The slimmest of margins
Every NRL season feels closer than the last, with the difference between the premiership’s best and worst teams thinner than arguably any elite club competition in world sport. But the start to 2016 genuinely has been closer than any we’ve experienced in recent times. In 40 games over the first five rounds, 23 have been decided by eight points or less – with 15 of those featuring margins of one to four points. Check out the five-round comparisons over the last decade:
2016 – 23 games decided by 8 or less / 15 games decided by 4 or less
2015 – 19 / 11
2014 – 20 / 11
2013 – 15 / 10
2012 – 15 / 8
2011 – 13 / 6
2010 – 17 / 7
2009 – 21 / 13
2008 – 17 / 9
2007 – 15 / 13
Bunker blues to plague 2016
If the NRL Bunker is looking for an accurate slogan, ‘Same Wrong Decisions, But Quicker’, would fit the bill. It still defies belief that with the benefit of all the available technology, the team of video refs can fail to see something that’s patently obvious 90 percent of commentators and fans.
If uber-defensive ref’s boss Tony Archer is saying his men made the incorrect call, you know something’s gone drastically awry – which is exactly what happened when the Bunker somehow awarded the Tigers a try when Chris Lawrence impeded Paul Gallen.
But Archer is having a laugh defending the no-try call against Cronulla, when Gallen collided with Tigers centre Kevin Naiqama as he loomed up as a support player –behindthe ball-carrier. If anything, Naiqama should have been penalised for taking out a support runner without the ball.
And Archer’s explanation of the Aiden Guerra-Ryan Hoffman incident on Sunday signified that the penalty try is officially dead. If you listened closely, you would’ve heard 1999 grand final villain Jamie Ainscough’s teeth grinding in fury as the no-try decision came up – despite Hoffman being certain to score without Guerra’s illegal tactics. We may never see a penalty try awarded again.
Meanwhile, the failure to sin-bin Guerra (something Archer acknowledged was wrong) was diabolical – there has never been a more clear example of a sin-bin offence. The referee apologists may pipe up and plead that these decision are hard to make in the heat of the moment, but when officiating is as easy as it’s ever been with so many people on the job, it’s hard to be sympathetic.
Kata comeback slays ‘Fergo’
Nuggetty Warriors centre Solomone Kata deserves a massive wrap for his defensive display up against Blake Ferguson on Sunday. In Round 19 last year, Ferguson gave the inexperienced Kata an absolute bath. But the Tongan-born 21-year-old clearly heeded those lessons and worked on his technique and defensive reads over the summer, picking Ferguson up and dumping him on three occasions, and keeping the danger-man under wraps all afternoon.
— Peter Freeman (@Peter_Freeman_) April 3, 2016
One tackle went over the horizontal earned Kata a low-level dangerous tackle charge, but the statement he made with the hit was emphatic, clearly getting into Ferguson’s head. Kata scored two powerful tries to boot – taking his season tally to six, just one shy of NRL leader James Tedesco – to follow up a punishing defensive effort and a try opposite Pat Mata’utia a week earlier. His battle with Jamie Lyon this Saturday will be a beauty.
The @NZWarriors make them pay!
— NRL (@NRL) April 3, 2016
Moylan makes the difference
I had my doubts about Matt Moylan returning anywhere near his best anytime soon after not being sighted since May 29th last year, but in 80 minutes it became clear the silky Panthers fullback holds the key to his side’s campaign. In just 51st NRL appearance, and first as skipper, Moylan ran bravely and confidently, was safe at the back and enhanced his reputation as one of the game’s most gifted playmakers. Horses named Dugan and Tedesco may have already bolted when it comes to the NSW Origin fullback argument, but by the end of the season Moylan will be challenging both for a spot in Australia’s Four Nations squad.
- Jorge Taufua powered his way to 226 metres in 20 runs for Manly.
- The Sea Eagles’ halves both tallied over 100 metres – Walker had 113 metres and Koroisau 138.
- Ryan James reeled off 51 tackles without a miss against the Broncos, and still had enough in the tank for 13 hit-ups.
- Ethan Lowe’s stocks continue to sky-rocket with 180-metre, 35-tackle effort against the Dragons.
- Warriors hero Tui Lolohea recorded two line-break, two try assists and 152 running metres from the right wing against the Roosters.
- To mark his 150th game for the club, veteran Warriors prop Jacob Lillyman doubled his output from a week earlier with 20 hit-ups and 167 metres, while also racking up 31 tackles.
- Panthers winger Josh Mansour channelled Taufua with 21 carries for 198 metres.
- Raiders workhorse Shaun Fensom was just shaded by James as the defensive stud of the week, making 50 tackles (no misses) on Monday night.
Try of the week
While the Tui-RTS double-act quite rightly takes its place in the annals of all-time great golden point match-winners, it took the attention away from another Lolohea piece of magic – a sideline bust and pinpoint centring kick for Shaun Johnson to pick up his second try.
Tui puts it on a plate!#NRL
Posted by NRL – National Rugby League on Monday, April 4, 2016
Underachiever of the week
You can lump the Dragons in with the Knights and Roosters as the only three clubs that appear genuinely unlikely to play finals footy in 2016. A 36-0 loss to the Cowboys in Townsville isn’t exactly uncommon, but it was indicative of everything that’s wrong with the Saints’ approach. They’ve only posted 40 points in five rounds – 30 less than any other team – and have been held try-less twice already. Meanwhile, their usually stout defence is ranked a modest 10th.
Overachiever of the week
The Titans will surely be filling many fans’ ‘second-favourite team’ slot in 2016 thanks to their consistently gutsy efforts. Their worst is never that far behind their best, and their competitive performances belie arguably the NRL’s least impressive roster. Journeymen and unheralded players like Agnatius Paasi, Zeb Taia, Anthony Don, Eddy Pettybourne and Leivaha Pulu turn up every week, while the few big names (and they’re not that big) in the line-up – Ryan James, Greg Bird and David Mead – are playing out of their skins, inspired by their no-name teammates. Taia scored a powerful second-half double in the Titans’ brave 24-16 loss to the Broncos, putting the unfancied hosts in with a late chance of an upset in an absorbing contest.
Just when you thought it was safe … to write off golden point
Dour field goal shootouts are the bane of golden point, prompting the majority of purists to demand the return of the humble draw. But the two extra-time instalments of the last two rounds – Broncos-Cowboys and Roosters-Warriors – were so spell-binding, drama-charged and packed with attacking brilliance, it’s hard to make a watertight case for ditching golden point altogether. The ‘golden try’ format would be the obvious compromise, although walk-off field goals like Milford’s (and Lockyer v Titans in ’07, Sandow v Roosters in ’10) hold a cherished, underrated place in modern rugby league folklore.
Breaking Rooster hearts all over again!#NRLRoostersWarriors #NRL #HistoryHappens
Posted by NRL – National Rugby League on Saturday, April 2, 2016
My new favourite player
As Dylan Walker, Jamie Lyon and Brett Stewart made last-tackle kicking look difficult during the first half of last Thursday’s slug-fest, burly Manly prop Siosia Vave came up with a delicate touch to force a repeat set. Unexpectedly finding the ball in his hands on the final play after a Jorge Taufua break, the 115kg bookend threaded the needle to earn a line dropout. Vave shelved the playmaking duties thereafter, but led the Sea Eagles forwards with 168 metres from 17 runs.
— NRL (@NRL) March 31, 2016
Javid Bowen (Cowboys): Carrying the second-most famous name in Cowboys history, Bowen excelled standing in for the injured Kane Linnett – the first change to their line-up since week one of the 2015 finals – with a try and 117 metres from 15 runs.
Brent Tate: There will be few more poignant images in 2016 than the luckless Chase Stanley crying into hulking teammate David Klemmer’s bosom as the reality of yet another injury setback – a hamstring this time – sunk in.
— FOX SPORTS NRL (@FOXNRL) April 4, 2016
It revived memories of Brent Tate’s shattering third knee reconstruction in the space of three and a half seasons, suffered during the 2010 Four Nations final. A distraught Tate was consoled by the Kangaroos’ trainer as the emotional impact of sporting injuries was laid bare. Stanley was making his belated 100th first-grade appearance – in the 10th season of a tortured career.
John Hopoate: It was a thousand times gentler – and assuredly much more welcome – than ‘Hoppa’s’ infamous 2001 antics while at Wests Tigers, but Josh Reynolds tickle on Aidan Sezer as the Raiders playmaker fed a scrum certainly caught the eye.
It turns out the pair are good buds from Sezer’s grounding at Canterbury, something Reynolds was eager to clear up on Tuesday morning as social media went into meltdown. Frankly, Sezer’s second-row feed was more of an affront to rugby league ethics.
Just want to clear up the incident with Aiden Sezer last night. We’re good mates and it was just a bit of a joke. I hope no harm done
— josh reynolds (@joshreynolds9) April 4, 2016
Form Anzac Test Teams
A change of pace during the weeks leading up to the Anzac Test – we’re substituting our ‘Form Origin Teams’ segment to list our Kangaroos and Kiwis line-ups if form were the only selection criteria.
1 James Tedesco
2 Semi Radradra
3 Kevin Naiqama
4 Jarrod Croker
5 Josh Mansour
6 Anthony Milford
7 Moses Mbye
8 Aaron Woods
9 Cameron Smith
10 Andrew Fifita
11 Ethan Lowe
12 Bryce Cartwright
13 Shaun Fensom
14 Corey Norman
15 Wade Graham
16 Jacob Lillyman
17 Josh McGuire
1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
2 Shaun Kenny-Dowall
3 Solomone Kata
4 Peta Hiku
5 Tuimoala Lolohea
6 Shaun Johnson
7 Kieran Foran
8 Adam Blair
9 Issac Luke
10 Jesse Bromwich
11 Iosia Soliola
12 Tohu Harris
13 Jason Taumololo
14 Alex Glenn
15 Zeb Taia
16 Agnatius Paasi
17 Ben Matulino