Closest start since 1973 as NRL clubs race to find form

Jack Aubrey Roar Guru

By , Jack Aubrey is a Roar Guru


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    Not since 1973 has every team in Australia’s top rugby league comp achieved at least one win by Round 3, a testament to just how close things are going to be over the next 23 rounds.

    From the Cowboys sneaking home twice in the opening rounds, the Broncos and Panthers losing heartbreakers in Round 3, as well as the Roosters and Storm hanging tough to keep their records intact, it is all swings and roundabouts so far.

    More impressive is the grit of teams like the Knights and Sea Eagles. Down on troops and roundly written off, they have thoroughly deserved their wins and are perhaps a touch unlucky not to have added to that.

    The Knights have been in every game so far and have lacked a little class and poise in getting another win after breaking through against the Titans in Round 2. The Sea Eagles meanwhile were beaten but could hold their heads high in Round 1 against a Parramatta outfit that had all the ball and all the field position. To go up to Townsville and beat the Cowboys is never easy and the win could kick-start Manly’s season.

    With hot favourites the Sharks, Cowboys and Eels going down in Round 3, one thing is for sure: there are no ‘gimmes’ in 2017.

    Panthers, Broncos no more deserving than their opposition
    Broncos and Panthers fans should be holding their heads high after gutsy efforts in Round 3 that just didn’t quite come off. No doubt both they and their opponents will be there at the pointy end if they keep playing football like that.

    For Brisbane, it was more a case of being unlucky rather than outclassed. The match-winning try for the Storm was hardly textbook but once again, under pressure, Cameron Smith sent the conversion over from touch to put the Storm in front. Melbourne also welcomed back Billy Slater with a win.

    It doesn’t get any easier for the Broncos, who head back to Suncorp to face the Raiders in Round 4. Two weeks for two heartbreakers, they need something to show for it on Friday night.

    For the Panthers, it was all effort but no execution. The refereeing was poor but if you want to be a finals contender overcoming obstacles, whatever form they take, is key.

    Nathan Cleary caused all sorts of trouble with his astute kicking but was let down on two occasions, with chasers offside from spiralling bombs. The Roosters’ third try was given despite a fairly obvious forward pass in the lead-up, but to say the boys from Bondi were less deserving when they would have scored two tries to one in any case is a stretch.

    Penrith will look back at this one as one that got away. If they can execute better and find points under pressure, no amount of poor refereeing excuses will stop them.

    Warriors and Tigers fans again left wanting
    Jason Taylor has been sacked, which is not all that surprising after another awful performance against the Raiders.

    Taylor has had a young, talented squad for a couple of seasons that has shown no real improvement. In attack they can be a joy to watch but their defence and their overall culture is a critical issue.

    The saga with Robbie Farah dominated their season last year, as he was allowed to say what he pleased about coach and club before signing with Souths at the end of last season. They have had trouble re-signing James Tedesco, Aaron Woods, Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses, as they hold concerns over the coach, indicative of a playing group that has too much say and not enough regard for a man who should be their leader.

    For those Big Four players to be demanding fat contracts while dishing up the sort of football they did on Sunday is appalling and change needs to start now for the Tigers.

    The Warriors’ plotline is not too different from the Tigers: prodigious talent, skill and athleticism, a spine that is the envy of plenty of NRL clubs, but nothing to show for it since Ivan Cleary departed in 2011.

    The symptoms start at the top, where they have appointed a coach with a poor track-record in Stephen Kearney, while demoting a man not deemed adequate for the job into an assistant coaching role.

    The Warriors need a disciplinarian, someone not afraid to rule the roost. It is only Round 3, the Kiwi side may yet get themselves into gear, but they have a top-four roster and anything less should be dealt with harshly.

    Stephen Kearney in 2008

    No Hayne, no worries
    Much has been written of Jarryd Hayne of late, most of it pretty negative. I was a big fan of the Titans’ style of play last year, pre-Hayne, which was all about teamwork and effort, nothing too flashy or over the top. They were just a gritty side that looked like they wanted to work hard for each other.

    Nothing demonstrated this better than their draw with the Cronulla Sharks, which ended the eventual premiers’ 15-match winning run.

    The Titans were back to their old selves on Friday night against the Eels, defying an injury crisis both leading into and during the game, to win by 14 points.

    Hayne is a talent in his own right, but Titans fans would be prouder of that effort than anything they have seen since he arrived at the club.

    Maybe Hayne just isn’t the right fit for the Gold Coast Titans?