Almanac Rugby League – NRL Finals Week 2 and NRLW Round 2: Questionable decisions mar a mighty match

The NRL and NRLW matches this weekend provided both winners and talking points to keep us involved as we head towards the penultimate weekend of the season. Here’s how I saw it.

 

In the NRL, the South Sydney Rabbitohs might be deemed a tad fortunate to have made it through to Week 3 of the Finals following their win over the Manly Sea Eagles involving a controversial refereeing decision late in the game. By contrast, Melbourne lived up to their name and stormed past the Eels.

 

The Souths v Manly game was entertaining, to say the least. Finals are all too often dour grinds with the emphasis on mistake-free footy. Perhaps these two teams read ER’s homage to Collingwood during the week and took on the mantra of daring to risk. Consequently, this was an open and fast, if error-prone, game where the flow shifted back and forward throughout the game. Souths opened well, the Sea Eagles fought back, Souths regained the lead on the stroke of half-time, Manly reasserted themselves, the play see-sawed from end to end and then a crucial refereeing decision turned it all upside down. (After last week’s binning of a couple referees, it will be interesting to see how this one is spun in the coming days. Indications are that the line will be that it was a correct decision.)

 

Old timers will scratch their heads at some of the calls these days. That Daly Cherry-Evans was even penalised let alone put on report for an alleged crusher tackle was a refereeing overreaction to an inflated issue-de-jour. That Cody Walker was sin-binned for an innocuous slap would make the hard men from Ipswich splutter in their beers. That Jake Trbojevic received a yellow card for touching an (overacting) opponent in legitimate jostling to get into the play makes me think that we’re further into the era of diving than I thought. “Touch footy,” I hear from the terraces. A penalty – maybe; a sin-binning – no way.

 

Souths will be heartened by their defensive effort in the third quarter of the game when Manly was in the ascendancy. One more try at that point would probably have been enough to put the Bunnies to bed. They scrambled and survived – not unlike Canberra in Melbourne last week. Sam Burgess certainly added some starch to their forward pack and Adam Reynolds’ short kicking game was precise, especially at the end to hold Manly deep in their own half. Cameron Murray was everywhere and is the NRL’s next back row sensation. But the Rabbitohs still look a bit flaky somehow and you wonder how much they have left in the tank after an energy-sapper like this game.

 

Manly will be sour on this one and will see it as a game they should have won. Quite possibly. They did have their chances but couldn’t find the last play at the critical moments. To again use ER’s theory, Manly won even before the game was played. This season, they’ve come from nowhere with a motley squad and, in spite of key players out injured, got to within one game of the Grand Final. Des Hasler deserves to be Coach of the Season. They’ve brought out the best in Moses Suli and Addin Fonua-Blake, unearthed Jack Gosiewski and rehabilitated Jorge Taufua, and on it goes. And in Daly Cherry-Evans they have a long-term leader of the highest quality. I don’t like Manly much at all, but you have to respect what they’ve achieved this year. But now comes the big test – can they back it up next year when only a Grand Final appearance will be seen as a successful season?

 

What can you say about the Storm v Eels game other than ‘what a difference a week makes’? Last week’s enterprising, electric Eels had their power supply cut off by a very heavy Storm and it was, to all intents and purposes, all over in about 15 minutes. It’s no fun facing the Storm when they’re coming off a loss – which Parramatta found out very quickly. Coach Bellamy had his Melbourne lads primed to attack from the opening and four tries in the first twenty minutes sealed the deal. Throw in a Josh Addo-Carr length-of-the-field special and you know it’s not your night. Not even the loss of Cameron Smith for ten minutes in the sin bin late in the first half made any difference. The Storm simply used it to practise their defence.

 

To their credit, Parramatta didn’t throw in the towel. They scrapped and scraped with what ball they had and against poor field position. When Smith was off the field and even into the early parts of the second half, the Eels dominated possession and position but either fumbled when chances beckoned or just could not find a way through the Purple Wall. Playing behind a badly beaten pack, Mitchell Moses had few opportunities to show his wares; last week’s heroics by wingers Maika Sivo and Blake Ferguson couldn’t be repeated with Sivo, in particular, coming up against a very committed Suliasi Vunivalu. The year’s top try-scorer will learn a lot from this game. I suggest that Parramatta can take a lot out of season 2019 along the same lines as Manly. They won before they played last night, reaching Week 2 of the Finals when many gave them little chance to even get to September this year. Coach Brad Arthur deserves a lot of credit. The measuring stick next year will be a top four finish.

 

My main gripe about the game has to do with the sinbinning of Cameron Smith. Surely the first penalty was against his Eels tackler, Reed Mahoney, for restraining Smith from rejoining the play. Smith’s response was hardly unexpected but such is the wimpiness of how a brush-off is refereed these days that players of yesteryear will again be shaking their heads in mirth. As HG and Roy would say, “It’s a joke! It’s a joke!”

 

So we move on to the Preliminary Finals – Raiders v Rabbitohs on Friday and Roosters v Storm on Saturday. More on those games later in the week.

 

In the NRLW, the Brisbane Broncos showed why they will again be favourites to take out the title while the Dragons reasserted themselves in the first NRLW fixture to be played as a stand alone match.

 

Brisbane v Roosters on Saturday afternoon was a replay of last year’s decider and the result went the same way, but even more impressively by 20-0. Brisbane are a formidable team with strength and drive up front, skill and nous in the halves, and speed and power out wide. Props Amber Hall and Millie Boyle are a pair of workhorses, well fed by  Lavinia Gould; Ali Brigginshaw and Raecene McGregor in the halves chose well when to run the ball and when to kick to advantage. I predicted that Brigginshaw would be more involved this week and she did it in spades. McGregor is a very good foil and creator in her own right. Wider out, Amber Pilley and Meg Ward have added strength to their finesse and form a potent edge. And what a luxury to have the likes of veteran Steph Hancock and the emerging Chelsea Lenarduzzi on the bench!

 

The Roosters made two tactical errors before the game started. Their best player last week, Kirra Dibb, started on the bench and the tactic of trying to take on the Broncos up the middle was just plain silly. That’s the Broncos’ strength! Consequently, the Roosters were behind before they kicked off and soon found themselves trailing after two early tries. They were best served by Isabelle Kelly who showed considerable courage to play on with an injury and Hannah Southwell who also toughed it out after a heavy bump. Kirra Dibb tried hard once she got on the paddock but, by then, it was too late.

 

This wasn’t a very pretty game, hardly surprising given the wet conditions, but the silky skills of Brigginshaw and the across-the-park talent of the Brisbane lasses lifted some of the clouds. Six wins from six outings to date tells the tale.

 

The Warriors v Dragons was the first NRLW match to be played as a stand alone fixture. I must confess that I did not see this game on Sunday afternoon although I did follow the scores online. The Warriors led 6-0 at half-time but the Dragons swooped after the break and rattled on five tries in just seventeen minutes! The stats show the Dragons dominating possession 59/41 with metres gained even more impressive at 1281/697. Add twelve offloads and ten line breaks by the Dragons to just two line breaks and no offloads by the Warriors and a clear picture emerges. About the only area where the Warriors came out in front was in kick metres gained. Final score 26-6.

 

In Round 3 next weekend, Brisbane takes on the Warriors while the Dragons meet the Roosters. At the end of those games, we’ll know who will face off against Brisbane in the Grand Final.

 

More later in the week.

 

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. As well as being one of Footy Almanac's online editors, I moonlight as an editor for hire - check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au

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