NRL Round 21 Review - 3 Key Points From Each Match

NRL Round 21 Review - 3 Key Points From Each Match

Roosters v Broncos @ SFS

Roosters Will Rebound in 2017

I can see the Roosters being right back into the finals frame come 2017. This year they have been really poor, registering just their 4th win for the season on Thursday Night. Their season was over before it began really with a limited pre-season coming off a preliminary finals loss plus the damaging  Australia Day saga surrounding Mitchell Pearce. They started the season with long term injuries to Werea-Harvgreaves and Boyd Cordner and lost their first 5 matches. They have introduced young guns Latrell Mitchell, Connor Watson and have recruited experienced first graders Luke Keary and Michael Gordon. While those signings are not your typical marquee Roosters signings, they will add to the side. Trent Robinson strikes me as the sort of coach that has not lost the players like Michael Maguire - I still think he can get the best out of his roster. Every week the roosters seem to be putting everything on the line despite having little to play for, which is a good sign. Expect the Roosters to start fast in 2017.

Broncos are Shot Ducks In 2016

I don't care if the Broncos limp into the finals - they can't win the competition. They are a side in free fall that has lost all that it stood for. The Broncos now give up cheap tries, they get beaten in the ruck and they lack discipline. The Roosters ruthlessly exposed the Broncos on the edges scoring a number of soft tries against a confused defensive line. The Broncos hales Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt look like players unlikely to drag themselves out of the rut. There does not seem much aggression and talk going on in the field, everyone seems to be just going through the motions. To be honest so bad are the Broncos going I don’t even know if they can beat the Dragons this week despite being heavy favourites. 

Sweet Revenge for Copley

Dale Copley finally made his mark against his old club with a double on Thursday night. Copley would have enjoyed putting in his best performance of the season against the club that punted him on the off-season. The winger turned centre was outstanding in his side’s convincing win. Copley has all the hall marks of a good talent, with his big frame, strong defence and decent enough speed. He has had an interrupted season with injuries as well as being involved in the Mitchell Pearce pre-season incident. This performance showed what he is capable of and he will need more strong one to convince The Roosters he can be a starting centre in a stronger outfit in 2017. 

Bulldogs v Dragons @ ANZ Stadium

Bulldogs Not Contenders

The Bulldogs look like pretenders in the premiership race. At 13-0 up they had the chance to really nail the struggling Dragons here at ANZ Stadium. However, put simply, the Bulldogs were awful in the second half. A combination of simple unforced errors, poor passes and a lack of organisation and purpose culminated in nearly letting the game slip. Des Hasler cut a frustrated figure in the Press Conference and while he was pleased with his team’s commitment, the execution was excruciating at times. Again the Bulldogs halves failed to take command of a game and that is a big worry heading into September.

Dragons Go Back to What They Know Best

The most positive aspect of Paul McGregor’s reign at the Dragons has been their commitment in defence and their overall team spirit. After 3 consecutive heavy defeats the Dragons coach must have circled the wagons here and went back to what they know best. They showed courage and determination it in spades in this match as they nearly pulled off a big upset with a second half surge. Their forwards really took it to the Bulldogs in this game and dominated the second half. The Dragons fell a yard short of what would have proved a match winning try on three or four occasions as the Bulldogs scrambled well in defence. It was a much improved display as the Saints were much more recognisable as the tough and gritty side they have been for much of the last 18 months.

Crowds Still an Issue for the NRL

Just 15000 fans turned up to watch these 2 fierce Sydney rivals go at it on Friday Night. The Bulldog were sitting inside the Top 4 and whilst the Dragons are struggling, they remain in touch of the Top 8. I fear the game is becoming more and more a television sport. Thursday Night games are a disaster for crowds, however this game on a Friday should have attracted more fans. ANZ stadium is comfortable, however it also a sterile place to go and watch a club football game. Not even a quarter full the atmosphere is average to say the least. It is not asy to get out there for public transport and there is little in terms of atmosphere and action around the Homebush precinct. 

 Warriors v Panthers @ Mount Smart Stadium

Reward for Warriors Persistence

The torture of 3 golden point losses was reversed here for the Warriors as they prevailed 20-16 in Golden Point. After both sides bungled several field goal opportunities it was left to Shaun Johnson to pull off a exhilarating try in extra time. The Warriors led for much of the contest before conceding 2 late tries. You could tell the side were hampered by nerves over the final 20 minutes as they failed to take their field goal opportunities as memories of past losses came to the fore. It was a crucial win for the Warriors against their nearest Top 8 rivals. They have a relatively soft run home with home games against the Rabbitohs, Tigers and Eels. A loss would have put them 4 back of the Panthers; now they are equal 7th on 22 points and are right back in the finals mix.

Johnson The Best at Full Flight

The try scored by Shaun Johnson was the Kiwi sensation at his brilliant best. Johnson is as dynamic a ball runner as you will see in the NRL. His footwork and electric pace is reminiscent of a young Benji Marshall. Johnson, however, has a bigger frame which makes him even more of a threat when running the ball. The shame for the Warriors is you just don't see it often enough from Johnson. Like Marshall, he seems torn between playing his natural game or being a more robotic game manager, organising type half. His opponents are often in quicksand when Johnson plays his natural freewheeling running game. The Warriors are far more dangerous from broken play and offloads than structured set plays.

Penrith Let Another Opportunity Slip

This was the 6th game the Panthers have concocted to lose by less than a try in 2016. They have all the talent in the world at Penrith; however, they don't have a Thurston or Cronk to steer the ship when the game is in the balance. Like the Warriors they had their opportunities to settle this game but couldn’t find the right option. This side is 12-24 months away from being a serious football side and in losing the close games lessons will be learnt that will make them a better football side in the future. Penrith with the loss, lost their opportunity to break clear of the chasing pack, and face a crunch clash at home to the Roosters on Monday Night. 

Eels v Tigers @ ANZ Stadium

Tigers Unconvincing

Wins are all that matters at this stage of the season and the Tigers quietly keep notching them up. They have snuck their way up to 22 points and equal 8th position after seemingly being down and out earlier in the season. The Tigers have are playing a much more consistent and balanced brand of football to the cavalier stuff they were serving up earlier in the season. Coach Jason Taylor and his players finally seem to be on the same page about what style of football they want to play. However lets be honest the Tigers have been patchy at best in the last 2 weeks in overcoming the downtrodden Dragons and Eels. Here they put together 5 minutes of spectacular football to race out to a 14-2 lead only to go into a lull and invite Parramatta back into the game. In the Second half the Tigers spurned a number of opportunities to improve their poor for and against against a tired Eels side.  Most pleasing for the Tigers was their scramble defence. which did manage to hold out a number of raids.

 Question Marks Remain Over Farah’s Replacement Shuffle

Jason Taylor won’t be going back on his decision anytime soon and nor should he. Once he dropped Farah and with the commentary from both player and coach since there is little to gain from going back.  Despite Luke Brooks’ injury he will not be recalling Robbie Farah. Two weeks since Farah's dropping and Taylor and the squad have carved out 2 victories, easing the hype around the move. However looking at the solution at hooker to replace Farah, it appears a bit of a mess for mine. Joel Edwards is no back up hooker and he is slow and ineffective in the role. Jordan Rankin has been coming off his wing to fill in at times. Dene Halatau does a good job starting but is often gassed after 30 minutes. The Tigers were thriving with Farah coming off the bench and performed more cohesively in their wins against both Souths and Parramatta. They have looked clunky the last 2 weeks when Halatau has been replaced, but they got away with it due to the standard of the opposition. I just think the coaches job is to pick the best 17 and Farah is surely in that at the very least off the interchange bench.  This week the experiment at dummy half faces a real test against the Premiers, North Queensland, at Leichhardt Oval.

Moses a Halfback in Waiting?

Mitchell Moses was again the dominant figure in his side’s win. The playmaker set up all three Tigers’ tries and put in a commanding performance after fellow halves partner, Luke Brooks, was forced off at halftime with a knee injury. Moses is at his best when he is heavily involved and at first receiver he gets his hands on the football more often. Moses loves to bark his troops around the paddock and his performances have improved since Farah exited the side. Moses will be relishing the chance to be the one and only playmaker for the next few weeks as Brooks and Farah are grounded for different reasons. Jack Littlejohn will play the foil in a false number 7 against the Cowboys as Moses calls all the shots. 

Cowboys v Storm @ Dairy Farmers Stadium

Storm Strangle Cowboys

Melbourne held the Thurston-less Cowboys to just 8 points as they ground out a win in Townsville. The game had semi-finals intensity as both sides went at each other in a physical encounter. Both sides had several opportunities to score tries in the second half but desperate defence kept the game in the balance. The Storm especially continued to turn the Cowboys away on their goal line and frustrated their attack. The Storm locked up a Top 2 spot in the win and with the Sharks Draw they will now by eyeing off the Minor Premiership

Promising Signs for Cows without JT

The Cowboys would have taken a lot of encouragement from the 8-point loss. They remained right in the contest up until the final few minutes. They were a match for Melbourne in the forwards but they just lacked the polish of Thurston to capitalise on their field possession. Thurston has again been left out of his sides clash at Leichhardt Oval this week against the Tigers. As a Tigers man I am praying he is not a late inclusion however suspect he might be. JT was rumoured to be playing in this game so I can’t see him missing another unless he has suffered a further strain in attempting to come back. 

Cowboys Face Being on the Road through Finals

The Cowboys now have next to no chance of finishing in the Top 2. Which means they will face most likely a clash in Sydney against Cronulla or in Melbourne against the Storm in week 1 of the finals. If they fail to win in week 1 of the finals, the Cowboys will have to go on the road in Week 3 of the finals again in order to get to the Grand Final. Whilst last season the Cowboys won handsomely in Melbourne in the Preliminary final, this year the Storm are a different beast. It won’t phase the Cowboys, however it does make their road to back to back premiership glory just that bit harder.

Souths v Canberra @ ANZ Stadium

Back to the Bad Old Days for Souths

This was a return to the gloom of the 90's or early 2000's for Souths fans as they stunningly had 50 put on them at home by a rioting Raiders’ side. 2014 must seem like a lifetime ago for Bunnies fans and players alike as they have lurched from one pathetic performance to the next in 2016. The Bunnies were terrible in all facets of the game on Sunday as they embarrassed themselves in front of their own fans. The Bunnies are now on a remarkable 8 match losing streak and their form appears to be getting worse, not better as the seasons draws to it’s bitter inclusion. Canberra were disjointed in the first half but still managed to lead 26-0. The second half they walked in tries as the Bunnies fans sat there wondering if they are in for a lean few years and a real return to the bad old days. 

Maguire Has Lost This Squad

10 Players that played in the 2014 Grand Final victory played on Sunday for South Sydney in their record loss to the Raiders. That is quite remarkable and makes you wonder what has gone so badly wrong at Redfern in the past 18 months. To sum up their woes, I saw Adam Reynolds put in a speculative chip kick from his own half in the first half hour of the game. That has never been a part of Souths football or Maguire’s game plan. To me it shows the players are no longer responding to Maguire. Known as an intense taskmaster, they appear to be fatigued and going through the motions in 2016. Maguire is no doubt a good coach; however his methods obviously take their toll and Souths don't have the energy to make those sacrifices and climb that mountain again. Maguire either needs to be given the power to totally revamp the squad, or he needs to move on before things get even worse. There is no doubt he is a top notch NRL coach however I think he should see the writing on the wall here and perhaps move on to somewhere where his methods would be fresh. 

Ricky’s Raiders Continue to Soar

Ricky Stuart’s men finally put a team to the sword in their 54-4 thumping of the Rabbitohs. The Raiders had been threatening to do it all season as they have the raw materials to blow sides away. Too many times this year they have allowed poor completions or discipline to get in the way of a big win. Here they completed at over 90% and had far too much pace and power for the Bunnies. The Raiders have a really big pack and they won’t be intimidated coming into the finals. Ricky Stuart has been building this side for 3 years and with some really shrewd recruitment he has moulded a side that is only going to get better and better.

Manly v Newcastle @ Brookvale Oval

Nathan Brown Dignified in Defeat

Nathan Brown has held himself together really well this year. He has not made excuses and he has planned for the long term. He is not trying to take any short cuts in turning Newcastle around. Whilst his side has been battered from pillar to post, he has maintained really forthright conversations in the press conferences giving us fans plenty of insight. His honesty and thoughtful answers in the press conferences at least give his side’s fans that are turning in week in week out an insight into the difficulties he and his side have faced in 2016. I hope the Knights give him at least 3-4 seasons as long as results improve steadily, there are no short term solutions in Newcastle. 

Tom Tjbojevic Knocking on the Origin Door

Tjbojevic was again outstanding at fullback in his sides 36-16 romp of Newcastle. With speed, size, football instincts and skill Tjbojevic is a an Origin star in waiting. Whilst James Tedesco appears the Blues long term solution at fullback, Tjbojevic will be putting plenty of pressure on the Tigers fullback. Laurie Daley might have to find a have to fit him into his Blues side elsewhere such is his talent. Tjbojevic on the wing or in the centres could be an option as the Blues start to inject much needed potency to their backline.

 Manly Improving

 The late withdrawals of Jaime Lyon and Nate Myles might have rocked Manly earlier in the season. However they were always in control here. Despite the level of the opposition being poor Manly are building depth and quality in their roster. On the day when they celebrated their 1976 and 1996 Premierships the Eagles winning got to enjoy a Sunday Afternoon at their spiritual home Brookvale Oval. Their 4 consecutive wins keep them in touch with the Top 8 and they will fancy their chances of making it 5 straight as they travel to Parramatta to take on the Eels this weekend. 

 Titans v Cronulla @ CBUS Stadium

Golden Point is a Farce

Shane Flanagan was right on the money when he said Golden Point has become a complete joke. There are no rules in Golden Point. It has become a lottery and a free for all. Teams blatantly flaunt the rules and the refs just put the whistle away. They are too sacred to determine a game and perhaps a sides season by blowing an off side penalty. The field goal-a-thon has become a joke as teams get a 5 metre head start on the kicker getting in his face, blatantly offside. The refs need to start blowing penalties otherwise it is time to scrap Golden Point - even if it decides a game or a semi-final - because at the moment these Golden Point periods don’t resemble Rugby League. 

Best game of the Week.

We were saved the best for last on Monday Night as this game was a cracker. A draw was, I thought, a deserved point for both sides that refused to lose. It was a tough and high quality affair with plenty of niggle. It had a final’s intensity that not many games do at this time of the year. The Sharks showed they are premiership material by clawing their way back in the last 20 minutes after falling behind on the scoreboard. It would have been easy for the Sharks to accept a loss after a 15-game winning streak, but they have too many competitors and they are going to be awfully hard to beat in September. The Titans were even more impressive, mixing it with arguably the best side in the competition. Gold Coast could argue they were the better side here as they had to endure having a man in the Sin Bin for 10 minutes, and they lost out on a few 50/50 decisions. This was a gripping match and hopefully a sign of things to come in the finals.

Hayne Could Derail Titans Season

Whilst the signing of Jarrad Hayne as a huge coup for the Titans, it also could derail their 2016 campaign. Hayne has not played any NRL football for over 2 years and I think he could be well off the pace over the next month. Hayne is a freakish athlete, and a force to be reckoned with. He will make the Titans contenders for the Top 4 in 2017. With a full off season back under his belt Hayne could return to one of the premier players in the game. However right here, right now he is vunerable. The Titans have look side a really well balanced team with everyone contributing. I think some of their young players will now feel pressure to get the ball to Hayne. One of their inform outside backs may also need to make way for Hayne which could create some disharmony. The Gold Coast have clutch games against the Warriors and Tigers coming up. Hayne, thrown straight into the fire of these Top 8 battles I think might struggle. He looked well off the pace in the recent Rugby 7’s and whilst Rugby League is Hayne’s bread and butter this could be a baptism of fire straight off the bat.