Saturday 16 December 2017 / 11:48 PM

GOLDEN POINTS: NRL ROUND 23

Real deal Raiders

It wasn’t that long ago when it was hard to take Canberra seriously as a top-four contender. Now they’re unquestionably a premiership threat, dismantling the NRL’s two best teams in the space of nine days. A blistering attacking unit, the Raiders’ Achilles heel was switching off in defence – but the lime-green wall they put up on Monday night to shut out Melbourne suggests they have the chops without the ball to go all the way in 2016.

The Raiders leaked 20 points or more in 10 of their first 16 games, but in their last five outings the Green Machine has conceded more than 14 points only once – due to a late lapse in a golden-point win over the Warriors. There’s a few flighty types in the Canberra line-up and a distinct lack of finals experience, but Ricky Stuart’s side is hitting peak form while others are floundering…and no team would be looking forward to taking on the Raiders in September.

More match review madness

Ryan James will only get one week for breaking James Tedesco’s jaw. Souths rookie Zane Musgrove faces the same penalty for an innocuous shoulder-charge on Albert Vete (who also happened to be storming at the defence with his shoulder cocked). Warriors cult hero Charlie Gubb is currently serving seven weeks for a shoulder-charge that the recipient described as a simply a good hit. Tyson Frizell missed a game for touching a referee in the most unthreatening manner possible. Josh Hodgson, meanwhile, escaped a ban for trying to twist Jesse Bromwich’s head off.

There’s not one person who watches, writes about or commentates rugby league that believes there is anything fair about any of these suspensions, particularly when they’re compared to one another. It’s embarrassing that the likes of Todd Greenberg and Michael Buettner can’t admit there is something gravely wrong with the match review and judiciary processes. It needs a complete overhaul, starting with the loading and grading systems. It won’t change, though, and unlucky players and teams will continue to pay the price.

McFadden forced into Tui rethink

Fans and media came down on Warriors coach Andrew McFadden like a ton of bricks for leaving Tui Lolohea on the bench for three weeks, but perhaps ‘Cappy’ knew best after all – the versatile youngster’s display at fullback against Souths was a stinker. Lolohea lacked urgency and positional sense as the Rabbitohs’ short kicking game terrorised the home side, while he also steered a kick-off out on the full, and came up with a dismal attempted tackle on Hymel Hunt before the centre streaked away for a critical try.

The 21-year-old has paid for his shocker with his first-grade spot, with David Fusitu’a returning to fullback and everyone’s favourite punching bag, Blake Ayshford, coming back into the centres. There’s not even a spot on the bench for Tui – he’s been named to play five-eighth for the club’s InTrust Super Premiership side, with McFadden acutely aware his team’s season is on the line this weekend. It’s a hell of a fall from grace for a player labelled by good judges in recent weeks as a future superstar, but with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck coming back from injury and Kieran Foran reportedly a big chance to arrive ahead of 2017, the in-demand Lolohea’s days at the Warriors may be numbered.

The Brett Morris conundrum

Morris has been in magnificent form on the Bulldogs’ flank since returning from a nine-month injury layoff, scoring nine tries in seven games. ‘B-Moz’ joined Canterbury on big coin and there must be a temptation to utilise his diverse talents at fullback, but the combination he is striking up with twin brother Josh on the right edge is arguably more valuable than returning him to the custodian role – even if Will Hopoate is still a hit-and-miss proposition in the No.1.

How low can Knights go?

After taking possession of the record for the longest losing streak of the NRL era, Newcastle has three rounds to avoid another piece of unwanted history. The Knights have just one win and one draw in the bank; the worst effort since the game’s reunification in 1998 is three wins (Western Suburbs in 1999, and South Sydney in 2003 and ’06. In fact, no team in the last nine seasons has finished with less than five wins. If the hapless Hunter boys lose their last three, their 1-22-1 record will be the worst since the Magpies went 1-23 in 1984. (Note: Gold Coast Seagulls went 1-21 in the 22-round 1993 premiership.)

Try of the week

Anthony Milford’s spellbinding return to form featured this incredible set-up for Corey Oates to score.

Underachiever of the week

The Warriors had not been beaten in regulation time in two and a half months and were playing like a genuine finals team. Their win over the Titans a week earlier was one of their grittiest performances in years. That’s why it was so disheartening to see them capitulate so meekly in the first half against a Souths side on a nine-match losing streak. After racing to a 6-0 lead and with so much to play for, the Warriors lost the plot to fall behind 31-6 by halftime in front of their dumbstruck home fans. It was only the second time in 10 games they’d conceded more than 19 points, throwing their finals plans into disarray.

Overachiever of the week

Speaking of form reversals, St George Illawarra had managed a grand total of 48 points in the previous five weeks – yet somehow managed to put 32 puts on a ragged Cronulla Sharks outfit that has followed up a 15-match winning streak with a draw and two big losses. The Dragons snapped a five-match losing run in remarkable style, outscoring the Sharks by 20 points in the second stanza after trailing 12-6 at the break.

My new favourite player

Is there an outside-back in better than Wests Tigers winger David Nofoaluma? The Newcastle-born, Campbelltown-raised flyer has scored 14 tries this year – including nine in his last nine games – and averages 135 metres a week, doing everything at 100 miles an hour and frequently coming up with game-breaking plays. Nofoaluma epitomises the mindset of the Tigers’ electric backline, and should be emerging as a smoky for Mal Meninga’s Four Nations quad at the end of the year. Rep selectors’ obsession with picking at least one non-winger on the flank will probably see the specialist overlooked, but with Semi Radradra sidelined, Tom Trbojevic likely to need off-season surgery, and Corey Oates and Blake Ferguson in erratic form, Nofoaluma should be a front-runner along with Josh Mansour and Brett Morris.

Shades of…

…Kevin Walters and Matt Gidley: There were hallmarks of two of the modern era’s finest attacking players in the try so expertly finished off by David Nofoaluma on Saturday. Mitchell Moses’ out ball to Kevin Naiqama had Kevin Walters to Steve Renouf written all over it, while Naiqama produced a trademark ‘Gidely flick’ to put his winger away.

[YouTube – NrL Highlights]

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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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