Thurston climbs the ladder to Immortality
If North Queensland wins enough games to reach the finals, Johnathan Thurston will collect an unprecedented fourth Dally M Medal. The Cowboys talisman was untouchable again in Monday night’s 30-12 defeat of Souths, backing up to score two tries and laying on another two as the resurgent northerners recovered from an eight-point deficit to chalk up their third successive win. The growing calls for ‘JT’ to eventually be inducted as an Immortal are hard to deny; his brilliance is matched only by his consistency and the Cowboys have powered back into the premiership picture after a dismal opening three rounds.
Roosters crying foul
Did anyone outside the club feel any genuine sympathy for the Sydney Roosters when burgeoning fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck announced he would be joining the Warriors in 2016? While any club would be bitterly disappointed about losing a player of his calibre and potential, the undertones of shock, hurt and betrayal coming out of Bondi Junction were pathetic from an outfit that has consistently made its bones by picking the eyes out of rival teams.
The Roosters’ 2013 Grand Final squad contained seven players that made their first grade debut in a different jumper, while a further two had come through the grades at other clubs. Their 2002 premiership-winning outfit featured eight players that cut their teeth elsewhere. That’s by no means unique, but it’s part and parcel of the modern game – keeping every player you develop is impossible in the salary cap era. Guilt-tripping ‘RTS’, a Kiwi international who has understandably opted to return to his home town for a far more lucrative salary, is below the belt, while the irony of the Roosters chasing boom Rabbitoh Alex Johnston to replace him will not be lost on most.
Roberts coming of age
Lightning-quick three-quarter James Roberts’ troubled past – which saw his early-career stints with Souths and Penrith extinguished – is well-documented. To see the 22-year-old sitting atop the NRL tryscoring table and starring for Gold Coast is another heart-warming example of Rugby League redemptive qualities, but also Roberts’ mind-blowing talent. He notched a sensational hat-trick and set up another try in the Titans’ big road win against Parramatta.
Simultaneously one of the most loved and criticised players in the code, enigmatic Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei marked his 200th appearance – just the third player from the club to reach the milestone – with a barnstorming double in a 32-22 defeat of Wests Tigers.
It was a poignant night for ‘The Beast’ and, indeed, all Warriors fans at Mt Smart. The cult hero took the field accompanied by two of his daughters and was clearly emotional as he was greeted by a haka by Warriors lower grade players and other teammates not part of the game-day squad. After the match, Vatuvei was presented with a framed photo of his entrance by legendary All Blacks winger Jonah Lomu.
It wasn’t a flawless performance from Vatuvei, but the two tries showcased his trademark finishing ability and were vital to a victory that was more nerve-jangling than the final score indicated. The veteran’s display was another illustration of his army of detractors having no genuine feel for the game, and certainly no appreciation for the unparalleled value – tangibly, via his try and run-metres tallies, and spiritually – he brings to the Warriors.
Vatuvei equalled countryman Nigel Vagana as the greatest non-Australian try-scorer in premiership history on Saturday with his 140th touchdown…and did it in 40 less games. Players and characters like ‘The Beast’ should be lauded rather than derided; this weekend’s celebrations were a fitting tribute and an emphatic thumbing of the nose to his misguided critics.
HUNGRY BEASTThe Beast got fed at Mt Smart Stadium last night!#NRLWarriorsTigers Highlights: http://bit.ly/R6Game4HLS#NRL
Posted by NRL – National Rugby League on Saturday, April 11, 2015
Send-off needs overhaul
St George Illawarra’s Tyson Frizell would have been stiff if he had been sent off on Sunday afternoon – particularly in light of some decisions this year to allow players to remain on the field – but the fact Canterbury was left a bench player short, with an unconscious Tim Browne taken from the field via medicab, was another illustration that the rules have to be reconsidered.
Frizell copped a fairly light two-match ban – but where is the benefit in that for the Bulldogs? Either following rugby union’s lead and using the sin-bin more liberally (which happened briefly in the NRL a couple of years back), the introduction of an ‘18th man’ when a team is left a man short by an act of foul play, or a radical change that would allow a sent-off player to be replaced, are three options that need to be considered.
Obstruction of justice
The vagaries of the obstruction rule and the ongoing video referee incompetence combined in farcical circumstances in Canberra on Sunday afternoon. Two decisions – both going against Melbourne and both seeing the on-field ref’s original call overturned – contradicted each other in the extreme.
The video men managed to defy commonsense again on Monday night, ludicrously denying Greg Inglis and Michael Morgan tries in the dying minutes of the first half to leave both sides understandably seething.
NSW at sixes and sevens
The Blues’ Origin defence is on tenterhooks already with form and injuries creating a major halves headache for Laurie Daley. Incumbents Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds, two of the heroes of last year’s watershed triumph, cannot be picked on current form. There’s a push for Mitchell Pearce to return to the No.7, but Roosters comrade – and Pearce’s 2013 Origin partner – James Maloney has selectors offside due to his defensive frailties. Adam Reynolds’ injury eliminates arguably the best candidate for the halfback role, while the form NSW-eligible five-eighth, Luke Keary, probably won’t get picked without his Rabbitohs club-mate alongside him. Pundits throwing up Josh Dugan and Greg Bird as five-eighth options shows how dire the predicament is. Good luck, ‘Loz’.
Gladiatorial aspect alive and well
How good was the running battle between opposing front-rowers Sam Thaiday and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves? While dinosaurs continue to bemoan the supposed softening of the game, the Test veterans proved it is still possible to have a ferocious and fiery individual clash without a punch (or slap) being thrown.
Hunt saves golden point
Golden point has become increasingly maligned by astute pundits in recent seasons, with the extra-time period’s inevitable descent into a field goal shootout labelled a blight on the competition when most would be content with the humble draw and shared premiership points.
Introduced in 2003, the first 50 golden point games were decided by a try on 14 occasions. But since 2011, the 31 games deadlocked after 80 minutes had produced just one golden point try…until Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt’s piece of inspiration on Friday night.
When setting for the one-pointer seemed the percentage play, the 25-year-old took control of his team’s destiny with a dazzling 35-metre solo try that left five defenders from the title-favourite Sydney Roosters in his wake to clinch a 22-18 triumph for the Broncos.
While Hunt’s mighty individual play sent Wayne Bennett’s resurgent Broncos to the top of the NRL ladder, it was equally important for the No.7’s confidence. The breakout star of the 2014 season and a Kangaroos bolter, Hunt had produced a few flashes of brilliance this year without being truly dominant. Friday’s clutch performance – which also included the Broncos’ opening try – proved Hunt possesses the chops to lead a team to a premiership.
Meanwhile, golden point’s future remains up for debate – but the Broncos’ linchpin provided a wonderful advertisement for its retention; replacing it with a ‘golden try’ rule would open up the door for many more similarly magic moments.
HUNTEDIn Golden Point with the game on the line?Get the ball to Ben Hunt.#NRLBroncosRoosters Analysis: http://bit.ly/BroncosRoostersAnalysis#NRL
Posted by NRL – National Rugby League on Friday, April 10, 2015
Toovey not the reason for Manly’s plight
Perennial heavyweight Manly is stone motherless last after six rounds with just one win in the bank – and, predictably, the knives are out for coach Geoff Toovey. The Sea Eagles’ success under the club legend over the last three seasons has been frequently attributed to the groundwork laid by Des Hasler by cynics. Now the side is struggling, it is apparently Toovey’s fault.
‘Tooves’ is a clear victim of circumstance. Hamstrung at every turn by dysfunctional club management, Toovey was left to pick up the pieces as a slew of stalwarts were shown the door. Despite the rampant disharmony, he very nearly led the embattled squad to a premiership before injuries derailed their campaign late in the piece. A bulging casualty ward has contributed to the Sea Eagles’ woes again in 2015, while ongoing backroom bungling has been a major factor in the teams’ superstar halves opting to move on at the end of the year.
Toovey is the man to lead Manly out of the abyss – maroon and white courses through his veins, while his coaching record speaks for itself – but the aforementioned incompetent hierarchy will no doubt already be compiling a list of inferior replacements.
Underachiever of the week
Parramatta’s outstanding home record counted for nought in a dreadful 38-16 defeat to Gold Coast. Leading 16-12 at the break, the Eels lost the second half 26-0 and have slipped to 13th with a 2-4 record.
Overachiever of the week
The Saints headed into Round 6 with the best defensive record and the worst attacking stats in the NRL – an anomaly not seen in the premiership for 60 years. It was that steel, desperation and aggression without the ball that laid the platform for their resounding win over the Bulldogs. The Dragons rebuffed a welter of attacking forays by the blue-and-whites during the opening 40 and were equally effective in the second stanza; Josh Morris’ 49th-minute touchdown was the just the second try conceded by the Saints in their last seven halves of football. Tough and organised, Red V jumpers kept turning up to thwart the Dogs.
Their forward pack was branded as toothless in mid-March, lacking starch and impact. But relatively unheralded engine-room types Tyson Frizell, Leeson Ah Mau and Jack De Belin are providing the requisite muscle and punch for Benji Marshall and co. to pour on the polish. The Saints increased their season points-for tally by 36 per cent on Sunday, and they will continue to surge up the attacking charts if Marshall maintains his rich vein of form. The 30-year-old may have lost a yard or two of pace, but his guile and sleight of hand are at 2010 Golden Boot levels; he put on a master-class against the blue-and-whites.
The Dragons are sitting pretty in a share of second spot, but face a huge Round 7 challenge in the shape of the table-topping Broncos.
My new favourite player
Jamal Idris’ season-ending injury is a terrible blow to the luckless Panthers’ campaign, but they have simultaneously uncovered a budding centre superstar in 20-year-old Waqa Blake. Playing in his second NRL game against Manly, the strapping Fiji-born Blake scored an outstanding try and impressed with his defensive enthusiasm in a 22-12 victory. Given time, the Panthers will lose little with the rookie lining up out wide instead of the game-breaking Idris.
…All Stars 2012: It was curiously forgotten during the coverage and in the aftermath, but Sam Thaiday and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves do have a fiery history besides squaring off in seven trans-Tasman Tests. The enforcers clashed heatedly during the All Stars game three years ago – and on Friday night’s evidence, it appears there is still a bit of feeling left over from that encounter.
…John Eales: Broncos fullback Lachlan Maranta’s rejection of James Maloney’s field goal attempt harked back to Wallabies legend John Eales’ regular trick of going aerial to block penalty goal attempts during the 1990s.
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
1. Matt Moylan
2. Alex Johnston
3. James Roberts
4. Michael Jennings
5. Josh Mansour
6. Luke Keary
7. Adam Reynolds
8. Aaron Woods
9. Robbie Farah
10. Aiden Tolman
11. Glenn Stewart
12. Ryan Hoffman
13. Trent Merrin
14. Kade Snowden
15. Tyson Frizell
16. Curtis Sironen
17. Tyrone Peachey
1. Greg Inglis
2. Curtis Rona
3. Dane Gagai
4. Will Chambers
5. Valentine Holmes
6. Johnathan Thurston
7. Cooper Cronk
8. Dylan Napa
9. James Segeyaro
10. Matt Scott
11. Sam Thaiday
12. Chris Grehvsmuhl
13. Corey Parker
14. Jacob Lillyman
15. Ben Hunt
16. Dave Tyrell
17. Gavin Cooper