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Opinion

The wildest 24 hours of the NRL season so far

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22nd June, 2020
21

Geez the storylines just kept coming over the weekend, didn’t they? An emotional superstar, a sacked coach and the best game of 2020, all in slightly more than 24 hours.

I’m generally reticent to tackle more than one subject in a piece but there’s so much to unpack after Round 6 of the NRL that it’s worth going over a few choice nuggets today.

So, without any further ado…

Bennett vs Hollis was a dust-up with no winners
Following South Sydney’s 40-12 win over the New Zealand Warriors on Friday night, Latrell Mitchell became emotional as he left the field and continued to cut a forlorn figure in the dressing sheds, being consoled by coach Wayne Bennett.

Naturally, there were questions to be asked, and Fox Sports reporter Hannah Hollis obliged, which got Bennett’s back right up.

“No I’m not going to tell you why,” Bennett said after being asked why Mitchell upset. “It’s got nothing to do with you to be honest with you.”

Hollis pressed on, saying “he was just visibly upset”, before Bennett cut her off:

“He may well have been but it’s got nothing to do with you,” the 70-year-old mentor said.

“The change room has always been a sacred place, unfortunately the game gave away a lot of our rights to those places but in my mind and my headset, it’s a place where we can go and be who we want to be and not have to answer to anybody about it.”

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It continued for a bit longer, but you get the gist.

The incident probably became bigger than it needed to be due to Bennett’s tone – he was agitated, bordering on rude.

Mitchell’s emotions had been on show on the field and whether you like them or not, the cameras in the dressing sheds aren’t a secret. So it was a journalist’s job to ask why the fullback was in distress, particularly after Mitchell had played so well in a dominant victory. Hollis’ line of enquiry was fair enough.

Latrell Mitchell runs the ball

Latrell Mitchell runs the ball. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

On the flipside, asking a fair question doesn’t mean you’re entitled to a response and Bennett’s staunch refusal to divulge information about one of his own is a big part of why the 70-year-old continues to be such a favourite with his players.

He was protective of a young charge who gets more than his share of media attention – and it’s not exactly breaking news that Bennett can be prickly with the media. He could have checked his attitude, but the coach’s response was also fair enough.

As for Bennett’s suggestion the dressing room is sacred? Nah, not anymore and you can whinge about it but that horse has bolted.

Short of the RLPA making a submission to the NRL that dressing-room footage be banned in future broadcast agreements – and then putting their money where their mouth is by accepting that the removal of cameras will lead to a drop in the overall value of the deal and therefore diminish the value of the salary cap – it’s not worth complaining about.

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Stephen Kearney surely deserved better
Ten days ago, the Warriors hosted the Cowboys at their ‘home’ ground in Gosford and had a strong 37-26 win. A fortnight before that, the Kiwis restarted the competition by giving St George Illawarra an 18-0 touch-up.

While both those wins were followed by comprehensive losses, given the unprecedented upheaval the club has endured in the past three or so months, you’d have thought the man leading them in a foreign country without their families would be given a bit of leeway in terms of results.

That was put to bed comprehensively on Saturday, as Stephen Kearney was given his marching orders in the coldest sacking I can recall.

The only way I can justify it in my head is that the owner and CEO are sick of excuses and want results, which would be a long-overdue attitude adjustment for a club with potentially the strongest pool of players in the game, yet zero premierships to show in 25 years. Maybe the top brass have finally decided it’s time to put up or shut up.

Stephen Kearney, head coach of the Warriors after the Round 5 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Gold Coast Titans at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand, Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AAP Image/David Rowland)

Stephen Kearney. (AAP Image/David Rowland)

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But how do they honestly see the rest of this season playing out? Living out of a hotel with a reported million dollars’ worth of talent consigned to the sidelines, a 2-4 start – which is 2-2 since the season restarted – has to be considered a pass mark thus far.

After all the issues they’ve faced since the coronavirus flipped our world, surely the club knows talk of finals, let alone silverware, in 2020 is a fantasy?

What’s more, given the constraints the club is under, it’s not like a new coach can make a start on a rebuild any time soon.

So if you want to blow the joint up, doesn’t it make sense to give your highly respected, if largely unsuccessful, coach the rest of the year and then let him ‘resign’ (you know, one of those resignations that come with a handy payout) in a dignified manner?

You’d certainly keep your players onside in this way, with interim coach Todd Payten saying some of his side “may” consider heading home to New Zealand. I doubt it’ll come to that but you couldn’t really blame them if they decided to.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that this savage decision is the line-in-the-sand moment that means the club will no longer tolerate mediocrity. But, even if that’s the case, their results for the remainder of this season seem destined to be mediocre at best.

The best game with the biggest hit
An old coach of mine said a good defender could tackle anyone. Size, speed, skill, it didn’t matter the advantages the man running the ball may have had, a strong defender would always stop them.

Far be it from me to claim superior footy knowledge to Steve Knight – a dual international and grand final winner for Manly, who has forgotten more about either code than I’ll ever know – but even he might be having a think about his defensive philosophy after the Roosters versus Eels game on Saturday.

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Simply put, I don’t think anyone on the planet could have stopped Maika Sivo’s 58th-minute try.

And in James Tedesco, it’s not like the bloke who failed to put the rampaging Fijian down was a weak defender. But Sivo hit the reigning Dally M champ with such force that it ended the fullback’s night and he’s unlikely to lace up the boots this weekend.

It was a brutal display and possibly my favourite moment of the whole weekend. No schadenfreude here folks, I love seeing Teddy go about his business, but when the best player in the world cops a game-ending hit in clean, fair circumstances, you just have to sit back and marvel.

Maika Sivo of the Parramatta Eels. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Maika Sivo of the Parramatta Eels. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Of course, the whole match was a belter and if that’s a preview for this season’s grand final, the neutrals won’t have much to complain about.

It was the perfect conclusion to a topsy-turvy 24 hours, which also included the Tigers impressively puffing out their chests before the Cowboys worked out it was mostly hot air, the Panthers putting themselves up there with the Chooks and Eels in the top echelon, and Paul McGregor’s seat growing just a little cooler after another win for the Dragons.

And that’s without even touching the COVID scare that rocked the AFL and what it may mean for the NRL as they look to ease restrictions.

All in just over the amount of time it took the Earth to complete a rotation around its axis.

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Seriously, how did any of us pass the time while in lockdown?