The NRL contenders continue to rise to the top, the wooden spoon race looks more set, and rookies continue to shine. Here are my talking points from Round 9.
Raiders season goes up in smoke
The Raiders weren’t supposed to compete with the Storm on Saturday. They barely had a forward pack thanks to their injury problems.
Instead, as the Raiders did for most of 2019, they defied the odds and hung around. If not for a couple of decisions against them, they may well have walked away with two competition points.
Instead, they are left with none as they lick yet more wounds. And this time, it’s not just an apparently replaceable forward.
It’s Josh Hodgson. If the worst fears are confirmed and he has indeed done his ACL, it’ll be the end of the Englishman’s season, and more than likely, the end of Canberra’s chances.
While Hodgson’s form in 2020 hasn’t been anything compared to that of 2019, it doesn’t change how vital he is to the Raiders. Add that to Corey Horsburgh, Sia Soliola and Emre Guler who will all be lucky to return this season, plus a potential injury to Bailey Simonsson, and the weight of the situation begins to take hold.
I’m in no way writing them off from playing finals footy. They can still get there despite being at the bottom of the eight, but without Hodgson, even bravery won’t get them to the same heights they ended up at last year.
Michael Morgan’s return won’t fix the Cowboys
The Cowboys are an absolute mess. There is no other way of describing it.
It doesn’t matter who they were playing, but to compete for half an hour only to open up like the Red Sea and let the Roosters run in six tries in 21 minutes is unacceptable at NRL level.
Any level, really.
The pressure in mainstream media on Paul Green seems like it’ll never grow, but ask their frustrated fan base: things need to change.
The only remote excuse Green has is the absence of Michael Morgan, but he will not fix the situation in Townsville.
A half isn’t going to improve defence. He isn’t going to improve the willingness of his teammates to make a tackle. All he will do is give them a kicking game, which admittedly was another factor missing from the Cowboys’ meek surrender to the Roosters.
That won’t fix a rabble. North Queensland need change from top to bottom. They need to build around players like Valentine Holmes and Jason Taumalolo and get everyone working on the same level.
Because when a team can put on points like the Roosters did on Thursday, it’s evident the Cowboys are not remotely on the same page.
The match review committee have failed in their assessment of Latrell Mitchell
It was a big night for Mitchell on Friday, as his Rabbitohs took on the club who wanted to make him a very rich man.
Enter the perfect antagonist. Josh Reynolds.
Now, instead of talking about the game, where Latrell set up a try as he continues to improve at the back and the Rabbitohs picked up an important two points, we talk about the silly events that occurred.
While it’s tough to say exactly what Josh Reynolds’ intention was with his kick, there can be no doubting Mitchell tried to take Reynolds’ head off.
As if to seal his fate later in the game, Mitchell committed another sloppy high tackle.
If you rewind seven days, Joey Leilua was put on the sideline for a month for his cheap shot during the Tigers’ tight loss to Penrith.
Mitchell’s hit on Reynolds, off the ball, reckless and silly at best, was barely different to Leilua’s, and yet, he can get away with only two weeks on the sideline.
Inconsistency, whether in officiating from game to game or in the match review committee, drives fans mad. It’s the one true gripe on the NRL which can be backed up by cold, hard evidence, and unfortunately, the code have dug themselves another hole here.
Mitchell should have been looking at the same penalty as Leilua at a bare minimum.
This is the most talented crop of NRL juniors in a long time
Charlie Staines led the way this weekend as the 19-year-old fullback, named in the centres, scored four tries in a sparkling debut.
For those who have followed the junior ranks in the past few years, it’s an exciting time.
Staines might have a long career ahead of him – although whether that’s at Penrith or not is debatable, given he wants to play fullback and Dylan Edwards stands in his way – but the overall list of rookies to debut this year is impressive. Tex Hoy, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Tesi Niu, Cory Paix, Ethan Bullemor, Stefano Utoikamanu, Eliesa Katoa and Tom Gilbert, just to name a few, as well as players like Tanah Boyd, Bradman Best, Sean Keppie and Xavier Coates who debuted last year and are now kicking on.
All are potential future stars of the game, and it’s been a long while since so many juniors with that level of talent came through the ranks together.
A changing of the NRL guard is imminent.
Moeaki Fotuaika is underrated
The Titans prop is unreal.
Since bursting onto the scene in mid-2018, Fotuaika has gone from strength to strength on the Gold Coast, improving rapidly in his 45-game career.
His biggest asset is the minutes he is able to play, with Fotuaika’s opening stint of a game regularly moving into the second half. What’s most impressive about that is his level never wavers.
It was another superb showing against the Warriors on Friday, where he produced the most run metres for the Gold Coast yet again, continuing a season where he has been the bright spot for a battling side.
While he averaged 133 metres per game in 2019, that has come up to 153 across the first half of the new season, while he is making north of 30 tackles per game with superb efficiency.
Fotuaika may not get the wraps of other big-name forwards in this competition, but if I was picking a team to play for my life, he would be in it.
Luke Thompson isn’t the answer for the Bulldogs
I can’t quite wrap my head around Canterbury signing another forward when what they need is more points. Lots of them.
The forward pack at Belmore isn’t the problem, as Dean Pay attempts to turn the stuttering club around.
While their defence is solid at times – although not at others – it’s hardly unexpected they would let in points every now and again, given how much defending they have to do and how few points they score.
Even though Kieran Foran improves their attack enormously when he is fit, Canterbury need another couple of creative players in the spine. Jeremy Marshall-King is serviceable at hooker but won’t create many tries, while the revolving door next to Foran in the halves does nothing for a side’s confidence.
Saturday’s loss to Brisbane was always going to be a tough game, given the struggles of Anthony Seibold’s side recently and their need to turn things around, but Canterbury didn’t play well.
Their attack is a major problem. That’s the part of their game which needs reinforcements, not their forward pack.
No Moses, no worries
When you can take on a top-four contender without your star half and still come away with a win on the road, it says good things about the team. Especially when that win is as hard-fought as Parramatta’s Sunday afternoon victory over the Newcastle Knights.
They were on their game defensively and did enough in attack, with Jai Field again filling in admirably. While it isn’t going to go down as a classic win, it was an important one.
It’s a credit to Brad Arthur that his side are capable of winning like that without halfback Mitchell Moses. It’s also an indication of the togetherness of the side, who all stood up in one way or another.
Whether it’s Reed Mahoney’s continued rise, Clint Gutherson’s outstanding fullback play, the way their outside backs continually get the job done, or the strength of the forward pack, there doesn’t seem to be a hole in this Parramatta side.
They have plenty of players in contention for Origin later in the year, but it’s more than just a team of stars. It’s a star team who are chasing their first premiership in decades.