Wednesday 21 March 2018 / 03:00 AM

Golden Points – NRL Round 20

Weekend of blowouts as heavyweights flex muscle

It was a perfect storm in Round 20 as the four best clubs in the competition took on the four worst sides – and Brisbane, North Queensland, Sydney Roosters and South Sydney exacted full toll, crushing lowly Gold Coast, Parramatta, Wests Tigers and Newcastle respectively by a combined 165 points to 18. While a stack of thrashings on the same weekend is, on the surface, not a great advertisement for the NRL, it was in some ways refreshing to see some sort of disparity between the strongest and weakest teams in a premiership that has become so even it has bordered on tedious.

Rub them out

The investigation is ongoing and some of the details are still being contested, but if Cronulla’s high-profile twins Andrew and David Fifita are proven to have abused or intimidated match officials at a Penrith A-grade game in any shape or form, both should be stood down for the rest of the year at the very least.

Recruiting and retaining referees is one of the biggest problems facing junior and grassroots Rugby League, largely due to the aggressive and threatening  behaviour of players and supporters. Two of the NRL’s most recognisable players exhibiting that same reprehensible behaviour at a park footy match simply can’t be tolerated.

Andrew Fifita, a Test and Origin star, has already accumulated a lengthy rap sheet of on- and off-field incidents where his temper has got the better of him. It seems the baffling popularity the brothers have garnered from their giggling appearances on The Footy Show has also provided them with the delusion that they have carte blanche to act however they want.

It was a disgrace Andrew was allowed to take the field against Canterbury on Sunday (coattail-rider David is not good enough to make the Sharks’ 17 at present), but Cronulla and the NRL – organisations that can both ill-afford another knock to their shaky image – can go some way to rectifying their painfully slow reaction to this incident by taking a hard-line stance.

Bromwich should beat bite charge (has since been acquitted)

If Josh Dugan ended up with a chunk out of his arm in St George Illawarra’s loss to Melbourne on Saturday night, he only has himself to blame for a grubby grapple tackle on Jesse Bromwich, who was referred straight to the judiciary on a biting charge. Dugan deserves everything he got for wrapping his arm around the prone Bromwich’s mouth and nose for several seconds. If the Storm front-rower doesn’t get exonerated on that basis, the NRL judiciary has lost all credibility.  

Cruellest break of all could be the Warriors’ making

The devastating irony of Shaun Johnson’s season-ending broken ankle injury is that it happened while scoring yet another sizzling, hot-stepping solo try. But perhaps even more than his match-turning individual brilliance, the Warriors will miss his direction, composure and leadership for the rest of 2015. The maturity and consistency he has added to his game this year have been the standout features of a fine campaign, and he was destined to leave a massive imprint on the finals before destroying England on the Kiwis’ end-of-year tour on his way to a second straight Golden Boot.

A tilt at the premiership now appears to be a fantasy for the long-underachieving club with its linchpin on the sidelines, but Andrew McFadden’s side has a gilt-edged opportunity to prove what it can do without relying on the crutch of Johnson. If the Warriors can make an unlikely charge to a top-eight finish it will set them up for seasons to come, particularly with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke joining the club and Johnson back on deck in 2016.

The talent is certainly there and the Warriors’ rough trot with injury this year has been undersold – they’ve barely fielded the same backline in consecutive weeks, while Thomas Leuluai, Ben Henry and Ngani Laumape were ruled out for the season long ago.

Tuimoala Lolohea – used extensively at fullback, wing and centre by McFadden to plug injury gaps, but a dominant force at five-eighth for the Warriors’ 2013-14 NYC Grand Final sides – steps into the No.7 hot-seat. His game-breaking talents will be vital, but from a playmaking and guidance perspective, Sam Tomkins and Chad Townsend are the players that need to step up in a big way. Manu Vatuvei, Konrad Hurrell and Ken Maumalo all return to the three-quarter line this week against in-form Cronulla, a match that will provide an insight to the character of this Warriors squad.

Sink like a Stone

You have to feel for Rick Stone, a talented and well-liked coach who stuck it out as an assistant to Wayne Bennett for three years so he could reassume the first grade reins at Newcastle. His second tenure in charge of the Knight lasted just 18 games, hamstrung by incompetent roster management that was out of his control and left him with an overabundance of NRL-quality outside-backs but an ordinary forward pack and dud halves.

Nevertheless, Stone is gone, and the hunt for a replacement heralds the beginning of a potentially exciting new era for a club that has failed to finish higher than seventh in the last nine seasons. Nathan Brown has the character and experience required, and is a worthy front-runner; it would be satisfyingly ironic if he turned the Knights around after Bennett – who replaced Brown at St George Illawarra in 2009 – failed. But don’t count Garth Brennan, a successful NYC and NSW Cup coach with Penrith, and the Ben and Shane Walker double-act out of the running for the all-important post.

Toovey sacking heralds tough road ahead for Manly

A major cleanout was required at Manly, but coach and club legend Geoff Toovey should never have been part of the forced exodus. Taking over from Des Hasler under difficult circumstances, Toovey has steered the Sea Eagles to three straight top-four finishes – including a Grand Final appearance – and still has his side in the finals mix despite possessing one of the weakest forward packs in the competition.

His anointed replacement, Trent Barrett, is by all accounts an outstanding, forward-thinking coaching prospect. But pitching an NRL novice into the head role at such a high-profile club could be disastrous for both parties. Barrett has only a year as Penrith’s NYC coach, two Country Origin campaigns and a NSW Origin assistant gig on his résumé.

From 2005-12, ultra-credentialed quartet Tim Sheens, Wayne Bennett, Craig Bellamy and Hasler were the only Grand Final-winning coaches. Trent Robinson and Michael Maguire, the successful coaches in 2013 and ’14 respectively, had long assistant apprenticeships and impressive Super League stints behind them before stepping into NRL roles. Expecting Barrett to deliver with his limited experience is incredibly optimistic, and shapes as yet another short-sighted decision by the dysfunctional Sea Eagles hierarchy.

Up the Duffie

How good was it to see luckless winger Matt Duffie return to NRL action with Melbourne on Saturday night after an 848-day absence following a wretched run with injury? Duffie, who made his sole Test appearance for the Kiwis in 2011, has not featured for the Storm since scoring two tries in a win over Broncos in Round 4 of 2013. It was the winger’s 54th first grade appearance after debuting back in 2010 but he now has the opportunity to cap his renaissance by playing finals footy this year.

Maroons’ No.9 depth off the charts

While NSW was forced to replace the injured, ageing Robbie Farah with the even ageing-er Michael Ennis in the recent Origin decider due to a lack of viable options, Queensland’s hooking stocks are brimming. Brilliant trio Jake Friend, Jake Granville and James Segeyaro are all waiting for their debut opportunity behind the legendary Cameron Smith. It’s a key positional quandary that looms as a genuine issue for the Blues for years to come.

Underachiever of the week

Newcastle was the worst of a bunch of badly beaten sides in Round 20, throwing in the towel against South Sydney to effectively seal Rick Stone’s fate with a 52-6 loss. It could have been much uglier for the Knights, who trailed 36-6 at halftime.

Overachiever of the week

The injury to Shaun Johnson overshadowed Manly’s victory, but the 32-12 result in favour of the Sea Eagles surely ranks as one of the most courageous team efforts of the season. After a tumultuous week where 14 players – including six that lined up at Mt Smart – and their coach were reportedly told they were unwanted for next season, the then 13th-placed Sea Eagles finished with an empty bench after being hit by a succession of injuries at one of the most imposing away venues in the NRL. The quality of the win rendered it Manly’s best of 2015 so far; the adversity the side faced during the match made it arguably the most remarkable by any team this year.

My new favourite player

The current Sea Eagles pack may not be up to NRL contender standard, but they have unearthed one out of the box in young Jake Trbojevic. The 21-year-old made 28 tackles, 26 runs for 238 metres and scored a try in a mammoth 71-minute front-row display after injuries cleared Manly’s interchange contingent.

Shades of…

…Benji Marshall: Michael Ennis running the ball backwards and over the sideline in the dying seconds to confirm Cronulla’s tight win over Canterbury is not a new tactic, but it doesn’t always end smoothly. Benji Marshall made sure of Wests Tigers’ 26-22 win over the Warriors at Mt Smart in 2011 by running the ball back over the dead-ball line, sparking a fiery in-goal brawl.

NRL positional power rankings


1 Greg Inglis

2 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

3 Lachlan Coote

4 Darius Boyd

5 Brett Stewart


1 Jorge Taufua

2 Marika Koroibete

3 Lachlan Maranta

4 Valentine Holmes

5 Edrick Lee


1 Dylan Walker

2 Blake Ferguson

3 Will Chambers

4 Michael Jennings

5 Justin Hodges


1 Anthony Milford

2 James Maloney

3 Michael Morgan

4 Blake Austin

5 Kieran Foran


1 Johnathan Thurston

2 Ben Hunt

3 Cooper Cronk

4 Daly Cherry-Evans

5 Mitchell Pearce


1 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves

2 Jake Trobjevic

3 Jesse Bromwich

4 Sam Thaiday

5 Paul Vaughan


1 Jake Granville

2 Jake Friend

3 Josh Hodgson

4 Andrew McCullough

5 Michael Ennis


1 Kevin Proctor

2 Josh Papalii

3 Wade Graham

4 Gavin Cooper

5 Bryce Cartwright


1 Jason Taumololo

2 Corey Parker

3 Aiden Guerra

4 Shaun Fensom

5 Simon Mannering


1 Lewis Brown

2 Kurt Baptiste

3 Rory Kostjasyn

4 Kodi Nikorima

5 Matt Parcell

[YouTube – NRL Hub]

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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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