Video ref blues
It seems the NRL’s video referees are watching replays on a grainy VHS tape while the rest of us have the benefit of high def, such are the bafflingly inconsistent decisions trundled out by the men in the box week after week. Refusing to overturn the original decision and ruling ‘No Try’ against Canterbury’s Chase Stanley was borderline, but somehow finding ‘separation’ – the ambiguous term that has been a scourge on the game for a decade – to take a fair try off Tim Lafai was inexcusable.
Adding further insult to the Bulldogs’ plight, video ref Steve Clark did not have the bottle to rule James Segeyaro offside in a vital second try awarded to Penrith. Canterbury coach Des Hasler’s abject disappointment in his charges’ overall performance in their 22-16 loss saved Clark and his sidekick from an almighty press conference bake.
The decision to award Aidan Guerra’s try, overturning the original decision, was dodgy at best. Meanwhile, a try awarded to the Warriors’ Ben Matulino seemed to fly in the face of the generally accepted application of the obstruction rule, which continues to be a lottery. A finals disaster appears a mere formality.
Hadley a blight on the airwaves
Even in light of their worst-ever campaign in 2013 and the increasing likelihood they will miss the finals two years straight for the first time since 1989, the hardest thing about being a Brisbane Broncos fan must be having Ray Hadley commentate their games every week. Hadley is torture to listen to, while his antiquated phrases, pig-headed opinions and questionable grasp on modern Rugby League have no place in the top broadcasting slots – and that’s before even taking into account his fascist political views and disgraceful attempt to have Matt Parish sacked from the NSW coaching staff for dating his wife.
Ray Warren is not going to be around forever, and if Hadley is the next best available, Channel Nine’s coverage is in serious trouble. David Gyngell needs to swallow his pride and welcome Andrew Voss back into the fold – he is the best caller in the game. ‘Vossy’ sounds great, is a true student of the game and commentates without ego; he has to be the voice of the code after the legendary ‘Rabbs’ hangs up the mic.
Manly pack laying the platform
Manly’s backline continues to enhance its reputation as the NRL’s most devastating, while incomparable halves pairing Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran hold the key to the club’s burgeoning title prospects. But the Sea Eagles’ forwards deserve a massive rap for their contribution to the fractured team’s lofty position. Despite boasting only Anthony Watmough in the international forward department with Glenn Stewart sidelined since Round 8, the Manly pack has played over its opposition – who often field several Test stars – week after week. The likes of Brenton Lawrence, Josh Starling, Jesse Sene-Lefao and Dunamis Lui are playing like men worthy of rep jumpers, while Jamie Buhrer and Jason King offer valuable experienced in a relatively green engine-room.
Copley strives for elite status
The rise and rise of Dale Copley has been one of 2014’s most remarkable stories. I had written him off as a below-average first grader after his bumbling performance in the 2011 preliminary final loss to Manly, while he missed all of 2013 through injury. But he sits near the top of the NRL’s try scoring lists this season and is arguably the Broncos’ top strike weapon – ahead of high-profile stars Justin Hodges and Ben Barba. There is not much fluency about his game; he often looks ungainly. But his full-throttle style, high involvement and toughness is getting results. There is plenty of Brent Tate about the way Copley has come on this year, and a Maroon jumper – at wing or centre – should be just around the corner.
Brave Panthers’ casualty ward hits crisis point
Penrith’s 22-16 defeat of Canterbury was stacked with courage, but another set of devastating injuries has all but sealed the club’s fate for 2014. Elijah Taylor has joined Peter Wallace and Tyrone Peachey on the season-ending injury list, while the return dates of Brent Kite and Bryce Cartwright are uncertain. After some earnest time with the NRL ladder predictor, it appears the Panthers – currently hanging onto third spot – will only just scrape into the eight on percentages thanks to their tough draw. The reintroduction of experienced duo Tim Grant and Kevin Kingston is a welcome luxury for coach Ivan Cleary to have, and speaks volumes for the club’s depth; the Panthers’ recruitment and development should be wholeheartedly commended. But with so many key players on the sidelines, Penrith may have to be content with another season of strong progress, with an early finals exit almost certain.
Eels must find killer instinct
The Jarryd Hayne factor looks set to propel Parramatta into its first finals series in five years, but the team’s lack of killer instinct is concerning – they had the Sharks on the ropes early, but only sealed the result in the latter stages. Coach Brad Arthur went as far as admitting the Eels probably would not have won on Saturday without Hayne. The best of Chris Sandow, Will Hopoate and Corey Norman is only being seen in patches, while powerhouse forwards Junior Paulo, Peni Terepo and Pauli Pauli are as inconsistent as they are bruising and dynamic. Parramatta has the talent to go deep into the finals, but has only claimed one decent scalp – the Roosters in Round 6 – so far this season due to an inability to stay focussed for 80 minutes.
Be my Valentine
The Cronulla Sharks have uncovered a potential superstar in diminutive winger Valentine Holmes. A breakout star of the Auckland Nines in February, Holmes – who only turned 19 a couple of weeks ago – finally received his maiden NRL call-up against Parramatta, and was electrifying in a convincingly-beaten side. He made three line breaks, two of which led to the Sharks’ only tries, while his infield pass for his side’s second touchdown was superb. Cronulla has long been chided for their shoddy backline – no Sharks player has produced a double-figure season try tally since 2008 – but a three-quarter contingent made up of Holmes, fellow rookie Jacob Gagan, and dynamic powerhouses Ricky Leutele and Sosaia Feki, could emerge as one of the NRL’s most potent before too long.
Warriors: hoodoo busters
The New Zealand Warriors’ resounding 54-18 defeat of the hapless Raiders exorcised one of the NRL’s longest-running hexes – it was the Auckland-based club’s first victory at Canberra Stadium since 1997. But it wasn’t the first hoodoo the Warriors have overcome in 2014 – they chalked up maiden wins in Wellington and at Eden Park after a well-publicised run of outs at both venues, and that speaks volumes of the attitude and mental toughness new coach Andrew McFadden has instilled in this usually flaky side.
Although the injuries to Shaun Johnson, Konrad Hurrell and co are worrying as the finals approach, the Warriors face bottom-four sides Cronulla, Newcastle and Gold Coast in the next four weeks, and are well-placed to embark on a hit-and-run mission for a top-four spot.
In another remarkable anomaly to delight the stats boffins and the trainspotters, last Sunday was the second match this season the Warriors have scored 54 points against the Raiders – and their NYC side scored 54 points against the Raiders Under-20s in both curtain-raisers as well!
Where to now for Raiders?
The Marvel Comics-themed jumpers did nothing for the woeful Canberra Raiders, who played like the socially withdrawn Bruce Banner rather than his “you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” Incredible Hulk alter-ego portrayed in the Raiders’ playing strip. Remarkably, the 54-18 loss flattered the ramshackle home side, posting three late tries only after the injury-hit Warriors were reduced to 12 men.
Shaun Fensom, David Shillington and Kurt Baptiste have all been ruled out for the remainder of the season, which will severely test the Raiders’ depth and second-tier salary cap. No doubt Ricky Stuart will manage to confound us with his team announcement on Tuesday though – he has ignored boom half prospect Mitch Cornish virtually all season, while his decision to play a clearly unfit Brenko Lee on the wing at the expense of Sami Sauiluma backfired horribly, with Manu Vatuvei running in an easy hat-trick. Stuart has also turned his back on impressive rookie Matt Allwood since he signed a deal with the Warriors.
A showdown with Cronulla is likely to decide the wooden spoon – the Raiders do not have the firepower or aptitude to get over any other side in the competition. And you’d back the Sharks by 20 on current form, which would leave Stuart as the only coach to win back-to-back wooden spoons with different clubs. It’s no less than he deserves after making a mess of a second club in as many seasons.
The Canberra club has become free agent repellent, unable to lure any half-decent talent despite chasing every handy player on the market. The fact picking up Melbourne winger Sisa Waqa – who is a good buy – is considered a big coup for the Raiders speaks volumes for how far the club’s reputation has plummeted.
They have taken a gamble on Hull KR hooker Josh Hodgson and former Kiwi Test player Iosia Soliola, which may pay off; but make no mistake, they are last resort buys because no one else will come. Anthony Milford is on his way to Brisbane and Brett White is retiring, while there is a growing push to jettison the likes of Terry Campese – one of the few players who has stuck with the Raiders through thick and thin. And at the moment, Canberra’s prospects are thinner than ‘Campo’s’ hairline.
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