Almanac Rugby League – Five Metre Gap: WCC, WCS and NRL Trials


Returning for 2017, like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the weekend of rugby league which saw the pinnacle club title in world rugby league return to the hands of a Super League side for the first time since 2012 plus trials from Sydney, to Hobart, Palmerston North and more.

A Joe Burgess-inspired Wigan made it two for two on the weekend for English clubs as two NRL sides made their competitive returns for 2016. Burgess, who spent time at the Roosters and Rabbitohs last year, was right at home back in the north of England crossing the stripe three times as the Warriors beat Cronulla 22-6 on Sunday to win their fourth World Club Challenge. The previous evening had seen a comprehensive win to Warrington 27-18 over Brisbane. Despite the fact the Broncos didn’t play Cronulla in last year’s NRL decider they took up the mantle of the ‘second side’ to play Super League opponents in the World Club Series – which had been three matches last year. Sadly the Melbourne Storm, who of all NRL sides should know the value of growing the game, decided it wasn’t in their best interests to participate this time around. The rugby league karma god awaits in season 2017 to seek her vengeance.

From the game in Wigan Cronulla’s title defence in the NRL appears in a fair deal of trouble. Going into the game the loss of Michael Ennis was always going to be felt keenly but the overall attacking potency which the side missed (including their top three try-scorers from 2016) was highlighted in stark reality. Of that trio Ben Barba isn’t coming back, at least this year, and the return of Valentine Holmes and Sosaia Feki can’t be guaranteed for round one. Ennis’ part-replacement Jayden Brailey, an NYC star, looked good in attack but was turned inside out at marker on a few occasions which will be concerning for the Sharks defence. Cronulla needed to take only three plane flights to games last season and rarely left NSW but in 2017 it’s six plane trips (including the return journey from the UK) and seven if you counts the NRL Nines which some players played in. It all looks like the ingredients for a premiership hangover which won’t end well, and could land them outside the top eight. One bright spark for Cronulla was the form of Luke Capewell who played on the wing which wouldn’t have been expected this time six months ago given he’d yet to nail down a first grade spot. The utility was impressive carrying the ball early in the set.

Brisbane’s new pack, sans Corey Parker of note who is now retired, were shocked by Warrington early in the game but the Wolves efficiency overall (35/37 sets completed) meant Brisbane were always behind the eight ball once the home side got out to a 20-0 lead. The late niggle was understandable but James Roberts flying in late to join a fracas wasn’t the smartest thing and, like Andrew Fifita who punched Wigan forward Ryan Sutton late in the gamr the following day, he was hopefully read the riot act by the coaching staff as consistent actions like that will cost his team this season.

The Damien Cook/Robbie Farah number nine combination for Souths has been well covered after they dispatched the Dragons 32-14 in the Charity Shield at ANZ Stadium on Sunday but less mentioned has been the try to St George Illawarra forward Russell Packer who scored not long after he came on the field in the first half. Packer, 27, hasn’t scored at all in his time for the Dragons and only six times in 110 games for the Warriors before that. Perhaps the one-time Kiwi prop has found a new thirst for crossing the try-line

The Raiders fan at Queanbeyan’s Seiffert Oval might not have been thinking they would thrash the Newcastle Knights, who only won once all last season, but they certainly would have been expecting the Ricky Stuart’s side to score some points. The 44-0 score-line might have been a surprise but with likes of Jarrod Croker and BJ Leilua missing maybe it wasn’t that unexpected. Nathan Brown played an almost full strength side and given the upheaval of Jarrod Mullen’s pending drug sanction one may have expected some nerves from his replacement Brock Lamb but that wasn’t the case with the 20 year-old pivot further confirming his case to guide the Knights next to Trent Hodkinson against the Warriors in round one. When given his chance in the forward rotation Jack Stockwell was also influential in some key runs as the Knights notched up 30 points in the first half alone. Manly, the Bulldogs, North Queensland, Penrith and the New Zealand Warriors all picked up wins on the weekend in their final trials prior to the season which starts on Thursday March 2 when reigning champions Cronulla host the Broncos.

This rugby league wrap 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.


  1. kath presdee says

    I have a theory about 2016 being a year when the world was knocked off its axis and, as a result, these weird and wonderful things happened. If you look at sport, there’s a massive re-alignment from the fairytale to the business as usual – Sydney Thunder go from zero to hero back to zero. Leicester City goes from Premiers to likely relegation.

    And so it is to be expected that the Sharks will come back to earth with a very big thud.

  2. Kath that is a very good way to put it. 2016 – ‘when the world was knocked off its axis’ On the theory alone of the regression to the mean it is another point which doesn’t favour the Sharks.

  3. I’d been looking forward to the Sharks – Wigan game and caught the train up to Wigan with my nine year old for his first chance to see the mighty black, white and blue in the flesh. He was disappointed that there would be no Benny Barba (his favourite player) and I think it’s fair to say we missed his spark at the back. Agree that Ennis will be a keenly felt loss this season, but I still hold out hope that the boys will find a way to mount a credible title defence.
    There was an odd feel to the game really – and not only due to some of the frankly baffling reffing decisions. It did feel like an exhibition game more than anything and walking back to the station with Wigan fans afterward, they certainly didn’t seem overly ecstatic or triumphant.
    I think the concept of a world club championship is a sound idea and can see the benefits in growing the game more outside of Australia but it could do with a bit more reflection about what is being aimed for and whether there could be another approach that gives the concept more significance. Or maybe I’m just looking for something that simply isn’t there.

  4. Thanks for the insight Andy. I’m surprised the Wigan fans weren’t as fired up after the win. The concept is great and I’m a fan of the RFL looking at other options for opponents if the NRL continues to show ambivalence.

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