NRL stocktake: Who is rising and who is falling?

Tom Rock Columnist

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    With 23 rounds of NRL action in the books and only three rounds of the regular season remaining, it’s the perfect time to take stock. So whose future is looking rosy and who’s going the way of Patinack Farm? Here’s three of each.

    Stock rising: Apisai Koroisau
    Api Koroisau is the most underrated player in the competition. Tough, durable and always dependable, the hooker has been instrumental in one of the biggest revivals since Hillsong. Blake Green hogs most of the praise for Manly’s resurgence, but it’s Koroisau’s creativity and enterprise around the ruck that has the Sea Eagles soaring.

    Just as comfortable at hooker or halfback, Koroisau has the ideal skill set for the modern day number nine. In defence, he’s as solid as a mango in July – sitting in the top ten in both total tackles and one-on-one tackles. He solidifies the middle of the Manly ruck, and dishes out the odd punishing hit to boot.

    In attack, Koroisau offers as much as any other hooker in the game, save Cameron Smith. His time in the halves has helped him to develop a useful long and short kicking game, his service is crisp, and his nuggetty, Farah-like frame makes him a handful to tackle when he takes off from dummy half.

    With Nathan Peats severely limited in attack, Peter Wallace starting to show his age, and Cameron McInnes lacking a little variety, I see no reason why Koroisau shouldn’t be considered the frontrunner for the Blues’ number nine jersey next year.

    Stock falling: Neil Henry
    You wouldn’t know it based on the way they’ve been playing, but heading into the season, Henry’s Titans were smokies to win the premiership. The prospect of a spine featuring Jarryd Hayne, Kane Elgey, Ash Taylor and Nathan Peats was not only a chiropractor’s wet dream, but had punters frothing about the team’s finals credentials.

    Add in the signings of Kevin Proctor and Jarrod Wallace to a pack already boasting Ryan James and Chris McQueen, and it was hard not to get caught up in the Gold Coast hype.

    So what happened? How did the Gold Coast go from dark horses to the glue factory?

    I can sum it up in two words – Jarryd Hayne. From the moment Hayne joined the Titans, the trajectory of this side has shifted. Neil Henry has done his best to accommodate the him and his stifling salary, but Hayne’s negative influence is coursing through the Titans roster like a slow-moving poison.

    Jarryd Hayne Gold Coast Titans Rugby League NRL 2016

    (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

    The rumours started doing the rounds during the pre-season and there was widespread speculation that the Hayne-Henry arranged marriage was on the rocks. Hayne was supposedly demanding special treatment, and both the coach and senior players were sick of his attitude.

    Eight months and only seven wins later, things haven’t improved. Some say Hayne is looking to get out of his contract with the Gold Coast and Henry is reported to have lost the dressing room. The only way things could get any worse is for Henry to receive the dreaded full support of the board.

    Stock rising: Matt Moylan
    It was a rough start to the season for Matt Moylan. Penrith’s attack wasn’t clicking, Moylan’s form was pedestrian at best, and the Panthers were losing games they were expected to win. He was playing like a man with the weight of the Blue Mountains on his shoulders, and the pressure of the captaincy was affecting his performance.

    But that all changed in Round 13. After years of will he or won’t he, coach Anthony Griffin finally made the most obvious tactical decision of his career and shifted Moylan from fullback into the halves.

    The results were immediate. With Moylan able to get his hands on the ball earlier and more often, Penrith played with new purpose and direction. While they weren’t necessarily scoring more points (21.7 per game with Moylan at fullback compared to 21.3 with him in the halves), their attack was more balanced, and Moylan’s presence sparked a dramatic jump in form by halves partner Nathan Cleary.

    Better still, the Panthers are winning. Since the shift, Penrith have won eight from ten, and now look likely to sneak into the top eight.

    With uncertainty in the halves for New South Wales and the likes of Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk nearing the end of their careers, Moylan figures to play a lot more representative football in the near future.

    Matt Moylan of the Panthers runs the ball up

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    Stock falling: Moses Mbye
    Moses Mbye was once held in the same regard as guys like Ash Taylor, Nathan Cleary and Brock Lamb. He was viewed as an ascending young playmaker with all the tools required to develop into an Origin star. He was lighting fast, solid in defence, a crisp passer of the ball, and possessed a strong right boot. It was only a matter of time until Mbye emerged as one of rugby league’s premier halfbacks.

    Fast forward two years, and Mbye’s stock has tumbled at OneTel speed. Despite being rewarded with a whopping contract extension, rumoured to be in the vicinity of $800,000 per season, the Noosa junior has lost his number seven jersey to an injury-prone journeyman with minimal first-grade experience in the halves.

    Worse still, it’s being reported that the Bulldogs are shopping Mbye on the open market, without any success. It’s ludicrous to suggest that a 24-year-old could already be facing a career crossroads, but that’s exactly where Mbye is at right now. With a new CEO and a new coach likely in 2018, Moses’ days in the kennel may be numbered.

    Stock rising: Angus Crichton
    I’ve got a feeling about this guy. Though he’s only played a handful of first-grade games, he possesses those indefinable qualities that only the great ones are blessed with. In American Football, they call these “intangibles”. In rugby league, the closest translation would be that Angus Crichton is just a good young kid.

    A country boy raised on rugby, Crichton isn’t burdened with the same sense of entitlement that way too many young players carry around with them these days. His work ethic is strong, he’s comfortable and competent in front of the media, and he isn’t draped in tattoos. Put simply, he’s a marketer’s dream – think the rugby league equivalent of Brett Lee. Mums and dads, this is the guy you want your kids to model themselves on.

    On the paddock, Crichton looks like a star in the making. He hits the line hard and has developed a handy habit of popping out the other side, as his ten line breaks will tell you. He also has a canny knack of crossing the stripe, with his seven meat pies leading all South Sydney forwards. His defence could do with a little tightening, and he needs to work on his strength, but that will come in time.

    Make no mistake, this kid is set for the big time. Mark it down people, Angus Crichton will one day be your NSW and Australian captain.

    Stock falling: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
    In 2015, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck had the rugby league world at his feet. He had just authored one of the finest statistical seasons of any fullback in the history of the game, he helped the Roosters to capture their third consecutive minor premiership, and he signed a lucrative three-year contract allowing him to return home to New Zealand.

    The young Kiwi custodian was set for superstardom.

    But alas, even one as powerful as Roger was unable to overcome the Warriors’ curse. Legend has it that no player’s career enters Mount Smart Stadium and lives to tell the tale. And after only two seasons across the ditch, RTS is yet another example that the New Zealand Warriors is where reputations go to die.

    Now 18 months removed from a busted ACL, Tuivasa-Sheck is yet to regain the speed, burst and acceleration that routinely terrified defenders. Once as elusive and unpredictable as a feature on Queen of the Nile, Tuivasa-Sheck is just another guy out there these days.

    Compared with his breakout 2015 season, Roger is down on almost every single statistical category: tries (6 in 2017 versus 12 in 2016), try assists (7/15), line breaks (11/16), and run metres (3268/6517).

    At only 24 years old, there is still plenty of time for the fullback to regain his former standing in the game, but I don’t think it will happen if he remains in New Zealand.

    Jacob Saifiti, left, and Tyler Randell of the Newcastle Knights tackle Roger Tuivasa-Sheck of the Warriors

    (AAP Image/David Rowland)

    5th Tackle Option

    Here are five quick thoughts on the action from Round 23:

    1. Canterbury’s defence was appalling on Thursday evening. Sam Kasiano was especially poor, with the gargantuan prop looking sluggish and lead-footed throughout the 80 minutes. South Sydney made two clean line-breaks at Kasiano’s expense in the space of five minutes, and if it hadn’t been for an errant pass, both would have resulted in tries for the Rabbitohs. Big Sam could be in for a painful off-season at camp Bellamy.

    2. The Eels crashed back down to earth on Saturday evening with a cataclysmic loss to the ascending Newcastle Knights. I haven’t been sold on Parramatta as a true contenders, and that loss has convinced me that they just aren’t ready. If they do qualify for the finals, and that looks very likely at this stage, they’ll be making up the numbers.

    3. Well, it was good while it lasted. For 24 beautiful hours, the Newcastle Knights were not in last place. It was a great time to be alive. And then Manly had to go and ruin it by getting beaten by the Tigers. The Tigers! As if Knights fans didn’t already have enough reasons to hate the Sea Eagles.

    4. Benji’s back baby! Back at the side he led to a maiden premiership in 2005. Back in the jersey he made famous with aerial side steps and fancy flick passes. And back at the club that didn’t want him a few years ago… same bus, different driver.

    5. I’m not one to bag the referees – I leave that to Tim Gore following a Canberra defeat – but the decision not to penalise Ken Sio for passing off the ground was truly laughable. The bloke was lying off the ground for about three seconds, with two Parramatta players holding him down, and just popped the ball. It was almost as though he had forgotten what code he was playing.

    Tom Rock
    Tom Rock

    A fair-weather Newcastle Knights fan, Tom doesn’t leave anything on the field. He always gives 110% and never forgets to give full credit to the boys. But in a game of two halves, it’s important not to look too far ahead, so Tom’s just taking it one week at a time. Follow him on Twitter @_TomRock_.