Representative Round sees the NRL competition one third of the way into the season. Let’s see how the sides and players have gone so far and rate them.
1. Melbourne Storm – 16 points
Top drawer, all class, the Storm had their now expected fast start to the season. The machine is running as smooth and clinical as ever, Craig Bellamy has all parts oiled and polished. Every player knows their role and performing it to the expected Storm standard – high. Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk have this side humming and the return of Billy Slater is going so well there’s talk of Darius Boyd moving to the wing for Origin. Speaking of the cash cow, Origin could be the banana in the muffler that causes the machine to splutter. Fingers will be crossed the Storm’s Origin superstars get through unscathed.
Highlight: Suliasi Vunivalu – the sky is the limit for this bloke, on the end of this backline he is odds on to end up leading try scorer.
2. St George Illawarra Dragons – 12 pts
No one would have predicted the position the Dragons find themselves in, they have left egg on everyone’s faces especially Jock’s hence the high rating. Defence has led the way the attitude is spot on, each player giving the Dragon cause everything. The pack has been the best in the NRL, there has been no weakness. Paul Vaughan and Cameron McInnes have been great additions and loving playing in the Big Red V. The attack is where Mary McGregor deserves a massive pat on the back. The Dragons have completely overhauled their insipid play of 2016 to the point where they led attack and defence stats before Gareth Widdop went down, and that is the major concern, along with Josh Dugan’s broken cheek bone from the Test match. The Saints will try to hang in until their stars return.
Highlight: Gareth Widdop – the form player of the NRL until injury. He’s revelled in the expansive attacking style and being in control of the side.
3. Cronulla Sharks – 12 pts
After a slow start the premiership defence is looking in decent shape. Always hard to get the attitude right after climbing the mountain but the Sharks look up for one helluva tilt at back to back titles. Sharp all over the park, the forwards probably hit harder than any other and all have an offload in them. The halves Chad Townshend and James Maloney are steering this side around the park beautifully and with Valentine Holmes at the back have speed to burn. The Sharks still haven’t bared all their teeth their best is yet to come.
Highlight: Wade Graham – unlucky to miss out on the Kangaroos side, is a lock for NSW selection. Graham has taken his game to a new level this season, he’s in the elite now.
4. Brisbane Broncos – 12 pts
Wayne Bennett has got these Broncos cooking with gas. Predicted to struggle a bit without Corey Parker in 2017, they are playing with venom, stinging in defence and work hard together as one of the most cohesive sides in the NRL. Attitude is never a problem with the Broncos they have the best goal line defence, no wonder with Adam Blair rushing, Andrew McCullough in the middle and Matt Gillett and Sam Thaiday on the edges. The Broncos have expanded their attacking range playing both sides consistently rather than the mostly left side play of 2017, handing James Roberts plenty of opportunity to explode and making the 2017 Broncos are far more dangerous proposition.
Highlight: Darius Boyd – getting better with age, always selects the right pass to deliver and never has a bad game. His positional play is always spot on, reads the play like a fortune teller.
5. Sydney Roosters – 12 pts
The Chooks flew out of the blocks and have already racked up as many wins as last season’s dire effort. The Roosters haven’t beaten any of the big guns, hence their rating. Though they started well, attacking with flair some worrying signs have surfaced. Young genius Latrell Mitchell has fallen away and been ‘rested’, dropped was the word used in my day but Millennials seem to need kid glove treatment. The errors are creeping back in and Trent Robinson will want the discipline sorted on the resumption of the comp as the Roosters have the talent to go a fair way but not if they keep fighting with one arm tied behind their back.
Highlight: Luke Keary – his combination with Mitchell Pearce has clicked from day one. Keary has been a revelation and if he and Pearce can keep their form up the Roosters will always be a danger.
6. Manly Sea Eagles – 10 pts
If there was one team who did not want a week away from the rigours of the NRL it was Manly. After a high turnover of players it was inevitable the Sea Eagles would start the season slowly but coming into the second phase of the season the Sea Eagles are soaring. Off the cuff ad-lib footy is the go at Manly and in combination with the offloading of Jake Trbojevic and Martin Taupau makes the Sea Eagles difficult to combat when they’re in the mood. A poor home record is the only thing holding the Eagles back, no wonder when you run out at the laughably named Lottoland, strike fear into opposition hearts, um no.
Highlight: Dylan Walker – back in his natural position of centre, Walker has been scything through defences all season. In the middle of everything, he has not only talked the talk but so far walked the walk.
7. Parramatta Eels – 10 pts
A mixed bag from the Eels thus far. They started on fire with Corey Norman stormin’ through all comers, then a slump when they just lost their way, coinciding with a Norman injury that hamstrung the Eels. The past month has seen the Eels end the malaise and they’re wriggling their way up the table. Things are beginning to click, the forwards have hardened up and the backs led by Norman have improved out of sight. Parramatta have looked better with Clint Gutherson at the back, while Michael Jennings output has lifted with Origin around the corner. Slip Bevan French back into the mix and he could be the added spark that electrifies the Eels season.
Highlight: Clint Gutherson – the Eels jack of all trades will be disappointed that Mitchell Moses is coming as he was making a good fist of five-eighth but his spot in the starting XIII is assured.
8. Canterbury Bulldogs – 10 pts
Typical of the spirit of the Dogs of War. A month ago people were writing Des Hasler’s Bulldogs coaching obituary and writing off their finals hopes. Enter Matt Frawley and a change in playing style. All of a sudden the Dogs are barking, entered the Top 8 and have no thought of leaving it. New signing Brenko Lee has looked threatening while youngster Adam Elliott is turning into a marvellous back rower and knows his way to the line. Will Hopoate has returned from injury sparkling, the Morris brothers are flying and James Graham has a spring in his step. Beware the Bulldogs.
Highlight: Matt Frawley – the Bulldogs look better every single time he enters the arena from the bench. His kicking game is immaculate and he can also spot a gap.
9. North Queensland Cowboys – 10 pts
Having already lost Matt Scott, news coming out of Kangaroos camp that Jonathan Thurston has damaged his shoulder and may miss Origin I has the Cowboys wiping dust from their eyes, Cowboys don’t cry apparently. Jake Granville’s injury has also robbed the Cowboys of his crucial speed out of dummy half off the back of momentum created by the likes of Jason Taumalolo. The Cowboys season is quickly being derailed and they must hang in there and keep it on track until the cavalry is back.
Highlight: Coen Hess – his raw power and ability to find the stripe has brought him into the starting side and into Origin calculations.
10. Canberra Raiders – 8 pts
Looks are deceiving. Two golden point losses that the Raiders had chances to win are one of the reasons the Raiders are out of the Top 8 and not entrenched in the Top 4. Seasons swing on the tight games and the Raiders are making a bad habit of losing these. No need to panic as they have just about the best squad in the NRL, depth in every position and raucous home crowd support. The halves are the key, Aidan Sezer needs to run more and both he and Blake Austin must take control in the big moments, they can’t leave it all to Josh Hodgson. The Englishmen has again been one of the Raiders best and is the key to a big run at the title.
Highlight: Jordan Rapana – regularly makes huge metres through the ruck, breaks tackles for fun and his finishing brilliant, the freakish try he scored against Manly recently the headline act of his highlight reel.
11. New Zealand Warriors – 8 pts
Their season has revolved around Kieran Foran. Since he came back into the NRL the Warriors have looked so much better. More direct, organised and the players around him seem to have improved just by Foran’s presence on the field, he settles the side. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is getting back towards his best, while the Warriors defence has improved markedly especially on their own line. Shaun Johnson is the key to a premiership tilt, he has shown his great array of skills and if he can find more consistency on those last tackles the Warriors will be contenders not pretenders.
Highlight: Kieran Foran – has come back brilliantly from off field issues and hit the ground running like he’d never been away.
12. Gold Coast Titans – 6 pts
A rating of B+, are you mad Jock? Glad you asked. No I’m not, well maybe a tad. The Titans have had more injuries than any other side and the amount of times they’ve finished a match with a full complement on the bench rivals the hairs on Peter Sterling’s head (and mine). Despite this the Titans have shown remarkable courage, the culture within the club is strong, Neil Henry has this team playing tough and for each other. They’re also playing very attractive footy. Ash Taylor is running the show beautifully off the back of heaps of second phase as the Titans move the ball around. As troops are returning the Titans are rising and I expect that trend to continue.
Highlight: Jarrod Wallace – tough as teak, has loved playing extended minutes after coming across from the Broncos where he sat on the bench getting splinters.
13. South Sydney Rabbitohs – 6 pts
Disappointing is a word that comes to mind when it comes to the Bunnies season. Yes Greg Inglis went down early but there is too much talent for this side to be this low. The Rabbitohs need to remedy their ailments and fast because the season will slip away in a month if they don’t. Sam Burgess has been immense giving his all but he needs the rest of the team to follow his lead. Brother George has been woeful, his latest indiscretion bringing suspension was a sign of frustration – either that or he had a wedding in the UK to attend and wanted time off. Not playing for 80 minutes is one of the Bunnies biggest problems because when they’re on they look good but lapses are costing them big time. Damian Cook’s speed out of dummy half worries opposition sides, the Rabbitohs need to lay him a platform for Cook and the halves to work off. The forwards need to step up.
Highlight: Cody Walker – this late bloomer has been danger plus. He is a creative dynamo whose ad-lib footy frightens rivals.
14. Wests Tigers – 6 pts
It has been drama central in Tiger Town, off field we could write a novel about it, on field it hasn’t been much better. The Jason Taylor tuk-tuk has been replaced by the Ivan Cleary bus and out of the so-called Big 4 only one, Luke Brooks, is staying on board for 2018. The Tigers attack has threatened often but their defence lets them down consistently and it’s an area Cleary has already focussed on. Fix that and they have the talent and points in them to hover around the Top 8 but there are a lot of good sides above them who the Tigers can’t afford to give a head start.
Highlight: David Nofoaluma – week in, week out, he is just about the Tigers best. He has been displaying all his talents – speed, strength, safe under the high ball and offloads often. If only his efforts were rewarded with premiership points.
15. Penrith Panthers – 4 pts
The preseason premiership favourites have been the flops of the season. Is it the pressure that the youngsters cannot handle? They are looking frustrated they cannot replicate the flowing footy they produced last year and are caught trying too hard without laying the necessary platform first. The Panthers are playing hot potato footy like crabs, going from one side of the field to the other. Roll up your sleeves, get direct and the Harlem Globetrotter stuff can come later. Defence is a big issue with the Panthers needing to toughen up, far too many soft tries. They can get on a roll and make the finals but they’ve set themselves a hard task. The week off will have been beneficial, they return to the foot of the mountains looking up at the prize at the summit but must believe they can do it. Attitude enhancement surgery is a great start.
Highlight: Corey Harawira-Naera – Injury opened the door and this rangy second rower walked right through it with purpose. The find of the season, Harawira-Naera runs great lines, is a tackle buster and is no stranger to the try line.
16. Newcastle Knights – 2 pts
It’s shaping as another tough season for the Knights and their hardened fans. Early doors it looked like they were a team on the move, but the past month has been tough. They are staying with teams for a while but cannot go the 80 minutes, their inexperience counting against them. The Knights have improved and better days are ahead but it doesn’t help that star players like Trent Hodkinson have lost form. Young five-eighth Brock lamb has coped well and a player with a good future. I’ve rated the Knights above their position on the ladder due to the youth of their squad, they can get a competitive side onto the paddock, they just haven’t the cattle to regularly win.
Highlight: Dane Gagai – has been a shining beacon in the centres and unfortunately doesn’t receive the quality ball or the best field position to unleash his blinding speed and step.
We enter the next phase of the NRL with the giant spectre of Origin looming. How team’s come out the other side of this draining beast could shape their season’s. They’ll need luck, I hope your side has some because to win this competition you need a huge slice of it.