Almanac Rugby League – Five Metre Gap: NRL Round 3, 2016

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the third round of the NRL. Melbourne are the only side with three wins from three games plus Newcastle and Canberra played out the first draw of the season.

Penrith’s first victory of the Anthony Griffin-era came on the back of a comeback the side engineered after they only got one penalty awarded to them in the first half and were down 22-12 at the break. Interestingly it had been 22-6 and the sole penalty saw the Panthers piggy-back down the field for Bryce Cartwright’s try. In the 2016 return of ‘How’s Trent’ (the famed call referees used to check the count), which was 4-1 in Brisbane’s favour ended up 6-6. It would have been a rare occasions with a side to finish with only two penalties in their favour during a home game.

Saturday’s other tight fixture saw a draw in Newcastle but despite throwing away a handy lead Canberra coach Ricky Stuart should be happy with how his side adapted and learnt from errors. In a disappointing play early in the game the Raiders were close to the Knights’ line but ended up getting tackled limply as their tackled count expired without mounting a meaningful play on the final tackle. However the very next set when they were back down in the ‘Red Zone’ of Nathan Brown’s team Sam Williams kicked early in the count for Josh Papalii to dot down as the away side learnt an early lesson in effective use of the ball. Even if the Kiwi-born forward hadn’t got to the ball first the Raiders would have likely got a repeat set from a drop out. Newcastle stormed back to nab the draw as neither side managed to nail a field goal to win the game but Canberra will look back on plenty of lessons, even from a first half they dominated.

St George-Illawarra forward Mike Cooper has rightly earned plaudits for his effort off the bench in torrential rain on Sunday at the SCG but it was the double-dose from the Cowboys which caught our eye for bench impact on the weekend with Scott Bolton (131 metres) and Ben Hannant (179) providing similar impact to the Canberra bench forwards in round two. Combining for 45 tackles the North Queensland duo, in their short stints of 29 minutes (Bolton) and 34 minutes (Hannant) helped keep their side rolling after they nabbed two tries inside the opening eight minutes before going on to beat the Roosters 40-0.

In a look at the use of the ‘bench utility’ it is interesting that Cronulla carried an outside back in the form of Gerard Beale for the second week running. The former Dragon can play anywhere across the backline, and in the halves at a pinch, and was called upon when Jack Bird was injured in the first half. The Kiwi international played the rest of the game which was a far cry from the nine minutes he played the week prior when the Sharks thrashed his old side. If you compare that with the six minutes Lewis Brown played for Manly Cronulla got more use out of their bench compared to the week prior but they did fall to defeat 22-12 at the hands of the Sea Eagles. How Shane Flanagan uses Valentine Holmes and Ben Barba may dictate whether he persists with this or reverts to a forward heavy bench as he did in round one.

Eight sides are on two wins after the third round and one of the most intriguing is the Titans. With nine players from their top 17 having changed heading into round one they would have been easy candidates for a slow start to the season. Having made the most changes of any NRL team Neil Henry’s side could easily have dropped their bundle early on. Another side with major changes (eight from their top 17 before round one) Parramatta has two wins but the other sides in the ‘change top five’ the Sea Eagles, Knights and Dragons only have two wins combined. For the Gold Coast whilst beating Newcastle and the Tigers (who both failed to make the finals in 2015) last year isn’t exactly a huge deal they have done so without Kane Elgey and with a fair deal of off-field upheaval heading into the season so it’s a commendable start for the men from Robina.

This review 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.

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