Saturday 16 December 2017 / 11:59 PM

GOLDEN POINTS: NRL ROUND 3

Will Evans unpicks Jason Taylor’s demise, Tony Archer stitching up his touchies, the Blues’ wealth of backline options, the Warriors’ woeful record at NZ venues, and his man-crush on a young Knight in this week’s Golden Points.

Tigertown claims another victim

Well, didn’t that spiral quickly for Jason Taylor? Wests Tigers were top of the pops after their stunning Round 1 defeat of Souths, but the coach is out of a job after 80 points conceded and just one try scored in the fortnight since.

There’s so many facets to this saga: the influence of the so-called ‘Big Four’; questions over the competency of the much-maligned Tigers board; the dramatic decision to axe a coach so early in the season; why Taylor was retained at the end of 2016 in the first place.

Taylor was unlucky – several factors conspired against him – but he always shaped as a bad hire. This is, after all, the guy who was sacked as Souths coach after a Mad Monday punch-up with David Fa’alogo. The former pointscoring wizard is far too ego-driven and temperamental to be a modern-day NRL coach.

The Tigers are crazy if they appoint anyone but Ivan Cleary – the basketcase joint venture needs the best available, and that means Cleary. Todd Payten may be the players’ choice, but letting the players call the shots is part of what sees the Tigers in their current predicament.

The club has chewed up and spat out the NRL coaching careers of Terry Lamb, Tim Sheens, Mick Potter and now Taylor; a selfless, smooth operator like Cleary is perhaps the only type of coach capable of unlocking the Tigers enigma – and saving the current Tigers board.

Parity reigns

The doyen of rugby league historians, David Middleton, revealed that for the first time since 1973 every team in the competition has registered a victory after three rounds, after the winless Bulldogs, Titans, Sea Eagles and Raiders all saluted on the weekend. The stat is even more remarkable given there was only 12 clubs back in ’73.

It’s also the seventh straight season there’s been two or fewer unbeaten clubs at the conclusion of Round 3, underlining yet again how even the NRL premiership is. Go back to 1995, and four teams (Manly, Brisbane, Newcastle and Canberra) still had a perfect record after seven rounds.

A quick look over at the AFL reveals that three or more teams have remained unbeaten after three rounds every year since 2007, while the earliest stage every club had notched a victory by in the last decade is Round 5.

Archer passes the buck

Referees boss Tony Archer spent most of last season making excuses for the Bunker’s appalling decisions – and he was at again this week after the Will Chamber no-try howler. In other words, backing his officials who make terrible calls with all the benefit of time and technology at their disposal.

But in 2017 it seems Archer’s number one priority is hanging his on-field charges out to dry for failing to pick up forward passes in the heat of the moment.

Sure, James Roberts’ pass for Jordan Kahu in Round 2 and Latrell Mitchell’s pass to Daniel Tupou in the lead-up to Michael Gordon’s match-winner last weekend probably should’ve been nabbed by the touchies. But making a decisive call on a forward pass while running down the sideline at full pace hasn’t got any easier in rugby league’s 110 seasons.

We can all tell they were forward – so why does Archer have to pipe up about it after the fact?

The only way to stop forward passes from influencing the results of games is by making them part of the video ref’s scope…so Archer can go back to defending the Bunker when they cock those up, too.

Austin calls out Thaiday

Props to Blake Austin for telling it like it is for Sam Thaiday’s grubby grab of Jesse Bromwich’s injured thumb. I’ve got no issue with players pushing the boundaries of good sportsmanship, but at least own up to it if you get pinged – something the Broncos and repeat offender Thaiday have no intention of doing by challenging the contrary conduct charge.

No home away from home for Warriors

It could only realistically happen to the Warriors, but the enigmatic club’s record at New Zealand venues other than Mt Smart Stadium is beyond explanation.

Their insipid 24-12 loss to Canterbury in the first-ever premiership match staged in Dunedin took the Warriors’ record to 20 losses, six wins and a draw in 27 games on Kiwi soil, excluding Mt Smart.

It also continued a terrible record in their maiden appearances at new venues, also losing at two Christchurch grounds, New Plymouth, Hamilton and Auckland’s Eden Park, while they drew their first game in Wellington before going on a 13-year losing streak in the capital. The one exception is Taupo’s Owen Delaney Park, where the Warriors prevailed in their only visit

The Dragons must be rubbing their hands together ahead of the clubs’ Round 11 showdown at Hamilton’s Waikato Stadium, where the Warriors are 0-3.

Rapana highlights value of the modern winger

Several clubs have made possessing quality wingers on their roster a low priority, but the likes of Jordan Rapana, Semi Radradra, Jordan Kahu, Suliasi Vunivalu, Valentine Holmes, Jason Nightingale and David Nofoaluma have repeatedly shown how valuable wingers who aren’t one-dimensional are in the modern game.

Jordan Rapana was out of this world against the Tigers on Sunday: finishing movements, busting tackles, making clean breaks, offloading, and putting away his supports for tries with kicks and passes.

Players like Rapana et al – who base their game on the full gamut of rugby league’s skills and having a sound football IQ, rather than relying on being a speed machine or a bulldozer – also tend to be far better on the defensive side of the ball.

Blues’ embarrassment of riches

NSW’s outside-back incumbents – James Tedesco, Josh Mansour (if fit), Josh Dugan, Michael Jennings and Blake Ferguson – will all have strong claims to be retained when the 2017 series opener rolls around.

Then throw into the mix Matt Moylan, Tom Trbojevic, Latrell Mitchell, David Nofoaluma, Jarrod Croker, Joey Leilua, Jarryd Hayne, Brett Morris, Bevan French, Tyrone Peachey, Jack Bird, Dylan Walker and even a bolter like Euan Atiken or Nathan Ross.

That’s one hell of a list for the Blues’ selectors to whittle down…and leaves absolutely no room for excuses for Laurie Daley and Peter Sterling to not pick on form.

Big Mannering on campus

The overwhelming positive of the Warriors loss to the Bulldogs on Friday was the ultimate Warrior, Simon Mannering, equalling fellow club legend Stacey Jones’ record of 261 appearances. He was by far their best player in Dunedin, displaying the consistency and determination the majority of his teammates could only dream of.

After taking sole ownership of the Warriors’ club record this weekend, he needs just three more appearances to overtake his coach Stephen Kearney for the second-most first-grade appearances for a New Zealander.

And at just 30 years of age, Mannering will be eyeing off head trainer Ruben Wiki’s all-time record for games by a non-Australian of 311, with the back-row stalwart missing just 16 games in the past 10 NRL seasons.

Up that strike-rate, Kenny

Credit where it’s due, Ken Maumalo has played pretty well in the past two weeks despite being an obvious target for opposition sides. But his inability to ground a Shaun Johnson grubber in Dunedin exacerbated a somewhat embarrassing return for the big winger, who has scored just two tries in 21 first-grade appearances – a strike-rate of 0.095 tries per game.

As a comparison, here’s how some of the code’s less-fashionable and maligned wingers fared:

Ian Herron (1990-98): 74 games – 18 tries (0.24 tries per game)
Daryl Halligan (1991-2000): 230 games – 80 tries (0.35 tries per game)
Luke Covell (2003-2010): 153 games – 62 tries (0.41 tries per game)
Scott Minto (2002-07): 53 games – 15 tries (0.28 tries per game)
Ross Conlon (1981-88): 170 games – 36 tries (0.21 tries per game)
Michael Bani (2007-11): 41 games – 16 tries (0.39 tries per game)
Justin Ryder (2000-02): 27 games – 9 tries (0.33 tries per game)
Tony Herman (1989-95): 48 games – 7 tries (0.15 tries per game)
Brett Plowman (1988-1997): 103 games – 25 tries (0.24 tries per game)
Eion Crossan (1992-95): 45 games – 11 tries (0.24 tries per game)

Third impressions

BRONCOS: Unlucky to go down in Melbourne after a super-brave defensive effort. Crucially, Ben Hunt appears to be on the improve.

RAIDERS: Blistering attacking performance against the beleaguered Tigers. Consistency hasn’t been their strong suit thus far, but the Green Machine are unstoppable when they’re on song.

BULLDOGS: A gutsy, pressure-relieving win for Dessie’s boys. Withstood a mountain of pressure at their own end and scored with virtually every one of their few opportunities. Nowhere near being a contender yet, but proved they weren’t going as bad as most thought.

SHARKS: After their blistering display against the Raiders, the premiers just couldn’t find a way through against the Saints. Still trying to find their groove with a new spine.

TITANS: That’s the gritty Titans we’ve become accustomed to. The early signs weren’t good, but the injury-hit side didn’t panic and came away with a vital win. It’s amazing what can be achieved without ego and distractions interfering…

SEA EAGLES: Who saw that coming? The Sea Eagles discovered some defensive starch to ease the pressure on coach Trent Barrett. The Trbojevic boys were again outstanding, and DCE came to the party this time.

STORM: This team is quite simply a marvel. Not overly exciting, but so professional that it’s unlikely we’ll see their ilk ever again once the Bellamy-Smith-Cronk partnership dissolves. Great to see Billy back, too.

KNIGHTS: They look anything but wooden-spooners. Refused to throw in the towel once Souths got on top, and compete spookily like the 2016 Titans with a few journeymen pitched into this squad of promising youngsters.

COWBOYS: It was always going to be a big ask without Scott, Taumalolo, Coote and to a lesser extent Winterstein, but the 30-8 loss to Manly would have stung at home. The Cowboys’ ability to cope with injuries – which they haven’t really had to do in recent years – will make or break their 2017 campaign.

EELS: Good start, but a bit rudderless without Corey Norman – and therein lies the Eels’ biggest hurdle in 2017. The loss on the Gold Coast wasn’t anything to get too worried about, though.

PANTHERS: Went down due to a forward pass and competed strongly against a fellow heavyweight, but the Panthers have to learn how to win the slugfests if they’re to genuinely contend for the title – they can’t rely on blowing teams away every week.

DRAGONS: There definitely seems to be new attitude and steel at the Dragons in 2017, and it starts with the platform Vaughan and Packer are laying. Consistency from their halves is destined to be a big issue as the season rolls on, but the Saints are staying in the mix for now.

RABBITOHS: Had trouble putting the Knights away and discipline was terrible, but coming away from the Hunter with two points was no mean feat for a team on the rebuild.

ROOSTERS: Gotta be happy with 3-0, even if it required some good fortune. The halves have been great, Mitchell is a freak, and Gordon is the ideal fullback for this firepower-laden side.

WARRIORS: Easily the most disappointing side of Round 3. Had enough good ball to win two games, but had zero imagination on attack, while they repeatedly put up the white flag inside their own 20. RTS and Foran will improve this side, but there’s some definite mongrel and spark missing.

TIGERS: Ok, maybe these guys were the biggest duds of the round. Put in a performance that got their coach sacked, which says it all, really.

Debutant report

Brad Abbey (Bulldogs): A few shaky moments at the back, but handled himself well for a Bulldogs side that spent most of its time defending.
Marcelo Montoya (Bulldogs): Rock-solid debut, scoring a vital try and running for 100 metres in a flawless display on the wing.
Tyler Cornish (Titans): Debuting at fullback in a pressure game, Cornish gave a good account of himself and dived in for a crucial four-pointer just before halftime.

My new favourite player

It’s hard to believe Newcastle lock Mitchell Barnett’s NRL career is just 14 games old – the 22-year-old just consistently makes things happen on both sides of the ball. He plays with plenty of skill and smarts, but he’s tough enough to foot it against the best packs in the premiership. You can’t keep ‘em all, but how did Ricky let this guy get away from Canberra?

Try of the week

There were some doozies, but it’s hard to go past the Raiders’ long-range effort featuring a Jordan Rapana break and centring kick for Blake Austin to score.

Under-pressure XIII

1 Jarryd Hayne
2 Tui Lolohea
3 Jamal Idris
4 Solomone Kata
5 Manu Vatuvei
6 Mitchell Moses
7 Luke Brooks
8 Adam Blair
9 Issac Luke
10 Nate Myles
11 Sam Thaiday
12 Ryan Hoffman
13 Trent Merrin

Form Origin teams

NSW
1 Tom Trbojevic
2 Nathan Ross
3 Latrell Mitchell
4 Euan Atiken
5 Josh Addo-Carr
6 Luke Keary
7 Mitchell Pearce
8 Aaron Woods
9 Cameron McInnes
10 Paul Vaughan
11 Joel Thompson
12 Wade Graham
13 Mitchell Barnett

14 Tyrone Peachey
15 Mitch Aubusson
16 Andrew Fifita
17 Cody Walker

QLD
1 Darius Boyd
2 Corey Oates
3 Will Chambers
4 Justin O’Neill
5 Dane Gagai
6 Anthony Milford
7 Corey Norman
8 Brenton Lawrence
9 Cameron Smith
10 Scott Bolton
11 Matt Gillett
12 Ethan Lowe
13 Josh Papalii

14 Johnathan Thurston
15 Coen Hess
16 Gavin Cooper
17 Jacob Lillyman

Inappropriate Rugby League Meme of the Week

[YouTube – #HISTORYHAPPENS]

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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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