‘On report’ not enough
If the referees don’t have the kahunas to do anything more than penalise players and put them on report as it stands now, the NRL needs to throw down an edict that acts of foul play will get five or 10 minutes in the sin-bin. High tackles and dangerous tackles are permeating the game, with the aggrieved team receiving very little benefit; often they come off second-best as one of their players is left rattled or concussed.
Sure, there is the fear of suspension (not that there’s any consistency in that department) but where’s the benefit in that for the actual victims? If the NRL can bring in compulsory sin-bins for punching, they can bring it in for nasty tackles. There’s not too many aspects of rugby union I’d trade, but the 15-a-side code’s use of the sin-bin/yellow card system is certainly one of them.
I’d also like to see a dialogue opened – or even a trial in theNYC – about teamsbeing able to replace the sent-off player. The offending team would be down to a three-man bench and the offending player would be sufficiently punished by being taken out of the game (and still subject to judiciary charges), but it wouldn’t totally change the complexion of the match.
Judiciary a joke
How can young Junior Paulo be sidelined for nine weeks for his tackle on Matt Ballin when Beau Scott gets nothing for tipping Johnathan Thurston on his head? An emerging forward has had his season wrecked by a disgraceful kneejerk decision, while an Origin forward has been inexplicably let off for a tackle that looked decidedly similar to the one that left his club-mate in a wheelchair last year. The judiciary is a lottery with no sense of precedence, logic or morality.
Ref howlers destined to plague another season
Maybe ditching the pink shirts subliminally pacified us, but the referees were conspicuous by their lack of controversy and head-scratching calls in a series of Round 1 performances to be applauded. The honeymoon is well and truly over.
The contentious referral system – which dictates the on-field officials must call try or no-try before sending it to the video ref – was badly exposed in Bathurst, thwarting the Titans on two occasions when the man in the box didn’t have the bottle to overrule the original call despite having every reason to.
But it paled in comparison to the dog’s breakfast of a performance the refereeing crew dished up at Brookvale Oval. Inexplicably failing to refer what appeared to be a fair try to Melbourne winger Young Tonumaipea, Manly compounded the outrage when Brett Stewart crossed a minute later. (The commentators didn’t pick it up at the time, but freeze-frame that replay – I’m not convinced Stewart forced the ball, either.) The call to deny Storm forward Tim Glasby a crucial try for an alleged double-movement was diabolical in another example of a video ref second-guessing commonsense because of the on-field official’s compulsory, potentially unsighted, heat-of-the-moment call.
But perhaps worse than all of that was Tony Archer’s ridiculous avoidance and defence of his referees’ cock-ups. There’s no accountability or admittance of any mistakes, so we can only assume there’s no prospect of improvement.
Rabbits and Roosters streets ahead
Penrith has been outstanding, Canterbury and Parramatta have shown good signs and bad, while Newcastle is the surprise packet after two stirring upsets. But it will take a special performance to prevent the dream Grand Final showdown we’ve been denied in the last two seasons – a South Sydney and Sydney Roosters grudge match – taking place on the first Sunday in October.
The Rabbitohs and Roosters produced an early-season classic at ANZ Stadium, belying the usual rustiness and fatigue common in March with an encounter of September quality and intensity. The premiers of the last two seasons have both overcome major off-season departures to hit the ground running in 2015.
Souths have more reasons than most defending champs to fail to break the vaunted ‘premiers curse’ and go back-to-back: the loss of their two most senior forwards, centre sensation Kirisome Auva’a’s nine-month suspension, the Arizona arrest debacle and a captaincy change. But they’ve ticked every box to date. On the ropes on a couple of occasions against the Roosters – the first time since last year’s Grand Final the Rabbitohs have been tested – their composure and game-breaking class in fighting back to win 34-26 were hallmarks of the great club sides.
On the other side of the inner-Sydney fence, the Roosters will be bitterly disappointed to have let a match slip that they appeared to have in their keeping at 22-12 and 26-18. But, particularly after dismantling the Cowboys on the road in Round 1, the positives are far outweighing the negatives. A leadership void in an overwhelmingly young squad was a pre-season concern of those outside the club, but – in a quality that has been matched by some of their youthful Rabbitohs counterparts – the Roosters’ stars are stepping into the breach left by Anthony Minichiello and Sonny Bill Williams.
The competition’s fiercest rivals have not squared off in a premiership decider since 1935 but on the evidence provided so far, that drought is on the verge of ending.
Carney’s hollow victory
So Todd Carney won his unfair dismissal case against Cronulla. Well done, Todd, you’ve managed to prove the Sharks did not follow the correct process before justifiably sacking you after you were photographed pissing into your own mouth in a pub bathroom. Giving Carney a chance to front the board would have only delayed the inevitable – he had to go. Already sacked by two clubs for a string of misdemeanours ranging from immature to criminal, Carney was already on the outs with the Sharks for his inability to keep his nose clean.
As a player, he has been one of my favourites of the last decade, but the Carney sympathisers baffle me. The NRL never banned him – the fact of the matter is no club wanted to take on a ticking time-bomb that generates negative headlines and chews up a good chunk of the salary cap. Another club will probably take a punt on him given the lack of genuine top-quality halves available, and good luck to him. But any notion that the Sharks did the wrong thing by showing him the door last year is way off the mark. Carney’s attitude towards the incident – which was the straw that broke the camel’s back, not an isolated stuff-up – indicates he hasn’t learned his lesson.
Blues brimming with fullbacks
Remember when Queensland had all the NRL’s best fullbacks? Slater, Bowen, Hunt, Schifcofske, Boyd, Inglis – it was bordering on unfair. But NSW’s No.1 stocks at present are extraordinary, with players lining up to replace Jarryd Hayne. Matt Moylan, Brett Morris, Will Hopoate, Brett Stewart, Josh Dugan and Jack Wighton are all vying for the role. In fact, it’s conceivable that the Blues’ back-five could be made up entirely of club fullbacks – try this team sheet on for size: 1. Matt Moylan, 2. Brett Morris, 3. Will Hopoate, 4. Josh Dugan, 5. Jack Wighton.
Underachiever of the week
The Dragons are in deep trouble. As feared during the pre-season, their pack is toothless and their three-quarter line is disturbingly unthreatening – there’s no prospect of them competing with the top sides. A return of two tries in two rounds should have alarm bells ringing and coach Paul McGregor needs to take a punt on some promising youngsters, otherwise 2015 will be a waste of time.
Overachiever of the week
Manly received the benefit of some atrocious refereeing, but the club’s character shone through in Saturday night’s 24-22 victory over Melbourne. Beset by superstar departures, disharmony and injuries, the Sea Eagles were superb in a tough contest. Even Feleti Mateo stepped up after being pitched into the five-eighth role.
Eto Nabuli (Dragons): Made a strong debut in an ordinary side last Monday, latching onto a Benji Marshall grubber for his side’s only try and racking up 109 metres from 13 runs.
Jo Ofahengaue (Broncos): Afforded just 17 minutes, making 17 tackles and two hit-ups. Didn’t get a chance to truly unleash his trademark rampaging running game.
Kodi Nikorima (Broncos): Played 18 minutes at hooker, making 15 tackles and producing a line-break in a promising first outing.
My new favourite player
I’ve been waiting 25 years for a genuine star named Evans to emerge (without ‘Cherry’ and a hyphen in front of it) – journeyman forward Wayne Evans, lanky Cronulla winger Paul Evans and Gold Coast Chargers bench-man Doug Evans didn’t quite fit the namesake bill. But Sydney Roosters tyro Kane Evans sent me scrambling for the family tree on Sunday, such was the ferocity of his performance against the imposing Souths pack. In the David Klemmer mould, Evans’ stats of eight runs for 84 metres and 12 tackles does not capture the impact he made in just his 11th NRL appearance.
… Martin Bella: Big Marty came up with the most notoriously embarrassing play-the-ball in the game’s history during the 1994 Origin series opener.
But Dragons winger Jason Nightingale trumped Bella for the most bizarre ruck incident of all time last night, fulfilling dummy-half duties after he had played the ball. The only thing more baffling than the veteran’s actions was the referees’ failure to allow play to continue.
Rugby League trainspotters report
Penalty goal attempts from halfway and beyond are rarer than a slick backline move involving Dane Nielsen, so it was tremendous to see the Cowboys try and level the scores against the Knights on fulltime with a 57-metre attempt by Kyle Feldt. It was off-target but had the length and height – we’d love to see him have another crack in the future.
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.
NEW SOUTH WALES
- Manu Vatuvei’s try on Sunday night was his 13th in his last six games against the Raiders. ‘The Beast’, with 136 touchdowns in 196 games, is just six tries away from becoming the most prolific non-Australian try-scorer in premiership history. If he manages a double-figure tally this year, Vatuvei will be the first player ever to score 10 tries in 10 straight seasons.