The Roar
The Roar

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Footy returns with the great and the ugly

Nathan Cleary was on fire in Round 1. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Expert
14th March, 2018
80

How good was it to have the footy back? While I only picked four from eight winners, I watched every game and loved gorging once more on the sweet rugby league action.

During those 650 minutes of viewing joy, I saw some things that showcased all that is good about rugby league. Unfortunately, I also saw some things that showed just how ugly and inconsistent the game can be.

Let’s talk about a few things that were great first.

Euan Aitken
There was so much to like about the Dragons’ opening win over the Broncos. Ben Hunt’s great effort at half. James Graham’s Dragons debut. Paul Vaughan’s continuation of his 2017 form. Leeson Ah Mau’s blockbusting form off the bench and – from the Broncos’ perspective – the strong debut of Jamayne Isaako. These were all great features.

However, the stand out was Dragons number three Euan Aitken. Now in his fourth season, Aitken has had clear potential but injuries failed to let him shine. Last Thursday, he made it his personal mission to make Jordan Kahu’s life a misery. He smashed the Bronco number four in defence and targeted him in attack. His ten runs for 131 metres, four tackle breaks and a try was a superb return. Hopefully this is just the start of his great form.

Cleary’s no names’ gutsy triumph
When I saw David Noafaluma and Chris McQueen weren’t in Ivan Cleary’s matchday 17, I didn’t know what was going on. When Josh Reynolds dropped out pre-match, the only question was just how much the Roosters would win by. I took the Roosters 19+ with the bookie. Easy money I thought…

I’m not sure there is a single player from the Wests Tigers weekend side I’d pick in my 17. However, their gutsy, dedicated and inspirational performance to beat the star-studded Sydney Roosters showed that Ivan Cleary is an even better coach than I already thought.

He works with what he has got. He gets them on the bus and – judging by the weekend’s result – that bus is really going somewhere.

Ivan Cleary NRL Rugby League Wests Tigers 2017

(AAP Image/Paul Miller)

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The Panthers: from the outhouse to the penthouse
Down 14-0 after 27 minutes against the fancied Eels, it seemed that the loud noises of wide player discontent at the foot of the mountains were true and that the chocolate soldiers of old had returned. Anthony Griffin would soon be sacked and that even Gus Gould’s position would be in question.

Enter Viliame Kikau. The six foot five Fijian, by way of Townsville, went berserk. His ball running and defence were incredible and turned the tide of the match completely.

His efforts lifted the entire Panthers forward pack, allowing the likes of Dylan Edwards, Waqa Blake and Nathan Cleary the chance to shine. And shine they did.

When the Panthers went into the sheds at 14-6 down, I thought they were still a chance.

When Kikau scored in the 43rd minute, it opened the floodgates. They put their boots on the necks of the Eels players and never took them off. While Blake and Edwards looked magnificent, it was young Nathan Cleary who was outstanding. If he isn’t the NSW number seven this year then Freddie wants to continue losing.

And one thing is for sure, we are about to see possibly the biggest bidding war for a young halfback that has ever been. Expect the Brisbane Broncos to be leading the charge too.

Nathan Cleary

(Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

The new-look Knights give back to their long-suffering fans
I’m a huge fan of Daly Cherry-Evans and the Trbojevic Brothers. They are superb blokes and even better players. So my joy in watching the Knights triumph in the second period of extra time was not provoked by any anti-Sea Eagles agenda.

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The Knights 17 featured nine new faces from the side that collected their third straight wooden spoon in 2017. The crowd of incredibly loyal supporters that has averaged 15,000 through some very tough times swelled to 23,516 and when Mitchell Pearce slotted that field goal in the 88th minute, they rightly went wild with joy.

For me, that’s what the footy is all about. Those moments of joy where players and fans bond in celebration – especially after having been through such a rough trot. And while I’m sure coach Nathan Brown would have preferred an easier win, the crowd’s elation at the manner of the victory may actually deliver this new era at the Knights even greater momentum and belief than an easy one would have.

The Titans comeback that I wish I could have enjoyed
When Konrad Hurrell scored in the last minute of the Titans-Raiders game, the beleaguered team and their fans went into a frenzy. Down 18-0 after just 12 minutes, and then 24-6 after 26 minutes, the Titans could have been forgiven for giving up the ghost. As a Raiders man to the core, I wish they had.

However, the likes of the largely unknown and certainly unheralded Max King, along with castaway Mitch Rein, the underrated Ryan James and Jai Arrow dug deep and fought their way back into the match. Their domination of the first 20 minutes of the second half was outstanding, as they only allowed the Raiders 22 per cent possession. Ash Taylor then stepped up with four try assists, more than justifying the hype around his potential.

While I can certainly appreciate why so many enjoyed the comeback and resultant victory, forgive me if it didn’t fill my heart with joy.

Jarrod Croker Canberra Raiders NRL Rugby League 2017

(AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Unfortunately, amongst the really enjoyable things, there was some utter rubbish as well.

In the offseason, we were told by NRL HQ that the sin bin would be used more frequently for acts of foul play. While we did see a few players spend ten on the pine in Round 1, as usual they were for professional fouls that were adjudged to be stopping scoring opportunities.

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There were three clear incidents that were brought to the attention of the officials and able to be reviewed that warranted further action both on the field and subsequently to the match.

However, once more the NRL’s actions made a mockery of their words.

Jaydn Su’A takes out Paul Vaughan
Paul Vaughan was a decoy runner. The ball went behind him. Jaydn Su’A lined up Vaughn and copped the player – who wasn’t ever in possession and certainly had zero reason to expect it – with a blatant shoulder charge to the sternum.

It took Vaughan out of the game and made him vomit. It was – pure and simple – a dog act. While the referees picked it up and awarded the Dragons a penalty, the replays clearly showed the vile nature of the thuggery. It should have been a send-off, or at the very least ten in the bin. That would have been clearly in keeping with NRL HQ’s pre season posturing.

However, even though the game was gone as a contest, the officials still couldn’t bring themselves to punish Su’A’s shocking act with a binning. His subsequent paltry one-match ban would have had Arthur Coman rolling in his grave.

Pathetic stuff from the officials.

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MRC rules Michael Jennings’ hit on Josh Mansour not a shoulder charge
Although it was penalised for being a shoulder charge during the game, Michael Jennings’ late shoulder to Josh Mansour was judged to be not worthy of suspension by the Match Review Committee.

To try and establish why that was the case I wrote to the NRL’s Media Manager, Glenn Jackson, and asked him the following:

1. Who are the NRL using this year for the match review committee?
2. Who were the MRC members who reviewed the Parramatta Penrith game?
3. Why was Michael Jennings not charged for his late shoulder charge on Josh Mansour?

However, Jackson failed to respond to these simple questions within 24 hours, a concerning trend for my requests.

The MRC’s decision – whoever they may be – to not charge Jennings is disappointing, especially as we’ve seen many similar actions regularly receive suspensions in recent years.

However, the Parramatta centre did get a harshly written ‘concerning act’ letter from the NRL – something that has all the force of being hit with a wet piece of lettuce. Sending him to bed without dinner would have more effect. This hopefully isn’t the start of another year of dismal inconsistency from the MRC.

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Only a warning for blatantly grabbing genitalia
In the second half of the Titans-Raiders game, Canberra Winger Jordana Rapana got up angrily from a tackle and told the referee that a Titans player had deliberately and painfully grabbed his genitals. The video evidence certainly showed that Kevin Proctor had reached between Rapana’s legs and firmly rooted around.

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The Raiders players’ angry reaction – especially towards a supposedly close friend and former schoolmate – showed there was something in the incident. However, neither David Munro nor Henry Perenara chose to have the allegation reviewed by the bunker or to even put it on report.

The crew on the Matty Johns Show thought it was worthy of a good old laugh. You see, while sticking your fingers in someone’s date is apparently just an appalling act and one that should be punished with banishment from the game, giving an opposition player’s meat and two veg a smashing in a tackle is just plain funny.

The NRL – while not charging Proctor or even fining him – has sent another one of their dreaded ‘concerning act’ letters, though. Sam Burgess – who was charged and suspended for his actions, missing two weeks – must be wishing he’d got one of those letters instead. Surely trying to tear off Will Chambers’ penis and testicles was just as hilarious.

I don’t know about you, but there is nothing that makes me laugh quite as hard as what Proctor did. It could only have been funnier if they dacked him for the cameras.

I for one think it is just great that Munro and Perenara didn’t pander to the snowflakes and overreact by having the incident reviewed to send Proctor from the field. Further, I think it is excellent that the MRC and NRL didn’t send the wrong message to all the parents and kids out there by unnecessarily suspending Proctor.

After all, we need all those aspiring young rugby league players out there to know that’s part of what makes the NRL such a great game. What’s more, it is downright hilarious.