Tuesday 26 September 2017 / 10:53 PM

Golden Points – NRL Round 24

Sharks and Bulldogs make their move

While virtually every other premiership hopeful took a step backwards in Round 24 via injury disasters or disappointing losses, Cronulla and Canterbury cemented their title ambitions with powerful wins. Momentum and continuity is everything at this time of the year, and the Sharks and Bulldogs appear to be hitting their straps at precisely the right time. Meanwhile, Melbourne and Manly suffered inexplicable losses, North Queensland and Sydney Roosters were rocked by injuries, and Brisbane and South Sydney endured confidence-sapping defeats to fellow heavyweights.

Injury impact – how the contenders’ health stacks up

Several teams’ premiership chances were thrown into disarray after a chaotic round of high-profile injury setbacks and judiciary charges. We’ve assessed the damage to see which contenders are in the best shape as the finals loom.

Sydney Roosters: Dealt a double-blow via pack leader Jared Waerea-Hargreaves’ season-ending ACL injury and co-captain Mitchell Pearce’s hamstring tear that could keep him out until the grand final. The Roosters boast plenty of front-row depth, however, with JWH’s fellow Kiwi Sam Moa set to return from a wrist injury this week and mid-season acquisition Suaia Matagi waiting for a call-up. Jackson Hastings has bigger boots to fill as he takes over from Pearce in the halves. Michael Jennings’ likely absence this week due to a high-tackle suspension makes the assignment against Manly a little tougher, while uncertainty continues to cloud Shaun Kenny-Dowall’s return date.

 

Brisbane Broncos: Boast one of the healthiest rosters, particularly after last weekend’s carnage. Jack Reed and Lachlan Maranta were rested against the Roosters and should be back for Thursday’s clash with Souths. Darius Boyd copped a nasty blow to his back on Saturday but managed to finish the match. The Broncos have covered for Josh McGuire’s season-ending Achilles injury superbly.

 

North Queensland Cowboys: The Cowboys are sweating on the diagnosis of Origin stars James Tamou (neck) and Michael Morgan (ankle), who both left Mt Smart Stadium via medicab on Saturday night. The club possesses plenty of solid young forwards to shore up the potential loss of Tamou, but Robert Lui or Ray Thompson would have to be recalled if Morgan is out – unless Paul Green wants to gamble on moving in-form fullback Lachlan Coote to pivot. Kyle Feldt’s hat-trick while filling in for Matthew Wright emphasised the Cowboys’ depth out wide, despite Tautau Moga’s season-ending knee injury.

 

South Sydney Rabbitohs: Greg Inglis is set to miss Thursday’s blockbuster against Brisbane after hobbling off in the disappointing loss to Canterbury. Issac Luke and Luke Keary will return from suspension as the defending champs attempt to cling to an all-important top-four spot. The return of Adam Reynolds, Glenn Stewart, John Sutton and Kyle Turner from lengthy injury layoffs, along with the mid-season acquisition of former Gold Coast utility Paul Carter, has provided a boost to the Rabibtohs’ shaky title defence.

 

Cronulla Sharks: The Sharkies are comparatively healthy as they chase a spot in the top four, with Ben Barba and Andrew Fifita the only first-choice players unavailable. Barba is set for a Round 26 return, but the side is arguably better without him coming off the bench. The troubled Fifita will return from suspension in the first week of the finals.

 

Melbourne Storm: Cameron Munster’s rapid improvement has softened the blow of losing Billy Slater for the season, while rugged front-rower Jordan McLean was a late inclusion for Round 24. Bewildering losses to the lowly Tigers and Knights in recent weeks have been more damaging to Melbourne’s title hopes than any injury setbacks.

 

Canterbury Bulldogs: The 2014 runners-up appear to be hitting top form at the right time, despite a rough trot with injuries. Unheralded hooker Damien Cook was superb in the win over Souths after coming into the side for Michael Lichaa, who has been ruled out for the year. Workhorse front-rower Aiden Tolman is currently sidelined indefinitely with a hamstring injury, putting the onus on the likes of youngsters Shaun Lane and Lloyd Perrett. Tony Williams is done for 2015 due to a pectoral injury, but the Bulldogs are perhaps better off without his enigmatic efforts. Josh Reynolds is scheduled to return in coming weeks, with the bench utility duties his most likely role.

 

St George Illawarra Dragons: The Saints are stumbling towards the finals, needing only to overcome the Titans and Tigers to qualify. Season-ending injuries to Dan Hunt and Will Matthews have eroded their forward stocks, while Jake Marketo will miss this week thanks to a dangerous throw suspension. Tyson Frizell escaped a ban for a bizarre trip with an early guilty plea – but the damaging second-rower can’t afford any further transgressions. The Dragons’ wing stocks are low with Jason Nightingale and Eto Nabuli out indefinitely; Dylan Farrell and Justin Hunt are currently manning the flanks.

 

Manly Sea Eagles: The Sea Eagles’ valiant late-season charge appears to have come up short of a finals finish after an upset loss to Parramatta on Sunday; they need the Dragons to lose one of their remaining games, while also overcoming the heavyweight Roosters and Sharks by healthy margins themselves. Stalwart hooker Matt Ballin added his name to a season-ending injury list that includes Jamie Buhrer, Clint Gutherson and Luke Burgess. Willie Mason returns from suspension this week, while Dunamis Lui and Tom Symonds could be available after recent injury layoffs.

 

Roger on a golden path

With Johnathan Thurston plateauing in recent weeks, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is the hottest player in the NRL right now, even challenging Greg Inglis’ mantle as the world’s best fullback in his first full season in the No.1 jumper. RTS’ toughness, work-rate and ability to bust a game wide open with a line-break, deft pass or big in-goal play render him among the competition’s most valuable and consistent performers. In the Roosters’ gruelling 12-10 defeat of Brisbane last Saturday, Tuivasa-Sheck ran for an astonishing 285 metres from 26 runs in another mind-blowing display.

Shaun Johnson’s capture of the Golden Boot last year proved Test football performances have a major bearing on the voting, so if Tuivasa-Sheck, who is sure to poll well in the Dally M Medal, stars on New Zealand’s end-of-year tour of England, we could see the Kiwi stranglehold on the controversial award continue – particularly if he can help lead the Roosters to glory and Dally M certainty Thurston’s Cowboys falter again on the finals stage.

There’s no player like Holmes

Speaking of X-factor players in the 2015 premiership race, Cronulla flyer Valentine Holmes continues to astound with his rapid progress. Two dazzling tries and an equally brilliant assist in the Sharks’ big win over the Tigers cemented the 20-year-old’s status as arguably the standout winger in this year’s competition.

The first player to post a double-figure season try tally for the notoriously dour Sharks since 2008, Holmes has crossed 16 times in 21 appearances – just three short of David Peachey’s club record. Throw in a couple of golden point field goals, and the Townsville product shapes as a genuine finals game-breaker. Holmes is a certainty to slot into fullback next year after Michael Gordon departs and should be knocking on the door of Queensland Origin selection.

Underachiever of the week

A dead-heat between Manly and Melbourne, who had it all to play for but crumbled to a pair of also-rans at home. The Sea Eagles’ stunning late-season charge came to a shuddering halt at Brookvale courtesy of a 20-16 loss to Parramatta, all but ending their top-eight bid. The Storm were dreadful in a 20–6 drubbing at the hands of wooden spoon contenders Newcastle at AAMI Park when a top-four spot was at their mercy.

Overachiever of the week

Given their many, many obstacles throughout 2015 – and the fact they possess arguably the weakest roster in the NRL – few teams have shown more spirit this season than the Gold Coast Titans. The Titans lost Greg Bird from the kick-off, but rookie halfback Kane Elgey steered the underdogs to a character-filled 28-16 victory over a Canberra side that ranks among the best attacking outfits in the competition.

My new favourite player

Siosiua Taukeiaho had played just one NRL game – off the bench for the Warriors in the final round of 2013 – before making his Roosters debut in Round 1 this year, but he has undoubtedly been one of the finds of the season. Big, powerful and skilful, Taukeiaho showed off his impressive motor with 33 tackles (no misses) and 14 runs for 157 metres in the Roosters’ war of attrition against the Broncos on Saturday. The 23-year-old is set to play a key role for the Tricolours following Jared Waerea-Hargreaves’ season-ending injury, and could even be a smoky for the Kiwis’ tour of England.

Debutant report

Mason Lino (Warriors): A late inclusion for an unwell Chad Townsend, the 2014 NYC premiership-winning co-captain marked his debut by laying on an early try with a deft grubber. Lino faded out of the match as the Cowboys started to dominate, but he certainly didn’t appear out of his depth. His first grade chances will be limited at the Warriors but he could prove a handy pick-up for  another club.  

Coen Hess (Cowboys): An outstanding debut from the hulking forward, who only celebrated his 19th birthday a week earlier. Hess scored a try, racked up 18 tackles and made 104 metres from 14 runs in a 54-minute display. A top prospect who could play some finals footy if injuries play a part in the Cowboys’ charge.

Shades of…

…Des Hasler: Greg Bird took his frustrations out on the door leading up the Cbus Super Stadium tunnel after suffering a bizarre kick-off injury, reviving memories of then-Manly coach Des Hasler tearing the dressing-room door off its hinges at Parramatta Stadium after a 2010 loss.

NRL positional power rankings

FULLBACK

1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

2 Brett Morris

3 Michael Gordon

4 Brett Stewart

5 James Tedesco

WING

1 Valentine Holmes

2 Semi Radradra

3 Curtis Rona

4 Kyle Feldt

5 Daniel Tupou

CENTRE

1 Blake Ferguson

2 Josh Morris

3 Michael Jennings

4 Jamie Lyon

5 Kane Linnett

FIVE-EIGHTH

1 James Maloney

2 Anthony Milford

3 Gareth Widdop

4 Kieran Foran

5 Jack Bird

HALFBACK

1 Johnathan Thurston

2 Cooper Cronk

3 Ben Hunt

4 Kane Elgey

5 Tyrone Roberts

PROP

1 Sam Kasiano

2 Dylan Napa

3 Jesse Bromwich

4 Ben Hannant

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves

HOOKER

1 Jake Friend

2 Jake Granville

3 Cameron Smith

4 Issac Luke

5 Damien Cook

SECOND-ROW

1 Wade Graham

2 Aiden Guerra

3 Frank Pritchard

4 Luke Lewis           

5 Ethan Lowe

LOCK

1 Corey Parker

2 Greg Eastwood

3 Paul Gallen

4 Siosiua Takeiaho

5 Jason Taumololo

BENCH UTILITY

1 Jackson Hastings

2 Kodi Nikorima

3 Tyler Randell

4 Rory Kostjasyn

5 Paul Carter

[YouTube – NRL Hub]

Add Comment

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.

More nrl News

Special Features

PARTNERS