The NRL ladder is beginning to take shape with a quarter of the season done, and a couple of close games – including some upsets – gives us plenty to discuss out of Round 6. Here are my talking points from the weekend.
We have a high tackle consistency problem
When Jack Hetherington was sent off for his rather atrocious high shot on Valentine Holmes during the Bulldogs loss to the Cowboys on Sunday, it completed the trifecta of inconsistencies for the weekend.
Now, let me say for the record I’m in complete agreement with the decision to give Hetherington, a player with a wild past in terms of the judiciary and on-field indiscretions, his marching orders.
It was a trademark careless swinging arm, with the Canterbury prop raising from a squatting position and putting power into an arm which smacked into the jaw of Holmes.
But what I’m not comfortable with is that we had three shots this weekend which could all have been in the same predicament, being Latrell Mitchell on David Nofoaluma, and Victor Radley on Cameron Munster.
All three were lazy, careless and most worryingly, made contact with the head or neck of their opponent.
And yet, Mitchell escaped with a report, and Radley a sin binning.
While the teams they face in the next few weeks will gain an advantage due to time spent on the sidelines, those they faced on the weekend didn’t, and yet, come Sunday, the Cowboys played 12 men for 25 minutes.
It’s this inconsistency across all areas of officiating which irks rugby league fans far and wide, and while it’s a subjective matter, the shots were similar enough that they should not have produced three separate results.
Mitchell Moses does it on the road
It’s been a long-held belief that Mitchell Moses and his Parramatta Eels can’t get the job done away from Bankwest Stadium.
While they couldn’t even do that last week as they fell to the Dragons, the men in blue and gold answered the critics in emphatic fashion on Saturday evening with a barnstorming win over the Raiders in the nation’s capital.
Ricky Stuart might have been rather unimpressed at his team, with changes for next week hinted at in a rather angry press conference, the Eels will take a world of confidence out of returning from one of the competition’s toughest road trips with two points.
It may not have been a final or “big game”, but it was against a tough side away from home, and for Moses to stand up the way he did was mighty impressive.
The Parramatta half had one of his best games in the famous jumper, particularly considering he didn’t have Dylan Brown alongside him to help steady the ship.
He took on more responsibility running the footy when it was needed, but also maintained an excellent kicking game which refused to take pressure off the Raiders at any point.
In the end, a try assist, eight runs and almost 500 kicking metres was the catalyst for his team to shut down Canberra’s dangerous forward pack and then kick away on the scoreboard.
As always seems to be the case with Parramatta and Moses, consistency will be the key in judging them long term, but getting it done on the road is a step in the right direction.
How long is Valentine Holmes’ spot secure for?
The Cowboys might have won, and Holmes may have played an exceptional role in that with his attacking skills, but the best fullbacks are judged on their ability to defend and not make errors with the footy.
Think Billy Slater and James Tedesco. They simply don’t or didn’t make errors with the footy in hand, and set up their defence like a well-oiled machine.
But in Townsville, that hardly seems to be the case for Holmes, and while his price tag probably dictates he has a spot in the top 17 at North Queensland, it doesn’t necessarily have to be at the back.
His three sloppy handling errors on Sunday may well have coach Todd Payten thinking about who exactly is the right candidate for that number one jersey, and even if the realistic options are slim, it’s not an excuse to leave Holmes there if he is going to continue dropping the footy.
His attack can’t be allowed to make up for the errors, because it’s that which will put his side under pressure, exposing their defence and not allowing them to grow as a footy team.
Holmes may be there next week, but it needs to be an improved performance.
So, maybe Tom Trbojevic can save Manly
Surely not, you might think.
A fullback shouldn’t be able to change the fortunes of a team who have looked more likely to finish last than in the top eight.
But, following a gritty win over the Warriors in Round 5, the Sea Eagles rolled over the Titans in Round 6, playing their best game of the season by a considerable length.
The defensive line had a much better set-up and movement about it, while they stuck in their structures, forcing the Titans to play a sloppy brand of footy. Much of the defensive work can be attributed to their fullback thanks to improved communication, and in turn, the Titans errors can be put down to pressure.
On the attacking end, their forwards won the battle from the opening minutes, and allowed Tom Trbojevic to go to work. The New South Wales Blues representative was heavily involved in most of their attack and came up with a try and an assist for good measure.
It just seemed the entire team lifted with the return of their star number one, and while the proof of whether they can maintain that level of performance will be still some weeks ago, the win over the Titans is a promising sign that just maybe, Trbojevic can stear his team away from the bottom of the pile.
Again, you don’t want to toot the horn too early. There is still plenty of water to pass under the bridge, and the Titans were abysmal, but the signs are positive for Manly.
The Storm must be better in attack
This is probably going to seem overly harsh given they got the better of a tired, worn-out and injury-ravaged Roosters team on Friday night at home.
But Melbourne still have a lot of work to do if they are going to make the post-Cameron Smith era as successful as the one when he was there leading the club every week.
While 20 to 4 looks fairly convincing on the scoreboard, that doesn’t tell the story of some disorganised attack, poor options and less than impressive ball-handling for the men in purple.
It’s one of those victories which is two points in nature, but brings with it a whole heap of concern for a coach, particularly when that coach happens to be as good as Craig Bellamy.
With 56 per cent possession against a team struggling for man power with more injuries than they could point a stick at, the Storm should have put on plenty more points than they did, but things just seemed clunky for lack of a better term.
These things might iron themselves out over the course of a season, and they are still winning, so it’s not panic stations, but all is not perfect in the Victorian capital.
Penrith won’t be concerned with their narrow win
You would have almost choked on your dinner if you tuned into the Broncos and Panthers on Thursday night at halftime.
Surely it’s a typo, most would think. The Broncos were never supposed to be competitive against Penrith, but surprisingly, were more than that in their best performance since COVID hit and shut down the competition last year.
It’s been a long 12 months for Brisbane, but finally, there was a positive during that clash.
But the narrative surrounding Penrith out of the game has been intriguing. They still won, and yet, some have asked whether it’s a worry.
In short, at this stage of the season, of course it’s not. Every team is going to have an off game during what is a long, arduous season, and the Panthers just so happened to have that in Brisbane, yet still got the job done.
Of course, they can’t afford to play as they did against some of the top sides, and just possibly, they read a little too much media leading up to suggest they were certainties to run up 50 or more.
Whatever it was, this is a chance for the Panthers to just reset slightly, remember this is the NRL and that any team can beat any other team on any given day. It’s almost a good thing the Panthers had a performance as they did, and of course, there will be more to come during the season.
That doesn’t mean there is a need to worry when it’s a one-off.
Completions are more crucial than ever in 2021
Let me try not to get too sad here, but the Warriors have completed all but three sets in their last 160 minutes of football against the Dragons.
That is, without going to look for it, I’d imagine, unprecedented.
First came the Round 3 game on the Central Coast last year where the Warriors completed 44 from 46, then yesterday, 40 from 41.
Yesterday’s effort is one of the best in NRL history, and while you should never expect to lose a game completing at that sort of rate, they still did their best to, with only conversions separating the Red V and visitors by the time the siren went.
The Warriors were absolutely rock solid with the footy though, playing a conservative brand which still allowed them to attack at their own will.
The trend of completions leading to a victory in the possession battle, and ultimately, in the game, has grown exponentially under the new rules in 2021 though, and the Warriors were able to take full advantage of that at Kogarah.
While their forwards were able to win the battle in the middle third on the back of it, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck also had his best game of the season so far as the Auckland-based club hit back from their loss to Manly last weekend.
It was a superb performance with the ball in hand, and while the Warriors have other areas of the game to work on, that will leave them in excellent stead moving forward.
Kalyn Ponga is a game-winner
A quick one to finish this week, but if the Knights and Sharks was the toughest game to tip this week, it was Kalyn Ponga who made all the difference.
He was superb for the Knights for much of the game, and broke the game open at different points, being impossible to contain by the tiring Cronulla defence.
Injuries played their part again, but the Knights were desperate for a win, and with two tries, two assists and 172 metres (remember, Newcastle scored five tries), it’d be hard to conclude anything other than Ponga being given man of the match honours.
While the Knights have been somewhat disappointing to start this season, and will need more than Ponga to be competitive, it’s clear that against middle of the road or weaker teams, he is the one who can get the men from the Hunter over the line more often than not.
Roarers, what did you make of Round 6? Drop a comment below and let us know!