After a highly physical second NRL qualifying final, the Sydney Roosters have booked a week off after beating the Cronulla Sharks by nine points, who will have to play again next week against the Penrith Panthers. Here are my talking points from the match.
The NRL must crack down on Latrell Mitchell’s crusher tackle
This isn’t a refereeing issue. This is one for the judiciary to handle during the week, and they have a ridiculously tough decision on their hand.
If the judiciary do decide to act on Mitchell, it’s going to make the task infinitely harder for the Roosters when they face either the Broncos, Dragons or Rabbitohs in a fortnight.
And yet, if the NRL are serious about player safety, they will act on Mitchell and take an edict that tackles like the one he made on Josh Dugan are simply not acceptable.
As tough as Roosters fans will find to accept it, the tackle was bad. It was really bad.
If you replay Mitchell’s tackle alongside the Will Chambers one which saw him suspended a few weeks ago, it was nearly the same in terms of technique, just a little bit faster so it didn’t look quite as bad. Stand, get the player suspended off the ground on their back and then drop.
The result of the Mitchell one wasn’t as bad of course – just a little bit of pain for Dugan as he recovered from the fall – but this is worse than the average crusher tackle you see in every game of league.
A crusher tackle is undue pressure on the neck once the player is on the ground. This was a dropping action, albeit carried out quite quickly so it’s hard to say how pre-meditated it was, which puts the player in serve danger of head, neck, shoulders and spinal injury.
Mitchell has to go. If he is playing in a fortnight’s time, there should be an outrage.
Update – 3:45pm (AEST)
Latrell Mitchell has just been hit with a Grade 1 dangerous contact charge on the head and neck. With carry over points, he will miss the preliminary final unless he can beat the charge at the judiciary.
The Matt Moylan experiment hasn’t quite worked
Matt Moylan heading to the Sharks to play in the halves at the start of the year seemed like a win for all parties.
The Panthers got James Maloney, the Sharks got Moylan, all the players ended up happier than they were and the clubs too.
It’s all seemed rosy, but next week, if for whatever reason the Sharks go down, there will be a throng of Sharks unhappy. Moylan has shown plenty of potential and talent in the halves, but he seems to drift in and out of games a little too much and struggle to lift for the big moments.
Last night, he dropped some bad balls, made some bad options and didn’t seem to stand up enough in attack.
He didn’t have a terrible game, but it wasn’t a good game by any stretch of the imagination.
You just imagine if the Panthers win next week, there will be some very happy board members at the foot of the mountains for their decision.
There is still elements of confusion in the Roosters’ back three
At times this year, we have seen the Roosters back three struggle with their communication, particularly under the high ball.
Their defence at the back and on the edges has been pretty good for the most part, but things reared their ugly head last night.
After looking like they were going to do it for a good five or six kicks preceding that one, a bomb to the wing of Daniel Tupou finally brought them undone, with an error following.
Happening once in a game is acceptable. You can cop an error under the high ball, especially when the footy is slippery. But they almost had the same problem a number of times beforehand.
It makes no sense you can be this far through the season and still have these sort of issues, but it’s something the tri-colours need to sort out in a hurry.
The Sharks won’t win without Wade Graham
Cronulla might be still kicking into next week, but one man who won’t be kicking anything in the next few days and maybe weeks is Wade Graham.
After seemingly re-injuring his knee last night and not being able to complete the game, he will go for the most important scans in Cronulla history today. No word of a lie.
If Graham is fit enough to take the field next week, he will make such a difference on the Sharks.
They can probably beat the Panthers without Graham, but going any further than that without the instrumental second rower is a tall order. Something of a joke in fact.
They won’t. Simply put, Graham is too important, and it showed last night.
He influences the way Matt Moylan plays, helps out with the kicking game, has a wonderful pass and heads up vision on him and his runs always help out Cronulla whether it’s getting out of their own end or setting up an attack.
Graham gives 110 per cent every time he goes on the field, and that’s what the Sharks need if they are going to win the premiership.
If you’re a Cronulla fan, cross everything those scan results come back well. If not, it might be curtains.
The Roosters have a defensive brick wall, but they still aren’t favourites for the premiership
The Roosters were the better team last night, don’t get me wrong, but with two of their tries coming off questionable decisions and the Sharks botching opportunity after opportunity, there is still a lot to work on for the tri-colours.
They were far from perfect, although their defence during the final 20 minutes of the game to repel the Sharks time and time again on their line was outstanding.
The pressure on the Roosters to succeed is enormous. They have bought so many talented players and anything less than a premiership in 2018 simply won’t be anywhere near good enough.
And yet, playing like they did last night, unable to crack the Sharks line for long periods and spending chunks of the game on the back foot, they are going to struggle to go with the Storm, should that be the grand final which eventuates.
Given both teams have a week off next week, it would appear likely.
But the Roosters might be doing things without Mitchell who has been instrumental, and unless their forwards can aim up with one of the best performances of their season, the premiership still looks a way off.
Cooper Cronk is brilliant
After spending all that time in defence, it was time for Cooper Cronk to enter his element and put the game away.
Following another botched try (this one from Luke Lewis as he dropped the ball in goal after latching onto a grubber), the Roosters marched back upfield. They got back into the contest physically, and then Cooper Cronk, who had been marshalling his troops around well, stepped up to the plate.
After telling his time the exact blade of grass they should be on taking tackle five, Cronk set himself, weaved around Luke Lewis and then calmly and cooly as you like, slotted the field goal to send them ahead by seven points.
Cronk’s game management after that was superb. He kicked for the sideline, slowed things down and simply fell into a rhythm directing his side which he knew would secure them the win and defend the lead.
Cronk is something of a genius on the field, and it’s now time to prove he can do it without Cameron Smith and Billy Slater when the whips are cracking.
He passed the first part of that test last night with flying colours.
Roarers, what did you make of the contest? Be sure to drop a comment below and let us know.