The round was overshadowed by the terrible news that Jonathan Thurston’s season is over. The NRL has lost some greats and glamour this year with stars JT, Matt Scott and Greg Inglis succumbing to injury. The losses confirm what a brutal game we love and why they deserve every cent they earn. The continual attractive brand of footy on display reveals the depth of talent. The pool is deep! The round began with the Warriors all but ending the Bulldogs season and the Titans defeated the Tigers. Super Saturday saw the Cowboys overcome the loss of JT to down the Panthers, the Broncos rock the Raiders and the Roosters scrape past the Storm in a golden point thriller. Sunday saw the Dragons drag themselves off the canvas to run down the Knights while the Sea Eagles skewered the Sharks in the Shire!
The Water Cooler – Ten Talking Points
Knights Shine Briefly
Playing in their miner’s jerseys the Knights shone like a diamond in the first half as the Dragons collapsed at Kogarah. Nathan Ross’ move to fullback was a masterstroke as the Ross Dog performed more cult status gathering heroics scoring a hat trick as the Knights piled on 5 tries in 15 minutes! The Knights were beaming brighter than a head lamp down a deep dark shaft, unfortunately the batteries ran out on the lamp and the Newcastle canary didn’t make it back up the mine for the second stanza. Puzzling was the Knights taking a penalty goal in the 39th minute when they had a 16-point lead and the Dragons toasted. Go for the try next time please, you’ve only won two games, you’re on top… have some fun! What have you got to lose?!?
Widdop Saints Saviour
Staring yet another defeat in the face and playing their worst half of football all year (and that’s saying something considring the drivel they’ve produced this past month), Gareth Widdop chose the perfect moment to regain form and lead the Dragons to a stunning comeback victory. Widdop the Wizard opened his bag of tricks, and cast a spell over the hapless souls from the Hunter Valley. The Saints Sorcerer control over proceedings was entrancing as he directed his apprentices brilliantly as the Knights turned from men to mice and were swept aside. Jason Nightingale bagging a hat trick of his own. The worry for the Dragons is they need more from the men around Widdop as the Saints main man cannot continue playing a lone hand, Gareth only has one wand.
Staring down the Sharks in the Shire is usually a confronting proposition. The Battle of the Beaches didn’t eventuate it was a Sea Eagle sand storm. The Sea Eagles shredded the Sharks in a fantastic showing that motored Manly into the Top 4. Martin Taupau set the wheels in motion with a magnificent monster metre-eating match. His clash with Andrew Fifita was all one way traffic, Taupau went Kapow! Api Koroisau was everywhere and is in outstanding awesome form. Off the back of the momentum, Daly Cherry-Evans was inspired toying with the Sharks backpedalling defence. His passing and kicking game was supreme. If DCE does not come into QLD Origin calculations it confirms his cards have been marked.
The Great Escape
The city of churches was entertained to a classic from the top drawer as the Roosters came from the clouds to pip the Purple Pride at the post. Luke Keary continued his challenge for buy of the year honours as he led the chicken run home as the Roosters lethal left edge lasered through the Storm. Michael Gordon showed immense composure under extreme pressure to nail all conversions from the touchline to keep the Chooks hopes alive. Mitchell Pearce rebounded from the Origin disappointment and Joey Johns emotion charged constructive criticism, well Johns considered it constructive to Pearce it was potentially destructive, to snap the winning field goal from some distance, moments before being slammed off his feet. Pearce was raised into the air in exultation by his ecstatic teammates. The Roosters had won a game that looked gone and reduced to the Storm’s lead at the top of the ladder to just 2 points, instead of the 6 it was heading for.
Melbourne, your future is in safe hands. The Storm may be losing some stars in the coming year or two but boy there’s talent coming through the ranks. Even though they were beaten, the Storm’s youngsters stood up for the second week in a row. The Storm had the game in the bag until they wilted in the final ten minutes as they had the previous week against the Cowboys, this time the kids didn’t get the lollies. Brodie Croft’s stocks continue to rise, you need to do a double take that you’re not watching Cooper Cronk. Croft is blessed with gifts, dripping in skill. He and Curtis Scott not only visit the same barber but come out of the same amazing talent pool. Brandon Smith is made for first grade and played like a veteran and is incredibly tough. If the Kiwis World Cup squad want a bolter, here’s your man.
Bellyache’s Super Soaker
Storm coach Craig Bellamy is a master tactician and has instituted the best system and club culture in the NRL. He knows what works and makes good players even better, a great trait in a coach. I love Craig Bellamy’s passion. He rides every play like his life depends on it. His cortisol levels hit code red (spontaneous combustion) in the final ten minutes. Every time Michael Gordon kicked a conversion from the sideline Bellamy was going off in the coach’s box like a frog in a sock, doing its block! Bellyache was frothing at the mouth, spraying his assistants with expletives that’d make a gangster blush and force the window cleaners into overtime. I had the mobile ready to dial emergency. The poor Storm assistants know their place, keep quiet, look straight ahead and mentally ‘go to their happy place’, while Bellyache berates, blasts and booms to no one in particular. His animated displays are hilarious, unless you’re stuck in that Storm box otherwise known as the Purple Panic Room.
While I’m dishing out the coach’s wraps, here’s a shout out to my good mate Clint. Talking great coaches, Wayne Bennett is on the podium. His man management is amazing, he knows his players, cares for them and they in return give him everything. The Broncos attitude is always great, always committed to the cause. They sparred with the Raiders and then when the game was on the line, they stood up. Matt Gillett and Josh McGuire knocked back the option of having a rest after Origin and both played stormers, Gillett landing the knockout blow scoring in the final minute. Benji Marshall continues to repay the faith Bennett showed in bringing him north, playing his best footy for years. While Ben Hunt did exactly what the old stager asked of him, responding to the classic Bennett mind games of first spending a week in the QLD Cup then placed on the bench here by taking the game by the scruff of the neck and wringing the Raiders out of it.
Another close game that could have gone the Raiders way and maybe should have. The Green Machine’s season is slipping away before their eyes. They went toe to toe with the Broncos but it was yet another case of not bringing home the bacon. The Raiders under extreme pressure faltered and have placed themselves on the precipice of oblivion. If any team in the bottom rung can get on the roll needed to fire into the finals it is the Raiders but their chances are dissolving like Ricky Stuart’s head into his hands on the sidelines. All the elements to be a top team are there, the Raiders need to harness them, have faith and pray for a massive chunk of luck to make it from here. Junior Paulo and Jordan Rapana are leading the way, Josh Hodgson is trying every trick he has but in reality the forwards must dominate and the halves need to take control to allow one of the most exciting backlines in the business to do their stuff. This is not the script the Raiders had hoped for, the season in danger of being written off with chapter one’s heading: shoulda, woulda, coulda – didn’t.
The Fantastic Flying Feldt
No JT, no worries. The Cowboys could have used Jonathan Thurston’s injury as a reason to fall into despair. Cowboys don’t cry. The North Queenslanders are made of tough stuff and have been getting used to Thurston not being on the paddock. In a perverse way it is the making of the Cowboys. Instead of relying on the world’s best, they’re all putting their hand up and making things happen as a unit. Michael Morgan has taken his game to new levels, while previously bit part players Scott Bolton and John Asiata are now key men in Paul Green’s plans. The Cowboys hung tough against the red hot Panthers and took their chance when Kyle Feldt, who had a fantastic match, flew high and plucked the ball out of the sky like picking an apple from the top of a tree. With no JT to land the match winning conversion a la Origin, Ethan Lowe stepped up to the plate. The rough n ready backrower banged the ball high over the black dot and sent the raucous Cowboys crowd, originally there to celebrate JT’s 300th game into raptures.
Swap Tigers Stripes
Any chance the NRL and the English Super League can come to an agreement and we can swap Tigers for the rest of the season? The UK striped version, Castleford are the runaway leaders while the Aussie species are endangered and battling the Knights for the wooden spoon. The Tigers were appalling against the Titans and 2018 cannot come fast enough for Ivan Cleary and the fans. Tuimoala Lolohea may be a makeshift five-eighth but may need to move away from 6 if he doesn’t improve as his game was horrendous. One pass that nearly took the touchies melon off as it sailed towards Row Z summed up his night. Lolohea was not on his Pat Malone in his mediocrity, most of his team mates need to be chained to a chair and made to watch a replay of that dribble. Trapped on the bottom rung of the ladder, until the Tigers change their stripes this is where they’ll stay.
Rack Off Alfie
As a bonus this week, Jock’s wrap is a special Spinal Tap edition. Normal Wrap’s go to 10, but this one goes to 11. Allan Langer the former Kangaroos, Maroons and Broncos legend is the head on field trainer for Bennett’s Broncos. The problem is he is never off the field. Alfie spends more time on the paddock than the grass! Langer in his light blue shirt can be seen literally millimetres behind the play, organising the Broncos attack and defence. Alfie is constantly barking orders, no doubt relaying tactics sent via stone tablet, the usual method of communication in Wayne’s world. Langer is like a father trying to relive the glory days through his thirteen sons. The referees turn a blind eye and give Alfie the green light to run the show, don’t the Broncos trust their players to use their brains and work it out for themselves. Isn’t that what all the training, video sessions and mind calming league whisperer’s are for? Bugger off the field Alfie!
The Last Word
I like to think Jock covers all the big rugby league issues, as well as talk about himself in the third person. Pressing me most this week is when the Bunker decision comes up the video shows a delectable piece of the Colonel’s finest KFC chicken on the screen, why does it say in the small text in the corner ‘prices vary in Newcastle’?!? What’s going on in Newcastle that I don’t know about? Is there a local chicken King running an underground fried chicken ring undercutting the Colonel forcing KFC to price match in certain suburbs? I’m flummoxed, it’s quite a puzzle. Send your answers via twitter using the hashtag #HelpJockSleepAtNight