Eleven talking points from NRL Round 6

Scott Pryde Roar Guru

By Scott Pryde, Scott Pryde is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger

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    Can you believe it? We are already a quarter of the way through the NRL season, with this strange new world continuing to play out. Bottom teams are at the top and supposed top teams are at the bottom. Here are my talking points from the weekend that was.

    Who is going to be the best buy of the year?
    Being a quarter of the way through the 2018 season, it’s now time to start assessing who the best buy of the year has been so far.

    There are three clear candidates at this point. Ben Hunt for the Dragons, Blake Green at the Warriors and James Maloney at the Panthers.

    All three have their clubs humming along at the top of the ladder, with the Dragons undefeated. Ben Hunt’s combination with Gareth Widdop has been superb. He has come in and allowed the Englishman to play his natural game, with the Queenslander doing the main organising.

    Blake Green has played a similar foil role at the Warriors, but it’s exactly what the two clubs needed.

    It’s clear to see the difference at the Manly Sea Eagles this year, compared to that of last year when Daly Cherry-Evans turned himself into one of the best halves in the comp playing alongside Green.

    Maloney must also enter the top echelon of the conversation. He has been stunning for Penrith, especially in the absence of Nathan Cleary. For a team who were, at best, expected to be on the fringe of the eight, he has them ticking along at five and one, controlling their attack and dominating games from start to finish.

    Behind that group, Benji Marshall would appear to be the next obvious one. He wasn’t originally going to be in the best 17 for the Tigers, but with an injury to Josh Reynolds early in the season, he found himself in the starting side and hasn’t looked back, now forcing Reynolds onto the bench as he makes his return.

    Marshall put in another strong performance on Sunday afternoon against Manly, as the Tigers won at Brookvale.

    Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce have also started the season well in Newcastle, while Russell Packer is another proving to be a very good buy at the Tigers.

    Still, it’s impossible to go past the top three, who are almost impossible to split for the honour a quarter of the way through.

    James Maloney of the Panthers

    (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)

    How good are packed out suburban grounds?
    Memo to Mr. Greenberg. Did you flick your TV on for the Dragons and Sharks on Friday night and see exactly how full the hill was at the Wollongong venue?

    It was superb. A less than ideal Friday night game, starting just half an hour after a heavy downpour and yet there were almost 18,000 fans at WIN Stadium.

    The atmosphere (and I can speak from experience) was electric for the local derby, the ground packed from end to end, side to side.

    Brookvale on Sunday afternoon was similar, with a huge crowd flocking in to witness the action against the Tigers.

    Despite what anyone may want or say, the NRL will never be the AFL. Sydney doesn’t have the same supporter culture as Melbourne and crowds are never going to be averaging in the multiple ten’s of thousands.

    You have to pick what works, and for the NRL, that’s suburban grounds. There is, for alot of NRL fans – and I’d argue the majority – nothing better than standing on the hill, telling the referee to ‘get ’em onside,’ with a pie in one hand and a beer in the other.

    Nothing better. And the crowd’s this weekend proved it.

    Brookvale Oval

    The Sharks left-edge defence needs urgent work
    Speaking of the local derby, and it’s hard to ignore the issues facing the Sharks left-edge defence.

    While some will point to the injury of Wade Graham as a key reason why, four of the six Dragons tries were scored on the Dragons attacking right side, with Gareth Widdop, Ben Hunt and fullback Matt Dufty causing havoc.

    Dufty, in particular, was able to cut his way through the line with ease at times, while Cameron McInnes’ try in the first half was almost embarrassing for the black, white and blue.

    Compare that to the right side of the Sharks defence, led by Josh Dugan (who I might add, was not liked one little bit by the vocal crowd) and Luke Lewis and it’s like day and night.

    The right didn’t let in a single point all night, with the closest the Dragons got being a try just next to the uprights. It’s because they couldn’t get through Dugan and Lewis. It just wasn’t happening.

    Compare that to the other side, where Trent Hodkinson and Edrick Lee made defence look like rocket science, and it’s clear change is needed if the Sharks want to stay in games. Any team worth their salt are going to raid one side over and over again and frankly, find it pretty easy to score through weak defence.

    Maybe more pressing was the fact Matt Moylan wasn’t even in the picture for the first two long-range tries as fullback, but that’s another point for another day.

    Paul Gallen

    (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)

    Is Ivan Cleary the best coach in the game?
    Of all the coaches in the league, I’m struggling to see any who have done a better job than Ivan Cleary over the first quarter of the season.

    Cleary was always going to be a good signing for the Tigers, but he faced an uphill battle when he arrived at the club.

    Dating back to the days of Tim Sheens, the Tigers have been an attack-first club. Their culture didn’t often include the word defence as a key point – or at least, it seemed that way looking from the outside – and Cleary was tasked with changing the attitude of the club.

    He has succeeded and in fine fashion.

    His first step was weeding anyone out who didn’t want to be on his bus, playing under his rules and to his intensity level. The next step was building the squad he wanted and from there, it’s been all systems go for the joint venture.

    Sure some of his signings raised eyebrows, but who are we to question Ivan and his great wall now? It’s worked a treat and while the season is a long one, the Tigers attack is starting to build now.

    They have ran up points in a couple of games now, including against the Eels and of course, against Manly on Sunday.

    It’s positive footy, built off their determination and will not to concede points and for that, coach Cleary deserves full credit.

    Ivan Cleary NRL Rugby League Wests Tigers 2017

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    Where do the Cowboys turn now?
    The Cowboys fell to yet another loss on the weekend, losing the seemingly impossible game at home against the Bulldogs.

    It was a poor display to say the least, and with Lachlan Coote back on the park, it was anticipated things were going to become easier for the Cowboys.

    Coote’s influence over the last few years has been simply that he takes the pressure off Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan to do everything. His return from injury last year was one of the key reasons North Queensland made the top eight.

    It allowed Morgan to play his natural game and become the competition’s standout performer.

    That may take some time to happen this year, but sitting with a record of one and five, they don’t have time for things to start happening.

    They need it to happen urgently and without a win against the Titans next week, changes from Paul Green may be inevitable.

    Johnathan Thurston

    (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

    Are James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk going to be worth it?
    I don’t think anyone thought we were going to be asking this question a month ago.

    The two most high-profile recruits for 2018 didn’t even rate a mention in the first talking point of this article, and it’s scary to say, but they simply aren’t gelling at the tri-colours.

    Whether it’s the structure they are trying to play, the forward pack they are working with or the ability of others around them, something just isn’t clicking.

    Cooper Cronk was, in my opinion, always a risky signing. The biggest problem for Cronk is he has never played outside of the Melbourne system, which is the most professional in world rugby league.

    That’s not to say the Roosters aren’t professional, but playing under Craig Bellamy is a huge advantage for any player, and he will need to try and work into Trent Robinson’s structure as the season goes on.

    Tedesco is also in awful form. Some of the basics just aren’t working for the New South Wales fullback and at the moment, he wouldn’t be in the top ten fullbacks in the game, form-wise.

    While consistency is an issue for the Roosters and they have shown glimpses of what they are capable of, Cronk and Tedesco weren’t paid big money at Bondi to perform every second or third week.

    That’s not how it works if you want to win the grand final on the last Sunday in September.

    Cooper Cronk

    (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

    Damien Cook is on fire
    There were plenty of positives from the Rabbitohs big win on Thursday, but at the top of the pile was the performance of hooker Damien Cook.

    After six weeks, he has well and truly locked down the hooking spot at South Sydney, with Robbie Farah now no longer in the picture, stuck playing for the North Sydney Bears.

    Some (myself included), were critical of the fact Cook never seemed to be able to play 80 minutes, but he is proving us wrong this season. He looks fit, fast and is reading the play wonderfully, which has always been a talent of his.

    He seems to know the perfect time to run, and be able to tell when there’s going to be lazy marker defence.

    Cook barely misses an opportunity to make something happen, and you’d have to think at this point he is the front runner for the New South Wales number nine jersey ahead of Cameron McInnes come Origin time.

    Damien Cook runs the ball

    (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

    When will the Eels win their first game?
    The Parramatta Eels have won zero of their first six games. That’s a sentence I didn’t expect to be writing six weeks, or even three weeks ago.

    Parramatta are playing woeful footy to start the year. There is no way around it, with the club scoring just two points and being held tryless against the Canberra Raiders away from home on the weekend.

    Sure their injury and player availability situation hasn’t exactly helped them, but the fact they are zero and six with the talent they have on the roster is embarrassing.

    Looking ahead, and it’s hard to see, even if the Eels do manage to build some continuity in positions, where their first win is coming from.

    It’s not going to get any easier. Next week, they take on Manly who haven’t been good away from home, but will be out to make a statement after being thumped this week, before the Eels take on the high-flying Wests Tigers, the Cronulla Sharks and the Bulldogs in Round 10.

    The Bulldogs contest seems like the best bet out of the next four, and with the Broncos and Warriors to follow that, they need to win, and win soon.

    It just doesn’t look like happening.

    Jarryd Hayne

    (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

    Manly losing at home is a major concern for Trent Barrett
    To this point in the season, the Sea Eagles had been hanging onto the fact they had won all their home games, and won them well for the most part.

    Turning up to a packed Brookvale Oval on Sunday afternoon though, the Sea Eagles were awful.

    They ended up getting shelled to the tune of 38-12, with their defence almost non-existent and their attack not much better.

    The second half had a few positive moments in it, but the first half looked as if the men from Manly would have prefered to have been anywhere else than playing footy.

    There was no passion in the jersey, no commitment on the line. Trent Barrett should be very concerned, given their performances away from home to start the season.

    It’s not the first time Manly have given up a score, but it certainly is the first time they have given up a score at Brookvale and while they are a long way from being in a position where things are looking difficult, they can’t afford to get into a rut.

    Daly Cherry-Evans

    (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

    The Storm are back in business, but can they be consistent?
    It feels weird, asking if a team coached by Craig Bellamy can be consistent, but here we are I guess.

    It never felt right asking if they were going to lose their third game on the trot against the Newcastle Knights at this stage of the season ever, but we were all doing that on Friday.

    Of course, they didn’t, with the Storm running away to a thumping 40-14 victory following two less than impressive performances against the Tigers and Sharks where they scored a combined 14 points in 160 minutes.

    The change of Brodie Croft for Ryley Jacks was a much-needed one and seemed to work well against a Newcastle team who have been playing like a team in control of their situation and with enough upside to reach the top eight.

    The Storm being consistent in the coming weeks will be the biggest challenge – and for Jacks to prove he is the right man for the job – and that all starts on Friday against an up and down Brisbane outif.t

    Billy Slater

    (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

    The Gold Coast switch off far too easily
    While the Titans weren’t helped along by injuries against the Panthers on Sunday afternoon, it’s not the first time they have fallen asleep on the defensive end of the park.

    The trend actually began at the end of last year. You immediately remember games like the 54-0 thumping they received at home against the Broncos just weeks before the end of the season.

    Brisbane scored ten tries that day, but the scary thing for the Gold Coast was how many of them came from long-range.

    They did it again against the Dragons when they were beaten 54-8 in Round 3 this season, and again on Sunday. James Maloney simply toyed with the Titans defensive line, sending either himself, Dylan Edwards or Tyrone Peachey through at will to keep the scoreboard ticking.

    It’s embarrassing to watch on replay, for a professional defensive line to conceed tries like that and they need to find a way to concentrate for 80 minutes in defence, or it’s going to keep happening.

    Roarers, what did you make of Round 6? Drop a comment and let us know down below.

    Scott Pryde
    Scott Pryde

    One of the mainstays of The Roar, Scott Pryde has written over 1,800 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 (110)

    • Roar Guru

      April 15th 2018 @ 7:13pm
      Con Scortis said | April 15th 2018 @ 7:13pm | ! Report

      Hi Scott, I rate Trent Robinson as a coach, but I wonder whether he suffers from the same fault as Madge at Souths.

      Madge was always (rightly) criticised for being too structured, one dimensional, not innovating and rarely having a Plan B, and perhaps the same can be said of Robbo.

      It just seems that some opposition coaches have worked the Roosters out.

      He’ll probably work it out, but given how many current and former rep players they have, I do shake my head.

      • Roar Guru

        April 15th 2018 @ 9:19pm
        Scott Pryde said | April 15th 2018 @ 9:19pm | ! Report

        Hi Con,

        Yeah I agree with most of that. Robbo is a pretty good coach, but the ability to change things up on the fly has always been a bit lacking.

        The Roosters have the best team in the comp on paper. They should be dominating the way Melbourne did last year.

        • April 15th 2018 @ 9:46pm
          DP Schaefer said | April 15th 2018 @ 9:46pm | ! Report

          Scott, I can’t fully agree with that assessment (best team in comp on paper). The backs do have some top stars mixed with some good players but the pack and bench is weak. Most of their tries seem to come from kicks. Also, the jury is out on Robinson as a top coach.. in 2016 he cracked at the seams with the pressure so I’m going to note with interest how he handles the decline (my evaluation if other teams meet their potential) of Easts this year.

          • Roar Guru

            April 15th 2018 @ 9:50pm
            Scott Pryde said | April 15th 2018 @ 9:50pm | ! Report

            I think my main concern with the Roosters this year was their lack of depth. I never got carried away in their premiership hype (I did that for the Cowboys instead and look where they are), but yeah, they are performing a long way below where they should be at the moment. Let’s see where they are in a month’s time.

    • Roar Guru

      April 15th 2018 @ 7:18pm
      Con Scortis said | April 15th 2018 @ 7:18pm | ! Report

      Btw, regarding your comment about Josh Dugan being unpopular with the crowd – we could hear the boos on the tv audio. The message was loud and clear!!

      • Roar Guru

        April 15th 2018 @ 9:21pm
        Scott Pryde said | April 15th 2018 @ 9:21pm | ! Report

        It was brilliant being on the hill and being part of it. I would never boo a player who leaves the Dragons on good terms, but how Dugan treated the club last year is unforgivable. As it turns out, we are better off without him, despite how well he played on Friday.

    • April 15th 2018 @ 7:27pm
      Greg said | April 15th 2018 @ 7:27pm | ! Report

      I’d say Tohu Harris is the buy of the season so far. Maloney is equal second in the NRL in errors, is still a weak defender who sits a whopping 21 missed tackles clear of second place and his first few games of the season where pretty ordinary. Tedesco also isn’t going to bad, he’s 4th in the comp in running metres.

      • April 15th 2018 @ 8:22pm
        Dufeyz said | April 15th 2018 @ 8:22pm | ! Report

        By that logic, Kevin Proctor is the best goalkicker in the comp because he sits at 1 from 1, (100%).

        Stats only tell so much of the story. With maloney, the pack is doing the work and he’s feeding off from it. He’s putting his body in front which is enough.

        • April 15th 2018 @ 8:32pm
          Greg said | April 15th 2018 @ 8:32pm | ! Report

          Tackle efficiency of 58.7%, so he makes just over half of his attempts, how’s that logic?

      • April 15th 2018 @ 8:24pm
        Mick said | April 15th 2018 @ 8:24pm | ! Report

        Harris is an outstanding player, I think he should have got the Clive Churchill medal last year. I think his loss to Melbourne has been understated, due to the loss of Cronk.

      • Roar Guru

        April 15th 2018 @ 9:24pm
        Scott Pryde said | April 15th 2018 @ 9:24pm | ! Report

        I couldn’t rate Harris as the best buy of the season Greg, but it’s definitely an oversight to not even mention him, that much I will admit.

        Tedesco really hasn’t played that well for mine. 4th in running metres is fine, but he is hindering the Roosters attack more than helping it.

        And when I’m looking at buy of the season, I’m not really looking at the stats around missed tackles. I’m looking at which player is having the greatest impact on their team, based on where they were the previous season and how they played. It’s hard to not include Maloney in a group of players doing that isn’t it?

    • April 15th 2018 @ 7:37pm
      jimmmy said | April 15th 2018 @ 7:37pm | ! Report

      Unfortunately I don’t see the Cows coming back from this poor start to the season. We are a mile off our best atm. Saturday’s game bordered on embarrassing. Getting beaten happens but the Cows were Soft. (It really hurts to say that because while we may have lost plenty of games in the past 5years or so, we have rarely been guilty of a lack of effort.)
      I think Green needs to drop a few forwards NOW . Get some speed from somewhere (maybe Galae Mosby on one wing)., and tell the players to forget structured footy for a while. Just go out and enjoy themselves . Play what they see.
      I thought they would slowly build into the season but they have got worse over the last three weeks.
      One thing he can’t do is give Us more of the same.
      Oh one positive. I have little soft spot for the Tiges and they are a joy to watch atm. Good luck to em,

      • Roar Guru

        April 15th 2018 @ 9:25pm
        Scott Pryde said | April 15th 2018 @ 9:25pm | ! Report

        I don’t mind that plan. From one and five, you have to do something a little bit different, and with Thurston, Coote, Morgan, etc, they have the players to pull it off for a few weeks and build some confidence.

        I don’t mind the idea of Mosby on the wing either.

      • April 15th 2018 @ 9:27pm
        Mick said | April 15th 2018 @ 9:27pm | ! Report

        I don’t think dropping players will fix the cowboys problems. I’m not sure you’d drop. Mosby would add some speed, but he still has some rough edges.

        I think Green has look at the balance of the team. I’d like to see Lowe start on the right edge, with Hess starting in the front row. At the end of last year Green went back to Lowe on the edge, largely due to his defence. I’d bench Hess midway through the first half and bring him back on the right edge in the second half. Jensen was really good on the weekend, so I’d like to see him play a few more minutes. Im not sure why Green played O’Neil on the left and Hampton on the right. I’d switch them back so Lowe, Morgan O’Neil and Felt can have some continuity.

        Over the years when the cowboys have played their best under Green, they always look calm, regardless of the situation. They need to try get back to getting the balance between building pressure and taking risks in attack. Also when things aren’t going their way, muscling up and changing the momentum. Every tackle, focus on keep the opposition to 10 metres or less. Getting numbers in tackles, get ball runners on their back to control the speed of the ruck. Running hard in attack and having a good kick chase.

      • April 15th 2018 @ 9:49pm
        DP Schaefer said | April 15th 2018 @ 9:49pm | ! Report

        Jimmmy, I wouldn’t be losing hope just yet. Cows only 2 wins off the 8 and there is a logjam. Over the year other teams will fall away and they are too good a squad to be behind for long.

    • April 15th 2018 @ 7:38pm
      paul j said | April 15th 2018 @ 7:38pm | ! Report

      Yes I clearly heard the booing on tv. The game I am looking forward to but don’t know when its on is Dragons vs Tigers if current form continues although the next two weeks of dragons vs Warriors and then vs Roosters on Anzac Day should be belters too. Damian Cook played well but so did the whole Rabbitohs pack made the roosters look ordinary at times. The Burgess twins handling has improved and they playing better then they were at times last year. I used to think Dylan Napa was alright but more i watch, the more overrated he becomes. How many times does he miss a tacke because he’s going for a big hit and it doesn’t come off

      • Roar Guru

        April 15th 2018 @ 9:27pm
        Scott Pryde said | April 15th 2018 @ 9:27pm | ! Report

        Dragons vs Tigers isn’t till Rd 18 unfortunately. The next two games, as well as playing the Storm after that is going to really tell us where the Dragons are at. ANZAC Day could be a belter, but it’s worth noting the Dragons are coming back from Auckland on a five-day turnaround (Friday to Wednesday) while the Roosters remain in Sydney and have an extra day (Thursday to Wednesday).

        You’re right about the whole Bunnies pack Paul – I was particularly impressed with John Sutton if we look past Cook.

    • April 15th 2018 @ 7:40pm
      Roberto said | April 15th 2018 @ 7:40pm | ! Report

      Diving to reduce the opposing team to 12 men is the lowest act of league sportsmanship.
      Disent/backchat should be penalised more – binning after repeated infringements is the way to go.

      • Roar Guru

        April 15th 2018 @ 9:28pm
        Scott Pryde said | April 15th 2018 @ 9:28pm | ! Report

        Yeah, look, I could have talked about the diving, but it’s been said and done. I’ll be interested to see how many players start to try and do it. Could make the game look really silly in a hurry.

      • April 16th 2018 @ 1:39am
        Fraser said | April 16th 2018 @ 1:39am | ! Report

        If Fitzgibbon doesn’t put his arm out to attempt a tackle, Slater doesn’t dive. Pretty simple stuff really.

        • Roar Guru

          April 16th 2018 @ 7:11am
          Con Scortis said | April 16th 2018 @ 7:11am | ! Report

          Not that simple, Fraser. Slater is a fantastic player, but he is making himself look like a dill. Most commentators agree that his diving is embarrassing for him and I agree. Everyone makes their own choices and are judged by the choices they make. If Billy is happy to be known as a diver, that’s his call, but a majority of league fans will lose some respect for him.

          • April 16th 2018 @ 8:17am
            Nicholas Barra said | April 16th 2018 @ 8:17am | ! Report

            I’ve lost major respect for billy over last couple weeks. I’m starting to see why you guys south of the boarder ha

          • April 16th 2018 @ 8:22am
            Nicholas Barra said | April 16th 2018 @ 8:22am | ! Report

            I’ve lost major respect for billy the last couple weeks. I’m beginning to see why those south of the border aren’t his biggest fan come origin time.

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