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NRL Week 23 Wrap

NRL Season Ratings

The finals must be around the corner because the NRL has gone potty. The minor premiership got sorted, a new move in league – the hurdle – was thwarted while the Hayne Plane’s lift off at the Titans for 2018 looks about to be aborted.  Round 23 had everything bar a send-off, it was packed full of upsets, great games and the usual melodrama off the field that makes rugby league so appealing. You can accuse it of many things but boring isn’t one of them! On field we had the Rabbitohs belting the Bulldogs, the Knights upsetting the Eels and the Broncos gave the Sharks a shellacking. Super Saturday saw the Dragons demolish the Titans, the Storm inched past the Roosters and the Panthers over-ran the Cowboys. Sunday saw the Raiders wallop the Warriors and the Tigers sunk the Sea Eagles in the late show at Leichhardt.

The Water Cooler – Ten Talking Points

Minor Major

Melbourne wrapped up the minor premiership with a classic Storm late victory in a brilliantly pulsating top of the table clash against the Roosters. If that’s a Grand Final preview it gets my thumbs up, it was a cracking contest. The Storm have been the best side all season and proved yet again why they’re setting the standard. Just as it looked like the Roosters had cracked them with a Luke Keary field goal, the Storm lifted and willed a way to find the match winning try. It was so typical of the club’s amazing culture. They are never beaten. You must play the full 80 minutes to overcome this machine. They were worthy winners of the match and will wear the minor premier’s tag with immense pride. It is a major honour and more should be made of it, to make it through 26 rounds of the NRL, and Origin, and end up on top shows the talent, depth and resilience of your squad. Pause on this thought: Cameron Munster and Tohu Harris are still to return to the side, strengthening it further. It’s frightening.

Goal Posts Moved

The definition of a penalty try has just been shifted sideways. It used to be if a try was without doubt going to be scored before a professional foul then award one, after Saturday night it’s now changed to definitely maybe. Suliasi Vunivalu was obviously denied the opportunity to grab the ball but it had bounced off at a 45 degree angle as Latrell Mitchell nabbed him so unless Stephen Hawking was moonlighting in the Bunker applying the algorithms required the official was completely guessing that Vunivalu would have scored. Professional foul – yes. Penalty and sin bin – yes. Penalty try – no way. Look I’m okay with the call as long as the officials are consistent, and that’s the issue the Bunker flip flop’s more than a politician with a run of poor polls. For that to be a penalty try the rules were adjusted on the run by the referee and the Bunker. The Roosters were probably relieved it was a penalty try as if it was awarded just a penalty, Latrell Mitchell goes to the bin for ten and the Storm may have piled on the points.

Sally Vunivalu

Suliasi Vunivalu entered the twilight zone at AAMI Park. He was involved in everything, a penalty try, a melee and the weirdest moment seen in the NRL this season. I think Vunivalu has been watching the World Athletics champs in London! He was either inspired by Sally Pearson or borrowed some Mexican Jumping Beans off Justin Gatlin because Vunivalu not only leapt into, and nearly over, the Roosters defence, he’s also qualified for Fiji in the 110m hurdles for next year’s Commonwealth Games. It was bizarre and stunned everyone including the referees who penalised Suliasi for an offence I’m not sure is in the rule book! I think it comes under a law of the game hidden in the fine print at the back of the booklet titled referee’s discretion. Code for buggered if I know but everyone’s looking at me and I can’t shrug my shoulders or send it to the Bunker. In the end, the NRL scratched their head too and fined Vunivalu.

Broncos Bash

Third versus Fourth at Suncorp but it ended up the Broncos then daylight as their rich vein of form continued smashing the Sharks. The Broncos forwards flayed the Sharks setting up the platform for the backs to dance. None moved better than Tautau Moga who jinked and jived then ditched the fancy stuff and just obliterated anything in his path. One on one Moga is untouchable at the moment. The Broncos have a Top 4 spot in their grip now and in their destiny. Matt Gillett was superb and set the tone, walking all over Wade Graham in his personal battle. The Ben Hunt experiment at hooker is working a treat and he looks right at home. The Broncos have weapons everywhere and the strike power in combination with the devastating defence has the Broncos up there with the Roosters as the two sides who have the potential to push the Storm. The Broncos also have the master coach with the Midas September touch. Wayne Bennett has the nous to push all the right buttons, with his players and the opposition coach. He riled up Shane Flanagan deluxe last week. Who is getting caught in Wayne’s woven web of mystical mind games this week?!?

Panthers Clutch Crop

The Panthers rise up the table continued with a tough come from behind win over a courageous but ultimately undermanned and outgunned Cowboys. It was a very typical Penrith performance of 2017. Disjointed and misdirected at times, but hanging tough and finding touches of brilliance and individual magic to find the footy to get the win. Standing out was the formation Anthony Griffin had on the park for the final 20 minutes. Tyrone May off the bench at lock meant the Panthers had May, the halves Nathan Cleary and Matt Moylan and Dylan Edwards all playing off the cuff, all local juniors and all young! The Panthers are producing some terrific talent out west. Add Corey Harawira-Naera to the list of impressive rookies. They’ve risen to 6th on the table, I’d say onwards and upwards but there is a colossal crunch contest against the Raiders next Sunday that will affect both sides seasons.

Hunter Hat-Trick

“Newcastle! Newcastle! Newcastle!” The chant echoed around the cavernous ANZ Stadium, not surprising the sound rebounding off the 80,000 empty blue seats, as the Knights delivered a dynamic upset victory over a shell-shocked Parramatta to win three in a row and seriously dent the Eels Top 4 hopes. As the sides around them slink off into the sunset, the Knights are showing sensational spirit temporarily getting off the bottom of the ladder and excitedly express posting the wooden spoon to the Wests Tigers. Unfortunately for the Knights it only lasted 48 hours as the Tigers upset win re-directed a spoon shaped padded bag marked ‘return to sender’ to Knights HQ. With Australia Post’s form it should arrive by Christmas. Brock Lamb led the way silencing the Eels crowd with a virtuoso performance, scoring and setting up tries off the back of the forwards who steam rolled the Eels with surprising ease. Lamb has shown tremendous courage to face heart breaking losses where he was at the epicentre of proceedings to rebound and come out the other side a more complete player. He is quality. The mighty Storm are up next, that’ll be a great test for the in-form Knights. Four wins in a row? Why not, get to the bookies – the quaddie is on!

Comeback Cats

I’m not sure what Ivan Cleary said at half time maybe he threatened to play James Blunt on the bus on the way back home if they lost but it had the desired effect. The Wests Tigers roared home in the second stanza rolling over the top of the Sea Eagles scoring a great win which kept their whiskers in front of the Knights in the spoon battle and seriously mauled Manly’s Top 4 hopes. The winning try had a dash of controversy, but I’ll back the Bunker for once it was the right call, Daly Cherry-Evans played for the inevitable upstairs intervention and left Leichhardt lamenting their late loss. Tui Lolohea was superb and has finally found his feet at five-eighth. Tui doesn’t always choose the right options but yesterday he orchestrated the fightback, passing and running at exactly the right time. Seemingly down and out, the Tigers stood tall and bit back, whereas past versions would have rolled over and had their tummies tickled. Cleary has toughened these Tigers up. The joint venture is rocking and the news that old favourite Benji Marshall is returning next year only adds to the energy and good vibes emanating out of Tiger Town.

Stayin’ Alive

The Raiders season hangs on after wiping the floor with the Warriors. It was yet another polished performance as the Raiders continue to build they hope towards the playoffs but boy oh boy there’s some obstacles in their way. First up, being the massive match with the Panthers next weekend. The Green Machine will not fear anyone as their perilous situation is bringing out the best in them. They were in complete control against the Warriors. The big boppers, Junior Paulo and Shannon Boyd again set the game up and Blake Austin enjoyed the extra space toying with the waning Warriors. Austin’s powerful running game was exceptional. Nic Cotric had another blinder and must be in the running for rookie of the season. The 18 year old Cotric is a sensation who has the attributes to go all the way in this game and displays them week after week. Whether the Raiders season goes on we’ll find out after next week but in the form they’re in, everyone in the playoffs will be pleased as punch if the Raiders fall short.

Dragons Slay Titans

St George did the business in knocking off the Titans to stay in the hunt for the Top 8 but let’s call a spade a bloody big digger, taking down the Titans is like shooting fish in a barrel using a bazooka. The Dragons can only play what’s in front of them and passed their assignment with flying colours. The forwards led by their bullish back rowers Jack De Belin, Tyson Frizzell and Joel Thompson ran riot continually marching the Saints up field. Cameron McInnes had a field day off the back of this momentum and Tim Lafai offloaded at will which Gareth Widdop lapped up playing maestro in his usual magnificent match. Jason Nightingale gets my Dragon of the Day award with his routine excellent output. Florence is a true pro and always one of the leading lights of any Saint. He always gives his best every week, a constant threat he threaded through the Titans tattered defence like a surgeon’s knife. Mary McGregor would be happy that his men stopped the rot and have shown the character to keep in the contest to make the finals.

Bunnies Boiling

The Rabbitohs have had a great past couple of weeks and are enjoying a late season surge in form… all too late. Madge Maguire has his men firing and the brilliant form of Alex Johnston after his late shift to fullback has paid dividends and must have Maguire wishing he’d done it sooner. Angus Crichton barrelled over the Bulldogs while Damien Cook sliced through them like a chef filleting a fish. The Burgess twins towered over the dire Doggies and played out of their rather large skins. It was their best display of the year but again, far too late. Souths ended last season like this, encouraging yes but the Bunnies need to get out of burrow way earlier than this, it’s two months too late. They’ve been in hibernation over winter and the field has fled, but the impressive wins might be enough to keep the wolves from Maguire’s door.

The Last Word

It’s not me, it’s you! The showdown between Neil Henry and Jarryd Hayne has the Gold Coast hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Neil ‘King’ Henry took on Jarryd Hayne after the Hayne Plane offloaded on Henry on the weekend saying he’d been ignored by the coach. Henry gave the board an ultimatum – either he goes or I go! Old King Henry had a few heads lopped off in his time, and this ‘King’ wants one more. The board meeting has been adjourned after 4 hours of I would assume quite confidently red-hot patter. The flies were queuing to be on the wall for this one!

Is it any wonder it got to this point?

Hayne is a divisive figure and upset the Titans apple cart the moment he arrived with huge fanfare and fat contract to boot. King Henry’s men thrive on a culture of tight team spirit, no individual bigger than the club. Henry’s motto is “there’s no i in team”, while Hayne’s is “there’s no i in team but there is a ME”. It was a marriage of convenience, the Gold Coast got initial bang for their buck in gate takings, merchandise sales and media traction but the honeymoon period was fleeting. The Henry and Hayne coupling manifested into uneasy silence destroying the good vibes and has eaten into the strong club culture Henry and his team have built like a white ant infestation, the relationship looks headed for a bitter divorce.

The question now is, if Hayne is booted out who wants the Hayne Plane landing on their strip?!? Maybe Dessie will strike, surely the Bulldogs can squeeze Hayne under their salary cap.

Anyone else hear tumbleweeds?


Jock Strap

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