It’s Sunday night, and the end of Round 8, meaning each team is now a third of way through their games for 2019. Here are my talking points from the weekend that was.
Bankwest is the stadium Sydney needed
This point might be a fortnight late, but it needs to be said. Bankwest Stadium – Parramatta’s new home of sport in the middle of Western Sydney – has set the benchmark for rectangular stadiums in Australia.
The reason I didn’t talk about the stadium itself after the opener a fortnight ago (besides the Eels mauling the Tigers and racking up a half-century of points, owing to a more important topic), was it was important to see a good crowd for Game 2 there as well, ensuring it wasn’t just an event crowd going for the opener.
Indeed, it wasn’t and the crowd on hand for the Dragons visit to the golden west was also a good roll-up.
It also happened that I was out there, and the stadium is excellent. Facilities are good, the views are brilliant from most places in the venue, and it creates a fantastic atmosphere.
In terms of stadiums in Sydney, it’s exactly what the harbour city needed.
When you look at the current dynamic of stadiums in Sydney, it’s either Homebush, or suburban grounds. Even when the new venue at Moore Park opens, it won’t help most fans due to the difficulty of getting to the joint (although that’ll be improved by the light rail when it opens, presumably in about 85 years).
The new Western Sydney venue provides a brilliant rectangular spot in a decent location for most sides, and it’s sure to be used come finals.
Anyone who has read my work previously knows I love suburban grounds, and still do. But this venue is better, and it’s the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to write anything like that about a big stadium.
The new-age Sharks will pick up right where the old ones left it
There were more convincing wins this weekend, but the group of fans who should be happiest with the efforts of their side are Cronulla.
Undermanned and up against it, the men in black, white and blue took on the might of last year’s grand finalists, and after finding themselves behind in the first half, they fought back to take the victory in what was possibly the best they have played as a club since the 2016 grand final, which broke their premiership drought.
While there are still players in the picture from that decider, there are also a whole host of youngsters who weren’t and some have been absolutely outstanding these past few weeks, before making the statement they did in shutting down the Storm on Friday evening.
The most impressive of the lot for mine on Friday was Jack Williams, who provided the Sharks a heap of go forward at all the crucial times in the contest.
Williams has had a strong start to the season and been earmarked for big things going forward in the Shire, but this was a break out performance from the 23-year-old.
It was also hard to go past the work of Briton Nikora in the second row, while Braden Hamlin-Uele also had a top game from the bench.
What was more impressive was that the forwards dominated without direction from Shaun Johnson and Matt Moylan, while they also did a superb job manning up and defending errors in the first half – of which there were plenty.
When you have a team who have been known for their ability to grind out wins, seeing the next batch of Sharks come through and get a win like that must be incredibly satisfying for the fans.
By no means does this win make them a premiership favourite against a worryingly poor Storm, but it does announce that the future of Cronulla is in very good hands.
The Cowboys must leave John Asiata in the halves
Let’s get one thing very clear before I go into this point – the Cowboys were playing a pretty ordinary Titans outfit and we need to see a whole lot more before working out whether they are truly back or not.
However, their attack looked a whole lot better with a lock playing in the halves, which makes very little sense.
Of course, the return of Jason Taumalolo helped the side in providing time and space for the creative players in the side, and the return to form of Jake Granville was also badly needed.
In fact, Granville’s form or lack thereof has been one of the biggest problems for Paul Green’s side this year.
But as mentioned in last week’s talking points, it hasn’t been the forward pack, but rather, the abject clunkiness in attack which has out the Cowboys to the bottom half of the ladder over the first eight rounds.
They are a long way from out of the woods, don’t get me wrong, but Asiata was enormous with his running and passing game taking some of the heat off Michael Morgan.
Jake Clifford will be stiff to miss out on a spot at the Cowboys moving forward, but to put it quite simply, he hasn’t been anywhere near up to scratch across the first two months of his career, and could do with a decent spell in Queensland Cup while the Cowboys try to turn their ailing form around and build momentum from their win over the Gold Coast.
The Dragons should be kicking themselves for letting Reuben Garrick go
Manly have got a good one in Reuben Garrick. A really, really good one.
The winger, who made his NRL debut a couple of weeks ago after being shipped off from the Dragons in the off-season, has made an immediate impact for the boys from the Northern Beaches.
He had the best performance of his career so far against the Bulldogs on Saturday evening, scoring all 18 of Manly’s points in what was an important, outstanding, backs to the wall eight-point victory.
Apart from the fact we have to start chatting about the possibility of a side widely tipped to finish in the bottom four making the finals, the effort of Garrick since his debut sums up what Des Hasler has seemingly made his club all about since taking over from Trent Barrett in the off-season.
While Garrick rightly stole the headlines on Saturday with his point-scoring, there was more to that game, and has been more to all of his games. His defence out wide has been superb, his ball running in the middle third to get sets off to a strong start has been good, and his ability as an out and out winger in support play, under the high ball and in doing the hard yards hasn’t let anyone down.
Souths have finally arrived at the party
It’d be fair to say that, like the Storm, South Sydney had arrived at their six and one record without really playing good football. In fact, struggling wouldn’t be doing it justice if you take out Round 1.
If you were to watch games without a scoreboard, you could have sworn they were an even record at best.
Instead, they kept finding ways to get it done, playing Bennett ball with that typical scrappy defensive style getting them over the line.
Then, in the farewell to recently retired star Greg Inglis on Thursday against the Brisbane, they clicked big time.
Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker clicked, Damien Cook played his best game of the season and the forwards looked a cohesive unit.
Sure, they had some luck in the first half, but it was the best Souths have played since the season opener and a performance they can look to build on moving into Magic Round, where they will do battle with the Cowboys in what could be a surprising game of the round on Sunday afternoon.
Shut the gate on Penrith and Brisbane’s finals aspirations
There might be a long way to go in 2019, but with a third of the season now confined to the history books, it feels about the right time to start passing a few judgements on teams. Two sides needing the micorscope are the Brisbane Broncos and Penrith Panthers.
They share an identical record at the foot of the NRL ladder after eight rounds – just two wins and six losses in what can only be described as a not good enough start to 2019.
There are some key differences between the two sides and their respective positions though.
The Panthers, for mine, have been the most disappointing side of the new season. It’s clear the off field coaching and administration issues have impacted the side on the field, and while they have had the Villame Kikau iniury as an excuse, they have had nothing going for them on the park.
The odd sign suggested a turnaround, but it never came, and now with more injury problems from yesterday, it’s looking even less likely.
The Broncos, on the other hand, always had questions over them coming into the year, and they have only grown louder with Anthony Seibold struggling to get anything out of his side. Meanwhile, the questions are piling up around players, Kodi Nikorima has left, and their young pack are struggling, which is hardly a surprise.
Regardless of all that, both sides are going to need approximately ten, and maybe 11 wins from their final 16 games. Winning that often is a tough ask for an in-form team, let alone one who is struggling and showing no real sign of improvement.
How far away from best in the game is Latrell Mitchell?
I don’t really want to like Latrell Mitchell, but it’s something most footy fans will simply not be able to help moving into his career, despite the odd bit of carry on, or dumb play.
Sure, there are still elements of his game which need to mature, but the talent of the man is absolutely undeniable at this relatively early point of his career.
Anyone watching the Roosters mauling of the Tigers on Saturday evening wanting to say otherwise must have been viewing a different contest.
There have been a few players over the years who have been given the difficult-to-live-up-to label of ‘The next Greg Inglis.’
No one has really looked close though until now. Until Mitchell, who continued his strong form with three tries, an assist, line breaks, tackle busts and seven goals against the Tigers.
His field goal from 40 metres out and ten in from touch against the Storm a fortnight ago was another example of how far this man has come.
Whether you want to or not, it’s impossible as a rugby league fan to not enjoy the way Latrell plays, and if the Roosters do end up going back to back this year (again, it’s early, but it looks like no one can stop them after a third of 2019), then you can bet he, and his combination on the left-hand side of the ground with James Tedesco and Luke Keary will be a big reason why.
Roarers, what did you make of Round 8? Drop a comment and let us know in the section below.
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