Reynolds farce demands judiciary overhaul
On Thursday morning, I started drafting a spiel declaring the judiciary system around Origin time unfair, with Josh Reynolds’ impending two-match ban set to rule him out of the second interstate clash solely because his club Canterbury had a bye on the weekend. If the Bulldogs did not have a bye in Round 12 or 13 – a situation 12 of the 16 NRL clubs are in – then Reynolds would have been free to line up for the Blues after serving his ban. He surely would have taken the early guilty plea too, such was the severity of his tackle on Queensland’s Brent Tate.
But the Bulldogs’ bye forced Reynolds’ hand, and so club and player – no doubt with Laurie Daley’s blessing – took the gamble to have the charge downgraded. Incredibly, the judiciary panel agreed, and he was handed a paltry grade one dangerous throw penalty, 93 demerit points and no suspension.
Forget Origin and interstate biases. I wanted Josh Reynolds available for game two as much as the next impartial supporter – he was one of the top three players on the field in Brisbane, a mighty performer. But the fact remains the tackle on Tate was terrifying, as the Maroons winger testified post-match. For him to be slapped with a feather was nothing short of a disgrace.
Reynolds’ defence was based largely on teammate Beau Scott’s role in the tackle. Scott also got a grade one charge, presumably because Reynolds’ role in the tackle made it dangerous. Effectively, the Blues’ duo blamed each other and both got off without missing a game.
For the judiciary to rule Reynolds’ tackle less dangerous than recent efforts that lumped Greg Bird and Tariq Sims with two-match bans is ludicrous. Warriors forward Sione Lousi copped a three-match ban – soon after the tragic Alex McKinnon incident rocked the game – for a tackle that encompassed a fraction of the danger or intent as Reynolds’.
The NRL’s edict to come down hard on anything resembling a dangerous throw has now been reduced to a laughing stock. The League’s silence on the matter since the controversial verdict is even more pathetic.
But the most unacceptable aspect of this debacle has been the way McKinnon’s name was dragged into the subsequent furore. ‘How many more Alex McKinnons do we need before the NRL takes a stand?’ bemoaned several identities within the game.
McKinnon’s courage in the face of tragedy, his positive attitude and his gradual progress has been the most inspirational story to come out of Rugby League in years. But the gutless handling of the Reynolds case by the judiciary and the NRL is not only a slap in the face to the rattled Tate and the likes of McKinnon, but every current player the establishment vowed to protect only a couple of months ago as well.
Blues and Maroons contenders line up for selection
NSW and Queensland will both make several changes to their squads for Origin II in Sydney on June 18 – injury-enforced and form-related – and a number of representative hopefuls put their hand up with eye-catching club displays in Round 12. Here are the contenders:
New South Wales
Fullback, wing and centre
Incredibly, Laurie Daley is reportedly considering moving game one man-of-the-match Jarryd Hayne from fullback to centre to cover the loss of right centre Josh Morris, who is out for the rest of the series with a knee injury. The move would limit Hayne’s effectiveness and opportunities, while another reason for shifting him, to contain Greg Inglis, may not eventuate as Inglis may be in the No.1 for the injured Billy Slater.
Josh Dugan has roared into game two contention, either at fullback if Hayne moves to centre or even at centre or wing himself. His chances could come down to his performance in St George Illawarra’s Monday night clash with South Sydney.
Josh Mansour proved he is hungry for an Origin call-up, scoring a brilliant double and making an incredible 259 metres from 25 runs in Penrith’s thrashing of Parramatta.
Jorge Taufua has been solid but well below his 2013 form – probably not enough to catapult him onto the Blues’ flank, particularly as he plays on the left side for Manly. James McManus, NSW’s right winger in last year’s decider, would be a low-risk option.
Will Hopoate, a contender for Brett Morris’ wing spot, is the leading centre actually playing the position regularly at NRL level now Jamal Idris has been stood down indefinitely. Despite Hopoate’s remarkable return this season, there is a concern his body is not yet up to the rigours of Origin after two years out of the game.
Dylan Walker, Jack Wighton and Kane Linnett are potential, if unlikely, centre bolters.
Backrow and bench
No NSW starting or interchange forward deserves to be dropped on the strength of their performance in the series opener, but Greg Bird will undoubtedly come back into the side. Anthony Watmough’s biceps injury may make the decision easier for Daley, otherwise Tony Williams, Beau Scott or Ryan Hoffman could be the unlucky omission – most likely Williams.
Paul Gallen is slated to be fit in time after aggravating a neck injury, but if the captain and Watmough are both ruled out, the door would open for the likes of Wade Graham and Tariq Sims. The fitness of Test forward Boyd Cordner and the explosive Andrew Fifita could become factors ahead of games two and three.
It may be too soon, but Tyrone Peachey shapes as a future NSW star. The second of his two tries against the Eels was close to the best individual effort of the season, while he tallied 198 metres from 17 runs and 26 tackles. An ideal bench option, Peachey could be considered for game three if the Blues wrap up the series in Sydney.
Fullback, wing and centre
The Maroons’ backline will be unchanged – unless Billy Slater’s shoulder injury rules him out, as Storm coach Craig Bellamy has predicted. Little debate will be entered into: Greg Inglis will wear the No.1 if Slater is not there.
Will Chambers, 19th man for Queensland last Wednesday, is the obvious option to come into the centres in Inglis’ place. He boasts the big-game NRL experience and recent form to do the job.
Brent Tate, Willie Tonga and Dane Nielsen are the only players other than Inglis or Justin Hodges to play in the Maroons’ centres in the previous six series. Tate would be a great option but Queensland wingers are thin on the ground, Tonga is currently injured and Nielsen has lost his first grade spot at the Warriors.
Cooper Cronk is gone for 8-12 weeks after suffering a broken arm in the early stages of the series opener. Daly Cherry-Evans is arguably the game’s best No.7, however, and will be better for having a full build-up training in the halfback spot. But he is also in some doubt with injury after missing Manly’s showdown with Brisbane.
Mal Meninga would be forced to punt on in-form Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt if Cherry-Evans fails to recover, with the other NRL options including Chris Sandow, Robert Lui and Ray Thompson.
Backrow and bench
Sam Thaiday will almost certainly return to the starting backrow after a successful return from a calf injury against Manly.
The Maroons lacked punch up the middle and were blatantly short a front-row type; Thaiday’s return will alleviate that shortage somewhat, but Meninga will be tempted to bring in one of several in-form props. Josh Papalii, Ben Te’o and Chris McQueen are under pressure to retain their spots, while Aidan Guerra would be unlucky to be dropped after a solid debut.
David Taylor has his supporters but is still viewed as something of an enigmatic risk.
None other than Phil Gould has plumped for Josh McGuire to be drafted into the Queensland side after his return of 17 runs for 142 metres and 25 tackles without a miss for Brisbane against Manly.
Jacob Lillyman has had an outstanding season for the Warriors and boasts six Origin appearances already; he impressed against Newcastle with 14 runs for 133 metres and 21 tackles (no misses).
Although overshadowed by McGuire and the Broncos’ pack, Brenton Lawrence remains in the mix and made 30 tackles (no misses) on top of nine hit-ups on Sunday.
Ben Hunt has emerged as a favourite to claim the bench utility role if Meninga opts against selected four forwards on the bench. He has plenty of experience at dummy-half and outstanding recent form on the board.
Canberra livewire Anthony Milford could be used as a shock weapon off the bench and provides halves cover, but had a forgettable night against the Roosters.
Nuggetty Roosters rake Jake Friend, 18th man in the series opener, is another interchange option, capable of covering dummy-half and the backrow.
Origin toll costs NRL clubs
The bulging casualty ward to emerge from the brutal State of Origin series opener and clubs’ decisions to rest weary rep stars had a major bearing on Round 12 results. Parramatta’s call to give inspirational co-captain Jarryd Hayne a breather 48 hours after his man-of-the-match turn for NSW contributed to a 38-12 local derby loss to Penrith.
Ravaged by the long-term injury to halfback Cooper Cronk (broken arm) and short-term sidelining of Queensland teammate Billy Slater (AC joint), a makeshift Melbourne line-up crashed to a 22-0 loss to North Queensland on Saturday night. Cronk’s 8-12 week absence could derail the Storm’s campaign.
An uncharacteristically flat Manly sorely missed injured Origin duo Daly Cherry-Evans (knee) and Anthony Watmough (biceps) on Sunday, walloped 36-10 by Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium despite the return of Kieran Foran and Jamie Lyon.
St George Illawarra will be forced to take on Souths on Monday without winger Brett Morris (shoulder), who is out indefinitely, while twin brother and fellow Blues hero Josh is slated to miss 6-8 weeks for Canterbury. NSW captain Paul Gallen will also miss at least one game for Cronulla.
The only two clubs which did not contribute a player to either Origin side – the Panthers and the Warriors – both cruised to sizeable victories.
Cue Craig Bellamy, Geoff Toovey and a clutch of rival NRL coaches beginning their annual roast of Origin scheduling.
Valour from weary Origin stars
Queensland skipper Cameron Smith, who picked up an ankle injury in the Origin clash, was heroic in Melbourne’s loss to North Queensland, playing the full 80 minutes and topping the tackle count with 54. Blues and Storm backrower Ryan Hoffman was not far behind with 43 tackles and 100 metres.
Meanwhile, in the Cowboys, Johnathan Thurston steered the home to victory by scoring a try and laying on two more, Matt Scott tallied game-high totals of 164 metres and 21 carries along with 28 tackles, front-row partner James Tamou made 121 metres from 13 runs and 26 tackles, and Brent Tate ran for 133 metres and racked up 14 tackles.
Brisbane and Queensland forwards Matt Gillett and Corey Parker were equally gallant in a victorious side: Gillett capped a non-stop performance – including a game-high 186 metres – with a 95-metre runaway try, while Parker was typically industrious in racking up 129 metres from 15 carries.
Queensland’s two-try hero Darius Boyd also produced a notable performance while backing up for Newcastle in Auckland, coming up with the cover tackle of the season in cutting down Warriors winger David Fusitua just short of the try-line.
Cometh the hour, cometh the Mannering
Just the second player to break the 200-game barrier for the New Zealand Warriors, much-admired captain Simon Mannering marked his milestone game with two tries – including a stunning kick-and-chase effort to open his side’s account – in a 38-18 victory over Newcastle. Mannering was clearly best afield in a comprehensive, yet patchy, win. The Warriors attracted a bumper 19,000-plus crowd for their long-awaited first match of 2014 at traditional home base Mt Smart Stadium.
Parramatta rocked by Peats injury
The 2014 NRL landscape was significantly altered by the plethora of Origin I injuries, but Parramatta may have suffered the cruellest blow of any club last week, with the Eels’ comprehensive derby loss to Penrith compounded by the season-ending ACL injury suffered by hooker Nathan Peats. One of the NRL’s form No.9s this season, Peats has been integral to the Eels’ resurgence after joining the club from Souths at the end of last year and his absence could scuttle their finals bid. Dynamic, tough and skilful, Peats’ impact will be near-impossible to replace. Backrower Kenny Edwards filled in at hooker when Peats sat out Round 2 due to a club-imposed suspension, while Matt Keating – the Eels’ No.9 in all 24 games last year – is no longer at Parramatta.
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