Nine talking points from NRL Round 15

Scott Pryde Roar Guru

By , Scott Pryde is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger

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    It was a week for the future in the NRL, with plenty of players announcing themselves in a big way. Despite only four games being played with no Origin stars, there was plenty of intriguing action, and we go over it all in this week’s NRL talking points.

    Melbourne vs North Queensland with no Origin players – seriously?
    Unfortunately, we are starting this week with a negative. I understand the NRL schedule is a complex beast, but whoever put the Storm and Cowboys on a State of Origin weekend has a lot of questions to answer.

    The NRL aren’t in charge of their own schedule, and I get that – but it still needs to be approved by them and all the clubs. How everyone could sit around and allow this to happen is beyond a joke.

    If anyone genuinely thought Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan and Cooper Cronk weren’t going to be playing Origin at the start of the year, identify yourselves in the comments. Add to that Michael Morgan, Billy Slater, Gavin Cooper and Tim Glasby – there was a heap of talent watching on from Origin camp.

    And it’s not good enough.

    The NRL take control of their schedule in 2018, and have to ensure rubbish like this doesn’t happen. Simply put, this has the potential to be a huge contest, and without those stars it’s hard to get people interested.

    Full credit to the youngsters who stood up (more on that soon) and put on an amazing game that went to Golden Point, but as a League fan, you can’t help but feel you’ve been robbed with a capital ‘R’.

    North Queensland Cowboys NRL Rugby League 2017

    (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)

    And then there were 13
    It was pretty obvious to anyone paying the smallest bit of attention that the Knights and Tigers were already done heading into this round.

    Throw the Titans on that pile now after their capitulation against South Sydney on Friday. With just four wins, their finals hopes are dashed realistically – eight from ten isn’t going to happen for the unluckiest club in the league.

    As much as they have continually fought and stayed in games, they just lack the killer instinct to win that many games.

    Ashley Taylor and Kane Elgey will be great, but they aren’t consistently brilliant yet. While they won’t make the finals, a strong finish and building cohesion will be important leading into next year.

    The Rabbitohs are the next team on the shelf as we start to eliminate teams from September before we are out of June…

    Gold Coast Titans player Ashley Taylor


    Souths keep their season alive, but barely
    The Rabbitohs picked up an important win on Friday and moved two points ahead of the Titans, meaning they need seven from ten to make the finals.

    In all seriousness, that looks about as realistic as the Titans winning eight, but what the Rabbitohs do is take some momentum out of the game.

    They were rubbish early and have been inconsistent all season, but when they turned it on against the Titans with Sam Burgess watching from the sidelines they looked like a good football team again.

    More of that and they might shoot up the ladder towards the required 28 points, but it’s a long, long way away and so much as a single loss in the next month can probably resign them alongside the Knights, Tigers and Titans.

    Robbie Farah South Sydney Rabbitohs NRL Rugby League 2017

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    Let’s get consistent using the sin bin
    Two incidents on the weekend probably warranted the sin bin, but only once was it used. First it was Ben Hampton surviving, then it was Ava Seumanafagai in his hundredth game being told to tell his story walking.

    Hampton may have a case to say he tried to avoid, but realistically, he didn’t make an effort to avoid contact. In golden point, it’s hard enough to get a penalty, let alone get someone sent to the sin bin, but when he ran through and impeded a 20-metre tap trying to get back onside, it should have been penalised at least.

    It has been a penalty all year, was one last year and the year before that. The rule is black and white – unless you’re a referee in a Golden Point scenario.

    Not even half an hour later in the next game, Seumanafagai impeded Cronulla captain Paul Gallen from taking a quick tap, following a penalty about 25 metres out.

    It too was a sin bin, and there is no doubting the ruling the officials made. But when one was let go on the same night, you have to question where the consistency is.

    It’s a bad look for the game and isn’t going to appeal to the casual fan when one game has one rule, and the next another.

    I’ve been an advocate for increased use of the sin bin, but that was poor at best. Either be consistent or don’t use it at all.

    It’s not a matter of if, but when Angus Crichton plays State of Origin
    Wow. Double wow. What a breakout game from Angus Crichton.

    The young South Sydney backrower has been among their best all season, but he turned on the fireworks against the Titans.

    Three tries were just the headline stat for a brilliant night of work. He also had 200 metres from 16 runs, 27 tackles and four linebreaks. That’s a superb game by anyone’s standards and for the youngster, State of Origin beckons in his future.

    He hasn’t got the wraps he should have so far this season playing in an inconsistent (to be kind) Sydney Rabbitohs outfit. Crichton has constantly been a headache for opposition defensive lines and while there are still elements of his game that must develop, he is technically sound, reads the game well and keeps up with the pace of first grade easily.

    The Blues would be foolish not to have him in their future plans, even at this early stage.

    The Dragons need to remember what worked and play direct
    It’s worrying for fans of the Red V, but they have lost five of their last seven. Sure there have been injuries – and key ones at that – but their level of play hasn’t been good enough.

    In that losing streak was the Anzac Day game and a match hosting Melbourne, but it’s the last two weeks that will concern them the most.

    While their defence was good last week against Canterbury, it wasn’t so against Parramatta this week, and a running theme has been the Dragons showing levels of impatience.

    What worked for them early in the season was playing direct – allowing their ridiculously good forward pack featuring Paul Vaughan, Russell Packer, Tyson Frizell, Jack De Belin and Tariq Sims off the bench to run it through the middle, and then having Cameron McInnes and Gareth Widdop go to work.

    That hasn’t been happening for the last fortnight though. They have gone wide early in the tackle count and then tried to work out why they can’t clear their own end and find themselves on the back foot.

    The Dragons must get back to what was working for them – what made them arguably the most offensively dangerous team in the competition.

    The Dragons play Newcastle next week and almost must run up a cricket score to get some form and confidence back in their attack – and it starts with the forwards.

    Tyson Frizell St George Illawarra Dragons NRL Rugby League 2016

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    How do the Sharks continue to win?
    Five Origin players missing and two tries in the final seven minutes after making a slew of errors early in the game. How on Earth do Cronulla keep doing it?

    Granted, the Tigers aren’t a great opposition, but they came to play on Saturday against the Sharks, and it was a fight to the death.

    In the end, it took the Sharks producing some brilliant attack at the back end to get it done.

    They have been slow out of the gates all season and are yet to play a good 80 minutes of football, but have somehow found a way to be in the top four.

    I feel like a broken record talking about the Sharks, because what else do you say? They are playing poor footy, mixed with some bright moments and winning more games than most sides. It doesn’t add up. It isn’t supposed to be this easy to come from behind week after week after week.

    Chad Townsend has a big part to play in most of the Sharks victories this year, but more than anything it’s experienced in the forwards. Even without Andrew Fifita, it’s a veteran pack led by Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis, Chris Heighington and Matt Prior.

    The later two aren’t household names, but they are players every club has to have. Blokes who turn up and do a job week in and week out, and they are a big reason the Sharks keep winning.

    Corey Norman’s kicking game is the key for Parramatta
    While we have already mentioned the Dragons woes in this article, it’s worth having a chat about Parramatta and in particular Corey Norman.

    The Eels were really good against the Dragons, controlling the game from the outset despite being unable to buy a penalty and having less than half of the possession throughout the game.

    They still managed to get on top behind some brilliant defence at times when the Red V looked like creating something, and with Norman picking the perfect option nearly all the time and receiving good support from Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson, their attacking options were fantastic all game.

    Norman is the key though. He was in complete control, setting plays up and putting the Dragons under pressure for the full 80 minutes.

    After a tough return from injury last week in Darwin, fans of the blue and gold will be happy to see Norman return to form.

    Corey Norman Parramatta Eels NRL 2016

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    The Storm have found their future leaders
    Mark the names Cameron Munster, Curtis Scott, Brodie Croft and Brandon Smith in your notebook. They are the four men who are going to carry the Melbourne Storm into the future.

    With Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater all away on Origin duty this week, the quartet stood up and delivered for Melbourne, with Croft stealing the show.

    His poise in golden points was sensational. Most halves with ten times his experience would have gone for a field goal on the first play, but you can tell he is learning from Cronk.

    The chip kick that forced the drop out couldn’t have been executed any better. He then calmly slotted the field goal early in the set – something teams can learn from instead of waiting for five plays.

    While it was Croft who stole the show, Brendon Smith was brilliant off the bench against his old club, while Munster ran for almost 200 metres.

    Scott was in the centres, but is a versatile backline player and has earned big wraps through juniors and reserve grade.

    Melbourne are building for the future, and it looks ominous for the rest of the competition, especially when you remember they will continue to learn from some of the best players rugby league has to offer.

    Roarers, what did you make of Round 15? Drop a comment below and let us know.

    Scott Pryde
    Scott Pryde

    One of the mainstays of The Roar, Scott Pryde has written over 1,100 articles covering everything from rugby league to basketball, from tennis to cricket. You can follow him on Twitter @sk_pryde.