Round 4 in the NRL resembled a smash-up derby as teams triumphed big more often than they didn’t. Let’s get into my talking points from the weekend that was.
A faster game is better, but it must be evened out
This is a really difficult issue to deal with – because a faster game is a much better product.
It’s a line I have maintained ever since the game was first quickened up following the COVID break last year. The fast, open product is a far superior one to the wrestling that had taken over the game.
Now, I’m not saying it’s perfect. The injury crisis and blowout scorelines tell you that. This weekend was particularly bad as a series of mismatches ended in monster scorelines, the average winning margin a tick over 26 points at the end of the game.
No matter how good the product is, there were four games which were objectively over by halftime this weekend. That isn’t going to keep viewers and fans interested.
So, maybe the rules need to be tweaked slightly back in the other direction, and the mounting injuries probably confirm that, but you could also reasonably argue the salary cap isn’t doing its job, and wasn’t even when the rules were originally changed.
Think of the plight the Knights faced, or the state of the 2018 and 2019 ladders, particularly 2018 where there was a mammoth six-point gap between eighth and ninth.
This is an article on its own, but maybe it’s time for the NRL to consider a points system to rate players and replace the salary cap.
That would make building a squad exceptionally difficult with changing ratings each year, but it would also bring the best coaches and most well-managed clubs to the fore.
Food for thought, anyway.
The Tigers are better than they get credit for
Consistency – or the lack thereof – might be the buzz word at Tigers training this week given the way they switched on and switched off during their tough loss to the Eels on Easter Monday.
One minute they were capitalising on opposition mistakes, and the next their defensive line resembled one you would have found in the under 20s.
It’s that which will frustrate Michael Maguire, and it has been present in all four of their games this year. Competitive for a little while against the Raiders in Round 1, and in last week’s win over the Knights.
Nonetheless, if they can iron out those problems, this is a team that could overachieve against their pre-season expectations.
Daine Laurie has been something of a revelation at fullback, while the effort and intensity of James Tamou, when it’s on, seems to lift the entire pack with him.
When you consider their draw so far, a win to go with a few non-blowouts is about as good as fans would have expected before the first kick-off. They still have the Luke Brooks issue to sort out, but let’s judge the Tigers after games against the Cowboys, Sea Eagles and Dragons in the next month.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad doesn’t get the credit he deserves
The Raiders overcame something of a banana skin on Saturday night in their victory over the Titans, but it has to be questioned how dominant it might not have been without the influence of their Kiwi fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.
Week in and week out, the fullback puts in mammoth performances for the green machine, further vindicating the decision to bring him across from New Zealand a handful of years ago.
While he has turned himself into one of the premier fullbacks in the game in what is a stacked position when it comes to talent, he doesn’t get the credit others like James Tedesco, Ryan Papenhuyzen and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck get, and yet, on his day, he is just about their equal.
The Titans may be more than just a little worried with the fact they only managed to muster one try against the Raiders, but plenty of that is down to the defensive organisation of the man at the back for Canberra.
Not only that, but he was instrumental in attack, running for 266 metres from 27 runs, breaking six tackles and providing a pair of offloads. He may not have got on the score sheet, but he was pivotal in lead up play, constantly involved in the game and causing headaches for the Titans at every turn.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but Canberra’s quiet achiever is averaging over 200 metres per game across the first four rounds.
The green machine are rolling, and their number one is a key reason why.
Tariq Sims is back to his best
The sample size may be small, but the signs are very positive for Sims.
After being well below his best throughout most of 2019 and 2020, an undoubted by-product of both his injuries, and the Dragons poor performances, Sims was one of the game-breakers for the Dragons in their shock win over the Knights on Sunday afternoon.
It’s a victory which defies all the pre-season critics who were certain the Dragons were going to get the wooden spoon. Three victories in four games, no matter the opposition, suggests that won’t be happening. Heck, it’d be a surprise if some of those teams currently on the bottom won three games this year.
But, back to Sims. He was a monster in the forwards for the Dragons. He looked like the Sims of old. The Sims who was picked twice to play for New South Wales.
The 31-year-old was hard-hitting, ran the ball with intent and wanted to be involved in the action at every possible opportunity.
Scoring a double, he ran for 129 metres from 14 runs, which is more than he did at any point last year, and had the Newcastle opposite numbers wanting to run anywhere but at him.
Not only does Sims playing that way make him one of the most dangerous second rowers in the competition, it lifts those around him, and that much was evident on Sunday.
Sure, the Knights had a mountain of injuries to deal with, and so the victory must be taken with a grain of salt, but for a player coming off two ordinary seasons, and a team looking for improvement, it was all positive on Sunday for the Red V.
Given the substantial improvement of his old second-row partner Tyson Frizell in Newcastle this year, it makes you question just how bad the mentality was at the Dragons during 2020.
Brisbane collapse again before halftime
Yeah, I know – everyone was probably expecting something regarding “how good is that Ryan Papenhuyzen bloke?” out of Melbourne’s smash-up against Brisbane on Friday.
But we already all know the answer to that.
What we don’t know is why Brisbane have fallen apart in the 15 minutes before halftime twice in their last three games.
Casting the mind back to Round 2, and the Broncos were right in it against the Titans. Then, in the time it would take the average fan to line up for a beer at the footy, the Broncos had let in four tries. Just like that, it was game over.
So when Ryan Papenhuyzen ripped through them four times in ten minutes on Friday, it was a case of deja vu for the Broncos.
No one expected the Broncos to go with the Storm at any point in Friday’s game, and yet, they did for a large chunk of the first half. You could even argue they were the better team for the first 20 minutes.
So while Kevin Walters may be starting to turn things around, and a good thing may be around the corner, the Broncos and their inexperienced roster need to toughen up the middle and learn to play for 80 minutes.
A very tough draw on the horizon is going to show us exactly where Walters’ side are at, but if they don’t clean up their act heading into halftime, there will be strips of paint bearing ripped off walls by the end of it.
Sam Walker has what it takes
If there is a tougher way to make your debut than what Sam Walker endured on Sunday evening, I’d like to hear about it.
The Roosters virtually couldn’t name a team. That is how bad it was.
Both halves injured long-term, all the pressure on the 18-year-old, and a Warriors team keen to make a statement after two wins from their first three games against all the odds.
It had all the ingredients for a disaster, and while things were shaky early on for the tri-colours, by the end of the game, you could have sworn they weren’t in crisis at all, but rather, full steam ahead.
The 32-12 win may not have all been off the back of Walker, but with a good kicking game, a willingness to run the ball and a try assist to boot, it was a debut which shows he has what it takes to hang in the top grade.
There will be bumps in the road – a very rocky road given he is likely to play every game remaining this year thanks to Luke Keary’s ACL injury. There will be tougher opposition than the Warriors and teams who work out how to force mistakes out of the youngster.
But Walker will improve and learn with every game, and given the calm, cool and collected nature of his debut, it’d take a brave man to think he won’t be able to conquer all challenges with time.
Where do the Bulldogs turn next?
Three weeks without points. It’s embarrassing.
Not being able to score against a team like the Rabbitohs is one thing. Given the clear difference in the two rosters, the quick pace of the game and the lopsided stats, it’s hardly a surprise the Bulldogs didn’t register a point. In saying that, if you watched the game, you’d know they had plenty of opportunities early against a South Sydney side who took quite some time to kick into gear.
But the Bulldogs couldn’t capitalise. If it was an isolated incident, you might put it down to a bad day.
But this was their third game without a score, following losses to the Broncos and Panthers, where they struggled to hang onto the ball or get into the contest.
The blue and whites, under the leadership of Trent Barrett, were supposed to continue the general progression, picking up from the solid and gutsy finish to 2020.
Instead, they have gone backwards, which a rebuilding club should never do. But they have, and it needs addressing in a hurry.
The biggest problem is that there just doesn’t seem to be the cattle at the club to put points on the board. Matt Burton will help in 2022, but that is a long, long way away.
In the meantime, the closet looks bare.
Roarers, what did you make of Round 4? Drop a comment and let us know!