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Opinion

Eight talking points from NRL Round 7

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28th June, 2020
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Golden point, injuries and big upsets. This weekend has had it all, so here are my NRL talking points from Round 7.

“I’m not looking over my shoulder”
There is only one reason Anthony Seibold isn’t looking over his shoulder, fearing the almost imminent sack from the Broncos.

He has three and a half years to run on his contract. But the comment from his press conference smacked of a man who knows he’s in trouble.

Even if he was on “low” money, it would cost the Broncos what we could safely assume would be well north of $2 million to get rid of their misfiring coach.

So, what Seibold says is probably true, despite the Broncos’ embarrassing 30-12 loss to the lowly Titans on Saturday evening.

But he might want to look to the future, because if he can’t find a way to get his players to play for him, it’ll be his last NRL coaching job.

There were disturbing reports published during the week about just how Seibold has lost the dressing room, and his side played like it against the Titans.

Anthony Seibold

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Before the season got underway, a lack of experience, poor recruitment decisions and a forward pack of highlight chasers without a controlling half were touted as big weaknesses for Brisbane.

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Seibold hasn’t been able to work them out, and with each passing week, the Broncos seemingly find a way to get worse.

It’s embarrassing. It’s not good enough, and Seibold looks a dead man walking.

Josh Hodgson must return to his best if the Raiders are to challenge
At the end of last season, I rated Josh Hodgson as the best hooker in the competition.

Right now, I’m not sure Hodgson would be in the top five hookers, and yet, at his best, he still presents a danger that is unmatched.

He just hasn’t been the same player, and it’s having an impact on the Raiders. It’s impacting their go-forward, their creativity, and their ability to defend effectively.

What makes it stranger is the six-again rule should suit a player like Hodgson, who loves running the ball and exploiting tired defensive lines.

It’s hard to say his form is all his own fault though.

One of the more underrated aspects of the Raiders’ run to the grand final last year was the kicking game of Aidan Sezer, who has been replaced by George Williams.

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George Williams goes for a run

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

That isn’t to say Williams has played poorly, but the combination of Williams, Hodgson and Jack Wighton just doesn’t seem to be working as well.

Canberra still had to play damn well to compete with Parramatta, but it’s games like that, and last week’s against Manly, they would have won last year.

Hodgson is the key to getting back there.

The NRL must find a solution to the Warriors problem
The NRL have an issue. It’s evident the Warriors have had enough.

The talk of three players wanting to go home, sacking Stephen Kearney last week, and playing with a barely up-to-scratch 17 each week is wearing them thin.

Fans of the sport want to find a way to get behind the Warriors, but their insipid performance against Melbourne at Kogarah on Friday was a shambles.

And that’s putting it nicely.

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Normally, the week after a coach gets sacked, teams will have some sort of bounce back. There are few teams tougher to do that against than Melbourne, but letting in 50 points wasn’t good enough.

It shows at a raw level the board didn’t consult any of the players before deciding to let go of Kearney. Given they had a couple of wins since the shutdown finished under their old coach, it made the decision all the stranger.

So, we now have a disjointed club with no direction, an interim coach and a playing group who, simply put, don’t want to be there, running out each week with no return home in the foreseeable future.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in a huddle

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Bringing the players’ families over might make a few happy, but the only way the NRL can truly resolve this is to get the Warriors playing at home again.

With Victoria’s second wave, it’s unlikely the trans-Tasman travel bubble is going to start anytime soon, and based on Friday’s effort, it’s almost a guaranteed two points to play the Warriors.

That – for TV ratings, eventual crowds or the very future of the Warriors – is a problem with no obvious answer.

Gutsy and brave, the Roosters are still the best
There is a reason Trent Robinson’s Roosters are simply the best. They showed every little bit of it in their victory over the Dragons on Friday.

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It’s not often a team will have to watch two of their players depart the field within 15 minutes of each other with season-ending ACL injuries.

But that’s exactly the fate that met the Tricolours, as first Victor Radley then Sam Verrills went over without a hand being laid on them.

Not only were the players able to recover from those incidents, they then went on to win with 15 fit players, as well as no Josh Morris or James Tedesco, for the final hour against a much improved Dragons side.

Now, that may still sound like a walk in the park, given how abysmal the Dragons have been, but it was anything but.

Missing two of their best, Luke Keary stood up and controlled the ship, Kyle Flanagan played possibly his best game yet, and Joseph Manu, who is one of the best centres in the game, showed again why he could make it as a fullback.

Luke Keary

(Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Then there were the forwards, and the superb coaching of Robinson, who rotated said forwards perfectly.

It was a gritty, gutsy win, but now they are very short on hookers with their two back-up options taken out.

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Still, if Jake Friend can stay fit, it’s hard to see the Roosters as anything other than premiership contenders.

Why doesn’t the new six-again rule suit Souths?
On paper, South Sydney should be dominating with the new-six again rule.

They have a pack of forwards who have made their name on quick play the balls, a hooker who is one of the most explosive in the competition, a superb kicking game and dangerous strike weapons all over the park.

And yet, since the rule was introduced, they have won just two from five against the Warriors and Titans.

And while their losses have come against the Roosters, Storm and Panthers, these are the teams Souths should be competing with if they want to be in contention.

Cody Walker makes a run

(Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

They haven’t been blown off the park, but at the same time, have never looked likely to win any of those three games, and Thursday night’s effort against Penrith was another swing to the guts.

They aren’t far away, but without a clear grasp on what their best 17 is – the revolving door of outside backs and Cameron Murray’s position for example – and without the forwards playing at their best, as well as the constant speculation around coach Wayne Bennett, they won’t go anywhere near a premiership in 2020.

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Time is running out to get their issues sorted.

This is the Cronulla fans have been waiting for
It’d be fair to say the Sharks’ start to 2020 has been underwhelming.

They pushed South Sydney and Melbourne all the way before the shutdown, but have since been inconsistent at best, their loss to the Dragons springing to mind.

A scrappy win over Canterbury last week did nothing to allay concerns. However, their performance against a battered Manly is the first time they have looked the team they should be.

And yes, Manly were missing stars left, right and centre, but Cronulla played with attacking freedom and, early on at least, defended with intent.

Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend combined well, Wade Graham played his usual hand, Matt Moylan looked fit and comfortable, and their forwards, with the exception of not being able to slow down Addin Fonua-Blake, dominated.

Shaun Johnson hugs Briton Nikora

(AAP Image/Cameron Laird)

What made the victory more impressive was the fact Cronulla rarely beat Manly. There was a monstrous hoodoo to overcome, and they did it comfortably.

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While some will point to their defence falling asleep late in the peace, it was all over by then, and the fact Moylan, Johnson and Townsend got seven try assists between them is more than enough for Cronulla fans to start getting confident again.

There is a long road back for Cronulla, but they are a side who should challenge for a top-eight spot on account of their ridiculously easy draw.

Newcastle’s almost-comeback shows how hard travelling to Townsville is
Bus, plane, bus, 3pm kick-off, 5am wake-up call. Is it any wonder the Knights didn’t get out of first gear until after halftime against the Cowboys?

Take nothing away from the Cowboys. After a week of speculation about their players and Paul Green’s future, they put their best foot forward and played the sort of footy many expected of them before the season started.

This was the sort of footy that had some predicting a top-eight finish for the men from Townsville.

But it’s not a major concern for Newcastle… yet.

Kalyn Ponga scores a try

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

So long as they don’t allow the rot to set in, as it has the past two seasons after a loss, this is a team who have shown far too much to simply fall by the wayside this time around.

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And they will be able to take plenty out of the second half. Not only was their march back into the game splendid to watch as Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce pulled all the strings, but it’s another tick on the resume of Adam O’Brien, who inspired his team to play the game out, despite it being over at halftime.

Luciano Leilua gives us another glimpse
Raw potential. That’s what the younger Leilua puts on show most weeks.

The former Dragons second-rower, now at the Tigers, is yet to find consistency, but he gave us another look into what lofty heights he will reach during Sunday night’s demolition of the Bulldogs.

A big-minute, permanent starter in Michael Maguire’s side, he has found his feet comfortably at the Tigers, seemingly fitter than he ever was at the Red V.

Finishing Sunday’s game with north of 150 metres, to go with a stack of post-contact yards and a couple of tackle breaks, it’s hard to fault Leilua.

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While he hasn’t been at his barnstorming best every week, he is starting to iron the kinks out of his game. There haven’t been as many errors or drop-offs defensively, and while he – like the remainder of the Tigers side – will take time to be consistent, the potential for this team to be a top contender in the coming years is there.

Leilua is a part of the reason why.

Roarers, what did you make of Round 7? Drop a comment and let us know.