In this week’s Golden Points, WILL EVANS proposes a change to the send-off laws, looks at Des Hasler’s prospects of surviving the upcoming Bulldogs board meeting, and praises performances by Mason Lino and Matt Dufty that have pitched them right into 2018 line-up calculations at their respective clubs.
Soliola hit highlights need for send-off change
The send-off parameters need a major overhaul after yet another team was left significantly disadvantaged by their opposition’s foul play – Canberra forward Sia Soliola’s late and high shot that KO’d Billy Slater and left Melbourne with a three-man bench for the last half-hour.
For many years referees have been reluctant to send players off, with only the most severe actions – or a rare rush of blood from a whistle-blower – earning an early shower. And it’s understandable, with the ramifications for a team having to play on with 12 men massive in the modern game. But it’s not fair for a side, like the Storm on Saturday night, to receive no recompense.
Soliola will likely cop a lengthy ban (probably longer than he actually deserves, given the furore in recent days), which only benefits the teams the Raiders plays next.
The obvious solution – which had a groundswell of support after a rash of dubious send-offs during the 1987 premiership – is to give referees a free rein to dismiss players, with help from the Bunker, and provisions for that player to be replaced. The team in question would use an interchange (perhaps two) and be down to a three-man bench. Seems inherently fair at the very least given the rough hand the Storm were dealt.
There will always be blurred lines when it comes to send-offs, but the Soliola-Slater incident was so cut-and-dried, and we’ve seen many like it where the balance would be restored by this simple law change.
I made the same point last year after Martin Tapau sent Jack Bird to Disneyland and the previous season following Tyson Frizell’s sickening high shot on Tim Browne, which earned one- and two-match suspensions respectively, but no send-off – despite Bird and Browne being wiped out of the game. The NRL’s (quite rightly) strict concussion guidelines make a redraw of the send-off rules a no-brainer.
Who doesn’t love a coach blowing up in the press conference? It’s not my 10 grand, after all. But Ricky Stuart’s meltdown after the Raiders’ loss to the Storm was bizarre to say the least. The most fined coach in NRL history, Stuart alluded to a couple of borderline decisions that went against the Green Machine…yet managed to gloss over the fact his team should have had to play with 12 men for most of the second half. Memo ‘Sticky’: just because your team plays well and tries hard, doesn’t mean they necessarily deserve to win.
Des is done
On April 4, Canterbury announced – to the consternation of many – that coach Des Hasler’s ailing reign had been extended until the end of 2019. Since then, the Bulldogs have five of 13 games (two of those victories coming against last-placed Newcastle) and failed to score more than 24 points.
Nothing has improved. Hasler’s head is still in the dirt in regards to his outdated style of play. The roster is all sorts and even their better players look stale.
The best outcome for everyone involved would be for the Canterbury board to cut ties with Des when they meet this week – and it may be the most astute move for their own skins with a rival ticket gathering steam.
— James Hooper (@jimmyhooper) July 24, 2017
Des Hasler makes his presentation to the Canterbury Bulldogs board. pic.twitter.com/LEq1lXTxCj
— Fake Dave Smith (@FakeDavidSmith) July 24, 2017
Knights building something special
After repeatedly striking out with some of the biggest off-contract names in the NRL, it appears the tide is turning for Newcastle. Connor Watson is the latest blue-chip player to commit to the Hunter from 2018, joining Kalyn Ponga, Aidan Guerra, Tautau Moga, Herman Ese’ese and mid-season pick-up Shaun Kenny-Dowall.
The Knights are still a little skinny up front, but snaring Watson was a huge coup – particularly if they’re able to pair him with James Maloney. This is by far the biggest spending spree in the club’s history, and with enthusiastic young talent like Nathan Ross, Mitch Barnett, the Mata’utia brothers and the Saifiti twins improving massively in 2017, the Knights could be the big movers in next year’s premiership.
— Newcastle Knights (@NRLKnights) July 24, 2017
Mason lodges application to fill Foran hole
The Warriors’ gut-wrenching loss to the Cowboys on Saturday has effectively put paid to any slim hope they had of playing finals footy this year, but the performance of halfback fill-in Mason Lino was a significant silver lining.
The lower grade mainstay hadn’t played at NRL since the final round of 2015, and the composure and maturity of his display in Townsville – in particular his kicking game – was first-rate.
Ata Hingano has been anointed by most as Kieran Foran’s logical No.6 successor for 2018, but the 23-year-old Lino is locked in at the Warriors until the end of 2019 and his steady style may be the better foil for the brilliant-but-flighty Shaun Johnson.
“It’s a massive learning curve for me” – Mason Lino on his NRL return.#NRLCowboysWarriors
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) July 24, 2017
Up the Dufty
Has there been a more eye-catching debut by a player in 2017 – or by a fullback ever – than Matt Dufty’s all-action NRL introduction on Sunday? Of course, it’s always easier to debut in a 52-22 win than it is in a cliff-hanger, but the lightweight custodian looks to be one out of the box.
A lot of people are freaking out about Josh Dugan leaving Wollongong, but it gives Paul McGregor and co. the opportunity to groom someone without the Test and Origin star’s limitations. Dufty, while still a dazzling ball-runner, seems to have genuine vision and playmaking instincts, which is an area Dugan lets the Saints down.
— NRL (@NRL) July 24, 2017
Critics will point out his lack of size, but the early indications are Dufty will join the likes of Bowen, Hodgson and Coote as a top-class pocket-sized fullback. There’s also a guy called Churchill that turned out to be a pretty decent No.1 despite being in the diminutive category.
BRONCOS: Withstood some early Bulldogs pressure and ran away with it in the second half. The Broncos appear to be timing their run nicely, and there’s some prized cattle still to return from injury. Big premiership smoky.
RAIDERS: As their coach said in his press conference spray, that was one of the Raiders’ best performances of 2017. Still not good enough to beat the Storm, though, and they’ll likely have to win their last six to squeak into the eight.
BULLDOGS: Good start…and that’s about it in the positives column. When their defence shows as much aptitude as their attack, the Bulldogs are an ugly, ugly side to watch.
SHARKS: Got the job done with a minimum of fuss against Souths. The Sharks look to be biding their time, hoping to secure that top-four finish before going on another September run.
TITANS: That loss at Pepper Stadium hurt. With an ounce of luck, the Titans could have pulled a win out of the hat and still been in the finals hunt. Now they’re in the mathematical chance category.
SEA EAGLES: An aberration that shouldn’t worry Trent Barrett too much. The Sea Eagles have proved themselves as a gritty defensive outfit all season, and this just seemed like a really bad day at the office. They’d prefer to avoid the Dragons in the semis, though – the combined score in the clubs’ two clash this year reads 87-32 in favour of the Red V.
STORM: Overcame injuries to Slater and Smith to carve out a typical Storm win over a desperate opponent. Deserve another minor premiership and probably will get it.
KNIGHTS: Summed up their season. Plenty of effort, but a rough call or two and they unravelled. Destined for a third straight spoon, but they’re far from the worst team in the comp to watch.
WARRIORS: If the Warriors showed that much heart in every game this season they’d be entrenched in the eight. Devastating not to get the result given where it leaves them on the ladder, but provided the team with a blueprint to finish 2017 with a flourish.
— NRL (@NRL) July 24, 2017
COWBOYS: A titanic defensive display underpinned an important win over the Warriors, who they held scoreless in the second half. The Cowboys are playing for each other and their Thurston-less run has turned into one of the most interesting subplots of the season.
PANTHERS: Their climb continues, and it’s hard to back against them bumping the Dragons or Eels out of the eight by the end of the season. Still searching for an 80-minute performance, but they’re picking up the two points far more often than not these days.
EELS: Got the two points, but gee it was ugly. The season-ending injury to Clint Gutherson means the Eels walked away from their one-point eclipse of the Tigers on the debit side of the ledger, despite consolidating their place in the top eight.
DRAGONS: Showed what they can do when it all clicks, and underlined their massive improvement with the ball in hand this year. Still vulnerable with the surging Panthers only two points adrift, but the eighth-placed Saints may just have got their finals bid back on track.
RABBITOHS: A performance we’ve seen all too often in 2017 from the Bunnies. Sitting in 14th place, which feel about right given what they’ve offered up this year.
ROOSTERS: Had more trouble than expected with the Knights, but took care of business to hang onto second spot. Need to find another gear before the serious stuff starts, but currently well-placed for a run at the crown.
TIGERS: Very unlucky not to pick up their fifth win of the season, but the Tigers really are limping towards the finish line.
— NRL (@NRL) July 25, 2017