The Send-Off Is Dead
The baffling decision by the on-field officials and video referees to allow Parramatta firebrand Darcy Lussick to remain on the field after his sickening high shot on Roosters rival Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was an indictment on everyone involved, and another glaring example of the overwhelming reluctance to use the send-off option. Gavin Badger has been hung out to dry – and he deserves a big chunk of the blame – but the video men should have got in his ear and given him the appropriate advice, which virtually everyone at the ground, in the commentary box and watching on television concurred was to dismiss Lussick.
You will struggle to find a more obvious send-off offence in 2014, while it is an absurd injustice that Melbourne received more of an in-game penalty for Billy Slater’s holding-down sin-binning than the Eels copped for Lussick’s reckless shot. The three players sent off in 2013 – Krisnan Inu (dangerous tackle on Greg Inglis), Waerea-Hargreaves (reckless high tackle on George Rose) and Kade Snowden (shoulder-charge on Ray Thompson) – showed a fraction of Lussick’s malice in committing their respective indiscretions.
An overhaul of the current system needs serious consideration, with the replacing of sent-off players a possible option. It would count as one of the team’s 10 interchanges, while also reducing the offending team to a three-man bench for the remainder – a significant disadvantage. While some will argue the change would not provide enough of a deterrent, it is certainly preferable to gun-shy refs refusing to march players for fear of getting it wrong.
While we’re giving the video referees a touch up, how did they come up with red light verdicts after Roosters second-rower Boyd Cornder and Tigers prop Martin Taupau’s tries were sent upstairs with the on-field referees giving them the thumbs up? The replay of Cordner’s was inconclusive at best, while Taupau’s appeared to indicate no problem whatsoever; the video refs not only made a mockery of the referral system which gained such widespread approval last season, they blatantly got it wrong. Thankfully, neither video bungle had any impact on the result in the blowout contests, while both forwards eventually found their way onto the score-sheet later in their respective matches.
Broncos and Dragons party like it’s 1992-93
Few could have seen this coming: the two most vilified teams of the pre-season, Brisbane and St George Illawarra, are two of only three unbeaten teams after two rounds of NRL action. The Broncos have grinded out courageous wins over 2013 finalists Canterbury and North Queensland, while the Dragons sit atop the table after emphatic defeats of Wests Tigers and the Warriors, after trailing during the first half of both matches. Both sides have plenty of improvement left in them and have areas of weakness to work on, but their respective bids to return to the finals are off to a flying start. The Dragons-Broncos clash at WIN Stadium in Round 4 all of a sudden shapes as one of the bumper showdowns of the NRL’s first month.
Let’s Gone Warriors
At the other end of the spectrum, the Warriors have been easily the most disappointing team of the 2014 NRL’s opening fortnight. Blown off the park by Parramatta in Round 1, the Warriors had more than enough opportunities to get over the Dragons – they led 12-6 at halftime – but disjointed attack, poor ball security and a lack of defensive commitment brought them undone for the second week in a row. The Warriors were the form team of the pre-season along with North Queensland, but they are now a club on the brink of crisis, with coach Matt Elliott desperately in need of a winning formula to save his job. Elliott hasn’t helped his own cause with a dubious selection policy – most notably leaving Konrad Hurrell languishing in NSW Cup – while the Warriors’ over-structured attack and reluctance to chance their arm in trademark fashion has stifled their progress. In particular, Shaun Johnson’s unwillingness to take on the line has been a frustrating feature. The familiar road back from an ordinary start begins with an ominous assignment against the Cowboys in Townsville, where the Warriors have not won since 2005.
On The Rise
- Tigers fullback James Tedescois living up to the big wraps placed on him as a teenager, tearing up the Titans on Sunday on the back of a fine Round 1 display against the Dragons. Tedesco’s blistering speed is being complemented by burgeoning ball-playing skills, while his combination with halfback Luke Brooks – who produced a commanding display after a quiet opening-round outing – is shaping as one of the most dangerous in the competition. With Jarryd Hayne an incumbent Test centre and Josh Dugan and Brett Stewart dogged by injuries, Tedesco has surged into the NSW Origin frame.
- Anthony Milford is showing why there was such a fervent tug-of-war for his services, making three line breaks against Newcastle – two of which led to crucial long-range tries in the second half – and coming up with several breathtaking high-ball catches. There is no more electrifying ball-runner in the NRL.
- St George Illawarra’s success so far is largely thanks to the dominant performances of Gareth Widdop, who already has one hand on the ‘buy of the year’ tag and has charged into Dally M calculations. Dynamic, calm and precise, Widdop is stepping out of the shadow of the Melbourne ‘Big Three’ in a major way, while he has kicked 13 goals from as many attempts and slotted a remarkable left-foot field goal against the Warriors.
On The Slide
- In the top bracket of the game’s fastest and most elusive players, Shaun Johnson’s return of six runs for 40 metres in the opening two rounds simply is not good enough for a player regarded as potentially one of the NRL’s dominant halfbacks, in a side desperately crying out for his trademark brilliance.
- The Titans, and in particular coach John Cartwright, have shown an enormous amount of faith in fullback William Zillman over the years, signing him to back-to-back long-term deals. But he has rarely produced genuinely consistent form, and is currently badly out of sorts. Despite being used at five-eighth on occasion by Cartwright, Zillman’s ball-playing ability ranks alongside the worst of the NRL’s fullbacks, while he made two handling errors and just 61 metres from nine runs in the Titans’ dismal loss to the Tigers.
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Will has published two books on Rugby League:
- A History of State of Origin
- A Short History of Rugby League in Australia