NRL acts on diving furore
The NRL, Tony Archer and his referees deserve a massive round of applause for nipping the diving furore in the bud with maximum effect and a minimum of fuss. Several players stayed down after innocuous incidents and borderline high shots during Round 9 – and the video referees did nothing about it. The game resumed with a play-the-ball and all was well in the world of Rugby League again.
Heavyweights bounce back
North Queensland is probably better placed than ever to challenge for a maiden premiership, Melbourne has proved it will contend again in 2015, and Brisbane and St George Illawarra have been the big movers.
But there’s no doubt the biggest threats for the title are still South Sydney and Sydney Roosters – and both notched impressive, drought-breaking wins in Round 9. The Roosters trounced Wests Tigers 36-4 to snap a four-game losing streak, while the Rabbitohs ended a run of three straight defeats with a high-quality 16-10 win over the in-form Dragons.
At full-strength, the inner-Sydney archrivals remain a huge chance of winning their way through to a dream Grand Final showdown.
Johnson has premiership at his fingertips
In the space of seven days, Warriors wizard Shaun Johnson has emerged as arguably the single most important player in the 2015 premiership. Johnson, following a subpar start to the year, enjoyed a majestic return to form in the Kiwis’ emphatic Anzac Test defeat of the Kangaroos, before transferring his match-winning bag of tricks back to the NRL sphere in the Warriors’ vital eclipse of Cronulla on Saturday night.
It was far from a vintage 80-minute display from the halfback – several of his passes went to ground, while a baffling fourth-tackle kick out on the full in the latter stages put his side on the back foot – but the two pieces of brilliance he conjured in the final six minutes were simply beyond the capabilities of his rivals.
Johnson’s slashing break and mind-blowing pinpoint kick to lay on Solomone Kata’s try harked back to the buzzer-beater Darren Lockyer and Denan Kemp produced for the Broncos in 2008. But the will-o’-the-wisp No.7’s solo try with a minute remaining was as mesmerising as it was clutch – another dazzling highlight to add to a bulging reel.
In a premiership that is as even and unpredictable as this year’s, freakish individual brilliance – as it was with Benji Marshall in the rollercoaster 2005 competition – is the X-factor, and the likes of Johnson and Johnathan Thurston are currently of a different plane to their contemporaries.
Hurrell punishment unfair
The severity of the injury to Anthony Tupou – and the images of the Cronulla forward in hospital – are confronting to say the least, but Konrad Hurrell’s three-match ban for a knee lift that caused Tupou’s broken jaw was over the top. Tupou came in from the side; Hurrell didn’t raise his knee into the defender. It was a terrible accident and a shocking outcome – but Tupou’s technique was as much at fault as fellow Tongan international Hurrell’s. Compare that to the two-match suspension dished out to Manly’s James Hasson for leading with the knee into Parramatta defender Anthony Watmough, and it is clear Tupou’s unfortunate injury has held far too much weighting.
— Liam Cox (@LiamCox_10) May 11, 2015
Not my intention to hurt Anthony Tupou apologise to you my Toko and I hope ul have a speedy recovery much love Toko Ofa atu #oua
— konihurrell (@konzhurrell) May 10, 2015
Peachey keen for a stint on the sidelines
Also compare Hurrell’s punishment to the two matches Penrith utility Tyrone Peachey is looking at for an utter brain snap on Friday night, dumping Adam Blair on his head after the whistle had gone and play had ceased. Only good fortune saved Blair from serious injury in one of the worst tackles of the season, while Peachey received a comparative slap on the wrist. It’s a joke he will be available again in the same week Parramatta tyro Junior Paulo returns from a nine-week suspension for a far less dangerous tackle on Matt Ballin in Round 1.
Are Raiders the real deal?
Canberra made the Rugby League world sit up and take notice with remarkable come-from-behind victories over Wests Tigers and South Sydney in the two weeks leading up to the representative break, but the unfancied Raiders must now be taken seriously as finals contenders after obliterating the visiting Gold Coast 56-16 on Saturday afternoon.
The revamped and revitalised Green Machine became the first team in 2015 to rack up a half-century – and it came against an in-form Titans outfit that had put 30-plus on their previous three opponents.
Besides boom five-eighth Austin’s top-shelf effort, rep forward Josh Papalii was in imposing form, captain Jarrod Croker notched 24 points, Edrick Lee and Jordan Rapana were superb on the flanks, and Paul Vaughan, Iosia Soliola and Shaun Fensom starred in the engine-room.
Oft-maligned coach Ricky Stuart’s mid-level recruits have all provided outstanding value and, along with making the tough calls like demoting Mitch Cornish and Josh McCrone for returning halfback Sam Williams, ‘Sticky’ has found an excellent balance in his 17.
The Raiders’ potent mixture of flair and starch suggest they will be a force to be reckoned with in this topsy-turvy premiership campaign.
The forgotten Origin contenders
Chris McQueen: The versatile South Sydney backrow mainstay played five straight games for Queensland before injury ruled him out of last year’s dead-rubber, yet doesn’t seem to be in anyone’s 17 – despite the departure of club-mate and Maroons incumbent Ben Te’o.
Gavin Cooper: The Cowboys veteran seems destined never to don the Maroon jumper, despite playing better football than Aiden Guerra, Matt Gillett and McQueen.
Jacob Lillyman: A Maroons incumbent after coming into the starting side for the injured Matt Scott for Game 3 last year, the eight-game veteran appears to have slipped behind uncapped pair Josh McGuire and Dylan Napa in the front-row pecking order.
Dylan Walker: Superb during his maiden Kangaroos campaign at the end of last season and the NRL’s form centre during the early rounds before breaking his thumb, Walker has barely rated a mention in regards to the NSW side with Josh Morris and Michael Jennings apparently over the line already.
Aiden Tolman: Stiff to miss out on the Four Nations squad last year, Tolman deserves a run at this level but will miss out to front-rowers bigger on impact but inferior consistency-wise, including James Tamou and David Klemmer.
Underachiever of the week
The wheels have completely fallen off for Newcastle, following up a four-match winning streak to start the season with five consecutive losses. Their 30-10 defeat to last-placed Manly was the Knights’ worst effort yet, with Korbin Sims’ groin grab on former teammate Willie Mason the most intent shown by any Novocastrian all afternoon.
Overachiever of the week
Penrith was courageous in going down 8-5 to Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night. The Panthers proved they will be a tough proposition at full-strength, improving markedly following the return of Jamie Soward and Elijah Taylor.
My new favourite player
Is there a better cover-defending fullback in the NRL than Warriors youngster Tuimoala Lolohea? In consecutive matches, the 20-year-old has shown remarkable pace and technique to mow down David Mead and Ben Barba, before bundling both into touch when a try beckoned. Lolohea will be shuffled around the backline after Sam Tomkins returns, but he is a potential match-winner in any spot and shapes as the long-term solution at five-eighth for the Warriors.
Christian Welch (Storm): Tall 20-year-old forward Welch, an Easts Tigers junior and Queensland Under-20s rep, made 12 tackles and five runs in 14 minutes off the bench as Melbourne downed Parramatta 28-10.
…1977: The unusual final scoreline of 8-5 in Brisbane’s pulsating defeat of Penrith – achieved after Matt Moylan’s deadlock-breaking field goal and Corey Oates’ last-minute try from a Ben Hunt pass – was the first of its kind in a first grade match since 1977. Losing teams finishing on five points were far more common before the value of a try was increased from three to four points in 1983.
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
8. Dylan Napa