Hooked ‘Hodko’ holds Blues spot
Canterbury coach Des Hasler didn’t trust Trent Hodkinson to get his team home when they were down by just six points with 22 minutes to go, yet Laurie Daley has persisted with the out-of-sorts playmaker to rescue NSW’s flailing Origin shield defence.
Perhaps even more telling than Hasler’s vote of no-confidence in Hodkinson was the fact his replacement, Blues reject Josh Reynolds, sparked a run of 19 unanswered points to clinch a stirring win for the Bulldogs. Daley should have taken the hint, but had already bizarrely endorsed Hodkinson for Origin II during the press conference after the series opener.
Despite a baffling number of pundits contending otherwise, Hodkinson had a poor game in NSW’s 11-10 loss to Queensland in Sydney. After a solid enough first half, he began the second half by inexcusably failing to find touch from a penalty near the Blues’ line. His game unravelled thereafter, going into his shell and refusing to call the shots when his team was crying out for direction.
Daley’s misguided loyalty is destined to bring about the Blues’ demise.
DCE is Maroons’ best option
There have been suggestions that Daly Cherry-Evans’ contract back-flip put him at odds with the Maroons’ hierarchy, but Mal Meninga and co. are far too savvy to put emotion and politics ahead of such a vital selection.
Brisbane livewire Ben Hunt had received support for a call-up after a man-of-the-match display opposite Cherry-Evans last Friday night, while Origin I utility Michael Morgan has been in sparkling form alongside Johnathan Thurston in the Cowboys’ halves. Both were valid options, but inferior to drafting in 11-Test and five-Origin veteran Cherry-Evans, who is one of the game’s top three halves along with Thurston and Cronk.
But the Melbourne maestro’s absence is cause for concern for the Maroons. After Cronk left the field early in the 2014 series opener with a broken arm, the Blues surged to their first series triumph in nine years. When he returned for the dead-rubber, Queensland blitzed the newly-crowned interstate champs 32-8, while he proved the cool-headed match-winner in Sydney a fortnight ago.
Bend till it breaks
Every angle of the Daly Cherry-Evans saga has been covered, but for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents. DCE declared he didn’t break any rules, which is true; and other players have invoked the controversial ‘Round 13 rule’ after getting cold feet. But no player has ever exploited the rule to its absolutely limit as the Manly halfback did, dragging it out for three months. Good luck to him, he got the result he wanted – but the fact the NRL abolished the rule because of Cherry-Evans’ contract circus is an indication of how ‘honourable’ he acted throughout the whole process.
Eels chokes as Cowboys get out of jail again
The Cowboys have become established as the NRL’s greatest escape artists, reeling in a 24-point deficit to roll Parramatta on the road and notch 10 successive wins. The miraculous comeback has followed on from Houdini-esque victories over Melbourne, the Warriors and Manly, while wins against Newcastle and Canterbury also required nerves of steel during the second half.
Meanwhile, the devastating loss may have sounded the death knell for the Eels’ finals hopes. The embattled blue-and-golds showed what they are capable of in rattling up a 30-6 scoreline on one of the competition’s heavyweights – Sandow, Norman, Radradra, Ma’u and co. stack up against any attacking unit when they all fire in unison. But conceding five tries in 11 minutes to cough up a match-winning lead summed up their erratic campaign to date.
Grand finalists make a statement
South Sydney and Canterbury have endured patchy follow-up campaigns after facing off in the 2014 decider, with both clubs affected by roster turnover and a heavy injury toll. But as the competition rounded the halfway marker in Round 13, the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs both produced performances that signalled a potential turning point.
Despite the continued absence of Adam Reynolds and Glenn Stewart, Souths trounced the in-form Warriors 36-4 in Perth with arguably their most compelling display of their title defence to date. The Bulldogs snared a remarkable 29-16 victory over ladder leaders St George Illawarra after letting an early 10-0 advantage slip and losing captain James Graham to injury during the first half.
Last year’s Grand finalists will be the main challengers to the fast starters and surprise packets of the 2015 premiership.
Maxwell’s silver whistle
Jared Maxwell should have found himself refereeing Holden Cup this weekend after two of the most atrocious on-field decisions of the season went against the Warriors. Firstly, Maxwell called play-on to allow Rabbitoihs centre Bryson Goodwin to get to his feet and run in a bizarre try and open the scoring after clearly being tackled.
Then in the second half, the whistleblower somehow not only missed a blatant shepherd on the run, but failed to refer it to the video ref as Dylan Walker raced over for the first try of the second half. The Warriors’ dreadful performance, and consequent heavy defeat, saved Maxwell from a massive backlash for an incompetent display.
The support for Aidan Sezer after he was put on report for his, “You think you’re a tough c***, brah?” spray at opposing five-eighth Mitchell Moses has been baffling. Besides sounding like the archetypal ’roided-up, Gold Coast bogan, the Titans playmaker being cleared reeks of double standards. Current Tigers tyro Matt Lodge was banned for three weeks last year for writing the same word on his wrist strapping in the Under-20s Origin match; by those standards, Sezer deserved to be censured.
RIP Jerry Collins
Touching on-field tributes flowed from around the rugby union world following the tragic death of Jerry Collins and his wife in a car accident in France last week, but Parramatta centre Brad Takairangi showed the All Blacks and Hurricanes legend’s influence extends far beyond the realms of the 15-a-side code with his quiet nod to Collins after scoring a try on Monday night. RIP Jerry, a modern sporting great and a tremendous character; and a dynamic, devastating forward who I wished more than a few times would have given League a crack.
Underachiever of the week
After three straight nail-biting wins, the Warriors had a gilt-edged opportunity to make a statement against the Rabbitohs and consolidate a place in the top eight. But they saved their worst effort of the season so far for a bumper crowd full of disappointed expats in Perth, with dreadful handling and pathetic goal-line defence permeating their performance from start to finish. The Warriors have a 6-6 record at the halfway mark of the competition – above par compared to recent seasons – but all of their wins have come against teams in the bottom half of the table. The jury is still out on whether the erratic side is anywhere near finals material despite currently sitting in eighth spot.
Overachiever of the week
They produced a 20-12 boilover in Round 5 against the Roosters to notch their first win of the season, and the Sharks proved the heavyweights’ bogey yet again with a typically gritty 10-4 triumph on Sunday afternoon – just a week after being pumped 42-6 by the Dragons. Just when it appears safe to write the Sharks’ finals hopes off, they find a way to claw back into the frame.
My new favourite player
One player emerged from the Warriors’ disastrous trip to Perth with his reputation enhanced – winger Ken Maumalo. A late inclusion to make his second first grade appearance, the strapping 20-year-old made a team-high 15 runs and 149 metres and one of only two Warrior line-breaks. Another fine addition to the club’s stable of blockbusting outside-back talent.
Nathan Milone (Tigers): Debuting at centre, the 21-year-old Milone made 15 tackles and eight runs for 65 metres in a solid first outing for the struggling Tigers.
Manaia Cherrington (Tigers): Former Junior Kiwis captain Cherrington, one of the few Whangarei-born players to make it to the NRL, played 34 minutes off the bench at hooker and made 25 tackles and four dummy-half runs. The 20-year-old shapes as a potential long-term successor to Robbie Farah.
…Johnson’s record hat-trick: Gavin Cooper’s remarkable hat-trick – crossing three times from Johnathan Thurston kicks in just six minutes and 40 seconds – spearheaded the Cowboys’ phenomenal comeback at Pirtek Stadium, but it fell just short of a world record. Shaun Johnson posted the fastest hat-trick of all time against Canberra, dotting down three times in six minutes and 33 seconds at Mt Smart in late-2013.
…Johnson v Jennings: Speaking of the mercurial Johnson, he added Greg Inglis to the list of out-and-out flyers he has run down during his career, which includes Roosters speed machines Michael Jennings and Daniel Tupou. Ironically, Inglis somehow mowed down the roadrunner-like Johnson during Anzac Test.
Form Origin teams
Each week, we name the State of Origin line-ups that would take the field if form was the only criteria. Just four of NSW’s form 17 will line up at the MCG next week, while Queensland have picked nine of our side for game two.
NEW SOUTH WALES