Origin fever has gripped the NRL, but first, there were four games to get through during Round 12 of the competition, and they threw up some interesting results. Here are my talking points from the week that was.
Origin ruins the NRL, but how do we fix it?
I’m yet to see a perfect solution to fixing the middle third of the season, and while we have an infinitely better (and, it should be added, fairer) model than we did a few years ago, it’s still not right.
What the current system we have does, is virtually rewards good teams by stealing their players and ruining their momentum through a critical part of the season before the push for the finals really starts to heat up once its over, often with players returning to their teams mentally and physically drained.
While it does give us a glimpse at the future of the competition (which, by the way, looks to be in pretty good hands), it’s simply not the way the NRL should be looked after.
I do acknowledge the NRL have made strides. Ensuring Origin 2 is on a standalone weekend is a good start, as it giving each team just the one bye and not having some take it before, and some take it after Origin.
Even then though, you are still going to have some teams with players backing up on Friday night less than 48 hours after fulltime in Origin, and that isn’t fair or safe for the players either.
Of course, we all know the quality of rounds without stars is worsened considerably, so it’s not even worth going into detail about that.
However, it’s no good sitting here taking pot shots at the NRL without providing a solution, and there is one staring them in the face, although some of the details would need to be worked out properly.
Without a doubt, the NRL should take a three-week break during Origin. New South Wales and Queensland pick their squads before Game 1, and we play three matches on Sunday afternoons or evenings.
The TV networks might complain, but the bottom line is that NRL fans are going to watch the games whether they are played at 2pm or 2am, and you have a better chance of attracting casual observers on the Sunday timeslot.
On top of that, let’s get women’s Origin as the to line up and play a three-match series, and you could include the rapidly-growing touch footy as well.
Then, you’d fill the Saturdays with a Pacific Islands cup. It’s not hard – round robin style, possibly groups if you want to include more than four teams, and we can see the unrivalled passion on display for a couple of weeks in the middle of the season.
Junior Origin or Test matches could also fill a void, and I’m convinced that, done properly, this would be the right way to go about things with enough footy to keep everyone happy and a proper representative break.
If we do need to keep the NRL running during the Origin window, then let’s get smart about it. Get games to the country, or at the very least, out of big stadiums like Homebush, which is bad normally, but looked abysmal on Saturday night.
The way it currently goes just isn’t good enough for a big venture like the NRL, supposedly, the premier rugby league competition on the planet.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad may be the best value buy of the year
The Raiders have been the side who have done more surprising than any other this year, and while they were a little off the pace in the last couple of weeks well below full strength against some good sides, they came away with a scrappy win over the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Like the Rabbitohs (who we will talk about next), the Raiders came into the game without most of their first grade side whether through injury or Origin, but even with the quality of competition derided, it gives a chance for others to make a name for themselves.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was that man this week.
He has been performing solidly all season for the Green Machine, that there can be no doubt of, but his effort against the Bulldogs was a standout performance.
Like at the Roosters last year when Joseph Manu’s performances got swept under the carpet by those of Latrell Mitchell, Nicoll-Klokstad has been swept under the rug in a really strong Raiders side, where the headlines have gone to the likes of Bateman, Josh Hodgson and their outside backs.
But, on Saturday, Nicoll-Klokstad wound up with almost 300 metres for the game to go with a line break, a handful of tackle busts and not a single missed tackle in what was a really solid game defensively.
Nicoll-Klokstad only came to Canberra very late in the pre-season, and career-wise, it’s just about the best possible move he could have made, with a guaranteed starting spot in his preferred position, where he couldn’t even get a run out of position in Auckland last season.
Given he was dirt cheap for the Raiders, he is shaping up as the best-value buy of the season so far, and if he continues his form, he will be a big part of the reason they make the top eight.
South Sydney may have the best depth in the competition
Wayne Bennett couldn’t even name 21 on Tuesday for South Sydney’s clash, but still managed to role out a formidable team which came back strongly against the Eels in the second half.
This was a young team which were rated next to no chance, coming into the game without a list of injured and Origin-bound players longer than your forearm.
While they still did have some first choice options floating around, headlined by Adam Reynolds and Sam Burgess, they were absolutely depleted.
Adam Doueihi and Connor Tracey played their first games back from injury, Ethan Lowe lined up in the centres and the unheralded Billy Britan played at hooker.
But all of those guys stood up, while some of the guys off their bench stood up and really had a strong game, with Liam Knight leading the way.
While Souths have never going to win a comp with the team they wheeled out on Friday night, that wasn’t the point being made here. If they do get one or two injuries at crunch time, they have more than enough suitable replacements to come in and fill the void to keep them clicking along.
The other thing to note is that Adam Doueihi should be back as bench utility from next week, unless Bennett decides’s to run him as a starting centre until Kyle Turner removes, at which point he could be the man to play from the bench.
The wheels are starting to fall off at Manly
I really don’t want to be too critical of the Sea Eagles, because they have been really, really good this season without many of their stars.
So good, in fact, that many were scrambling for the white out to change their pre-season ladder prediction of bottom four to top eight.
However, the injuries and need to play at 100 per cent efficiency each week is just starting to catch up with them, and the last fortnight have been really tough for Des Hasler’s side.
Hasler is probably the key reason Manly have been as good as they have been so far this year, getting an unhearalded side to snatch win after win.
However, the wheels are starting to fall off, and it’s hardly a surprise. For younger, inexperienced players, the NRL season is a long, hard drag, and that’s starting to show, especially with their impact off the bench.
While the Sea Eagles have actually still looked pretty good in the last fortnight or so during their losses when Martin Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake have been on the park, they really seem to fall apart when they both go to the bench.
This was one of the key areas the Sea Eagles struggled in last year – keeping up the intensity and effort over the course of 80 minutes without starting players on the field.
It’s an area which Hasler has, so far, addressed, but with the NRL season rolling on, there will be few surprsies if the Sea Eagles do come inconsistent from half to half, week to week.
Whether they will do enough to make the eight is anyone’s guess, and again, it’s hard to be too critical of them, but their loss on Thursday to the Penrith Panthers was a critical two points dropped, and it makes it two vital losses in a row.
Bouncing back, and soon, is first priority for Manly, who will be helped by returning stars in coming weeks, but they can’t put all the onus on that dragging them out a hole.
Manu Ma’u at his best has the potential to be a great second rower
The Eels had to win on Thursday night. There was really no ifs or buts about it as far as Brad Arthur’s team were concerned. They just had to.
We have already gone over the Rabbitohs and the problems they faced coming into the contest with a lack of players through injury and State of Origin selection, but the Eels had also lost three on the hop and four out of their last five, with the wheels well and truly coming off after their strong start to the season.
They did come away with the win in the end by 12 points, and while their second half wasn’t nearly as good as the first, Manu Ma’u played one of his best games in some times, dominating on the edge for Parramatta.
He finished the game with a staggering 216 metres from just 19 runs, also coming up with a ridiculous 90 post-contact metres at an average of almost five per run throughout the contest.
But more than that, Ma’u creates a presence on the field and is exceptionally difficult to tackle when he gets going.
While he isn’t quite in the James Taumalolo or Cameron Murray class of getting quick play the balls, he is also talented at that, and so, if he constantly drags players in to make a tackle happen and gets quick play the balls, he has the ability to suddenly put teams on the back foot by providing time and space for creative players to go to work.
Ma’u has had a little bit of a quiet last 18 months or so after bursting onto the scene, but Friday was a real sign he is back.
Jordan Kahu just needed time to adapt
In the form reversal of the Cowboys over the last month, one of the players who has flown under the radar is fullback Jordan Kahu.
He was well and truly out of sorts at the start of the season, but walking into a tough situation, there was hardly a point blaming him.
He has transferred to the club late in the pre-season, trying to fill the boots of Ben Barba, having played on the centre or wing for a number of years at the Broncos, where he simply wasn’t going to be part of the best 17 this year.
It got the point where Kahu found himself out of first grade for a couple of weeks, but through the injury of Te Maire Martin, he was brought back in, placed at fullback, and it seems like a bit of uncertainty over his position, as well as an extra two months on the training paddock, have worked wonders for the utility back.
While the Cowboys didn’t score points in the first half against the Titans on Sunday afternoon, Kahu was phenomenal in every element of the game, defending brilliantly, attacking well and generally being pretty safe under the high ball.
In fact, his try-saving tackle on opposite number AJ Brimson – who was also sensational for the Titans during the Queensland derby – may have been one of the best moments of the game.
With Jason Taumalolo back on the paddock, Jake Granville finding form he hasn’t had since 2017 and Michael Morgan looking good, the Cowboys, who had won three of their last four before taking on the Titans, are looking like a team who are going to be in contention for the finals again, and the under the radar Kahu is certainly a reason why.
Roarers, what did you make of Round 12? Drop a comment below and let us know.
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