1. The End Is Nigh for Benji Marshall
It was a milestone match to forget for Benji Marshall as his 250th NRL appearance was spoiled by his former side, the Wests Tigers. The veteran half looked well off the pace in returning from a persistent hamstring injury as his side fumbled their way to a 25-12 loss. As was often the case in his Tigers career Marshall tried too many miracle plays at ANZ Stadium resulting in turnovers or dead ends for his struggling side. When he took an intercept in the second half Marshall was almost looking for someone to tackle him. He crabbed across field and threw some bullet passes, however overall he was easily handled by the Tigers. The Dragons continued to go side to side and it was easy pickings even for a Tigers edge defence that is often flimsy. Whilst Marshall left the Tigers in acrimonious circumstances, most Tigers fans would have been proud to see Benji reach such a big milestone of 250 games. No one can forget what he did in his early years with his magical feet and quick instincts. Marshall played with sheer audacity and a freedom of spirit rarely seen in the structured and robotic world of NRL playmaking. To overcome 5 shoulder surgeries showed Benji was a mentally tough and resilient character, a trait not many people give him credit for. However the sad fact remains he is a shadow of his former self in 2016. His style of play has remained the same but his waist line has not. His magic feet shuffle these days rather than strut as half opportunities which used to be his domain turn to dust rather than diamonds. Sadly for Marshall he remains unsigned for 2017. Too many more performances like today and I doubt any NRL club sees much value in Benji the next couple of seasons. If I were the Dragons I would be looking for other options. For Benji an English swan song might be the most viable alternative.
2. A Cautious Points Victory for Jason Taylor
Tigers coach Jason Taylor remained bullish in the post-match press conference after his side's comfortable win over the Dragons. However there is no doubt he would have been breathing a huge sigh of relief. Taylor bit the bullet this week reigniting his simmering feud with Robbie Farah by dumping the veteran rake to Reserve Grade. With Farah playing a starring role in setting up 4 tries at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday against Newtown, Tigers fans took the opportunity to vent their spleen. Make no mistake, a large number including myself were ready to unload on Taylor if they were to implode at ANZ Stadium today. Whilst the Tigers performance was patchy and the opposition ordinary they didn't implode. They showed resilience and grinded out a win. They lost Tom Grant and Chris Lawrence in the first half and also overcame an 8-0 deficit. To call the opposition modest would be being kind, however the key is the Tigers did not beat themselves. They turned away the Dragons on their goal line number of times in this match. Taylor has obviously been thinking about this momentous decision for a while as he has previously rested and demoted Farah to the interchange bench. What he got right here was the timing. Against a downtrodden and directionless Dragons side completely devoid of flair and confidence, the Tigers were likely to win this week whatever side he put on the paddock. Taylor now gets a chance to secure back to back victories against a similarly gloomy Parramatta side that are injury depleted and marking time before season's end. Back to back victories and suddenly the headlines switch from the Farah feud to the Tigers finals chances and the coach's brave move. Whilst I remain far from convinced Robbie Farah is not worthy of a place at least on the interchange bench in this side, Taylor would have taken positives from today. His vision, which I don't see him backing down from anytime soon, is brave, and a coach deserves support from his Board and club. If it were a boxing match, you would have given the points to Taylor as his side kept their finals chances alive with a scratchy yet solid win. However with stronger opponents to play the pendulum in this saga could yet swing, as Taylor's job goes on the line over the next 6 weeks.
3. All that People Love and Hate about Robbie Farah was on show at Leichhardt Oval
Robbie Farah has become a divisive figure at the Tigers and it was again on show on Saturday. The 247 game veteran has bled for the Tigers over the years, however his recent turbulent history has split Tigers fans down the middle. Whilst I felt compelled to head to Leichhardt Oval to support a club legend, there are others that said good riddance and would love to see him out of the door. Farah has always carried the sort of headstrong personality and stubbornness throughout his career that people grow to love or hate in a person. I loved the fact that he played with the same aggression and competitiveness for a Tigers State Cup side that accounted for Newtown 42-24. Farah also showed, even on ageing legs, he remains a savvy and skilful dummy half when allowed to play his natural game. He forced 2 goal line drop outs, had the last pass in 4 tries, and talked and directed his troops around the paddock with an air of authority. With close to 3000 fans in attendance and many signs on display, Farah has his loyal followers in Tiger Town. They mobbed him after full time which I thought was touching, bringing Farah close to tears. After the match Farah spoke to the press and took a couple of none too subtle shots across the bow of Jason Taylor. Whilst he could have taken the high road and kept a dignified silence, Farah could not resist further inflaming the feud. This is what his detractors will point to, that it is all about Robbie. In making his remarks Farah probably shut the door on a first grade return anytime soon. Whilst I agreed with his comments, which picked holes in Taylor's logic and his mantra since coming to the club, whether they were needed is another point. He is probably at the point now where he feels the decision made by Taylor is final and is personal, and he has little to lose by shooting off a few barbs in return. However after his comments last night, and the Tigers win today, Farah can look forward to another week in reserve grade as his 250 game milestone inches further away.
4. Dragons Squad Under Sized and Over Matched
I'm not quite sure where Paul McGregor goes with his side from here for the remainder of the season and heading into 2017. For me Saints are the second worst side in the competition even though they occupy a spot outside the bottom 4. However when you look at their differential, they sit just above Newcastle. Today the Dragons put in another listless display with their season on the line. Whilst they started fast the decision to take the kick at goal when 6-0 showed a side that doesn't know when to go for the throat. The Tigers were there for the taking early, yet Saints took the conservative decision. They were duly punished for this move, by failing to see that half of the football field again for the rest of the half as the Tigers marched in 3 quick tries. For all of season 2016 the Dragons have carried a highly disjointed attack and a lack of punch right across the park. The modern game is all about aggression, power and speed. Look at the type of athletes and footballers Ricky Stuart has recruited in Canberra. Someone like Blake Austin who just takes on the line direct and asks real questions of the defence. A Josh Hodgson, with all the football smarts. A tall and aggressive forward pack and some quick outside backs. The Dragons have plodders in comparison, coming up light in all three areas. Whilst their forward pack has some workers and some decent footballers, they are often over matched and under sized. Out wide the Dragons lack pace, and whilst Jason Nightingale has been a wonderful finisher and honest footballer, he is marking time out on the wing these days. However the Dragons problems don't get any bigger than in the halves where big money signing Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall must be held to account. To be averaging just 13 points a year is deplorable and the Dragons had plenty of opportunities today. They had well over 50% of the football and at a few stages had multiples sets on the Tigers line. Whilst they threw plenty of switches and sweeping backline movements at the Tigers, there were no killer balls or change ups. The Dragons went side to side far too often and were easy pickings. Whilst McGregor will be scratching his head to work out how to fix their stuttering attack, what will have hurt him most was some abject misses in defence. The Dragons have prided themselves in the last 18 months on their defence. However today there were some extremely poor misses. The first 2 Tigers tries to Naiqama and Brooks were way too easy. Soon after Naiqama and Brooks busted the Dragons wide open as they threatened to unravel. Eventually poor attack puts undue pressure on your defence and the attrition takes its toll. It looks like some of the team are starting to just lose that intensity as the season wears on and now it is affecting both sides of the ball. McGregor may keep talking about finals, however in reality he needs to find a way to completely revamp this side. That might start by making a few tough calls and seeing what is on the open market.
5. Mitchell Moses Finding His Feet
I remember watching Mitchell Moses as an 18 year old playing State Cup. Far from his side kick halves partner Luke Brooks, Moses has a polar opposite composition and personality. Whilst Brooks is shy in front of the camera, softly spoken and can drift in and out of games, Moses was a dominant personality. In his very first State Cup game he was barking instructions to his forwards. He was demanding the ball. He would put his body right on the line against players twice his size. He would swear at the top of his lungs if something went wrong or he didn't receive the ball. He would taunt opposing players - he was cheeky and he was brash. He came into first grade in 2014 as a chicken legged rookie with a very slight frame but with plenty of wraps. He was often bullied in early games and struggled when running the football. However Moses has quickly become a player that has established himself at NRL level and is demanding more and more of the football. Rumours persist that one of the main beneficiaries of dumping Robbie Farah would be Mitchell Moses. Moses has received more football, and more touches when Farah is not at first receiver. Farah, a similarly dominant personality, is like Moses - they want control, they want the ball often. Whilst Moses still has plenty of rough edges to his game he had an excellent game at ANZ Stadium today. He challenged the line, not always a strength of his, and busted it clean on two occasions with one leading to a try. He still has too many poor plays and unnecessary plays in him - his penchant for wanting to throw flick passes in the air and the brashness that I think he needs to temper. Sometimes I think he wants to make the highlight reel and he doesn't realise the pressure he's putting on his team with some of his individual options. He also failed to control some 5th tackle plays as the Tigers often gift wrapped Saints opportunities to get back into the game. Moses has been given much more responsibility as a player this season under Jason Taylor's game plan. It's clear he has had to earn this right throughout 2015 and over the off-season. Moses was cocky and confident in the press in pre-season talking up the Tigers halves taking more ownership of the game plan. Whilst it came back to bite him with some uncontrolled displays and the wrath of his coach, he is starting to blossom as the season goes on. In 2015 he cut a frustrated figure as the Tigers played a very structured and one out style of football. This year he has been able to get earlier ball and been able to put some of his pet plays in practice. He has formed a deadly combination with James Tedesco and the Tigers have dual threats on either side of the ruck. Whilst he is far from the finished product and could do with another off-season in the gym, Moses has a dominant personality and could turn into the sort of confident leader every side needs.