Tuesday 12 December 2017 / 04:20 AM

TEAM TALK: NRL ROUND 23

Reaction, analysis and talking points from the Round 23 team lists

Maloney in, Bird out

With the unfortunate news that they will once again be without centre Jack Bird, Cronulla get a timely boost with the return of Blues pivot James Maloney. With his addition comes the hope he can rejuvenate a Sharks outfit that has looked insipid and downright tired in stretches over the past month (notch that up to an upcoming fifth finals run in six seasons and an affinity for close, scrappy games). His return sees Fa’amanu Brown, who was solid in Maloney’s absence, shift from five-eighth to hooker, with James Segeyaro back to the bench. This is the right move — with Jayden Brailey expected to return soon and preferred as the starter, Segeyaro can get well-accustomed to his preferable role providing impact mid-game. The interest is two-fold: with Brown set to join the Bulldogs next year, impressing at rake may boost his chances of securing a starting spot come next season.

Kearney’s contradiction

Obviously the Warriors have severely underachieved this year. Despite adding some formidable talent to the fold, they continued to trend heavily towards their stereotypical flaws – playing unfocused, inconsistent and simply lacklustre football for majority of the season. On the surface, it’s understandable that their coach may be frustrated.

Whether it’s a botched attempt at motivation or total incompetence, the way coach Stephen Kearney has gone about righting the ship, especially recently, is curious to say the least.

In response to the possibly of players shutting off over the last five rounds, Kearney threatened to ‘walk them out the front gate of Mount Smart’. Kearney then stepped up to the press conference after the loss to the last-placed Knights (the Warriors’ fifth straight) and claimed “some guys weren’t trying”, and also remarking “there were some individuals whose effort was very questionable”. Tough talk from a disappointed coach.

With their season over, and him just one week earlier threatening to remove any lazy performers, changes seemed imminent. But no, aside from the return from injury of veteran Ryan Hoffman and the switching Isaac Luke to the bench for Nathaniel Roache (one of the very few good performers last week), Kearney has kept the same line-up. One that, aside from injuries, has remained almost entirely unchanged through this bad run — completely contradicting his remarks over the past fortnight.

To make matters worse, Kearney isn’t just crossing himself with his actions (or lack thereof), even opposing his hard stance immediately following his claims, “If I thought wholesale changes would change things out there, I’d have made those changes”. So if the players aren’t invested, but changing the playing group can’t fix that issue, what does that leave us with?

All signs are pointing to Kearney simply being inept at leading this team (need I point out a 17-1-44 record, good for a 27% win ratio). At the very least, a club begging for leadership and stability that cannot escape its own identity isn’t benefitting from this incongruent logic.

NRL – ROUND 23 TEAM LISTS

Insanity or careless?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

Last week I suggested Hasler, or whoever at the Bulldogs insists on sticking to this woefully inept lineup, may be losing it upstairs. I’m out of reasonable ways to explain it. He offered a quick counterpoint, putting Chase Stanley (no, seriously) in the halves. Wonderful! A team that is desperate for direction turns to a fringe first-grade outside back who is most certainly not a halfback. Well I guess kudos for trying…but it didn’t work. So move onto the next idea. The season is over, may as well experiment, right?

Of course not! A lineup that produced only one try – that came well after the game was out of contention – goes 1-17 unchanged, Stanley donning the No.7 again (yeah, seriously). Hasler is a good coach with a proven track record. Experimentation may not be his jam (clearly), but 22 rounds of evidence hasn’t been enough to force his hand.

He’s either given up, or insane. There is nothing else.

Returning Roosters

The Roosters will add serious talent back to the fold with Kangaroos rep Jake Friend and Blues captain Boyd Cordner both named in the starting side. Both Radley and Matterson were admirable whilst filling-in (and have been rewarded with a bench spot) but they were never going to replicate the contributions of the two stars. Whilst the Roosters certainly haven’t struggled, they definitely haven’t hit top gear just yet. Adding arguably their two best players back into the fold with time to get warm before the finals start will go a long way to finding that next level.

They will however be without winger Daniel Tupou until at least the end of the regular season. Whilst in good form, losing a winger won’t put their title hopes in jeopardy, and the versatility of the ever-reliable Mitch Aubusson makes the fix fairly easy as Joseph Manu slides to the wing.

Good news for Dugan

In the rare ‘positive’ injury news, Dugan appears to have picked up only a minor injury, after it appeared he may be in serious trouble. Scans revealing “damage to his lateral ligaments” that have a reasonably quick recovery time means he will be racing the clock to be fit as the Dragons look to turn their form slump around and recover their spot inside the eight. He still sits behind three-game veteran Matt Dufty on the depth chart at his preferred fullback spot, but apparently the Dragons are more comfortable living or dying (likely dying) with a rookie instead of an international.

NRL – ROUND 23 TEAM LISTS

Cowboys can’t catch a break

However the 2017 season ends for North Queensland, there is going to be a slight feeling of resentment towards the awful luck they’ve encountered with injuries throughout the entire year. After finally finding some stability following a string of significant injuries, the Cowboys have to yet again shift the lineup around. Gavin Cooper and Antonio Winterstein are both unavailable, with starting prop Scott Bolton named but under an injury cloud. This comes on the heels of Ray Thompson announcing his retirement due to chronic knee injuries. Considering the amount of adversity they’ve overcome, it’s genuinely impressive, and an indicator of the team’s superb character, that they still remain in the hunt for the top four.

Stray Observations

    • Yes, Hunt looked great at hooker, but let’s be realistic: the Titans are no real test, and the concern was never about offence. Let’s see how he handles the load against the Sharks. This week will be a far better indicator.
    • Following the loss of Clint Gutherson and Andrew McCullough in consecutive weeks, Nathan Ross has gone down for the year. Another fan-favourite having a career year and getting unlucky. Disappointing.
    • With Ross out for the year and Ponga the surefire fullback next season, Gagai makes the most sense there considering he is departing and remains their best player.
    • Frank Pritchard drops off the Eels bench with the return of Tepai Moerea. He didn’t look up to speed and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be in their best 17.
    • Outrage at Soliola, but very little noise about Ofahengaue’s horrible dump. Lucky to only miss three weeks.
    • Still wondering why the Dragons haven’t given Luciano Leilua a crack. Considering their forwards, you’d think he’d make a better impact than Blake Lawrie.
    • Expect Matt Moylan to play, and make a big impact come Saturday.
    • Esan Marsters is looking like real quality on the edge; he and fellow rookie Moses Suli could make one hell of a pairing in the future
    • Keen to see how Coen Hess handles the starting role. Impact was heavily reduced in starter minutes last time round.
    • With Souths well eliminated from contention and a World Cup to look forward to, why risk Sam Burgess?

NRL – ROUND 23 TEAM LISTS

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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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