Only four games are left in the regular season, and thankfully it looks like they’ll be able to have crowds in attendance.
Before we move on though, let’s look back at the main talking points from Round 21 of the NRL.
Cronulla not taking the two was okay, but kicking on tackle two was horrible
In the aftermath of a flaccid 16-18 loss to New Zealand on Saturday, interim Sharks coach Josh Hannay took responsibility for Cronulla going for a try instead of kicking a penalty goal to tie the game at 18 in the 74th minute.
The kick seems the no-brainer call, but New Zealand were shot to pieces and had 12 on the field after recognised genius Kane Evans was put in the sin bin for the second time. A half-competent catch-and-pass series to either wing, and the Sharks were in, likely winners and back in the final eight.
So it boggles the mind Connor Tracey thought it was wise to put the ball onto foot on tackle two and turn over possession cheaply. If Hannay wasn’t already a caretaker, it was truly a coach-killing play.
“I just backed our guys”, Hannay said later.
“Unfortunately, on the back of backing our guys, kicking it on tackle two was not what I was expecting or what we needed. I’ll cop whatever comes my way for making that decision.
“But I’d probably make the same decision again. I thought New Zealand were out on their feet, we had a man over. I just thought it was the right decision at the time to back our men to score a try.”
It was the right call to try and win a game, just followed by an appalling lack of footy nous.
Finally, a ruck penalty gets the bin
After years of threats, finally we saw a player sin-binned for a professional foul slowing down the ruck! And it had to be a Roosters player, keeping them at the top of the poor discipline ladder.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was the unlucky one pinged. I say unlucky because multiple set restarts and deliberately slowed rucks happen dozens of times over a weekend of rugby league, now all of a sudden it’s worth time on the pine.
For the record, I loved it. Cynical play like that drives fans crazy and should be whacked as hard as possible. Roosters coach Trent Robinson might have been a but more sarcastic about it, but he shared the sentiment post game when he said he hoped this was now the norm.
Think how good the game could be if this was the norm. It would clean things up right away. But just as we’ve seen over and over and over, JWH’s time in the bin will be the exception rather than the rule.
The Roosters blew a huge chance
Sin-binnings aside, a Matt Burton masterclass and a 20-6 lead early in the second half looked to have set Penrith up for a comfortable night at the office against the Roosters. But like champion clubs do, the men from Bondi willed themselves back into contention and really should have taken the game.
After all that hard work to get the play back on level terms, they fumbled it away. Adam Keighran’s goal kicking was askew with one from three and he made a crucial error with the line at their mercy.
Uncharacteristic attempts at offloads early in the tackle count turned the ball over. Daniel Tupou had a shocker of a last 15 minutes after scoring the try to make it a six-point game.
Penrith offered the game on a platter with late penalties and tiring defence, but the Roosters politely refused and the Panthers were able to scrape across the line.
Manly’s top-four hopes took a knock
Des Hasler’s men took the game up to the Storm as best they could before coming up just a touch short, 28-18. Although Manly couldn’t get the job done, Hasler remains the only long-term NRL coach with a winning record against Craig Bellamy, 17-15.
It’s fair to say the level of effort from Manly outweighed Melbourne’s, who with four games left are secure in the top four and more than likely top two. The Sea Eagles are stalking a double chance and a win would have seen them into the top quarter of the table.
Not all is lost for them though, with the Roosters barely holding on and the Eels in free fall. A win against Parramatta on Saturday night is the first step, then it’s in their own hands to make the most of a soft run pitting them against Canberra, Canterbury and North Queensland.
Taumololo’s on edge
There’s been many a question asked this season about the use of 2016 Dally M medallist Jason Taumalolo by new Cowboys coach Todd Payten.
Payten playing Taumalolo on the left edge rather than lock was the talk of the Cowboys versus Titans game, and while people were lining up to take pot shots, his ability to do much was surely hindered by the Gold Coast’s early domination of possession.
I’m not sure how he can really be accused of being a flop in the position with so few chances, but he defended well enough and made the most of the limited ball he saw.
After the game Payten said he would persist with the move. He clearly has a plan for the team, but in a results-first industry folks will be expecting to see more green shoots sooner rather than later.
After Round 1, Payten baked Taumalolo for defensive efforts. He’s on the record saying he’s deliberately limiting Taumalolo’s minutes to keep him fresh, although he knocked out a full 80 on Sunday.
After that bake, Taumalolo said this of Payten: “Toddy challenged me in that Round 1 press conference and I thought that was quite refreshing to be honest.
“It makes me accountable but everyone else as a team, and when you have that relationship with a coach it can only be a good thing.
“I think a lot of the boys have put a lot of faith and confidence in Toddy and backed his game plan. That’s the reason we’re half going all right.”
With six years to go on his decade-long deal in Townsville, I wonder if he’s still thinking that way?
Would an NRL grand final actually fill a Kiwi stadium?
Please welcome the latest on the list of possible places to host the NRL grand final – New Zealand!
Reports came out over the weekend NRL CEO Andrew Abdo was so enamoured with the full house of 47,000 fans at Auckland’s Eden Park for the first Bledisloe Cup rugby union match, he and the NRL are daring to dream about holding the NRL showpiece across the ditch.
Aside from the obvious logistical/quarantine/international travel challenges, to suggest a similar crowd would flock to a grand final is highly ambitious.
The Warriors averaged a tick over 16,000 every home game in 2019 before all this business hit. International matches don’t fare much better, with New Zealand’s most recent rugby league international series against Great Britain attracting just over 25,000. So the sales pitch is already a step behind.
It was an interesting thought bubble, but even with all the twists and turns seemingly popping up every few hours, I think it’s safe to rule out a New Zealand grand final.
Am I being harsh on the Roosters? How likely is a grand final in New Zealand? Would you have taken the two or gone for it? What stood out for you in Round 21?