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Opinion

Eight talking points from NRL Round 8

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Expert
2nd May, 2021
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Eight rounds are in the books, a third of the season is done, and with injuries, blowouts and a pair of upsets, there is plenty to discuss. Here are my NRL talking points for Round 8.

Brett Morris has been the greatest winger of this generation
‘Heartbreaking’ would be the word to describe Brett Morris injuring his ACL on Saturday night.

Roosters, Dragons and Bulldogs fans will agree particularly, but neutral fans of this competition who have had the pleasure (and sometimes pain) of watching Morris go around will all agree on just how good he has been.

It’ll be an enormous shame to see Morris go out on anything but his own terms, and being forced out by an ACL injury while in form which most could only dream of is more than unfortunate.

Even at the age of 34, Morris has been setting the competition alight this year at one of the competition powerhouses, although their odds of winning a premiership in 2021 are getting longer and longer with the mounting injury crisis.

Seven games has been enough for Morris to score 11 tries, make nine line breaks and 25 tackle busts, add three try assists and run an average of 146 metres per game. They are numbers any winger, in any era, would be jealous of.

Morris joins Lindsay Collins with season-ending injuries this weekend at the tri-colours, and the Roosters are now up the creek without a paddle, but the impact of Morris on this sport won’t be forgotten.

There is some hope he can make it back for one final run, but if not, it’s been one hell of a career by the best winger of this generation.

Brett Morris

Brett Morris (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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Ricky Stuart’s baffling decisions are impacting the Raiders
Odd would be the word which comes to mind to describe the Raiders over the last few weeks.

Now with four straight losses to their name, the Green Machine decided to head into their last clash against the red-hot South Sydney Rabbitohs without Josh Papalii who was being rested.

The five-day turnaround was the given reasons, but given the end result is the Rabbitohs now having seven wins on the bounce since their Round 1 loss, it didn’t quite work out for Ricky Stuart and the Raiders.

Papalii, no matter his form, is the best forward at the club, and at times, the Raiders severely lacked go forward during the contest, an area you’d think Papalii would be able to help improve upon.

Not only the decision to rest Papalii, but on the field, Stuart refused to use his bench properly, particularly with Sia Soliola only getting seven minutes.

Despite a gassed forward pack being rolled by the men from Redfern, Soliola played incredibly limited time, while Hudson Young, who was struggling badly, somehow played the full 80.

It made no sense, and the decisions are biting the Raiders.

Ricky Stuart

Ricky Stuart (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

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The Sea Eagles aren’t that far away
The Sea Eagles might have gone down to Penrith on Saturday afternoon, but it wasn’t a horrid effort from the Northern Beaches men.

Des Hasler’s side put on a decent fight against the competition heavyweights, who, after eight rounds, are still yet to drop a game this season.

It’s a phenomenal start for the Panthers, but this was the true test for Manly with Tom Trbojevic now back to full fitness. They may have failed it on the scoreboard, but Manly will take solace in the fact they can hang with Penrith for quite some time, and at their best, shouldn’t miss the top eight.

There is still a mountain of water to pass under the bridge in 2021, but the Sea Eagles have been a different side since Tom Trbojevic returned from injury.

Provided he doesn’t break down again, the Sea Eagles organisation defensively will remain at a much better level, and the attack will naturally follow as the small things are done right.

Embarrassing defence could prevent the Titans from playing finals footy
When the Titans ran on four tries in the first quarter of an hour against the Broncos on Friday night, it should have been game over.

Certainly, the majority of neutral fans would have been thinking it, Titans fans would have, and even Brisbane fans would have been concerned about where that scoreboard was going to end up.

But instead of putting the foot down and properly running off with a cricket score-sized victory, The Titans did the opposite. They read into their own match situation and invited the Broncos back into it with a golden ticket.

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Brisbane were still clunky, still anything but perfect, but they didn’t simply clock off as they often have once they go behind.

Instead, they fought, defended well and let their attack build on the back of it, with their outside backs starting sets in good positions and the rest getting on top during the set.

The Broncos won’t be favourites for this competition, but certainly, neither are the Titans. Their defence simply isn’t up to par and one would imagine they will be forced to do plenty of that this weekend.

The Dragons have fallen off a cliff
Sure, there were injuries, but Sunday’s horrid effort against the Tigers (who, let’s be honest, weren’t all that good themselves) was one of the worst games the Dragons have put together in recent times.

And there have been some absolute shockers, so that is really saying something as to their level of performance.

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But there was simply no intensity, no urgency, and no execution from the Red V. Their line speed was in the toilet coming out of defence, more ineffective tackles than you could poke a stick at, and very little creativity when it came to attacking.

You could write a book about how just about any other team in the competition would have gotten the better of the Dragons by a lot more on Saturday, which says plenty about the Tigers performance or lack thereof, and even more about the Dragons.

Even more concerning was the fact they scored in the first ten minutes, and then that was it. No more points, and they barely looked like scoring. 43 per cent possession could be blamed, but with a horrid completion rate at 24 out of 36, they only had themselves to blame.

In short, when I asked if we should take the Dragons seriously a few weeks ago, they have managed to slam that idea down, serving up three dreadful losses in a row with some terrible performances.

Jackson Ford

The Dragons. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Is Tohu Harris the game’s most underrated player?
Week in and week out, Tohu Harris is the Warriors’ quiet achiever.

The lock forward may not get the same praise and compliments as a player like Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, but there is no question the Warriors lose more than just a little bit when Harris is out.

Comparing the Warriors of last week who lost quite badly to the Storm, to the one this week who managed to triumph over the Cowboys in a close game – not a good one mind you – and there was one key difference. The impact through the middle, a lot of it caused by the work of Harris.

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He ended Sunday’s game with 158 metres from 17 runs and 42 tackles without a miss, and while those sort of numbers may not get the praise they deserve from commentators, it’s impossible to win games of rugby league without a player like Harris in your team.

The Warriors’ lock is criminally underrated, undersold and undervalued – certainly not by his own team of course – and also seems to help in raising the standards of those around him. That doesn’t work every time, but it certainly helps.

There were other elements of the Warriors win, with Reece Walsh playing well again, and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck back at fullback doing his thing, but the return of Harris from his week off injured was undoubtedly the biggest single element in the Warriors not only bolting to a strong first half lead, but managing to starve off the fast-finishing Cowboys during the second half.

Bryce Cartwright could be an X-Factor for Parramatta
The raw statistics won’t tell you much, but after a failed stint on the Gold Coast, the cut price deal to sign Bryce Cartwright at the Eels could end up being something of a masterstroke.

While he still has flaws in his game, improvement looks to be starting and his effort off the bench against the Bulldogs in what ended up being a tighter win that it should have been given an excellent start for the blue and gold was strong.

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He didn’t have a great deal of opportunity to run the ball, but when he did, he made it count, and not only that, but he had a strong passing game and vision for the contest, while also defending better than he has done in quite some time.

Of course, the opposition makes you take Cartwright’s performance with a grain of salt, but it’s still positive to see the much-maligned utility put on a display which goes someway to realising the potential he showed at various points of his early NRL career while at the Penrith Panthers.

This isn’t to say he is going to get to the level where he becomes an inspirational starting play, but with a role to play off the bench in the quickened-up NRL, Cartwright doing it properly could make plenty of difference for Parramatta.

Not only does he offer that ability to spark things off the bench, but his utility value while still being a genuine forward allows a far stronger rotation of players for coach Brad Arthur.

It’s a win all around in Parramatta if Cartwright performs.

Melbourne’s recruitment system is world class
Look, this probably isn’t a great surprise to anyone who follows the sport, but if the Storm willingly let a player go, there is probably good reason.

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And if they are trying to sign one? Throw the kitchen sink at them to try and get them on board.

Of course, it also has something to do with the system being played in Melbourne, as well as the experience in the team, and the coach in Craig Bellamy.

Ryan Papenhuyzen

Ryan Papenhuyzen of the Storm (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

But it’s uncanny their track record of signings from other clubs improving, and departures to other clubs going backwards.

Reimis Smith is the latest on a long list who has started 2021 in far better form than he finished the 2020 season, now having all but locked down a starting spot in the Melbourne 13.

a hat-trick from the outside back on Friday in Melbourne’s win over the Sharks was just the icing on the cake, and while it could be argued any player going from Canterbury to Melbourne will improve, you only need to look at the rest of the list stretching back a number of years.

Roarers, what did you make of Round 8? Drop a comment and let us know.