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Opinion

Seven talking points from NRL Round 5

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11th April, 2021
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More blowouts, a couple of upsets and one premiership candidate moving their name further ahead of the pack headlined Round 5. Let’s get into my NRL talking points for the weekend that was.

When do we start taking the Dragons seriously?
Four weeks ago the Dragons were one of the popular choices for the wooden spoon. If not that, then they were certainly locked into the bottom four.

Fast-forward to Sunday night and three straight wins became four as they rolled into Bankwest Stadium and beat the Eels.

The Eels, a side supposed to be in contention for a spot in the top four, were unable to go with the Red V, whether in the forwards, the outside backs or the kicking game.

For brief periods they were able to maintain the rage, and while it could be noted the blue and gold didn’t play overly well, the Red V most certainly did.

They have a forward pack who are aiming up well above the expectations of the names on paper, players like Matt Dufty and Zac Lomax continue to go from strength to strength, and the work Andrew McCullough has done in replacing Cam McInnes, particularly in middle third defence, has been superb.

A win at Bankwest, particularly without the in-form Ben Hunt, is enough to make anyone sit up and take notice.

The Dragons won’t win the competition this year, but they might be starting to push their way into a potential top-eight spot. It’ll still take a lot to go right, but the signs, limited as they may be, are very encouraging.

Tariq Sims of the Dragons runs the ball

(Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

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How long can Penrith maintain the rage?
What a start to the season it’s been for the Panthers.

Another crushing win over the Raiders on Friday means they are five from five, and it’s becoming impossible to remember the last time they lost a regular-season contest without Google.

It’s not just that they are five from five either. They also already have a positive for and against of more than 100, have played two other contenders in the Storm and Raiders and have held the Cowboys and Bulldogs scoreless, conceding just six against the Cowboys in particular.

While they still have to prove themselves as a team who can win the big moments in September, they are currently the best team in the competition, and it isn’t even close.

But we know the NRL is a long, dangerous beast at the best of times, and plenty of teams have started like this only to crumble as fatigue and injuries catch up with them, not to mention other teams working them out.

The Panthers are going to be right up the top come the end of the season, and their form leaves no reason to doubt them in the slightest, but certain calls of them playing an undefeated season are madness. For now we watch to see how long Penrith can maintain the rage ahead of any stumbling blocks.

Brian To'o

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Cronulla crumble in spectacular fashion, but John Morris shouldn’t be on the ropes
It seems almost crazy that the Sharks were able to blow their lead on Saturday evening.

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Maybe the only crazier event during the evening was the calls for John Morris to be sacked again almost directly afterwards.

And not just calls, but if you listen to some, Craig Fitzgibbon is all but signed, sealed and delivered to the Shire for his first head coaching gig.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Fitzgibbon has enormous wraps on him and, alongside Jason Ryles, is next in line for a head coaching debut.

But John Morris hasn’t exactly done a lot wrong. He inherited a squad without a lot going for it and a club with salary cap issues and has often been faced with ridiculous injury tolls.

Now, that isn’t to say other clubs don’t face injury tolls, but he barely had a game with his entire first-choice spine on the field last year and hasn’t yet this year with Shaun Johnson injured.

What makes the pressure he is seemingly under potentially more confusing is the fact they led the Roosters for an hour on Saturday. It’s an incredibly strange time to bring up a point like this, and given some of the hard decisions he has taken this year (Andrew Fifita’s playing time being one), it would be a crazy decision to let the coach go at this stage.

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Where do the Knights turn next?
The Knights were flat out average on Saturday.

For a team who are now supposed to be moving from rebuild mode to premiership-chasing mode, letting in 40 against another side expected to finish in the same area of the ladder to them is embarrassing.

Newcastle’s defence was horrific from the word go against the Titans, with David Fifita finding a way to score a hat-trick among plenty of other moments for the Titans.

The way Jamal Fogarty and co were able to slice their way through the attack seemingly at will, the forwards were able to roll up the field and the backs were having their way in starting sets says the Knights still have a lot of work to do.

Newcastle have now lost three on the hop (the Tigers and Dragons beforehand), and for a team wanting to push for a spot in the eight, they simply aren’t close to good enough.

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The back three have dropped far too much ball and provided no punch to start sets off, the forwards have struggled to match it with their opposition, and even though Kalyn Ponga is back, they have very little in the way of creativity. The Knights do have injuries, but it can’t be an excuse when this rebuild has been in full swing for so many years.

It’s time for results in the Hunter. It’s time to put up the promised returns for their fan-base.

David Klemmer of the Newcastle Knights

David Klemmer of the Knights (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Benji Marshall could go down as Wayne Bennett’s best signing at Souths
The Rabbitohs unsurprisingly started Round 5 with another victory as they took on the hapless and somewhat directionless Brisbane Broncos.

It was for the most part one-way traffic for Souths with the exception of a short period during the first half when it could be argued Brisbane were either equal or just ever so slightly behind.

But the doors were blown off not long after, with the Rabbitohs running a try in on halftime, continuing a worrying trend for Kevin Walters’s side, who simply refuse to close out halves with any sort of quality.

It’s not the first time a game has appeared all but over at halftime in the favour of Brisbane’s opponents, but it may not be the last given the trend.

However, it could be argued that among all of South Sydney’s big names and their stunning performances – the likes of Latrell Mitchell and the improvement of Damien Cook for example – the unsung hero of it all is Benji Marshall.

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He has been a rock for Souths at both ends of the park, and whether he has started or come off the bench he has given the same level of output on each occasion for Wayne Bennett.

Not only that, but it’s evident to see his cool, collected and calming influence over the rest of his teammates has a way of changing the game.

Given he picked up the phone looking for a coaching gig, Wayne Bennett asking him to play on could go down as a masterstroke.

Every premiership team needs their gel to hold it all together, and if the cardinal and myrtle go all the way, Marshall will be it.

Benji Marshall

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Harry Grant isn’t Cameron Smith, but he will keep Melbourne rolling
Melbourne ran up 50 for the first time this season on Saturday as they thumped the hapless Bulldogs.

All the usual names were at their best, with a Ryan Papenhuyzen freak try the major highlight to come out of the game.

And yet what seems to have been overlooked in the aftermath was the return of Harry Grant.

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The hooker, playing his first game for the Storm after being loaned in a player swap to the Wests Tigers last year, began his reign on the Melbourne No. 9 jersey in spectacular fashion – and yes, I know he wasn’t actually wearing No. 9.

But he wasn’t afraid to run the ball or do the hard yards in defence as he came up with Melbourne’s most tackles despite playing for only 53 minutes in the mauling.

Grant looked crisp in dummy half though, and while there will be tougher challenges than the Bulldogs to come, he ticked all the boxes on his return from injury.

He will provide the Storm with a significantly different style to Cameron Smith, but it will still fit in with what the club have been so good at – playing the percentage options, defending strongly and taking any and all opportunities.

Grant, while flamboyant at times, has the ability to do everything asked of him in Melbourne, and he is clearly the best option as they look to move into the post-Cameron Smith era alongside players like Ryan Papenhuyzen and Cameron Munster.

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Addin Fonua-Blake will be a monstrous loss to the Warriors
This probably almost goes without saying, but the Warriors’ key signing for 2021, Addin Fonua-Blake, missing any length of time will ruin the Aukland-based club.

One of the best props in the game, Fonua-Blake has been instrumental for the Warriors in the opening rounds.

He had to watch on from the sidelines on Friday evening as the Manly Sea Eagles pulled his teammate’s pants down in a most unexpected win.

The Sea Eagles up until this week have struggled enormously, particularly in defence and for any semblance of control through the middle third, but a weaker opposition and their former teammate missing allowed them to control the game’s pace.

The win was hardly convincing for Manly, relying on a field goal to get over the line against the Auckland-based side. A win is a win for the Sea Eagles, and it’s one they desperately needed as they prepare for Tom Trbojevic to return next weekend.

But you have to wonder just how different the game would have been had Fonua-Blake been there. One of the game’s best props, averaging north of 150 metres per game, he makes a difference every time he is on the park with his ball running.

He has a way of putting opposition teams on the back foot, and it was clearly missing on Friday. Facing an extended period on the sideline, the Warriors must find a way to overcome the lost output if they want to remain competitive.

It’s hard to see where it comes from though.

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Roarers, what did you make of Round 5? Drop a comment and let us know.