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Eight talking points from NRL Round 3

Gareth Widdop of the Dragons is taken from the field injured during the round 3 NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Suncorp Stadium at Suncorp Stadium on March 28, 2019 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)
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31st March, 2019
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Round 3 is done and dusted, and with a big injury, a field goal thriller, a couple of blowouts, an upset and an outfit who continue to surprise against pre-season expecations, there is plenty to talk about. Here are my NRL talking points from the weekend that was.

Gareth Widdop’s injury could be a blessing in disguise for the Red V
Now, before I go any further on this point, let’s clarify a couple of things.

Firstly, the Dragons have more problems than the spine. This is not the only issue facing the club, and the talk of re-signing Paul McGregor this early in the season is absurd. Any good coach would have had a grand final appearance with this roster by now.

Secondly, the injury to Widdop is absolutely heart-breaking. He dislocated his shoulder twice last year, coming back from the first one quickly, and the second one six months later.

Thirdly, the Dragons won on Thursday, but they still weren’t amazing. Some good sides would have put 40 or more on the Broncos, given their issues holding onto the ball and playing anything which was approaching a good brand of footy, with most of their tries coming through sheer luck.

Scans on Monday will reveal the extent of the damage this time around for Widdop, but with the spine issues they have been facing, as well as the uncertainty over the role of Matt Dufty or Zac Lomax off the bench, it may not be the worst thing in the world.

Of course, any club would prefer to have a player of Widdop’s quality on the field, but from a team balance point of view, this might allow the Dragons to get a few things set.

It will allow Ben Hunt and Corey Norman to get a fulltime partnership going in the middle of the ground, and to work on their combination.

Matt Dufty also gets another prolonged run at fullback, but not without pressure, given Zac Lomax will be snapping at his heels for the spot. He was outstanding in the first half of last year, was Dufty, and he needs to get back to that sort of form. I have almost no doubt that he will, with his spot in question and another pre-season under the belt.

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One of the Dragons issues in attack so far this year has been the generally cluttered nature of it, with too many hands in the broth, so to speak, particularly when Dufty had been coming onto the field.

In the grand scheme of things, this should return the team to a normal balance, with a fullback who understands positioning and reading of plays at the back, rather than one who hasn’t played there for over five years on a fulltime basis.

It’s unfortunate for Widdop that his spell at the Dragons is likely to end with a sling on the shoulder, but the Dragons need to make the most of what they have, and get it right with who is on the paddock moving forward.

Gareth Widdop playing for the Dragons.

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

What to do with the Panthers?
It’s all been a bit of a terrible start to 2019 for the Panthers.

They got that win over the Knights last week, but outside of that, have struggled in a big way.

Their Round 1 performance, losing to the Parramatta Eels, was an absolute shocker, and it wasn’t much better against the Storm, as they only managed a penalty goal.

It was particularly worrying in Bathurst, especially during that first half, given the amount of possession they had, spending a mountain of time on the Storm line.

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To only kick a penalty goal for the game just isn’t good enough. Their win over the Knights, it must be said, wasn’t all that convincing.

They have had disruption in the off-season of course, with a change of coach and some video leaks, but right at the moment, they look to have been horrifically overrated by a vast majority of pundits.

Panthers sad

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Get Kalyn Ponga to the back
The Kalyn Ponga experiment needs to end now.

Ponga has been shifted to the halves in 2019, and so far, he looks like a completely different player to the one who tore the competition up in 2018.

Playing in a better Newcastle team, he has stunted their attack at times trying to get his combination up in the line working with Pearce.

He could become a good half one day, and probably will. There is almost no doubt about that, however, it might be too early in his career, in a team who aren’t always going to be successful, to make the transition.

It’s not as if the Knights don’t have options to take over in the halves either. Whether it’s Connor Watson, Kurt Mann or Mason Lino, there are options in the squad who are more natural halves, and surely, for the time being, would suit the team balance better, with Ponga getting back to what he does best.

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Kalyn Ponga of the Knights

(AAP Image/Brendon Thorne)

The Cowboys are cooked without Jason Taumalolo
The Cowboys forward pack, on paper at least, should be a very, very good one.

However, the issues are there with individual players, and when you take the best forward, and one of the best players in the game out of the equation, it suddenly brings those issues into the limelight a little bit.

When Taumalolo ran for over 300 metres against the Dragons, it not only made him look unstoppable, but it had the same impact to every one around him, with there suddenly being more fatigued defenders to go with a mountain more time and space.

Since Taumalolo was injured in the first half against the Broncos, that time and space has disappeared.

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When you look down the Cowboys pack, Josh McGuire is solid, Matt Scott is ageing, and Jordan McLean hasn’t been all that good since he left Melbourne.

Gavin Cooper is also getting on in age, and without the depth there to come in and prop up the stocks during the game, it’s little wonder they were rolled during the second half in tough conditions against the Sharks.

This is the team Canterbury should have gone with in Round 1
The Bulldogs are on the board in 2019, and it was a superb performance, particularly during the first half, to dismantle the Tigers on Sunday afternoon.

Playing away from home, the under pressure Bulldogs, who have put together two pretty ordinary performamnces in a row to start their season, played a backs to the wall style of game in a good old fashioned ambush of the Tigers, who copped their first loss of the year.

Rhyse Martin was the most surprising exclusion from their side in the first two rounds of the season, but he was among the Bulldogs’ best on Sunday.

Martin was joined in the side by Knights recruit Nick Meaney at fullback, who also looked dangerous throughout the contest.

Dean Pay had no choice but to wield the axe after last week, and he will be glad he did right about now, with underperforming players like Marcelo Montoya now looking a long way away from getting their spot back.

Granted, the Tigers didn’t play well at all, but the Bulldogs put in their best performance of the season by a long, long way.

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Rhyse Martin

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Luke Keary is becoming one of the best halves in the game
The Roosters’ won the premiership on the back of Luke Keary’s brilliance in the 2018 grand final, and yet, many of his achievements were still overshadowed by the Cooper Cronk story.

In fact, most things he did in 2018 were hidden by Cooper Cronk.

It’s not the only spot that’s happened in the Roosters side, with the phenomenal rise of Joseph Manu pushed to the background by the emergence of Latrell Mitchell as an Origin player and one of the best centres in the game.

In some ways, it’s been the story of his career. When Keary won a grand final at Souths in 2014, most of the plaudits went the way of Adam Reynolds.

Keary has been phenomenal though, whether playing alongside Cronk last year, Reynolds at Souths, or leading a team off his own bat.

He has had some issues with form over the years, but these last two weeks, has guided the Roosters around the park like a professional – like a player who isn’t all that far from a spot in the halves playing for New South Wales.

His four try assists last week were special, and while he didn’t have the numbers against the Eels, he had a strong kicking game, good decision making, and general control of a hard-fought game, which could have gone either way for the first hour.

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The Roosters forwards were good, but it’s not going to do anyone any good to have a firing forward pack without a strong kicking game and general to lead them around.

Keary did just that in the tri-colours’ win over the blue and gold, and he is fast putting his hand up to be top of the class in 2019.

Luke Keary

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Souths still need Greg Inglis
I don’t want to read too much into a game between the Rabbitohs and Titans on a Sunday night when there were injuries headed both ways coming into the contest, and one team in form, the other hopelessly out of it.

But, the loss of Greg Inglis pre-game has cleared up one simple little fact. Whether the superstar is playing on the right, playing on the left, or playing at the back, to run with the big guns come September, the Rabbitohs need Inglis fit and firing come finals team.

Funnily enough, I’m not fully convinced in his ability to stay fit for the entire season. His form last year was probably aided by the six weeks he spent on the sideline leading into the finals, and given the way he has entered the season, off a reduced pre-season, he is probably going to need something like that again.

This is obviously not a serious injury, and playing the Titans in Round 3 wasn’t a reason to risk him at all, but the way he stands up in big games and leads the side around the field has become one of Inglis’ biggest qualities.

Of course, he still has the ability to flatten defenders, and was a terror on the South Sydney left edge last year, but if he is injured as he is now comes finals time, the Rabbitohs, even with Adam Reynolds going from strength to strength under Wayne Bennett, will be missing a step.

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Greg Inglis

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Is it too early to write off the Warriors?
I’ve certainly gone off far too early writing teams off previously – just ask Cronulla supporters what they thought about me writing their Sharks into the ground during the first month of 2019.

I’ve always been hesitant to draw a line through the Warriors as well, because they are just so incredibly inconsistent, and you barely know what you are going to get set to set from them, let alone week to week.

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But this year just feels different. It was imperative to reserve judgement after Round 1 when they beat a Bulldogs side, who, outside of their Round 3 match against the Tigers after the mountain of team changes discussed earlier in this piece, hadn’t looked like firing a shot.

It was also important not to pass judgement last week – their first trip to Australia for the year in terrible conditions against the Tigers at one of their spiritual homes. That’s never an easy task.

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But it’s now time to say what’s really happening at the Warriors. They just don’t have the talent.

Blake Green is a fine general in the middle, but he can’t do it on his own. He is not the creative guy to run plays and ensure everything is happening off the bat. His last few years has been outstanding alongside Daly Cherry-Evans and Shaun Johnson, but trying to play his role alongside a misfiring Adam Kierghan isn’t working.

Kierghan was excellent in Round 1, but again, so were all of the Warriors.

Of course, it wouldn’t matter if you have god himself playing in the halves if the forwards can’t hold their end of the deal up, and these last two weeks, whether in attack or defence, they haven’t.

The Warriors had no excuses against Manly. They should have been fired up for the game, to play for the city of Christchurch after the dreadful happenings in that part of the world the last couple of weeks.

Instead of playing well though, they did the opposite, and Stephen Kearney is going to have his hands full to turn things around.

Roarers, what did you make of Round 3? Drop a comment below and let us know.

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