Almanac Rugby League – Five Metre Gap: NRL Round 26, 2016


Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the 26th round of the NRL. Melbourne secured the JJ Giltinan Shield for finishing in first place at the end of the regular season when they beat Cronulla on Saturday evening. The following afternoon saw Canberra defeat the Tigers to claim second spot, which in turn meant the Tigers threw away the chance to claim the last spot in the finals. This meant the Titans, despite losing on Saturday, finished in eighth spot.

Minor premiers Melbourne, appropriately, finished the weekend as the side with the best completion rate 91% (31/34). Despite conceding more penalties (6-5) in beating the Sharks 26-6 Craig Bellamy’s side took advantage of their nearly four and half minutes more time in the opposition 20 metre zone. The use of the ball stat is particularly galling for Sharks fans whose side had two more sets, 37, compared to Melbourne but only completed 28. Cronulla’s 11-6 errors count was telling in the wash-up as Shane Flanagan’s side coughed up a chance to secure second spot – and the chance to ensure they didn’t need to leave Sydney to win the title.

One-time Dally M medalist-elect Josh Hodgson tuned up nicely for the finals series as the Raiders brushed aside the Tigers 52-10 on Sunday at Leichhardt Oval. Canberra’s rake scored a try and helped create two of Canberra’s first three four-pointers as Ricky Stuart’s side raced to a 26-point lead after 40 minutes. Hodgson was crucial in supplying fast delivery to the Raiders outside backs and his clever kicking game (three kicks for 93 metres) was again important when used effectively. Hodgson’s recent sanction saw him lose three points associated with the prestigious player of the year gong and as a result of his one-game ban his lost the chance to pick up three points so it could be said the former Hull KR hooker has lost six points in the medal count. Before it went behind closed doors Hodgson was the favourite to pick up the title. After his efforts on Sunday he might have just done enough to become the first British player to win the Dally M and the first Raiders player since Laurie Daley in 1995 to do so.

Staying with the number nine role and it’s interesting to note that whilst the saga around Robbie Farah’s departure from the Tigers has hogged the headlines the efforts of another veteran from a western Sydney club are worth noting. Four-cap New South Wales halfback Peter Wallace has slotted into the ‘9’ jersey with aplomb since a mid-season switch to the role at the Panthers. As Penrith dispatched Manly 36-6 in the last game of the regular season former Bronco Wallace dotted down in the first half as he helped steer Anthony Griffin’s side around the park and take a 30-0 lead into the break. Wallace got a rare rest when substituted in the second stanza. Interestingly another former NSW playmaker Jarrod Mullen could be headed into a permanent dummy half role given the Knights injury concerns after the 29 year-old played that role in their defeat to the Dragons. But Nathan Brown does have a host of young number nines available when fit next season.

Looking towards the weekend’s opening round of finals games I expect we will bid farewell to the Bulldogs and the Titans. Canterbury appear to be a team devoid of ideas in the ‘red zone’ having scored only seven tries in their last three games, plus they were beaten by Souths (who aren’t in the finals) by 18 points on Friday night. Bulldogs coach Des Hasler it yet to taste grand final success with this team as he did with Manly in 2011. The Gold Coast have been involved in two tight games decided by a field goal in the last month, beat the hapless Knights and were not at the races for most of the game as the Cowboys beat them 32-16 on Saturday night. That is not the sort of consistency needed for finals football. Jarryd Hayne’s displays of brilliance are still interspersed with blow-ups at officials and it just seems hard to see the Titans overcoming an experienced Broncos outfit.

In the qualifying finals, which will see the losers still stay alive, I think the minor premiers Melbourne will salute against the Cowboys. The fact they played another top side at home will assist Melbourne, as will they fact they don’t need to leave Victoria to qualify for the grand final. However the Cowboys have scored 90 points in their last three games. In Canberra I expect the Raiders to win on Saturday but with fullback Jack Wighton missing due to suspension, at this stage, it does tip the balance back in favour of the Sharks who have damaging runners from open play and Canberra would be negated in this regard if Wighton, their regular custodian, is absent.

This review first appeared on From the sideline of sport.


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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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