Sunday 25 February 2018 / 06:49 AM


Reaction, analysis and talking points from the Round 21 team lists

Fallout from the Soliola send-off debacle

The controversial incident and biggest talking point out of Round 20 is set to continue to impact both sides moving forward. Under-fire Canberra forward Sia Soliola will miss the next five games serving a suspension for his late hit on Billy Slater, with Joseph Tapine brought into the run-on side.

Slater won’t be risked in response to his nasty concussion. With Melbourne in such confident standing atop the ladder, and Slater at the pointy end of his career (health-wise at least), it makes perfect sense to give him the week off.

If losing Slater was a worry, Cameron Munster is better than any insurance policy you could imagine. Ryley Jacks is no slouch either; he’ll do a fine job filling in at No.6. Their depth is as ridiculously impressive as their play on the field. This is one hell of a club.

Possibly overshadowed in that madness was the far more important event of Cam Smith suffering his first injury in a million years, give or take. His absence would potentially alter premiership race, so it’s imperative that Melbourne lean heavy on the side of caution. In typical Smith style, he’s somehow been named to play this week despite a pec injury. Still, seeing him run out would be a shock – expect Slade Griffin should line up in his place.

If I’m in charge, I rest Smith for all but one or two games and possibly the same for Slater. The aim is a top-two finish, and once/if that’s wrapped up, find time to rest Cooper Cronk. Whilst showing no signs, these guys aren’t young, and they’ve played plenty of footy when you factor in last year’s grand final run and a typically hectic Origin schedule. Any rest would go a long way. But of course, in Bellamy we trust.


Brisbane continue to gear up for the run home

Boyd is back, at the back, and Brisbane are coming together rather nicely. As their full squad continues to take shape and their form trends up, Boyd’s inclusion couldn’t be better timed. His presence and playmaking from fullback is well stated, and whilst the fill-ins have done a pretty solid job, Boyd is the class of player that takes everyone around him to another level, an invaluable skill.

Now, focus turns to the selection battle between Benji Marshall and Kodi Nikorima, both gunning for the utility bench spot. Both have been quality when given time, and it appears Nikorima’s injury has given Benji a head-start, the veteran getting the nod this week.

Dragons’ Dugan/Dufty ‘dilemma’
(New alliteration level unlocked)

Matt Dufty was touted to be special once he hit the top grade. His debut didn’t miss the mark, impressing plenty with his agile running and blistering speed. What would appear to be a selection headache is really a blessing in disguise: Dugan is on his way out, and the Dragons needed to find a replacement.

Whilst internally they’ll remain confident they can challenge for the title, realistically, this is the perfect pocket of the season to start to groom Dugan’s replacement. Factor in Dufty’s impressive debut and Aitken’s injury and voila, Dugan returns at centre, where he commands a NSW and Australian guernsey.

If Dufty can start to feel comfortable and get his passing going, Dugan can be just as deadly out wide. At the very least, the Dragons are getting a head-start on next season.

Heartbreak for Gutho

Shattering news for Clint Gutherson, his year finished with an ACL injury. A tremendous season, and by far the Eels’ best up to this point. Played too many roles to nail down a Dally M team spot, but has arguably been among the best 10 players in the game. A truly disappointing end to one of the league’s breakout stars of 2017. Hoping for a speedy recovery.

Also a huge blow to any chance the blue-and-golds had of mounting a serious title challenge – though they’ve got a fair fullback replacement in Bevan French, with Josh Hoffman returning on the wing


Manly spine back in shape

Last week wasn’t a knockout blow to Manly’s season, but a nicely placed jab. They need to wake up and get consistent. Adding two key pieces, Api Koroisau and Blake Green, to their line-up should help the cause plenty.

Both were clearly missed as the attack struggled to generate its regular go-forward. Koroisau offers a dynamic punch through the middle, whilst Green’s organisation and direction is key to stabilising the attack. Manly are relying on synergy to cover the talent gap between them and the top teams, and they don’t fire nearly as well without these two. A big boost as they head down to Melbourne.

South Sydney looking for answers

After a tumultuous last few weeks, South Sydney have reverted back to the Reynolds-Walker halves pairing with Alex Johnston at the back. Great, it only took them 10 weeks to figure it out. They doubled down on the epiphany, recalling Damien Cook, who was dropped altogether two weeks ago, all the way back to the starting hooker spot.

It’s bittersweet — they’ve shown initiative, it’s just far overdue and too late to effect anything…and they’ll probably get whacked by a pissed-off Raiders team for good measure.


Stray Observations

  • Josh Hodgson is good enough he probably could play lock full-time, but he’s one of the best creative rakes in the game, on a team devoid of creative ballplayers. If it ain’t broke…
  • In a dark season, both Danny Fualalo and Raymond Faitala-Mariner have been exciting bursts of energy for the Bulldogs.
  • Sure, Mbye at hooker makes sense as a quick fix now, but are we really sold on him as a long-term option there? Still never got a real chance to play No.6, his natural spot.
  • Boyd Cordner still out from Origin. He simply shouldn’t have played game 3.
  • Leilani Latu is good enough to be playing more minutes. A casualty of Tamou’s reputation
  • Moylan’s injury is an interesting subplot. Many have suggested his tendency to dominate the ball has marginalised Cleary — we’ll know more soon.
  • A wise choice from Nathan Brown moving Levi to the bench. He’s struggled in long stretches and is more suited to honing his craft from the bench while he’s developing.
  • I was impressed with Manly utility Cameron Cullen last week. Really had a crack and managed to create on a team losing the middle third. A superior option off the bench compared to Hastings.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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