Just when it looked like it may never come, upsets began to rear their head in what was a fascinating weekend of footy. Here are my NRL talking points from Round 7.
The Raiders could miss the top eight
I’m not going to call this a certainty – it’s far from it. The Raiders still have more than enough talent to turn things around as the season picks up pace.
But even the most optimistic of Raiders’ fans would agree at this point the form line is worth worrying about.
While they have three wins from seven games, that’s not the part which would be most concerning. Those wins have come against the Tigers in Round 1, the Sharks in Round 2 and the Titans in Round 4.
With the exception of the Titans, none of those teams look to be in the hunt for the finals, and for a team talked about as part of that top six group at the start of the year to be losing to everyone else, including a shock defeat in Townsville on Saturday night, it may be time for Ricky Stuart to start swinging yet more changes on his misfiring line-up.
The loss to the Cowboys came after leading by a substantial amount on the run into halftime, the defensive intensity and effort falling away in the second 40 minutes, while their attack has been hot and cold for most of the season.
But it’s the defence which is most worrying, the green machine having now let in 91 points during their last three games, all ending in losses.
There are plenty of places you could point the finger, but their structure looks all wrong, and the lack of output from Josh Papalii, their most important player by the length of the straight, is impacting them greatly.
It’s not panic stations yet, but it may not be far away.
The Titans still aren’t good enough
Maybe it was wrong to expect such a large improvement from the Titans this year, but they have been somewhat underwhelming thus far.
The problem for the Gold Coast is they have been on the cusp of this improvement for some time. With all their new signings, they were expected to go great guns this year, with a spot in the top eight awaiting them.
That might be still the case, but their inconsistency is horrid for the time being.
Like the Raiders, they have three wins from the first seven, and also like the men from the nation’s capital, it’s their defence which is falling apart in the last couple of weeks.
After being belted by the Sea Eagles last weekend, they should have rebounded against South Sydney, and while they did to an extent with their attack, David Fifita playing an unbelievably strong first half, their defence let in another 40 points, rendering their attacking performance useless.
The problem for the Titans is that the attitude appears to be all wrong, to go with them drifting in and out of games. While they may not be the only team with that issue, it’s biting them hard during the first half of the season.
Ash Taylor is still yet to recognise his potential, their outside backs sometimes lack in reaching potential, and the forward pack in its inexperienced format doesn’t often dominate for long periods, evidenced by the 46 per cent possession and big difference in run and post contact metres against the Rabbitohs.
The cards haven’t fallen into place for the Gold Coast, and while they are still on the table, Justin Holbrook has plenty of work to do to flip them around.
Reece Walsh is going to be a gun
This is hardly a surprise to anyone who has followed Reece Walsh in the juniors, but the relative unknown youngster until a few weeks ago made his NRL debut at the age of 18 for the Warriors in last night’s loss to the Storm.
The result may not have been a positive one for the Warriors, but Walsh made a superb debut. The stats won’t show it, but in a well-beaten team, he was the best on ground for his team.
The grubber he put in for one of Ken Maumalo’s try may have been the highlight of the night for Walsh, but he was excellent nearly every time he touched the ball, without making a great deal of mistakes in defence.
For a man playing his first game, who has been anointed by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to play fullback and learn the trade before next year, it was a great performance from Walsh, even in the losing effort.
In fact, you could argue he showed more than the Broncos have all season in his one performance, and the men from Red Hill might be regretting this retention decision sooner rather than later.
And speaking of the Broncos…
Dramatic defensive collapse sparks new problems in Brisbane
It took just four tackles for the Broncos to crack against the Eels. From there, it was all downhill in what was a shocking performance.
The men from Red Hill, who are reportedly on the bring of losing yet more young players, have struggled for well over a year now, but their performance in Round 6 was a cause for hope.
That hope was slammed like a tongue in the car door on Friday though as the Eels ran up 40 on them, exposing their edge defence as nothing more than some wet newspaper.
While Kevin Walters may still not have had a great deal of time with the squad, or the chance to mould it into his own, the fact Brisbane were so poor tells you more is wrong with the club.
It’s hardly a surprise given the final scoreline, but the Broncos lost every key stat, having only 41 per cent of the ball and missing a ridiculous 49 tackles, plenty of them being on the powerful Maika Sivo who they just couldn’t stop.
The Eels may not have been overly convincing this year, but the Broncos of Friday not only played them into form, but churned out possibly their own worst performance as they were blown off the park.
Why change what works?
It was quite a surprise on Sunday afternoon to see Anthony Griffin making plenty of changes to his Dragons team.
The Red V, who lost last week against the Warriors, but yet had the same amount of tries despite the near-faultless effort from their opposition, decided to move Adam Clune back to the bench and Jack Bird into the centres.
The moves worked about as well as a car without petrol. Bird was poor and so were the new combinations in the outside backs for the Dragons as the Roosters reminded everyone of their status in the competition with a big Anzac Day victory.
Griffin’s changes made no sense given the performances of the Dragons so far in 2021, which have been well above expectations. Bird in particular has been outstanding, but was tasked with a new role today.
The Dragons looked flat from the beginning, almost as if adjusting to the new combinations and re-shuffled line-up.
Add that to a couple of very average sin bins and penalties in poor spots, and the discipline of the Red V let them down to the point they were never going to be able to stop the on-fire Sam Walker and his Roosters.
So, sacking John Morris was crazy after all
The raw emotion coming from the Canterbury bench, Trent Barrett and out of the dressing room following their victory over the Sharks on Saturday told you all you needed to know about what the win meant to the struggling club.
For the first time in over 200 days, they had a win in the column and points on the competition table to boot.
While it might have been excellent to watch the Bulldogs break their monstrous losing streak, Cronulla fans may not have been so joyous over the woeful performance.
Just a handful of days removed from sacking coach John Morris and all but giving up on the 2020 season in the process despite not being that far away from competitive, the Sharks turned in an insipid performance, looking like a team who didn’t want to be here.
Stand-in coach Josh Hannay got them playing better in the second half, but then made the baffling call to take Shaun Johnson from the field and Cronulla simply didn’t have enough in the tank to fall over the line against the Bulldogs.
It was the first half which ruined the black, white and blue though as they defended poorly, struggled in attack and lacked intent and energy.
John Morris has hardly done a poor job at Cronulla given the resources he was working with, and the players played like it on Saturday too.
Tom Trbojevic makes everyone around him better
It’s a struggle to remember an individual with as much influence as Tom Trbojevic in recent times.
The Manly fullback makes a world of difference to his team, and while it is impossible to do it on your own, the difference between him and fill-in Dylan Walker is night and day.
Manly made it three wins on the bounce during Sunday’s mauling of the Wests Tigers, and while it’s three wins maybe against slightly unconvincing opposition, to win three games from where they were, with two of them being mightily convincing tells you all you need to know about Trbojevic.
While his influence on the attacking end is important and widely talked about, it’s what he does defensively which is criminally underrated.
It’s obvious the defensive line is in much better shape with him there, the communication from the back being first-class. Add that to his ability to make things happen with the footy, and Manly look like a different team, with all players on a different level thanks to the influence of their star number one.
Stephen Crichton isn’t a fullback
From one fullback to another, it’s become quite clear that, even as a stop-gap measure, Stephen Crichton isn’t a fullback.
It may seem odd to focus on anything remotely negative for the Panthers given their run of seven straight victories to start 2021, but it has to be said.
Crichton’s work at centre, especially in attack, is among the best in the competition, but place him in defence out wide, and certainly at the back, and he suddenly seems more than a little lost.
While he may shape to play more fullback in the future, there is a mountain of work to be done, both in defence and in ball play. While he fits the bill as an attacking centre, there is a lot more demand on fullbacks, and while the Panthers have been winning, the last few weeks haven’t been as comfortable as they may have liked, and Crichton taking the fullback spot has a little bit to do with that.
Again, it’s not a knock on Crichton or the Panthers. They are playing phenomenal footy, but Crichton is a centre and should play all of his footy there.
Roarers, what did you make of Round 7? Drop a comment and let us know.