Wednesday 21 February 2018 / 04:47 AM


Talking points

Reynolds Returns 

Adam Reynolds missed last week’s controversial loss against the Broncos. Considering his potency off the boot, both in general play and between the sticks, you have to think it would have moved the needle enough to possibly change the result. At 3-5 that loss hurts more than the standard defeat, and as Souths attempt to hang on to the threads of their fleeting season, every inclusion matters. Reyonlds takes Souths to a different level.

Trent Merrin, the best lock in Australia… 

No surprise, Mal Meninga has opted for team cohesion and familiarity over picking on form. Trent Merrin retains his spot despite his average play thus far. Josh McGuire, his opposite number on Thursday night, maybe has best case for conjecture. McGuire has hit career-best form since moving to lock and far exceeds Merrins output in every category sans offloads, in which McGuire is still more than capable. Merrin’s poor play has been talked about ad nasuem and heshould be out to prove a point, because McGuire definitely will.

That positional battle is just a piece of the overall puzzle. Even with a 2-6 record, Penrith are still referred to as a “strong” pack, though they’ve been heavily outplayed up front in all their losses. Meanwhile, the Broncos have been exceptional through the first 8 games and are yet to register a legitimate loss (margin more than six points) and are still severely underrated. The other premiership contenders (Dragons, Sharks, Storm) have put Penrith to the sword, this could prove to be a real statement game.

Elgey on the outer?

Tyrone Roberts deserves to be rewarded for his stellar play at a range of key positions this year. Kane Elgey has been insufficient defensively (5.6 misses pg, second behind James Maloney) which looks to cost him his spot. It’s a tough call for Neil Henry; Hayne flashed signs of life for the first time, and with Roberts outplaying Elgey on all fronts, he might be squeezed out. The Titans have little breathing room if they have any hopes of salvaging their season.

No surprises: as their senior players have returned, the Titans have looked like a threatening outfit. Proctor had his best game to date, Hurrell and Don were much-needed inclusions out wide and Peats’ presence completely changed their pack’s production. A good chance for them to keep the momentum going, drawing the Knights. Extra motivation for GC as they look to avenge a Round 2 loss, Newcastle’s only win.

Des playing games

Despite all the evidence pointing to the contrary, Hasler has picked Lichaa at hooker, opting to leave Frawley on the extended bench. The idea of bringing a halfback off the bench in favour of starting Mbye at hooker is misconstrued. While they got away with it in the first two games, these were two lowly teams, Newcastle and Souths – and both comeback wins. The plan was finally exposed, unable to turn the ship around against the Tigers. It’s harsh to expect a halfback to have an immediate impact without time to feel the pace of the game, and both Mbye and Frawley have shown the chops to handle the defensive task from the kickoff. Put us out of our misery already.

Mismatch of the week

I’m worried about the Tigers’ edges. Nofoaluma, Chee-kam, Suli and Naiqama have time and time again looked inept at making defensive reads, especially defending their own 20. The Bulldogs are one of the only teams that are unable to threaten teams out wide and they were able to mask the flaw en route to victory. The Sharks possess some deadly attacking weapons, great ball-players in the back-row and a tendency to put bad teams to the sword. Blowout potential.

Stray Observations

  • Bryce Cartwright looked underdone in his return. Hasn’t put in a good 80 all year, and with Martin possibly off to the Tigers, he might be called on to play five-eighth full-time. Interesting to see his bounce-back game.
  • Disappointing that Takairangi is going to miss time. Has been an unsung hero for the Eels and was playing great footy, no matter the position.
  • Hess is hitting the wall. I’ve advocated for his move back to the interchange for weeks, and last week was his worst per-minute performance of the season. Ethan Lowe can take the sting out early before allowing Hess to rampage from the bench. Fits the team’s needs better to stagger him and Taumalolo.
  • Do the Sharks have the best bench in the league?
  • For the first time in recent memory, the Raiders’ pack was exposed for its lack of mobility. They have plenty of big bodies and pressure their opponent’s defence for 80 minutes. But if they are able to absorb the pressure, Canberra are at risk of running out of steam, as they did against Manly.
  • Thurston named on the extended bench, and the Cowboys need him more than ever. The Asiata/Morgan pairing’s effectiveness is grinding to a halt. Playing together restricts both of their best skill, running the ball, and neither have the tools to manage the attack. Asiata is nothing more than a forward with terrific ball-skills and Morgan is a runner through and through. Really missing JT’s direction.
  • Will Hopoate is a quiet chance to return this week, and it would be misguided to slot him back in at fullback. Morris has had his two best games at the back and the lack of ball-playing in the halves emphasises Hopoate’s deficiencies as an attacking player.
  • The Eels forward pack deserves a wrap for setting the platform that’s keeping an average roster afloat. Real synergy.


* The Melbourne, Roosters, Dragons and Warriors teams aren’t announced until later this week due to their late Tuesday games

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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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