Eleven talking points from NRL Round 15

Scott Pryde Roar Guru

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

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    It’s been a weekend of big games – games which could well go a long way to deciding the top eight – with some surprising scorelines ensuring there is plenty to talk about heading into the rep weekend break. Here are all the big points from Round 15.

    There is nothing magical about the NRL’s magic weekend
    Okay, so it didn’t exactly happen on the field, but it sure did happen. The NRL’s worst-kept secret was confirmed on Sunday morning at a press conference in Brisbane, with Todd Greenberg announcing it will be played next season during May.

    All eight games at one stadium has worked quite well in the English Super League, but the NRL have got the concept all wrong in the way they are going about trying to replicate it.

    First things first – how on Earth is the Suncorp Stadium turf going to handle eight games in a week? It’s going to be at a very similar time of year to the one where there were problems with the ground this year. There was a reason, something about the sun not getting onto certain parts of the ground for long enough during winter, but newsflash – these games are going to be played during, yep, you guessed it, winter.

    So how the ground holds up for eight games in a weekend is anyone’s guess. When a player inevitably goes down on the Sunday afternoon with injury due to the turf, what sort of compensation will be offered? How does that team then cope without a star for the next six weeks?

    Sure, injuries can happen anywhere, but they shouldn’t happen due to a dodgy ground.

    Of course, that’s not the only problem with the so-called ‘magic weekend.’ The whole idea of putting 16 teams in the one place is to expand the game – to introduce a new audience.

    With the NRL on the cusp of expansion in the coming years, this would be an ideal opportunity to find out if there was a real desire to have a professional team in say, Perth, Adelaide or Wellington. Taking one game there and getting a decent crowd doesn’t count, but doing it three days in a row sure would.

    The argument of not taking it to an expansion area is that it’s ‘risky.’ Let me tell you, it’s risky taking the weekend to Brisbane, particularly with it already being announced the Broncos will play on Friday evening.

    It might be a rip-roaring success, but I, along with many others, have doubts about exactly how many people will or won’t show up for the games on Saturday or Sunday.

    I sincerely hope this goes well, but there are so many risks and roadblocks standing in the way, it’s hard to see this as a positive step.

    Suncorp Stadium

    (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

    The Roosters make an emphatic statement
    It’s becoming extremely difficult to get a read on where the Sydney Roosters are really at this season.

    15 rounds in, and they have gone from high to low and back again multiple times. It’s an absolute roller-coaster ride at the moment, with the side putting in one of their best performances yet to smash the high-flying Panthers on the weekend.

    It doesn’t make sense though that, the previous two weeks, they were pushed to the final seconds of matches against the Wests Tigers and Newcastle Knights, with a spluttering attack and defensive line which could was being breached far too easily.

    Their consistency is down the toilet and it’s an area coach Trent Robinson must address, but at their best, they are going to be hard to stop when we get to the finals. At the moment, it’s ensuring they a) get to the finals and b) can string together three or four fantastic games in a row to end up where they were supposed to be this year – in the grand final and holding the trophy aloft on the final Saturday in September.

    While it’s far from disastrous yet for the Roosters, their win against the Panthers needs to spark a run through the second half of the season. They have a tendency to drift in and out of games, but playing like they did on Friday, will beat most teams.

    A frustrating one for tri-colours fans right at the moment.

    The Roosters celebrate during their win over the Panthers.

    (AAP Image/Brendon Thorne)

    Why are Manly so conservative?
    An interesting trend I’m starting to notice in the Sea Eagles is their trait of taking the conservative option far too often.

    While the current NRL rules make kicking into the in goal dangerous, with the potential of giving away a seven-tackle set, their preference more often than not seems to be simply to bang the ball over the sideline when in attacking possessions and ensure the opposition have to work it out of the corner.

    It was evident to see again during the first half against the Dragons. There are at least three occasions I can think of off the top of my head where an attacking kick could have been used, but they instead simply decided to play the possession and territory game.

    Now, there is nothing wrong with playing the territory and possession game if they were under the pump, but they do it so many times when they have the other team under the pump.

    The reason could be anything, but surely it’s not what Trent Barrett tells his troops to do in the pre-match?

    It’s almost as if Daly Cherry-Evans, who had one of the best short kicking games in the competition last year, doesn’t feel confident in his own ability anymore without Blake Green lining up next to him in the halves.

    Even if he proved what he could do when the Sea Eagles threw the kitchen sink at the Dragons in the first half, they may never have been in that position with an extra try or two during the first half, which, again, while risky, could have been created with the aforementioned talents of Cherry-Evans.

    The gameplan on the attack needs tweaking for Manly, because they aren’t going to win a heap of games if they continue to play conservatively during the first half when on the attack.

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    Melbourne’s experience will count for plenty in September
    The Storm still were a long way from their best on Sunday afternoon as they ran up an 18-point win over the Knights, but their experience counted for plenty in windy conditions.

    Playing into a gale during the first half, they managed to split possession with the Knights and play the game down their attacking end of the field more often than not.

    While it took a deflection from a grubber and run away try from Josh Addo-Carr to break them down and take a lead into the sheds, they would have been more than happy to settle for a tied scoreline at the break.

    The Storm then had to fight back early in the second half as the Knights started dominantly, but with the wind at their back, the control of Cameron Smith was evident to see. For a second straight week, his kicking game out of dummy half was pin-point accurate and it had Newcastle on the back foot more often than not.

    Cameron Munster and Ryley Jacks are both playing well above their experience level suggests, but that’s down to the players they have supporting them.

    Smith was on the park today, but throw Billy Slater and Jess Bromwich back into the side, as well as Will Chambers, who plays inside Josh Addo-Carr out wide, along with Ryan Hoffman and you start to get an idea about just how much the Storm have going for them.

    It would take a very brave man to write Melbourne off, despite their up and down form over the first half of the season.

    Cameron Smith runs the football.

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Josh Hodgson has the potential to turn the Raiders season around
    Well, that’s what the Raiders have been missing in 2018.

    They have been in contests, let themselves down in the final 20 minutes of games and put in some poor performances, but the spark and energy returning hooker Josh Hodgson was able to provide them was a key catalyst in their big win over the Tigers.

    His return has been long-anticipated by coach Ricky Stuart and his team, with the side struggling to break into the top eight, but after their big win away from home over the Tigers, it now looks like Canberra have the missing piece of the puzzle.

    You have to remember how good Hodgson was in 2016 on their run to the preliminary final to realise exactly how good the English hooker can be.

    His energy, running game, creativity and defensive awareness has been a key for the Raiders ever since he signed with the club and will need to be over the final 11 rounds if they are to go on a big run of victories and crack the finals.

    While it’s looked like the Raiders were a long way from the top eight, based on how they were throwing games into the bin week after week, having Hodgson back seemed to lift the whole club. Even though it’s hard to judge after just one week, the Raiders will be a much more dangerous team from this day forward.

    So good was Hodgson’s performance, you wonder if it’s seven months or seven days he has missed.

    Shaun Johnson’s kicking game could be the difference for the Warriors
    While the work of Blake Green sometimes goes under the radar for the Auckland-based club, Johnson’s kicking game as they held the Cowboys at bay on Friday night didn’t.

    The Warriors have had a very tough time of it in Townsville throughout history, with the club winning just a handful of games in nearly 20 attempts, so even against a struggling Cowboys outfit, it was going to be a tough assisngment on Friday.

    But Johnson controlled the game for all but the first 20 mintues. The New Zealand half had a heavy hand in nearly everything, involved in all of the Warriors three tries during the first half as they built a lead, before he ensured the Cowboys back three had to work it out of their own end nearly every single time.

    It’s normally the role of Blake Green to play the organiser, but Johnson proved he can do that and more against the Cowboys, as he found a fantastic mix between aggression and conservatism.

    In the end, his kicking game was almost undoubtedly the difference between the two sides. Sure, they were only playing a poor Cowboys unit, but if the Warriors are to maintain their spot in the top four and go deep into the finals, Johnson is the key.

    Shaun Johnson runs the football.

    (AAP Image/SNPA, Martin Hunter)

    The Bulldogs may not win again in 2018
    Houston, we have a problem.

    I feel sorry for Canterbury fans. This has never happened before and probably never will again, but it goes to show just what a dire state the club is really in as we head into the second half of the season.

    The books are in a bad state, as we all too well know, but they look broken on the field. The only player who did anything good in their loss to the Gold Coast Titans on Saturday, Moses Mbye is now off to Tigers as well, having played his last game in the blue and white.

    They were dysfunctional on the weekend though, and have been for much of the season, despite a somewhat gallant effort against competition leaders the Dragons on the Queens Birthday public holidays.

    There can be no excuses for how poorly they are playing on the field. Contracts and where they most with the 2019 salary cap is one thing, but to conceed 32 points at Belmore – their spiritual home – to a team barely scoring 18 per game coming into the contest simply isn’t up to NRL standard.

    Dean Pay can chop and change his team all he likes in the coming weeks, but the bottom line is this.

    Canterbury’s season is done. They must, for the second season in a row, begin preparations for the next early. But then, how can they do that when they don’t know who will be at the club, who won’t be at the club and whether they have any money to sign anyone at all?

    It’s an impossible task for the Bulldogs board, but the way they played on Saturday with no sign of the off-field issues abating would suggest they are in a spot where they may not win again this year.

    Dean Pay

    (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

    Cronulla are their own worst enemy
    Would you believe it if I told you the Sharks were the better team against Brisbane, but lost cause of their errors?

    Well, of course you would, because it’s a narrative which has followed Cronulla around like a bad smell ever since the start of their premiership defence in 2017.

    While it seemed to be disappearing at points this year, even their run of six straight wins was littered with mistakes at times.

    They really struggled on Saturday, making 12 errors as they invited the Broncos back into the game time and time again. They looked the more threatening of the two teams and had opportunities to score time and time again, but butchered them, their execution way off.

    While the Sharks have always got by on their reputation of having a gritty defence which won’t let anyone in, there is only so much it can do, and it was eventually cracked by Wayne Bennett’s side.

    It means Shane Flanagan’s side, who had won six straight, have now lost two of their last three and are back on the cusp of the eight, urgently needing to get back to basics and post a win after the bye when they make a tough trip to Auckland.

    Euan Aitken has the potential to become the best centre in the game
    Now, before the Broncos, Roosters, Rabbitohs and whichever other fans with a gun centre start to have a major crack in the comments, just hear me out.

    Aitken will never have the flashy attacking still of James Roberts or Latrell Mitchell. He will never have the speed or acceleration and that’s just a fact of live. He doesn’t have the genetics and fast-twitch muscle fibres of the other duo.

    But what he does have is an excellent footy mind, a brilliant IQ on the game and strength. By the bucketload.

    Some of the defensive plays Aitken has managed to pull off in his short career are simply fantastic. His attack has also been good this year, with the Dragons centre having eight tries and more than 100 metres per game to his name, to go with 40 tackle busts and nine offloads.

    Just this weekend, he was involved in a stunning try saver with fullback Matt Dufty on the much larger Joel Thompson and while nothing stood out in his attacking game, he has been consistent all season long.

    While injuries have spoilt the last two seasons for the youngster from Wollongong, he has remained healthy this year and it was little wonder he was in the Origin conversation – an arena he will no doubt one step foot in.

    For now though, he will continue to be one of the Dragons best, week in and week out as he continues to grow his staus in the game.

    Euan Aitken and Matt Dufty celebrate a try.

    (AAP Image/Darren England).

    Should South Sydney be worried by their first half?
    In short, probably not.

    The long version though is that the Rabbitohs have four players playing in State of Origin and took far too long to find their feet in an eventual win over the Eels.

    While they came away with a win and all four players found their stride eventually – with Damien Cook, Greg Inglis, Dane Gagai and Angus Crichton given a chance to rest last week in their win over the Titans – the problem arises from the fact the effect of Origin isn’t going to get any better as we move further through the series.

    The obvious fatigue and slow start-up will only worsen their effort over the coming weeks, and the Rabbitohs will be hoping and praying it doesn’t have a negligible effect on the rest of the season.

    It shouldn’t, but it has done so before. It’s derailed teams who looked certain for the top four before the Origin window (trust me, I’m a Dragons supporter – I understand these things). It’s not as if the Rabbitohs won’t have their protocols in place to ensure it doesn’t happen, but a shorter came leading into Origin 2 followed by the expectation those four players will play could hurt, as it will for whichever state loses the series.

    We shouldn’t be death-riding the Rabbitohs, but we should be cautious about being too optimistic for a side who weren’t expected to be top four material this year, but, along with the rest of the top four, unexpectedly find themselves sitting there.

    Greg Inglis

    (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

    Will the Tigers squeeze into the top eight?
    After being thumped by the Raiders on Sunday afternoon, the answer, frankly, is starting to look a lot like no.

    They are sitting outside the top eight now, four points behind the eighth-placed Broncos. The game against the Raiders was something of a four-point turnaround, as the Green Machine replace the Tigers in ninth spot.

    It’s been something of a strange season for Wests. They have been up, down and all around. It might have been a strong start to the season, but the wheels have officially fallen off the Ivan Cleary bus at this point in time.

    Their defence, which they prided themselves on at the start of the season – and did a good job of doing so it should be added – has fallen to bits. They let in almost 50 on the weekend and are now right on the back foot.

    While the finals are far from gone, realism has to come into the equation. They were never expected to make the finals before the season started and don’t look like doing so now.

    It’s almost time to put a line through the Tigers unless they come out of the bye spitting fire.

    Roarers, what did you make of Round 15?

    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 (34)

    • Roar Guru

      June 17th 2018 @ 6:30pm
      Riley Pettigrew said | June 17th 2018 @ 6:30pm | ! Report

      Completely agree with you re Magic Weekend Scott, if they were going to do it they should either do it in a non-rugby league heartland or split it between two cities (four games on Saturday, four games on Sunday). Also, I don’t know how it’s going to work with 24 rounds. Home/Away allocation is going to be very dodgy.

      Hodgson proved himself to be the Raiders’ most valuable player. His performance was outstanding and really inspired Canberra to victory. It didn’t look like he had spent the last seven months on the sideline. I think it is going to be hard for them to race for the finals though, all top eight teams are in peak form and will be hard to catch up to.

      The Bulldogs were horrendous. With Mbye (and potentially Woods) leaving, their roster is only going to get weaker, not stronger despite getting salary cap relief. Knights (Away), Raiders, Rabbitohs, Eels (Away), Wests Tigers, Broncos, Sea Eagles (Away), Warriors, Dragons (Away) and Sharks. The only game I could possibly see them winning is the Eels in Round 19 at this stage but who knows what will happen from here on out.

      The players clearly don’t want to be there. Really only Mbye, Jackson, Klemmer and the Morris twins have been putting in any real effort. RFM was good for a patch but has lost touch. Time for a shake-up.

      1. Will Hopoate, 2. Brett Morris, 3. John Olive, 4. Kerrod Holland, 5. Reimis Smith, 6. Josh Cleeland, 7. Lachlan Lewis, 8. Renouf To’omaga, 9. Zac Woolford, 10. David Klemmer, 11. Josh Jackson, 12. Raymond Faitala-Mariner, 13. Adam Elliott
      Interchange: 14. Aiden Tolman, 15. Ofahiki Ogden, 16. Rhyse Martin, 17. Clay Priest

      Montoya’s defence has been horrible, Frawley’s last tackle options are abysmal, Lichaa’s dummy-half service is uninspired (run the ball, play what’s in front of you), Marshall-King has had some good moments but has otherwise been disappointing.

      • June 18th 2018 @ 11:02am
        SDough said | June 18th 2018 @ 11:02am | ! Report

        Yeah, the magic weekend thing seems a shambles.

        But mostly i’m here to comment about the Bulldogs because (with good reason) mostly people aren’t bothering to write about them. We are in major trouble. And the fact that i agree with you, that returning Hoppa to fullback is probably going to be our best option, underlines this, That was tried – and he was ok – but doesn’t really do much to lift our attack.

        Otherwise, our backrow is about the only passable part of the team you’ve listed. I agree about JMK but would prefer to stick with him over Cleeland, if only because Cleeland is now 27 I think, and hasn’t played FG, so may as well persevere with the younger guy. Really hope Woolford could be an option at hooker but I haven’t seen him much so don’t know. And Clay Priest offers nothing,

        We’ve got 2 young, Knights second-stringers recruited as our only help coming in for next year. We’re actually going to bepre-season wooden spoon favourites for possibly the first time in my near 30 years of following this team.

    • June 17th 2018 @ 6:57pm
      KenoathCarnt said | June 17th 2018 @ 6:57pm | ! Report

      Broncos still executed perfectly. Broncos definetely wont their defensive best,but you still need to take every opportunity and hope that you can strengthen issues later in the season.

      • Roar Guru

        June 17th 2018 @ 7:06pm
        Con Scortis said | June 17th 2018 @ 7:06pm | ! Report

        They executed the forward pass perfectly.

        • Roar Guru

          June 17th 2018 @ 7:38pm
          Nat said | June 17th 2018 @ 7:38pm | ! Report

          Jimmy Maloney reckons it was fine.

    • Roar Guru

      June 17th 2018 @ 7:04pm
      Con Scortis said | June 17th 2018 @ 7:04pm | ! Report

      I thought the Magic Weekend was a joke when I heard it announced on Channel 9. Sterlo said that the Friday game will be Many v Broncos. Nice to know ahead of time I suppose…

      Regarding the Dogs, I do feel sorry for Dean Pay. He looks like a deer-in-the-headlights at the moment as a lot of what is going on is outside his control. Also feel sorry for the Morris twins as they always try hard and they deserve better.

      I’m confident Souths will get things right, mainly because Anthony Seibold inspires confidence and calm every time I hear him speak. He spoke about this very issue (player burn and management) and believes that the club’s processes would take care of things. Hope so.

      Agree on your other points Scottie. Has been an interesting season.

    • Roar Guru

      June 17th 2018 @ 7:17pm
      eagleJack said | June 17th 2018 @ 7:17pm | ! Report

      Brisbane is the perfect city to trial the magic weekend. Best rectangular stadium in the country, surrounded by vibrant bars/restaurants. The precinct is perfect for creating the carnival-like atmosphere the NRL wants.

      I’m a big believer that you trial something like this in a known stronghold before shifting it elsewhere once the formula is proven. I think NRL fans believe that there is a hunger for the game outside of the heartland states. There really isn’t. A one off game works fine to draw a reasonable crowd. But this will be an entire NRL round, no tournament winner at the end of it to attract people to watch the final games.

      It’s also not a gimmicky event like the 9s which people went to initially as a novelty before avoiding it like the plague. Getting people to 8 x NRL games in a single weekend will be tough. Test it first in Brisbane then see how we go after that. Definitely shift it around if it proves to be a success.

      • Roar Guru

        June 18th 2018 @ 7:34am
        PNG Broncos fan88 said | June 18th 2018 @ 7:34am | ! Report

        Lang Park est 1988 till present.
        300 matches played so far averaging almost 30k per match.
        No other stadium comes close.

        Book me for magic round… I will be there at the home of Rugby League.

      • June 18th 2018 @ 7:41am
        RandyM said | June 18th 2018 @ 7:41am | ! Report

        this is what i was going to say, i think the NRL is just trialling the magic weekend first before taking it to expansion areas. They will get close to 30k every game at suncorp if it’s priced alright.

        • Roar Guru

          June 18th 2018 @ 8:40am
          Emcie said | June 18th 2018 @ 8:40am | ! Report

          It sould be priced pretty fairly, it’s basicly one double header and two triple headers isn’t it? So it should be great value as long as prices aren’t inflated

    • Roar Guru

      June 17th 2018 @ 7:18pm
      Nat said | June 17th 2018 @ 7:18pm | ! Report

      You raise a point I didn’t really consider about the Magic Weekend and that’s the Broncos playing Friday night. However, there will be crowd compensation with the Cowboys, Saints and Souths (and a lesser extent Titans) who all have fantastic support in Brisbane. However as far as the ground being a deterrent, the ground came apart earlier i the year after weeks of rain – that could happen anywhere and I’m not they’ll have procedures in place. Otherwise, why introduce the Magic Weekend in a place that either: A, completes with AFL for a standard rnd in a non traditional area. B, will not attract the crowd Brisbane guarantees? TV coverage won’t be affected, Sydney won’t turn out, Melbourne/Perth and Adelaide may turn out to a Dbl header but not 3 days worth. Brisbane is 1-2hrs from any east coast fan (by plane).

      Anyway. How good was Hodgson in his short stint? Definitely a touch worried now. Not that Havili has done much wrong but the Pom is a class above and he killed my perfect tips along the way. 12 Errors from the Sharks is on par with any other team in any round and less then some but I know you’re loathe to give the Broncos anything 😉 Speaking of giving away too much, Aitken? He’s good and quick but the 3rd – 4th best (maybe) in NSW. That try saver was all Dufty.

    • June 17th 2018 @ 7:19pm
      Forty Twenty said | June 17th 2018 @ 7:19pm | ! Report

      Tom the Turbo leaps high like he really belongs at the MCG for NSW to score a great try yet comes back to Manly only to watch useless grubbers dribble over the sideline instead of bombs directed for him. I don’t get it.

      I saw the replay of the Oates try and it was really well done but to me the only way Boyds pass to Oates is not forward would be if he throws a very direct flat pass at great speed directly at Oates. He didn’t do that , it was a lobbed sloppy affair. Do the refs rate that as a fair pass? Thurston was called up for one last week which didn’t even float forward but Boyds one leaves the hands forward and keeps going forward.

      • Roar Guru

        June 17th 2018 @ 7:33pm
        eagleJack said | June 17th 2018 @ 7:33pm | ! Report

        Been saying for a long time that the NRL and their officials don’t understand the forward pass. It’s a lottery when it really shouldn’t be.

        I’m loathe for them to send them upstairs as the bunker hardly fills me with confidence. But it works very well in rugby union, eliminating the howlers. Of the dozens I’ve seen sent upstairs to the TMO in rugby there was only 1 I thought was line-ball which they got wrong.

        People say we need more cameras in order for forward passes to be ruled on effectively. But if we at home can comfortably say which one is forward out of the hands, and which pass simply floated forward, then surely the paid officials can too.

        • Roar Guru

          June 17th 2018 @ 8:09pm
          Matt H said | June 17th 2018 @ 8:09pm | ! Report

          I look forward to all the NSW supporters who tied themselves in knots of physics to justify Maloney’s pass, now finding a way to come up with the exact opposite conclusion. What was it about throwing something out of a speeding train? Does Jimmy run faster than Darius (to be fair George Rose an give Boyd a fair contest)? Did Darius not twist as far as Jimmy? I’m horribly confused.

          • June 17th 2018 @ 9:57pm
            Clint said | June 17th 2018 @ 9:57pm | ! Report

            I’m a NSW supporter and honestly have no problem with Maloney’s, Thurton’s or Boyd’s passes. The physics debate for mine was a reaction to people saying Maloney’s pass had to be forward out of the hands because momentum couldn’t possibly carry it 2m forward to JAC. It can and it regularly does, hence the rule is simple: judge the direction of the pass relative to the passer. To me it looks like Boyd passes it in the direction of Oates who is behind him at the time.

        • June 17th 2018 @ 8:13pm
          DP Schaefer said | June 17th 2018 @ 8:13pm | ! Report

          EJ, a competent pair of touchies should be able to mange forward passes. Touchies should keep up with the play then at each ruck one covers attacking team, one covers defending giving a straight line of sight for off-side. Then run with the play so they can see the passes and line of flight of the ball, don’t need to pass it up to the bunker.

        • June 17th 2018 @ 8:13pm
          Forty Twenty said | June 17th 2018 @ 8:13pm | ! Report

          The player passing forward is looking at a target in front of him and releasing the ball in a forward direction. . Either that or I’m having myself on.

          The refs get one look at full speed , possibly obstructed and under a huge amount of pressure and of course they will get it wrong at times.

          Surely as part of their training they are watching videos and forming opinions on what’s forward so why are they pretending that it’s not possible on game day?

      • Roar Guru

        June 17th 2018 @ 7:40pm
        Nat said | June 17th 2018 @ 7:40pm | ! Report

        I think that shoulder incident on Turbo did hurt/affect his confidence more then he let on. Not that Many were ever going to win but he didn’t want to attack at all after that or put his body on the line in D.

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