Thursday 24 August 2017 / 07:28 AM

GOLDEN POINTS: NRL ROUND 10

In this week’s Golden Points, WILL EVANS gives his take on the mid-air tackle rules, the diving scourge, the overreaction to the Warriors’ collapse, and the form-lines of Konrad Hurrell, Anthony Don, Mitchell Moses and Michael Jennings. 

Mid-air madness

If player safety is the focus, why are the rules different for tackling airborne players taking high bouncing balls? David Mead acted well within the laws of the game in Brisbane’s clash with Manly on Saturday night, but the upshot is Tom Trbojevic is facing two months on the sidelines and the delay of his Origin debut. There is literally zero difference between a player leaping to catch a bomb on the full or on the first bounce – Trbojevic was clearly just as vulnerable – and the rules should be adjusted accordingly.

Diving to new depths

It’s easy to point the finger at Daly Cherry-Evans for his embarrassing dive, and Paul Gallen a couple of weeks prior. There was another shocker in Thursday night’s game when Ray Thompson hit the deck after barely being grazed by Josh Jackson. All three resulted in no-try rulings from the Bunker.

Diving is a blight on rugby league, but as long as it saves four points, players are going to continue to do it. It’s no different to players who used to stay down after being hit high to draw a penalty after video review. And how did the NRL counter that scourge? They changed the way the officials ruled on such incidents.

If the average punter can see a player has blatantly taken a dive, then so can the men in the box – and the league must now give the Bunker the power to decide who has been genuinely obstructed and who is taking the piss. As should be the measure of any contentious refereeing decision: imagine losing a grand final due to a dive like DCE’s because the Bunker’s hands were tied.

Putting Warriors’ collapse in perspective

The Warriors are a convenient punching bag – for their own supporters and rugby league fans in general – and Saturday’s loss to Penrith after leading 28-6 at halftime was a bitter pill to swallow. The Warriors have a reputation for finding new ways to disappoint, so the biggest collapse in the club’s history was another soul-destroying chapter in a tortured narrative.

Demented ‘fans’ filmed themselves burning jerseys, Kiwi radio and print journos acted as if the sky had fallen in, and smug Aussie league pundits and death-riding NZ union types chortled to themselves as the Warriors reinforced every stereotype that follows them.

Make no mistake: it was a disaster. But let’s keep a bit of perspective. It was 12 minutes of absolute chaos that brought the Warriors undone, with everything the Panthers – a team of unrivalled ad-lib firepower – coming off and everything the stricken Warriors tried to do to combat the reversal backfiring.

Writing off the Warriors on the strength of those 12 minutes – when they’ve been very good for the previous five rounds – is a prejudiced cop-out.

Look at the rest of Round 10: the ladder-leading Storm twice surrendered match-winning leads against a Titans side that came into the match 3-6; the Sea Eagles blew a 14-point halftime advantage against the Broncos; the supposed hotshot Raiders lost to a Knights outfit that had won just one of their last 27; the highly-rated Eels were pumped 48-10 by the Roosters; and if there’s been more insipid performances in 2017 than those produced by the Bulldogs and Tigers earlier in the round, I must have missed them.

It should be noted that before last weekend, the Warriors were one of only four clubs (with the Titans, Storm and Rabbitohs) that hadn’t surrendered a 20-point lead in their history.

The NRL is a highly unpredictable competition, shit happens. CTFD.

Spoiler Alert

My good mate in Singapore got in touch to vent about the “disturbing, inconsiderate and seemingly ingrained spoiler culture of the NRL commentary”. I wholeheartedly agree, and I can’t put it any better so I’ll let Cam explain why there’s a bee in his Sea Eagles beanie:

Like most people I usually have a list of stuff to get done over the weekend and, as a result, I don’t often get to watch my key games at the time they’re played. The infuriating thing is that the commentators seem to have a policy of fucking it up for everyone that hasn’t watched every game of the round in exact order.

For example this week I chose to watch the Sea Eagles vs Broncos game before the Warriors vs Panthers. To my dismay in the 67th minute the commentators spoiled (the results of) both the Warriors game and the Storm vs Titans game. It’s not the first time this has happened and I kick myself because I repeatedly fall for this underhanded bullshit.

Why punish the fans? And why have these vindictive policies? Television has moved on from people having to watch shit at the precise time it occurs thankfully, otherwise I’d never see a game. Are the NRL commentators so prehistoric that they haven’t caught up with that? Let us enjoy our league the way we want to and the way that suits us!

You’ve been told, NRL commentators – cut it out!

Farah firming, but what about Jennings?

The sneaking suspicion is Robbie Farah will hold onto his NSW spot after an impeccably-timed starring role in Souths’ win over Wests Tigers. Whether he deserves to be retained – particularly ahead of Nathan Peats – is still very much up for debate, but the other contenders haven’t exactly busted the door down to demand a call-up and Laurie Daley may well opt for the ‘devil you know’ approach.

Loz’s loyalty slant also plays into Farah’s hands, but on the same token where does that leave Michael Jennings? The 18-Origin veteran has barely got a mention in pundits’ and fans’ Blues squads ahead of the series opener, despite six line-breaks, three tries and two try assists in his last five games. He’s made more starts at centre than any NSW player in Origin history and has missed just one game in the past five series – including his dead-rubber match-winner last year. Jennings remains the Blues’ best option on the left edge.

Unholy Moses

Eels fans, how are your enthusiasm levels for Mitchell Moses joining the club, be it this week or next season? The 22-year-old five-eighth is occasionally brilliant but undoubtedly inconsistent. Maybe he has some excuses for not being at his best in 2017 with contract and transfer dramas hanging over him, but Moses has 67 NRL games under his belt and a change of clubs isn’t going magically rectify his shortcomings. At this point in time, Clint Gutherson, Will Smith and Brad Takairangi are all more attractive options to wear the blue-and-golds’ No.6 jumper – from a performance and cost standpoint.

Kon job

Many people in rugby league circles – particularly at the Warriors – have confidently waited for Konrad Hurrell’s enigmatic tendencies that saw him punted from Auckland to resurface after his move to Gold Coast. They’re still waiting. Superb towards the end of 2016 at his new club, Hurrell has been even better for the Titans this year, culminating in his match-winning turn against Melbourne on Saturday. Neil Henry has seemingly unlocked the blockbusting centre’s potential, which sees him average 140 metres a game and regularly come up with enormous plays. The Kiwis would be crazy not to consider nabbing him off Tonga for their World Cup campaign.

Glass half full

The Warriors’ recruitment focus from the outside seems to be entirely on settling on Shaun Johnson’s 2018 halves partner now that Kieran Foran is on his way back to Sydney. Will they snap up Te Maire Martin, give Ata Hingano a crack, or look at other options?

Sure, it’s important – but the club has other vital areas to shore up, and having two blue-chip halves does not guarantee immediate success. When the Warriors last qualified for the top four in 2007, Michael Witt and Grant Rovelli were their No.6 and 7. A year later they reached the preliminary final with Witt and Nathan Fien in the key positions. The previously unknown James Maloney and journeyman Brett Seymour guided the Warriors to fifth in 2010, before Maloney and a rookie Johnson steered them into the 2011 grand final.

Rewind a decade and you’ll find the mercurial Stacey Jones was paired up with teenagers Lance Hohaia and Thomas Leuluai, and the similarly inexperienced Motu Tony, when they reached the 2001-03 finals.

The difference is those teams all had players elsewhere in the line-up the calibre of Kevin Campion, Ivan Cleary, Steve Price, Ruben Wiki, Brent Tate and Micheal Luck. They’re the types of players the maligned Auckland club needs to go after.

Tenth Impressions

BRONCOS: Still can’t put 80 good minutes together, but still find a way to keep winning. You can’t argue with five straight wins, and the Broncos have put themselves in a handy position before the Origin period thanks to their impressive composure.

RAIDERS: Time to panic? Not yet, but the Raiders need to turn things around soon before they leave themselves with too much to do in the run home. It seems like they just expect things to happen for them.

BULLDOGS: The mind of the average Bulldogs fan must have been twisted into a pretzel in recent weeks. After one of the gutsiest efforts you’ll see against the Raiders, they were pathetic in going down to a Thurston-less Cowboys. How do they have a 5-5 record?

SHARKS: Like the Broncos, the premiers are content with winning ugly – as long as they keep banking the two points. Their recent wins over the Tigers and Dragons were unimpressive, but they have got it done in the latter stages because they have the experience and firepower to do so.

TITANS: It’s like 2016 all over again. The most character-laden team in the NRL has put a tough start to the year behind them and shape as a real threat. You just don’t run down the Storm, but the Titans managed to do it twice in the same game – with Jarryd Hayne sitting on the sideline.

SEA EAGLES: At 14-0 against the Broncos, the Sea Eagles were flying high. A big collapse and a serious injury to their best player, and their campaign is on the rocks. It’s hard to see them winning too many games with Tommy Turbo in the casualty ward.

STORM: The loss to the Titans was so un-Storm like, equalling the premiership record for most points scored in a losing effort and conceding 38 points for just the seventh time in the last decade. I pity the Rabbitohs having to take them on this week…

KNIGHTS: There is a ton of spirit in this Newcastle side, considering how many weaknesses they have in their team sheet. Plenty of teams would do a lot better if they played with the same commitment and attitude as the Knights, and their win over the Raiders was a reward for the effort they’ve shown all year.

COWBOYS: Clinical performance and a big step forward without JT – especially the dominant showing from a previously out-of-sorts Michael Morgan. Vital on the cusp of the demanding Origin period.

EELS: What happened there? One of the toughest defensive units of 2016, the Eels fell apart against the Roosters on Sunday, while losing Corey Norman compounded the heavy loss. The next few weeks will make or break their season.

PANTHERS: Was that the turning point? Everything good about the Panthers manifested itself in a blistering second half performance to pull off one of the great comebacks. There’s still a lot of work to be done to get back into contention, but they’re only two wins shy of seventh.

DRAGONS: Honourable losses are all well and good, but the Dragons are sliding back towards the middle of the pack thanks to three straight defeats. The return of Dugan and Widdop can’t come soon enough.

RABBITOHS: With Burgess and Farah firing, and Walker back at fullback, the Rabbitohs looked like a different team. Hard to get a real gauge considering the standard of their opposition, so the way they back up against the Storm this weekend will be telling.

ROOSTERS: Progressing very nicely. Few teams are as capable of dismantling an opposing side that turns up half-baked, while also possessing the ability to grind out low-scoring victories against quality teams.

WARRIORS: As soon as the Panthers scored the first try of the second half, it felt inevitable it was all going to unravel for the Warriors. RTS had a nightmare game in his 100th, and his team could just not get any traction. The first half was good, though, and a bounce-back effort this Friday against bogey team the Dragons at bogey venue Hamilton is imperative.

TIGERS: So bad. The Tigers must be shortening in the wooden spoon market, particularly when they show a fraction of the desire of the only team below them on the ladder, the Knights.

Try of the week

Given that is was a match-winner, it’s hard to go past Anthony Don’s bat-back of a Kane Elgey kick before Konrad Hurrell showed amazing strength to get the ball down and sink the Storm.

My new favourite player

Speaking of The Don, how good has his form been? He didn’t make his NRL debut until the age of 25, he lacks genuine pace and is about as fashionable as Jack Gibson’s fur coat would’ve been at a PETA rally, but his value can’t be questioned. Don, now 29, boasts the more than handy strike-rate of 44 tries in 73 first-grade games, and he has the uncanny Rapana-like knack of making things happen for his teammates that few wingers possess, producing four try-assists this year (equal-first with Rapana among wingers).

Under-pressure XIII

1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
2 Jorge Taufua
3 Blake Ayshford
4 Joey Leilua
5 Brett Morris
6 Mitchell Moses
7 Moses Mbye
8 Junior Paulo
9 Michael Lichaa
10 George Burgess
11 Bodene Thompson
12 Greg Eastwood
13 Trent Merrin

Form Origin teams

NSW
1 Tom Trbojevic
2 Nathan Ross
3 Dylan Walker
4 Michael Jennings
5 Anthony Don
6 Luke Keary
7 Mitchell Pearce
8 Ryan James
9 Nathan Peats
10 Paul Vaughan
11 Boyd Cordner
12 Wade Graham
13 Jack de Belin

14 Tyrone Peachey
15 John Asiata
16 Andrew Fifita
17 Matt Prior

QLD
1 Billy Slater
2 Corey Oates
3 Will Chambers
4 Dane Gagai
5 Darius Boyd
6 Anthony Milford
7 Ashley Taylor
8 Korbin Sims
9 Cameron Smith
10 Dylan Napa
11 Matt Gillett
12 Coen Hess
13 Josh McGuire

14 Sam Thaiday
15 Felise Kaufusi
16 Jacob Lillyman
17 Michael Morgan

[YouTube – Deadroc Dundee]

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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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