wing, but unfortunately injuries put an end to their Origin I hopes.

  1. Josh Dugan — St. George-Illawarra Dragons

Earlier in his career, Dugan was seen as a contingency option at the back. Filling in for an injured Jarryd Hayne, now Duges is very much an incumbent for the Blues. He possesses the size, speed and kick returns that Daley loves to see in his fullback. He was the very best out of an under-performing Blues team last year, setting up one of the greatest Origin tries in history. Very hard to stop at the line, the Dragons fullback is in his prime and has the big game experience to secure his spot.

2. Blake Ferguson — Sydney Roosters

After a few strong showings, including an exceptional Test performance against New Zealand, Fergalicious is more than ready to rejoin the Origin arena. Terrific under the high ball and solid in defence, Blake is a fitting choice to play outside of former teammate Michael Jennings.

3. Michael Jennings — Parramatta Eels

Time and time again, centres have failed to poach Jennings Origin jumper. After years of experience in the rep arena and a maiden NRL premiership with the Sydney Roosters, Jennings have definitely become an incumbent for his state. His powerful attack at the line has been proven on a number of occasions this year, finely settling into his new role at Parramatta. He has contributed heavily to NSW over his Origin career and I don’t see Daley pulling the plug on him at the moment. A lock.

4. Josh Morris — Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

The same case for Jennings, many hungrier and younger centres are breathing down Morris’ neck for his state spot but Josh’s defensive capabilities are well documented, making a crucial try-saving tackle on Inglis in 2014, Morris is perhaps the best fit candidate to shut down the Rabbitohs skipper, who will certainly improve at this year’s Origin series.

5.  Josh Mansour — Penrith Panthers

Mansour has developed into one of the most reliable finishers in the NRL. Fearless in both attack and defence, Mansour fits the mould of a Blues player. He also averages the most metres per game for a winger.

6. Lachlan Coote — North Queensland Cowboys

Everyone is accustomed to Coote’s wonderful kicking ability. The man acts like a second 5/8 from the back. I and most others agree that getting Lachlan Coote into a maiden NSW jersey is definitely the right thing to do. After failing to find a concrete halves combination, Coote’s play under pressure and steering a team in attack could become a mainstay for the Blues. He’s proven his big game experience after winning the Cowboys first ever premiership.

7. Mitchell Pearce — Sydney Roosters

I know it’s too soon to be thinking about a Pearce recall, but do we really have a choice? Maloney is in great form, but leads the competition in missed tackles, both from this year and last. Chad Townsend is a class player but needs more time. Hodkinson is one option, but he narrowly misses out in this selection. Since returning from a lengthy suspension, Pearce immediately brought confidence and flair to an ailing young Roosters outfit, giving them direction. Perhaps this newfound confidence could continue through the Origin season? We shall wait and see.

8. Aaron Woods — West Tigers

One of the hardest working forwards in the game. Aaron Woods capped off a brilliant 2015 with only a single regular season try, but its his consistency in getting a struggling Tigers pack in perfect position to strike. Since winning the 2014 Origin series, Woods is an incumbent and I don’t see him getting snubbed any time soon.

9. Robbie Farah — West Tigers

Provides spark in their attack, Daley will most likely go to his regular for the hooking role. Creative, great kicking game and usually impressive in defense. Farah’s experience is valued and he’ll keep on kicking in this series.

10. James Tamou — North Queensland Cowboys

One of the form props of the competition, the premiership winning forward has an offload or two in him and is fearless when taking on the line. Contract negotiations won’t hover over this bloke, he’s playing quality footy.

11. Greg Bird — Gold Coast Titans

It’s been a while since we last saw Bird in a rep jersey, but the time has come once again. After missing out on the entire 2015 Origin series, the Titans enforcer is a lock (excuse the pun) for this year’s series. He brings a wealth of experience and has adopted a senior role over the year amongst his NSW peers.

12. Beau Scott — Parramatta Eels

Probably the most obvious admission in the forward pack here. Scott has terrorized a plethora of players over the span of his career and oh does he shine in the Origin arena. Tailor-made for big game atmospheres, Scott is arguably the best defensive back-rower in the world. After a tremendous 2014 season that saw him take out the Dally M Second-Rower of the Year, he was quiet and injured for most of 2015. But after signing a new deal which sent him to Parramatta, the ultimate enforcer has hit another peak, taking his game to another level. Ages like a fine wine, it’s a terrible shame he wasn’t included in Meninga’s Roos side this year.

13. Paul Gallen — Cronulla Sharks

If Beau Scott ages like a fine wine, then Gallen is a ’47 Cheval Blanc. Turning 35 this year, Gallen could keep pushing on for another year or two, but this is his last hoorah in the Origin arena and with the form that he’s in you’d be mad to spoil his going-away party by snubbing him. Great runner.

INTERCHANGE —

14. Tyson Frizell — St. George-Illawarra Dragons

He has all the makings of a true Origin player: strength, speed and heart. The St. George-Illawarra forward has done wonders for his side over the past couple of years. With 2015 signalling a turning point in his first grade career. Earning an 18th man spot in the Blues opener at ANZ Stadium. Unfortunately he didn’t get to play, but I’m sure this is finally the year Loz decides to unleash the beast.

15. Boyd Cordner — Sydney Roosters

Since returning from injury in round 8, Cordner has been in exceptional form. A string of quality performances may have just secured his spot for the Blues.

16. Wade Graham — Cronulla Sharks

Origin has eluded Graham his whole career, but no longer says I. His ball-playing skills and kicking game are second-to-none for a second rower. The heir to Gallen’s throne at Cronulla, Graham possesses on field maturity way beyond his years.

17. Jack Bird — Cronulla Sharks

Jack Bird possesses the ability to shine in any position he’s utilised in. It’s that kind of versatility that’s much needed for this year’s series. This is the perfect time to be blooding a youngster of his calibre. Expect Birdy to be named as a bolter.

 

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Gone Girl — Review

Directed by David Fincher, who is probably the best director in Hollywood at the moment, Gone Girl is an unflinching, shocking and intimidating tale of marriage on a deceitful and Fincher-esque darkness level.

Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a man who is framed for the disappearance of his wife Amy Dunne. Rosamund Pike earned herself an Academy Award nomination for the role and played the neurotic, upper-class writer astonishingly. The movie begins as an innocent tale of a lost wife but slowly, slowly descends into a unbelievable tour-de-force that you never saw coming.

The film’s narration is said from the perspective of both Amy and Nick, while Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross once again craft a gritty soundtrack that fits the mould of its story. One of the great fallacies was its snubbing from the Academy, as I can mention several categories it should’ve been nominated in.

VERDICT — David Fincher’s 10th feature-length film is a tour-de-force of deceit and violence that examines just how much drama marriage can create. Another masterpiece is added to his near-flawless resumé.

RATING: 9.7 — AMAZING

MVP: People are so quick to point out Rosamund Pike as the best on-screen performer. But it’s really Ben Affleck who takes the crown as the extremely likeable, relatable husband with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Chappie — Review (Worst Film Ever Made?)

After the success of District 9 and even Elysium, Neill Blomkamp delved deeper into his near-future forte, focusing on the concept of AI. Instead of presenting such a concept in an elegant manner like fellow 2015 film Ex Machina, we get an overly-sentimental, verbose movie with generic, wooden characters and a huge excess of unnecessary filler that serves as the ultimate detriment to the plot.

In a world where crime is patrolled by robotic police officers, one unit is stolen by a young weapons manufacturer Deon Wilson, played by Dev Patel, and given new programming, he becomes the first robot to possess the ability of thinking and feeling. Sounds like the beginning of something special, right? Not in Chappie’s case. The scientist is then abducted by Die Antwoord. Yes, the drugs haven’t kicked in, you read that correctly: Die Antwoord! South African rap-rave group who cannot act to save their lives. Their heavy inclusion in the film makes for some tongue-n-cheek, nonsensical and often stereotypical moments, like Yolandi reading Chappie a fuckin’ bedtime story, or Ninja teaching Chappie how to be a “real gangster”. So anyway, he’s abducted and forced to install his AI software into the stolen robot, to suit Die Antwoord’s advantage. The bot awakes in a terrified state of mind, like a confused child. They name him Chappie and begin to teach him words and behaviour. The scientist is forced out of their hideout and Die Antwoord adopt a parental bond with Chappie. Yep — that movie got made.

After their impending deadline of a 20 million rand debt to a powerful gangster draws closer, Ninja grows impatient with Chappie’s development cue and attempts to expedite the process by teaching him what I mentioned earlier “to be a real gangster”. Chappie then adopts the vernacular of a generic, one-dimensional street thug that really isn’t compelling to watch at all. Anyway, some time passes and the corporate Vincent becomes the primary antagonist, played by Hugh Jackman. A battle ensues, Yolandi is killed and Chappie and Deon storm the office of Tetravaal factory, Chappie beats Vincent to near-death and inserts Yolandi’s conscience in a template robot. Wow. What a corny ending.

VERDICT — An insanely disappointing, monumental mess that serves up a story simply not worth telling. An often-times offensive, accidental comedy that is one of the worst movies ever made.

RATING: 1.0 — EMBARRASSING

MVP: For the life of me, I honestly cannot name a SINGLE good aspect of the film.

 

Batman vs. Superman — Review

Released on a budget of 250 million, Zack Snyder is once again entrusted with another blockbuster superhero film, crashes and burns. With poor character development, shoehorned elements and an overlong plot, BvS will go down as one of the most disappointing movies of its era.

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Even the thought of Zack Snyder directing this didn’t slow down people’s anticipation, but going into his films with a grain of salt is the most sensible thing to do. After the critical failure, Man of Steel, comes a long awaited crossover film featuring arguably the two most popular heroes in comic history: Batman and Superman. Ben Affleck is decent as the new Batman, but in no way matches the grounded, realistic portrayal of his predecessor Christian Bale. Seasoned vet Jeremy Irons plays Alfred, much to my dismay. He comes across more like a friend than a father/mentor figure and he just doesn’t really fit the arc at all. Jesse Eisenberg plays Lex Luthor a.k.a. Heath Ledger Lite, while his amusing monologues provide some brief entertainment in an otherwise tedious movie, the character isn’t properly elaborated on. The Man of Steel casts returns with Henry Cavill reprising his stiff, wooden depiction of Superman. Amy Adams returns as Louis Lane and Laurence Fishburne returns as the editor-in-chief of The Daily Planet. They even manage to stuff up Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious franchise).

The beaming light of greatness in this movie is Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score, which is definitely well used throughout the 151 minute film. The movie, like your average superhero flick of today, ends on a build up note towards future movies. This kind of ending does not justify 2 and a half hours of a CGI crap fest devoid of any real story aesthetic.

VERDICT — A film that isn’t just disappointing, but awful. The execution is poor, the action is stiff and cluttered like its script. A big thumbs down here.

RATING: 2.5 — AWFUL

MVP: Ben Affleck, whose portrayal is decent at best, but is the more involved character of the film.

Jaws — Review

Amity Island: an idyllic beach resort town where visitors flock from all over the country in the summertime to enjoy some fun in the sun. That fun is nonexistent for their new Chief of Police, Martin Brody: A New York native looking for a change of scenery: “I’m telling you the crime rate in New York’ll kill you.” he remarks during the film;

After a shark attack leaves a young woman dead, Brody calls for a complete shutdown of the town’s famed beach until they can sort out the problem. Afraid the shutdown would hurt the community’s tourism, stubborn Mayor of Amity Island Larry Vaughn rejects those proposals, instead hiring oceanographer Matt Hooper: a young, ivy-leaguer on the side of logic and reason; He sides with Chief Brody and warns of more attacks to come — and a few more subsequent attacks occur; Eventually the mayor succumbs to pressure and allows the Chief to find and kill this demon of the ocean, terrorising their community.

The town hires Quint: an old-fashioned, highly eccentric fisherman obsessed with sharks and their predator instincts. Him, Brody and Hooper head out on Quint’s boat. The character differences are finely put on display, with Hooper’s state-of-the-art marine technology juxtaposing Quint’s old-school approach to things. The culture war is evident between these two and it makes for some compelling moments.

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Brody has the misfortune of being a landlocked New Yorker, not used to the sun-drenched island communities and ocean, whatsoever. Always having a fear of water, seeing him challenge his fear as well as the mounting pressure as Chief in a town he doesn’t understand becomes increasingly engaging.

John Williams composes the iconic score, which became an archetype in suspenseful movie soundtracks. The use of shark is executed perfectly, showing glimpses of the beast throughout the film keeping up the suspense of uncertainty. The monologues are sharp and riveting, definitely the highpoint of the movie.

VERDICT — Jaws is the ultimate summer blockbuster that proves subtlety is more thrilling. A breathtaking character study and one of the most influential movies ever made.

RATING: 10 — ELITE

MVP: Robert Shaw as Quint.

Josh Dugan Must Remain a Fullback

With the NRL season commencing tomorrow night, in what is sure to be an exciting clash between the Parramatta Eels and the Brisbane Broncos, players have naturally gone through positional switches. Whether it’s for revitalisation, new team strategy or even experimental purposes. One move that was a relative success, was Josh Dugan’s move into the centres in 2014. It did cater to his attacking abilities, scoring several tries in that position, but the Dragons struggled heavily offensively and defensively that whole year.

In 2015, Josh Dugan was shifted back to his custodian role of fullback. Throughout the year he bedazzled with his kick-returns and running during broken play. He once again, staked his claim as one of the game’s premier fullbacks, quickly reclaiming the NSW Blues No. 1 jumper, vacated by NFL-convert Jarryd Hayne. Arguably the best performing player, in an underwhelming NSW side, Josh Dugan set up one of the greatest Origin tries you’ll ever see, in the first game of the series last year. He eventually went on to be nominated at the Dally M Awards for Best Representative Player, the sole New South Welshman amongst the more experienced group of Queenslanders. He was awarded with the Brad Fittler Medal for best NSW Blues player of the series — an award that is determined by teammates and coaching staff.

At the end of the season, St. George-Illawarra scraped into the top 8 albeit their impressive defensive effort all year. In a losing effort, the Dragons went down to the Canterbury Bulldogs in extra time, concluding one of the most thrilling contests of the season. In his first big finals test as a matured footballer, Josh Dugan put forward a tremendous effort from the back, registering 5 tackle breaks and accumulating 281 running metres, the most of any player on the field.

For most of the 2015 NRL season, Josh Dugan battled through niggling injuries and was not at a hundred percent for most of the year. With his neck surgery a success, he has proclaimed his fitness and readiness for 2016. If a Dugan coping with injury is destructive, it’s a safe bet to assume a healthy version would surely surpass that level of potential. Let’s just hope we get to see him in the role that made him a phenomenon, one that he’s entrusted to wear at state-level, one that statistically sees him on par with some of the game’s greats: fullback.

 

Oscars 2016: Leo’s Oscar Pursuit Comes Full Circle

There was a certain buzz that ran through the air at the 88th Annual Academy Awards, held at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles last night. The Black Lives Matter movement was in full swing, Chris Rock absolutely nailed his hosting duties and Mad Max swept up six awards — a real victory for the Aussies. But there was once topic that has been the subject of banter for many, many months now. Something that became an even bigger talking point than the last award of the night: will this be the year that Leonardo DiCaprio FINALLY wins that coveted gold statue?

Well, he’s done it. And in what fashion. A 30-second standing ovation, his long time friend and collaborator Kate Winslet bursting into tears. The moment quickly became the most tweeted moment in Oscars telecast history: a whopping 440,000 tweets per minute, almost doubling 2014 Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres’ celebrity selfie.

All of those occurrences were secondary, however. In his acceptance speech, The Revenant star took the opportunity to shed light on one of the biggest issues facing our planet: climate change. DiCaprio told 80 million people around the world that the threat is very real and we must act by supporting world leaders who “do not speak for the big polluters”. He also explained how Hugh Glass’ exhausting tale of survival is one man’s relationship to the natural world — making his victory all the more fitting and poetic, regarding the fact that it examines the protagonist’s perilous journey towards a goal, which ironically ties into DiCaprio’s long pursuit of an Oscar.

Leo’s victory comes after a long string of Oscar nominations, that span over two decades from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, where he co-starred alongside Johnny Depp as a developmentally disabled teenager, to The Wolf of Wall Street where he played a chauvinistic, drug-fuelled Wall Street stockbroker. In this writer’s opinion though, he should’ve been awarded 10 years ago for his work in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, where he played William Costigan, Jr. (something to be touched upon at a better time).

Whichever way you see it, whether you were with him or against him, it was a landslide victory that wasn’t months in the making but years. Leonardo DiCaprio has had an illustrious career that has seen him become the greatest actor of his generation, elegantly culminating in gold at the 2016 Oscars.