Thursday 17 August 2017 / 07:53 AM

GOLDEN POINTS: NRL ROUND 14

In this week’s Golden Points, WILL EVANS gives his take on the Queensland Origin shake-up, the judiciary fine system and Jarrod Wallace’s impending fate, the other guilty party in the Uate try fiasco, the Raiders’ ongoing stumbles, damning stats on Tui Lolohea, and kudos for the newest member of the 300 club. 

Queensland’s hatchet job

Queensland’s success throughout State of Origin history has been built on a bedrock of loyalty – but that doesn’t mean the Maroons condone failure. Substandard club form has been tolerated…provided the players continue to produce on the rep stage.

Kevin Walters gave his troops another chance for Game 1 – against the best judgement of many – and after Queensland’s biggest-ever home defeat in Origin changes had to be made. Six axings plus an injury change was more than just about anyone anticipated, but the Maroons have picked a side that can at least create a bit of uncertainty in a NSW squad whose confidence is at a 12-year high.

Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston will make an enormous difference, and while Darius Boyd may be the best fullback in the NRL, he’s also the finest winger in Origin history. The selection of debutants Coen Hess, Tim Glasby, Valentine Holmes and Jarrod Wallace (judiciary appearance pending) is inspired, while Gavin Cooper’s combination with Thurston is a trump card.

Corey Oates was desperately unlucky after a strong performance in Game 1, but Holmes and Slater arguably should have been there for the series opener anyway; it was a tough and brave call to leave Oates out. Sam Thaiday can feel hard done by – the 29-game veteran, although unimpressive in Game 1, has been excellent for the Broncos and was brought off the bench in Origin for the first time since 2009.

Fine system falls short

The ‘he doesn’t deserve to miss an Origin for that’ argument doesn’t wash with me. Jarrod Wallace is blatantly guilty of a shoulder-charge, and – as much as I would like to see the tyro debut next week –under the current laws he should be rubbed out of Game 2. That doesn’t necessarily mean the judiciary won’t bottle it and let him play, but I digress.

The NRL unveiled a new judiciary code at the start of the year, introducing $1,500 fines for some Grade 1 charges: tripping, careless high tackles, contrary conduct and detrimental conduct. Shoulder charges – along with striking, kicking, dangerous throws and dangerous contact – weren’t included in the revamp.

But why weren’t they included? Granted, they are more serious charges – so why not just make the fine bigger? It’s still a decent chunk of change, certainly enough to act as a big deterrent, and it would mean players like Wallace don’t miss big games for relatively low-damage incidents.

Match Review Table

Media to blame for Uate try bungle

The touch judge, video referee, Tony Archer or whoever is to blame for Akuila Uate’s ‘try’ not being sent to the Bunker on Friday night is undoubtedly responsible for the one of the biggest officiating blunders of 2017. There is no excuse.

But I can’t help but think the decision to make the live call was significantly influenced by the media’s – particularly TV commentators – obsession with the refs backing themselves more and making a call. The stop-start nature of some games is frustrating, but it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the dissatisfaction of being on the wrong end of a match-turning decision because a ref has tried to be the hero and appease Gould, Gasnier et al.

If there’s one area the maligned Bunker has improved in its second season, it’s the speed of which they come back with their verdicts; if there’s even a grain of doubt, send it upstairs.

Tui’s ratio

Discarded Warrior Tuimoala Lolohea scored a good try against the Roosters on Sunday, but his arrival at the Tigers hasn’t exactly been the season-changer some were anticipating. Finally, Australian pundits and fans will realise Lolohea is not the budding spine superstar they think he is; he’s a versatile, spare-parts player, but not good enough to be a regular starting half or fullback at NRL level.

Tui has started at fullback, five-eighth or halfback in 32 NRL games and has finished on the winning side just nine times; he’s also 0-3 at Test level. He is a valuable three-quarter line staple – I still think centre could be his best position, and he has a 10-8 first grade record starting at wing or centre – but the prospects of the 22-year-old adequately filling the giant hole James Tedesco will leave in the Tigers’ line-up are bleak.

It’s not easy been Green

If you weren’t hoodwinked by Penrith’s razzle-dazzle when making your pre-season premiership predictions, chances are you backed Canberra to salute in 2017 (for the record, I tipped the Roosters). And why not? A well-balanced, deep roster with unparalleled firepower, a style that is very difficult to combat, and outstanding team spirit accompanied by stacks of belief.

But the Raiders, a deserved top-four finisher in 2016 and so close to a grand final appearance, can’t get it together this year. Five losses by six points or less – including three in golden point – culminating in Saturday’s choke-of-the-year against the Panthers represents way too many lost opportunities for a team that should be contending for the title, not scrounging for spot at the bottom of the eight.

Linchpin hooker Josh Hodgson has been down a bit on his blistering 2016 form, which has exposed Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer’s shortcomings as authoritative game-controlling halves, while there’s a handful of breakout stars from last year who aren’t quite aiming up under the blowtorch of expectation.

Warriors pack stands up

I feared the worst as the Warriors headed to the Gold Coast minus easily their best front-rower, James Gavet, to take on a big and powerful Titans pack. But the Warriors belatedly rediscovered their power game to dominate the Titans in the middle.

Jacob Lillyman and Ben Matulino combined for 265 metres, while bench props Sam Lisone and Albert Vete provided excellent impact – and unsurprisingly Kieran Foran and ruthlessly criticised duo Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck had storming games in a 34-12 drubbing.

But whether the Warriors can back it up and go on a trademark mid-season run, as we know, is no certainty.

Hoff the hook

Bringing up 300 NRL games is an extraordinary feat by any measure, but it should be remembered that Ryan Hoffman also spent a year in Super League in the wake of Melbourne’s salary cap fiasco – he’s a true ironman.

Already told he has no place at the Warriors next year, Hoffman hasn’t exactly been the blue-chip acquisition many had hoped after heading across the Tasman on big coin. But the 33-year-old has run into some great form of late, scoring six tries this season (his highest tally in the previous four years is just four) and getting back to his hole-running best.

Round 14 Impressions

BRONCOS: An ugly win over a committed Souths side to arrest a two-game slide. These are the games the true contenders get the results in, especially at this time of the year. Milford’s injury could be big.

RAIDERS: A soul-destroying loss. The Raiders just don’t seem to want it enough this year, which goes against everything in the culture Ricky Stuart’s side has built up in the past two years.

BULLDOGS: Another remarkable bounce-back after one of the club’s toughest weeks since the SBW walkout nine years ago. Their attack is still woeful, but a great defensive effort against the Dragons and plenty of energy on both sides of the ball.

SHARKS: It looked like the Sharks had snuck away with another late victory via a James Maloney field goal, but they went to sleep on the under-strength Storm. A good wake-up call.

TITANS: Very, very disappointing against the erratic Warriors. Clocked off badly in defence at the back end of the first half and the game was as good as over. The finals look beyond the Titans at this stage.

SEA EAGLES: Grafted it out – with a little help from substandard officiating – and will be relieved to walk away from a danger game with the two points.

STORM: An outstanding performance without Cooper Cronk. Held scoreless for well over an hour but still found something in the tank to produce a match-winner after falling behind for the first time inside the last 10 minutes. All class.

KNIGHTS: Another hard-luck tale for the Knights. Again their effort couldn’t be faulted, but a 2-11 record doesn’t pay the bills.

WARRIORS: Arguably their best all-round performance of the season. Took their opportunities after a tightly-contested first quarter, and kept their cool when Hayne and co threatened to drag the Titans back into the contest in the second half. A benchmark effort they need to produce week to week.

COWBOYS: Probably their most dominant display of 2017, and more importantly a stellar comeback from Thurston. They’re always a chance with JT on the paddock.

EELS: Travelled to Darwin but left their footy talents back in Sydney. A real step backward for an Eels side that has struggled to build momentum all year.

PANTHERS: Somehow have climbed their way into the eight, conjuring four straight wins – three of which contained barely 40 minutes of adequate football. Could be a real danger if they consistently put it together for the full 80.

DRAGONS: Hot favourites on Monday but just couldn’t crack the Bulldogs, held try-less in a 16-2 loss. Need to regroup quickly with three other teams tied with them for fourth spot.

RABBITOHS: A big effort against the heavyweight Broncos that again came up just short. The Bunnies just don’t have it together in the spine this year, and at 4-9 you’d have to think their finals chances are toast.

ROOSTERS: Took longer than expected to put the Tigers away, but the Roosters showed they can rack up quick points with the best of them. Well-placed for a top-two finish.

TIGERS: Another tough day at the office for the Tigers, who already look like they’ve put the cue in the rack for 2017.

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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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