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Opinion

Eight talking points from NRL Round 6

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21st June, 2020
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It’s been another week of entertaining matches, intriguing storylines and a surprise coach sacking. There is plenty to dissect, so let’s get into NRL talking points for Round 6.

The coaching apocalypse has arrived
It’s been simmering away under the surface for weeks, but after the Warriors moved Stephen Kearney on, there could be plenty of coaching movement ahead.

With the divide between the top and bottom teams growing, it wouldn’t be far fetched to say Paul McGregor, Dean Pay, Paul Green, Anthony Seibold and John Morris are all hanging by a thread.

Couple that with the number of high-quality coaches available – there aren’t many – and teams may jump sooner rather than later to ensure they don’t miss out.

Run through the list and the names which come up are Geoff Toovey, Anthony Griffin, Neil Henry, John Cartwright, Nathan Brown and the unproven duo of Jason Ryles and Craig Fitzgibbon.

Between them, they hold one NRL premiership. It’s not exactly heart-warming for fans thinking a change of coach is the answer.

But with the Cowboys trounced by the Tigers on Saturday and having to play the top seven teams in the next seven weeks, Pay, Morris and McGregor all struggling at the foot of the table, and Seibold seemingly having no idea how to get the best from his youthful roster, the music on the coaching merry-go-round is beginning to play.

While Green may be next to go, the Dragons’ upcoming draw is a nightmare too.

The Warriors moved first, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the speculation, rumours and sackings begin in a hurry.

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Stephen Kearney

(AAP Image/Robb Cox)

The Sydney Roosters are favourites… again
Five-day turnaround? No worries.

Lose your fullback and come from behind to win? Easy.

Go on to drive the nail in and win the best game of the season so far by 14 points? Piece of cake.

The clash between the Roosters and Eels might have been the best of the season so far, but by the time it was all said and done, there are few questions remaining about who the premiership favourites are.

Twelve months ago, most people thought going back-to-back was impossible. Now the line is “surely they can’t make it a three-peat?”

But they can. Trent Robinson has got something very special happening at Bondi.

With Cooper Cronk and his nine grand finals of experience no longer around, Kyle Flanagan has come on in leaps and bounds and Luke Keary continues to go from strength to strength. The Sydney forwards are unbelievably well-coached, too.

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Saturday was supposed to be a test, but the Roosters, even without James Tedesco for a portion of the second half after he was steamrolled by Maika Sivo, passed with flying colours.

Take nothing away from the Eels – they are right in the premiership race after proving themselves against a powerhouse. But it’s going to take something very special to stop the Roosters.

Boyd Cordner

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

South Sydney are better with Cameron Murray in the middle
It’s rare for any coach, let alone Wayne Bennett, to admit he was wrong.

But full credit to the longest-reigning coach in the NRL – he has done just that with Cameron Murray.

Eyebrows were raised in the pre-season when it was announced Murray was going to have a go in the second row. Why would you move one of the top three locks in the competition to the edge?

It was even more baffling when you consider how much the South Sydney style of play needs Murray in the middle third of the field.

They play fast, and the NSW Blue’s play-the-ball speed is lightning. That gives players like Damien Cook and Cody Walker time and space to do what they do best.

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It’s little surprise then that Souths’ best two games of the season have been in the last fortnight, with big wins over the Titans and Warriors.

And yeah, it was only the Titans and Warriors, so judgement on this side’s true potential should be reserved, but the signs are more than positive with Murray back to his regular middle-third role.

The numbers aren’t there yet, but they won’t tell the whole story anyhow. It’s his play the ball speed, creativity, and ability to make defenders sweat on his every move that creates scoring opportunities.

Cameron Murray

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Brisbane are a rabble, but can it be fixed?
As mentioned earlier, Anthony Seibold is under the pump.

Brisbane don’t take failure lightly, and while they have made the finals two years in a row, it hasn’t ended well on either occasion.

2020 is looking like an absolute mess, and another shocking loss to the Knights on Thursday is only going to heap the pressure on.

Even if Seibold was to be let go by the club, it would take a special sort of coach to get this roster working. Think Craig Bellamy or Trent Robinson.

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They have too much youth, their recruitment and retention strategies are horrific, and they lack players who are happy to roll the sleeves up and get the job done.

Think players like Dale Finucane or Mitchell Aubusson. They are crucial to the Storm and Roosters respectively, but Brisbane have no one in that class.

The blame heaped on Anthony Milford is unfounded. He might as well be sitting in the dressing rooms while his forward pack are chasing highlights like an NBA star at the slam dunk contest.

Until Brisbane can get an experienced, controlling half, a couple of forwards who will show the youngsters the ropes, and a cleanout from top to bottom, they aren’t going to challenge.

There is talent at the club, but it’s not premiership-winning talent… yet.

Anthony Seibold

(Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Josh Mansour has finally rediscovered his form
Even for those who could see the Panthers making the top eight this season, their form is beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

While plenty can be made of Melbourne’s plight thus far in 2020, it was a classy, hard-fought victory for the Panthers on Friday evening which has made rugby league fans sit up and take notice.

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You could put it down to a number of factors. Maybe Nathan Cleary’s play since his return, the toughness of their forward pack, or Api Koroisau’s move to the foot of the mountains. But the single biggest driver is Josh Mansour’s return to form.

The modern game, particularly with the six-again rule, is driven by possession and territory. Therefore, getting sets off to a good start from the back is of paramount importance.

It’s little surprise that the top teams have wingers who excel here. Think Daniel Tupou or Blake Ferguson. They work and, more importantly, run hard.

Mansour was once at the top of his class in this area of the game, but had dropped off badly, struggling with injury.

In 2020, he is back to the sort of form that could score him an Origin jumper. While he may only have two tries, he is averaging a tick over 200 metres per game, and has been dangerous in that running, with 14 tackle busts and a line break in each game so far.

Couple that with ten offloads, and you understand why the Panthers are playing above all expectations.

Penrith Panther's Josh Mansour

(Photo: nrlphotos.com)

The Tigers are becoming Australia’s version of the Warriors
The perennially ninth-placed Tigers and their fans are fast learning what it feels like supporting the Warriors.

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This season they have been, in a word, inconsistent.

Since returning from the shutdown, they haven’t looked like the same team two weeks in a row. A fast-paced, entertaining victory over the Sharks, an embarrassing loss to the Titans, a hard-fought loss the Raiders, and then this weekend an attacking masterclass before surviving something of a scare in the second half against North Queensland.

They are on a roller-coaster ride, but in a season where consistency is going to count for plenty, the Tigers appear to have none of it.

Michael Maguire’s side have shown their class with the ball, and Harry Grant has made an immense difference playing at hooker. His enthusiasm and vision to play fast suits the Tigers’ young and agile forward pack.

But then they fall asleep, like they did against the Gold Coast, or in the second half on Saturday, and when they fall asleep, particularly in defence, things tend to get messy.

Unless Maguire can find a way to get his side playing 80 minutes week in and week out, another failed campaign will be the result, no matter how exciting they are to watch when things are clicking.

Harry Grant looks on

Harry Grant. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Manly’s Achilles heel strikes
Manly’s biggest problem in 2019 was injuries. Unfortunately for the club, it’s the same again in 2020.

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Heading into Sunday’s surprise win over Canberra already minus Martin Taupau, Jorge Taufua and Moses Suli, Des Hasler’s biggest fear has been realised, with Tom Trbojevic now added to the casualty list.

Manly’s numbers last year playing without Trbojevic were horrific. Of the 12 games he played, they won ten. Of the 12 he missed, it was just four.

It shows just how important the star fullback is, and while Manly’s backline is more experienced and in a better spot to handle such an injury than they were last year, they need a lot to go right in the coming weeks.

However, Sunday’s win shows they are up to the challenge. Already missing the aforementioned trio, they lost another three players to finish the game with just 14 fit players. It’s impossible to fault their attitude and commitment.

To win without Trbojevic on a regular basis over the next six weeks, the formula is simple. The forwards must dominate, and Daly Cherry-Evans must cement his status as the best kicking halfback in the competition.

Tom Trbojevic Manly Sea Eagles NRL Rugby League

This is becoming an all-too-familiar sight for Manly fans. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Brandon Wakeham must be given a long run
The Bulldogs have plenty of young talent to play alongside Kieran Foran. So much so that their result against Cronulla didn’t matter.

What did was the way the new halves combination played, with Brandon Wakeham coming back into the side for Lachlan Lewis.

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While the match was still scrappy, Canterbury offered more in attack with Wakeham in the side than what they have wither either Lewis or Jack Cogger playing.

The finally fit Foran’s spot won’t come under threat, which means it’s up to the three youngsters to fight for the other spot.

Cogger, whose decision-making has been far too slow, is at the back of the line, while Lewis hasn’t kicked on at first-grade level.

It’s difficult to lay the blame for the Bulldogs’ struggles at his feet given the other problems facing the club, but Wakeham provides something the other duo doesn’t appear to. He must be given a long run in the halves to find his feet.