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Eight talking points from NRL Round 5

Nene MaDonald's injury on Friday night proves the NRL haven't got their protocol right yet. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
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14th April, 2019
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Controversy is the name of the game coming out of another round of rugby league. While the on-field product keeps delivering, the NRL might have some problems to address. Let’s get into talking points for Round 5.

Not stopping the game for Macdonald’s injury was a farce
Unfortunately, the referee’s and the NRL’s new protocol for stopping games is in the headlines this week, and certainly not for a reason anyone would be proud of. There is really no other place to start this week’s talking points, except than to look at how badly this situation was managed.

The Cowboys were brave in their efforts against the Storm, but it won’t be what the match is remembered for, unfortunately.

With just minutes on the clock, and the Cowboys desperate for points, there was an ugly collision on a kick chase which took out both Nene Macdonald and John Asiata.

The Macdonald injury was sickening. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you don’t go and look for it, because basically, the human ankle isn’t supposed to bend the way Macdonald’s did. Asiata, meanwhile, also required medical attention for a hyper-extended elbow.

Despite it being clear neither player was faking anything and the Cowboys support stuff going through multiple methods of getting the referees attention, the game was allowed to continue until a penalty was awarded to the Storm at the other end of the ground – a full 40 seconds later.

According to Paul Green, the Cowboys doctor was already on the field, while they had trainers sent away from both the pocket referee and the touch judge in trying to get the game stopped.

For referee Grant Atkins to then hit Cowboys skipper Michael Morgan with an excuse of “following protocol,” was simply unacceptable.

Whether he was told or not, it’s not hard to have a quick look and realise there is a major issue, and for trainers to have been sent away, there needs to be serious repercussions for the officials involved – as in, they shouldn’t be in first grade next week. If a player made a mistake this badly, you can bet they wouldn’t be.

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The referees aren’t doctors aren’t can’t make judgements on the severity of injuries, which, if what Green said in his press conference is correct, sounds like what has happened here.

Now, in this case, the referee thought he was following protocol. If that’s the case, then the protocol needs changing, and urgently, before something like this happens again.

Simply put, if there are two players down – and clearly down – on the same team, then the game should be immediately stopped.

Then, there also needs to be more weight given to trainers and their requests to stop the game. Potentially, they need a direct communication line to the officials which they can use to contact them and get the game stopped.

In fact, the whole game was a bit off in the way it was officiated, and fair credit to the officials – it’s the first time I’ve felt the need to comment on them this year – but this wasn’t well refereed.

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From Cameron Smith’s ‘knock on’, to inconsistency in policing of the ruck, the refusal to sin bin Felise Kaufusi for a clear professional foul in the final 60 seconds and the fine afterwards for what looked to be a legitimate eye gouge from Josh McGuire on Cameron Munster, the whole game just didn’t seem right.

Cowboys coach Paul Green

(AAP Image/Michael Chambers)

What is going on at South Sydney?
They say a week is a long time in football, but a month is an eternity. Just ask Wayne Bennett and the Rabbitohs.

After their Round 1 win over the Roosters, many had them straight to the top of the tree and fans would have been asking when grand final tickets went on sale.

Their Round 2 win over the Dragons – albeit with a sloppy first half – was also good, but since then, it’s been a run of poor form and performances from South Sydney.

They scrapped through against the Titans, lost to the Sea Eagles in golden point, and then only just got over the line against the Warriors.

All three performances from the club have seen them rack up dropped ball like it’s the normal thing to do, and struggle to have any sort of impact in attack.

They have looked clunky under new coach Wayne Bennett, and while moments of brilliance – like Cody Walker’s four tries on the weekend – have saved them, it won’t be enough in the long run against the top teams.

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The injury of Greg Inglis and lack of depth in the outside backs is also hurting South Sydney, with Corey Allan and Kyle Turner forming part of an inexperienced back five on the weekend.

The ball handling of the Burgess brothers has also gone south. Not quite 2017 levels of south, but it hasn’t been good whichever way you look at it.

It must be stressed the pressure isn’t on at this point in the season, but they need to show something in the next week or two, before the pressure starts getting turned up a few notches heading towards the always difficult Origin period.

Sam Burgess

(AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

The Cowboys, Panthers and Broncos need to make wholesale changes to play finals footy
I’m not going to sit here and try to claim I have all the answers, but there are three sides who are struggling in a big way to start the new season.

As we have seen at the Bulldogs over the last couple of weeks, making big changes is a clear way to spark a side into action, and the sides listed here – the Cowboys, Panthers and Broncos – are approaching dangerous territory early in the season.

While five weeks is only one-fifth of the season, it’s enough to establish when things just aren’t working, and that’s the exact situation these clubs find themselves in.

As it stands, the Broncos, statistically, are the worst defensive team in the competition and sit in the bottom four. The Cowboys as well, have been poor, and sit at the bottom of the competition, while the Panthers loss to the Titans on Friday showed us exactly where they are at.

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Out of the three clubs, the Broncos are the only ones which come up and strike you with an obvious answer about which way to swing things straight away.

While the raw forward pack was always going to be a struggle at times this season, it’s become bleedingly obvious the back line needs change.

Darius Boyd running the wrong way around dummies, while hilarious to watch for neutrals, is not helping the Broncos one iota. Nor is Anthony Milford trying to turn himself into an organising half and nor is the effort in the outside backs.

I’m not going to sit here and say Boyd should be dropped, but it comes down to him being able to play in the centres or on the wing to keep his spot, with the Broncos needing to shift Anthony Milford back to his more preferred position, while young gun Sean O’Sullivan gets a run in the halves.

Sure, it’s a risk, but it’s not going to do any worse than what they are currently dishing up.

The situation at the Cowboys and Panthers is a much more difficult one to answer. Both clubs look like they need an attitude change first and foremost.

The Panthers defence against the Titans on Friday was woeful up the middle, and while their attack wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t good either. The Cowboys, on the other hand, put in an improved performance, but need more shifts in key positions.

It’s hard to say exactly what should happen, but the broom needs to go through all three teams if they want to play finals footy in 2019.

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Darius Boyd of the Broncos.

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Is Nathan Brown the right man to lead Newcastle?
The Knights have one hell of a problem after five weeks of the 2019 season, and Nathan Brown must be starting to get a little bit hot under the collar.

Sure, they went down in golden point to the Dragons last week, taking the Red V all the way, but this was the year the Knights were supposed to start building to the top eight, not continuing a long rebuild which has robbed the club of any success since Wayne Bennett walked out the door.

The problem for Newcastle is that Nathan Brown has the team he wants this year.

He has his big-name forward in David Klemmer, he has plenty of good forwards around him, some great signings in the outside backs and a healthy Mitchell Pearce to lead the way again.

Unfortunately, it seems like Brown almost doesn’t know what he wants, with the switch of Ponga from the halves to the back two and a half games into the season proving a good example of the clunkiness they have shown in attack so far relating to everything coming from the club.

Brown is going to be in the gun if they can’t make the finals this year – or at least, he should be – and the Knights simply must be better, both in defence and attack.

Their commitment to defending their own line will be the starting spot to that improvement though, and if they can’t come out with a much better effort next week against the struggling Titans away from home, then the questions will get louder.

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Newcastle coach Nathan Brown

(AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

Is going back-to-back finally happening in 2019?
Of course, it’s far too early to be talking about who is going to win the 2019 grand final, but right now, it’s hard to see any side stopping the tri-colours from achieving something no team has done in over two decades.

Winning at Shark Park is never an easy thing to achieve, but the Roosters did with a certain ease on the weekend – one which suggests they have picked up right where they have left off.

Of course, this is a long season, and writing them for the premiership at the moment would be a fool’s game, but they certainly don’t look like a team who will be far away.

The biggest problem for the Roosters is that premiership fatigue coming through and biting the club late in the season, particularly given they had to travel to England before it started.

Their Round 1 loss to the Rabbitohs rightly asked plenty of questions, but since then, they have been near-on perfect, and while there is a risk of peaking too early, the Roosters do have one huge advantage in trying to go back-to-back.

It’s the players who, while part of their premiership campaign, still have a hunger to prove they are better than the wider perception. Players like Luke Keary, Joseph Manu and Issac Liu, for example, have all started the season superbly and will want to hold that level throughout 2019 as they prove exactly what they have to offer future employers.

Mitchell Aubusson

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

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Is Cameron Smith going to go down as the greatest of all time?
It’s a question we really need to start pondering. While Smith might not be the greatest player of all time, he is certainly going to be up there, and in this generation, the question is certainly worth a dispute.

Smith went past the all-time point-scoring record set by Hazem El Masri on the weekend, as the Storm came away with a scrappy win over North Queensland.

The Storm, Queensland and Australian hooker isn’t going to go down as the most talented player of all time – let’s get that straight.

But in terms of what he brings to a side, the vision he displays, the way he gets everyone around him to go up a gear, combined with his goal kicking, longevity and defensive work brings him into the discussion.

When he does eventually hang up the boots, he is going to do so with numerous records, and there is almost no doubt he will be named an immortal sometime in the future.

People will say the point-scoring record is bogus, but really, as a hooker who didn’t actively kick goals in his first season or two in the NRL, he has done a staggeringly good job to get to where he is, and the accolades he has completed in this sport speak for themselves.

No matter your opinion on the Melbourne captain, he is going to be missed when he does disappear.

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Cameron Smith

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

There are going to be growing pains for Canterbury
Sunday afternoon footy got underway with the Dragons putting in their most complete performance of the season so far, extracting a mountain of revenge for their 38-0 drubbing at hands of the Bulldogs late last season.

While there is plenty you could take away from the performance of the Red, it’s hard to read much into it given the performance of the Bulldogs and the way the home side have started the season.

Canterbury were far from poor, despite what the final scoreline – 40 points to 4 – would suggest.

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They competed well enough during the first half and had a run of penalties against them which certainly didn’t help as they attempted to scratch their way into the game.

Going into halftime 18 points down with nothing on the board themselves was always going to be a recipe for trouble in the second half, and while their own errors and poor decision making didn’t help their cause, the Dragons skipped away with the game in pretty easy fashion.

There a couple of things to note about the blue and white today though. Firstly, there was always going to be some sort of let down following last week’s effort against Melbourne, where they came within a goal kick of forcing golden point, and secondly, they were missing Dylan Napa.

It clearly hurt them in the forwards, where the Dragons rolled them, but the amount of inexperience in key positions means there are going to be days like that this season for the Bulldogs, despite the upside they have shown over the last fortnight.

They aren’t going to play finals footy this year, but lessons they can take from games like the one against the Dragons will be pivotal in the rebuild of this club moving forward.

Lachlan Lewis of the Bulldogs

(AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

Can we call the Raiders a competition dark horse?
They mightn’t have been at their absolute best against the Eels, but the Canberra Raiders are starting to firm into a top-eight side.

Their recruits over the off-season have all started the season admirably, while the club are just on a completely different level to the one many expected them to be on.

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They are four from five after their win at home on Sunday evening, and while you could write similar about the Eels and their start to the season, what was most impressive from Canberra was the patience on display.

Patience and controlled attack are not words you’d usually put in the same sentence as the Raiders, but this year, we are getting there.

Their attack was a bit clunky, particularly during the first half, only scoring eight points with 60 per cent possession, but they were controlled and patient, which allowed them to rack up the possession number they had.

Keep going like that, and they are going to win more games than they lose, because there are weapons all over the park for the Green Machine, which still makes them one of the most dangerous sides in the competition.

Roarers, what did you make of Round 5? Drop a comment below and let us know.

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