Magic round is in the books with a crackdown on high contact, more big wins than you could point a stick at, a monster upset and plenty of quality individual performances. Here are my NRL talking points from Round 10.
The crackdown will teach players where to tackle in a hurry
Accidents are going to happen in a contact sport – no one is disputing that.
And while the argument that the crackdown on high tackles went way too far this weekend exists, or that consistency is still an issue (and both have merit), the bottom line is player safety should be of paramount importance in this sport.
It may have gone just a little bit far, but you’d prefer to see players suspended or sat down than out with injuries due to being hit by foul play.
By making the head and neck a no-go zone, we saw three send offs and plenty of sin bins throughout the course of the weekend, and there shouldn’t be a whole lot of complaining about either of them.
Opponents of the crackdown will argue that attackers are purposely playing for it, but no one is going to put their head in the line of an opponent on purpose. The bottom line is, the onus is on the defender to get his arm out of the way.
Some extra discretion on accidental or non-forceful impacts may be required moving forward for the referees, who are still learning on the fly as well, but the general premise of the crackdown is needed to ensure player safety.
The only major change which is needed in a hurry is not going back multiple plays and essentially wiping half a minute out of the game to penalise foul play.
While it looks bad now, and will continue to for a few weeks while players adjust, if the standard of send offs being Josh Papalii, Tyrell Fuimaono and Herman Ese’ese’s tackles has been set and will be consistently applied moving forward, then we as supporters of the sport should have no issues with it.
It will change rugby league as we know it again, but players – particularly aggressive ones who like tackling higher – will learn quickly that it’s not on, and player safety is the most important element of this sport.
The free interchange loophole must be shut – immediately
Peter V’landys and his crew at NRL headquarters haven’t been afraid to change rules on the run over the last 12 months.
And that is about to be a good thing, because the loophole James Tedesco used on Saturday night, copying from Cameron Munster a few weeks ago, needs to be shut before next round.
After Tedesco was taken out by foul play, he jogged to the sideline to grab his free interchange, being replaced by Victor Radley. Just four seconds later (no joke, check out the play by play of the game), Tedesco ran back onto the ground, replacing Nat Butcher.
Essentially what the Roosters did was brought Radley on for Butcher without using one of their interchanges, making a mockery of the free substitution available in the event of a player being taken out by foul play.
With the crackdown on high contact, the prevalence of players being pinged for illegal tackles is only going to increase, meaning teams will get smarter and continue to use this ploy to gain an advantage.
The obvious answer to the issue is if a player is going off for a free interchange, they must either replace the same player who replaced them when coming back onto the field, or spend a minimum set amount of time off the park. Potentially even a bit of both.
Regardless of the answer, the NRL have to shut it down in a hurry.
The Titans defence is a rabble
The Gold Coast aren’t the first team to lose to Penrith heavily this year.
Granted, they might have had 12 men on the park for a fair chunk of the game, but they can’t use that as an excuse. It was all over before then, with the Panthers scoring twice while they had one of their own in the bin.
Justin Holbrook’s side were never going to win the premiership this year, but their defence was a mess for much of the contest this weekend, and it has been for most of the season.
You can build a team with talent, but defence starts as an attitude problem, and the Titans clearly don’t have it going for them, with Nathan Cleary in particular running rings around them.
The Titans will improve with experience, which is something they lack, but even then, they provided a level of defence you’d expect out of a Jersey Flegg team.
They may not need personnel changes – that isn’t going to help if the structure and attitude is wrong – but they do need to have a heavy week on the training paddock.
The Bulldogs are closer to turning a corner than you think
Games like Saturday’s tight loss to the Raiders prove the Bulldogs aren’t all that far away from turning a corner.
Sure, they shouldn’t have lost to the Raiders given the position they were in, and the fact the green machine were reduced to 12 men during the final parts of the game, but Canterbury have simply forgotten how to win.
Winning, like anything, can become a habit – just ask the Panthers. But so can losing, and that’s the rut the blue and white are in at the moment.
They didn’t do a hell of a lot wrong during the first hour against the Raiders in what was a gutsy performance. They still don’t have the talent to match it with most of the top teams, but they might be able to cause a scare or two the longer the season goes on.
Canterbury aren’t a ‘banana skin’ yet, but when they turn up and want to defend, as the Raiders found out on Saturday, they aren’t a team to take lightly.
How do the Storm find room for Nicho Hynes?
There is no good answer to this question if you’re the Storm.
The bottom line is Hynes has proven himself as a first grade starting player, and while he has the ability to fill the bench utility role due to his ability to play anywhere in the backline, plus the natural spark he provides, the Storm don’t have a starting spot for him when they’re at full strength.
But it’s little wonder they’d like to hang onto the talented 24-year-old. He is the ultimate Mr Fix It to all their injury woes, and come September, could add plenty from the bench as forwards tire in the heat of finals battle.
While the Dragons may have played most of Sunday’s contest with 12, Hynes put in a career-best performance for Melbourne, with over 200 metres, a hat-trick of try assists and a mountain of excellent play in other parts of the game.
Solid defensively as well, Hynes is adding value to his next contract almost every week – the only question is whether Craig Bellamy can find room for him as a starter. The short answer is no, with all of Ryan Papenhuyzen, Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes now established as the next big three in the Victorian capital.
Hynes is going to be a great pick-up somewhere else.
Jason Saab’s improvement only makes the Sea Eagles more dangerous
A winger with Jason Saab’s attributes can and should be a game-winner. Particularly when those attributes are teamed up with a kicking game like that of Daly Cherry-Evans.
Almost two metres tall, fans of the Sea Eagles – and formerly the Dragons – have been frustrated by his inability to handle the footy, and get involved in the play as he should.
But he is now starting to turn that corner.
Saab, following a double against the Broncos on Friday, now has ten tries for the season. But more impressively, all those tries have come in the last six games.
His form is off the charts, and in no small part to the Sea Eagles’ turnaround on the back of Tom Trbojevic’s return. His combination with Cherry-Evans’ kicking game has been superb, and with the ability to out-leap anyone in the competition, he should only get better.
If he can get his defence consistent, then there is no reason Saab won’t fulfil the potential which he had been earmarked for coming up through the juniors.
Reece Walsh must start for the Warriors
The Warriors must find a way to get Reece Walsh into their starting team. Such was the impact he had during Sunday’s contest against the Eels, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were a different team to the one who played the first part of the game while he sat on the bench.
159 metres from 14 runs, three line-breaks, a line-break assist, seven tackle busts and a contribution to the kicking game, Walsh made the Warriors go from nothing to something as they tried to rein in the Eels’ early lead.
That’s not to say Roger Tuivasa-Sheck isn’t still the better player, but when he moved off the wing and into the middle during the second half, playing alongside Walsh, the Warriors went up another gear.
It’s one of those situations where having two players on the park, even if one is out of position, makes the team better overall, and the Warriors have to find a way to make it work if they want to play finals footy.
Was that the wake-up call Luke Brooks needed?
Jock Madden was added to the bench, Adam Doueihi and Moses Mbye swapped positions, and pundits everywhere wrote the Tigers off as no chance.
Their unreal victory over the inconsistent Knights on Friday was potentially the Tigers’ best effort of the year.
While it was a complete team turnaround for the men in black and gold, Brooks’ performance was the best he has put in for some time, almost as if he was concerned his spot was on the chopping block if the Tigers had gone down again.
The intent he played with turned the joint venture around, with the halfback topping the running metres on 183 from 12 carries. He was happy to take the line on, but still controlled his team alongside Moses Mbye in the halves. Using the pace of the game to his advantage, he constantly found defenders lacking with heads-up play and broke the line at will.
It shows the potential he has always had, but never lived up to on a consistent basis. If he can play like that week in and week out, particularly when the Tigers come up against stronger teams at full strength (keep in mind Kalyn Ponga was out for the Knights), Brooks could throw the doubters off his back and take his side back into the top eight.
Roarers, it’s been a chaotic weekend of footy. What did you make of it? Drop a comment below and let us know.