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NRL upsets suggest just about any team could play finals footy

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    At the beginning of the season, I was asked several times who would win the premiership. After answering the Canberra Raiders, I would then mention how the more interesting question was which teams were going to make the top eight.

    At the time, I thought there were only two teams incapable of making the eight – the Knights and the Dragons.

    I envisaged a competition where seventh and eighth spot would come down to the final weeks, with several teams vying to play finals footy.

    Having watched the opening three rounds of the competition, I was on the money.

    If the first three rounds are anything to go by, a sneaky tip for this weekend might be for the Tigers to end the Storm’s unbeaten streak.

    There have been some extraordinary upsets so far, serving as a stark reminder – particularly to teams that may have believed their own pre-season hype – that there are no guarantees when it comes to playing finals football.

    Here are my biggest (and most surprising!) upsets so far.

    St George Illawarra Dragons 42-10 Penrith Panthers (Round 1)
    Before a ball had been kicked in 2017, the Panthers were considered premiership contenders and the Dragons were predicted to finish the season at the bottom.

    And unsurprisingly so.

    In 2016, the Dragons found themselves second last in almost every attacking stat recorded, including points scored, tries, linebreaks and try assists.

    For those who thought the Dragons would offer more of the same in 2017, this game was them proving us wrong. You only had to look at Jack de Belin’s face when he scored his try to know that the home team had turned up to play football.

    Much of the Dragons’ success in this game (and yesterday, against the Sharks) was due to a reinvigorated forward pack. Against the Panthers, Russell Packer and Paul Vaughan both played less than 55 minutes, but still managed to run for 174 and 189 metres respectively.

    Even more impressive was that the Red V outran the Panthers by almost 700 metres.

    While the hype has focused on Luke Keary as the buy of the season, this was Cam McInnes’s debut in the red and white jersey, and he certainly impressed, with a try and an assist over a highly effective 80 minutes.

    There were some worrying signs for the Panthers and the signs continue, having won only one game so far, against a Tigers side which has been impotent (at best) in the last two weeks.

    The next three games for Penrith are crucial, taking on the Knights, Storm and Rabbitohs. If they don’t win two out of these three games, a top-four finish becomes a challenging prospect (particularly considering the calibre of players the Panthers will be missing during the State of Origin period).

    Tariq Sims St George Illawarra Dragons NRL Rugby League 2016

    Gold Coast Titans 26-14 Parramatta Eels (Round 3)
    Who saw this one coming?

    The Eels had been one of the most impressive teams in the competition, but against an injury-ravaged Titans, Parra played their worst football since June 2016, when the Cowboys scored five tries in ten minutes to beat them 36-30.

    Impatience. Lack of respect. Poor options. This describes what the Eels dished up on Friday night.

    On several occasions, they decided to try and pop the miracle ball and failed miserably. With a 74 per cent completion rate and 13 errors, Parramatta were their own worst enemy.

    The errors that hurt the most though were those of Semi Radradra, who dropped two simple passes inside his ten-metre zone in the space of ten minutes and put tremendous pressure on the team, who went from having a two-point lead to trailing by six in a short period of time.

    Expect the Titans to be without Jarryd Hayne, Will Zillman, Dan Sarginson and Tyrone Roberts next week. But even with these injury concerns, the Titans were able to pull off one of the most stunning upsets of the season so far, thanks mainly to the short kicking game of Ash Taylor, and the efforts of Jarrod Wallace and Ryan James.

    Gold Coast Titans player Ryan James

    North Queensland Cowboys 8-30 Manly Sea Eagles (Round 3)
    This was not a performance fans are accustomed to seeing from North Queensland. Missing several key players, including Matt Scott, Antonio Winterstein and Lachlan Coote, the Cowboys made an uncharacteristic 12 errors and conceded 11 penalties.

    What interested me the most about this game though was that the dominance we have come to expect from their forward pack was still present. Scott Bolton ran for 176 metres, Ethan Lowe for 158 and Coen Hess for 144. This is in comparison to the Sea Eagles, who looked to their backline for those sorts of metres, with Akuila Uate and Tom Trobojevic (among others) cracking triple digits.

    If Manly are going to make any impact on this competition, they need more from their forwards, with Brenton Lawrence the only one to make the 100-metre mark.

    Defence does win games, as the Sea Eagles discovered this weekend – but to win this year’s NRL competition, you’ll need a bit more than that.

    I would also like to commend both the Dragons and the Knights on their efforts so far this year.

    The Knights currently sit 12th on the ladder, having won one game out of their first three. Considering Newcastle only won one game in total last season, 2017 is already looking positive.

    Their losses were to the Warriors and the Bunnies, by six points or less on each occasion. While Knights fans probably won’t be expecting a top-eight finish, a season with six or seven wins is certainly achievable.

    And as for the Dragons, who said they had no chance of making the top eight?

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

    If you could choose from any and every NRL player in the competition, who would you pick in your rugby league dream team? Let us know with our team picker right here, and be sure to share it with all your league-loving mates.

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    The Crowd Says (79)

    • March 21st 2017 @ 6:34am
      NSWelshman said | March 21st 2017 @ 6:34am | ! Report

      Mary……….you mentioned the players missing from the Cowboys line up yet forgot to mention the players Manly was missing!!!!!!! Lussick, Taupau, AFB & Perrett………….it’s almost like everyone is trying to find excuses for the Cowboys loss by blaming it on missing players. How about Manly be given some deserved credit for their outstanding defensive effort without 4 of their front line forwards!!

      • March 21st 2017 @ 8:44am
        KingCowboy said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:44am | ! Report

        100% right mate. Manly won fair and square, outplayed on the night. no excuses. In saying that, I still think Manly are a good thing for the spoon. That place is going to blow up!!

      • Columnist

        March 21st 2017 @ 9:02am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:02am | ! Report

        NSWelshman, just because a result is considered an upset, does not mean I am completely discounting the effort of Manly.

        Tbh, even if Manly had all those players fit, it still would have been a massive upset in my eyes.

        • March 21st 2017 @ 1:47pm
          NSWelshman said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

          I understand Mary, however you & many other reporters have totally neglected to make mention of the missing Manly players! It’s almost as though Manly’s missing 4 are irrelevant!! 99% of reports only mention the Cowboys were missing players & is basically the excuse for their loss! I know many supporters will disagree etc. but no one can be certain that even with both teams at full strength the Cowboys wouldn’t have been beaten! Yes it’s an upset but Manly deserve a little more credit & not have excuses made they only won because of the Cowboys missing players!

          • March 21st 2017 @ 2:17pm
            Mals said | March 21st 2017 @ 2:17pm | ! Report

            Well said. Happy though for journos to keep writing Manly off & not giving them any credit. Time to fly under the radar again.

            • Roar Pro

              March 21st 2017 @ 2:57pm
              Hutchoman said | March 21st 2017 @ 2:57pm | ! Report

              Yep, happy to come in under radar and build throughout the the season. Certainly not expecting anything great this year, but after two years of rubbish it’s time to kick start the next machine for the next push. Six years since our last premiership is starting to feel like a drought!

      • March 21st 2017 @ 9:20am
        theHunter said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:20am | ! Report

        They win with a Field Goal by JT, he is God. But when they lose the excuse is the missing players. JT made some poor decisions too that no one wants to pick out. Just like when the Maroons lost without Cronk the excuse was because of Cronk not playing but yet they say JT is the next immortal.

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2017 @ 9:44am
          PNG Broncos fan88 said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:44am | ! Report

          JTaumololo is their superstar. They are average without him.
          Titans will get them again this weekend.

          • Roar Guru

            March 21st 2017 @ 9:49am
            Renegade said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:49am | ! Report

            Agree, I think Titans will win comfortably based on how the Cowboys went on Saturday.

            Although the players Manly were missing were nowhere near the calibre of the Cowboys outs…. it shouldn’t have been such a blowout.

            • March 21st 2017 @ 1:50pm
              NSWelshman said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

              I think Darcy Lussick & in particular Marty Taupau are reasonably close to the caliber of Taumalolo & Scott!

              • March 22nd 2017 @ 12:22am
                Aaron said | March 22nd 2017 @ 12:22am | ! Report

                Keep dreaming.
                Taupau could get close to being world class, if he can rein in his aggression and do the hard yards when his team needs it the most. Right now he’s more like a Matai (note – Matai was a gun when he was on the field, but spent every second week injured or suspended).
                The only time Lussick gets close to JT2 and Scott is on the team lists.

            • Roar Rookie

              March 21st 2017 @ 9:53pm
              William Dalton Davis said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:53pm | ! Report

              Really silly decision to challenge Taumalolos shoulder charge at the judiciary. Especially in the new season with the new interpretation in what was basically the testing case.

              Hopefully for their sake they don’t lose anyone else. Without Scott their front row options are barely bare. If Bolton, or god forbid Taumalolo go down they’ll struggle big time the rest of the season. So much of the cowboys gameplan revolves around bringing those boys on around the 55-65 minute mark and dominating the final quarter or so of the game right up the middle.

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2017 @ 9:50am
          Magnus M. Østergaard said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:50am | ! Report

          JT was super average on the weekend. One of his poorest games I’ve seen him play for a while. I think he expected to win this and didn’t show the respect the opposition deserved. The whole Cowboys approach to the game was very Panthers Rd 1 esque.

          Full credit to Manly tho, outstanding D.

          • March 21st 2017 @ 10:21am
            KingCowboy said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:21am | ! Report

            Slow down Vin. The cowboys had played two very tough teams in the first two week with both games going into golden point. To say that we didn’t respect Manly is rubbish. We were missing the best forward in the world. Manly were coping a hiding in the press all week and were always going to lift. Lets not start making outlandish comments over one game. We always start the year slow and I have zero concern over that performance.

            • Roar Guru

              March 21st 2017 @ 10:28am
              Magnus M. Østergaard said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

              Nor do I, it was one performance. It happens. I singled out JT, but it wasn’t just him, it was a team thing.

              Maybe I am being a bit harsh but our style of play was very just going through the motions. I have no doubt they will be bouncing back this week against the Titans and bouncing back strongly.

              We were missing our best 2 forwards, manly were missing around 3 of theirs and didnt have a prop on the bench. Pretty even losses for both teams in context.

          • March 21st 2017 @ 11:39am
            Albo said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:39am | ! Report

            Despite pulling off two golden point wins in the first two rounds, I think JT’s overall form has been waning since the end of last season. I think his body, which takes a pounding every match, is just not recovering like it did a few seasons ago. I suspect the Cowboys were going to be in trouble even without the injuries last week, as they were backing up after two very high intensity matches against the Raiders & Broncos and as such JT struggled to put on a single try despite 50 tackles in the Manly 20 zone. Previously unheard of ! Manly’s defence was great on the night, but the Cowboys were unusually lacking the spark to break their line . I blame the previous two tough matches they had, and father time’s impact on JT more than the loss of their two best forwards.

            • Roar Guru

              March 21st 2017 @ 11:51am
              Magnus M. Østergaard said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:51am | ! Report

              Actually the Cowboys often will just set up camp in an oppositions 20 and play about 3 or 4 sets before coming through for a try, but Saturday night they were shut down by a more passionate Sea Eagles side.

          • Roar Rookie

            March 21st 2017 @ 10:00pm
            William Dalton Davis said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:00pm | ! Report

            I think the major problem for the cowboys in that game was slow play the balls in the red zone. Scott and Taumalolo are quick play the ball specialists. Especially close to the line. Too many players were getting put on their back and taking an age to stand up and play the ball allowing the manly line to settle and rush Thurston and/or Morgan. Didn’t help not having Coote who basically plays left side 6. As good as Ponga may end up being, at this point he’s just a ball runner.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 8:09pm
        Kevin Malone said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:09pm | ! Report

        perrett was dropped

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2017 @ 8:24pm
          eagleJack said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:24pm | ! Report

          Facial fracture from Rd 1. Back next week.

    • March 21st 2017 @ 7:14am
      Craig said | March 21st 2017 @ 7:14am | ! Report

      You forgot Taumalolo missing for the cowboys too. Arguably their most important player aside from JT.

      I backed the Titans, the eels without Norman are rubbish (more rubbbish than usual). With Hayne out the rest of the players had something to prove too. It wasn’t a huge upset.

      The knights win was a bigger upset for me.

      • Columnist

        March 21st 2017 @ 9:03am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:03am | ! Report

        Interesting Craig. It may be because I am an Eels fan, but I tipped the Knights last week (and thought they were dead certs) but was still silly enough to tip the Eels on Friday night.

    • Roar Guru

      March 21st 2017 @ 8:30am
      Kaks said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      No not really. Upsets always happen in a long season, however in that long season the class of the same teams that we all know will be playing finals football allows them to consistently win and get into the top 8.

      Dragons and to some extent Knights have started well. Manly won a game no one thought they would – however I still dont see the Dragons or Knights getting close to the 8, with Manly maybe fighting for the 8th spot.

      • March 21st 2017 @ 8:48am
        KingCowboy said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

        Dragons are a very underrated side IMO. Big and strong forwards with some handy outside backs. Can they win the comp? I don’t think so but they are a great chance to make the 8. Only two teams i rule out are the Knights and Manly but the Knights are improving. Your boys are looking good, Norman to win the Daly M if he plays the whole season and doesn’t get on the gear.

        • Columnist

          March 21st 2017 @ 11:22am
          Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:22am | ! Report

          KingCowboy, I’m super keen to hear your top 8!

          • March 21st 2017 @ 1:51pm
            KingCowboy said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

            Mary honestly I can’t separate 14 teams after three weeks. Manly and the Knights are the only two I think that can’t make it. Every team IMO has genuine superstars but injuries will kill off a lot of teams chances. Manly situation is just going to explode sooner or later. It just has to. Knights lack talent across the park but love what Brown is doing with the team. Doing what Gould did with the Panthers. Building from the ground up. Panthers are the best team 1-30 IMO.

            So in summary I have less of an idea now then before the season started. An expert I am not!!

            • Columnist

              March 21st 2017 @ 1:58pm
              Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 21st 2017 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

              This was my big problem, KingCowboy. I wrote an article for about this when the season started. It’s crucial for teams to get off to a good start because if they drop games, there are another 10-11 teams chomping at their heels….


              • March 21st 2017 @ 2:27pm
                KingCowboy said | March 21st 2017 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

                Great article but it looks like you suffer from the same issue as me, thinking the warriors are going to come good. That makes me feel a lot better as you know more about Rugby League then me and you seem a lot smarter as well.

              • Columnist

                March 21st 2017 @ 2:39pm
                Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 21st 2017 @ 2:39pm | ! Report

                That’s one prediction I wish I could take back, KingCowboy. They aren’t going to come good…

              • Roar Rookie

                March 21st 2017 @ 10:03pm
                William Dalton Davis said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:03pm | ! Report

                The warriors coming good is about as likely as SNL becoming funny. Sure you might have a giggle here and there and every once in a while you might get a belly laugh, but it doesn’t discount the endless waves of disappointment.

        • Roar Guru

          March 21st 2017 @ 5:33pm
          Kaks said | March 21st 2017 @ 5:33pm | ! Report

          Norman to win the Daly M if he plays the whole season and doesn’t get on the gear.

          It’s Tic Tacs KC, not gear 😉

    • March 21st 2017 @ 8:54am
      Silvertail47 said | March 21st 2017 @ 8:54am | ! Report

      We’re all those victories upsets? , or a taste of things to come ! When you look at the Titans for example the way they played last year there victory was far from an upset, it’s only an upset when the “experts ” get it wrong

      • Columnist

        March 21st 2017 @ 9:04am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

        I think it was certainly an upset, particularly considering the calibre of player that the Titans were missing that night….

        • March 21st 2017 @ 9:34am
          Craig said | March 21st 2017 @ 9:34am | ! Report

          I can’t find what the odds were for the game, but I’m guessing the Titans would’ve only been about $2.30. It was a roll of the dice game where a slight underdog won. I can find a few previews from the game on various sites and most people were tipping the eels by 4 or 6, hardly a huge upset for the Titans to get up…

          • Roar Rookie

            March 21st 2017 @ 10:40am
            Joe said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:40am | ! Report

            Titans were 2.65, Manly were 3.90 and Dragons were 3.05 on Sportsbet. Manly definitely the bigger upset because both teams were missing key forwards which evened out the game but on first two rounds form and playing at home the Cowboys were expected to win.

    • Roar Rookie

      March 21st 2017 @ 10:04am
      steveng said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

      So Mary, by your interpretation of the above and that Souths thrashed Manly and Manly thrashed the Cowboys, Souths are very close to winning the comp? Only joking, the comp is very open and no team should take any other team for granted. Its about time that the NRL comp ended up like this as its very exciting and a joy to watch.

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2017 @ 11:06am
        Con Scortis said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:06am | ! Report

        Hey mate, I have always wondered, is your name Steve Ng or or is it Steven G?

        • Roar Rookie

          March 21st 2017 @ 12:22pm
          steveng said | March 21st 2017 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

          Con, is Ng stand for what I think it does??? Or you have another interpretation??? lol

      • Columnist

        March 21st 2017 @ 11:23am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:23am | ! Report

        Great comment – made me giggle!

    • Roar Guru

      March 21st 2017 @ 10:25am
      PNG Broncos fan88 said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

      Underdogs can get up this weekend.

      Rabbits can upset if Roosters play as they did with that half hearted 2nd half display against the Panthers. (Mute touchie saved their hides)
      Raiders start off well, Broncs could struggle to peg them back on the score board.
      Manly surprisingly should be favoutites for this one. Would be an upset IMO if the Dogs won.
      Rightly so even match up for last start losers, Sharks and Eels.
      Titans keep their errors down and play simple, should be too much for the Taumololo-less Cowboys.
      Reacting to the sacking of their head coach, Tigers could play out of their skin and stun the Storm.
      Warriors the comps ‘box of chocolates’, Foran could be the catalyst to jump start the NZ team to a win at Oki Jubilee.
      Status quo for the Knights this weekend but they will be gallant in defeat no doubt.

      • Roar Rookie

        March 21st 2017 @ 10:57am
        steveng said | March 21st 2017 @ 10:57am | ! Report

        ‘Rabbits can upset if Roosters’ now you’re talking ‘PNG Broncos fan88’, the Roosters were lucky to win last week and that forward pass was scandalous to be allowed for the Roosters to win. Go The Bunnies!!!

      • Columnist

        March 21st 2017 @ 11:23am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 21st 2017 @ 11:23am | ! Report

        So what you’re saying is, my tips are in trouble for a second week in a row…

      • Roar Guru

        March 21st 2017 @ 3:13pm
        PNG Broncos fan88 said | March 21st 2017 @ 3:13pm | ! Report

        Keeping with your theme, Mary.
        Alot of ‘can’ ‘would’ ‘should’, but anything is possible if perceived underdogs compete beyond expectations.

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