The rescheduling and changing Round 20 means you’re getting your talking points with two games still to be played, but it’s that kind of season.
Here’s what stood out for NRL Round 19.75.
This is how things are now
Moving the entire competition to Queensland brought its own set of issues, but Saturday’s announcement of a three-day lockdown by the Queensland government sent a jolt through all concerned that things up north may weren’t as secure as we’d all hoped.
Thankfully, the NRL were able to get the show back on the road by placing the players back into their strictest COVID-19 bubble protocols, and some quick work with the government to show how the league was doing the right thing was enough to get permission to play.
So a tip of the cap for ARLC Chair Peter V’landys, NRL CEO Andrew Abdo, the players, their families, everyone.
It can’t be easy to be in NRL land at the moment, and their adaptability has kept the competition going and given us something to watch.
Hopefully this was all a once-off, but don’t hold your breath. Everything is up in the air and changing from day to day. The NRL isn’t the only code which is copping its share of the buffeting, either.
If the chaos of the day taught us anything it was that getting the NRL season completed in ‘standard’ fashion is going to be one hell of a thing.
Parra won’t matter
The Eels barely fired a shot as they went down to the Roosters 28-nil on Thursday. The only real firing up was Clint Gutherson giving poor Tom Opacic a filthy broadside of ‘encouragement’ after an escort penalty.
It’s starting to dawn on Eels supporters (and maybe even players) that they don’t have that extra layer of quality to be a true contender.
Even though they’re on the precipice of a fourth top-four finish in five years, Parramatta’s last two weeks have been telling – a loss to a depleted Canberra in a game where they had 68 per cent of the possession, and now laying an egg against a Roosters side which has had an NRL leading 16 injuries to players requiring five or more weeks’ absence.
As a sidebar: If any club other than the Roosters had this injury toll hitting its key players, you’d never hear the end of it. But Trent Robinson’s men put their heads down, barrelled on and have been magnificent in adversity.
Never mind a form slump, the Eels have probably the worst possible run to the finals as well. How’s this for a horror stretch of games when you’re out of form – Souths, Manly, North Queensland, Melbourne and Penrith.
A straw to grasp at is that if ever Parramatta wanted to get a true gauge of where they’re at, they’ve got it. They’ll either hit the finals brimming with confidence or completely shot to pieces.
Maybe COVID-19 could do the Eels a favour and shorten the season?
Penrith have enough time to be bad
When I wrote Round 19’s talking points last week, I was very pumped up for the Storm versus Panthers top of the table game, and I also said I wanted Penrith prop James Fisher-Harris to win the Dally M medal.
Well, what a difference a week makes. Right after that piece was published, I learned Fisher-Harris was leaving the NRL bubble for the birth of his child and he’s not due back until Round 23 – assuming the Queensland government lets him back into the state at all.
Also missing the Panthers 27-point loss to the Storm were Nathan Cleary, Brian To’o, Api Koroisau, Isaah Yeo and Tyrone May. That’s a significant chunk of your best players off the park.
So sure, the result doesn’t look great, but don’t forget the Panthers had won four on the trot prior to Saturday and are all but guaranteed a top-four spot thanks to a ridiculous points differential of +305.
Their next three weeks are tough, with the Roosters, Dragons and Rabbitohs lined up. But as the class players start to filter back into the side Penrith should enter the finals a very different side to how they look now. Hopefully Nathan Cleary’s shoulder injury is not as bad as some suggest, because that would be a hammer blow.
On another note, Melbourne now hold the highest positive points differential in rugby league history, +465. It’s incredible how the Storm are able to adapt to whatever rules the game throws at them.
Canberra didn’t turn up when it mattered the most
After a decent couple of weeks, it looked as though the Raiders were back on track and ready to make a nuisance of themselves around the bottom region of the finals.
But a 24-34 result against the Knights should have put the Raiders’ 2021 dreams into a coffin. As it was, Canberra snuck into eighth spot on points differential on Sunday night after Souths battered the Dragons.
With a brutal last month including the Storm, Roosters and Manly, finals will be a miracle for Ricky Stuart’s men and you can’t say they deserve to lengthen their season.
Canberra just weren’t in the contest during Sunday’s rescheduled game, with sleepy defence letting Newcastle get away to a flyer, errors and shocking decisions in attack, and an apparent inability or unwillingness to try and tackle Kalyn Ponga, who ran riot down Canberra’a right side.
A ten-point margin flattered the green machine, who have serious questions to address in the offseason.
And what about today?
The Sharks can move a game clear from the chasers if the can beat Manly, while the Titans can dislodge the undeserving Raiders from eighth spot if they do away with the wooden spoon favourite Bulldogs.
One of those results is more likely than the other, you’d suspect. The Gold Coast should have no real issues hauling themselves up the ladder, but Cronulla have a serious challenge on their hands. If Cronulla can avoid a bad loss and they’ll stay in the finals places this week.
What did you make of the rescheduled Round 20?