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Opinion

Season 2021 has shown us we should be optimistic about rugby league

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9th May, 2021
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What a season we’ve had so far!

Concussions, obvious foul play going unpunished the field, an injury list like the roll call from a hospital wing, six again rorting, boring blowout games, shocking television ratings, a stack of bludger teams and a season that’s already over for as many as a dozen of them, constant rule adjustments to compensate for debacles arising from the previous rule adjustments…

It’s easy to get caught up in all of this. God knows I have. I’ve spent a fair bit of the season taking whacks at the game. That’s not right. We’re all here because we love rugby league. We debate, watch, absorb, complain and rant about things because we love rugby league.

So today, let’s make a determined effort to keep it all positive. Angst, crisis and bullshit might be the NRL media’s currency, but let’s rise above this week. Let’s pick out just a few of the reasons to be up and about so far.

Penrith and Melbourne stand first and third respectively on the table, the Panthers undefeated and the Storm seven wins from nine. In a season of blowouts, momentum like a tidal wave with six again calls and a smorgasbord of rubbish opponents to feast on, these two have stood out as the teams to beat.

Their play is exquisite, which helps make the blowouts bearable. Penrith in particular are a non-stop hurricane of attack that opponents just cannot withstand. Watching Jarome Luai strut his stuff is great, even if you’re an old grump who hates players showing a bit of personality.

When Penrith and Melbourne put a beating on a team it’s done with such style, pace and ruthlessness that it’s worth hanging around for. From long range efforts to intricate closer plays, they’re putting on masterclasses and it’s truly great to watch.

With injuries putting paid to the Roosters and Parramatta still with plenty to prove after last year’s straight sets exit, the Panthers and Storm are surely clear favourites to meet again in the last game of the season.

Tom Trbojevic played his 100th game on Sunday as the Sea Eagles got the points over the Warriors. Since his return from a hamstring problem, Manly have gone from 0-4 to 4-5 and on the brink of the final placings.

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Against the Warriors, Trbojevic posted ‘video game numbers’: two tries, five line breaks, three line break assists, and a phenomenal four try assists. Entire teams can go a game without stats like that.

His return has brought structure, guidance and a spark to Manly that was completely absent in the first month of the year. Can one player have so much importance to one side? Of course they can. We’re seeing it every week. Trbojevic is incredible.

Tom Trbojevic

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

When you’ve had your fill of opinion and debate on The Roar, there are independent rugby league writers out there who keep producing the best NRL analysis and observations around.

There’s Jason and Oscar at Rugby League Writers, Liam at Pythago NRL, Andrew and Shawn’s Rugby League Project, The Rugby League Eye Test, among others. A shout out too for the ABC’s Jack Snape whose NRL analysis pieces are a great read every time.

It’s a welcome and much needed change from the inane dreck we get offered up by the official broadcasters.

Fresh looks at the game like these are giving a new angle on gameplay, trends and the impacts of rule changes.

If only the NRL would give us more play-by-play analysis and maybe open up its statistics offerings beyond the three per cent we see, to let these sites and more interested people really dive into the game. There’s no value in keeping all this stuff in house!

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Know another independent rugby league writer worth checking out? Give them some love in the comments.

The New York Freedom Rugby League club made a big splash after signing former Origin and International forward Tony Williams.

The Freedom are one of fourteen foundation members of the North American Rugby League, apparently kicking off in June.

Williams was one of the major signings for the league so it was interesting to see New York not hesitate to tear up Williams’ contract after his abhorrent comments on social media following the sentencing and jailing of his former team mate Jarryd Hayne on two counts of sexual intercourse without consent.

Williams also lost his contract playing Ron Massey Cup with the Windsor Wolves and soon released a grovelling apology with the usual ‘that’s not who I am’ nonsense.

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In a statement announcing the move, the Freedom said “As a club we are dedicated to growing the great game of rugby league and recommitted to it being an inclusive, safe and family friendly environment”.

So salute to Windsor and New York. Maybe a few more players need to see some consequences for their actions, to make them better people as well as rugby league players.

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Finally, Magic Round is this weekend in Brisbane and it’s great. After the wreckage of 2020 we’ve got our rugby league carnival back, with a couple of interesting games.

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Hopefully the surface can hold up after getting mashed by the super rugby final. Coverage of the first Magic Round in 2019 showed fans of the game having a great time together.

I wish I was there to enjoy the weekend, it’s most definitely on my rugby league bucket list.

See? It’s not all bad. What good stuff have you seen in the first nine weeks?

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