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Opinion

Thoughts on the opening weekend of an NRL comp that is totally going ahead

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Editor
16th March, 2020
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We’re staring down the barrel of a seriously spartan sporting landscape for 2020.

Competitions around the world are closing down and there’s a massive possibility our favourite Aussie sports won’t be sighted again until next year.

With that being the case, let’s take this opportunity to simply talk about the weekend’s on-field action.

Because while I love – love – talking about all the peripheral bullshit that sports (and in particular rugby league) create, we may not get another chance to just pull apart the amazing on-field product that ultimately keeps us coming back for more.

With that being the case, let’s suspend reality for the rest of this piece and pretend what we saw on the weekend was the first round of a competition that’s totally going ahead, no worries at all.

So what of the opening round of the NRL? Well…

Too soon to tell
For the vast majority of teams, it’s too soon to tell what they’re going to serve up over the coming weeks and months.

You’d say the winning teams would take well-deserved confidence out of the weekend, bar perhaps the Eels, who struggled to beat a Bulldogs team that seem destined for another long season.

However, that’s not to say the losing teams should all give up either.

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The Roosters have a habit of starting slowly, the Cowboys lost to a Broncos side that looked like they could have beaten anyone, and the Sea Eagles have too much talent to dwell on going down to a Storm side that haven’t lost in Round 1 since 2001.

That said, I think we can say we’ve already seen enough from some teams…

Forget about this year
What about the Warriors deciding to set up camp near the Gold Coast this week?

It may be that a certain disease we won’t mention struggles in the warmer weather, but the Kiwi side can’t afford to be drinking whatever is in the water on the Glitter Strip.

The Titans were admittedly up against a Raiders side that look ready to go one better this year, but they served up the kind of hot garbage that we’ve all become a little too used to.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this club is on borrowed time.

As for the boys from Auckland, they were in a somewhat similar situation over the weekend, facing a Newcastle side that have gone from slopper to proper under new coach Adam O’Brien.

The first time the Knights haven’t been scored on since 2014 – almost six years to the day – is evidence of a defensive steel we haven’t seen in the Hunter since Wayne Bennett was in charge.

But then, it was also made easier by how poor the Warriors were.

Maybe they had other concerns, but while they’re too big and too important to the NRL to fail as an organisation, their coach is unlikely to get too many more chances if his side dish up games like that.

Stephen Kearney

(AAP Image/Robb Cox)

They’ll get some surprise wins, because they always do, but the Warriors won’t make the eight.

Finally, we can likely say the same about the Bulldogs, although that’s in large part due to off-field issues that look set to cause them further salary-cap headaches as two players are either fired or stood down for a large portion of the year.

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But we’ll leave chat about players being creeps aside for today.

Instead, what about that bloke in Brisbane?

Another revolution north of the border
David Fifita. Just wow.

Obviously it’s the earliest of contenders, but that effort will take some beating when we hand out try of the year awards.

This season, Brisbane look ready to be the team they’ve threatened to be since the emergence of this freakish crop of forwards.

Remember two years ago, as Scott Bolton charged for the try line to score what would have been the match-winner, a 22-year-old Bronco slammed the rampaging Cowboy into the goal post, causing him to spill the ball.

The woodwork got the credit, but Tevita Pangai Jr’s effort won the game that night and we wondered whether this young man was destined to be the next Jason Taumalolo.

He still might be, but in the intervening period, this other freak emerged in Queensland – a barnstorming prop named Payne Haas who weighs the better part of 120 kilos, but still has speed to burn.

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Payne Haas.

(Matt King/Getty Images)

Oh, and then we get that try from Fifita – the youngest of the trio, who only just turned 20 – to suggest he may be the best of the three of them.

It reminds me of another pair of players from Brisbane who changed the face of the game.

Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri were wingers who played like props. Obviously there were others doing something similar around that time – Adam MacDougall springs to mind, and Eric Grothe Sr was massive in the ‘80s – but the idea of the winger being small, fast and agile pretty much ended with these Brisbane behemoths.

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Now, having seen wingers become props thanks to the Broncos, we’re apparently seeing props become wingers at the club.

I mean, there have been unbelievable efforts from big men before, but while I loved Danny Wicks’ try against the Roosters, I don’t think we ever saw him do that again.

With Haas and Fifita, you almost expect a long-range effort every game! It’s no fluke.

And it look could forever shift the expectations of what the game’s big men can and should be expected to do.

I guess we’ll see as the season progresses. Because, as we all know, it is definitely, definitely going ahead.