“Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?”
Watching what I did of NRL Round 15 brought to mind the iconic scene from the legendary movie Gladiator, where Russell Crowe’s betrayed Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius rises to face six fearsome opponents at the Zucchabar arena.
The crowd rises in anticipation of an enjoyable afternoon filled with entertaining bloodletting, but Maximus blows through the six opponents in under 30 seconds, throws his sword at the box hosting the representative of the Roman Empire, speaks those immortal words, spits on the ground, then walks from the arena to ringing cheers.
Essentially, the same thing Penrith, Melbourne, Manly, Parramatta and Souths (ironically) did at full time.
Sure, I love a good old fashioned rugby league massacre as much as the next person. But is that why we are here?
Season 2021 is increasingly becoming a tough watch and there’s still 11 regular-season games and an increasingly lopsided State of Origin series to go.
One of the best features of the NRL was not necessarily the closeness of the competition overall, but the unpredictability week to week and game to game. That’s well and truly gone now.
There’s never been a worse time to be a bad NRL club. With the rule changes brought in during the offseason you’ve got no chance to slow play down, force a wrestle, waste some clock or employ many of the spoiling tactics that can force teams into a street fight or a grind.
Instead we’re getting what we’re getting, which is absolute massacres from the top teams against the hapless. And when I say “top” I don’t just mean Melbourne and Penrith, although it’s hard to see how anyone else is going to match that level.
The way Penrith dismantled the Roosters showed two things, neither of them real surprises. First, Penrith as a squad of fast, fit players who are built for V’landysball – ready to move on an opponent to rip them to pieces on fast, error-free and lethal attack, coupled with a defence that has only allowed an astonishing 145 points, or 9.6 points per game.
The second point was that the Roosters, who can plough through an opposition with the best of them, are really struggling to stay in the upper echelon of teams. Injuries have hurt, but they’re battling their own character which is to systematically grind their opposition into a paste before running wild all over them.
The Roosters have had the most players sin-binned (8), they’ve given away the most penalties (79) and while they’re still 9-5 after 14 games, you can’t say they’re within a bull’s roar of the top two.
I can’t remember seeing defensive numbers like Penrith’s before. The Panthers’ ability to maintain possession and score points after points after points is almost unparalleled…almost.
Because the Storm took the top spot in the standings after blasting Wests 66-16.
Melbourne are averaging 35.8 points each outing. Almost a full converted try more than Penrith’s 30.4 and Parramatta’s 29. The Storm are only conceding 13.
Usually, I love to watch the Storm, Panthers, Roosters or whoever run up a score because the skills and speed they employ to gut their opponent are breathtaking to watch.
But the entertainment value is really starting to drain away. Watching a game with bemusement and taking the chance to post witty stuff on social media isn’t a long-term pursuit.
Peter V’landys wanted scores, he wanted tries, he wanted fatigue and boy howdy he’s got them. Only trouble is, it’s only one team scoring them on any given day.
Lesser opponents are coming into games basically with one hand tied behind their back due to the aforementioned rule changes.
Clubs struggling in 2021 under the new rules were written off by V’landys and others as showing poor roster management, which was news to those teams who built squads and signed players for a specific game style before the rules changed and the game became purely about survival of the fastest and fittest.
Like I’ve written before, more than a few teams need to do a complete knockdown-rebuild of their player lists to even become competitive. And coaches who find themselves in charge of that will battle to find an accommodating front office or fan-base who are happy to sit through more years of mediocrity.
Who else is a realistic chance at pushing Penrith and Melbourne?
Parramatta are in third, they beat the Storm 16-12 in Round 2 before the Storm woke up. The Eels have to play the Storm again and Penrith twice in the last 11 rounds.
South Sydney sit in fourth and have been mentioned as a possible premiership chance, they’re 0-3 against Melbourne and Penrith and they’ve been outscored 132-30 in those three games.
The Roosters are two games behind in fifth. They’ll feast on the lower clubs, but they haven’t beaten a side above them.
You could make a convincing argument the top four is pretty much settled.
Once State of Origin is out of the way, the top teams are going to mince lesser sides who increasingly have less to play for. Ten teams have a negative points differential. Teams from 7-12 are basically fighting over a crumb of a finals place where they’ll get belted in week one.
What can change this? Nothing in 2021. So far, TV ratings have held steady with no major increases or decreases. But as the season wears on it will be most interesting to see if fans stick it out, because god knows the mythical ‘casual fan’ won’t bother.
So it’s more beltings to come, most probably starting this weekend in the only game of the weekend. It’s not going to be great.
Can season 2021 still win the crowd?