Friday 15 December 2017 / 03:23 PM

GOLDEN POINTS: NRL FINALS WEEK 1

Cash of the Titan

Jarryd Hayne notoriously marches to the beat of his own drum – on and off the field – and his code-hopping, dream-chasing exploits reek of someone with a massive ego who thinks he’s bigger than whatever game he chooses to dabble in. The Gold Coast Titans were always putting their culture at risk by signing the superstar, and it already appears to be coming back to bite them.

A mere six weeks into his stay on the glitter strip, Hayne has the NRL Integrity Unit all over him after being filmed handing over a big wad of cash to a Hells Angel and partying the night away with said bikie. Telling athletes who they can and can’t hang out with is a controversial measure, but Hayne should at the very least has the intelligence to make sure he isn’t filmed cavorting with alleged crims.

It’s a terrible look for the game, and the NRL faces a big test of its credibility in dealing with one of their prodigal sons. The Parramatta Eels may have dodged a bullet – something the god-fearing-but-occasionally-wayward Hayne knows a fair bit about.

Archer must go

Tony Archer’s ludicrous defending of his match officials in the wake of an atrocious display in the Broncos-Titans clash was surely the straw that bludgeoned the camel to death as far as his job as referees’ boss goes. Perhaps fearing further mutiny from his embattled refs, Archer tried to gloss over arguably the worst finals display in almost 40 years by saying, “Well the bunker is sitting at a 99 per cent success rate this year.” There’s no way the hapless Bunker’s success rate is anywhere near that level, while his men in the middle are at an all-time low when it comes to decision-making. For the good of the game, someone with a bit of nous – and without ego – like Greg McCallum must take over pronto.

Headbutt? What headbutt?

Hopefully Todd Greenberg’s pledge to overhaul the Match Review system includes giving Michael Buettner his marching orders. The decision to not charge Corey Parker for a headbutt on Ryan James was a spineless call that proved when it comes to the judiciary, who you are is more important than how grubby your offence is. The parallels between the retiring Broncos captain escaping a charge and his predecessor doing the same before last year’s grand final are obvious, and this latest travesty is even more farcical. If James Roberts gets off his contrary conduct charge for kicking Ryan Simpkins, the judicial process will be proven broken beyond repair.

NRL finals power rankings

  1. Melbourne Storm: Yet another clinical display from the Storm, who underlined their status as one of the great defensive teams of the modern era with a 16-10 win over the Cowboys. It was tight throughout, but there was always a sense the hosts were going to get the job done.
  2. Penrith Panthers: The Panthers have surged into genuine title contention on the back of one of the most blistering attacking displays in recent finals history. The firepower at their disposal – and the confident way they’re employing it – will have the other five sides very nervous.
  3. Cronulla Sharks: What a gutsy effort from a side that had won just one of their last six. At 12-0 down against Canberra, the Sharks looked gone. But through cool, experienced heads with and without the ball, the outsiders pulled off a famous win that has put them right back in the grand final mix.
  4. Brisbane Broncos: It was a ragged performance with some positive signs. The welter of dodgy decisions in their favour overshadowed an impressive attacking display, though the Broncos will need to be a lot more polished with the ball and tighter in defence if they are any chance of staying alive this weekend.
  5. North Queensland Cowboys: Brought undone by the Storm in an arm-wrestle for the third time this year, the Cowboys are a step or two behind where they were 12 months ago. There’s just a bit of spark and enthusiasm missing.
  6. Canberra Raiders: A tough loss when they really should have wrapped up a prelim berth has been compounded by the likely absence of linchpin Josh Hodgson, while their lack of finals experience was telling. The Green Machine will need to show a ton of character to get back on track against a red-hot Panthers outfit.

Ticking time-bombs update

Last week we pinpointed the player most likely to cost your team a final. So how did they go in week one?

Marika Koroibete: Very sound display from the Fijian wing-man, getting the better of erratic opposite Kyle Feldt.

Jordan Rapana: The brain-snap award went to three-quarter partner Joey Leilua, who almost cost Rapana try by needlessly interfering with Ben Barba. Strong performance from the winger, but went into his shell a little when the going got tough and gave away a penalty.

Andrew Fifita: The big man refused to take the Raiders’ bait and produced one of his best performances of the year, making 22 runs for 178 metres, six offloads and no errors. Top marks.

Kyle Feldt: Scored a try but had a bad night with his hands and gave away a crucial penalty for getting too rough in the play-the-ball. A liability.

Ben Hunt: Anthony Milford took the reins in superb style, but Hunt was nevertheless disturbingly quiet. The No.7’s running game has been put on the shelf, while his fifth-tackle options are still ordinary.

Bryce Cartwright: Made just the one error and contributed significantly to the Panthers’ win, though his mettle will be tested in the closer games to come.

James Graham: Perhaps spooked by what happened a week earlier, Graham was a bit quiet against the Panthers. The Bulldogs could have used a bit of fire from the skipper.

Jarryd Hayne: Although he had a few nice touches, a Ben Hunt-esque drop of the second-half kick-off saw Hayne finish on the negative side of the ledger. That gaffe appears to be the least of his problems right now, though.

Storm’s true test coming up

North Queensland tried to out-Melbourne Melbourne, and came up short once again. No team does their homework like the Storm – running set plays and sticking to structures isn’t going to work against them. But the southerners may meet their match in the preliminary final when they take on either the Raiders or Panthers, two teams that play what’s in front them, employ plenty of second-phase play, and boast the super-talented attacking players to back it up. The Warriors were intermittently hard to handle for the Storm with their unpredictable style, while the Broncos showed how effective it can be in Round 25 by unsettling the Storm defence with early shifts and offloads.

Fronting up

Wasn’t their some epic individual performances from front-rowers during week one of the finals? Josh McGuire recorded 20 hit-ups for the Broncos; Titans bookend Ryan James broke the all-time record for most tries in a season by a prop with his 12th touchdown; Matt Prior bust the Raiders-Sharks final wide open with a stunning try just before halftime time, while Fifita was also outstanding for Cronulla; Jesse Bromwich was incredible for Melbourne, icing his 20-run effort with a try; and Panthers duo Leilani Latu and Suaia Matagi emphatically outshone the vaunted Bulldogs pack. Their efforts were just as satisfying to watch as the long-range tries.

Try of the week

Pure poetry in motion from the Panthers, with Matt Moylan, Josh Mansour, Isaah Yeo and Tyrone Peachey combining to set up one of 2016’s best for Peter Wallace.

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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