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PRICHARD: Young-gun Wighton the highlight of Round 1

Jack Wighton was a key man for the Raiders in their NRL semi-final. (AAP Image/ Action Photographics, Jonathan Ng)
Expert
8th March, 2015
33
1039 Reads

It seems so long since the Rabbitohs whipped the Broncos to kick off this drawn-out opening round of the NRL, so I want to start off with my most recent memory and say what a hell of a game from Jack Wighton last night.

The Canberra fullback has got a few mistakes in him that come with being a young player at this level and he got sucked into a fight that could have easily cost his team dearly when he was sin-binned, except that a Cronulla player went with him.

But what about his brilliant performance, first in attack with two tries – including a brilliantly opportunistic effort when he raced a kick back for a quick tap and proceeded to go all the way from there – and later in defence with a critically important, try-saving tackle.

Wighton only recently turned 22 and last night’s game was his 48th in first grade. He was moved around the backline during his first three seasons, but he finished last season with three straight games at fullback and that is obviously where he’s going to stay.

Hopefully, he is a young gun the club manages to keep for his entire career. He is an excitement machine and it’s great to see the joy he brings Raiders fans after the club didn’t have much choice but to sack Todd Carney, Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson, and lost Anthony Milford to Brisbane.

Plenty has happened in Round 1 and there is still one game to go. Here are some things that stood out.

Brisbane’s shocker
South Sydney are the defending premiers and I expected them to win in Brisbane, but I thought the Broncos would at least make a contest of it. Instead, they were awful.

Playing Jordan Kahu at fullback was a gamble that failed, but there were plenty of other Brisbane players who got buried under the Rabbitoh avalanche. Was Anthony Milford actually out there?

Souths might do that to a few teams this season, so it’s obviously way too early to say the Broncos can’t make the finals or anything like that.

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But they don’t look a genuine chance of actually winning the premiership after the other night – even when Darius Boyd eventually returns.

Manly’s pack
The Sea Eagles struggled towards the end of last season because they didn’t have the forwards and now they’ve started off the new season struggling – because they still don’t have the forwards.

They’ve still got a great backline, but Parramatta murdered them up front so their backline wasn’t remotely the factor it used to be.

There isn’t one dominant forward in the Manly side and apart from that the club has got to deal with the fact Daly Cherry-Evans is gone at the end of the season and the likelihood Kieran Foran will go as well.

A few more touch-ups like the one the Eels gave them and coach Geoff Toovey will likely be gone too.

Stone-washed Knights
Newcastle already look like a different team under Rick Stone as coach than they did under Wayne Bennett last season.

Bennett and the Knights just wasn’t the right mix, for whatever reason, but it was clear during Stone’s first stint as Newcastle coach that he understood the essence of the club. In the first game of his return to the role they ran over the Warriors in the second half.

It was a performance that featured a willingness to give the ball air in attack and some great goal-line defence.

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The Warriors were the Warriors – up and down.

Newcastle will have to be a bit more conservative in a bid to cut down errors and give themselves a chance against the top teams, but with a rugged forward pack and plenty of threats in the outside backs their formula should at least keep them in the running for a low-end spot in the top eight.

Have we given send-offs the red card?
I suggest it was only first-round nerves from the referees that stopped Wests Tigers five-eighth Mitchell Moses from being sent off for his high tackle on Gold Coast’s William Zillman.

It was a reaction tackle to being wrong-footed, but Moses didn’t just flick Zillman with his outstretched arm. He got him good, right under the chin.

We don’t see many send-offs these days, but it will be interesting to eventually see what constitutes a send-off this season and how the offence compares to the Moses tackle.

Panthers get complacent, or Bulldogs come good?
A combination of both, but mostly the former.

Penrith led Canterbury 24-0 with 12 minutes to go, but after three tries in quick succession to the Bulldogs it looked like we were going to have extra time when the Bulldogs got right up on the opposition line again in the dying stages.

The Panthers held out in the end, but what are we supposed to make of what happened?

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Penrith were in control for the vast majority of the game and I think it was mainly them easing off a fraction that resulted in it becoming a close call.

We see constant reminders of how quickly points can be piled up and how dramatically a game can turn around in a hurry these days. This was another one.

You lead by 24 points and the opposition gets one try back and you think “that’s OK, we’re still well in front”. Then they get another and you think “we’d better tighten up a bit here, just to make sure of it”. But by then the opposition, with nothing to lose, is on a roll that is difficult to stop.

It could have turned out awfully for the Panthers, which they wouldn’t have deserved on the balance of the game. But the truth is you get what you deserve and in the end the Panthers got a scare.

That will be good for them because it will serve as a reminder that a big lead doesn’t guarantee anything.