We have arrived at the representative round break, but first, there is an entire weekend of footy to dissect. Here are my talking points for Round 14.
Why on the planet did Paul McGregor get another two years?
I get it. Running a footy club is a difficult business. There is lots to do, lots of people to keep happy and plenty of decisions which have to be made.
But blind freddy could see Paul McGregor shouldn’t have been re-signed as early as he was.
While decisions have to be made for next season so the club can start locking in contracts and looking at the player market, this was one of those rare times where it would have helped to hold off, rather than bite the bullet and sign him.
What probably makes it even more confusing was that there wasn’t exactly a massive rush from around the league to sign McGregor. No other clubs were sitting there going, yeah, let’s get him.
A virtually unproven coach should never be snapped up on the back of a couple of wins in a row, especially when you look at how the Dragons have been managed from the top down in the last couple of years under the control of McGregor.
It follows a trend for the Dragons though, who have a way of signing former players of the club. According to most reports, Trent Barrett will be coming on as an assistant coach, and this level of recruitment can be traced right back to the Nathan Brown days last decade, when he was far too young and raw to be a head coach.
They have now lost six of their last seven, more or less since the re-signing of McGregor was announced, and memories of 2017 have come flooding back for Dragons fans, who watched a similar drop in form after the last re-signing of McGregor, as the Dragons fell from the top of the table mid way through the season to win 4 of their last 11 matches.
Simply put, the way the Dragons have been managed isn’t good enough, and what the side are dishing up on the field is anything but good enough.
On paper, this is a side who have the talent to be solidly in the top eight and pushing for a top four berth, but they have struggled big time, and while there were a couple of weeks of relent, plus a big win over the Bulldogs last weekend, the finals are starting to look a long way away in 2019 for the Red V, despite having one of the best forward packs in the competition.
Of course, it’s not just Mary who cops the blame, and the whole club needs a clean out.
Sure, they have off-field distractions and injuries, but so does every club across the competition. Mary has failed to handle it for the best part of five years now, and surely, with a huge loss to a rampant Manly on Sunday, his time should be closer to the end than the beginning.
Melbourne are favourites
The Storm are really starting to hit their stride. It feels like only a month ago where we were all sitting around, wondering if they were actually going to be able to go up a gear this year.
But, they won scrappy a heap, and are now starting to put in some really good performances as they look down upon everyone from the top of the competition.
There are a number of factors to take into account about the Storm this season.
The biggest of those is the want for revenge. Sure, they don’t have Billy Slater anymore, but they lost last year’s grand final in fairly ordinary circumstances, so a lot of what would be driving them this year is the chance to get back to the top of the mountain.
Billy Slater being gone and handing the reigns of this side (behind Cameron Smith of course) to the likes of Cameron Munster is also a godsend. Their forwards, who just keep on rolling, and the other youthful talent who haven’t really experienced the top end of the mountain yet are also going to be driven to get there.
Then there is the enormous role Craig Bellamy plays in the Storm’s pursuit of glory.
Wayne Bennett might be called the super coach, but there is almost no doubting at this point that Bellamy is the best coach in the game. No one has an ability to turn mediocre players into big names like he does, and the Storm’s bench, who I wrote about last week, are the prime example of that in 2019.
Their form is on an upward trend, and in many ways, the season they are putting together is reminiscent of the Roosters in 2018.
They are yet to hit their stride, but are starting to get there through the Origin window, and that means they should be peaking at just the right time to make a tilt for the premiership.
The Warriors should have the most fearsome back three in the NRL
The Warriors have many problems, so let’s not narrow it down to an individual one. Of course, they did come away with a victory over the Gold Coast Titans on Friday, but it went down to the wire again, and they just can’t seem to string 80 minutes together.
Maybe what is more frustrating than any other facet of the Warriors play is the ability, or inability to hit that ability, of their back thre.
On paper, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck should be close to the best fullback in the competition. If you stick to the on paper model of working things out, then Ken Maumalo is a monster, and David Fusitu’a has some of the best finishing ability in the competition.
As a trio, there should be no reason the Warriors don’t regularly get their starts off to good starts, and come away with opportunities to score out wide more often than not.
Instead, we get inconsistency from week to week, errors, and generally quiet games, although the argument could be made that Tuivasa-Sheck is still one of the guns of this competition.
In saying that, Ken Maumalo made almost 300 metres on the weekend, traumatising the Titans defence at every turn, and he was backed up solidly enough by the other two in the back three.
And yet, next week, they will come out and play a completely different style of game.
They should have the best back three in the comp, but the old c word (that’s right, consistency), just stop them from doing so.
Are Penrith actually back?
The Panthers have won again, this time knocking over the South Sydney Rabbitohs on the road to make it four wins on the trot, with the last two against sides in the top four.
Penrith were all but written off just a month ago, but they have won scrappy, close games since then and that’s sometimes the way to play yourself back into form.
The NRL is such a confidence competition. If you can get it, and some momentum, then it’s often really easy to get into a ‘winning culture,’ and start to rocket up the table, as the Panthers have done in the last month.
They were impressive against Souths on the weekend, even if the men from Redfern were understrength, and with James Maloney and Nathan Cleary starting to roll again leading the team around the park, they really have a chance to make a fist of this competition.
I don’t want to re-hash too much of what I wrote last week, but their forwards are going to be the key moving forward.
Correction, their forwards being fit and in form are going to be the difference. James Tamou has been a different beast since being made captain, and Villame Kikau’s return to full fitness hasn’t come a minute too soon.
What’s probably more impressive is the spark Ivan Cleary has gotten out of side after making a stack of changes. Young guys putting pressure on the top guys for spots in the 17 is a great thing for a struggling club, and the performances of guys like Brent Naden and Mitchell Kenny, who has been promoted to start at hooker, probably put a face on the way Penrith have turned their club around in the last couple of weeks.
Benji’s still got it
The difference of the Tigers between when Benji Marshall is on the field, and when he isn’t, is becoming undeniable.
So undeniable, that it’s probably time for the club to start thinking about a completely new role for Josh Reynolds than ‘back up half to Benji.’
Marshall was at it again on Friday night during the Tigers thrilling one-point win over the Cowboys in golden point.
He kicked the winning field goal, which is what stole all the headlines out of the game, but his kicking game, and the way he allowed Luke Brooks to do his thing, was what really should be talked about.
I wrote about how Benji makes Brooks a better player just a couple of weeks ago, and nothing has changed my mind on that, but what we have seen from Marshall is that he has the ability to still hold his own in the top grade and create a successful creative combination, complementing Brooks and providing the team exactly what they need going forward.
As for the Cowboys – well, you just can’t afford to lose that at home, can you?
Aidan Sezer or Sam Williams?
There will be a fair bit of indecision in response to this point I reckon.
Do you go with Aidan Sezer, who has been a proven performer for years, and has one of the more solid kicking games going around, or Sam Williams, who is in good form and has played the back-up role so well for so many years to so many good halves?
It’s a question Ricky Stuart is going to have to answer after the representative round, and not for the first time this season.
But, with the return of Williams from injury (he was 18th man this week, but then surprisingly left out of reserve grade as well), Stuart needs to make a call and stick with it.
There has been a little bit of speculation the Raiders will deploy a rotation system to keep the pair both playing first grade and fit, but that’s just not going to cut it.
You can rotate forwards, you can rotate Origin players, but in a side still with so many questions around it, you simply can’t afford to be rotating the halves and bringing the momentum of the side down a peg each time you do so.
Personally, I’d be going Williams. Sezer’s game control against the Sharks last Thursday was really quite poor at times, and the form of a man who was once touted as a potential Origin player is a long way off his best.
But again, that’s me. Ricky Stuart will have a better idea of where the two troops are at, but the team selection of the Green Machine in nine days time will be an interesting one.
How far can Tom Trbojevic take Manly?
Anyone who wants to sit around and still dispute the impact of Tom Trbojevic has lost the plot.
He is only a couple of weeks removed from his hamstring complaint but has come back almost at the top of his game, and if he wasn’t at the top of his game, then he certainly got there on Sunday afternoon as he put one through the Dragons.
Quite literally, he ripped the Dragons in half.
Trbojevic, while safe in defence as he always is, was most noted out of the game for his ridiculous attacking stats, where he ended the game with more than 300 metres, a try, a try assist, 11 tackle busts and five offloads.
They are ridiculous numbers. Numbers that any player would be pretty wrapped with.
Trbojevic is the key to Manly’s puzzle this year, but for a side tipped into the bottom four, they are approaching full strength again, and got their season back on track today.
Obviously, there are going to be bumps in the road, as there have been over the last month, but for Des Hasler’s side to be anywhere near the eight is a ridiculously good achievement.
Now, with a firing front row rotation, strong bench and Manase Fainu providing all sorts of spark on the back of Apisai Koroisau, as well as the kicking game of Daly Cherry-Evans, Manly fans, I reckon, would actually be quite disappointed not making the eight if they can stay healthy and near enough to full strength for the next three months.
Memo to Parramatta: Do that on the road
A short one to finish off this week, but wouldn’t the Eels be a better team if they could learn to win and win well away from home.
Sure, they have a fancy new stadium and for the most part are doing a pretty good job of pulling opposition teams pants down when they are there, but the odd loss at Bankwest, combined with winning virtually nothing on the road, is going to come back to haunt them when the season reaches the crunch.
While it’d be fair to say the Eels weren’t a widely expected premiership force this season, they started pretty strongly, and now are dealing with the problems that come with a young squad and lack of depth.
They have a number of players who have never been able to string a full season together and the odd injury or momentum killer is hurting them, which is then doubled when they play away from home.
Trips around Sydney shouldn’t have as much of an impact, but the best teams find a way to win away from home, and the Eels just aren’t doing that at the moment.
In fact, since winning their first two games of the season away from home against an ordinary Panthers and even worse Bulldogs, they have won none of their last five as the away team.
That isn’t going to cut it if they want to play finals footy, so it’s time for Brad Arthur and his side to find some answers as they fight for a spot in the top eight.
Roarers, what did you make of Round 14? Drop a comment below and let us know, and enjoy the representative footy next weekend!
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