For the first time since the Brian Smith era, Parramatta is a consistently competitive team with a backbone and a semblance of defensive aptitude. The Kieran Foran-Corey Norman combination is deservedly attracting plenty of plaudits, but rugged veteran Beau Scott has almost singlehandedly transformed the Eels’ pack into one of the NRL’s most brutal – with the likes of Junior Paulo and Kenny Edwards improving immeasurably – and new fullback Michael Gordon has finally allowed the club to forget about Jarryd Hayne.
Michael Jennings’ two-try display against the Raiders was encouraging after a slow start in blue and gold, while Nathan Peats made a strong return from injury. The balance, class and toughness of the reborn Eels pegs them as a genuine 2016 contender.
In the cruellest of ironies – yet hardly surprising given the calamitous running of the club over the last decade – Parramatta’s salary cap snafu is likely to present a major stumbling block to their premiership bid. However, if the penalty is as low as four competition points, count on the Eels still being part of the September action.
Tigers’ promise fizzles yet again
Stirring wins in the opening two rounds have proved to be another false dawn for Wests Tigers fans, who watched their side struggle to a 20-18 loss to previously winless Newcastle last Sunday – the joint venture’s fourth straight defeat.
It’s a familiar pattern: in 2013, the Tigers won two of their first three; in 2014, they won five of their first seven; and last year, they also opened their campaign 2-0. The club finished those seasons with seven, ten and eight wins respectively, and a repeat seems on the cards in 2016.
After a brief renaissance, Jason Taylor’s position as coach is rapidly approaching untenable territory.
— FOX SPORTS NRL (@FOXNRL) April 11, 2016
Safety-first Broncos content with the two points
It may sound like nit-picking given Brisbane is top of the table with a 5-1 record – three of those wins coming by 13-plus margins – but a noticeable aspect of the premiership favourites’ start to the season in their failure to fully put a team to the sword.
The Broncos had the Eels, Warriors and Dragons on the rack, but are yet to post more than 26 points in a match. On Thursday against a dismal Saints outfit, the match still hung in the balance until a 70th-minute penalty goal pushed them out to an unassailable 14-point margin – despite their overwhelming dominance for virtually the entire match.
In 2015, the Broncos racked up more than 40 points on five occasions during the regular season.
While their disciplined, grinding style has proved very effective – as it did for the Dragons under Wayne Bennett – failing to land the knockout blow earlier against good sides could come back to haunt them.
Bunker interjection continues to baffle
While Manly thoroughly deserved its win in Auckland last Saturday, the match unmistakably swung on a bizarre decision by the Bunker to step in and rule Solomone Kata had forced the ball in-goal after the on-field officials called play on.
Setting aside the fact the video ref showed precious little feel for the game in making the wrong call, the arbitrary interruptions continue to frustrate fans and players. The Kata incident followed on from the Bunker’s call to overturn a scrum in the Parramatta-Penrith clash a week earlier, which allowed the Panthers to snatch a last-second win.
Yet the Bunker chooses to stay silent on any number of dubious knock-on calls or tight in-goal decisions. It has to be all or nothing – the randomness of the Bunker’s participation is unfair and disruptive.
McFadden pulls the trigger
The week to week saga that is Andrew McFadden’s battle for survival at the Warriors took a dramatic turn on Tuesday, with the under-fire coach belatedly changing up his underperforming line-up. Boom utility back Tui Lolohea has been moved from the wing to the halves, with out-of-sorts veteran Jeff Robson jettisoned for the clash with Canterbury, while the dynamic David Fusitua take’s Lolohea’s spot on the flank.
— ONE News – Sport (@ONENewsSport) April 12, 2016
The Warriors’ problems – after being touted as one of 2016’s big movers with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke on board – extend far beyond McFadden, who is an astute operator but is being let down by some of his most experienced players. With his job on the line, he can certainly be excused for shaking up his squad – and with plenty of classy performers running around for the club’s NSW Cup side, expect more changes if things don’t go according to plan this weekend.
- Dylan Napa’s career night featured an incredible 46 tackles, 19 runs for 144 metres and a try.
- Sam Burgess was the best of a beaten Rabbitohs bunch, making 43 tackles and 16 hit-ups.
- Joey Leilua recorded 102 running metres, seven offloads and three errors in a typically erratic performance for the Raiders.
- Jason Taumololo ran for 222 metres against the Panthers, edging out fellow Kiwi Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (213 metres) at the top of the count on Saturday night.
- Newcastle fullback Dane Gagai and Melbourne custodian Cameron Munster both ran for over 200 metres in their respective matches.
- The Bulldogs carved out an 18-12 win over the Storm despite making just one line-break.
Try of the week
In-form Ben Barba’s long-range effort in the Sharks’ win over the Titans – highlighted by a brilliant change of direction to shake off the long-striding Nene MacDonald – was an absolute beauty. Is he getting back towards his 2012 vintage?
Underachiever of the week
One thing is clear a quarter of the way through season 2016 – the Warriors are as inscrutable and frustratingly unreliable as ever. After two encouraging wins on the trot, the maligned Aucklanders took a huge step backwards in the 34-18 loss to Manly, with discipline, ball control, execution and a lack of purpose letting them down against a team that was prepared to dig in for 80 minutes. The Warriors’ attack was appalling, exacerbated by Shaun Johnson’s poorest performance in years, with Jeff Robson again unable to take the reins. They’re just as likely to blow the Bulldogs off the park this weekend in another mystifying form reversal, but it appears at this stage their perennial bugbear – consistency – will stymie their finals ambitions for a fifth straight campaign.
Overachiever of the week
They may have gone down 23-18 in a thriller, but the Panthers were one of the most impressive teams of Round 6 in pushing the Cowboys to the brink. Matt Moylan’s influence has been palpable in just two matches back from long injury layoff, and Anthony Griffin’s youthful, talent-laden line-up has the making of a title contender in the not-too-distant future. All six of their matches in 2016 have been decided by eight or less – the Panthers could easily have been amongst the NRL’s pace-setters with an ounce of luck.
Just when you thought it was safe … write off the Roosters
After tight losses to the Sea Eagles and Warriors that so easily could have been wins, it was only a matter of time before it clicked for the Roosters. Their gutsy win over the Rabbitohs – led by a rampaging Dylan Napa – was full of character. If they can jag a couple of wins before Pearce, Waerea-Hargreaves and Cordner return, the Tricolours could be in the frame to make a late charge for the finals.
My new favourite player
Sam Perrett was an inspiration on Monday night, doing a number on the ultra-dangerous Marika Koroibete to typify the Bulldogs’ gritty 18-12 win over the Storm. He made 16 tackles – a phenomenal tally for a winger – including one brilliant try-stopper on Koroibete, and outleapt the Fijian powerhouse for a superb try. Far from the most fashionable flanker in the NRL, the 30-year-old veteran of 241 NRL games is undoubtedly one of the most valuable. With Manu Vatuvei battling injury, Perrett could realistically add to his 19 appearances for the Kiwis in May’s Anzac Test.
— TAB (@tabcomau) April 11, 2016
- Abraham Papalii (Roosters): The former Warriors NYC star made a spectacular impact in 10 minutes on the paddock against Souths, making 64 metres from four runs and racking up eight tackles.
- Will Pearsall (Knights): The 21-year-old five-eighth made 12 tackles and a dummy-half run in 16 minutes as interchange hooker in Newcastle breakthrough win.
Brad Fittler: Kieran Foran’s stunning solo try was remarkably reminiscent of ‘Freddie’s’ individual classic for the Roosters against the Dragons on Anzac Day, 2004.
Manly’s brotherly love: Jake Trbojevic laid on an icing-on-the-cake try for younger brother Tom in the dying moments at Mt Smart on Saturday, reviving memories of the backrower Glenn Stewart and current Sea Eagles fullback Brett combining for Manly in the late-2000s to early-2010s.
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 Junior Paulo
9 Jake Friend
10 Andrew Fifita
11 Ethan Lowe
12 Bryce Cartwright
13 Corey Parker
14 Corey Norman
15 Wade Graham
16 Aaron Woods
17 Jake Trbojevic
1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
2 Shaun Kenny-Dowall
3 Solomone Kata
4 Peta Hiku
5 Sam Perrett
6 Te Maire Martin
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 Kevin Proctor