Almanac League: Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 18 2016

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the eighteenth round of the NRL. As the Sharks consolidated top spot on the table the penalty for Parramatta’s salary cap infractions was confirmed. This dropped the Eels to 14th spot on the ladder putting them on 12 points.

The Parramatta Eels nabbed a four-point triumph on Friday night beating the hapless Roosters only to see 12 competition points expunged from their record on Saturday. Sitting on 12 points all hope is not lost for Eels fans as only the Sharks, Storm and Cowboys were above Brad Arthur’s team on the ladder before the points penalty was enforced. The Eels don’t face any of that trio for the rest of the season. Even allowing for the lop-sided nature of the draw that has to be something which means they are a hope of pushing towards the finals on the back of an improving pack and a cadre of exciting outside backs including Bevan French.

In addition to the prospects of French if the Eels are to make a run to the finals it may come, at least partly, on the back of a 33 year-old back for the second time of asking at the club. Jeff Robson, a mid-season recruit from the Warriors, showed his versatility once injuries took their toll early in the 22-18 win on Friday night. The veteran of four NRL clubs slotted in to the dummy half role in the absence of Issac De Gois who departed the game with concussion in the first stanza. His crisp distribution from the ruck and kicking game when needed was of great assistance to Corey Norman. Robson helped Parramatta on their run to the 2009 grand final, yes that was with a bit of help from Jarryd Hayne, but the Eels were only thwarted by a team found to be, ironically, cheating the salary cap in the form of the Melbourne Storm. The Eels would have to go unbeaten to be assured on playing the finals but they are some hope if no more major off-field dramas occur.

It is 13 victories on the spin for Cronulla now after their 26-10 triumph in Penrith on Sunday but it came against not only a very inexperienced Panthers outfit but one that saw a host of players feature out of position. Bryce Cartwright over-played his hand at the pivot spot and Peter Wallace, whilst an experienced player, isn’t used to playing hooker – at least recently. Whilst it is certainly worth nothing that five of the winning Sharks side were playing their first top grade game for the season, the Penrith side was absolutely shorn of not only it’s spine but almost it’s entire first-choice backline. Starting out the season as a preferred edge forward, Cartwright turned playmaker with little impact and only winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak would have started the season as preferred in the starting 13 of Anthony Griffin’s team. The development of Penrith’s Nathan Cleary at halfback has clearly accelerated but up against the top team in the competition who had three of their four ‘spine’ players (that been fullback, five-eighth, halfback and hooker) available the result should not have been surprising.

Looking at our ‘200 club’ for the weekend and we have only one entrant in the form of Canterbury prop Aiden Tolman, a few down on last week’s figures. With 206 metres from 23 runs Tolman also made 42 tackles as the Bulldogs came from behind just after half-time to win 32-22 on Saturday night over Wests. By way of comparison in the three other games across the weekend, English international Chris Heighington was the next best in terms of top metre-gainer for any other of the seven teams that played as his Cronulla side won their 14th game of the campaign with the former Tiger making 149 metres from 17 runs as well as 26 tackles.

In the Bulldogs victory it was heartening for the Tigers that debutant Jacob Liddle scored four minutes into half-time to give them the lead but a disappointing defensive performance which saw Jason Taylor’s team miss 19 tackles in the second half made the difference. The Bulldogs ran over the top of the Tigers with three tries in the last 20 minutes. Forward Chris Lawrence was the worst offender in the second period missing four tackles.

This review first appeared on From the sideline of sport

About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.

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