The penultimate round of the regular season saw the field of contenders drop to nine and had everything bar tackling! Defence went out the window as both the Eels and the Storm racked up half tons in whacking the Broncos and Rabbitohs respectively, while the Raiders were a boundary short of theirs as they knocked off the Knights. In the other games the Cowboys ran over the top of the Tigers, the Bulldogs made it two on the trot defeating the morale-sapped Titans and the Roosters snuck home in the big Top 4 clash with the Sharks. While on Sunday the Warriors golden point loss to the Sea Eagles ruined the Raiders season and the Dragons kept their finals hope very much alive in stopping the Panthers run of wins at seven.
The Water Cooler – Ten Talking Points
Dugan Bus(t) Up
The whole world got caught up in the melodrama that was the Mayweather McGregor fight, but the blue that caught my attention was the Dugan McGregor stoush! Josh Dugan missed the team bus so Mary McGregor dumped Duges from the team. With the season on the line, Dugan’s ill-discipline went down like a lead red balloon and sent Mary McGregor’s temperature soaring like Floyd Mayweather’s bank account! McGregor not only dropped his star player, he drew a line in the sand and displayed balls of steel so big they need a wheelbarrow to carry them round in. The Dragons still need to beat the Bulldogs to possibly squeeze into the Top 8 leaving the question, will Dugan be picked?
Tariq Steals It
You can accuse the Dragons of a lack of imagination in attack, shallow depth of squad, a game day bus timetable with to the millisecond German efficiency but one thing you cannot accuse the Dragons of is lacking effort. They gave it everything and the man who typified this more than anyone was Tariq Sims, who played the game of his life! He not only bashed any Panther within range, he delivered two amazing pieces of play that changed the course of this match and saved the Saints season. Sims first threw his body into the way of Nathan Cleary as he was about to slide over the line for the match sealer then a minute later performed a miraculous one on one steal at full pace then outran the Panthers to score the match winner! Tariq had an absolute bellringer knocking the Panthers winning run on the head and turning Penrith into Sims City.
Only the Warriors
When Shaun Johnson kicked a field goal to put the Warriors up by seven points with seven minutes remaining you could hear the Viking Clap in Canberra. The Sea Eagles were shot and the Raiders still had a heartbeat. The following ten minutes can be placed in the ever-expanding folder titled ‘Only the Warriors’. If anyone ever wonders why the Warriors have missed the finals for six consecutive seasons watch the end to this game and you’ll see why players hold regular Warriors Anonymous meetings normally held in the in goal area after letting in a try. “Hey Bro’s I haven’t dropped a ball, been involved in a crazy last tackle play or not followed the game plan for 2 sets now”. It was fair enough for Tom Trbojevic to score an amazing try to get the Eagles within one but for the Warriors to then kick the ball dead from the re-start with a howling gale behind you giving away the penalty that marched Manly to the game tying field goal is normally called a coach killer. In the Warriors World that’s called a common occurrence.
Final Four No Fantasy
What’s the matter Parramatta? Nothing at all! The Eels are absolutely flying and have cracked the Top 4 and did it in style. The Broncos were blown away as the Eels exhibited a lethal cocktail of tough defence, sublime attack and tremendous tactics. Brad Arthur is a wonderful coach. His men are all on board, following the plan to perfection and delivering the goods in spades on the field. They were too hot for the Broncos to handle, scoring after 11 seconds and just kept going. It was game over by halftime. Suncorp was in shock. The Eels halves Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses pulled the strings and orchestrated some sensational backline play. Their brilliant short kicking game was the cherry on top as they pressured the Broncos into error after error. If the Eels can repeat this display over the coming weeks they’ll not only be fun to watch they’ll go deep into September.
Semi Radradra was nothing short of sensational at Suncorp. The Semi trailer dumped on the Broncos as the Fijian flyer unloaded four tremendous tries in an exhilarating display of strength, speed and stepping. Radradra was unstoppable as he continually sliced through the Broncos with some of the finest long distance returns and tries seen this season. He had the Broncos grasping at thin air and even had the exceptional Darius Boyd, who had a horror night, turning inside out as Semi mesmerised and massacred the Broncos. The Eels fans idolise Radradra and pray he continues this heavenly form while all league lovers hope his return from French rugby club Toulon doesn’t take too long.
Back To Basics
Ok Brisbane you’ve had your fun. Wayne Bennett tried to be too cool for school. Uncle Buck let the young Broncos have their head, throw the ball round willy-nilly and play off the cuff with what I like to call UnBenny Ball. Footy like that is fun until your offload from the opening kick-off goes astray and you gift wrap the opposition six points, hello Adam Blair! UnBenny Ball came unstuck deluxe on meeting the electric Eels. It was panic stations and very unlike Brisbane. I hope the Broncos enjoyed Uncle Buck because the cool uncle will be replaced by daggy old Wayne as you can guarantee its back to Bennett’s tried and tested Benny Ball: routine, structure and predictability played with superior timing. You can see Benny Ball coming, you know Benny Ball is coming but if Benny Ball is performed to perfection it’s extremely hard to stop. Benny Ball has survived 20 years in the toughest arena rugby league can offer, it will return this weekend after a brief hiatus.
Hangar the Hayne Plane
Jarryd Hayne has copped a fair bit of press of late, most of it unsavoury. He is only human and it must affect him. His season needs to end one game early. Hayne needs to be sent a message that cuts through the crap that surrounds his every move and murmur. His game on Saturday was ordinary in the extreme. It smelled of disinterest and lacked authority. After the drama of the Henry execution a huge match was expected of Hayne to justify the faith the Titans had showed him. The board backed Hayne and after Saturday’s shocker Gold Coast fans need to look under the table at Titans HQ to find the donkey to pin the tail on. The Hayne Plane is on mega bucks and needs to perform next season like the marquee man he is well paid to be. He is a far better player than he showed against the Bulldogs and this season, Jarryd needs to be sent for an early mark with a note saying: see you at preseason training. Get fit and get fair dinkum!
Shark Smack Down
The Roosters came to the Shire, stared down their bogeyman and escaped with the two points and a secure spot in the Top 4. The Sharks title defence has taken a big body blow and is in serious trouble now. Cronulla continued their year of playing inconsistently, again struggling to find any fluency whatsoever. The big guns Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita were well contained by the excellent Roosters defence, which stunted the chances of gun custodian Valentine Holmes to shine. The moment which may have cruelled the back to back title attack was the injury to influential edge man Wade Graham, who had to be assisted from the field and his grimacing face did not give Sharks fans hope he’ll return any time soon. Without Graham on deck the Sharks premiership defence chances may have washed overboard.
Come Back Cowboys
North Queensland you should be proud of your boys. The Cowboys have been brave in recent weeks and dug deep into their reserves of courage to step back from the brink and finish on top of the vastly improved Tigers. Paul Green’s men looked gone midway through the second stanza but just as the embers from the fire were about to be doused the Cowboys roused themselves into mounting massive season saving moments. Michael Morgan’s leadership went up another notch as he manufactured a match winning comeback from his Cowboys. Morgan may be surrounded by talent and inspiring lieutenants in Jason Taumalolo, Jake Granville, Gavin Cooper and Lachlan Coote but there is no doubt who the general in this side is, it’s Michael Morgan and it’s his team.
Razor Sharp Rapana
Playing early on Friday the Raiders tore the Knights apart as they believed they were still a chance of keeping their slim season hopes alive. It was a rousing display of awesome attacking artillery as the Green Machine showed what they can do on their night. Unfortunately for the Raiders the trigger wasn’t pulled with enough accuracy this year as by the end of the round their finals hopes were shot down in flames. One player who didn’t shoot blanks in 2017, Jordan Rapana, again was a one man excitement machine. Rapana rocketed over for a hat-trick and it’s a shame the finals won’t feature his finishing and flair. Luckily the Rugby League World Cup is coming which means footy fans will still enjoy Rapana’s ravenous taste for tries.
The Last Word
Always save the best for last and this week it can only be the perfect Storm! The big question for the other NRL finalists is: Who can stop the Storm? The Rabbitohs travelled to Melbourne in fine fettle yet left wondering what hit them. 64-6!! It wasn’t a storm it was a tsunami of sensation! The Storm are unstoppable, the Big 3 are on a mission to end their association with premiership winning perfection. Surrounding them, class, as Jesse Bromwich and Dale Finucane boiled the Bunnies before Cameron Munster minced them up with a step or a quick shift to the fast finishing flyers on the flanks. Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu were scintillating as Souths were rabbits in the headlights and the Storm shone like the sun.
The Storm’s continued excellence must strike fear into the other contenders. How can they be beaten? On pure form and squad depth they’re untouchable. Other than injuries and dubious officiating what team can muster the quality to match them? When I think of one I’ll let you know.