Reflecting on Round One of the NRL season
After a pre-season consisting of months and months of speculation, the NRL season is finally here. We can now answer some of those questions that have been burning us in the off-season.
Who is good? Who will make the eight? Will Sandow save the Eels? Can the Dragons win without Wayne Bennett?
An extremely entertaining round one has given us some insight into these questions. After two golden-point matches as well as a number of upsets it appears that the NRL is as tight as ever. But what have we learnt about the 16 clubs?
St George-lllawarra Dragons
We learnt that the Dragons are capable of winning without Wayne Bennett. Rookie coach Steve Price had the Dragons well prepared and continued to play the grinding style of football that flourished under Bennett.
Second-rower Trent Merrin had an absolute blinder. Merrin is one of the most underrated forwards in the game and would be one of my first picked for State of Origin. 2011 Toyota Cup Player of the year Jack De Belin was also impressive, making an immediate impact when he came off the bench in the second half. The Dragons showed they can still be contenders and should account for the Bulldogs this weekend.
We learnt that the Knights still have a lot of work to do. The Knights put in a very uncharacteristic performance for a Wayne Bennett coached side. The Knights missed 23 tackles and not one of their forwards was able to gain significant go-forward. Kade Snowden was particularly unimpressive.
The team still lacks in defence with neither Kurt Gidley or Jarrod Mullen a proven organiser. Gidley had one of his worst performances for a while, having little impact throughout the match. The Knights will have to improve, especially in the forwards, if they are to beat a much-improved Sharks outfit this weekend.
We learnt that their might be life after Darren Lockyer for the Brisbane Broncos. The Broncos were disappointing with the ball in the first half but made up for this with steely defence. The Eels only try came from a Gerard Beale mistake.
The second half was much better for the Broncos as the held onto the ball and looked very dangerous. Corey Norman made a few errors but at least showed he had the confidence to attack the line. Peter Wallace led them around the field in an impressive performance. Justin Hodges looks extremely fit and motivated which is bad news for other centres in the league.
We learnt that Chris Sandow is not the magic solution for the Eels. Sandow did very little with the ball and as per usual missed a number of tackles. The Eels forwards performed solidly with Nathan Hindmarsh and Tim Mannah the stand outs. It’s hard to see where the Eels points are going to come from though.
Like last season, when they were the second-lowest point scorers, the Eels have no real structure or direction in attack. Their outside backs are all extremely weak and 80 minutes without a line break is never a good sign. The Eels will need rapid improvement if they are going to get anywhere near the top eight this season.
We learnt that Billy Slater always saves some magic for tight games. The Storm were lucky to get away with this one though, making a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes. The Storm forwards struggled for metres in the wet with only Sika Manu cracking the century of metres gained.
Ryan Hoffman was disappointing in his first game back in Australia, missing tackles and making a couple of errors. Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater were all excellent and did enough to drag their side to victory. Melbourne should improve on this effort this weekend against South Sydney.
We learnt that the Raiders are a much better side with Terry Campese on the field. While Campese is not yet back to his best, individually the confidence and control he brings to the Raiders has a massive effect on the side. Workhorse Shaun Fensom was exceptional again while David Shillington played perhaps his best club match since 2010. The Raiders are still a bit stagnant in attack. A bit more variety is needed especially in the forwards. The side can take much confidence out of this performance and would back themselves to beat the Titans on Saturday afternoon.
We learnt that James Graham could be the buy of the season. The English workhorse came off the bench for 115 metres, 51 tackles and a line break. Graham is the type of player whose enthusiasm is contagious and the Bulldogs are clearly a better side with him on the paddock.
However, apart from Graham and getting the two points there wasn’t too many other positives for the Dogs. The halves combination of Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds has potential but Hodkinson needs to recapture his 2010 form if the Bulldogs are going to be contenders this year. Canterbury will need an improved performance across the park if they are too beat the Dragons this weekend.
We learnt that the Panthers are going to struggle to score points again in 2012. Attacking spark Michael Gordon will miss most of the year and without him its hard to see how the Panthers will score enough points to be top-eight contenders. The Panthers had the bulk of the possession (with an outstanding completion rate) but were unable to turn it into points. Missed tackles were also a problem (they made over 30) for a team lacking attacking prowess.
On a positive note Tim Grant was outstanding running for over 200 metres. The big man is obviously relishing becoming the leader of the Panthers pack. Ivan Cleary has the Panthers well-drilled and they will be honest this year, but its hard to see them troubling the top sides.
Gold Coast Titans
We learnt that Jamal Idris might actually be worth the money. Idris and Scott Prince appear to have developed a solid connection already and Prince must be loving playing with a centre who actually runs hard onto the ball.
Titans fans shouldn’t get too carried away though as the Cowboys were absolutely horrendous and wouldn’t have beaten a reserve grade side. However, youngsters Kayne Lawton, Jordan Rankin and Dominique Peyroux all showed promise while Greg Bird, Nate Myles and Luke Bailey gave the side great go-forward. A game against a team which can hold the football should give a better indication of the Titans quality this year.
North Queensland Cowboys
We learnt that reigning Golden Boot Jonathan Thurston is capable of some real shockers. Thurston was atrocious making six errors and never looked comfortable. Overall, it was one of the worst performances in NRL history. No team in NRL history has had such a poor completion rate. Unless you watched the game its impossible to comprehend just how bad the Cowboys were with the ball.
On top of the mountain of errors, they were undisciplined and showed no enthusiasm what’soever. If they continue to play like this Neil Henry will be out of a job before round 10. The one positive for Cowboys fans is that they only conceded 18 points when, based on territory and possession, it should have been over 30. How the side responds this weekend against the Broncos will be extremely telling for the Cowboys hopes this season.
We learnt that despite a disastrous off-season Manly are still the team to beat in 2012. Geoff Toovey appears to have kept in place the same structures that served the side so well under Des Hasler.
Despite the chaos off the field, on the field the team is roughly the same and as clinical as ever.Tony Williams was at his devastating best while Daly Cherry-Evans showed no sign of second year syndrome, putting in a confident performance. Manly will go into their match with the Wests Tigers as underdogs with the bookmakers and therefore represent fantastic value for all punters out there.
New Zealand Warriors
We learnt that Shaun Johnson is well and truly one of the most exciting players in the game. Johnson set up three Warriors tries and scored one himself in a fantastic offensive performance. However, he still has some work to do in defence and really needs to step up as an organiser.
Konrad Hurrell looks a star in the making coming off the bench for 154 metres in his first grade debut. Captain Simon Mannering had a quiet game by his high standards and the Warriors will be expecting more from the skipper this weekend. Brian McClennan should get his first win as an Australian first grade coach against the Eels on Monday night.
We learnt that the Wests Tigers may be undeserving premiership favourites. The Tigers looked very average at times and it took some Beau Ryan magic and some favourable refereeing decisions to get them the two points. The halves combination of Benji Marshall and Tim Moltzen has not yet clicked and when chasing points, in the second half, the attack looked disjointed. Big money signing Adam Blair was fairly average; missing six tackles. They will need a much bigger impact from him and his fellow forwards if they are to beat Manly.
We learnt that the signing of Todd Carney might have been a master-stroke. After a quiet first-half Carney and five-eighth Wade Graham really stepped up, breaking the Tigers defensive line three times between them. Carney looked particularly dangerous attacking the short-side, catching out Tigers centre Blake Ayshford on a number of occasions.
Paul Gallen and Bryce Gibbs led from the front laying down a solid platform, allowing Carney to take advantage. Refereeing decisions clearly cost the Sharks but they must take a share of the blame with 21 missed tackles and 16 handling errors not good enough. However, there were enough promising signs for Sharks fans to be excited about their side in 2012.
We learnt that the Roosters are a young side with a lot of heart. The Roosters were dead and buried with five minutes to go but somehow found a way to win. This Roosters side is extremely young and inexperienced but Brian Smith appears to have instilled in them a spirit and enthusiasm that was lacking last year.
Daniel Mortimer and Mitchell Pearce combined well in the halves which must have Smith considering moving Braith Anasta to Lock. Youngster Boyd Cordner was superb setting up the match winning try with one of the best grubber kicks you will ever see from a forward. The Roosters may surprise a few people this year.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
We learnt that teams must play the full 80 minutes of football in the NRL. The competition is just too tight for sides to be turning off early. You have to feel for coach Michael Maguire who must have felt like his team was cruising to his debut Australian first grade victory.
Instead he now has the tough task of preparing his side to beat the Melbourne Storm to avoid starting the season 0-2.
It’s difficult to rate the South Sydney performance.
On one hand they appeared to be in control of the game in the second half with their forwards, led by Sam Burgess, making fairly easy yards up the middle. They didn’t put the game to bed though and this clearly came back to haunt them. Adam Reynolds was good without being spectacular and it will be very interesting to see how he matches up with Cooper Cronk this week.
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