Saturday 24 March 2018 / 05:54 AM


Reaction, analysis and talking points from the Round 17 team lists

The Headlines

Half-in on halfbacks?

Two teams are on different trajectories as they search for answers at No.7.

The stumbling Dragons have opted for a big change, dropping the idle Josh McCrone for Kurt Mann. It’s been coming for weeks – McCrone was never considered a world-beater, but his contributions have completely fallen off a cliff after starting the season in sufficient form.

That said, jury is out on whether Mann and Gareth Widdop will work as a combination, considering Widdop has always tailed off when leaned on as the dominant organiser. Count me as a skeptic, but I guess anything is better than McCrone just doing nothing.

Meanwhile, a team possessing Boyd, Milford and Hunt are starting Kahu, Marshall and Nikorima in the spine. And whilst, yes, that is a testament to their depth, it’s also as much an unfortunate situation as it is a confusing one. Boyd and Milford have succumbed to injury in a strenuous Origin period, but Ben Hunt’s continued omission is confusing.

Picked on the bench again, his performance last week should have been enough to prove his worth. Fine, he’s leaving, but he is just superior to Nikorima at this stage, and with all the Origin and injury-enforced movement, leaving him out of the starting side for a now unidentifiable reason is strange, to say the least. Still a quality half (and the best option at the club), he needs to be playing 80 if the Broncos want to challenge.


The Big….5?

The Storm have a massive group of inclusions following their B-grade team putting on a replacement masterclass, just coming up short against the Roosters last week. Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Will Chambers and…Joe Stimson! That’s arguably the best current player at each of their positions…and Joe Stimson!

The way Melbourne performed last week demonstrates their depth, and plenty of those guys are unlucky to be playing behind some incredible talent. That said, throwing these kind of names into the list for a squad who were depleted yet only beaten by a golden point field goal (and a ridiculous one at that!) against the third-best team in the competition is an illustration of their current position in the league. Head and shoulders above.

ROTY gets a rest

On the surface, it’s disappointing that Jayden Brailey, amidst a fabulous rookie campaign, will be forced to the sidelines with a jaw injury. But quietly, there is some silver lining. Brailey has been superb, specifically defensively, and is leading the pack in the rookie of the year discussions whilst filling Cronulla’s biggest void following Ennis’ departure. But remember, the rookie wall is inevitable, especially for someone doing such heavy lifting defensively.

Obviously it not best-case scenario, but this will give him a chance to step back and recalibrate, whilst being a quick enough recovery that it won’t dent his rookie of the year title chase. Unfortunate, but not worst thing ever. Well-deserved chance for Fa’amanu Brown, too, a versatile and underrated player who should prove a tremendous buy for Canterbury next year.

Parramatta problems

The Eels will now be without Kaysa Pritchard and Beau Scott for the reminder of the season. For Pritchard, whilst he is a solid prospect and will grow into a strong contributor, his play this season has been average at best. If Cameron King, a former touted prospect himself, can get acquainted quickly, losing him should derail their season.

Scott on the other hand, will be missed. His play has been solid, but consistent, and they need as much help protecting Moses as they can get. However, Tepai Moeroa’s return should help ease that pain. Has been good when available.


Intriguing match-up of the week

Panther returns vs Adam Reynolds boot – Much of Penrith’s turnaround has been credited to consistency, Matt Moylan’s move to 6 and some refined structure, but Josh Mansour’s return has been as equally mesmerising as it is influential.

Alongside him, fullback Dylan Edwards has slotted in seamlessly, and the two have been running riot ever since. The sample size is small, but they currently sit second and third in running metres and second and fourth in tackle busts. Dallin Watene Zelezniak (138m, 4.1tb, top 20 in both), rounds out a formidable back three who have torched opponents, running for 500+ metres every game they’ve played together. This starts their sets in better areas and gets the momentum going.

Adam Reynolds is among the very best kickers in the game, however, presenting one of the few answers Souths have to Penrith’s best attributes. His ability to find the grass will be crucial to the Rabbits’ chances.


Stray Observations

  • James Graham is always a massive loss. Dogs middle third will be an interesting sub-plot this week.
  • Every week it feels like the Titans are either missing a ton of players or getting a heap back.
  • Speaking of, Kane Elgey has spent a lot of his young career on the sidelines. Slightly concern
  • Following complications over the past fortnight, the fact Tyson Frizell isn’t injured is mind-boggling. Tough guy.
  • At this point, Adam Elliot is already better than Greg Eastwood. With Eastwood out, Elliot is a blinder away from making the spot his own.
  • Jamie Buhrer was great before going down. Valuable experience for the young Knights.
  • Joseph Manu has been fantastic since replacing SKD.
  • Sam Tagataese can’t get a run. Cronulla might have the best bench in the league.
  • Vaughn’s play has declined with the Dragons, but has remained a massive presence. Big loss.
  • Canberra, a team in search of consistency, turns to Dave Taylor… makes plenty of sense!
  • Justin O’Neil has been quite fantastic since being dropped from Origin.
  • Anyone who says Knights v Tigers isn’t the game of the week is lying.
  • Nat Butcher will grow with time, remember the name.
  • I thought McIlwrick was doing an okay job at hooker for Wests Tigers. Not sure why he’s been demoted. Least of their problems.
  • I’m happy Paul Green has settled on Hess from the bench.
  • So I guess John Sutton is just a five-eighth again. Sigh.


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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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