We’ve reached the halfway point of the gruelling NRL season and it’s time to pull some punches. Grab the axe and cut the ropes we’re catapulting the Knights, the Tigers and the Rabbitohs out of contention. Step forward those who think they’re still a chance of taking out the title… not so fast you Warriors, Titans and Bulldogs. Press the button you’re dropping into the shark tank. Round 13 saw the Storm cane the Knights and the Eels sneak past the Warriors. Super Saturday saw the Dragons dump the Tigers, the Roosters outlast the brave Broncos and the Cowboys shot down the Titans. Sunday’s winners were the Sea Eagles in a golden point thriller (again) against the fast finishing Raiders and the Panthers towelled the terrible Bulldogs. The disastrous Dogs have the mange!
The Water Cooler – Ten Talking Points
Slater Slam Dunks
Queensland will have a new number 1 for Origin 2. Billy Slater proved what a champion he is rising to the occasion and playing by far his best game of the year. Billy the Kid didn’t just stake his claim to re-take the Maroons custodian position he inked the number 1 on his back. Slater was brilliant scoring two tries, setting up others and showed the timing and threat of his combination with Cooper Cronk has not dimmed and will cause the Blues massive problems – and that was all done without the third amigo Cameron Smith, who was rested. Billy will be back where he belongs, the Origin arena.
The Melbourne Storm are league leaders for a reason, they are just a fantastic rugby league side. Minus skipper Smith and with players backing up, you’d give the Knights some chance of at least pushing them. The Storm didn’t skip a beat in running riot, with Craig Bellamy’s well-oiled machine primed to perform with every player knowing their role and timing it to perfection. The Storm are leap years ahead of the Knights and played footy from another planet. When the Storm produce this style, at this speed, they are unstoppable. The system is so beautifully constructed by Bellamy, players debuting like Brandon Smith slip into it without affecting the smooth output and perform like seasoned professionals.
Gareth Widdop dropped back into the Dragons den with a dazzling display. The Wizard scored the Dragons opening two tries in his comeback from injury and that, combined with his general play and sublime kicking, gives the Saints Big Red V fans hope that Widdop’s marvellous early season form will march on towards the finals. Widdop is the key to the Dragons going deep and his skill and speed unlocked the Tigers time, and time again. With Josh Dugan’s timely return, the Dragons are back to their wicked ways with Widdop working the wheel. England’s fans will also be smiling at his rollicking return as their World Cup hopes could hinge on a fit and firing Widdop.
This is more like it, this is the Panthers we’ve been waiting for, finally the 80-minute performance they’ve been promising. Damaging defence from the opening kick-off combined with attacking artistry to the final moment. The Panthers blitzed the Bulldogs with Matt Moylan’s move to five-eighth a master stroke from Anthony Griffin. I hope Moylan enjoys being on the ball because he isn’t going anywhere now. Off the back of Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Trent Merrin, no doubt wounded from Origin non-selection, Moylan toyed with the Dogs jinking and jiving and in the end led the Panther pride to a whitewash of the white flag raising Bulldogs. Josh Mansour returned with a huge game, while Isaah Yeo and Corey Harawira-Naera on the edges destroyed the Dogs who played like they had distemper. The Panthers are back purring baby! Onwards and upwards, everything is looking rosy again at the foot of the mountains.
Des get that drawing board out mate and wipe it clean that was appalling. There are massive problems at the Bulldogs that look terminal for this season. No matter how ordinary and clunky the Dogs attack is, you can normally bank on gritty fight and determination to keep them in the running until their last breath. The code has been cracked on the safe and the famous Bulldog spirit stolen from the vault. All is not right in Dog Town, something smells and it’s emanating from the inner sanctum. The effort on display was not expected and not good enough from this proud club. Is the fire sale to keep the side under the salary cap for 2018 eating away inside the hallowed halls of Belmore? Whatever the reason, unless things are remedied soon the Dogs can bark goodbye to their season. Bulldogs find your bite before it’s too late.
Golden Point Part II
The Sea Eagles and the Raiders have turned it on again. For the second time this season it has taken golden point to separate them and unfortunately for the Raiders they’ve gone home empty handed on both occasions. The Raiders will take heaps out of this loss as their second half comeback showed so much heart and pride, they’ll use this to springboard their campaign. Jordan Rapana once again led the way, scoring two tries including one 80 metre solo special. Rapana is in rare form. For the victors, look no further than their two heavyweights, the brain and the brawn, Daly Cherry-Evans and Martin Taupau. Both were immense and no coincidence it was a typical Taupau Kapow charge that set up DCE’s golden field goal. The Sea Eagles were ecstatic and elated they had evaded the raiding party from Canberra, while the Raiders left Lottoland feeling unlucky but lost no fans.
The Roosters and Broncos had nine players between them backing up from Origin and nine beds would have been slept in well after this tense and tiring match. This was a slog in damp conditions, just what you need after the fastest Origin ever! Despite the fatigue factor both sides turned on quality fare. Blues skipper Boyd Cordner dragged his battered body around and bagged two tries for the Roosters. The defence was immense, not a place for the feint hearted. Poor Matt Gillett continued to cop punishment, he was whacked relentlessly in Origin and the Chooks didn’t miss him here either. His mouth must have a magnet as it’s attracted more attention than a certain part of Pippa Middleton’s anatomy on her Australian honeymoon!
Origin has allowed Benji Marshall an opportunity back on the big stage and he is delivering in spades. He was very good in the loss to the Warriors and even better this week. Wayne Bennett has sprinkled some magic dust over Marshall and reinvigorated him. Marshall is thriving in the defined role Bennett has given him instead of running the show, which he struggled with at the Dragons in his twilight. Seemingly gone, the Broncos dug deep and Benji, via his flashy feet and sweet hands, helped deliver two late tries set up a chance for golden point, unfortunately Jordan Kahu’s conversion just missed and the Roosters escaped and entered the Top 4 swapping places with the vanquished.
The Cowboys took on the Titans with most interest centred on Coen Hess and Jarrod Wallace as they pushed their case for inclusion in the Maroons side for Sydney. Kevvie Walters commentated on the game so couldn’t have been in a better position to access the action. Hess is a must have off the bench and may have sewn up a spot with another block buster cameo including yet another try. He is virtually unstoppable from 5 yards out. Hess blasts at the line like a human cannonball, imagine him in Origin unleashed on a tiring defensive unit, he’d leave the Blues with cannon balls in the pits of their stomachs and James Tedesco with one in his underpants. The Titans never had the ball or field position, so all Wallace could offer was his toughness with unrelenting tackling and bravely rucking the ball out from his own line, he is definitely worth a shot in Origin.
Brown Backrow Best
Parramatta Eel Nathan Brown must be the most improved player in the NRL. He is fast turning into one of the Eels most influential players. He is tough, hits hard and often and has developed a great offload, setting the Eels attack away after attracting multiple defenders and somehow slipping the ball to a gleeful team mate. Among one of the NRL’s best back rows, alongside Tepai Moeroa and Manu Ma’u, Brown doesn’t lose anything in comparison and is probably the most feared. Out of the two Nathan Brown’s in the NRL I know which shoes I’d prefer to be in… though it’s harder to get hammered in the safety of Newcastle’s coaching box, unless you’re in the Storm’s sitting beside the eardrum splitting, shoulder smacking Craig Bellamy. Bellayache is more physical in the coach’s box than when he played on the field!
The NRL has entered the Origin period and teams now cross their fingers and toes they can survive and move into the final phase of the competition in good shape to blast home. The byes are like gold as players rest weary bodies, declutter minds and coaches rejig plans – they never switch off. The lamp in the coach’s office is always on, burning the midnight oil seeking the elixir to breathe life into their campaign.
Dessie Hasler will have the hamster running on the wheel working overtime keeping the electricity meter ticking over at Bulldogs HQ! I hope Des has a couple of hamsters on the interchange bench, that wheel is going to get a whale of a workout.
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