Upsets. Upsets and injuries. Just when you think you have the NRL all figured out, it turns out you really, really don’t. Here are my talking points from Round 11 of the competition as we all get set for the Origin window.
All of a sudden, the Blues look a whole lot less certain for Origin as Newcastle become the real deal
Look, it’s unfathomable to me why Mitchell Pearce has been an abject failure as an Origin player. It really is. He is such a good club player, as proven again, for about the hundredth time on Friday night as the Knights demolished the Roosters.
I doubt he was going to get picked this year anyway, given the Blues have gone in another direction, but with injuries piling up on the weekend, he suddenly didn’t look like all that bad of an option.
And not just because he had guided the Knights to victory over the defending premiers either, but because his form this year has just been phenomenal, particularly during these last five weeks as the Knights have gone on a run.
Unfortunately for Pearce though, he is looking at a stint on the sidelines which will rule him out of Game 1.
Joining him in the casualty ward is Luke Keary, who was taken out of the game on Friday night with yet another concussion.
It’s a major concern for Keary, who needs to find a way to stop having head injuries before it brings with it a negative impact on him in life after footy.
Regardless, Keary was first picked before his injury and now won’t be there.
Luckily, Adam Reynolds was cleared of a fracture, but with Nathan Cleary and James Maloney both out of form at the struggling Panthers, despite their win this weekend, Brad Fittler is going to have knockers whichever way he decides to select.
By the time you read this, the Blues side will probably have already been picked. However, the point being made is that their options aren’t as plentiful as they were just a few days ago, and all of a sudden, a series victory doesn’t look quite so easy.
Can we please use the sin bin consistently?
It shouldn’t really be that hard. Most of the time, it’s pretty much black and white what needs to happen in relation to using the sin bin.
But the referees just don’t seem to get it. At all.
Now, I get that some reckon the Jared Waerea-Hargreaves tackle wasn’t actually a problem on Friday night. The argument is there that he was already committed to tackling Kalyn Ponga before the ball was kicked, but if you look at the footage, he has taken at least two steps after the kick, and the arm has gone out late.
Worse than that, it was shoulder to head sort of contact, which ruled Ponga out of the rest of the game.
Now, based on some of the events we have seen this year, with the sin binning of Michael Jennings and Maika Sivo standing out from the rest, Waerea-Hargreaves probably should have been up the tunnel for a sit down.
Instead, there was apparently ‘nothing wrong with the tackle,’ which, for mine, is a joke. It wasn’t high, but it was unbelievably late, and having looked at the footage multiple times, my opinion that bit of evidence won’t be swayed.
The match review committee agree as well, although Waerea-Hargreaves might actually consider himself lucky to have only got a Grade 1 charge levelled against him.
Carry over points mean he will miss two weeks, but this is about consistency of the game, and the sin bin hasn’t been used properly or consistently this year.
And it’s not just on contact on kickers. It’s on the line defence.
I’ve rattled on about this before, so there is no need to re-hash it too much, but the fact of the matter is that slow play the balls on the goal line because a defender is having a nap in the ruck is an awful look for the sport.
There have been multiple instances this year where the sin bin should have been used, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t.
The David Klemmer sin bin with 18 seconds to go on Friday was comical, in that it was more of a token gesture from the referees after multiple ignored occurences throughout the contest.
The penalty crackdown, and the sin bin crackdown that came with it last year, is all but a distant memory for players, coaches and referees, and games are being played like it.
It’s time for the referees to get it right, and stop treating this part of the game with absolute contempt.
Upsets, upsets galore
Away from the refereeing and the injuries, what a crazy, crazy weekend of rugby league that was. Who would want to be a tipster?
I mean, well, me, apparently. But it was a dismal round, as I’m certain it would have been for the vast majority of folks.
To give you an idea of just how “easy” this round was supposed to be, in The Roar’s expert tips, seven of the games came up with a unanimous verdict.
So, that being said, it comes as no surprise that there was upset after upset throughout the round.
Maybe the Penrith-Parramatta game wasn’t such a surprise, but then, for everything the Eels have done right this year, their record doesn’t actually make for great reading.
But the Panthers have been flat out ordinary, so for them to be the first away team to win at Bankwest Stadium comes as something of a surprise.
Then we got to Friday, and the Sea Eagles turned in the performance we have probably all been expecting for some weeks.
Doing it against the Titans, fresh off smashing the Sharks in Cronulla though probably wasn’t what was expected.
The Knights then smashed the Roosters, and the Cowboys beat the Raiders, before the Warriors turned in one of their regular performances, not scoring atry as they lost to Brisbane at home (more on this clash shortly).
While I don’t want to sit here and say it throws the competition wide open (hint: It doesn’t), it does provide the opportunity on Origin eve for some teams to do some soul-searching, and some sides to attempt to build some momentum when they are likely to come up against disrupted teams ahead of them.
While I have written previously that the top eight is looking settled, if there are any major changes, you can look back to Round 11 as a major turning point.
Blake Ferguson is a winger – why would Brad Arthur mess with that?
If there was one key learning to take out of Round 11, it is that Blake Ferguson is not a centre.
He is a winger, and needs to remain there every time he takes to an NRL field.
There are certain players across the NRL who must be first picked in their position for their team each and every game, and Ferguson is one of those guys.
Teams shuffle around to accomodate him, not the other way around, and the Eels learnt that the hard way in the opening match of Round 11.
However, it’s important not to overreact to a decision like that. For people to go around talking about the demise of Ferguson, or that he has played himself out of Sky Blue on the back of one bad game out of position is madness.
He is still just about the best all-around winger in the competition (even if he isn’t the most flashy) and there should be just about no question he will be on the wing every minute he plays going forward.
Are Brisbane or North Queensland back?
Let’s deal with two of Saturday’s games in one double-barrelled points, because there are more similarities between the plight of the Broncos and Cowboys than that they are both simply based in Queensland.
The Broncos have now won three on the trot, and while we can sit around and call their win over the Roosters something of a one-off rabbit out of the hat.
You can’t call their work against the Warriors anything of the sort though.
To hit the road to Auckland, in awful weather, and not concede a try in an ugly game of footy is outstanding. It is those sort of wins which you can build a campaign off.
I know I slammed the door shut on Brisbane a couple of weeks ago, but it’s just slightly ajar again if they can grab some wins during Origin.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, have just been creeping back into the fold since Jason Taumalolo came back from injury.
He has been immense, but it’s the form of Jake Granville – who seems to have all but played his way into a Queensland jumper – which has been the real key for the men from Townsville.
The Sharks need to fix their discipline
I know, I know, the Dragons didn’t exactly have a good game either, but I’ve written about them more than enough this season (again, why was Paul McGregor re-signed?)
The Sharks, though, despite the end result, have got some glaring issues to get right if they want to consider themselves a genuine contender come September. Let’s be honest, beating the Dragons at the moment means very little, even if this was a local derby.
While I’d like to write about the Sharks kicking game, I can’t bring myself to criticise it too heavily. During the first half, they struggled with field position and possession, and it carried over a trend from last week where they were rolled by Manly.
Even though their kicking game was better in the second half, their first half effort often picked out the Dragons back three and struggled to have depth behind it – which is a key consideration when a side is struggling for territory.
Of course, they wouldn’t have been in that position if not for their discipline.
I have no doubt I’m going to get called out by Sharks fans for writing this, but a majority of penalties were warranted – and worse than that – they were lazy and often late in the count.
It was a similar story costing them against Manly last week, and the good sides will punish them with that sort of performance.
Canberra need a fit Josh Hodgson to be something
The Canberra Raiders have been one of the surprise packets in 2019, but things are just starting to unravel for the green machine.
Without wanting to be too harsh on Ricky Suart’s side, they have now lost three on the hop against the Roosters, Rabbitohs and North Queensland, and while injuries have certainly played their part in bringing the side undone, they have a lot of work to do in the next couple of weeks.
It should be acknowledged here that they have actually been fairly competitive in those losses, which is a positive sign in itself for the club who, really, from where they are now, shouldn’t find themselves missing the top eight come September.
However, there is one crucial cog in the machine who absolutely must be fit. Josh Hodgson.
If he is injured come the must-win games at the pointy end of the season, then it’ll really make a difference for the Raiders.
Realistically, they shouldn’t have lost to the Cowboys on Saturday, but they did, and need to find a way to stop the slide next weekend against Canterbury in what is a banana peel game as the Origin window kicks off.
Canterbury need to play more games at Belmore
A quick one to finish off this week, but the Bulldogs should absolutely be playing more games at Belmore.
Whether the crowd roll up to support or not is bordering on irrelevant, because crowds at the soulles pit in Homebush have been hardly setting the world on fire.
Financially, something would need to be worked out given the club make plenty of money by playing at Homebush, but from a fans point of view, there is an atmosphere problem at Homebush.
Rugby league isn’t the AFL. This sport doesn’t need big grounds week in and week out.
It needs to cater to the fans and get back to suburban roots as often as possible.
Roarers, what did you make of Round 11? Drop a comment below and let us know.
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