It was faster than ever. It was breathless. It was brutal. It was gloriously chaotic. Not the NRL Round 1 on-field product, but the massive overreactions from fans of winners and losers.
The early few rounds of a season are generally a less-than-beautiful experience as players find their feet and fitness, new combinations and game plans are tested in real time under real pressure, and teams who have designs on high achievement pace their seasons to peak at the right time, which is several months down the road.
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary summed it up best after his side’s win over North Queensland: “We were never going to play our best footy tonight”.
For their part, the game’s new rules were decried and praised in pretty much equal measure after their first proper public outing. There was some frustration after tries were taken away while a conversion was being lined up, but you’d be hard-pressed to say the calls were wrong barring one knock-on decision against Jack Bird at a critical time for the Dragons.
I’m not a fan of changing up the rules so much. What matters most to me is that the health and wellbeing of the players is taken into consideration, not set aside as an afterthought for gimmicks that sop to broadcasters who continue to disrespect the game at every turn. But I’m realistic enough to give it some time to see how things pan out.
Having said that, it was off-putting to often see defensive lines (and attacking teams for that matter) as coordinated as a bunch of drunk relatives trying to dance the nutbush at a wedding, but hopefully as match endurance returns that’ll sort itself out.
The general consensus seems to be a month or so will give us a clearer picture about whether more fatigue will equal points and excitement, but right now more tired players equals more sloppy play and errors.
Keep in mind the game’s best players are coming off the shortest preseason of their careers, with the late finish to the 2020 season and State of Origin wrapping up in November. Now they’re being tipped into a new style of game that is testing their condition like never before.
To the overreactions, which are always the best part of a rugby league weekend. Just 25 minutes into the first game of the season Storm fans were making wall space for a new premiers poster and Bunnies fans wanted Wayne Bennett out and Adam Reynolds cut adrift. By the end of the game both clubs had good and bad things to take home.
Raiders fans at halftime were going each other about the team’s lack of penetration against a stubborn Wests side, whose own fans spent Sunday night tearing themselves apart over an apparently insipid effort against a premiership contender. The Tigers performance wasn’t that bad, especially when compared to teams of a similar calibre. But there’s no telling some people.
Parramatta fans spent halftime on Saturday night sharpening pitchforks and fashioning effigies of Brad Arthur before nonchalantly carrying on like nothing had happened once the Eels put on 24 to zip in the second half to beat the Broncos.
Eels fans are already angst-riddled after a straight-sets exit in 2020. There’s no need to be so worked up right now. Parramatta are a good team with more important things to worry about than a Round 1 match-up against the reigning wooden spooners.
For the Broncos, they put up a spirited fight, and if not for injuries to key players, they might have been able to close out the game. Hopefully someone gets to Xavier Coates to remind him that not every try out wide needs a remarkable spectacular dive.
St George Illawarra fans were already on the downside before a ball was kicked, but boy oh boy did they let it rip when their side went down to the Sharks. Never mind a try being taken away by a slightly sniffy ruling cost them a second-half lead and essentially ended the contest when they copped a try not long after.
My own massive overreaction to Round 1 is that there’s only likely to be one or maybe two changes to this current top eight at the end of the season. The good teams remain good, the bad teams are really bad. It’s going to be hard to fairly judge formlines when there are some teams who won’t hold a candle to at least ten others.
Again though, it has been only one round of games. Definitive statements at this point are as useful as trying to serve a cup of tea to a cow. There are 24 rounds left, COVID-19 willing. We’ll need a few more games in the bank before we can go writing off our teams and demanding everyone gets sacked.
Don’t put too much pressure on your team. They’re still working things out – except for the Storm and Roosters, who are always like this.
Instead of firing up too early, do what relaxes you. Take a breath, light a candle, run a nice warm bath and leave the vegan jojoba bath bomb you got for Christmas to do its work.
Alternatively, have a thousand beers. Whatever works.