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Eight talking points from NRL Round 19

The NRL bunker was one of the big headlines again coming out of the Anzac Day clash between the Dragons and Roosters. (The Roar)
Editor
22nd July, 2018
58

Talk about controversy! The referees are back in the picture this week as unravel Round 19 with another edition of talking points, but there is plenty more than just that incident to talk about.

We have to talk about referees again and Ricky Stuart has a point
No. No I don’t want to talk about the referees. But I have to, don’t I? I just don’t have a choice after that absolute farce on Friday night.

Why did Ricky MacFarlane have to go and stick his flag in the air, only for the referee and bunker to completely ignore it and award a try.

Even the most one-eyed, passionate Cronulla supporters can see it’s the wrong decision, yet, all the shocker does it bring to a head the way the game has been officiated all season long.

Now, there aren’t that many times I have been in agreement with Ricky Stuart, but his rant at the referees was pretty reasonable by his (and to be fair, other coaches) standards on Friday night when he fronted the press after the Sharks win over his Green Machine.

The point which stuck with me was about how the rules seem to change every week – and to be frank – they absolutely seem to for the average fan, coach, player, commentator or other.

The interpretation shouldn’t be that difficult to get right, but when the referees are cracking down on every blight in the game one week and not the next, you have to shrug your shoulders, shake your head and ask what on Earth is going on.

Now, the touch judge putting his flag up only for a try to be scored after going through the bunker is a somewhat isolated incident. You haven’t seen it before and more than likely, it’s not going to happen again.

But it just goes to show, when there are a stack of isolated incidents, rules being let go and coaches not knowing exactly how the game is going to be officiated from week-to-week, there is a major problem. A major problem with those in charge of the referees.

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We need to iron it out, set the rules and play to them. If that means high penalty counts, so be it.

Granted, other sports are copping their fair share of heat when it comes to officiating, but this latest NRL farce has turned our attention back in the wrong direction as we reach the crucial end of the season.

Bernard Sutton oversees the NRL video bunker

(The Roar)

…And speaking of the crucial end of the season.

2018 is making a great case for promotion and relegation
There have been some meaningless matches in the last few weeks, which, frankly, isn’t a great look so many weeks from the end of the season.

The top eight this year is seemingly decided at the end of Round 19 (and some have been saying it’s been decided for some weeks already), leaving a good six weeks to go – with plenty of teams playing for nothing in the run to the finals.

It ruins the spectacle and worse, creates the potential for a heap of dud games where players not playing for contracts start thinking about next season.

While I’m not suggesting players would go out not at their best, there is that nagging doubt that an injury at this point of the season playing for nothing could ruin the start of the next season by virtue of effectively not having a pre-season.

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Not only that, but the lack of big games and fixed scheduling before Round 1 is now creating a monstrous headache for television networks who are stuck showing games which are about as important as the average one day international in cricket – a match which no one is going to remember the result of in a few weeks time.

The Eels – who sit at the bottom of the table – have now been on free-to-air TV two weeks in a row, against clubs who also have nothing to play for in the Knights and Bulldogs.

How that is supposed to entice fans to tune in is beyond me. Of course, we can bemoan the game becoming ‘made for telivision,’ but then, where is the money coming from?

Estimates suggest more than three-quarters of the money being pumped into the competition is through TV rights. So why would we want to annoy them?

That’s where the debate about promotion and relegation comes in.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. You would first need a nationalised second-tier competition, which has been talked about, but even then, is mainly reserve grade of the top 16 clubs.

There would need to be a lot of water to pass under the bridge before we get to that point, but it works well for football competitions around the globe, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t here.

It creates passion in a bottom of the table clash and stops teams from progressively getting worse throughout the season, fighting for every competition point to keep their spot in the top league the following season.

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Do I want to see my club disappear from the NRL? Of course not.

Do I want to see important games from Round 1 to 25 in every timeslot though? Of course I do.

I’m not 100 per cent sure where the happy medium is and maybe it’s not full promotion and relegation between the top and mythical second-tier, but the NRL have to find it because as it stands, there are too many games which no one outside of those club’s supporters could give two hoots about.

Parramatta Eels

(AAP Image/Craig Golding)

The Dragons had to win, but let’s not jump the gun
That was one heck of an important win for the Red V.

They went to Townsville off two losses in a row with an (almost) full complement of players after the Origin window and simply had to come away with the two points, which they did.

You can see exactly how much it meant to them in their team song. It’s been a pretty rough sort of stretch for the Red V with the chokers tag doing the rounds again.

That win will lay off a few of the demons, but like the Panthers after their loss to Brisbane, consistency is going to be key down the final stretch of the season.

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The Dragons are a great team playing from in front and when they are in form, but have at times shown they are a little brittle trying to fight their way through the tough stretches – certainly, that’s how 2017 played out.

While this is an extremely different team than the one rolled out 12 months ago, the Dragons do have plenty to do in getting back to their best if they are to make a run through the finals.

The win in Townsville was just the first step in getting back on top. They might be second on the ladder, but they need to play like it from here to the end of the season.

A reasonably weak run of opposition means minor premiers should be the outcome for St George Illawarra. Anything less will leave them grossly underprepared and out of sorts ahead of September.

Ben Hunt runs

(AAP Image/Craig Golding)

Now for consistency at Suncorp
On paper, the Broncos aren’t the eighth best side in the competition. They are better than that, especially given the way certain members of their forward pack have been able to kick on and make names for themselves during the 2018 season.

From Tevita Pangai Junior to Joe Ofahengaue, the forwards have been standing up to be counted for, but there is a lot to do in terms of winning week in and week out.

The Broncos have an equal amount of games you can mark off as two points and games which will test them on the run to the finals. If they can win four of their final six, it will leave them in good stead ahead of the finals.

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Their win over the Panthers felt like moving time. They ran up a big score, attacked freely and with Anthony Milford and Koki Nikorima finding form off the back of a rolling forward pack, the key to them succeeding has well and truly been established.

If the Broncos forwards can continue that level of dominance, they are going to be reasonably hard to stop.

If they can’t though, they simply don’t have the nous to get themselves out of sticky situation.

Playing from in front over the final weeks will be crucial. Good starts and runs of momentum should get them going in the right direction, with there being more than enough attack there to succeed from good positions.

The Tigers are still kicking, but the Raiders are toast
The Tigers performance against the Rabbitohs on Saturday evening was superb. They controlled the game from the outset and never looked to be in a heap of danger of dropping what will turn out to be a crucial two points.

While Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall put in another good performance to deliver the Tigers their second win in a row, the club are still just four points out of the eight.

You can never be quite sure what you’re going to get out of the Warriors, while the Broncos consistency is all over the place as already mentioned.

While the top eight does appear to be more or less locked down, the Tigers going on a roll with plenty of talent across the park including the recently signed Moses Mbye would put them right back in the picture to cause a monumental boilover in the final rounds.

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On the other hand, the Raiders are done. Take it out of the oven, because the season has been well and truly cooked.

In saying that, I don’t want to hear didly squat about the officiating from the Cronulla game. Their season didn’t end there, because, in truth, it’s been over for a while.

Their first half against Cronulla in what was effectively a sudden death situation was nowhere good enough, nor have all the times the Green Machine have somehow managed to squander a lead in the final minutes.

This is a team who just haven’t hit their stride in 2018. They look to have all the potential in the world, but it hasn’t clicked at key times – that’s why their season is over. Not because of a decision against the Sharks, no matter how farcical.

Nick Cotric

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Speaking of the Tigers win…

This was the loss South Sydney had to have
The Rabbitohs had won nine straight coming into this weekend. That’s an incredibly good run of victories, and while not unprecedented, the men from Redfern couldn’t afford to go through to the finals without dropping another game.

You start to think you’re invincible and then, boom. All of a sudden you lose one, don’t know how to turn it around and are out in straight sets.

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Having the loss this far from the finals allows the Rabbitohs to go back to training, work hard and remember how to turn things around when the going gets tough. It gives them time to adjust to that shock of losing after winning so many on the hop.

They looked like a different team than the one who had been so dominant in recent weeks on Saturday though, and it’s important they don’t let a rot set in.

While the level of footy South Sydney have been playing is far better than what they dished up on Saturday, the pressure is still on them next time they take the field to get back to their best.

Losing one game at this point of the season is fine – losing two in a row could start a streak of them at the wrong time of the year.

It’s likely the game against the Tigers was a one-off blip on the radar, sure, but the nagging doubt is there now.

This is the loss they had to have, but a second wouldn’t be the way to go.

Sam Burgess

(AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

The Storm grind away again – and they will be tough to stop in September
Ah Melbourne, they just know how to win.

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And why wouldn’t you? Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Craig Bellamy. Even without Cooper Cronk out there helping to marshall the men from the Victorian capital around, they still have three of the smartest men to ever be involved in this sport.

They found a way over the Warriors in Auckland on Sunday. It was anything but pretty, but the bottom line is they got the job done.

This has been far from the Storm’s best season. Anything but almost. They have been sloppy at times and are a far cry from the team who blitzed everyone and never looked in doubt to win the competition last year.

But when the whips are out and we get to September, they simply need to be close enough four times in a row for Slater or Smith to produce some magic and get the Storm to fall over the line.

Going back-to-back has proven impossible for decades, but this Storm team feel a little bit different. Not many are rating them with the surprise big guns of the competition, but how can you overlook a team with the cattle they have?

It’s impossible, and team will find it very difficult to put a victory over them in sudden death footy.

Billy Slater

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

A dominant day for the Roosters must be the catalyst for a run to the finals
It would be fair to say the Roosters have been somewhat underwhelming at times this year. That’s not a huge knock on the club, because at the end of the day, they are going to play finals footy.

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But with their roster, anything less than a premiership – or at the very least a run to the grand final – wasn’t going to be enough this year.

An already strong roster adding Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco (granted, Mitchell Pearce went elsewhere) should go to the top and stay there.

Their consistency has been baffling in a lot of ways this season, particularly in attack, where the team have simply refused to click at times.

Trent Robinson has had a monumental task on his hands throughout the Origin period to keep some momentum rolling, but they have come out the other side sitting in the top four after Round 19, which, it has to be said is a pretty impressive effort.

Running up a half-century on Manly now needs to be the momentum they take into the back end of the season. When they are at their best, attacking freely and running a muck on opposition defensive lines, the tri-colours are pretty good to watch.

If the Roosters are going to make a fist of the finals though, it’s consistency they have to take into them. Their defence let them down a little during the second half against Manly, but given the game was all but over at halftime, that’s almost perfectly acceptable.

There aren’t too many games left in the regular season, and while the Roosters have been on a run of wins, they haven’t been winning convincingly.

The final weeks of the season may not be all that much about the result for the Roosters – although finishing in the top four would ease plenty of pressure – it’s more about how they play, how they gel in attack and what sort of rhythm they take into the finals series.

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The jury is still well and truly out on their premiership charge for now, but the signs are positive.

Roarers, what did you make of Round 19? Drop a comment below and let us know.