Hold the phone, stop the press and don’t put a pin in those lime green balloons just yet! Retro Round delivered more action than the A-Team that has kept the field of hopefuls at ten. Results saw the Eels beat the Bulldogs, the Rabbitohs down the Dragons at the death and the Storm cooled the Cowboys heels. Super Saturday saw the Knights whip the Warriors, the Broncos destroy the Titans and the Raiders shock the Sharks to remain in contention. Sunday saw the Sea Eagles blast the Roosters and the Panthers swept aside the Tigers to claim a spot in the Top 8. There are still a few twists and turns to come in the run to the playoffs but at the moment everyone are Storm Chasers. Melbourne now holds a four point break and hurtling towards the minor premiership like the London to Leeds Express leaving from Kings Cross. Mind the Gap!
The Water Cooler – Ten Talking Points
Finals No Fantasy
Parramatta are headed to the playoffs for the first time in six years. The Finals fantasy of long suffering fans is now a reality and the Top 4 beckons with a very winnable run home. It was a complete performance in difficult conditions, the Heavens opened where Parra fans are being sent with their radiant run of form. The Eels are building and could be the dark horses of the finals. They ruled the Doggies! It was a classic case of motivation v destination – playoffs for the Eels, Bali for the battered Bulldogs and the unemployment queue for Des Hasler. Nathan Brown and Manu Ma’u steam rolled over the top of the gallant but outgunned Bulldogs. If I was Laurie Daley I’d be circling Brown’s name because he is in amazing form and made for Origin.
Midseason moves are hit and miss but the Eels have hit a bullseye in Mitchell Moses. They targeted the talented Tiger, snapped him up and toughened him up along the way. Moses has been a revelation since parting with the Tigers. The ability was always apparent, consistency the issue but he’s found a home and taken his game to a new level at the Eels. His combination with Corey Norman is accelerating at such a rapid rate to the point where, if they stick to this form, they have the potential to explode teams off the park in the finals like dynamite. Moses has added stinging defence to his excellent kicking and running game he’s now a top drawer triple threat.
Des in the Doghouse
Boardroom bust ups, frustrated fans and seemingly half-hearted players. All centred round a coach with a remarkable record looking like the needle has broken on the turntable. Des Hasler sat stone-faced in the coach’s box watching the putrid performance, not even bothered to run flustered fingers through his luxuriant locks which have lost their lustre like Dessie’s reputation. The former Lord of Dog Town looked a beaten man out of ideas who has not only lost the dressing room but most likely his job and running out of credits at the Leagues Club. The board gambled on re-signing Hasler but may have rolled snake eyes. The Dogs of War are currently the Dogs of Snore! Their style of football is not Bulldogs footy. It’s passionless, clueless, and ultimately unacceptable for a club with such a proud culture and successful history. Something must give in the battle at Belmore.
The Raiders bashed, belted and broke the Sharks to keep their playoff dreams alive. The rough and tough Sharks were owned by the Raiders, the Green Machine rolled over the Sharks and the momentum was unstoppable. The Raiders are rocking and led by the boulders up front Junior Paulo and Shannon Boyd continually bent back the Sharks. It was no surprise Boyd played a blinder in Retro Round! Les Boyd one of the infamous names associated with the era. This was the Raiders of 2016, Josh Hodgson ruling the ruck and Leipana ran rings around the Sharks, Jordan Rapana grabbing a double but have the Raiders left it too late? Time will tell but no one will want to face the Raiders if they make the playoffs.
The Broncos turned the M1 Derby into a joyride that was so easy and so much fun even Wayne Bennett cracked it for a smile, he’s booked in for surgery for a wrinkle correction procedure. They’re already selling T-Shirts on eBay, ‘I was there the day Wayne smiled’. The question on whether the Broncos title chances are affected by Andrew McCullough’s absence was not posed as the Titans offered no resistance. Ben Hunt had a field day at hooker and Kodi Nikorima thrived at halfback turning the second stanza into a procession that Titans coach Neil ‘King’ Henry found tough viewing. Tautau Moga continued his strong form that has Knights fans excited about his arrival next season. The shell-shocked Sharks are up next and we’ll get more of an insight into the real state of the Broncos title chances minus McCullough and Joe Ofahengaue who was lucky not to be marched for a very dangerous tackle but will miss a few weeks.
Back To Back
It’s party time in Newcastle!! The Knights whipped the woeful Warriors and won consecutive games for the first time since 2015. On the back of a brilliant display from the ever-improving five-eighth Brock Lamb, the Knights started confidently and never let their foot leave the Warriors throats. The Knights shining lights of 2017, Daniel Saifiti and Mitch Barnett were fantastic again clocking up big numbers and walking through the unwilling Warriors. Barnett turned try scoring machine dabbing a double before the Warriors had woken up, actually let’s get real here – the Warriors hit the snooze button about three weeks ago. Newcastle displayed full control of their game and are finishing the season playing a style that sends a signal to fans that better times are ahead.
Tariq why did you pass the ball?!? The last second bombed try has the defeated Dragons dropped out of the Top 8. Despite an error laden beginning the Dragons fought hard putting themselves in a winning position with full time in sight. ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ was not part of Mary McGregor’s bedtime reading for his Saints as the Dragons turned turtle and the Bunnies rolled over the top of them scoring two tries in the last five minutes to hit the front. Like the fable, the Rabbits stopped short and on the final play the Dragons were running past to take the two points but Tariq Sims lost his bearings and forgot where the finish line was and threw the ball instead of plonking it down for the match winning try. Game over. Capitulating to the Knights and Bunnies in consecutive weeks at this stage of the season and the Dragons deserve to get bounced out of the Top 8.
The Sea Eagles rebounded and turned the high flying Roosters into tattered feather dusters but not before an almighty scare. At 18-4 down the Sea Eagles slump looked like plunging their season down the toilet, all of a sudden the Sea Eagles clicked and eventually ran riot scoring 32 points straight and getting themselves out of the Top 8 quagmire and back into the hunt for October. Though it was the usual suspects leading the way – the halves Daly Cherry-Evans, Blake Green and the Trbojevic brothers – it was the Manly defence and attitude that turned things around. Trent Barrett’s beach boys sped off the line charging into the Chooks who couldn’t stop Manly’s momentum, which sent the Red, White and Bluesters back packing to Bondi and Eagle Rock blaring over the sound system.
Panthers On The Prowl
The Panthers have finally clawed their way into the Top 8 after a fifth straight win. The Tigers took some toppling but after a tight battle the Panthers pulled away late, local junior Tyrone May continued to deputise for Matt Moylan brilliantly. The family affair was one sided as Nathan Cleary won dinner table bragging rights over father, Tigers coach Ivan, while Dallin Watene-Zelezniak had a day out scoring a spectacular double in direct opposition to his brother Malakai. The Panthers destiny is now firmly in their hands, especially with a massive match in two weeks against the rampant Raiders in Canberra. Next up though for the Panthers are the Cowboys, tough run! It’s a cliché but it really is one game at a time.
Officials wonder why fans get upset. The prevalence of diving is bordering on an epidemic due to the Bunker making decisions without using common sense. There were a number of calls made against the attacking team with the Bunker overturning tries due to players diving from the slightest touch exaggerating the contact when they were never going to stop the try being scored. Cronulla had a try taken away, the Panthers as well. Decoys must do their job properly and run through the line, but defenders throwing themselves on the ground like they’ve slipped on a thousand banana peels is a ridiculous look for the game. We don’t want the NRL turning into the EPL. The easiest option would be for the referee to make a decision without sending the call upstairs. Or how about putting someone in the Bunker who has some footy nous and common sense? I know, I know, it’s asking a lot.
The Last Word
Scheduling continues to be one of Jock’s bug bears. I may have the odd moan and groan, and make grumpy old men look like happy go lucky totally positive chillaxed duderino’s but can someone at League Central tell me why the Dragons Bunnies Retro Round match was played at 6pm on a Friday in front of two men and dog, and the dog only went in because it saw the a giant Bunny mascot and got excited – Wabbit Season! The NRL thinking really is Looney Tunes. It’s Retro Round at the SCG! Why wasn’t this match played on Saturday afternoon at the old school kick off time of 3pm?!? I can guarantee there would have been a big crowd, double the pittance that rocked up on Friday evening. Instead the buffoons at League Central place this classic in the graveyard shift and they wonder why they’re getting poor crowds. A simple switch with the Knights Warriors game, which would have seen that match kick off at 8pm Auckland time, could have been win-win. The Friday 6pm game either has to go or the league must open the gates to fill some seats and get some atmosphere. It is a shocking look for the game but one can only assume it rates well on Fox.
Report by Paul Kneeshaw