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The NRL quarter season report card

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Expert
24th April, 2019
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We are now a quarter way into season 2019. The form is starting to sort itself out.
So how does each team look so far?

The Melbourne Storm
How the hell does Craig Bellamy continually produce his purple automatons? They are like Terminators. They don’t feel pity, they don’t get tired and they absolutely don’t lose focus. They are remorseless in defensive line speed and attacking venom.

One had hoped that the departures of Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater would have dented their invulnerability. However, Cameron Munster has totally exploded into the role of primary playmaker, while Cam Smith has the pack rolling as well as ever.

Their only defeat was at the hands of the defending premiers, thanks in large part to the genius of Latrell Mitchell.

Defence rating: A
Attack rating: B+
Coach pressure rating: 0
Finals likelihood: Certainties
Overall rating: A

Suliasi Vunivalu

Suliasi Vunivalu of the Storm (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

The Sydney Roosters
The Roosters were a bit scratchy in round one and got jumped by a focused Bunnies outfit. However, since that point they’ve looked awesome, scoring 25 tries to 13 conceded.

Luke Keary has carried on his brilliant form from the 2018 Grand Final and looked superb. His head clash with the Storm’s Jahrome Hughes may keep him sidelined for the ANZAC day clash but the Roosters have had a big injury toll this year and have just kept on winning.

I predicted before a ball was kicked this season that they’d be the first back-to-back premiers since 1993. I’m pretty happy with that call.

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Defence rating: B
Attack rating: A+
Coach pressure rating: 0
Finals likelihood: Certainties
Overall rating: A

The Canberra Raiders
The Raiders were in no one’s finals predictions pre-season. Further, not one expert mentioned John Bateman in their candidates for buy of the year, let alone Charnze Nikoll-Klokstad.

Coach Ricky Stuart was in borrowed boots according to many pundits. Yet after a quarter of the season the Raiders are in equal first, with their only loss coming against a well-rested Storm side, on the back of their own five-day turn around.

The Raider’s defence is the best in the league so far, having only conceded 66 points at an average of 11 points a game. That has included holding two sides scoreless, including the hitherto rampant scoring Eels.

However, their attack hasn’t even vaguely clicked. Jack Wighton is rocks and diamonds at 5/8 and Sam Williams is doing a decent job at halfback without being incendiary.

Too many passes are going to ground. That all needs to improve if they are actually compete with the Storm, Roosters and Bunnies.

Defence rating: A+
Attack rating: C+
Coach pressure rating: minimal
Finals likelihood: Likely
Overall rating: B

Ryan Sutton of the Raiders

Ryan Sutton of the Raiders (AAP Image/Rohan Thomson)

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The South Sydney Rabbitohs
I thought that Wayne Bennett had got the booby prize swapping mustard and maroon for the Cardinal and Myrtle. How wrong I was. Their first up win against the premiers showed that the Rabbitohs meant real business in 2019.

While they sit in equal first with five wins, they haven’t been quite as convincing as the Storm or Roosters. For a starter their loss was to the struggling Sea Eagles, and they only just scraped home against Warriors, Bulldogs and Titans.

However, they have scored the third most points so far this season, averaging almost 24 points a game. Further, they have a very good draw. So it is looking very good for the Bunnies so far in 2019.

Defence rating: B
Attack rating: A
Coach pressure rating: 0
Finals likelihood: Certainties
Overall rating: B+

The Parramatta Eels
Last year’s wooden spooners have gone a long way to putting the horrors of 2018 behind them. With a two thirds winning ratio, the Eels sit in fifth spot with a quarter of the season gone. Their two losses have been to the Roosters and the Raiders.

While both of those losses were 13+ affairs, their four wins have looked good, especially the blitzing of the Wests Tigers. They have the second most prolific attack so far this year, averaging almost 25 points scored a game, while only conceding 16.

Mitchell Moses seems to be growing into his playmaking role each game and the whole side looks enthusiastic, motivated and – best of all – talented.

Things are looking good for the blue and gold.

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Defence rating: B
Attack rating: A
Coach pressure rating: easing off
Finals likelihood: looking promising
Overall rating: B+

The St George Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons have really surprised me with their grit so far. With the preemptive standing down of Jack De Belin and the loss of Gareth Widdop, I assumed that the Red V would settle around the bottom four this year, with Mary McGregor getting the boot around the midway point of the season. Yet here they are in equal fifth spot.

Ben Hunt and Corey Norman are doing well together, and the Dragons pack is muscling up.

Their first up loss to the Cowboys up north told me that it was going to be a very long season for the Dragons. Then they lost to the Rabbitohs to confirm my suspicions.

However, they’ve now won four straight. It hasn’t always been pretty – with the exception of their caning of the Bulldogs – but they’ve got the damn job done.

However, they are scoring just slightly more than they are conceding, with an average score of 20-18 so far this year. So things are probably a bit more tenuous than their position suggests.

But who cares? Come September early season form counts for nowt. Only the points you got matter. Right now the Dragons may be winning ugly, but the key word there is winning…

Defence rating: B-
Attack rating: C+
Coach pressure rating: A bit of pressure still
Finals likelihood: Not unlikely
Overall rating: B-

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The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
When the Sea Eagles were zero and two I just assumed they were going to have a horror year. With $350,000 less salary cap to play with, dilapidated facilities and then with Turbo Tom Trbojevic out injured, I just assumed the boys from Brookvale were going to play the part of whipping boys in 2019.

Then they won three straight and were only robbed against the Dragons because a blatant escort wasn’t pulled up. Sure it’s only a fifty per cent win ratio, but Manly have shown they have spirit and determination. That’s half the battle won right there.

Daly Cherry Evans looks better than ever and Jake Trbojevic and Martin Taupau are also absolute stars. The rest are having a dip too.

Their average score of 20-18 isn’t brilliant but they are still in the fight and in touch. Could they be the Stephen Bradbury of the 2019 NRL? Probably not, but they ain’t nobodies easy-beats neither.

Daly Cherry-Evans

Tom Trbojevic of the Manly Sea Eagles (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)

Defence rating: B-
Attack rating: C+
Coach pressure rating: zero
Finals likelihood: Not unlikely
Overall rating: B-

The Cronulla Sutherland Sharks
The Sharks rarely do things the easy way. Being competitive in a season of NRL is hard enough without salary cap issues, resultant fines and deregistered coaches in the pre season.

However, the lads from the Shire are nothing if not scrappers and they find themselves with a three and three record at the quarter way point of the season. They’ve also added a fair few injuries to their challenges, with veteran captain Paul Gallen getting even more pointed than ever in his exchanges with opponents and detractors.

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They’ve scored just slightly more than they’ve conceded, with their 14 point loss to the Roosters their worst.

However, coming back from 20-6 down last weekend against the Panthers to win 24-20 showed that there is real fight in these Sharks still.

However, they need to work on their focus and consistency if they are going to make the finals for a fifth straight season.

But right now there are plenty of good stats with the Sharks ranked fourth best for missed tackles, second for line breaks with 5.5 a game and first for offloads.

Defence rating: B
Attack rating: C+
Coach pressure rating: a fair bit you’d reckon
Finals likelihood: Quite possible
Overall rating: C+

The Wests Tigers
Until last weekend I would have said the Wests Tigers we’re tracking ok considering the off season change of coach. Then they got smashed. As Andrew Ferguson from the Rugby League Project pointed out, no premier has ever conceded more than 40 points in a winning season.

So just like they did in 2005, the Wests Tigers are going to have to rewrite the history books if they are to lift the Summons-Provan Trophy in 2019.

Here’s the problem with that: while they beat up on the Warriors, that’s like chasing fat kids most days. They’ve lost to the struggling Bulldogs and Panthers.

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The consistency just isn’t there. They have an average score of 16 points scored and 18 points conceded a game. While their missed tackles are actually pretty good, they are the worst in the comp for breaking the line, averaging just two a game. You can’t win if you don’t score…

It’s not all doom and gloom but they’d better start improving soon and finding some consistency.

New Tigers coach Michael 'Madge' Maguire

New Tigers coach Michael ‘Madge’ Maguire (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

Defence rating: B
Attack rating: C-
Coach pressure rating: quite a bit
Finals likelihood: Maybe a chance
Overall rating: C

The New Zealand Warriors
The biggest issue for the Warriors is that they aren’t just a one town team, they’re a one country team.

Until things go pear shaped each season – as they have already in 2019 – they constantly have smoke blown up their posteriors about how great they are in spite of there being no evidence to support it. And then they play like they believe the press.

And then the press turns on them because they are just so disappointingly mediocre.

And they are.

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All the talent in the world and nothing to show for it after a quarter of a century.

They’ve beaten the struggling Bulldogs and an injury depleted Titans. They’ve lost the rest and been absolutely flogged twice.

They’ve got an average score of 20 points for to 23.5 against. That’s just crap for the side that has the highest average line breaks (5.7) and the second highest tackle breaks (28.7) a game.

It’s time for this side to put up or ship out.

Defence rating: D-
Attack rating: C
Coach pressure rating: Heaps of pressure
Finals likelihood: Bugger all
Overall rating: D+

The Gold Coast Titans
The Titans have been given an appalling draw by the NRL and then keep getting hit with injuries.

Their list is actually quite ok but not when it isn’t on the park. After four straight losses they finally broke with wins over the Panthers and then they walloped the Knights.

Of course then Ryan James busted his knee… Who’d be a Titans fan?

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Their average score of a 17-23 loss isn’t great but they have the potential to really click if they could ever catch a break.

Their only dire stats are their line breaks conceded (4.8 – second worst) and their Missed tackles (29 – second worst). But the rest of their stats are mediocre at best.

I don’t think Garth Brennan will enjoy this year…

Defence rating: D-
Attack rating: C-
Coach pressure rating: lots of pressure
Finals likelihood: not much
Overall rating: D

The Penrith Panthers
The chocolate soldiers have returned. They melt when the going gets tough. This is a side with a golden draw and the incumbent NSW halves.

Sure they’ve lost Trent Merrin, Tyrone Peachey and Corey Harawira-Naera, but the list is still stacked with talent.

It just isn’t performing.

The Panthers are uninspired and insipid.

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Their average of 13.8 points scored per game is just awful. They are the worst in the comp for run metres gained…

I thought the return of Ivan Cleary would signal a big turn around at the foot of the mountain. Now with Phil Gould gone, maybe it will.

But it needs to. As much as I love Cleary senior and junior they’ve got to get this new bus on the road ASAP, before this season is gone – and it almost is.

Defence rating: D
Attack rating: D-
Coach pressure rating: it’s mounting
Finals likelihood: slim
Overall rating: D

The North Queensland Cowboys
When you pay $10 million for a player it really hurts when he is injured. While Jason Taumololo may return far sooner than predicted, the Cows need him now. Without him Michael Morgan is left with a lot of ageing, unproved and underperforming cattle.

Their win against the Warriors gave some cause for optimism, but they need to continue that form with wins over the Bulldogs and Titans in their next two games.

Cowboys coach Paul Green

Paul Green (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)

Their for and against is second worst after the Bulldogs, as are their tries and run metres conceded.

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There is still a lot of talent in their pack but, for mine, the backline looks threadbare. Without Taumololo I can’t see where the danger is in their attack…

Defence rating: E
Attack rating: D+
Coach pressure rating: There’s gotta be some
Finals likelihood: quite slim
Overall rating: D-

The Brisbane Broncos
Can you believe that there were well credentialed news outlets pre season tipping the Broncos to be Premiers? It seems ridiculous now.

Their worst start to a season since 1999, the Broncos are under immense pressure from the CEO to the talent scouts. Brisbane doesn’t do failure. While they haven’t exactly been brilliant the last couple of seasons, missing the finals – which now looks likely – is unacceptable.

The silver lining for the Broncos faithful is that it might precipitate a clean out of mediocre club staff and those who are in jobs they don’t do well. I’d suggest there is a bit of fat that needs trimming at Red Hill.

Anthony Seibold would not be enjoying this.

The Broncos missed tackles are the worst in the league and they are second worst only to the Bulldogs in points and run metres conceded.

They are not premiership favourites in any way.

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I predict a fire sale is nigh.

Defence rating: E
Attack rating: C-
Coach pressure rating: Ivan Henjak got the boot in his first season…
Finals likelihood: Nil
Overall rating: D-

The Newcastle Knights
How good did the Knights’ list look going into this season? The inclusions of Tim Glasby and David Klemmer were ideal.

They won first up against the Sharks and were very in their face about it. Now on a five-game losing streak, Paul Gallen is keen to point out that they didn’t back up their big talk.

And they didn’t.

While initially the losses were close, they exploded last weekend when they were shellacked by the struggling Titans.

Newcastle coach Nathan Brown

Knights coach Nathan Brown during the Newcastle Knights training session at Balance Field in Mayfield, Newcastle, Thursday, August 23, 2018. (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

Nathan Brown is now in borrowed boots as coach. He’s got a very good list and it should be doing much better than this. How can a side with Kalyn Ponga have scored the second fewest points? Brown just got the dreaded total support of the CEO. Two more losses and he’ll be gone.

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Defence rating: C
Attack rating: D-
Coach pressure rating: Dead man walking
Finals likelihood: Nil
Overall rating: D

The Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
We have our wooden spooners people.

The Dogs list is just too weak to truly compete.

Because they are the Bulldogs they have plenty of fight and won’t give up, but there will be more floggings like the one that the Dragons gave them in Round 5.

However, the Dogs will be back and soon. They never stay down for long. It is a mighty and proud club.

Defence rating: E
Attack rating: E
Coach pressure rating: A little
Finals likelihood: Nil
Overall rating: E