Like It 1 - Broncos Have Their Bite Back
The way the Broncos responded to Sam Kasiano's lash out with the boot shows the team has rediscovered the mongrel which mysteriously left them mid-season. The Broncos hunted as a pack as they pulled a number of gang tackles on the back of some frantic line speed late in Thursday's 20-10 win over the Bulldogs. The Broncos have gradually dragged back their form with 3 victories of increasing magnitude. What started as a scrappy win over the Dragons, turned into an emphatic 34-10 win over struggling Parramatta. Here Brisbane secured a 3rd straight win off the back of a bruising and largely dominant performance over a finals contender in the Bulldogs. Ominously the Broncos have conceded just 28 points in their last 3 games and are getting back to the sort of finals football intensity they will need to make the grand final from outside the top 4.
Like It 2 - Josh Jackson's Form in 2016
Josh Jackson has turned himself into one of the best backrowers in the NRL this season with his all effort displays for the Bulldogs. Jackson came into first grade as a relative unknown and was best known for his defence and his work ethic. However he has taken his game to another level over the past couple of years. Jackson has really improved the attacking side of his game and has bulked up considerably. This has added to his run metres, tackle breaks and his offloads. He is now a handful to tackle, has a handy offload, and hits as hard as ever in defence. He will likely win the Brad Fittler Medal as the outstanding player for NSW in their 2-1 Origin series loss to Canberra. Quiet and unassuming Jackson is a future leader at Belmore and in Blue. His re-signing for the Dogs will have been a relief for coach Des Hasler as the Dogs looks to build a side that can win a premiership.
Like It 3 - Time to Give Credit to Anthony Griffin
I have to admit I was doubting a couple of Anthony Griffin's coaching moves halfway through this season. The Panthers off loaded Jaime Soward and James Segeyaro mid-season and suffered a couple of really poor losses not long after. Whilst the potential was there in the partnership of Bryce Cartwright and Nathan Cleary in the halves, the team made a number of errors and seemed a little worse for not having their experienced play makers. However Penrith are now flying high having won 5 of their last 6 matches. While their error rate remains high their attacking potency has gone up a peg or two under their new halves. Penrith steamrolled both the Knights and Tigers in recent weeks having racked up over 40 points in both games. After conceding an early try Penrith quickly settled into their groove and showed their attacking arsenal in putting on 5 first half tries. Penrith have had a relatively soft draw of late and it will be interesting to see if their attack is quite as effective against sterner defences. However what is in no doubt is this team will arrive in the finals in their best form, and with strike power all over the park. They have youth and exuberance and that can be a dangerous combination as they won't have any fear or anything to lose come finals time.
Like It 4.- Isaah Yeo's Year at Penrith
Isaah Yeo has been one of the unsung heroes at Penrith this season. While they have many young stars Yeo is yet to grab the headlines. Switching between the centres and the back row Yeo has played in 21 games and been a consistent performer going under the radar for the Panthers in 2016. He crashed his way straight through the Tigers for a powerhouse try here and was swamped by his team mates. Penrith have their share of flair and tricks so it's always handy to have one or two tradesmen that can just get the job done with a minimum of fuss. Yeo's versatility for Penrith is handy coming into the finals. Big and strong enough to handle the back row, Yeo is also a handful when played out wider. At only 21 years of age he is a player that could elevate himself to rep standard with further consistent performances.
Like It 5 - Ryan James' Form
Ryan James brushed aside the controversy surrounding his successful judiciary hearing with a barnstorming performance against Newcastle. After a high tackle gone wrong, James was responsible for breaking the jaw of James Tedesco at Campbelltown last Sunday. James made the most of his reprieve by starring in Gold Coast's 26-6 win over the hapless Knights. James scored a rare first half double with his typical trademark aggressive runs. Whilst James has often tread a fine line and can be a player that concedes penalties, he has been a fantastic player for the Titans this year. Along with Greg Bird and Chris McQueen the Titans have a hard edge to their side which they have not had in the past. They are a large reason this side is just 1 win away from a remarkable finals berth. Wooden spoon favourites at the start of the year, Neil Henry now has a really solid and consistent football team with good talent. Whilst Gold Coast will be the rank outsiders in the finals they will not be easy beats by any means.
Like It 6 - Hayne Moving Back to Fullback
Jarryd Hayne has now had 3 weeks of football under his belt after his whirlwind debut against the Warriors. After being knocked out in a tackle late in the second half against Newcastle, Neil Henry has made the call to switch Hayne back to his favoured position at fullback. It is the perfect timing for mine, two weeks out from the finals. Hayne is a dynamic ball runner in broken play at his best and he is yet to recapture that in the five-eight role. With a month of football under his belt, Hayne is now more equipped fitness wise to get back to his favourite position and deal with the extra workload. Teams have been able to number up on Hayne at five-eight and it's a little more predictable when he is going to get the ball. At fullback Hayne can roam, and bob up whenever he wants like he did sensationally in the past. He'll get a little bit more of a breather in defence and can concentrate on his running game. David Mead is the unlucky man to make way for Hayne at 1 as Gold Coast host Penrith this Saturday.
Like It 7 - Suniasi Vunivalu Amazing Rookie Year
The rookie winger has been a sensation this season for the Melbourne Storm on the wing. Vunivalu put a big exclamation point on his 2016 form with a stunning 4 try first half against the Sea Eagles in Melbourne's 38-18 win at Brookvale Oval. While Vunivalu could not add to his tally in the second half he did equal the club record for tries in a match. While Ash Taylor seems to be the favourite to win the NRL Rookie of the Year Award, Vunivalu has big claims since making his debut against the Wests Tigers in Round 7 at Leichhardt Oval. Vunivalu has scored an unbelievable 21 tries in 16 games to top the NRL try scorers list by 4 over Valentine Holmes. He needs just 1 more try to break the club record of 21 tries for the season at Melbourne set by Israel Folau. Vunivalu is quick, strong, elusive and exceptional in the air which makes him currently the most dangerous winger in the competition.
Like It 8 - Melbourne's Attack Back to its Best
Melbourne were much sharper and looked ominous in their dominant win at Brookvale. The Storm's attack has been off for the last month, however they sent a timely reminder to their premiership rivals that they are a far different beast to the last few years offensively. In the first half the Storm completed 16 of 19 sets and managed 4 tries as they showed their full arsenal of attacking weapons. Cameron Munster was dynamic at the back having a hand in two first half tries. Will Chambers is starting to find his feet again back in the centres after a long term injury. Melbourne can wrap up the minor premiership when they host Brisbane in a blockbuster this Friday night at AAMI Park. The Storm have won 10 of their last 11 against Brisbane and will relish the opportunity to end their rivals Top 4 hopes.
Like It 9 - Rampaging Jason Taumalolo and Cowboys Forwards Aggression
The Cowboys wrecking ball Jason Taumalolo has not been near his best the past few rounds. However he returned to form with a bang scoring a try and pummelling the Warriors with a staggering 165 metres in the first half. Despite missing Matt Scott the Cowboys forwards ran the ball with far more purpose here running as if they look to get their aggression and mongrel back before the finals. The Cowboys needed a win and they got it in convincing fashion in dispatching the Warriors 34-6 at 1300 Smiles Stadium on Saturday night. Overall the Cowboys ran for over 1300 metres, compared to the Warriors 860 which showed the dominance they achieved in the middle of the park. The Cowboys are now right on the tails of the Bulldogs, and they face each other in a huge match at Belmore Oval this Thursday night. The outcome of this game could well decide which side gets a vital double chance in the finals.
Like It 10 - Raiders Momentum and Home Crowd
It was the return to the halcyon days of the mid 90's for the Green Machine here as they ran out to a crowd in excess of over 18,000 at home. It was the Raiders largest home crowd in 2 years and with this team building formidable momentum there is no doubt they will be back for more. The Raiders will be pushing for a Top 2 spot and a home final after Cronulla wobbled to a 3rd straight loss on the weekend. The Raiders are now just 1 point behind the Sharks. The Sharks have a tough run home including a trip to Melbourne and the Raiders will fancy their chances of knocking off both the Sea Eagles and the Tigers on the road. The Raiders will only be granted a game at GIO Stadium in Week 1 of the finals so that will be a big motivation over the next 2 weeks. No doubt if they did finish in 2nd spot, they would fill the stadium in week 1 of the finals.
DONT LIKE IT!!!
Don't Like It 1 - Bulldogs Scrappy Attack
The Bulldogs flattered to deceive again here making a stack of handling errors on their way to a damaging 20-10 loss at Suncorp Stadium. There were times in this game when the Bulldogs were getting on top in the forwards, however they could not put an exclamation point on their dominance. The last 20 minutes was a debacle for Canterbury as they turned the ball over on early tackles. The problem I see with this team is their leadership is all in the wrong positions. Their 1,6,7,9 don't control the football side. They drift in and out of games and while Josh Reynolds can be fantastic with his all action displays, the Dogs lack attacking potency compared to the other contenders for the title.
Don't Like It 2 - Tigers No Show
The Tigers simply signed off last week when they lost by 1 to the Gold Coast and lost James Tedesco for the season. Despite talking it up for the week, the Tigers failed to show up at Penrith with any intensity or any sort of aggression with their season on their line. This was a step backwards for this squad which had been largely consistent and impressive for 3 months since Canberra put 60 on them in the nation's capital. The Tigers were horrible defensively, dropping off over 50 tackles which shows their heads just were not in this game. Jordan Rankin had a particularly horrible night putting down 3 bombs on his way from being hooked from his fullback duties and put back onto the wing for this week's game against the Warriors. It will be interesting to see if the Tigers can bounce back with their season still alive this week. It looked like the side either hit the wall against the Gold Coast or didn't really believe they could compete and win without their superstar James Tedesco. Jason Taylor has taken some strides with his squad this season, however he certainly would not want to finish 2016 on the back of a couple more hidings as he looks to keep the wolves at bay.
Don't Like It 3 - Jason Taylor's Hooker Policy
If Jason Taylor really hates Robbie Farah that much or the Tigers really want him off their books, can they at least replace a hooker with a hooker in the NRL side? Dean Halatau lasts about 25 minutes before the Tigers start playing musical chairs. Jordan Rankin has been going from wing and fullback into the hooking role, but then heads back to his starting position when the side is defending. In attack Kyle Lovett, a back rower, is moved out to the centres, while Tim Simona is forced out to the wing. It seems an awful lot of poor "cohesion" to me. Mania Cherrington is languishing in reserve grade which is puzzling despite him signing for Cronulla next season. Jacob Liddle was excellent on debut against the Bulldogs, however due to second tier salary cap restraints has been unable to add to his tally of first grade matches.
Don't Like It 4 - Warriors Late Season Fade Outs
The Warriors do not deserve to make the finals. That might seem harsh - they are right on the edge of the Top 8, however their performances the last 2 weeks have been limp to say the least with their season on the line. They have conceded 75 in losses to Souths and the Cowboys and now require 2 home wins against the Tigers and Eels plus a helping hand elsewhere to flop into 8th place. For all their flair and talent the Warriors lack mongrel and leadership and are often exposed when the going gets tough. They may well beat the struggling Tigers and Eels at home, however it should not mask the fact that there is still something missing with this team.
Don't Like It 5 - Thursday and Monday Night Football
A crowd of just 7000 turned up to watch Souths do battle with the Sharks at ANZ Stadium on Monday night. While Brisbane and the Bulldogs attracted over 27000, I still think it would have attracted more if played on a Friday night or Sunday afternoon. Some times with all these Thursday and Monday games it's hard to remember which round is which, these games get lost in the wash. Teams have suffered from numerous 5-day turn arounds which can lead to lop sided contests. Thursday and Monday night games are a nightmare for clubs' gate takings. It is very hard to attract families to these games on school nights kicking off around 8pm. I know the TV money is dictating things and they deserve their right to have a say in the fixture. However if the NRL did value crowds over TV ratings they would scrap both and get back to more games over the weekend.
Don't Like It 6 - Dragons Prospects in 2017
I think St George Illawarra are one of the few clubs going into 2017 in real trouble. They don't seem to be in the market for marquee talent a lot these days. The Dragons have become a club seemingly stuck in mediocrity since Wayne Bennett took them to a title in 2010. I think other clubs that have missed the finals have a lot more upside in terms of young talent, recruitment and development in their list going forward into 2017. The Dragons were awful in their 42-6 loss to the Roosters at Allianz Stadium on Sunday which ended their faint finals hopes. The Saints don't seem to have any identity with their attack and they need to find a halfback or hooker that can assure their authority on the game. The Dragons made the finals in 2015 off the back of really gutsy and dominant defence, however that has not stood up this season. Paul McGregor I think has done a moderate job considering the talent at his disposal, however I would be worried if I were a Dragons fan. I don't see him as the type of coach that can attract a big name and the evidence is there that they are not producing young talent like they once did. I think they are in for a long year in 2017.
Don't Like it 7 - Length of NRL Season
It has been said 1000 times before, however the NRL regular season is a couple of weeks, if not a month, too long. Some of the top sides have looked bored in recent times, or have just hit a massive brick wall waiting for the finals to start. Other sides out of the finals race probably can't wait for the season to end. Fans and media have been talking about the finals for 2 months and we just want to get on with it. Cronulla, Brisbane, North Queensland and Melbourne have all suffered slumps during the season as the grind takes its toll. I just think you would get better quality football if we went back to 22 rounds in the regular season. Rugby League is a brutal sport and I think we risk having teams and players battered and bruised during the show piece, which is the finals.
Don't Like it 8 - People Writing Off Cronulla
While losing 3 games in a row including defeats to the lowly Dragons and Rabbitohs is not ideal form heading into the finals, I would be careful about writing the Sharks off. They look like a side which has hit the wall a bit just waiting for the finals to start. Even in their last 3 defeats the Sharks remain in second spot on the competition. They were much grittier in their 12-6 loss to Souths at ANZ Stadium on Monday night. I don't think conditions suited Cronulla, with the heavy pitch and driving rain taking the edge off their attack. I think this week they will lift at home when they take on the resurgent Roosters. The Roosters are playing more like a Top 4 side at present and Cronulla do need a win to keep their spot in the top 2. With Captain Paul Gallen back and Valentine Holmes cleared of any serious injury, I don't see any reason the Sharks can't get back to their form of mid-season. If anything this recent losing streak might actually help them in taking the burden of expectation away.
Don't Like it 9 - Benji's Fall from Grace
Marshall looked like a beaten man when he talked about his axing from first grade and the fact he may be forced into retirement on NRL 360. I'm not really sure if the fire still burns in Benji. He almost looked like he was trying to convince himself he wanted to play on. He talked about going back to his favourite position at five-eight as a ball runner. However sadly those days of him running amuck outside with his fast feet and speed are long gone. I think he could be some value to a top side that has a really strong forward pack. However it would have to be on minimum money and a one year deal and I'm not sure Benji would want to do that. In hindsight that 300K deal he was offered back in April by the Dragons looks like good value now.
Don't Like It 10 - The State Wayne Bennett Left Newcastle In
Wayne Bennett has gotten plenty of credit for turning the Broncos around and rightly so. However he left Newcastle in a terrible state roster wise and salary cap wise. Bennett recruited veterans like Timana Tahu, Jeremy Smith and Craig Gower and didn't bother investing in the future. He wanted to win a competition at Newcastle and did make it to the 3rd week of the finals back in 2013. However since then Newcastle have been forced into a total rebuild and Nathan Brown has been left to pick up the pieces. It has been a long long time since an NRL team has gone through a season with just 1 victory. I think this Newcastle side is the worst side I have seen since the Western Suburbs Magpies of 1999.