Lightning struck twice as both the Knights and the Tigers won on the same weekend! Look up in the sky there may be two full moons out. A round full of upsets and routine Bunker controversy began with the Panthers ending the Bulldogs sorry season, the Sharks finished off the Warriors year earlier than they’d hoped and the Eels bucked the Broncos in a beauty. Super Saturday saw the Knights dent the Dragons ambition, the Raiders belted the Bunnies and the Roosters defeated the Cowboys. Sunday saw the Storm smash the Sea Eagles and the Tigers bus rolled over the top of the Titans crushing their finals fantasy. The main question coming out of Round 21 is who can stop the Storm?
The Water Cooler – Ten Talking Points
Storm Then Daylight
The Big Show is still two months away but the manner in which the Storm dismantled Manly minus Billy Slater in a canter, injuries are about the only thing standing in the way of Melbourne claiming the NRL crown. The Storm were sensational. The expected challenge from a wounded Manly never eventuated as the Storm blew the Sea Eagles away. They are light years ahead of the pack at this point. Their defence is rock solid and attack is breath taking. Less structure means even more dangerous than previous versions with weapons right across the park. The Storm squad is deeper than past years. It’s the last chance for Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk to salute together so the Storm even has the motivation to go one better than last year. The skill, strength and speed of this side is frightening. Good luck trying to outgun and outrun this Storm!
To reach 350 games in the NRL is a remarkable feat in itself, to do so to just one week after injuring his pec proved how tough and durable Cameron Smith is. To then play an unbelievable match – for him his normal output – and lead his front running team to a festive romp against their arch rivals was just typical of the man. Chaired off at fulltime in front of his adoring fans Smith deserves all the plaudits that come his way. He is a brilliant player, a future immortal. Add his Tests and Origins and he’s pushing 450 games at the highest level and he usually plays 80 minutes! The man with the ordinary body but extraordinary footballer’s brain and ability, Smith holds all the qualities required to be a great league player and all the intangible attributes that make him an inspiring leader and legend of our game. A statesman to boot it wouldn’t surprise me if Smith is Premier of Queensland one day, maybe an even higher office beckons. Cam if you could start your climb to the top as head of the NRL and clean it up that’d be great!
Sea Eagles Slump
Manly we have a problem. Trent Barrett was hoping last week’s embarrassment against the Dragons was a blip on the radar, unfortunately a massive Storm system roared through. 92 points leaked in two weeks is not the defence of a Top 4 team. The Sea Eagles are now in a scrap to secure their place in the playoffs. They were never in the hunt in Melbourne. The defence had no sting, the attack had no venom. Martin Taupau had as much kapow as wet fireworks and the Trbojevic brothers were impotent, while Daly Cherry-Evans was monstered by Cameron Munster. The Sea Eagles had no answer to the Storm surge and couldn’t stop Melbourne’s momentum. Barrett’s boys have some hard work in front of them to iron out some major flaws before it’s too late. Manly have misplaced their mojo and better find it fast as the high flying Roosters are up next.
What a day for the Knights! They have won a match!!! Fired up facing the Dragons, the Knights raced to a 12-0 lead early with cult figure, Nathan Ross, the Ross Dog, Brock Lamb and the Saifiti twins at the heart of it. The boil over was on! Knights fans are a hardy lot and know their football, they weren’t going the early crow, they’ve seen too much and by midway through the second half we were all square Hunter Valley hearts preparing to be broken again. Instead of falling apart the Knights rallied and a Daniel Saifiti try followed by Trent Hodkinson coolly icing the game with a field goal kicked off raucous celebrations on and off the field as if the Knights had won the Grand Final. The team song was sung in the rooms with such gusto you could have been excused for thinking it was Meat Loaf belting out Bat Out Of Hell at Wembley, though Shaun Kenny-Dowall’s version sounded more like Meat Loaf at the 2011 AFL Grand Final, well SKD has been there only a couple of weeks.
Dragons See Red
Not wanting to prick the Knights red and blue balloons but boy they got some fortune at the Dragons expense – and remember every word said before but is bullshit. Two controversial disallowed tries against the Big Red V were dead set incorrect calls and Mary McGregor’s wallet will be much lighter after he receives the customary fine from the NRL after flipping officials the two fingered V in the post-match presser. The Bunker official who deemed there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to overturn a try from a bomb after the ball clearly went three feet backwards must have been a juror on the OJ Simpson trial. The officials then knocked back another Saints try when Trent Hodkinson hoodwinked the Bunker, not hard I can guarantee you, by producing a dive that would have won gold at the Rio Olympics. Two massive calls incensed Mary McGregor and potentially cost the Dragons a crucial two points. Seasons swing on these 50/50s and the Dragons are clinging onto eighth spot by a claw as the Panthers are on the prowl.
The second half performance from the Roosters in overpowering the colossal Cowboys was dynamic. They dominated demolishing the Cowboys with swarming suffocating defence, never letting the Cowboys out of their own half. Off this devastating defence, Luke Keary and Mitchell Pearce probed both sides of the pitch at speed punching holes in the Cowboys until they cracked. It was a high quality display in a finals standard match that Trent Robinson would be immensely proud of and hopes is the benchmark set for the rest of the season. After the appalling performance against the Sharks a couple of weeks ago, the Roosters have responded exactly as Robinson would have hoped. Injuries are being covered, Connor Watson has slotted in nicely as fullback and Clovelly Crocodile local junior Victor Radley is playing out of his skin. With Latrell Mitchell and Daniel Tupou in the mood lashing down the lethal left flank, the Roosters have the potential to pluck a few feathers in their cap before the season is out.
In a blockbuster battle of the big boulders between Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Jason Taumalolo, it was the Roosters rock who took the honours. Rarely does anyone outshine Taumalolo, who had his usual huge game and in a unanimous points decision Taukeiaho got the nod in their one on one bout. The giant Cowboys forwards were well on top at halftime and it was Taukeiaho who boosted the Roosters when they were looking down and out. He attacked the Cowboys defensive line waging a one man war racking up huge numbers and scoring a vital try that got the Roosters onto a roll the Cowboys couldn’t contain. On the comeback after injury, Taukeiaho’s timely return to the team and form could be the factor that takes the Roosters from making up the numbers to plundering in the playoffs.
The Eels and Broncos turned on one of the games of the season on Friday night. After a week where all the talk was about Sia Soliola and the incompetence of officials on and off the field, it was a welcome relief for rugby league brilliance to hit the headlines. The Eels win was their best performance by far this season, the Broncos brought their A game but it was met and more than matched by the Eels. This was finals intensity, the Eels and the Broncos went at it toe to toe for 80 minutes. They slugged it out at a cracking pace until the Eels lifted and ran away with it for a fully deserved the win that now has them pushing for a Top 4 place instead of scrambling to make the eight. Nathan Brown deserves a lot of the credit, he had a great game. Brown always brings aggression and energy but his offloading and ball play added a dangerous dimension to the Eels game, producing the launch pad that the Eels backline blasted off from. Between Brown and Manu Ma’u they got on top of their more prestigious opposing back row bucking the Broncos.
Halves Heavyweight Clash
The much anticipated duel between the Eels and Broncos halves was a totally one sided knockout victory for the Parramatta combination of Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses. They dominated the game, running rings around the Broncos defence and their control and creativity with their kicking game was the cherry on top. The Broncos halves fired blanks. Ben Hunt was ineffective while Anthony Milford was strangely out of sorts. Milford’s mute display is a worry with the finals around the corner. The Milf looked disinterested and barely ran the ball. The Eels halves were enthusiastic, energetic and excellent while the Broncos pair looked bland, bored and ultimately beaten. Milford has a rare talent and Wayne Bennett’s assignment is to find the key to unlocking Milf’s magic on a regular basis. Parramatta’s big test is to keep improving, Moses and Norman are gelling and with Clint Gutherson gone they’ll need their trajectory to continue to trend upwards if they’re to trouble the big boys consistently.
Raiders Not Faders
The Green Machine rolled into Sydney on wobbly wheels but left with two precious points and a big jolt for their confidence and a nice lift in their for and against. Needing to win every game, its one down and five to go but if the Raiders continue to play like this they are a shot, albeit a shot in the dark at a mosquito after being spun around in a circle, but still a chance. This was Raider Ball not quite at its best but a marked improvement on recent efforts. Expansive second phase play coming off strong charges led by Junior Paulo and the impressive Joseph Tapine. The Coal Train, Dave Taylor is finally fit, fully loaded and making a huge impact off the bench. Aidan Sezer’s form continues to improve and he gave his outside backs great service and kicked superbly. Jarrod Croker and Joey Leilua thumped their three-quarter opposites and young gun Nic Cotric blasted the Bunnies with his bullocking runs and blistering speed. They have a tough run, but don’t count the Raiders out of the equation just yet and Josh Papalii and Jordan Rapana return next round.
The Last Word
Kenny Edwards attacking Jonas Pearson while he was lying on the ground obviously injured after a high shot that was an inch away from replicating the Slater was a low act and a fine is a poor response from the NRL. I would have liked Edwards rubbed out for a week. I know technically Edwards was within his rights to tackle Pearson but he didn’t tackle Pearson he basically whacked a bloke in the head while he was down and just about out. It’s not tough, it was unnecessary and it was a cheap shot from a player with form for this type of grubby rubbish in his game. Players need to be protected and the NRL need to make a stand. A fine is a slap in the face with a wet paper bag.
Rugby league is a hard game played by courageous men and women. Cameron Smith has played in the toughest competition in the world for 350 games without ever producing a pathetic piece of aggressive muck like Edwards did. A classy individual would show some compassion and respect for your fellow player. Kenny Edwards failed that test miserably.