We are now halfway through the NRL season, with a couple of upsets and close games this weekend. Here are my talking points from Round 10.
Josh Papalii can claim to be the NRL’s best prop
A question which can often provide the answer to a player’s value is “would you chase them if you were starting a new NRL franchise?”.
The answer for Josh Papalii is yes. Definitely.
While he doesn’t often get talked about in the same breath as props like Addin Fonua-Blake, Martin Taupau and David Klemmer, Papalii has claims to be as good, if not better than that trio.
His performance against the defending back-to-back premiers on Thursday was just another string to his bow. Playing on the dreaded five-day turnaround, Papalii scored a try, ran for 212 metres and didn’t miss a tackle in a performance which led the Raiders to a shock victory.
That wasn’t a one-off effort from Papalii. His form over the last 18 months has been something special.
The fact the 112-kilo prop can play big minutes, find the try line (he has four this season) and averages 162 metres per game to put him near enough to the top of the rankings show his value to Canberra.
The Tigers are great to watch, but can they become consistent?
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the Broncos, they get flogged by the Tigers.
It was an emphatic return to Leichhardt for Michael Maguire’s side as they raced away from the hapless Broncos. The game was over by halftime, and they didn’t let up in the second period, capitalising on error after error to eventually win 48-0.
It wasn’t just their attack which was fantastic. They defended like their lives depended on it, and celebrated emphatically when they managed to keep a clean sheet.
It was one of those games where everything went right for the Tigers, who made more wholesale changes during the week following two losses on the trot.
While Maguire’s methods seem questionable at times, his side’s style of play is fun to watch. From the emergence of Harry Grant at dummy half, to their outside backs’ strength in running the ball, and the versatility of the forward pack, they are entertaining.
It’s about defending the way they did on Friday, and attacking with consistency. If they get it right, and Maguire can settle on his best 17, then there is no reason Wests can’t play finals footy.
Des Hasler is a miracle worker
The difference between a good and bad coach is becoming more evident with every passing week.
Whether it’s the efforts of Newcastle and Manly, or conversely, the Broncos, it’s evident how important coaching is, particularly with the disruption and new rules this season.
At the pointy end when it comes to coaches is Des Hasler. His one Achilles heel in the last 18 months has been not playing with Tom Trbojevic, so important is the fullback to Manly.
And so, even at home, the Sea Eagles were widely rated as next to no chance of beating the red-hot Eels yesterday.
Even though Parramatta weren’t at their best, for Hasler to change the attack around and have the Sea Eagles firing through the middle third, as well as to help Daly Cherry-Evans to get back up after his stinker last week, shows his quality.
He has been a godsend for the Sea Eagles since taking over from Trent Barrett, taking a roster that looked like it would go nowhere into the finals last year, and having them up and about again this year.
What was so impressive about Saturday was how simple Manly’s gameplan was. It’s clear Hasler wanted his side to do the basics right, and they did. It puts two competition points and a hell of a lot of confidence in the bank for a side who sit just outside the eight, but should move higher as their injury crisis ends.
Could the Dragons make the top eight?
I can already read the replies to this point.
But this is a question, not a statement. The chance of St George Illawarra playing finals footy is still remarkably low. A victory over the Bulldogs where the team virtually forgot to play the middle 40 minutes of the game isn’t good enough.
In saying that, the signs have been better for the Dragons, and a comment made by Corey Norman in the post-match made the ears prick up – that Shane Flanagan is now assisting the attack. This allows them to play what’s in front of them, not so structured, and it suits the Dragons.
While structure is important for any footy side, the Dragons should be playing with less of it. The combination of Ben Hunt at hooker, Corey Norman in the halves, Matt Dufty at the back, and an agile forward pack has the hallmarks of a running side, and they showed that in the comeback against Canterbury.
It’s been evident for more than one week, though: four victories, albeit against lowly opposition, to go with competitive losses against the Roosters and Raiders in the last six weeks.
The Dragons still have a mountain of work to do, but with four wins on the board halfway through the season and a soft run coming up, the finals may not be beyond them.
The Storm can’t afford to lose Josh Addo-Carr
While media speculation is just that – speculation – the old saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” should be causing Melbourne fans a headache, because the smoke surrounding the future of their representative winger just won’t go away.
It’s been reported more than once that Josh Addo-Carr wants a move back to Sydney, and while it’d be hard for the Storm to stand in his way – and heck, they may not be able to – he is a player they can’t afford to lose.
Given Suliasi Vunivalu is already leaving at the end of the year, Melbourne’s dynamic wing duo will be broken up regardless, but to lose both would be catastrophic.
While wingers were once upon a time a dime a dozen and easily replaceable, that isn’t the case anymore. From the need to start sets on the front foot, to be acrobatic in scoring, and strong under the high ball, it’s a versatile, highly skilled role.
Addo-Carr is among the best in the competition, and his effort in the Storm’s smash up against the Titans on Friday was enormous, with the big winger scoring a double and making 154 metres from just six runs.
Every time he touches the ball, you sit up and take notice. Defenders do the same, and struggle to shut him down.
Melbourne can’t afford to lose him, because great wingers aren’t replaceable.
Things are going to get worse for the Warriors
I know this probably seems like an outlandish statement, given the Warriors just let in 40 against the Sharks a week after losing to the Titans, but it’s unfortunately true.
They are just a week away from losing a quartet of players, and while the loan system will keep them afloat (please take Tristan Sailor and give him some first-grade footy), it’s going to be a very rough second half of the season.
That starts with the Roosters next week, who could force historians to re-write the record books, before they play the Tigers, Sea Eagles and Panthers in the following three weeks.
That’s a recipe for disaster. It’s hard to see where the Warriors will score a point against any of those sides, and with the club being managed poorly (think the coach sacking and players being told they aren’t needed next year), it’s unlikely they are going to provide much resistance too.
Of course, you could just look at their on-field form to know that. They have let in 40 or more three times in the last five weeks.
Any NRL side doing that isn’t mentally there.
Is Newcastle’s clock-off a cause for concern?
Night and day. Chalk and cheese. The Knights’ first half and the Knights’ second half against South Sydney on Saturday.
Going into the sheds (and for the first handful of minutes afterwards) it was all one-way traffic for Newcastle, who were somewhere near their best.
But then, once Bradman Best went over and they led 20-0, they clocked off.
They stopped playing for the win, and they stopped building their performance on their defence. South Sydney brought it back to within two points and had a late shot at winning the game.
From the position Newcastle were in, that should never have happened. A top team simply wouldn’t switch off and let their opposition back into a match they had dominated.
The Knights clearly still have plenty to prove.
The first 50 minutes indicate they should be making a deep run into the finals, so an isolated half-hour isn’t a major cause for concern, but they will want to address it to ensure it doesn’t become normal.
The men from the Hunter needed to make an emphatic statement after some indifferent form, but the ruthlessness that has been present in some of their victories this year was missing. That can separate the good and great teams.
The Cowboys must build on their Penrith performance
Given North Queensland had let in 84 points during their last two games, the result against Penrith wasn’t all that important.
What was critical was whether they were going to hang in the game, turn up in defence, not make silly errors and play for their coach. They did all of that.
While it’ll take a mighty effort for Paul Green’s side to play finals, they finally have a performance that they can build from. It’s not as if the Panthers were poor, with plenty thrown at the visitors, but the Cowboys kept their structure throughout, something they had been unable to do previously.
It showed on the scoreboard, despite having less than 45 per cent of possession and over 500 fewer run metres.
Daejarn Asi proved himself a player of the future, while the forward pack followed the example set by the experienced Jason Taumalolo and Josh McGuire. More importantly, their kicking game was controlled, rather than rushed and inaccurate.
They looked like a team this week worthy of playing in the NRL, which is more than could be said over the last two rounds.
The full answers to the puzzle are still a long way off, but Green can now build momentum with back-to-back home games against Manly and Canberra, followed by a trip to the Gold Coast in the next three weeks.
Roarers, what did you make of Round 10?