Tuesday 17 October 2017 / 03:06 PM

Golden Points – NRL Round 22

The send-off is back!

The NRL’s referees have been under fire all season for their reluctance to use the send-off option for glaring instances of foul play – instead taking the easy way out and putting players on report – but Canberra prop David Shillington made it a straightforward decision for whistleblower Jared Maxwell in Monday’s extraordinary clash with Wests Tigers by unloading with a blatant headbutt on Wests Tigers’ Aaron Woods.

Shillington, who was making his 200th NRL appearance, became the first player to be sent off since Newcastle’s Kade Snowden in Round 24 of 2013, when he was marched for breaking North Queensland utility Ray Thompson’s jaw with an errant shoulder. Now the send-off monkey is off the refs’ back, perhaps it will be used more frequently and judiciously.

Tedesco destined for greatness

Queensland guns Greg Inglis and Billy Slater are still the standard-bearers, NSW’s Josh Dugan is brilliant in his unorthodox way, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is set to be New Zealand’s No.1 for a decade, and Matt Moylan will be back from injury bigger and better. But James Tedesco has all the tools required to develop into the game’s dominant fullback.

Three line-breaks, a 65-metre try, a sensational match-winning assist and 217 running metres against the Raiders last night showed what the Tigers custodian can do when he gets the opportunity to play behind a pack that holds its own. There’s no more exciting or dangerous player in open space, while his ball-playing and passing skills have improved out of sight in 2015. Tedesco seems to be past the injury problems that plagued the early seasons of his career and on a path to representative rewards.

Bolters emerge, heavyweights falter

Momentum is everything heading into the finals and Round 22 threw up some alarming results as Manly, Cronulla and St George Illawarra continued their charge from mid-table and top-four sides Brisbane, North Queensland and South Sydney all suffered disappointing losses.

The ladder-leading Broncos have now lost two on the trot, the Cowboys suffered their first defeat with Johnathan Thurston in the side since Round 3, and the Rabbitohs again surrendered any impetus they had built up by again failing to notch up four straight wins in their shaky title defence.

The Eels (2009), Roosters (2010), Warriors (2011) and Bulldogs (2014) have all reached the Grand Final from sixth or lower in the past six seasons, so any top-eight team carrying good form into September is going to be a huge danger in the finals.

Kneejerk NRL duds Matulino and Mason

The shoulder-charge clearly has no place in the code anymore, but the NRL has dropped the ball big time by letting Kane Evans avoid time on the sidelines after his blatant shot on Sam Kasiano, before rubbing out Ben Matulino and Willie Mason for far less serious offences only days later.

The Match Review Committee giving Evans a reprieve defies belief; the edict that came down from Dave Smith last week only reiterated that the shoulder-charge was illegal – it wasn’t a new rule. Now Matulino and Mason – facing minimum three- and two-game bans respectively – are about to pay the price for that bungle as the NRL frantically tries to cover its tracks.

What a difference a month makes

After 18 rounds, the Warriors had climbed into the top four for the first time since 2011, Shaun Johnson was the hottest player in the competition and a return to the finals appeared a fait accompli. Four subsequent rounds have garnered four bitterly disappointing losses, Johnson is sidelined for the rest of the year with a broken ankle and the club’s season is in tatters, with their prospects of winning another game – let alone winning them all to scrape into the playoffs – are minimal. 

After chalking up six victories in eight rounds as they went on a trademark mid-season charge, the Wah-wahs have conceded 110 points and scored just 26 in their last four outings. The Warriors had not been held scoreless since 2009 – and had been left on the doughnut just four times in their history – but the Roosters and Dragons have consigned the vaunted attacking unit to zero twice in the past month.  

Underachiever of the week

The Warriors’ performance against St George Illawarra was as bad as any side has produced all year and was an insult to their loyal fans that braved miserable conditions in windy Wellington to come out and see their team. A lack of urgency and commitment in defence in attack and defence contributed to one of the darkest days in the club’s 21-season history. Lauded for his early-season performances, five-eighth Chad Townsend has apparently already checked out of the Shaky Isles as he looks towards a return to Cronulla.

Overachiever of the week

For the third week in a row, the gong resoundingly goes to Manly after the resurgent outfit trounced South Sydney 28-8 on Friday night. The Sea Eagles are now only one win out of the top eight, and with a decent remaining draw ahead of them, they are set to make further mockery of the club’s disgraceful decision to cut coach Geoff Toovey loose by qualifying for the finals. Manly has now outscored the Warriors, Broncos and Rabbitohs by 104 points to 34 in the past three weeks.  

My new favourite player

Is there a more valuable backline utility in the NRL than Peta Hiku? Outstanding at fullback when required by Manly and a triumphant No.1 for the Kiwis in last year’s Four Nations, the Warriors NYC graduate is an incumbent Test centre, and scored a hat-trick in his more regular spot on the wing for the Sea Eagles on Friday night. Gutsy, consistent, versatile and an excellent finisher.

NRL positional power rankings

FULLBACK

1 James Tedesco

2 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

3 Jack Wighton

4 Brett Stewart

5 Cameron Munster

WING

1 Jorge Taufua

2 Peta Hiku

3 Semi Radradra

4 Valentine Holmes

5 Daniel Tupou

CENTRE

1 Michael Jennings

2 Jamie Lyon

3 Gerard Beale

4 Blake Ferguson

5 Tim Simona

FIVE-EIGHTH

1 Gareth Widdop

2 Kieran Foran

3 Jack Bird

4 James Maloney

5 Anthony Milford

HALFBACK

1 Cooper Cronk

2 Daly Cherry-Evans

3 Ben Hunt

4 Johnathan Thurston

5 Jeff Robson

PROP

1 Jake Trobjevic

2 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves

3 Jesse Bromwich

4 Leeson Ah Mau

5 Aaron Woods

HOOKER

1 Mitch Rein

2 Jake Friend

3 Jake Granville

4 Michael Ennis

5 Michael Lichaa

SECOND-ROW

1 Wade Graham

2 Bryce Cartwright

3 Tyson Frizell

4 Kane Evans

5 Kevin Proctor

LOCK

1 Corey Parker

2 Paul Gallen

3 Aiden Guerra

4 Josh Jackson

5 Jason Taumololo

BENCH UTILITY

1 Tyler Randell

2 Kurt Baptiste

3 Rory Kostjasyn

4 Kodi Nikorima

5 Siliva Havili

[YouTube – Moshmulla NRL time]

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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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