Five things we learned from NRL round 18
What did we learn from round 18 of the 2012 NRL Season? Here are the five big talking points, starting with Bulldogs coach Des Hasler.
Des Hasler is the signing of the season
Todd Carney has been great at the Sharks and Nate Myles has been a workhouse since swapping lattes at Bondi for meter maids on the Gold Coast, but the signing of the season has to be Bulldogs coach Des Hasler.
The boys from Belmore encountered a tough 2011 season, going through two coaches (Kevin Moore and Jim Dymock) on their way to a disappointing ninth place finish. This season, however, Hasler has his team firing on all cylinders, and with just eight rounds to go the Bulldogs are just two points behind the Storm, who are looking wobbly in first place.
Following a few words from Hasler at half-time after a sub-par first half against the Wests Tigers on Friday night, where his team completed just 9 of 17 sets, Canterbury came out firing to score two quick second half tries, eventually winning 32-20 to consign the Tigers to their third straight loss.
Hasler’s ability to improve his team individually and as a group can’t be emphasised enough. Ben Barba, Sam Kasiano and Josh Reynolds have all taken their games to a new level and were unlucky not have played representative football so far this season. And while many fans have been sceptical of the June 30 deadline for mid-season player signings, Hasler has strengthened his backline expertly with discards Krisnan Inu and Sam Perrett. The Bulldogs now look like one of the sides to beat this season.
The Storm have come back to the field
After winning their first nine games of the season the Melbourne Storm were expected to cruise to the NRL Minor Premiership, but nine weeks later and they appear to have run out of gas. Missing the injured Billy Slater and fatigued Cameron Smith the Storm were spanked 40-12 against Canberra at AAMI Stadium on Saturday night – the Raiders biggest ever win over the Storm. While any NRL team is going to miss two of the most influential players of all time, what was most noticeable was how average the other Storm players looked (excluding Queensland field goal hero Cooper Cronk who tried almost everything he possibly could) without the two future Immortals.
The Storm have lost three out of their past four games, and while Slater is still reportedly a couple of weeks off a return, Smith is expected to play against the Cowboys back at home this Saturday – and it’s not a moment too soon for the spluttering Storm.
Parramatta’s spine for Sunday’s game against Manly at Brookvale Oval read: 1. Jake Mullaney, 6. Luke Kelly, 7. Chris Sandow, 9. Nathan Smith. Mullaney and Smith were on debut; Kelly has now played 8 first grade games since he debuted for the Storm back in 2009; and then there’s the horribly out of form Chris Sandow.
No disrespect to the playing talent listed above, but none of these names listed in the four most important positions on the footy field were ever going to strike fear into the heart of the defending premiers. The Sea Eagles led 40-0 after just 48 minutes after exiting the blocks as fast as that other Jamaican bloke who knocked off Usain Bolt last week. Despite scoring the last four tries, the Eels were still comfortably defeated 40-24. You just can’t expect to compete in the NRL with that spine.
The Roosters know how to drag the opposition down to their level
Cold, wet and slippery conditions greeted the Sharks and Roosters on Monday night at Toyota Park – hardly the ideal conditions for a Cronulla team containing inform ball players Jeff Robson, Todd Carney and Wade Graham. Despite turning over the ball on a mind boggling 14 occasions and consequently having only 43% of the possession, conditions were still more suited to a bigger and slower moving Roosters pack who were intent on making the game an arm-wrestle.
The Roosters, despite being the most penalised team in the NRL this season (they were once again on the wrong end of a 9-2 penalty count) are particularly good at bringing other teams down to their level. This was never more evident than in the 63rd minute when the Sharks took a penalty goal to increase their lead to four points, rather than put a tired Roosters team to bed by scoring a try. They repelled almost everything that a flat and deflated Sharks team could throw at them and after scoring a very late try the scores were locked at 14-all at the end of normal time.
The less discussed about the 8 field goal attempts that took place in extra-time the better, but it should be said that it was indicative of the scrappy and bruising 80 minutes that preceded it.
NRL plays second fiddle to State of Origin, again
The build up to State of Origin three and consequently all the talking points that came from the epic encounter last Wednesday night, certainly took the gloss off a round of just six NRL matches that took place over the weekend. It also didn’t help that many of the games stars were rested or were injured for this week’s fixtures following a tough two month Origin period – including Smith, Gallen, Harrison, Bird, Myles, Slater and Glenn Stewart.
With the representative period now complete, NRL teams will start to get back to full strength and begin to gain some momentum with the inclusion of their top players on a weekly basis, a basic luxury they haven’t been afforded since Round 10. It is also time for NRL fans to bring their entire focus back to the week in and week out grind.
Bring it on!
Individual Performance of the Round: Ben Barba (Bulldogs)
Match of the Round: Bulldogs v Tigers