The second half of the NRL season is underway with one huge upset and more close games than we have seen in weeks. Here are my talking points from Round 11.
The Broncos need a clean out
Not taking into account the first half against Melbourne, Brisbane have let in 80 points to nothing in 120 minutes. That is unacceptable and is the clearest sign yet that from board to players, the club needs a clean out.
Sure, criticism has been levelled at Anthony Seibold and the board for roster management, but the players seemingly don’t want to be there.
To seemingly not want to defend, to not want to put your body on the line, and to not want to play for your coach isn’t good enough.
Since the return from lockdown, Brisbane have let in 298 points in just nine games.
You can only shuffle backs and point fingers at inexperienced halves for so long. It wouldn’t have mattered if Wally Lewis himself was out there in the second half on Friday, because the Broncos were still going to get thrashed on account of their forwards and outside backs, who didn’t want a contest.
Despite having a 47 per cent share of the ball and completing at a higher rate than the Storm, they fell short in just about every other statistical area, including a staggering difference of just under 800 running metres and an average set distance difference of about 11 metres.
They didn’t miss an unbelievable amount of tackles, but just crumbled every time they were under pressure in the second 40 minutes.
If they can’t bring in a couple of workmanlike forwards and a controlling, experienced half, decent coach and a new board, then you might as well put next season in the bin too.
Luke Brooks: In or out?
The Tigers are a side with a lot to like about them. Michael Maguire is setting ruthless standards, and it shows. The problem is they haven’t yet worked out how to go with the top teams in the competition for 80 minutes.
From the performances of Luciano Leilua, to the agile forward pack and the continued week-by-week improvement of Harry Grant, the Tigers are a fun team to watch.
One question that will help them move forward in a hurry is working out their best halves combination, and based on Thursday’s evidence in a tough loss to the Eels, Luke Brooks may not be the answer.
Dropped to the bench by Maguire, he played just over half the game and didn’t improve the Tigers all that much. Sure, his kicking game is relatively consistent, but his defence leaves a lot to be desired, as does his consistency in attack.
Benji Marshall is clearly the man who should be first picked in the halves for the Tigers, and while Brooks has played generally better footy when paired with the Kiwi veteran, Brooks needs to improve his game on a consistent basis at both ends of the park.
It’s hard to make a judgement based on one week of evidence, but don’t be surprised to see Maguire continue his experiment for a little while yet.
The Roosters have the mid-season wobbles
In a word, the Roosters performance on Saturday against the Warriors was unexpected.
Not that they weren’t expected to win. It’s that they were expected to win by plenty, and never be in any sort of contest.
Just maybe, they read into their own hype. Or maybe the Sonny Bill Williams speculation surrounding the club is messing with their heads, but it’s not just this week.
The Roosters haven’t been themselves for a number of weeks, and while it could be put down to the timing of a mid-season lull before they pick up again ahead of the finals, they lost a bell-ringer to the Raiders last week, were slow out of the blocks against the Cowboys and failed to beat Melbourne before that.
While the game against Melbourne was one of the best you’ll ever see, the Roosters just haven’t been themselves for the last month, and Saturday brought those issues to a head, even if they did leave the Central Coast with two competition points.
Their eventual win was more along the lines of what you’d expect to see the Dragons, Rabbitohs, Cowboys or Sharks do to the Warriors. Not the back-to-back defending premiers.
Trent Robinson is a master coach and there is almost no doubt he will get the Tricolours ticking along again at their best, but with the Titans and Dragons on their radar in the next fortnight, we may not get an answer to where the Roosters are really at until they play Melbourne in Round 14.
They are still the premiership favourites, but the wheels on that title are wobbling.
The Cowboys are out of excuses
Just when the signs were starting to look marginally more positive for the Cowboys on account of a hard-fought loss away from home against the Panthers, they serve a stinker up at home against the wounded Sea Eagles.
Until the final minutes of the game, they only had a paltry try to their name, and were lucky to not be further behind. You feel if Tom Trbojevic and Dylan Walker had been on the park, Manly may well have run up a score.
The Cowboys had to make Townsville something of a fortress this year, and not only have they failed in that endeavour, but they now also don’t have a coach to blame.
Paul Green was dumped out the back door during the week, and while most teams bounce back on the other side of a sacking, the Cowboys almost did the opposition, turning 180 degrees from their performance last week.
They need Michael Morgan back, but even he isn’t going to help this struggling side to the extend they need at both ends of the park.
Simply put, it’s time for the players to put in better performances if they are worthy of first-grade contracts moving forward.
Cronulla’s defence won’t make them contenders
There is no way the Dragons should have scored 24 points on Saturday night.
And yes, some of the tries had a slightly fluky element to them, but the Red V, after just over an hour, had just 38 per cent of possession and five tackles in the opposition 20.
They ended up making 120 more tackles than their opposition, and yet still had two chances to snatch the game from the jaws of defeat in the last five minutes.
While Cronulla should get plenty of credit for their finely tuned attack on a night where conditions were less than perfect, and while attack is important, it’s not what will win premierships.
Even more so with the new six-again rule, defence is so, so important for the top teams, and to concede so many tries so easily (to go with a staggering missed tackle count) to the Dragons suggests the Sharks are a long way away from where they need to be physically.
This is not writing Cronulla off, because at full strength, they are good enough to go punch for punch with the footy, but without it, they need tightening up.
Is Nick Meaney the Bulldogs’ long-term fullback?
Playing in driving rain and generally miserable conditions might suit the Bulldogs down to the ground, but it doesn’t suit any fullback.
In what was a shock victory for the Bulldogs over the Knights on Sunday, Nick Meaney had one of his best games in first grade so far, putting his hand up to interim coach Steve Georgallis and future coach Trent Barrett for a long-term go at fullback.
While his opposite number, the more fancied Kalyn Ponga, struggled in the conditions, Meaney made just a single error and was solid as a house under the high ball. He may have missed a couple of tackles, but again, in those conditions, he was excellent.
He also had heavy involvement in a Canterbury attack that looked about as good as it has all season. His running game was a highlight at times.
It’s Kieran Foran who deserves credit for the blue-and-white’s kicking game, but without the back three getting sets off a to a good start, the territory battle becomes impossible to win in those conditions.
Meaney had a huge part to play in Canterbury being competitive in that battle, and after playing solidly there against the Dragons last week despite spending the first half of the season on the wing, the Bulldogs may have found their answer at fullback as Meaney finally begins to reach his potential.
Jarrod Croker is the NRL’s best captain
When a list of the unluckiest players to never play State of Origin is presented, Jarrod Croker is always near the top of the list.
It’s almost criminal he hasn’t turned out in sky blue over the years, given the quality he brings. There are few players who turn up as consistently as Croker did, giving 100 per cent every time they walk onto the field, whether that be in his running, or in his defence.
His leadership has also come to the fore in Canberra over the years, and not for a moment could it be argued the Raiders would have been as good as they were last year without Croker’s on-field leadership.
Calm and composed, he is also one of the best goal kickers of his generation, and Saturday night’s performance, despite an error or two, was just another string to the bow of the Canberra centre.
A try, tough runs, a line break, some tackle busts, a couple of offloads and a fairly solid night defensively. It’s just what we have come to expect from Croker, and with another win for Canberra on the back of their Roosters ambush last week, the Green Machine are slowly getting back on track as they attempt to match the lofty heights of last year.
The Titans will be a danger in 2021
The Titans are building something. They might have fallen to the Panthers in the final game of the round, but it was an improved effort against one of the competition heavyweights.
Justin Holbrook still has a mammoth job on his hands, but with the improvement of Jamal Fogarty, a back line who are starting to find their feet, and a forward pack who matched it with Penrith, there are signs there that next year, the Titans will be a chance of playing finals footy.
The signings of Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and David Fifita can’t be underestimated in talking the Titans up for next season, but they have the bones of the side that will carry them through.
And sure, there will still be a lot of mistakes and poor decisions in attack from the Gold Coast, but that is going to happen for a rebuilding club.
They still have a long way to go. No one is disputing that, as evidenced by various heavy losses to the likes of the Storm, Sharks and Cowboys, but one has to feel that with more experience and team building, they won’t be at the bottom of the table forever.