Five things we learned from NRL round 24
What did we learn from round 24 of the 2012 NRL Season? Here are the five big points, starting with two equally devastating one-point losses on Friday night.
There aren’t different levels of devastation
At least not on the footy field. This was proven on Friday night when fans and spectators witnessed two semi-final style nail-biting games of rugby league that were decided in the final minutes.
Both the Bulldogs v Tigers (23-22) and the Storm v Brisbane (19-18) games contained controversial video refereeing decisions and both losing teams were left utterly devastated after game defining field goals.
The only real difference between the finish to both games was that the Broncos were defeated at the end of 80 minutes following a 74th minute Cooper Cronk field goal, while the Tigers were sunk in golden point thanks to an 89th minute field goal from Canterbury mid-season sensation Krisnan Inu.
Ultimately though, a defeat in golden point was no more difficult to accept for the Tigers than it was for an equally despondent and devastated Broncos outfit, who perished in normal time.
Captain’s challenges will make no difference
Incidentally, during the same two games on Friday night, rugby league viewers were forced to watch three terrible decisions made by NRL video referees – the try awarded to fumbling Storm winger Sisa Waqa, the held-up decision against Tigers rake Robbie Farah and the decision to award a try to Bulldogs winger Jonathan Wright despite clear obstruction – that could have influenced the result of both games.
Rugby league’s rules advisory committee has agreed to trial the use of the ‘captains challenge’ in a under-20s match between the Gold Coast and Manly at Skilled Park on September 1 with a view to possibly introducing it into next year’s NRL season.
The ‘captains challenge’ allows each captain to challenge refereeing decisions (they are unlimited until they get one wrong) and can include, amongst other things, decisions relating to tries not referred to the video referee.
The problem is that all three of the crucial incorrect decisions made on Friday night wouldn’t have been affected by the much vaunted ‘captains challenge’ because they were all rightfully referred to video referees.
The video refs then just made poor calls.
The Knights are the slow starters of the NRL
The Newcastle Knights have been notoriously slow starters in a number of fixtures this season, and this was no more evident than during their horrendous opening six minutes against the Manly Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval on Sunday afternoon.
After the round 22 clash against Canterbury, a fixture in which they also conceded two tries in the opening half a dozen minutes, Wayne Bennett warned his players that their starts to games had to improve rapidly, but it was to no avail.
First Tyrone Roberts kicked out on the full from the kickoff and then Newcastle’s defence turned up their toes to allow two soft tries against the defending premiers. By halftime the score was 38-4.
Only a series of Manly injuries and a slightly improved second half saved some face, but the first half damage had been done and the 42-20 loss has more than likely meant that a Wayne Bennett coached team will miss out on qualifying for a finals series for the first time since 1991.
Manly are NRL Premiership favourites
The Bulldogs may have won an incredible 12 games on the trot, but after Manly’s 42-20 demolition of the Newcastle Knights, the defending premiers have now surged just ahead of Des Hasler’s team as the club most likely to take out to the 2012 NRL Telstra Premiership.
You only had to witness the adventure and speed in attack in their first half performance, followed by the steely determination and toughness that Geoff Toovey’s men possessed in the second 40 minutes as they battled the loss of four players to injury and a vacant substitutes bench, to know that Manly are once again the real deal.
The Sea Eagles started the season slowly, but like an Olympic 10,000m runner they have begun to pick up the pace at the right end of the race – just before finals time.
Kieran Foran is now back to his 2011 best and his halves partner Dale Cherry-Evans isn’t too far behind him.
The understanding that they possess is scary, as was seen with their clever second half short drop out that arrested the momentum from the Knights just when they were starting to feel like they had a chance to steal the game.
The Cowboys defence isn’t good enough to win the Premiership
Despite a come from behind 10-point victory over the St George-Illawarra Dragons at WIN Stadium on Monday night, the North Queensland Cowboys failed to stop the worst attack in the league from scoring 22 points.
No one can question the Cowboys attack – this season the Cowboys have won 12 out of 12 games when they score 20 or more points. But look a little deeper at these stats and you see that only one of these wins came against a team in the top six.
Five of the Cowboys nine losses have come against fellow top six teams – Bulldogs, Storm, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and Sharks.
Simply put, the Cowboys beat up and put plenty of points on the NRL’s weaker teams, but their defence isn’t strong enough and their attack not potent enough against better defensive structured teams in the top six.
Despite sitting in fifth position there are still plenty of questions surrounding the Cowboys. The main one is: can they score enough points to win against Canterbury, Manly and Melbourne when it counts in September?
Individual Performance of the Round: Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys)
Match of the Round: Bulldogs v Tigers