Friday 15 December 2017 / 12:16 AM

Golden Points – NRL Round 19

Eels close the book on sorry Sandow chapter

Parramatta has made some horrible recruitment choices in recent years, overpaying for crocks, off-field miscreants and washed-up journeyman. But the tumultuous tale of Chris Sandow’s four-season stint with the club has undoubtedly been the costliest.

Sandow was hailed as the player that could finally fill Peter Sterling’s No.7 jumper after two decades of a revolving-door halfback policy. The livewire has had his moments in the blue-and-gold, but they have been buried under an avalanche of selfish and lazy performances, clashes with teammates and coaches, and constant troubles away from the field.

The Eels have paid Sandow a fortune, supported him and persevered with him. He has done nothing but throw it back in the hapless club’s face. One of the NRL’s most gifted playmakers, Friday’s reprehensible display against Canterbury was Sandow to a tee. The Super League-bound halfback will leave behind a chequered legacy of eight seasons, 160 games and plenty of highlight-reel moments – but not one finals appearance.

Big tests await Broncos sensations

It’s not in Wayne Bennett’s nature to heap hyperbolic praise upon his players, so when the veteran coach described Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford as the most exciting Broncos halves pairing since Langer and Walters – remembering that the gap between the duos was bridged by Darren Lockyer – it carries plenty of weight.

Hunt and Milford were dazzling again in the Broncos’ convincing win over Wests Tigers, and their combination is arguably the foremost reason why the club sits atop the NRL ladder. A top-four berth has virtually been sealed, but a true examination of their halves’ progress will come in September.

The 21-year-old Milford is yet to play finals football, while Hunt, 25, boasts just one start in a post-season match – last season’s qualifying final loss to the Cowboys. Even Langer and Walters, with significant rep footy experience behind them, struggled to make the step up in their first finals series as halves linchpins in 1990. The ability of Brisbane’s current dynamos to maintain their form under the finals blowtorch will be a fascinating subplot when the big end-of-season games roll around.

 

Video clangers continue to frustrate

How do they get it so wrong, so often? If your average fan – eight beers deep – can come up with the correct call sitting five metres from the TV, why do our video refs continue to butcher crucial decisions? The no-try call against Cronulla’s Andrew Fifita was latest in a long, long line of diabolical rulings by the men in the box; fortunately, it didn’t affect the eventual result – but the Sharks did require golden point to secure the win.

It’s as if the video refs are looking for something that isn’t there. The NRL and refs boss Tony Archer simply can’t keep ignoring the volume of dud video decisions that are overshadowing outstanding games of footy – not to mention threatening to ruin the Sharks’ season. Archer trots out the same buzzwords every week – ‘accountability’, ‘systems’, ‘processes’ – but the lack of improvement is unacceptable.

SKD mark on Roosters’ campaign

Sydney Roosters justified their title favouritism with a ruthless 24-0 shutout of the in-form Warriors on Sunday, displaying the brutal defence and blistering attack that swept the club to glory in 2013. But the standing down of Shaun Kenny-Dowall after the Kiwi international was charged with domestic assault has provided the Tricolours with an untimely disruption.

SKD, the longest-serving Rooster along with Mitchell Pearce and Mitch Aubusson, was in career-best touch and had formed a devastating right-side combination with Blake Ferguson. He is a renowned big-match player, scoring a vital try in the 2013 Grand Final while playing almost the entire match with a broken jaw. But the chances of Kenny-Dowall returning to the field this year would appear remote – and justifiably so, given the seriousness of the charges laid against him.

Brendan Elliott, his wing replacement on Sunday, looks to be a handy prospect, but it’s a big ask for a rookie to slot into a side at this late stage of the season and have the same impact. Trent Robinson may still opt to move Aubusson to centre and shift Ferguson out to the wing, but that would arguably limit the effectiveness of both players.

Underachiever of the week

Parramatta’s three-match winning streak and finals hopes turned to dust in a pathetic performance against Canterbury, crashing to a 28-4 loss despite having everything to play for. Kieran Foran can’t arrive soon enough – this Eels team desperately needs some backbone and a winning mentality, rather than relying on tricky ball-playing to carry them to victory.

Overachiever of the week

Melbourne put a four-match losing streak and the emotion of Cameron Smith’s 300th first grade appearance to one side to rack up a blistering 50-12 win over Penrith. It was a vintage Storm performance that suggested there may still be some life in the club’s 2015 campaign yet, despite the costly absence of Billy Slater. Cooper Cronk, Marika Koroibete, Kevin Proctor (who all scored two tries) and Will Chambers were particular standouts in a complete team effort.

My new favourite player

Valentine Holmes must be installed as Cronulla’s long-term fullback – the 19-year-old is an out-and-out match-winner. Besides becoming the first Sharks player to notch a double-figure try tally since 2008 – an extraordinary stat that underlines how long the club has been crying out for attacking talent of his ilk – Holmes now boasts two golden point field goals on his 22-game NRL résumé. He is the type of player a team can be built around, and the prospect of Holmes combining with creative types James Maloney and Chad Townsend in 2016 is mouth-watering for Sharks fans.

NRL positional power rankings

FULLBACK

1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

2 Greg Inglis

3 Brett Stewart

4 Darius Boyd

5 Josh Dugan

WING

1 Semi Radradra

2 Lachlan Maranta

3 Marika Koroibete

4 Curtis Rona

5 Valentine Holmes

CENTRE

1 Blake Ferguson

2 Will Chambers

3 Justin Hodges

4 Dylan Walker

5 Jack Reed

FIVE-EIGHTH

1 James Maloney

2 Blake Austin

3 Michael Morgan

4 Anthony Milford

5 Kieran Foran

HALFBACK

1 Johnathan Thurston

2 Shaun Johnson

3 Ben Hunt

4 Cooper Cronk

5 Daly Cherry-Evans

PROP

1 Jesse Bromwich

2 Andrew Fifita

3 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves

4 Ben Matulino

5 Sam Moa

HOOKER

1 Jake Friend

2 Cameron Smith

3 Issac Luke

4 Jake Granville

5 Nathan Friend

SECOND-ROW

1 Bryce Cartwright

2 Frank Pritchard

3 Josh Papalii

4 Wade Graham

5 Mitch Aubusson

LOCK

1 Corey Parker

2 Simon Mannering

3 Aidan Guerra

4 Jason Taumololo

5 Paul Gallen

BENCH UTILITY

1 Lewis Brown

2 Matt Parcell

3 Kurt Baptiste

4 Rory Kostjasyn

5 Jackson Hastings

[YouTube – NZAUTV Rugby League]

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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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