The NRL is back, with Round 3 in the books after a nine-week lay-off. There were rule changes, referee changes, a contender claiming their first points, another Green Machine raid to Victoria and some clubs playing dreadful footy. There is plenty to wrap up, so let’s get into it with NRL talking points.
The Dragons were embarrassing. End of story
There is really nowhere else to start this week than on the worst team performance of the week.
The Dragons were, in a word, embarrassing.
In an 18-0 loss to the New Zealand Warriors, they were weak, pathetic, and looked like they didn’t want to be there. Like they hadn’t picked up a football in nine weeks.
And before we go any further – full credit to the Warriors. Completing 45 out of 47 sets is an absolutely fantastic effort, as was their complete shutout of the Red V.
But the Dragons made it easy on them. They threw nothing at the Warriors, dying with the ball on the last tackle time and time again, as if the team has been coached so far into structure that they didn’t have any idea how to play the game in front of them.
Then there were the soft tries at the other end of the park that made it look like the Dragons didn’t want to play for their coach, their fans, or each other.
And yes, I’m a Dragons fan, so I’m particularly harsh on them at times. But none of this is a result of that.
They look like they are more likely to be in the wooden spoon race than any other, and that they will be lucky to score a point all season should they continue to play like they did on Saturday afternoon.
A team with Corey Norman, Ben Hunt, Cameron McInnes, Tyson Frizell, Tariq Sims and James Graham shouldn’t be struggling at the foot of the table. They should be closing in on the top four.
Without change at the top, the club won’t change. The bottom line is that the players have surely run out of belief playing for Paul McGregor, and the attitude of the team both on the field and in the dressing room at halftime was that of a team who don’t care.
Then there is the absolute travesty of the recruitment decisions. Reuben Garrick, Patrick Herbert, Reece Robson, Luciano Leilua, Jai Field, plus the stagnant development of Jacob Host, Matt Dufty and Zac Lomax.
Since Anzac Day last year, the Dragons have won four of 21 games. Those wins have come against the Bulldogs, Cowboys and twice against the Titans.
It’s going to be a long season for the Red V faithful. The sooner there is a change at the top, the better.
Latrell Mitchell isn’t a fullback
Latrell Mitchell should be one of the game’s best players. And last year at the Roosters, despite his… let’s call it lack of attention to detail, he was.
That was playing at centre though, where he could flip the game with a few big plays and not overly cost his team when he did fall asleep, such is the talent of the man.
But right now he’s playing in the number one jersey, and on Friday night in South Sydney’s loss to the Roosters, Mitchell was taught a lesson about playing fullback from the game’s best, James Tedesco.
Tedesco, looking to get involved at every opportunity, had 24 runs for 314 metres, 113 kick return metres, 79 post-contact metres, a try, two line breaks, 14 tackle busts and only made a single error. Almost a faultless game.
Mitchell, on the other hand, went missing, was out of position and didn’t look to get involved. He ended up with 101 metres from 13 runs with only 41 kick return metres and 29 post-contact, and while he had a try assist, he didn’t break the line or threaten the Tricolours. He also came up with three missed tackles and a horrendous error early in the contest.
Wayne Bennett might not think Alex Johnston is the right option at the back, but right now he is the better option.
Mitchell needs to return to the centres and turn himself back into the match-winner he can be, because at fullback, he is a match-loser.
The six-again rule works if the referee does
I wrote on the six-again rule being a success on Friday morning, and I’m not prepared to change that point of view. Having not missed a minute of any game over the course of the weekend, it’s the best round of footy I’ve watched in a long time, despite some lopsided scorelines.
The footy was, generally speaking, faster, the players were more fatigued, and there was a genuine sense that the little guys and creative attacking players could get in and properly impact the game, which hasn’t been felt during the era of excessive wrestling.
Even the Melbourne-Canberra game was, for the most part, a lot quicker than it otherwise might have been, with those two teams being among the worst offenders when it comes to wrestling and slowing down the play the ball.
The only game that wasn’t played with that pace and ferocity was the Roosters versus Rabbitohs on Friday night.
And you know what, full credit to the teams involved. They did what they could get away with because Ashley Klein didn’t properly police the ruck.
In the other games, the referees set the standard early, and all the players learnt very quickly that they needed to police the ruck themselves.
There were multiple instances of teams across the course of the weekend feeling out what they could get away with early, having a few six-again calls made, and then backing off in their slow down and wrestling tactics in the ruck.
It naturally sped the game up without the referees having to intervene and made for a much better rugby league spectacle to us fans.
So, credit to seven out of eight referees, and more to the point, credit to the teams for not trying to find a way around it, with the exception of some intentional offsides at different points.
The Raiders, and George Williams, answer their doubters
It was hardly a surprise that with a change in such a crucial position this season, the Raiders had plenty of doubters coming into the new season.
And while they picked up a pair of wins in the first two rounds, they didn’t look all that particular as they fought their way through some wet newspaper against the Titans and Warriors.
But Saturday night’s return to action was different. The way the Raiders belted the Storm in Melbourne, just like they did twice last year, proves they are the real deal once again.
The Green Machine are up and about, and this is a team who will be playing finals footy and are a chance at going all the way.
They came out firing during the first half, and while their attack away from home was outstanding, it was the second half when they came into their own.
For so many years, the Raiders have been an attack first, worry about the consequences later footy team. It was a stereotype of the club they worked so hard to break last year, and it continued into this weekend.
Not only was George Williams up to scratch in breaking down one of the best teams in the competition with the footy in hand, he was brilliant in defence alongside the rest of his team as they held off raid after raid from the men in purple.
While the Storm made uncharacteristic errors, it could be argued they played as poorly as they did because of the aggression and tenacity Canberra played with in defence.
It was a joy to watch for neutral fans, and Raiders fans can dare to dream of another fabled trip to the biggest day on the rugby league calendar.
Reed Mahoney completes the Eels’ contender puzzle
Another team who come into the 2020 season with plenty of expectations were the Parramatta Eels. They, like the Raiders, had a fairly easy start to the season, but didn’t impress many with the way they had played.
Under the new rules, they certainly get a leg up. Not only will the faster game suit them, but playing at Bankwest Stadium will also help them out.
Arguably the biggest free kick they get is not having to spend any time running into battle without hooker Reed Mahoney.
He was outstanding against the Broncos, tackling anything that moved on the rare occasions Parramatta didn’t have the ball, spending plenty of time directing traffic in attack, and kicking well when he had to.
A hooker’s role in the modern game is so important in distributing the ball and making sure the forwards then have a chance of breaking the advantage line, and Mahoney’s service is normally spot on, picking the right options most of the time.
Add to that his ability to be consistent and rarely, if ever, make mistakes, and the Eels rake has proven his mettle and standing as an NRL player.
He belongs at this level, and there would be little surprise if this strong Eels team not only go a long way into the finals, but then get to sit back and watch Mahoney run around in a Maroons jumper in November.
Just how far can Valentine Holmes take the Cowboys?
One of the big off-season signings was Valentine Holmes returning from his ill-fated NFL attempt to sign for the Cowboys.
The former Sharks utility back looked a little short of a gallop in the first two rounds as the Cowboys had mixed results against the Broncos and Bulldogs.
But with the season returning this weekend, the Cowboys fullback was superb from start to finish.
He had a hand in plenty of tries, and could have had a few more assists if the passes stuck, while his running game left the Titans scrambling.
That’s not to say the Titans played poorly – despite the final scoreline. Their opening 40 minutes was among the best halves of footy they have played in years, but Holmes was just outstanding for the Cowboys.
Sure, some of the finer points of the game – accuracy on every pass, for one – might have been lacking. But his running game was dangerous, and he showed no fear in getting involved and taking the line on as often as he pleased.
We need to wait a little longer before we can properly judge the Cowboys. Once they travel away from Townsville and face tougher opposition, that’s when we will know whether they are a genuine finals contender or not.
For Paul Green’s career, they have to be.
But based on their win over the Titans, Holmes’ effort and the fact Jason Taumalolo wasn’t left on his own to lead the way in the middle, they are a strong chance.
The Knights are ready to play finals footy
Let’s paint the picture.
Returning from a nine-week lay-off, the Knights are already without Kalyn Ponga and Lachlan Fitzgibbon. They are taking on an unbeaten Panthers side, who are without Nathan Cleary, but nonetheless still favourites.
The Knights, as if the footy gods wanted the game to be over after half an hour, then lose Mitchell Pearce after five minutes to concussion and Connor Watson just a few minutes later.
Their spine is now Tex Hoy, Kurt Mann and Chris Randall. Two debutants and a utility. They are down to 15 players with 70 minutes to go, and soon after fall 14-0 behind with Tim Glasby also heading off for a HIA.
Glasby passes his HIA, but they are down, out and could have let in 60.
But this is where the Knights familiar story stops and a new one behind, because new coach Adam O’Brien has got his troops firing and believing in the system.
Instead of falling apart like the Knights of previous years would have, this year’s Knights manned up, toughened up and played through the pain and experience barrier to come back and make it 14-6 at halftime.
The Panthers wouldn’t score another point, and if not for Tex Hoy’s goal-kicking, the Knights would have won in regular time.
Instead, they were forced to play an extra ten minutes of golden point, but still they kept turning up and hanging on for each other.
It was a remarkable performance to snatch a competition point, and if the Knights are good enough at full strength, the mental attitude is now there to play finals footy.
Roarers, what did you make of Round 3 as the competition returned? Drop a comment below and let us know.