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Seven talking points from the World Club Series

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    Our first real taste of rugby league action is in the books for 2018 and that means it’s time for the return of NRL talking points as we get ready for a huge season ahead.

    » Check out all of The Roar‘s pre-season information here.

    The Storm are still going to be hard to beat
    Despite the fact Melbourne don’t go into the 2018 season as favourites for the premiership after the departure of Cooper Cronk, they are still going to be a very difficult team to beat.

    And any team with Billy Slater and Cameron Smith always will be.

    While it’s hard to take a result against any Super League club as gospel, the Storm looked reasonably good for the most part, despite their star players obviously being underdone after the World Cup and a delayed start to pre-season.

    Cameron Smith made more errors than he did for most of last season and Slater’s shoulder is a worry after he took no part in the second half.

    But there were plenty of positives. Brodie Croft made an outstanding impression (more on this later) and the replacements in the forward pack look settled.

    Ryan Hoffman slots straight into the role Tohu Harris played in 2017 on the edge for the Storm. The combination he and fellow second-rower Felise Kaufusi (who was also superb) can create with halves Croft and Cameron Munster will have a huge bearing on how many points the Storm are able to run up this season.

    Up front, the loss of Jordan McLean leaves a hole, but with Queensland Origin prop Tim Glasby starting and the impact of Kiwi giant Nelson Asofa-Solomona coming off the bench, they lost nothing.

    Asofa-Solomona was man off the match against Leeds and it probably won’t be the last time he wins such accolades in 2018.

    Cameron Smith NRL Rugby League Melbourne Storm Grand Final 2017

    There is an appetite for the World Club Series in Australia
    If Friday night’s game between Melbourne and Leeds confirmed anything then there is no doubting an appetite exists for the concept both here in Australia and back in England, as we have known for years.

    Big crowds regularly welcome NRL premiers (and in recent years, more clubs) into the United Kingdom, but the attendance both in Melbourne and at ANZ Stadium on Saturday, as well as reported healthy TV figures do plenty of good for the concept.

    With NRL clubs getting cold feet about the idea of travelling north, the Super League picked up the slack this year. The game in Wollongong between Wigan and Hull last weekend was well supported and all three clubs had a solid number of supporters Down Under this weekend.

    While expansion of the game in the UK is important (and NRL clubs are one of the best ways to do that), it’s going to be hard to convince NRL clubs to head over there again. It’s proven to disrupt pre-season and ensure said team won’t be winning a premiership the next season.

    Of course, that has plenty to do with other problems associated in going back-to-back, but it has plenty of merit.

    The World Club Series has a place, but it’s not in the United Kingdom right at the moment.

    World Club Series

    Matt Dufty is in for a huge season
    The young Dragons fullback burst onto the scene at the end of 2017 and despite fading a little during the final few rounds, has been earmarked for a huge season ahead, replacing Josh Dugan in the Red V’s number one jumper.

    He has been likened to Billy Slater in many parts with the youngster possessing acceleration and vision to match the greatest fullback the game has ever seen at the same stage of their development.

    Of course, kicking on to be the next Slater is a long way down the track, but he made another promising statement against Hull on Saturday.

    Running for more than 200 metres, he had two linebreaks and showed plenty of creativity, looking dangerous more often than not for the Dragons.

    Doing it against Hull is one thing, but if he can do it consistently he will become one of the game’s best fullbacks in 2018. There is no reason he won’t either, with all reports suggesting he has gone injury-free during the pre-season.

    He showed us glimpses in 2017, but 2018 could be the year Dufty stamps his authority as the best up and coming fullback of the next generation.

    Matt Dufty Dragons fullback

    Greg Inglis must play in the Charity Shield
    It would be foolish for the Rabbitohs to not play Greg Inglis before the season started at all. The superstar Queensland and Australian representative is returning from a long lay-off after a knee injury ruined his 2017.

    He, along with Sam Burgess, Adam Reynolds, Angus Crichton, Cody Walker and Dane Gagai, sat out of the first trial game against Wigan.

    That’s no biggie, with Inglis probably not quite at 100 per cent fitness and coach Anthony Seibold not willing to risk him in a game where the stakes were a little higher than a usual trial.

    To be fair, the Charity Shield carries a similar weight to it. The game is more than just a trial and in a lot of ways, the Dragons and Rabbitohs have missed the mark setting up their pre-season.

    None the less, throwing Inglis straight into an 80-minute, NRL-intensity game would be silly without a proper, gameplay test of the knee.


    Brodie Croft and Cameron Munster will go perfectly well in the halves
    It was a case of Cooper who for the Storm on Friday. Brodie Croft might be a debutant, but he looked anything but as he ran every play to perfection, barely made a mistake all night and ended up with a try and a few assists to show for it.

    Croft has plenty of talent and showed it in his limited opportunities last year while Cronk was away on representative duty for Queensland.

    In a similar veign to Dufty, he will need to prove himself over the course of the season, but the opportunities are there for him to stamp his authority and become the next long-term option in the halves at the Storm.

    His willingness to run the ball, take the line on and set up plays for his teammates were hallmarks of his game against Leeds as the score gradually blew out to the end result of 38-4.

    Croft combined nicely with Cameron Munster in the halves though with the more experienced of the pair looking to take his game to another level in 2018.

    After an Origin debut for Queensland last year, he will need to takeover the lead role for Melbourne this year, although it was hard gauge exactly where the combination is given he played fullback once Slater was of the field.

    Nonetheless, it was impressive early on and the pair are expected to have a big year. Whether they can get the Storm back to the big dance is anyone’s guess this early on, but with Slater and Smith there, it’s hard to rule them out.

    Cameron Munster Melbourne Storm

    Robbie Farah starting ahead of Damian Cook would be the definition of stupidity
    The Rabbitohs have a conundrum when it comes to picking their starting number nine for the season ahead. In truth, it’s one they often got wrong last season under Michael Maguire and a problem his replacement Anthony Seibold must get right if the men from Redfern are to succeed.

    Robbie Farah is a veteran and off a good campaign with Lebanon at the World Cup, but if Damian Cook is again forced to bide his time on the pine in 2018, questions will be asked.

    Both looked solid on Saturday evening against Wigan without being spectacular, but Cook is a livewire.

    He must be starting games and looking to tire marker defence out early, rather than waiting to come into the game and having Farah do the early work. That’s nothing against Farah, but with the veteran proving his ability to play in the halves during the World Cup, he adds extra versatility off the bench.

    Robbie Farah South Sydney Rabbitohs NRL Rugby League 2017

    Could any English Super League team actually compete in the NRL?
    During the coverage of the World Club Challenge, the question was posed to Nine commentator Wally Lewis where the Rhinos would have finished if they were to compete in the NRL.

    “They would probably make the top eight. Seventh or eighth,” Lewis said, surprising many observers.

    The truth of the matter is, Leeds were far from good enough on Friday night to compete with the best the NRL has to offer, but what Lewis said has some merit.

    Hull and Wigan put up better efforts against clearly less serious clubs in the Dragons and Rabbitohs respectively on Saturday night, but with everyone at the top of their game, it wouldn’t have been close one suspects.

    What would be a positive for English clubs is the idea of being in the conditions for the entire year and learning the style of the NRL. When they host the World Club Challenge, it’s been competitive previously and over the course of a full season, at very least, you’d think a few English clubs would challenge for the top eight.

    Well, that’s it for the first edition of NRL talking points in 2018. Be sure to drop a comment below and let us know your thoughts on the World Club Series weekend and all the rest of the trial action.

    Scott Pryde
    Scott Pryde

    One of the mainstays of The Roar, Scott Pryde has written over 2000 articles covering everything from rugby league to basketball, from tennis to cricket. You can follow him on Twitter @sk_pryde.

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    The Crowd Says (48)

    • Roar Guru

      February 18th 2018 @ 7:24am
      Dutski said | February 18th 2018 @ 7:24am | ! Report

      Great to see the talking points back Scott. Always enjoy your take on the game.

      • Roar Guru

        February 18th 2018 @ 9:34am
        Scott Pryde said | February 18th 2018 @ 9:34am | ! Report

        Cheers Dutski,

        Big season ahead mate! Let me put you on the spot – tip for the grand final?

        • Roar Guru

          February 18th 2018 @ 11:37pm
          Dutski said | February 18th 2018 @ 11:37pm | ! Report

          Roosters v Sea Eagles.
          Blind guesswork!

    • February 18th 2018 @ 7:29am
      jeandetroyes said | February 18th 2018 @ 7:29am | ! Report

      The atmosphere in Melbourne on Friday night was quite a surprise – there actually seemed to be a bigger crowd than in the World Cup opener between Australia and England. Any idea what the figures were for the 2 events, Scott?

      • February 18th 2018 @ 7:52am
        Peter Phelps said | February 18th 2018 @ 7:52am | ! Report

        At the game in Melbourne, they reported the gate at 20,250 but I have also see it reported elsewhere at just north of 16k.

        • Roar Guru

          February 18th 2018 @ 9:35am
          Scott Pryde said | February 18th 2018 @ 9:35am | ! Report

          Yeah I would have said around 20k in Melbourne. Last night looked similar although it’s difficult to be sure at ANZ with so many empty seats.

          20k for matches like these is very solid I would have thought.

        • February 18th 2018 @ 9:40am
          GW said | February 18th 2018 @ 9:40am | ! Report

          They announced it as just over 19,000 at the game.

          • February 18th 2018 @ 4:24pm
            Peter Phelps said | February 18th 2018 @ 4:24pm | ! Report

            OK, but either they made 2 announcements or one of us is going deaf. Either way it was a decent crowd given that Leeds would have had not much more than 1000 there. There was a time not long ago when 19,000 would have been the highest gate of the yr at home for Melbourne.

    • Roar Guru

      February 18th 2018 @ 10:03am
      Walter Penninger said | February 18th 2018 @ 10:03am | ! Report

      Great read

      • Roar Guru

        February 18th 2018 @ 10:25am
        Scott Pryde said | February 18th 2018 @ 10:25am | ! Report

        Thanks for that Walter.

    • February 18th 2018 @ 10:29am
      Paul said | February 18th 2018 @ 10:29am | ! Report

      memo to Phil Gould: Cooper Cronk does not play for the Storm any more. I lost count the number of times he made some sort of Cronk comparison, mostly when talking about Croft, who played a really good game.

      Gould needs to move on and focus on the blokes playing on the field. Or maybe he just needs to move on.

      • Roar Guru

        February 18th 2018 @ 10:46am
        Emcie said | February 18th 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        The Fox commentators were exactly the same, you better strap yourself in for an entire season of it

        • Roar Guru

          February 18th 2018 @ 11:11am
          Nat said | February 18th 2018 @ 11:11am | ! Report

          Yeah, I agree with that. Although it is hard not to make that comparison as some of his plays were so ‘Cronk’ like. The dummy and run to the line, look wide and play short. Mind you, Cronk did say that Smith’s presence give the halves time because no one moves until he passes the ball. It’ll take a while to make his own identity but if he keeps up that form the Storm haven’t lost much.

          • February 18th 2018 @ 4:27pm
            Peter Phelps said | February 18th 2018 @ 4:27pm | ! Report

            Well Cronk was his “Master? for the last couple of years. We should not be surprised that little grasshopper should follow in his footsteps.

    • February 18th 2018 @ 10:57am
      Sham said | February 18th 2018 @ 10:57am | ! Report

      A key lesson is that the Super League is looking to expand the game. The NRL is so insular and small minded with self interested clubs effectively vetoing anything that threatens their narrow interests. The Super League is more likely to have a side in Perth than the NRL.

      • Roar Guru

        February 18th 2018 @ 5:36pm
        Sleiman Azizi said | February 18th 2018 @ 5:36pm | ! Report

        I’d like to see that come to fruition.

      • February 19th 2018 @ 10:59am
        beepee said | February 19th 2018 @ 10:59am | ! Report

        Yes…just look at the Toronto Wolfpack expansion. Its such an innovative and positive thing. Then we have three English clubs out here at the same time playing our guys in their own back yard in order to spread the game. Well done to the Super League admin….and a lesson to the NRL bosses to wake up a little.

        • Roar Guru

          February 19th 2018 @ 4:08pm
          Matt H said | February 19th 2018 @ 4:08pm | ! Report

          To be fair we’ve had three NRL teams go over to England on more than one occasion recently, but the overall point is well taken. The Super League seems to have become more outward looking in recent times – with France and now Canada.

    • Roar Guru

      February 18th 2018 @ 11:19am
      Renegade said | February 18th 2018 @ 11:19am | ! Report

      Scotty are you saying that Leeds losing to the Storm by 30 means they wouldn’t compete in the NRL?

      3/4 of the NRL competition copped similar floggings by the storm last year…. also the conditions clearly worked against the SL sides yesterday, the heat was tougher to combat for them than the opposition.

      • Roar Guru

        February 18th 2018 @ 11:26am
        Scott Pryde said | February 18th 2018 @ 11:26am | ! Report

        No. I’m saying no SL side would win the competition outright, but a few would challenge for the top eight. I agree the Storm are a cut above, but it’d be fair to say they were pretty rusty and nowhere near their best as well.

      • February 18th 2018 @ 4:41pm
        Peter Phelps said | February 18th 2018 @ 4:41pm | ! Report

        Doubt that the heat had much to do with it in Melbourne. A cold wind got up in the second half if I recall.

        I thought that Brian McDermott, the Leeds coach nailed it when he said words to the effect of “If we played at that intensity every week like that for 10 weeks, by game 8 or 9 we would be up there with them”.

        Unfortunately, the ESL has maybe 4 or 5 good teams and a lot of very poor ones. That gives the better clubs an easy ride most weeks and they become soft because of that. The general lack of income means that the development of players outside those 4/5 SL clubs if fairly basic.

        I think that is what is behind Wigan/Hull s desire to play in their trial games (those were trials as the WCC was reduced to 1 game this year). What they lose in jetlag they gain in experience.

        • Roar Guru

          February 18th 2018 @ 5:42pm
          Sleiman Azizi said | February 18th 2018 @ 5:42pm | ! Report

          The English don’t lack skill or talent or anything like that. Just intensity.

          And you can only get that by actually playing higher intensity games.

          That is why these World Club matches are so important. The more they play, the more chances to improve.

          And that can only be good for the code.

          • February 18th 2018 @ 9:46pm
            Peter Phelps said | February 18th 2018 @ 9:46pm | ! Report


            It must have cost Wigan and Hull a fortune to play over here and its that intensity experience they came for.

            • Roar Guru

              February 19th 2018 @ 9:38am
              Sleiman Azizi said | February 19th 2018 @ 9:38am | ! Report

              Apparently over $10 million was generated for the local economy courtesy of the Wigan v Hull FC match. And all that from a crowd of 12,000 in Wollongong.

              And people suggest that these kinds of matches have no future or aren’t worth supporting? No wonder I have a tendency to roll my eyes…

              As you said of Leeds coach McDermott’s quote, it would only take a few months to get up to NRL-style level. Let’s say one year just to be gentle to the naysayers.

              Consider that over a four week tournament in the World Cup, England matched Australia in intensity and then some, in the final.

              The benefits of a World Club Challenge is exciting for the code.

            • February 19th 2018 @ 10:54am
              beepee said | February 19th 2018 @ 10:54am | ! Report

              Peter – I heard reports that both Wigan and Hull pocketed about $500,000 each on the deal. Tourism NSW (or whatever they are called) chipped in a fair amount, and so the benefits were
              spread more widely than just RL. Hopefully a win all round, and great motivation to do something similar in the future.
              A big effort on behalf of the English clubs, especially since their season is already underway. Maybe the extra cash will help ease the jetlag!

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