Almanac Rugby League – NRL Round 17: Action aplenty!

It’s only right and fair to start this week’s review of the Round with a homage to Cameron Smith who became the first player to reach 400 career games in the NRL. There’s not much one can add to the acres of print expended last week on Smith, his career, his achievements, his place in the game, etc. Let’s just say that if we had more players of the footballing ability and personal calibre of Smith, both on and off the field, then we’d see a lot more positive rugby league on the sports pages and less of its underbelly on the front pages. Smith is the embodiment of the phrase ‘an ornament to the game’. Without doubt, the greatest and most influential player of this century and, most likely, one of the best of all time, as well as, most definitely, an Immortal in waiting.


Two other players with very different styles reached the 300 game milestone this weekend. Benji Marshall, the gifted but enigmatic Kiwi star, has had a career of blazing stardom, a code change (briefly to rugby union), club hopping (Wests Tigers, Dragons, Broncos, now Tigers again), and a late resurrection. Who can forget the flick pass to Pat Richards that won the 2005 Grand Final for Wests Tigers? The wily veteran is still at it with his darts, feints and bullet-like cut-out passes. Unfortunately his troops didn’t win yesterday but Benji is a testament to persistence and one of the best players to come out of New Zealand.


The North Queensland Cowboy’s Gavin Cooper also reached 300 games yesterday in the Cowboys’ shock win over the Sydney Roosters in Gosford. Cooper epitomises the term ‘workhorse’ – he’s a totally committed, unfashionable, trench fighting, never-give-up team man who has served Penrith, the Cowboys and Queensland with distinction (and, possibly, not enough recognition) for many years. How he loved playing outside Thurston on the left edge – they combined for many a try. As one of my footy-loving contacts says, ‘Some players push pianos (the forwards) while others play them (the backs)’. Cooper is a piano pusher par excellence.


Over the weekend, we saw two expected results of the Panthers demolishing the Titans with the consequence that Titans coach Gareth Brennan was shown the door, the first coach sacking of the season. Hardly surprising but I feel for Brennan a bit because he didn’t have a lot of talent or club culture to work with. Then Melbourne Storm accounted for Cronulla Sharks with a good deal more ease than I expected, so it was a big night all-round for Cameron Smith. The Sharks now find themselves a game out of the eight. Their Round 21 clash with Penrith Panthers will be critical for both teams as they strive to make the cut.


In a real upset, Canterbury Bulldogs finished all over the top of Newcastle to get off the bottom of the table. The Knights will rue this loss as a win would have kept them, albeit tentatively, in contention for the top four. Canterbury coach Dean Pay deserves a lot of credit for having faith in his charges. Then the Cowboys, playing away and undermanned,  downed Sydney Roosters in one of the shocks of the season. So the Cowboys hang on to finals hopes while the Roosters will need to take stock and realise that they have to do more than just get on to the field – they also have to show up!


Elsewhere, South Sydney Rabbitohs won ugly against Manly Sea Eagles, clinging on to second spot in the process. Manly stay fifth and it’s hard to see them climbing higher. Brisbane Broncos and NZ Warriors fought out the season’s first draw in Brisbane, a strange game that both should have won but couldn’t. A draw was the worst outcome for everyone as both team now slip a game and a half plus percentage below the top eight. All over? Probably.


In the other two games, Parramatta Eels, friendless at the start of the season, had a good win over Wests Tigers to consolidate their place in the top eight and, at times, looked good in doing so. But I still can’t see them going too far come September. In the last match, Canberra Raiders had the away win they needed against St George Illawarra Dragons to prove to themselves that they are a good team and not without prospects. And they did it with only 12 men for the last quarter of the game after Nick Cotric was sent off for a dangerous lifting tackle. The Raiders now sit third while the Dragons are gone for the season.


The hot topic this week will be the Titans’ search for a new coach. Kevin Walters is in the cross-hairs. Will we see a Walters/Meninga  coach/manager team, fully equipped with their combined aura and drive, given a free hand and an open wallet to try to make a Gold Coast-based team actually work? Now wouldn’t that be something?!?




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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A loyal Queenslander, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. Enjoys travel, coffee and cake, reading, and has been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. One of Footy Almanac's online editors who enjoys the occasional editing opportunity to assist aspiring writers.

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