The Manly Sea Eagles are the first team eliminated from the NRL finals after they went down to the Penrith Panthers by 12 points in the second elimination final. Here are my talking points from the game.
It’s time to scrap the on-field live decision
When the idea of a referee making an on-field decision to go with sending it to the video referee was first introduced, I was a big fan of it. It seemed like a really good idea – to ensure the referee’s original opinion got considered in the final result on those too close to call 50-50 decisions.
But I’m not so sure after 2017 because two worrying trends have broken out.
First up, there have been some baffling on-field calls. It would seem referees are guessing more than just a little bit of the time, and when you slow it down it makes them look terrible.
Here they are calling a no try when the bloke has planted the ball a metre inside the in goal line. That’s a hypothetical of course, but it does happen.
The more worrying trend when it comes to these on-field calls, though, is the bunker’s refusal to overrule the referees.
It’s happening far too often. While last night’s one, to me, seemed fairly obvious that the ball had clipped the finger of Tyrone Peachey before he went over to score that crucial try, it’s not just last night. It’s been all season that the bunker will say, ‘Based on insufficient evidence, we can’t overrule the referee’.
Now, I have no problems with that, but more often than not there has been evidence to suggest the on-field referee should be overruled on the decision. The last thing we want is teams being robbed of competition points, spots in the finals or their season because a decision wasn’t overruled because the evidence wasn’t quite conclusive.
There are ways to fix this situation and keep the referee’s control of the game, but the bunker should be looking at these things with a fresh set of eyes. No previous opinions.
It’s the least that should be happening if we are shelling out millions for the technology.
Penrith won’t hold a candle to Brisbane next week
The Panthers didn’t play a bad game of footy – let’s get that out of the way straight up. This is a side who are youthful, and after being trounced in the forwards last week, they bounced back.
They held their own against the powerful Manly pack and weathered the storm. In fact you’d have to say the Broncos performance in their loss to the Roosters on Friday was a worse performance.
But this is going to be a whole different situation when the sides jump on a plane, fly to Brisbane and step onto the famous Lang Park in front of 50,000 rabid Queenslanders.
That’s a different challenge altogether, and they’re trying to tell me the Panthers will handle it? I strongly doubt it. The Broncos attack has been going gangbusters, the Panthers defence has question marks all over it, and even though they won a lot of games through the second half of the season, Penrith didn’t actually play that much good footy.
It could be a cakewalk for Wayne Bennett’s men.
Manly will be a contender in 2018
Let’s be honest, Manly have come from nowhere in 2018. They weren’t supposed to make the top eight when you looked at their side on paper before the season started.
There are so many names in the side who simply didn’t appear to be at a first-grade level coming into the season, so full respect to them.
Absolute credit to the Sea Eagles, though: they have played the season of their life. Despite the final month of the regular season seeing a drop off in form and any chance of a top-four spot dashed, the fact they were in the top four at any point this season was an amazement in itself.
With the majority of the playing group going around at Brookvale again next year and with Trent Barrett more than proving himself in the head coaches spot, plus this memory to fuel their fire, the chance they won’t be in the eight next year appears slim.
Mark them down for at least the eight. This is a team who could challenge for the premiership in 2018 if the Trbojevic brothers, Apisai Koroisau, Daly Cherry-Evans and Blake Green keep form.
Dylan Walker needs to keep his emotions in check
One of the running battles of not only last night but the entire season was Dylan Walker keeping his emotions in check.
You get the feeling watching him play that he is a pretty fiery character. Last night he was involved in constant niggle with the Panthers, while the most memorable were his battles against the Canberra Raiders earlier in the season.
There’s no question Walker is an enormously talented player, but it’s no good having that talent if you’re going to lose the plot every week.
Keep calm and he could become the best centre in the NRL. He proved it at times last night, with his running and creativity being on display for all to see.
Panthers youngsters’ will learn plenty from this finals campaign
The Panthers really couldn’t have asked for a better scenario to unleash their young brigade in. When you think about the future of the club, you think Nathan Cleary, Dylan Edwards and you probably throw Tyrone May into that equation.
While the off-field situation and drama surrounding Matt Moylan isn’t ideal, the experience the trio of youngsters are getting will be invaluable come future finals campaigns.
Missing the top eight does nothing for experience under pressure, but high-pressure games with tense finishes do. No matter your opinion of the controversy in the last minutes, it’s undeniable that Cleary, Edwards and May carried themselves extremely well throughout the game.
Cleary in particular led from the front with his kicking game. Edwards was strong in defence and running the ball, while May’s natural running game continues to shine through.
The Panthers probably aren’t a one-year project – far from it – but somewhere in the future they will be able to recount their first finals experience of a match against Manly and a trip to Brisbane as a guide for how to handle the pressure in September.
Roarers, what did you make of the match? Drop a comment below and let us know.