Weekend wrap of NRL vs Super League games

Dr Chop Roar Guru

By Dr Chop, Dr Chop is a Roar Guru

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    This weekend we had the rare pleasure of witnessing three NRL vs Super League matches. Unfortunately, the results seemed to highlight the ever-increasing gap between the NRL and the Super League, with the NRL teams winning all three.

    However, it was still fantastic to see the likes of Ryan Hall, Kallum Watkins, Albert Kelly, Sam Tomkins and Morgan Escare light up rugby league fields on our shores. In fact, rugby league in February is just fantastic in and of itself.

    As great as it was to see English rugby league teams play down under, these matches were also about gauging where each of the NRL teams are at with their preparation for the upcoming season. Here’s a bit of what we learned from each game.

    Melbourne Storm vs Leeds Rhinos – World Club Challenge
    With the exception of last year when Wigan beat Cronulla 22-6, the World Club Challenge has been dominated by NRL teams in the last few years. This match was no different with Melbourne coming out ahead 38-4. However, this scoreline doesn’t tell the full story.

    Leeds came to play. In his pre-match interview with Brad Fittler, coach Brian McDermott spoke of running Melbourne around and throwing something different at them. He knew that they would have no chance if they tried to out-grind Melbourne by tucking the ball under the arm and going five hit-ups and a kick.

    Leeds kept running the ball on the fifth tackle, often resulting in one of the three-quarters putting in a rushed kick. This game plan worked for the first 15 minutes. They scored first, they were more than matching Melbourne physically, and they were even arguably winning the battle for field position.

    However, what tends to happen when non-specialist kickers do the bulk of general-play kicking is that eventually, a really poor kick will occur, completely flipping the field position battle on its head. Unfortunately for the Rhinos, that’s exactly what happened, and as soon as it did, Leeds were always going to come up short against a side as good as Melbourne.

    The Storm were absolutely clinical in this match (apart from a few Cameron Smith passes hitting the ground – although we’ll excuse those as it’s the first hit-out of the season).

    Cameron Smith

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    It’s pretty simple really. They have lightning quick outside backs. They have a monster forward pack with incredible discipline and concentration. And most importantly, they have the finest brain in rugby league directing them around the paddock in Cameron Smith. At this very early stage, the 2018 NRL Premiership is certainly theirs to lose.

    I’m not saying they are unbeatable. But as Leeds found out, you need near-perfect execution as well as a bit of luck to even get close.

    St George Illawarra Dragons vs Hull FC
    This game had a lot of back and forth, with St George Illawarra utility Kurt Mann scoring the match-sealing try in the 76th minute for a final score of 24-18. Despite the closeness of the scoreline, the Dragons did score five tries to three, and had two disallowed. They can take a lot of positives out of the game.

    Matt Dufty seems to have secured the Dragons’ number 1 jersey for the start of the season. He had a monster of a game, running for over 200 meters and chiming into the backline very effectively.

    Matt Dufty Dragons fullback

    (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

    There is one issue with Dufty, and it will probably be an issue for the next few years while his body fully develops. That issue is his size. He is at risk of being manhandled at times. This showed particularly when he drifted across the field while executing sweeping backline plays.

    The incredible pace with which he drifts, combined with his slight frame means he is at risk of being pushed into touch quite easily. Fortunately, the Hull FC defenders only got him once, although they came close on a number of other occasions.

    Despite this weakness, he is clearly the best fullback at the club, and is 100 per cent worth persisting with. He simply needs to be mindful of the above weakness, and be sure to find the ground early if he feels himself drifting towards the sideline.

    Of the Dragons’ big-name recruits, Ben Hunt was the most impressive. He played 65 minutes, providing mostly reliable service to the backs as well as some very nice touches with the boot (with a few exceptions).

    James Graham only played 25 minutes. He made 12 tackles in that time in a typical display of effort, but wasn’t very effective with the ball making only 4 runs for 32 meters, and one unforced error.

    Overall St George Illawarra were patchy, but promising. They let in some soft tries, but the worst mistakes I saw from them were by players who aren’t in the top 17 anyway.

    Ben Hunt seemed to take a lot of the workload off Gareth Widdop, and they were able to avoid getting in each other’s way too much. I look forward to seeing their combination develop, and I think we will get a better read on the Dragons next week in the Charity Shield.

    For Hull FC, they will not be happy with their tour Down Under. Individuals (such as Albert Kelly) will be happy with their performances, but as a team they left a lot to be desired. They looked clunky in attack and at times, lost in defence. They have lots of work to do if they want to challenge for this year’s Super League title.

    St George Illawarra Dragons player Gareth Widdop

    (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Robb Cox)

    South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Wigan Warriors
    Unlike the Dragons, Souths chose to rest many of their top line players for this clash. Sam Burgess, Greg Inglis, Adam Reynolds, Cody Walker, Angus Crichton and big-name recruit Dane Gagai were among those absent. As such, it is difficult to say with any certainty how Souths will go this year based on this performance.

    However, they will still be pleased to have accounted for Wigan 18-8 without many of their top players. They will take a lot of confidence out of that going into next week’s Charity Shield clash with the Dragons in Mudgee.

    Anthony Seibold will have some selection headaches after impressive performances from all of the fringe outside backs. Three out of five spots in the backline appear sorted. Greg Inglis will reclaim his fullback jersey. Alex Johnstone, despite impressing against Wigan at fullback, will likely occupy one wing spot, while Dane Gagai will presumably take up one centre spot.

    Robbie Farah South Sydney Rabbitohs NRL Rugby League 2017

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    That leaves one wing spot and one centre spot remaining. After Saturday’s game, I would give Hymel Hunt the other centre spot, while allowing Robert Jennings, Campbell Graham and Richie Kennar to fight it out for the last wing spot in the Charity Shield.

    The other contentious position for the Rabbitohs is hooker. Damien Cook was very impressive in his two stints on the field, while Robbie Farah had a mixed night, although he was required to switch from halfback to hooker throughout the game, making it difficult to put in a consistent performance.

    The calls for Damien Cook to start ahead of Farah were loud last year. After Saturday’s match they are deafening. However, I would urge Anthony Seibold to keep Farah at 9 and Cook on the bench.

    Farah is a reliable and experienced player, and is much better suited to starting a game than Cook. By the same token, Cook is explosive out of dummy half, and is much better suited to playing at the back end of each half when the forwards are tired and the gaps are wider.

    By all means give Cook more minutes than Farah. But I believe that Farah starting and Cook off the bench is much better for the Rabbitohs’ team balance.

    For Wigan, this was a very poor result. South Sydney are not one of the NRL’s more fancied teams this year and they were missing a lot of top players.

    Wigan on the other hand are one of the Super League’s better teams. Their side is stacked with England representatives and other former top NRL players including Sam and Joel Tomkins, George Williams, Thomas Leuluai, Liam Farrell and England captain Sean O’Loughlin. On paper at least, they should have won this game comfortably.

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    The Crowd Says (17)

    • February 19th 2018 @ 9:10am
      rossco said | February 19th 2018 @ 9:10am | ! Report

      Farah is a very selfish player. Hookers need to be team men. Farah makes players around him make mistakes as he did on Saturday night – so many short passes delivered with power and usually at shoulder height. No wonder they were spilt.

      Cook any and every game for me.

    • February 19th 2018 @ 9:20am
      Greg said | February 19th 2018 @ 9:20am | ! Report

      As a Wigan fan I think the assement of the team’s performance against the Rabbitohs is a bit harsh. Wigan played 26 individuals in what was a friendly and that included a number of kids who were being assessed and who would not feature in Super League. The game was in doubt until the last try and Wigan’s young side successfully defended six repeated sets and coped with a fraction of the possession percentages. It came on the back of a tough game against Hull the week before and I think Wigan can return home with their heads held high. It was a competitive match and South Sydney looked good I thought.
      Good luck to them and all NRL clubs and fans ahead of the new season.

      • February 19th 2018 @ 2:17pm
        beepee said | February 19th 2018 @ 2:17pm | ! Report

        Yes, Greg, I agree. Wigan had a lot to lose in this friendly, since their season is already under way. Losing top players to injury, and even just the fatigue of two games + travel to the other side of the world, wouldn’t be ideal for their Super league campaign – which resumes again on Friday night. They were good in the game against Hull, and then against the Rabbitohs, obviously chose to play some younger players.
        I think Wigan would be fairly happy with their trip on a number of levels – and I hope we see more of this kind of thing.

      • Roar Rookie

        February 19th 2018 @ 2:55pm
        3_Hats SSTID 2014 said | February 19th 2018 @ 2:55pm | ! Report

        Well, Greg Wigan used kids, OK but the Rabbitohs also had our 2nd stringers and U20s players.

        Wigan started the game with their BEST 17 players available yet the Rabbitohs were missing 10 Players, not just the 6 listed above.
        GI, Gagai, Walker, Reynolds, Sam Burgess, Crichton mentioned above but we were also missing Sutton, Murray, Musgrove and Turner.

        Souths Players used yet to debut in First grade were
        Connor Tracey, Adan Doueihi, Mawene Hirote, Billy Brittain, Junior Tatola and Lucky Taavale
        Also Rookies…
        Richard Kennar {9 games}, Jacob Gagan {8 games}, Campbell Graham {5 games},
        Tyrell Fuimaono {15 games}, Siosifa Talakai {11 games}, Dean Britt {2 games}
        Robert Jennings {18 games},

        Hymel Hunt {29 games} and Mark Nicholls {28 games} are also extremely inexperienced at the top level.

        Souths had a fair try by Marwene Hiroti disallowed without going to the video, an extremely POOR DECISION by Perenara, we also missed 3 goals so Souths should have scored 30 points.

        A bloody good performance by a team with only 6 regulars to Wigans TOP 17 plus kids.

    • February 19th 2018 @ 9:40am
      sham said | February 19th 2018 @ 9:40am | ! Report

      I do not agree that the games showed an increasing gap between the NRL and Super League. There is a gap no doubt but these games did not show that it is widening. Two of the games were very close and as for the Storm they thrashed NRL sides this year and they will do the same this year.

      • February 19th 2018 @ 2:08pm
        Albo said | February 19th 2018 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

        It is probably unfair to do comparisons and “gaps” in quality based on the few games in pre-season or early season hit outs. But in saying all that, I watched all three matches this weekend and last weekend’s Wigan v Hull at Win Stadium, and I have to say, that I could spot only one player from those three top SL teams, who I might be interested in bringing over to my NRL team. There were some handy players on show, but nothing that couldn’t be filled by our current locals. The only one that I would be interested in is Albert Kelly, a player who showed a lot of ability as a kid at Cronulla, but needed a lot of maturity to really get to the point of being a top NRL player. I thought his moving to the Titans might have been the catalyst for this, but obviously it was not the right Club. He should have headed further north. Now after 3 years in Hull it seems Kelly has developed into one of the top SL halves winning last years Challenge Cup final with Hull, and showing his class against St George yesterday. As a cousin to GI, the genes are there, and I think Kelly might just be ready to be back in the NRL. Any Club looking for a good number 6 ? I can think of half a dozen that should be interested.

    • February 19th 2018 @ 11:47am
      Roy said | February 19th 2018 @ 11:47am | ! Report

      Of all the English teams, Hull was the most impressive. Wigan couldn’t beat a reserve grade Souths team, very ordinary. As far as Melbourne goes, they played well but so did the Roosters when they beat St Helens 38-0 in 2003 and Wigan 36-14 in 2014 and Souths when they beat St Helens 39-0 in 2015 and lots of other examples. So an NRL premier thrashing a SL Premier is certainly nothing new. Hardly a reason to claim that Melbourne are near certs for the premiership.

      • February 19th 2018 @ 1:08pm
        Peter Phelps said | February 19th 2018 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

        They are closer certs than most teams.

      • February 19th 2018 @ 1:31pm
        Dr Chop said | February 19th 2018 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

        I thought Leeds were the most impressive. Even though they got thrashed in the end, I thought they showed intensity and a willingness to take chances which neither Wigan or Hull showed. With the way Leeds played (expansive, taking risks etc) they were always going to be in for a thrashing if it went wrong. If they had tried to get into a grind with Melbourne I think it would have been very close, but Melbourne still would have won cause they are the experts of the grind. That’s the thing. Brian McDermott knew his side could get close (within 12-18 points rather than 30+) if they tried to grind it out, but they were very little chance of beating Melbourne that way cause they are the best at it. That’s why he went with the game plan that he did. It was a calculated risk, which unfortunately didn’t pay off, but the idea was right and that’s why I admire them most of the 3 teams that we saw.

        That’s also why I think Melbourne were so impressive. Leeds took it to them early. They went hard. More than either Hull or Wigan did against Dragons and Souths respectively. The fact that Melbourne still won in such a dominant fashion to me means that they haven’t taken a backwards step from last year. Last year I had them as favorites in June. They were the best by far and they still are – hence me labeling them as favourites.

      • February 19th 2018 @ 1:41pm
        Albo said | February 19th 2018 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

        They may not be certs, but they don’t look to be any less a chance than their last year’s performance. They have lost Cronk but young Croft looks the perfect fit for the “Cronk role”, and their other young guns from last year like Kaufusi,, Asofa -Solomona , Curtis Scott, & Brandon Smith will all be further improved. The addition of a possibly more committed Sam Kasiano adds more to their already strong pack which is also improved with Welch & Hoffman back as well. There’s no reason I can see ( apart from injuries) that they couldn’t go back to back.

      • Roar Rookie

        February 19th 2018 @ 2:59pm
        3_Hats SSTID 2014 said | February 19th 2018 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

        Maybe Hull was impressive because the Dragons were so poor.
        The Dragons had 15 regulars in their squad yet could only manage a 6 point win.

        Hull bombed at least 3 trys that I saw in the first half through poor handling!

        • February 19th 2018 @ 9:51pm
          Dodgy dragons said | February 19th 2018 @ 9:51pm | ! Report

          At the end of the day it is only a trial game. No team is going full tilt and you can’t read anything into any of the results when you are using squads of 25 players. It is just a chance to have a look at some fringe players to see how they shape up.
          Getting all upset about refereeing decisions in the first trial of the year bids well for a long season of complaining about being dudded all year when your team lose. I look forward to your weekly rant during the season 3 hats!!!

      • February 20th 2018 @ 8:31am
        Cathar Treize said | February 20th 2018 @ 8:31am | ! Report

        Also great to see Zimbabwean born prop Masi Matongo playing in the Hull FC team. Great story:


    • February 19th 2018 @ 7:22pm
      Karlos said | February 19th 2018 @ 7:22pm | ! Report

      Good on the Poms for trying to spread the game. They are desperate for extra cash to stave off Union. The myopic NRL clubs have no interest in the game itself and this will see the end of it without rapid change in club attitudes.

      • February 20th 2018 @ 1:07pm
        Dr Chop said | February 20th 2018 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

        absolutely. The attitude of the NRL and clubs towards spreading the game is disgusting. Could you imagine the All Blacks taking a year off like the Kangaroos are basically doing??!!!

        Plus there’s the talk of NRL clubs not releasing players for the proposed test match in Denver, to be played on a weekend when there are NO CLUB GAMES! I repeat – NO CLUB GAMES THAT WEEKEND!

        It was fantastic to see Wayne Bennett guarantee the release of Brisbane’s Kiwi-eligible players for this game. Hopefully the other clubs follow suit.

    • February 20th 2018 @ 8:26am
      Cathar Treize said | February 20th 2018 @ 8:26am | ! Report

      Special mention over the weekend must go to York who entertained Bradford in League 1. A great game (York 20 Bulls 22) with over 4,000 present (a rarity in lower divisions). Hopefully Bradford’s presence in this division will spark more solid crowds.

      • February 20th 2018 @ 1:16pm
        Dr Chop said | February 20th 2018 @ 1:16pm | ! Report

        That’s great to see. Talking of lower divisions in England, I’m loving what’s happening with the Toronto Wolfpack. Their first three games have seen them go undefeated with 2 wins and a draw. I know it’s early days, but there is quite a realistic chance we could see them in the Super League as early as next season. What a thrill that would be! Being the first ever transatlantic professional sporting franchise is a tough existence. You think the Warriors, Storm and Cowboys have tough travel schedules? These Toronto blokes haven’t even been in Toronto yet this season! I read that Ashton Sims still lives in Warrington, and is only moving to Canada when the team starts the home part of their season.

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