NRL Week 19 Wrap
It was a round where the teams outside the Top 8 popped their heads out of the pack and reminded us they’re not done with yet. It was also all about the halfbacks as the number 7’s influence on proceedings came to the fore just when their sides needed it. Friday night saw the Panthers win over the wilting Warriors and the Raiders snatch a precious pair of golden points defeating the Dragons. Saturday saw the Broncos buck the brave Knights, while the Titans swallowed the Sharks in torrential rain. Sunday saw the Sea Eagles survive a strong examination from the tenacious Tigers and in Cairns the Cowboys continued their fight for the top four with a win over an error riddled Rabbitohs that basically shoved the Bunnies season into the hutch.
The Water Cooler – Ten Talking Points
Nathan Cleary produced his best game of the season with immaculate timing. Skipper Matt Moylan had pulled out late, leaving Cleary beside a rookie five-eighth in Tyrone May playing against a desperate Warriors side. The former Warriors ball boy has moved from the sideline to the headlines. Showing the calmness and maturity that is his trademark, Cleary pulled a game out of the top drawer as the little general sliced and diced the Warriors with a complete revealing of his remarkable repertoire. He scored a hat trick to rip the heart out of the Warriors season. The most impressive aspect of Cleary’s devastating display was, after having a man in the sin bin and the Panthers season potentially on the line, he led the fight back to victory. I know Origin is a year away but more of this and Nathan Cleary’s name will be in the mix.
Poor Shaun Johnson just cannot take a trick. In a round where halfbacks took centre stage, Johnson exited stage left after hurting his knee in a possible season ending injury for both him and the Warriors. Having helped place the Warriors in a winning position, Johnson’s luck and body deserted him as his knee buckled. One of the NRL’s entertainers, it is terrible misfortune that has placed the Warriors on the precipice and seriously dented the Kiwis World Cup ambitions. Johnson and the Warriors will hope scans reveal good news as the golden boy of New Zealand league has had more than his fair share of bad luck with injury and deserves a break. He is a joy to watch and we want him on the field!
Golden Green Machine
The Raiders scraped past the Dragons in golden point and live to fight another day. It was scrappy, nervous and disjointed but Ricky Stuart won’t care one iota, it was the Raiders first golden point victory in four attempts this season. He’ll be pleased his men fought and ground out the win despite the lack of polish. David Taylor set up the winner for Elliott Whitehead that doused the Dragons flame in the Canberra cold that reduces the gap between the teams as the chasing pack attempt to freeze the Dragons out of the finals. The Coal Train, Dave Taylor, was tremendous and displayed the X factor we all know he has in him. The Green Machine have finally triumphed in a close game this year! The Raiders hope this is the game that gets them into gear for a run at finals footy. In their favour is a positive for and against.
Aidan Sezer has been accused of not taking control of the rambling Raiders, his last game shocker against the Cowboys the nadir of his nightmares. Friday night, the Raiders required something special to save their season. They were struggling after a bright beginning, fumbling and bumbling into a precarious position, panic setting in. Aidan Sezer stood up and grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. Sezer manufactured two massive plays that ultimately won them the game. Sezer snatched a sharp intercept running 90 metres for the match levelling try. Then in golden point, the Raiders Achilles heel, Sezer produced a brilliant 40/20 kick from out of nowhere that ultimately set up the try that sent Raiders fans into delirium and the Green Machine up a gear. The Raiders have a hard run home and we’ll find out whether they have the engine to rev up and motor into the finals.
Wet and Wild
The conditions at the Titans Sharks match on the Gold Coast were horrendous, the torrential downpour made the match a lottery but at the same time fun viewing! The 14,000 who turned up deserved a refund, a medal and a free snorkel. Wet’n’Wild theme parks and the makers of ‘Slip and Slide’ are considering a class action against the NRL and the Gold Coast Titans for breach of copyright it was that wet and that slippery. The game resembled a mix of water polo, jelly wrestling and Wipeout as the elite players of the NRL turned into soggy Ninja Warriors. The deluge created massive puddles which caused mayhem as balls stopped on the spot sinking under the water and players sliding like there were a thousand banana peels on the field. Credit to the players as it was an entertaining game with great ball movement that shows how the dimpled balls make gripping easier than the old bar of soap leather balls from my era and the amazing ground drainage technology, which saw a second half played in half decent conditions. No chance for any Norm Provan, Arthur Summons moments in the modern game.
Ref Ruling Ruckus
The ridiculous conditions did throw up one anomaly in the current decision making rules. The Bunker was asked to review a possible try sent upstairs by Ashley Klein using words to the effect “I couldn’t see what happened”, but ruled no try on field anyway which highlights a massive problem with the system as Klein had to make a decision about a play which he obviously didn’t see but was forced to call. Between the players bodies landing in the lake on the try line all the Bunker saw was water splashing around like a pair of hippo’s fighting in the Zambezi, the ball hidden under the water, like a crocodile awaiting an unsuspecting wildebeest, otherwise known as a front row forward. It was no surprise the Bunker stayed with Klein’s on field call – Andrea Bocelli had as much chance of seeing that, maybe it’s time to say goodbye to the way this review is sent upstairs? The Bunker are usually seen as a bunch of monkeys pressing buttons but on this occasion they required a guide dog.
Ash Smashes Sharks
Despite the remarkably difficult conditions one player handled them better than any other. Ash Taylor had an absolute blinder making a mockery of the mayhem all around. Taylor scored two tries with great stepping and speed and set up another two tries showcasing all his skills using sleight of hand with both kicks and passing. His short ball for Kevin Proctor was a gem. The Titans tore the Sharks to shreds and Taylor was at the forefront of everything. It was a vital two points for a team who everyone has written off bar themselves, they’ll believe they can make a fling for the finals, and if they do Ash Taylor will feature prominently. Taylor is a natural footballer and a future Origin player, no surprises which state he’d represent – Queensland.
Knights Keep Knocking
Oh victory, victory, wherefore art thou victory? Like a Shakespeare tragedy the Knights make themselves, the viewers and their fans run the full gauntlet of emotions. They keep getting themselves in positions to win games only to find some way to force a dagger into their own hearts. This week it was the Broncos who played the villain. A horrendous opening ten minutes of the second stanza saw a hard gained lead evaporate into a gaping deficit, an unfortunate trademark of the young Knights. Nathan Brown’s halftime chat cannot be in the same ball park as The Bard’s Henry V or it’s delivered in bedtime story monotone as they drove the opening moments of the half asleep at the wheel. They need to pass the smelling salts around as they walk back out. In true Knights fashion they were the makers of their own madness through errors but then in the third act they produced a stirring fight back, a drought breaking win within their grasp but alas poor Nathan it was not to be. The Broncos bucked the Knights off and Wayne Bennett, a Shakespearean character if ever there was, left his old stomping ground exactly as he departed it, stomping all over it.
Superb Sea Eagles Spine
When it comes to spines in the NRL we always talk about how great the Storm’s is but the Sea Eagles spine isn’t too far off. Manly have probably the second best 1, 6, 7 and 9 in the game with Tom Trbojevic, Blake Green, Daly Cherry-Evans and Api Korisau consistently excellent and again were the difference against a pluck and unlucky Tigers team. Down 16-8 Manly were struggling, the Tigers had their tails up, a very ordinary call went against them – maybe Trent Barrett’s spray last week worked?!? – and Manly’s magic men took advantage carving the Tigers up. The spine were the men to get the job done. The kicking games of both Blake Green and DCE were sensational, if it wasn’t a DCE 40/20, it was he or Green, clinically finding repeat sets through perfect short kicks building pressure. Turbo Tom tore the tired Tigers to pieces, while Api Korisau hit hard and often and punched holes with well-timed scoots. Manly were far from their best but still won in a canter, they are the real deal and most of the plaudits go to their sensational spine.
Cowboys Cooking With Gas
Don’t count the Cowboys out of contention. Everyone thought without their inspirational talisman Jonathan Thurston they would fall apart but they are defeating the doubters. They disposed of the Bunnies with ease not really getting out of first gear, Jake Granville having a field day off the back of the huge Cowboy monster metre eaters. The Cowboys are playing as a real team everyone doing their bit, beautifully prepared by Paul Green with the brilliant Michael Morgan and barrelling boulder Jason Taumalolo adding that extra touch of class. The unsung hero Scott Bolton has filled Matt Scott’s large boots manfully, while Ethan Lowe is a triple threat adding fine goal kicking to his hard line running and endless defensive work. The mid-season signing of Te Maire Martin could be the ace in the pack that gives the Cowboys a winning hand come September.
The Last Word
Every man and his dog has had a say about the NSW Origin defeat, most of it uncomplimentary about the effort of the Blues. I won’t have a bar of it, the Blues tried hard they were just outplayed in the decider by a great Maroons side starring a couple of players who will end up rugby league immortals. Yes the Blues were disappointing but is it so hard to accept QLD played better? The Maroons have had a golden generation all come through at the same time, swap Thurston, Slater, Cronk and Smith’s jerseys and the Blues would have won more series than 1 in 12.
Of course there will be changes for next year’s series but don’t expect, or should there be, wholesale culling. Tinker here and there but don’t forget the Blues were a pass away from taking the series in Sydney but of course they didn’t hence I’m swinging a mid-sized axe! The base is there for a really good Blues side but don’t expect a Blue Dynasty or the end of the Maroons dominance, check out the amount of talent coming through QLD! Try pick a side for them for next year and you’ll struggle. Here’s Jock’s 2018 Origin I sides and you’ll see NSW big outs are Mitchell Pearce, Jarryd Hayne and Nathan Peats while QLD are missing Valentine Holmes, Anthony Milford and of course DCE, well he wasn’t going to be picked anyway was he!
1. Billy Slater 2. Darius Boyd 3. Greg Inglis 4. Will Chambers 5. Dane Gagai 6. Cameron Munster 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Matt Scott 9. Cameron Smith 10. Dylan Napa 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Matt Gillett 13. Josh McGuire 14. Michael Morgan 15. Coen Hess 16. Josh Papalii 17. Jarrod Wallace
New South Wales
1. James Tedesco 2. Tom Trbojevic 3. Josh Dugan 4. Jack Bird 5. Josh Mansour 6. Matt Moylan 7. James Maloney 8. Aaron Woods 9. Api Koroisau 10. Ryan James 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Josh Jackson 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Wade Graham 15. Andrew Fifita 16. David Klemmer 17. Tyson Frizzell
I gotta say for NSW sake I hope Cronk retires and Slater sets off into the sunset because this QLD team looks, dare I say it, stronger than this year’s winning side!!