A round of upsets has NRL tipsters and punters going back to the drawing board. After impressing in round one the Roosters, Sharks, Dragons and Titans were all extremely disappointing, while the Cowboys and Panthers turned around their ordinary first round performances.
Ten sides have now registered a win and a loss, meaning every game this weekend looks like it could be a close one.
North Queensland Cowboys
What a difference a week makes. After putting in one of the worst showings in NRL history in round one, the Cowboys travelled to Brisbane and steal the two points in the dying minutes.
Matty Bowen was at his explosive best notching two tries, three line breaks and a try assist in a match of the match performance. The Cowboys are a much better side with Bowen in form as he gives the side far more options in attack and takes the pressure off Jonathan Thurston. The Cowboys pack, led by prop Matt Scott, were excellent in laying the platform for Bowen and Thurston.
This was the Cowboys we expected to see in 2012.
The Broncos not only lost the two points but also their most consistent player with Corey Parker out for up to eight weeks. Parker has been one of the most outstanding players in the NRL for the last few years and the Broncos will definitely miss the work-rate and goal-kicking of the talented lock.
The Broncos looked good when Ben Te’o crossed in the 69th minute but they were unable to close the game out. Justin Hodges was again at his devastating best while Corey Norman and Peter Wallace were solid in the halves.
The Broncos are going to need their bench forwards, particularly Josh McGuire, Matt Gillet and Te’o to step up in Parker’s absence. The Broncos will look to bounce back with a victory over former coach Wayne Bennett when the side travels to Newcastle on Friday night.
In just two weeks Manly has gone from the side nobody wanted to equal premiership favourites. A consistent performance across the field and another classy performance by Daly Cherry-Evans showed why Manly are the pace-setters early in 2012. The Manly forward pack simply out-muscled the Tigers early, wearing them down in the second half.
The side has lost none of its discipline under Geoff Toovey, making only nine errors while maintaining 53 percent possession. Manly will be very confident to make it three from three on Monday night against the Sharks.
The favourites tag has worn off the Tigers after only two rounds. Looking to bounce bounce from an inconsistent effort against the Sharks in round one, the Tigers were equally inconsistent in round two.
Tim Sheens’ side were out gunned in the forward pack and were unable to counter the attacking brilliance of Cherry-Evans. Gareth Ellis looks likely to miss the round three clash with the Dragons which is a massive blow for a side already missing Keith Galloway.
Along with the Bulldogs, the Canberra Raiders are the most improved side in the competition. The Raiders put on a dominant second-half performance, keeping the Titans scoreless, and were the better side for all but ten minutes of the match. The Raiders showed some extra flair in attack throwing the ball around more than they did last season.
They proved they had the quality to do this making only eight errors for the game. David Shillington is the form prop of the competition running for almost 200 metres. Josh Dugan is looking electric at fullback while Jack Wighton was incredible on debut. Consistency will be the key for the Raiders as they hope they can string together these good performances.
Gold Coast Titans
I told Titans fans not too get too excited last week and I feel that this game justified that statement. The Titans were back to their wooden-spoon form of 2011. Apart from an impressive passage of play, in the last ten minutes of the first half, they were never really in the game. 51 missed tackles is far too many if you want to win NRL games.
Most of the Gold Coast players were ordinary with Jordan Rankin the only shining light. His first-half try was impressive but he definitely should have looked to his outside players who had massive numbers and were screaming for the football. Titans administration will hope to see a better performance and a better crowd this weekend.
The Bulldogs backed up their round one success with another solid effort against the Dragons. While the 30-4 scoreline says more about how bad the Dragons were rather than how well Canterbury played, Bulldogs fans can still be extremely pleased with their start to the year. The Des Hasler system has already seen massive improvement in the Bulldogs.
Trent Hodkinson in particular appears to be thriving now that he has been reunited with his old coach. Josh Morris’ hat-trick is a good sign for the team as they will need his try-scoring ability if they are to compete with the top sides this season.
St George-Illawarra Dragons
A dreadful showing from the Dragons which supported many critics view that the Dragons can’t win without Wayne Bennett. The Dragons were poorly disciplined, couldn’t handle the ball and made far too many silly errors.
The side never mounted any pressure; giving the Bulldogs all the possession and territory that they needed to dominate. Trent Merrin was by far their best performer, once again, and surely deserves a spot in the starting side. This week in preparation will be a true test of Steve Price’s coaching ability.
Although they got the two points Knights fans will not be happy with the outcome of round two. Another lacklustre performance and a major injury to inspirational captain Kurt Gidley.
The Knights defence was awful for the second week in a row and were extremely lucky to only concede six points. You won’t win many NRL games missing 49 tackles. The loss of Gidley is massive but they do at least have a good replacement in young Ryan Stig.
Stig impressed in his opportunities last year and will be looking to form a successful combination with Jarrod Mullen, who was one of the Knights best against the Sharks. A question mark still hangs over the quality of this Knights side and it will be very interesting how they perform against the Broncos this weekend.
Coach Stuart Flanagan was furious with his side after the game giving them a much deserved spray. The Sharks backs were woeful blowing opportunity after opportunity to put points on.
The Graham-Carney combination that thrived in round one struggled and Wade Graham has been demoted to the bench for round three. Jason Bukuya has been fantastic off the bench in both games this year and looks to have finally entrenched his spot in the squad.
Jeff Robson comes into the squad for round three with Todd Carney shifted out to five-eighth. Carney may well thrive with a bit more room to attack and Robson should take some pressure off Carney’s kicking game.
An impressive outing for the Panthers highlighted by a terrific game from New South Wales origin centre Michael Jennings. Jennings appears to have put his disappointing 2011 behind him and in just two games has tripled his try-scoring record from last year. While it was not a perfect game from Penrith they appear to be greatly improving under new coach Ivan Cleary.
The fact they did this without big front-rower Tim Grant and Michael Gordon makes the win that more impressive. Like most sides the Panthers will be aiming to turn this win into a consistent run of form.
The youthful enthusiasm and passion that was so evident in round one completely disappeared for the Roosters. The side offered very little in attack with only one line break the entire game. The side need Daniel Mortimer back as they are helped greatly by his spark and enthusiasm. Braith Anasta is still a good player, but his best days as a playmaker are behind him.
A move to lock will bolster the inexperienced forward pack. On a positive note, Anthony Minichiello is in evergreen form and is truly standing up as a leader of the club.
Another good solid effort from the Storm. Billy Slater is in scintillating form scoring a brace to add to his try from last weekend. The Storm have so much quality and are so consistent across the park that its hard to find a weakness the opposition can exploit.
Craig Bellamy will have them working on their handling this week though as errors at key times let the Rabbitohs get back into the game in the first half. I’d be very surprised if the Storm don’t make it three from three against the Titans on the Gold Coast this Saturday afternoon.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
South Sydney have shown promising signs but are yet to string together an 80 minute performance. Adam Reynolds shows potential but goes missing at key times while the inconsistency of John Sutton continues. Sam Burgess has been the best forward in the NRL so far this season and his work rate can only improve now he has moved to the second row.
Michael McGuire appears to have instilled a sense of discipline in the side as they made only nine handling errors. A full focus for the entire game is what they require if they are to start winning games.
New Zealand Warriors
The beauty of having two match-winning halves has been evident in the Warriors season so far. In round one Shaun Johnson dominated while in round two it was James Maloney who stepped up. Maloney is under pressure to perform this year, having signed with the Roosters for 2013, and will be hoping to carry this form through the season.
The exciting New Zealand back line was out in force with Bill Tupou, Kevin Locke and the new beast Konrad Hurrell all crossing for four pointers. The Warriors seasons are often made or lost by their form in Australia, so they will take confidence from a first-up away win.
Finally, some mildly positive signs. For the first 16 minutes when Jarryd Hayne, Ben Roberts and Chris Sandow were all on the field the Eels were looking very dangerous in attack and raced out to a two-try lead. Once Hayne went down with injury the momentum halted and only some individual tricks from Chris Sandow kept them in the game.
Parramatta completed their sets and had the majority of possession but lacked the platform from the forwards. Taniela Lasalo was the only member of the pack who ran for over 100 metres. The pressure is now well and truly on Stephen Kearney and with a trip to Townsville this weekend it doesn’t get much easier.