Almanac Rugby League – NRL Round 15 Wrap: Most interest is to be found off the field

The NRL is shrouded in plenty of mystery at the moment. In no particular order, here are some of the burning questions:

– will it be the Brisbane Broncos or Canterbury Bulldogs who earn the wooden spoon? Or possibly even the North Queensland Cowboys?

– how soon will the Broncos part ways with coach Anthony Seibold (or vice versa)? What will the settlement be?

– what will Cameron Smith do next year?

 

Despite these unknowns, most results were clear-cut in Round 15 as four margins were at least 20 points while two teams were kept scoreless as they conceded 12 or 14 points.

 

The Penrith Panthers came one step closer to the minor premiership as they moved more than one win clear of the second-placed Melbourne Storm. The seventh-placed South Sydney Rabbitohs had the most decisive victory, while hefty defeats for the Wests Tigers and Manly Sea Eagles produced another nail in the coffin as far as their top eight hopes were concerned.

 

Thursday night’s match was a bit of a strange one as the second and third-placed teams squared off. In the end, the Parramatta Eels caught up to Melbourne on competition points although the Eels remained behind on for-and-against. The most unusual aspect was the Storm being kept scoreless: something very rare indeed! It wasn’t a happy night for Melbourne as Nelson Asofa-Solomona earned a stint in the sin bin while Brandon Smith joined a lengthy injury toll.

 

To be fair, it would have been remarkable if the Storm had won considering how depleted they were while, comparatively, Parramatta had all hands on deck. The Storm were far from disgraced under the circumstances but never really looked in the hunt. The Eels always looked destined to win as they scored two converted tries in the first half before a penalty goal was the only score in the second half. Yet the Eels did not excel themselves by any means and the low scoreline meant the Storm were mathematically in the match for at least 70 minutes. A lowlight was the number of times a Parramatta player lay down in the hope of gaining a penalty for a supposed crusher tackle with this tactic (controversially, I daresay) working more often than not. Come on fellas: DO NOT feign injury in an effort to milk a penalty. That’s not what rugby league is about.

 

In the first match on Friday, Penrith’s 38-12 trouncing of Cronulla reinforced that the Sharks cannot be considered a premiership threat, yet they safely remained in eighth spot due to other results. The Panthers were convincing as they scored 22 points in the first half and 16 in the second half, while the Sharks managed just a converted try in each half.

 

The Dragons kept their faint top eight hopes alive as they beat the second last Broncos, but the match proved much more competitive than expected. With the Dragons scoring two lamentably soft tries before the Broncos even had a tackle in possession, the writing was on the wall. So it seemed. But the maligned Broncos drew level at 12-all, before falling behind 18-12. In the second half the Broncos drew level again, following a scintillating try to Kotoni Staggs. Check it here: https://www.news.com.au/sport/nrl/nrl-2020-fans-and-commentators-react-to-kotoni-staggs-80m-try-in-broncos-loss-to-dragons/news-story/db97bd6dfee69fa9fef648e174072a8c The Dragons moved to an eight-point lead before the Broncos closed the gap to two points, but a late penalty goal sealed a four-point win for the team with the Red V.

 

Canberra’s 36-16 win over the fourth-last Gold Coast Titans on Saturday was hardly a surprise, although the Titans scored first before conceding 22 unanswered points in the first half. Perhaps the highlight was an ankle-tap by Canberra prop Josh Papalii who saved a certain try. Check it here: https://www.foxsports.com.au/nrl/nrl-premiership/nrl-2020-josh-papalii-ankle-tap-jamal-fogarty-gold-coast-titans-vs-canberra-raiders-round-15/news-story/2f6b228169fd53936941cab543e2bda9

 

Following their recent struggles due to a lengthy list of absent personnel, reigning two-time premiers the Sydney Roosters arrested their form slide as they welcomed back a couple of key players. Any team with James Tedesco and the Morris twins in the backline is sure to be a handful for any opponent. So it proved, despite the continuing absence of many leading players. The Roosters led 20-0 in the first 27 minutes before the Tigers scored the first two tries in the second stanza to trim the margin to an attainable eight points. But then the Roosters romped ahead 38-12 before David Nofoaluma notched a consolation try for the vanquished.

 

In the third match on Saturday, Latrell Mitchell showed what he was capable of as Souths recorded four successive wins and also registered the club’s highest ever victory against Manly. The Rabbitohs were firing on all cylinders as they raced to a 38-0 half-time lead against a hapless opponent. As so often happens after a heavily one-sided first half, the second half featured more evenly balanced scoring without being able to mask the reality of what happened in the first stanza. For coach Wayne Bennett to smile, something had to go right! Check his happy demeanour here: https://www.foxsports.com.au/nrl/nrl-premiership/nrl-2020-wayne-bennett-south-sydney-rabbitohs-vs-manly-sea-eagles-round-15-alex-johnston/news-story/3f7337b671e5c5dbaf3cfc5bea0f40ff

 

In the first match on Sunday, Canterbury squandered another golden chance to move off the bottom of the ladder. After butchering a winnable position against the Tigers a week earlier, the Bulldogs did it again. They led the Warriors 10-0 in the first 20 minutes and, later on, led 14-6 before the New Zealanders gained the upper hand and came away with a 20-14 triumph. The upshot was that the Broncos dodged a bullet yet again.

 

Howling wind made life difficult for the players in the final match of the round with the Newcastle Knights clinging to sixth spot as they downed the Cowboys 12-0. The match was of sub-standard quality with North Queensland in particular struggling in attack and making too many errors while Newcastle’s attack was also far from polished. The Knights lost Blake Green while the Cowboys lost Jason Taumalolo to injury. After having the better of the opening stanza with the wind at their backs, the Knights led just 6-0 and lost Mitchell Pearce to the sin bin in the dying seconds of the first half. The Cowboys, however, failed to profit while Pearce was repenting and both teams had only 12 players on the field for several minutes as Mitchell Dunn also earned a stint in the sin bin. Although a come-from-behind win for North Queensland never looked likely, it wasn’t until the 77th minute that the result was sealed as Newcastle’s Enari Tuala scored an unconverted try.

 

Question marks about Smith and Seibold will surely dominate headlines this week, so there’s sure to be plenty of intrigue in the days and weeks to come.

 

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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 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 35 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.

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