Almanac Rugby League: New ladder leader in the NRL

Round 10 of the NRL proved to be a case of the good, the bad and the ugly. And there were some surprises too, with the then ladder leaders suffering defeat along with the back-to-back premiers. Once again, the gulf between the top six teams and the bottom six teams proved to be massive, while the logjam in the middle proved eye-catching.

 

A major highlight was the resurgence of the Canberra Raiders, following a period of indifferent form.

 

In the rematch of last year’s grand finalists, Canberra recorded a stunning upset victory. I refrain from expressions such as “the Raiders exacted revenge from last year’s grand final”, because what happens this year doesn’t in any way alter or affect what happened last year.

 

Last Thursday night was the first time that the Roosters and Raiders squared off at the hallowed SCG since 1987. Back then, twin brothers Brett and Josh Morris were a little over 12 months old as their father Steve scored a try for the Roosters in their preliminary final defeat.

 

The lead changed several times in last Thursday night’s tussle before Canberra moved ahead 24-20 with 13 minutes left. A subsequent forward pass cost the Roosters a certain try as the Sydney team threatened to regain the lead. The Roosters uncharacteristically faltered in attack at crucial times during the second half, while Canberra remained composed when it counted. The result was brilliant for the Raiders who were notably understrength and rated no chance. Surely a win over the Roosters suggested that Canberra turned a corner.

 

Both Friday night matches proved very one-sided, with the Melbourne Storm crushing the hapless Gold Coast Titans 42-6 before the Wests Tigers smashed an embarrassing Brisbane Broncos line-up 48-0. It was yet another nightmare time for the lowly placed south-east Queensland teams. The Titans levelled the score at six-all in the 26th minute, before the Storm clicked into gear and scored 24 unanswered points in the second half. The return of playmaker Cameron Munster from injury was a highlight for the southerners, who were always destined to win comfortably on their makeshift home ground at the Sunshine Coast. The Storm weren’t quite at their best but they didn’t have to be, with Munster on song while Nelson Asofa-Solomona was unstoppable at times.

 

Later on Friday, a leg injury to Corey Oates added injury to insult as the Broncos simply could not do a thing right against a Tigers outfit that relished playing at spiritual Balmain home ground Leichhardt Oval. Following Brisbane’s win against the last-placed Bulldogs the previous round, I was in no way convinced that there was any hope for the injury-riddled Broncos. The absence of suspended Tigers pivot Josh Reynolds was all but forgotten as Benji Marshall showcased his impressive skills, nearly 15 years after the then 20-year-old inspired the joint venture to its sole NRL premiership.

 

By comparison I found it comical to see Brisbane’s much-maligned pivot, Anthony Milford, standing nine metres offside from a scrum in the lead-up to the opening try of the game. Worse was to come, as a series of lamentably soft tries were scored against defence that was as soft as quicksand. After the third try, Andrew Johns succinctly said in the TV commentary: “It’s hard to describe how bad that is…That was so awful to watch.”

 

Billy Walters – son of former Bronco legend Kevin Walters – must have been glad to not sign up for the Broncos as he scored his maiden NRL try when he outpaced two lacklustre opponents. Perhaps the Broncos were lucky that the score remained below 50 due to some wayward goal-kicking. Despite Brisbane’s woes that appear unfixable at the moment, the Tigers deserved credit even if they didn’t have to work too hard to achieve a big win. Acid criticism predictably kicked into overdrive with regard to the Broncos.

 

The Bulldogs meanwhile came within a whisker of upsetting the Dragons in a fluctuating Saturday afternoon battle. The red-and-whites led 10-0 in the first 10 minutes, only for the Bulldogs to bolt to a 20-10 half-time lead. The margin was 12 points with 15 minutes remaining, only for the Dragons to draw level with a shade over five minutes left. In a nerve-wracking finale, Dragons playmaker Corey Norman duffed a field goal attempt before a handling error from the Bulldogs enabled Norman to race away for the match-stealing try. Nonetheless it was a gallant effort from the Bulldogs, following their horror lead-up which featured the sacking of coach Dean Pay.

 

The second match on Saturday was also wildly fluctuating as the Newcastle Knights moved into outright fourth place. Newcastle held a commanding 20-0 lead with 14 minutes remaining, only for the South Sydney Rabbitohs to score three unanswered tries in eight minutes and threaten to snatch a miraculous triumph. The Knights held on for a mere two-point victory, and coach Adam O’Brien must have breathed a huge sigh of relief.

 

The second major boilover of the round took place as ladder leaders the Parramatta Eels succumbed 22-18 to a Manly side which was outside the top-eight and still missing some key players. Manly led 16-0 before the ladder leaders hit back. The Eels were as close as eight points behind with six minutes to go, but they ran out of time as a last-gasp try to George Jennings made the result appear very close.

 

On Sunday, the Sharks maintained their place around the bottom edge of the top 8 with a 36-point thumping of the struggling Warriors. Without wanting to detract from Cronulla’s resounding victory, I feel sorry for the Warriors who have been stuck a long way from their families and friends for a considerable amount of time. It’s been a sorry situation for them this year, in more ways than one.

 

The last match of the round was scrappy, but Penrith gained the outright competition lead with a 22-10 win over another struggling team: the North Queensland Cowboys. It turned out to be coach Paul Green’s last hurrah for the Cowboys, as he parted ways with the club within 24 hours. There was every chance that the Cowboys would produce another upset in this round (and potentially delay the exit of their coach), as they led 10-4 early in the second half. Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary’s display was an obvious highlight, as he was involved in many key plays. With the score at 10-all, he produced a thumping hit that forced a mistake from the much bigger Coen Hess. Later, Cleary somehow escaped his in-goal area when he had no right to do so. Then with full-time looming, he fooled the defence and scampered away for a wonderful individual try.

 

Match of the week was definitely the Raiders versus Roosters battle. As for the “ugly” aspect of the round (apart from the displays from the Broncos, Titans and Warriors), special mention must be made to the Roosters and Broncos for failing to land a penalty kick into touch. These are often called “coach killers” or “cardinal sins”, but I prefer to call them “cat-o’-nine-tails offences”. Following last week’s Twit of the Week, the winner of that prize this week is Josh Morris. I’ve often respected the Morris twins, but Josh’s “dive” against the Raiders was very unsporting and very much an Oscar-winning performance. I honestly think the sin bin should be introduced as a punishment for players who take dives in an effort to milk unjustifiable penalties. Check out Josh Morris’s antics here.

 

Stay tuned for Thursday’s preview of the next round.

 

 

 

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About Liam Hauser

A Queenslander through and through, Liam went out of his comfort zone as he had a thoroughly worthwhile time in Tumut and Gundagai from 2008 to 2016 before enjoying a year in Gunnedah. His strongest sporting interests are State of Origin, Sheffield Shield, Test cricket and the NRL. His sporting CV doesn’t have many highlights, although he once top-scored in a warehouse cricket match with 54 not out at number 10, and shared in an unbroken last wicket stand of 83 with the number 11 who scored an undefeated 52. Liam has written books including State of Origin 40 Years, A Century of Cricket Tests, A History of Test Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Rugby League, and The Great Grand Finals: Rugby League's Greatest Contests. Also a huge fan of Electric Light Orchestra.

Comments

  1. Ian Hauser says

    The gap between the top and the bottom is enormous and a bit of a worry as I can’t see it changing much for a season or two. Kearney gone, Pay gone, Green gone – how long before Seibold joins them? I saved myself 2 hours by not watching the Broncos, thank goodness. The big winners were the Raiders and Manly. The Storm look much better with Munster back. Let’s see how the Eels cope with their stutter. As for the Morris dive, it was unworthy of a player of his standing.

  2. The Oates injury was horrendous. I suspect the trainers thought he had cramp, the way he was hopping before sitting down. They were slow to get to him. Shows what courage it takes to play under the consistent threat of legitimate physical violence. No wonder footballers’ reunions are like meetings of brothers, or soldiers. or anyone who has faced something so confronting. Steve Renouf was interesting on this when we did the book together. The respect for what might happen in a game. Fear in that other sense of the word. The Catechism’s use of fear. Not as a lack of courage – but as awareness, regard and respect.

    (I knew what could happen when David ‘Chubo’ Uebergang, the monster from Yandilla who played for Millmerran, was charging at me.)

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