Independent medicos a must
Club doctors are being compromised and players’ health is being gambled with until the NRL brings in independent medical officers to assess potentially concussed players. While not suggesting that the Parramatta medical staff flouted the rules by allowing Nathan Peats to return after apparently being knocked senseless early on at Mt Smart Stadium, Warriors doctor John Mayhew was reportedly not happy the Eels hooker was given the all-clear. Mayhew was not allowed to give his version of events post-match.
Pressure from coaches and the players themselves puts club medics in an unenviable position, and in the grand scheme of things, a $20,000 fine from the NRL is a drop in the ocean for a club if it means keeping a key player in a big game. An independent doctor at all games is the only logical way forward – but in traditional NRL fashion, it will inevitably take a disastrous flashpoint before action is taken.
The NRL needs to admit the rule-change that dictates referees must make a try or no-try call before sending a decision up to the video ref has not worked. Video referees are making more blunders than ever and too often the man in the box is influenced by the on-field official’s call – even when the referee has effectively made an enforced guess.
The decision not to overturn Newcastle centre Dane Gagai’s try on Sunday night following an almost certain Korbin Sims knock-on was a shocker, while Penrith was flat out robbed when Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was denied after scoring what is a try every day of the week for anyone with a sliver of football sense.
— FOX SPORTS NRL (@FOXNRLLive) March 23, 2015
The video refs are seemingly terrified of overruling the original call despite clear evidence giving them the avenue to do just that. But then they occasionally go to the other extreme, rejecting the on-field decision without any video proof to justify it – Steve Matai’s try on Friday night a ludicrous case in point.
EXCLUSIVE- photo of NRL video ref hard at work leaked to the media pic.twitter.com/aoyXS70c2u
— Nick Smart (@NickSmart85) March 23, 2015
Flame-haired Sydney Roosters tyro Dylan Napa is quickly becoming established as the most fearsome defender in the NRL, and absolutely crunched nuggetty Penrith hooker James Segeyaro in dying stages of the Tricolours’ rugged 20-12 victory on Monday. Expect to see Napa’s name bandied about for Queensland Origin selection this season.
Cowboys play Broncos into form
There will be 14 NRL clubs directing a sarcastic “thanks” in the direction of the embattled Cowboys in the wake of Brisbane’s emphatic 44-22 victory in Friday night’s frantic Queensland derby. The Cowboys produced the worst defensive display of the opening three rounds, in turn playing the Broncos’ previously spluttering attack into sensational form.
Although far from premiership material, the Broncos were enterprising, composed and decisive with the ball in hand. Support play was outstanding, misfiring halves Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford were electric and fullback Jordan Kahu – after being given a brutal examination by South Sydney in Round 1 – produced a couple of pieces of sublime skill to lay on Lachlan Maranta’s first half double, before crossing himself after the break.
What did the five fingers say to the face?
SLAP! Big Keith Galloway channelled Rick James to get the message through to South Sydney recruit Tim Grant during a riveting standoff during the second half of Sunday’s showdown. It was another example of the NRL’s ‘no-punching’ edict doing its job, because if the sin-bin threat wasn’t in the back of Galloway’s and Grant’s minds, there’s no doubt the twin towers would have let fly. While posturing and shirt-fronting is not a great look – and the bloodthirsty side of most NRL fans would love to see some biff – the modern-day reality is that we can’t have our players punching each other. But Galloway’s open-hander may force a rethink on what constitutes striking, because a slapping epidemic would be equally damaging to the code’s image.
Walker, Redfern Ranger
A bulletproof vest wears Dylan Walker for protection. Dylan Walker beat the sun in a staring contest. Dylan Walker makes onions cry. They’re some of the old Chuck Norris jokes that have been doing the rounds for years, but the young Rabbitohs centre is proving just as invincible as the martial artist and actor cult hero.
After producing an unforgettable man-of-the-match performance against the Warriors in Perth last year in the unfamiliar fullback role despite suffering a broken thumb, Walker scored two tries in a dominant display with a broken hand. He is slated to miss a month of football after undergoing surgery on Monday, but is still right in the frame to make his NSW debut in this year’s series opener.
Warriors’ backline injury crisis deepens
The in-form Warriors continue to be dogged by injuries to their backline contingent. Manu Vatuvei is the only regular 2014 member of the back-five available after fullback Sam Tomkins was ruled out for up to six weeks with a knee injury, joining Konrad Hurrell, Ngani Laumape, Glen Fisiiahi and David Fusitua on the sidelines.
Brilliant youngster Tuimoala Lolohea will slot in at fullback, while Canberra recruit Matt Allwood is in the mix to make his club debut in the centres as the erratic Jonathan Wright continues to capitalise on the injury toll and hang onto a wing spot. Ben Henry was given an absolute bath by Dane Gagai in Round 1 and struggled again when pitched into the centres against Parramatta – coach Andrew McFadden will be reticent to use him out wide again. On the plus side, rookie Solomone Kata has made every post a winner so far and is forming a fine combination on the left with Vatuvei.
Nate burns tongue-tied Kevvie
Gold Coast captain Nate Myles has proved himself as one of the more quick-witted and quirky characters in the NRL – and he was at it again during a halftime interview with a stuttering Kevin Walters on Sunday night.
Underachiever of the week
As positive as the signs were for the Broncos on Friday night, they were equally anxiety-inducing for Cowboys coach Paul Green. Their goal-line defence was beyond embarrassing – particularly for a side that was ranked fourth in the NRL for points conceded in 2014. Green may have to make some tough calls sooner rather than later, most notably regarding out-of-sorts Test prop James Tamou, or watch his 0-3 team’s campaign slip away.
Overachiever of the week
The Dragons came into Saturday’s encounter at their traditional graveyard in Canberra with the unenviable record of having scored the least points by a club in a season’s opening fortnight since 2000 as their toothless forward pack and pop-gun offence failed to fire a shot.
Trailing the Raiders 18-0 after 20 minutes, the Saints were on track for another humiliating loss and besieged CEO Peter Doust was making his way to his safe room bunker. But the pilloried playing group kept the wolves at bay, for one week at least, by pulling off the unlikeliest of comebacks, prevailing 22-0 via a 75th-minute try to Joel Thompson. The performances of Trent Merrin, Mitch Rein and debutant Euan Aitken were worthy of special mention.
Euan Aitken (Dragons): Brilliant debut from the highly-rated young centre after he was astutely brought in as a late replacement from serial bumbler Dane Nielsen. Aitken made a line-break and 192 metres from 17 runs in a huge contribution to the Saints’ remarkable comeback win.
John Folau (Eels): The younger, bigger brother of Israel did not get a genuine opportunity to show what he’s capable of and was outshone by Manu Vatuvei. Made 58 metres from six runs in a well-beaten side.
My new favourite player
This is an old ‘new favourite player’ – I’ve been pumping up the enigmatic Manu Vatuvei’s tyres for years – but the Warriors wing legend never ceases to amaze. ‘The Beast’ was the best player on the field against the Eels, chalking up a try and two line breaks among 19 runs for 203 metres. He also produced some outstanding runs in the middle of the field in a busy performance, while he appeared to be one of the few Warriors to keep their cool as the Eels staged a comeback. Vatuvei goes looking for defensive work and has been error-free despite being targeted week after week.
…Suncorp Stadium 2003: The disgraceful state of the Brookvale Oval surface revived memories of the newly-reopened Suncorp Stadium in 2003, when the state-of-the-art venue’s sandy surface caused a succession of season-ending knee injuries. The Sea Eagles’ record at their fortress is a real trump card and having to move any home games would be a significant blow to a campaign that is already teetering.
Parramatta have just announced they have a new 4 year deal with the grass at Brookvale Oval. Starts immediately pic.twitter.com/XmPBLPEaaE
— Shane W (@spoonter) March 19, 2015
…David Williams in the 2014 Grand Final: Letting bombs bounce can have dire consequences, as Manly fullback Brett Stewart and Newcastle custodian hopeful Sione Mata’utia found out in gifting crucial tries to their opponents in Round 3. Mata’utia’s late leave was genuine blooper reel fodder as Gold Coast five-eighth Aidan Sezer swooped to score from his own kick.
Form Origin teams
Each week leading up to State of Origin selection for the series opener, we’ll update the teams that would be named if NRL form was the only criteria.
NEW SOUTH WALES