Five things we learned from NRL round 21
What did we learn from round 21 of the 2012 NRL Season? Here are the five big points, starting with an attacking suggestion for the Dragons.
The Dragons attack looks better without Jamie Soward
The Dragons attack has been a spluttering mess for most of 2012. They are the only team to average less than 16 points per game.
But on Friday night, the Dragons appeared to have found the key to unlocking their attacking shackles – play Nathan Fein at five-eighth instead of Jamie Soward, who is currently injured.
The Dragons shocked an out-of-form Melbourne Storm outfit 26-18 at WIN Stadium on Friday night. Hooker Nathan Fien, playing his 250th first grade game, combined a brilliant kicking game with an all-round solid performance with the ball in hand. He also linked far more effectively with seemingly rejuvenated halfback Ben Hornby.
With Soward more than likely available for this week’s game against the inconsistent Sydney Roosters, coach Steve Price has an important decision to make.
Maybe the Dragons are better off without Soward?
The Bulldogs are a well oiled machine
Despite missing two of their best performers – Sam Kasiano and Kris Keating – the Canterbury Bulldogs still had too much in attack as they defeated the North Queensland Cowboys 32-18 at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night. Martin Taupau and Joel Romelo are far from household names, but both players stepped up into starting positions with apparent ease because every player in the team seems to understand their job on the field perfectly.
The Cowboys did well to stay with the Bulldogs for as long as they did (it was 18-18 after a Thurston try with 17 mins left), but the Dogs were too strong in the final period of the game.
Des Hasler is doing a great job talking down his team’s chances, but the Bulldogs are certainly premiership favourites and probable minor premiers with five rounds to go.
The amazing comebacks keep on coming
The 2012 NRL season will long be remembered as a season full of late and dramatic come from behind victories. It didn’t seem possible that any late comeback could trump the finish of the season – Rabbitohs v Roosters game two weeks ago – but two games on Saturday night have clouded those conclusions.
Over in Perth, defending premiers Manly looked all but gone, as they trailed the Warriors 22-6 with 25 minutes left on the clock. Enter halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, who set up a try and scored two others (the last in the 78th minute) to sink the Warriors.
Two hours later Penrith looked to have squandered their chance of victory at Toyota Stadium. After falling behind to the Sharks with two minutes left, then scoring a try to even the contest up in the final minute through Michael Jennings, Luke Walsh missed the game winning conversion. Luckily for Walsh he didn’t have to wait too long for redemption as he calmly converted the Panthers first field goal attempt in golden point to steal an unlikely victory.
Robbie Farah is a waste at number seven
After sustaining a plague of injuries to his backline over the last few weeks, playing the NRL’s second best hooker at halfback was a last ditch option for Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens on Sunday afternoon. But the move failed spectacularly.
The Tigers were routed 32-6 by a rampaging South Sydney outfit at ANZ Stadium and they were lucky that the scoreline wasn’t worse.
Following a season ending shoulder injury to Curtis Sironen last week against the Cowboys, Sheens decided to move his captain to halfback and include Masada Iosefa at hooker. All he ended up doing was weakening one area by trying to strengthen another, as Farah and Benji Marshall had shocking games at seven and six.
When Farah was finally moved to hooker late in the game (and Humble came on in the halves) he set up the Tigers only try. It was scored by Marshall, following a deft grubber from dummy half.
Having now lost five of their last six games, the Tigers are languishing in 10th place. Importantly, they don’t stand a chance of making the finals unless Farah is moved back to hooker. Even then they may still struggle.
Bennett has the Knights clicking
After a terrible start to the season, which included bombed tries and plenty of tears (mainly from fullback Darius Boyd) the Newcastle Knights finally look like they have turned the corner. Following a 32-6 thrashing of Canberra in the nation’s capital on Sunday – their fifth win in their last six starts – the Knights have stormed into ninth position on the NRL table (just outside the top eight on for and against).
The Wayne Bennett coached Knights have really gelled in attack on the back of an improved forward pack and a very confident backline. Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts are working beautifully together, Akuila Uate is scoring tries for fun, and even Boyd scored his first try of the season over the weekend.
Things are looking very positive for the much improved Novocastrians.
Individual Performance of the Round: Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly)
Match of the Round: Cronulla vs Penrith