Ten talking points from NRL Round 19

Scott Pryde Roar Guru

By , Scott Pryde is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger

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    The last of the bye rounds is finished and the run to the finals underway. In a lot of ways, it was a tough weekend for footy fans with not all that much intrigue apart from one golden point finish. Here are The Roar‘s NRL talking points for Round 19.

    It’s a logjam on 18 points, but can any of them make it when September calls?
    Following Round 19, there are four teams on 18 points, being the Canberra Raiders, New Zealand Warriors, Canterbury Bulldogs and Gold Coast Titans. They take tenth through thirteenth on the table, but the question remains – can any of them string a run together to make the eight.

    If 28 is to be the minimum, then that says those teams need to win five of the last seven. Now, that’s not impossible but to find themselves on 18 at this point of the season says it should be close to.

    More on the Warriors later, but I’m ruling them out and while we are at it, you can add the Bulldogs to that list. The Raiders and Titans, thanks to wins on the weekend, are still hanging in, if only by a thread.

    I had counted the Titans out a month ago, but they have now won three on the trot to bring themselves back into contention. Unfortunately, quality of opponents leaves a little to be desired, so finding a way to beat Penrith next week is an absolute must, especially given the Panthers are on 20 and a spot ahead.

    As for the Raiders – it’s hard to know what to make of their season. You feel as if at any moment they could go on a run of wins. This is a team with so much talent, who were hyped as premiership favourites this season, but it just hasn’t clicked to this point.

    Five wins from seven seems unreasonable for them to achieve based on everything, but they kept their season alive on Friday against the Dragons. They will need to keep improving, but I’m not prepared to write off either the Titans or Raiders, leaving it at 11 teams in the race for the final eight – of course, some of those teams are already locked and loaded for football in September.

    Jordan Rapana Canberra Raiders NRL Rugby League 2017

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    Ashley Taylor and Nathan Cleary – the Origin battle of the next decade
    If I had to vote for the two best performances of the weekend, it would be Nathan Cleary and Ashley Taylor, who were sensational for the Panthers and Titans in their respective wins over the Warriors and Sharks.

    Let’s start with Cleary, because I’d only just finished talking about how he needed to improve and become more consistent last week. He then turned it around for what would have to be rated as his best performance of the season.

    Sure, ripping the Warriors to shreds isn’t exactly the most incredible feat, but you can only play what’s in front of you and Cleary played a blinder. Three tries, only one missed conversion and a couple more assists. He made good decisions, ran the ball more than he has done and had good variety in his attacking game plan.

    Taylor had a similarly fantastic performance for the Titans. He guided them to victory in atrocious conditions on the Gold Coast. The Sharks didn’t play well, but a chunk of that was thanks to Taylor.

    His kicking game was accurate, he played the conditions and himself scored a double, playing a crucial hand in other tries.

    What was impressive about both of their respective games was defence. They both defended extremely well, to back up their attack, and anyone arguing this won’t be the next Origin halves battle probably hasn’t seen a lot of them play.

    The question for both states will be how soon they bring him in. Consistency this year indicates 2018 will be too son, but don’t be surprised if they are lining up on opposite sides of the park in 2019 wearing blue and maroon.

    Gold Coast Titans player Ashley Taylor

    (Supplied)

    Manly’s spine causes carnage again
    The Sea Eagles came into 2017 without expectation, but their spine has worked wonders.

    Sure, their defence and consistency has been brilliant – Jake Trbojevic has been one of the competition’s form locks, and their outside backs have all stood up beyond belief – but it’s the four men manning the spine who have led the way.

    Apisai Koroisau, Daly Cherry-Evans, Melbourne reject Blake Green and youngster Tom Trbojevic have just been sensational.

    They could even be the best spine in the competition. That’s a big call, but all things considered, they aren’t far away.

    So it was little surprise to see them rip the Tigers in half on Sunday afternoon. Sure, the Sea Eagles went through a few tough spots in the game, but with Tom Trbojevic back at his best, assisting two tries and running for 190 metres, the rest of the competition had better be on notice for this unexpected top-four team.

    Sea Eagles player Tom Trbojevic

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    If Shaun Johnson’s gone, then so are the Warriors – but we already knew that
    The Warriors just don’t get it. Their 2017 has been woeful, to say the least and with Shaun Johnson appearing as if he had been shot in the leg against the Panthers, their final chance of making the finals appears to be gone.

    There is early talk Johnson could be out for the season, but at the end of the day, I don’t think it makes a heap of difference.

    Sure, he is their best player and there’s little doubting that. Johnson can inspire magic from the Warriors, but the bottom line is this – he doesn’t do it nearly often enough, and the Warriors often dish up absolute trash.

    That’s what happened against the Panthers on Friday night. They looked like they didn’t want to be there in defence and while they had some good moments in attack, it’s just not consistent enough. Errors, silly decisions and a general lack of direction are marks on their performance week in and week out.

    I’m not sure how Warriors fans do it, because it’s the toughest gig in NRL. On paper, they are a top four team at worst. In reality, they are lucky to escape the bottom four, and probably wouldn’t if not for the Origin window.

    Either way, even with the form of Foran alongside Johnson, it’s been Johnson doing most of the Warriors damage, and if he’s gone then so is the Warriors’ final inkling of hope in 2017.

    Shaun Johnson running with football

    What do we make of the Dragons dramatic fall from grace?
    This is a tough one for me, personally. I held low expectations over my Dragons coming into the season, but they changed all that in the first two months.

    At one point, they were on top of the table. Then came injuries, Origin and the byes. All momentum was broken, the club jumped the gun on re-signing both players and coach Paul McGregor, and with seven weeks to go the Dragons find themselves in eighth and wondering where the next win comes from.

    Gareth Widdop’s form has fallen off the side of a cliff, although he was solid against Canberra, and the forwards simply aren’t playing as direct as they once were.

    There is more side-to-side stuff, more uncertainty in attack and to put it bluntly, they are looking like the team who slumped in 2016 than the one who killed it at the start of 2017.

    The Dragons making the finals, which seemed like a certainty is now anything but and the club are struggling, to say the least.

    What it can be is a warning to other clubs. Don’t re-sign players any earlier than you have to, and certainly don’t give a coach a new contract based on eight weeks of brilliance. I was concerned when it was announced, and those chickens have come home to roost.

    Can the Dragons turn it around and make a run in September? Probably not. Will they even make September? Maybe.

    Tyson Frizell St George Illawarra Dragons NRL Rugby League 2016

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    Jason Taumalolo not getting the 2016 wraps, but still on top of the world
    Cowboys enforcer Jason Taumalolo, who is on a ridiculous ten-year contract in Townsville hasn’t got the inches he should have in this column so far for 2017.

    He is still the Cowboys enforcer. Still working ridiculously hard, and he ruined the South Sydney pack on Sunday afternoon. Another 175 metres, a try, some bruising defence and a pair of line-breaks.

    Without Johnathan Thurston, the Cowboys need the rest of the spine to stand up, and they have done so. Their job has been made infinitely easier by the human wrecking ball wearing the Cowboys No.13 jersey though.

    Jason Taumalolo

    (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

    How did Cronulla let Jamayne Isaako go?
    There wasn’t anything all that special from Isaako on debut for the Broncos, but how the Sharks let this one get away baffles me.

    The natural born fullback, probably the heir apparent to the throne of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in the national team, started his career in the Shire.

    He played in the National Youth Cup for the club and represented the New Zealand under 20’s while playing for them. It was, in fact the 2015 edition of that under 20’s Test when I first saw Isaako.

    He was brilliant on that occasion, did similarly brilliant things in the 2016 edition of the match and has maintained professionalism and a freakish natural ability in every other game I’ve seen him play.

    I know you can’t keep them all, but he looked like he belonged making his debut at the back against Newcastle. He had 156 metres and averaged more than ten per run, not looking out of place in first grade once.

    Watch out for Isaako, because he will become one of the very best in the next five years and as for Cronulla, they will be made to look foolish for letting him go. Mark my words.

    Back to the 80s for a desperate Titans
    In all my years of watching rugby league, I haven’t seen a ground with so much surface water on it. Granted, I’m not old enough to recall some of the battles of the 80’s, but when Ashley Klein sent a decision to the bunker because ‘he lost sight of the ball’ thanks to water and puddles splashing everywhere, you know things are crazy.

    And you would have thought those conditions would have suited Cronulla. They didn’t though, and the Titans put on a wonderful performance. Their forwards played out of their skin to knock over the Sharks, and we have already talked about what Ashley Taylor did.

    Players like Joe Greenwood and Max King, guys who you wouldn’t have heard of before the start of the season led the way for the Titans. Ryan James was solid, Nathan Peats again did wonders backing up from Origin and Konrad Hurrell was like another forward bringing it out of their own end.

    The Titans have played with desperation all season long, but at full strength – it’s hard to argue that they aren’t one of the better teams in the competition.

    Konrad Hurrell Gold Coast Titans NRL Rugby League 2017

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    The Knights just can’t seem to do anything right, can they?
    The Knights had their chances to beat the Broncos. In no way were they the better team deserving of a victory, but they scored enough points and did enough to pick up a win.

    Ultimately, this is a team who look down on confidence after the heartbreaking loss at the hands of Canterbury last week, and it wasn’t a great surprise to see them lose to an understrength Broncos outfit.

    They just keep finding ways to lose games. Errors at crucial moments – they made 11 in total for the match – and lost the penalty count as well as 38 missed tackles isn’t a recipe to win a first-grade game.

    They did have some good performers and Trent Hodkinson was solid leading the team around the park, but you just wonder how the club keeps going.

    Clearly, there is a lack of skill. Sure, they are rebuilding, but for how long do the Newcastle faithful keep putting up with not being good enough?

    Nathan Brown is supposedly under pressure for his job, and based on Saturday’s performance you have to think he will be gone come the 2018 pre-season.

    Nathan Brown Newcastle Knights

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    The Raiders won, but it doesn’t inspire much
    We’ve already touched on the Raiders in this week’s edition, so let’s keep this short and sweet. The Raiders beat the Dragons with a try in golden point on Friday, but they had so many chances to put the game away before that.

    While two competition points were absolutely crucial for Canberra, when you win the penalty count, complete at 87 per cent and have more chances than you could poke a stick at, golden point isn’t where you want to be getting it done.

    It’s followed a familiar trend of inconsistency and poor attacking options for the Raiders this year. They have struggled to put teams to the sword, struggled to play out 80 minutes and drifted in and out of games.

    Some of the decisions made, especially by Joseph Leilua were mind boggling, and it’s little surprise they find themselves outside the top eight.

    Roarers, what did you make of Round 19? Drop a comment 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.

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