NRL 2015 another tipsters’ nightmare
If you’ve notched four from seven so far in Round 1, you’ll be near enough to the top of your work tipping comp – nestled somewhere between the lady that bases her picks solely on her favourite animals and the annoying guy that uses the TAB odds to make his choices. After Parramatta’s win in the flip-of-the-coin clash with Manly, the Roosters, Knights, Panthers and Raiders all produced victories that would be considered upsets by most. It makes for another enthralling premiership, but if ever the adage ‘betting is a mug’s game’ applied, it’s to the NRL.
Credit where it’s due
Perhaps it’s the ditching of the pink jerseys that have subliminally brain-washed us into giving them a break, but that was the best collective Round 1 performance by the NRL’s match officials in recent memory. The change in interpretation of the ruck rules didn’t result in the torrent of penalties that was predicted, there were no video ref howlers, and the on-field whistle-blowers generally stayed out of the firing line. There was the odd forward pass call that was questionable, while Mitchell Moses probably should have been sent off and there was a debatable eight-point try awarded, but on the whole it was superb all-round display. Well done, guys.
Parra matters in 2015
Jarryd Hayne’s shock departure was always going to go one of two ways for Parramatta. Either the Eels would crumble without their talisman at fullback to bail them out of trouble, or the squad would collectively realise they all had to lift and make up for Hayne’s absence with more committed, consistent individual contributions.
In Round 1, at least, Brad Arthur’s charges have followed the latter path, dismantling Manly 42-12 with an aggressive defensive effort and an enterprising attacking performance that suggests finals football should be on their radar in 2015. Will Hopoate was superb at fullback, Chris Sandow and Corey Norman look to have picked up from where they left off last year, and brutish young forwards Manu Ma’u, Tepai Moeroa and Junior Paulo will be a match for any pack with veteran recruit Anthony Watmough as their leader.
If there’s a team you can count on to perpetuate a long-running NRL curse, it’s the Warriors. The premiership’s most notorious enigmas are winless in Round 1 since 2009, and have now won just two of their last 11 opening-round fixtures after a bitterly disappointing 24-14 loss to Newcastle. Their performance was a walking contradiction. Up 14-6 at the end of the hectic, physical first half the Knights arguably had the better of, the Warriors should have put the game away when David Fa’alogo was sent to the sin-bin soon after the resumption.
Instead, they conceded a try while the Knights were a man short and were ultimately held scoreless in the second half as they made a string of long-range breaks but were bereft of ideas inside the opposition 20. Shaun Johnson’s performance was the antithesis of the commanding Four Nations displays that have most (including me) predicting a watershed season of consistent dominance from the No.7 wizard. While it was a vast improvement from their twin thrashings at the hands of reigning wooden spooners Parramatta to begin 2013-14, everyone at the Warriors recognises the importance of starting the season strongly and Saturday represented two points gone begging.
Courage and heartbreak for Titans
Gold Coast was on course to produce a backs-to-the-wall triumph reminiscent of Cronulla’s ASADA-soaked victory in Round 1 of 2013 (ironically, against the Titans), but the embattled, drug scandal-depleted side was pipped at the post. Leading 12-6 at halftime and levelling at 18-all in the latter stages, a boilover against the much-hyped Wests Tigers was a real chance. But the Tigers’ ice-man, veteran winger Pat Richards, snatched a stirring upset – or at least the chance of one in golden point – from the Titans’ clutches with a magnificent last-second field goal. Full credit to the Titans, though, for a courageous performance without three of their front-line stars.
Segeyaro and Panthers live up to the hype
If, touch wood, something were to happen to Cameron Smith, I’d be putting my vote in for James Segeyaro to replace him in the Queensland Origin side ahead of Jake Friend and Matt Ballin. The reigning Dally M Hooker of the Year was in superb touch against Canterbury, scoring a sizzling solo try that helped Penrith build a shock 24-0 lead. The Panthers did their best to let the resurgent Bulldogs back into the contest, but the 24-18 win over a fellow title contender was nonetheless an impressive way to kick off their campaign.
Hero to villain to hero
Taking to his new role at fullback with gusto, Canberra young gun Jack Wighton experienced a rollercoaster night at Remondis Stadium that ultimately ended in glory. After scoring a brilliant first half double – the second try an extraordinary effort from a 20-metre tap restart after he marked a terrible Ben Barba bomb in his in-goal – Wighton was sin-binned for inexplicably slugging Cronulla winger Sosaia Feki (who was also somewhat unluckily given 10 minutes) in the chops as the Raiders looked set to implode. But the novice No.1 returned to pull off a phenomenal match-saver on a tryline-bound Mitch Brown, a grass-cutter that will take some beating as the most miraculous tackle of the year. The colossal wraps placed on the NSW Origin prospect are coming to fruition – but he needs to keep his fists to himself.
Money well spent
Glenn Stewart was superb as the Rabbitohs adapt to life without Sam Burgess. Brad Takairangi looks a real danger-man at centre for the Eels and Reece Robinson was equally impressive on the wing. Veteran backrower Ryan Hoffman was a dead-set inspiration in his first match in Warriors colours, while second-row partner Bodene Thompson looks a handy pick-up, too.
Blake Ferguson ended his 547-day NRL exile in impressive style as the Roosters spanked the Cowboys. Brett Morris’ sizzling try as the Bulldogs launched a late comeback at Penrith suggests he can be the missing premiership link for the club at fullback. Josh Hodgson, Sia Soliola, Sisa Waqa and Blake Austin all receive pass marks for their efforts in the Raiders’ upset of the Sharks.
Money down the drain
Manly gambled on journeymen Willie Mason and Feleti Mateo to alleviate a string of veteran departures. Both acquisitions are set to backfire horribly. Mason, almost 35, was repeatedly pummelled by the Eels’ posse of forward tyros, while Mateo looked overweight (I’m certain that neck-beard is hiding a double-chin), ineffective and as enigmatic and offload-happy as ever. Ben Barba, who looks more like a specialist fullback every time he lines up at five-eighth, and Michael Ennis had forgettable maiden outings in Cronulla’s upset loss to Canberra, while Mitch Brown’s return to the Shire saw him cut down when a match-winning try was in the offing.
I’m a fan of aggressive ex-Tiger James Gavet, but the big Kiwi endured a woeful debut for Brisbane. After making a couple of dreadful handling errors and throwing a wild pass that is not even close to being in his job description, the front-rower inexplicably shoulder-charged Isaac Luke in the dying seconds to earn a three-week stint on the sidelines. Gavet will be hard-pressed forcing his way back into the pack with Wayne Bennett already on the warpath over Thursday’s performance.
Is the send-off dead?
If promising Wests Tigers five-eighth Mitchell Moses’ ugly coat-hanger on Gold Coast Titans fullback Will Zillman was deemed not serious enough to be sent off, nothing short of a flying elbow off the cross-bar will earn an early shower in 2015.
Despite a lack of malicious intent, Moses will cop a couple of weeks for the tackle – yet the whistle-blowers are reticent to march anyone due to the impact it can have on the result of a match. As it transpired, the Tigers prevailed 19-18 courtesy of a last-second field goal. The embattled Titans had cause to feel hard done by, going down to a team that should have been reduced to 12.
Underachiever of the week
This is meant to be Johanthan Thurston and North Queensland’s year – the season the Cowboys shrug off years of underachievement and bad luck to surge to a maiden premiership. Pundits are coming out of the woodwork to tip them as 2015 champs. They were pummelled 28-4 at home by a Roosters side in the midst of a mini-rebuild following the departure of their two most senior players, while Thurston was thoroughly outpointed by Mitchell Pearce.
Overachiever of the week
It has to be the Green Machine. Friendless in premiership betting, the Raiders were the biggest outsiders of the weekend but held on for a momentous 24-20 victory over an admittedly sloppy Sharks side. For a side with so many new players, a roster that is the envy of no one and the most maligned coach in the game, it was a sensational display.
Chris Grevsmuhl (Rabbitohs): The highly-rated North Queensland product looked at home on first grade debut, making 13 runs for 118 metres and 12 tackles. With a cloud hanging over Kyle Turner’s prospects of returning in 2015, Grevsmuhl shapes as a key part of the premiers’ pack.
Solomone Kata (Warriors): Retrenched from left centre to right wing, Kata gets a pass mark for his much-hyped debut. Ran for 118 metres in 12 carries, but a poor handling error blotted his performance somewhat.
Sam Lisone (Warriors): Eye-catching debut from the boom front-rower, standing up to the Knights’ experienced forwards and making 27 tackles and 11 hit-ups. Should be in first grade to stay.
Albert Vete (Warriors): Huge effort from another debutant, taking a game-high 19 hit-ups and showing plenty of aggression. Became preoccupied with the niggle, however, costing the Warriors a couple of crucial penalties. A work in progress but an exciting prospect.
George Jennings (Panthers): Wow, what a talent. Big, fast and powerful, Jennings is more Semi Radradra than brother Michael. The strapping winger made 178 metres from 17 carries and scored a fine try. Incredibly, he’ll be in NSW Cup when Josh Mansour returns – a pointer to the Panthers’ unbelievable depth.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Panthers): A big lump of a lad, Campbell-Gillard made an solid 35-minute debut, chalking up 17 tackles and 11 hit-ups for 86 metres. Looks like he belongs.
Luke Bateman (Raiders): A late call-up to the bench, 20-year-old prop/backrower Bateman – captain of the NYC team and a Queensland Under-20s Origin rep – made six tackles and five hit-ups in a handy debut cameo.
My new favourite player
Isn’t Parramatta tyro Tepai Moeroa a terrifying specimen? The Cook Islands-born forward only turned 19 last October – but it would be inhumane to send the 190cm and 111kg brute back to the Holden Cup and tear apart teenage opponents still negotiating their way through the latter stages of puberty. Fortunately for everyone involved, Moeroa is a magnificent prospect and should nail down a permanent spot in the Eels’ first grade 17, despite his tender years and the club’s wealth of engine-room talent. Moeroa tears into his work with feverish enthusiasm and aggression – he can realistically challenge for a NSW Origin berth this year, which would make him the youngest forward since Bradley Clyde to debut.
…Craig Smith: No, not that Craig Smith. The Kiwi prop, not the penalty try guy. In what was a crucial turning point in Manly’s heavy defeat to Parramatta, young Sea Eagles prop James Hasson was put on report for lifting the knee as he took the opening hit-up of the second half, leaving Eels recruit and former teammate Anthony Watmough reeling. It revived memories of oft-suspended St George Illawarra enforcer’s penchant for leading with the knee in the late-1990s and early-2000s, a dangerous, and thankfully illegal, practice that has all but been rubbed out of the game.
…Brent Webb: The former Warriors fullback forced the NRL to introduce the 90-second shot clock for conversion-taking after his painstakingly long routine raised the ire of many during a brief stint as goalkicker in late-2003. Parramatta recruit Reece Robinson, who has been surprisingly handed the duties over Chris Sandow, will push the clock to its limit with his ‘death stare’ approach. As if in a trance, Robinson gazes at the posts for an eternity before finally beginning his run-up. It seems to work, though – the speedy winger kicked seven from eight, including several from the sideline.
Rugby League trainspotters report
This week in the rarely-seen Rugby League incidents department, we saw the Warriors awarded a dubious eight-point try after Tyrone Roberts accidentally kneed try-scorer Thomas Leuluai in the head, while brain-explosion king Josh Reynolds was penalised for a deliberate forward pass.
Form Origin teams
Each week leading up to State of Origin selection for the series opener, we’ll update the teams that would be named if NRL form was the only criteria.Note: Melbourne and St George Illawarra players will be considered from next week.
NEW SOUTH WALES
- Incredibly, despite an appalling win percentage overall in his last four seasons as an NRL coach, Ricky Stuart boasts a 10-2 record in Round 1 games; his two losses were by just four and six points.
- Tepai Moeroa was born one week after the Bulldogs upset Manly 17-4 in the 1995 Grand Final at the end of a season savaged by the Super League war.
- Adam Reynolds’ dazzling eight-from-eight goalkicking performance gives him an 84.98 per cent career strike-rate from 345 attempts. Aiden Sezer, who landed three from four on Saturday, has an 85.03 record from 123 shots at goal. The young halves are first and second among all goalkickers who have had 50 or more attempts since 1986.