Another NRL round is in the bag. From shortening the season to the top four taking time off, here are my talking points.
Should the NRL season be shortened?
There’s three weeks left in the regular season and the last run of games were announced by the NRL on Sunday. The game stays in Queensland, as if it was ever going to be able to leave.
It’s worth asking though – why play these three rounds? Why not get the finals started after one, maybe two more? Get the season in the bank before something else comes along?
We’re still very much in a live COVID environment where situations are changing daily. It would be horrible if something happened that meant the NRL – and any other sport for that matter – was not able to finish their season or had to defer for a period.
There’s very little drama left in the regular season anyway, with the top three locked away and a bland, uninspiring battle for the lower parts of the finals places. Does it matter who finishes eighth?
The NRL were screaming from the rooftops about wearing the cost of up to $15 million a week to have the teams subbing up north. Why not cut some losses, spare us some rubbish football, save some cash and get to the good stuff?
Reminder: Don’t fall for the top four tuning up
Melbourne battled to get past Canberra, Penrith needed some fortune against St George Illawarra but still did enough. Souths and Manly did what they needed to do against vastly inferior opposition.
After Melbourne’s scrappy win the inevitable ‘Storm are gettable’ cries rang out across social media and in commentary boxes like they do every year.
So this is your weekly reminder that teams who are set in the top four have no interest in what happens between Rounds 21 and 25.
They’re nursing players into fitness, doing extra training loading ahead of finals and generally not focusing as much energy into the game at hand. Usually, they’ll still be good enough to win them. Occasionally, they will lose one in the lead in.
Don’t get sucked in. The only thing that matters to Melbourne, Souths and Penrith right now is a week one finals win.
CHN, Matterson and Cleary punishments are all about timing
Corey Harawira-Naera’s shot on Jahrome Hughes was bad, Ryan Matterson’s on Brad Parker was worse. Both players were rightly sent off.
Harawira-Naera doesn’t have any priors, so he can get three with an early plea. Matterson has some bad history but he gets three too. Ironically, the same penalty Storm forward Felise Kafusi got for elbowing Matterson in the head, heavily concussing him in Round 3.
I’ve given up trying to think the NRL cares about the safety of its players. Both of these shots were horrible and caused significant head injury. I understand the loading part of the argument but it’s undeniable if this had happened during the NRL’s fortnight-long ‘crackdown’ on dangerous and high contact, they’d each be gone for at least six.
Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary didn’t even attempt to use his arms when he turned his shoulder into the Dragons’ Jack Bird. It was a shoulder charge to the letter of the law. But he walks away without a charge too. It’s a genuine raffle.
The decisive Roosters penalty was 100 per cent correct
Staying on the topic of high contact, Thomas Flegler hit Sitili Tupouinua high. That’s a penalty.
And contrary to what commentators and commenter alike might prefer, you don’t hold off on awarding a penalty because of how the game is placed.
It was a penalty all day, even if, like me, you didn’t like the end product of the Roosters getting out of jail.
Victor Radley’s ‘chargedown’ was incredibly dangerous
Speaking of frequent flyers, increasing Roosters liability Victor Radley is going to cop four weeks off for a grade two dangerous contact charge, being he dived at the legs of Broncos halfback Albert Kelly as he kicked.
It looked shocking, because it was. Kelly could have been seriously injured. It brought back memories of the bad old days where props would launch themselves at the legs of a kicker and if damage was done, so be it.
Radley’s extended suspension is because of his shocking prior record, which is also inflated because he was a high tackle ‘crackdown’ victim and got a larger suspension in Round 11.
His dive was unnecessary and put Kelly at serious risk. Sort it out, Victor. There’s many different ways to charge down a kick.
Scoring records are breaking everywhere
To the naked eye, the game under V’landysball rules has been an orgy of pointscoring. For the top teams, anyway. For everyone else it has been a horror show.
Now we’re getting more and more evidence as to how the year is so skewed.
Six weeks ago, Melbourne became the first team in rugby league history to score 40 points ten times in a season. Their 18-game winning streak is a club record, so is their astonishing +485 point differential.
Three of Melbourne’s top-ten individual point-scoring efforts by a player have happened in 2021. The purple machine just keeps rolling.
They’re not on their own, though. During Manly’s 46-point dance on the Eels, Rueben Garrick broke the season point-scoring record for the Sea Eagles. He’s on 268 and moved past Matthew Ridge, Graham Eadie and Jamie Lyon.
To top off the chart topping displays, South Sydney’s belting of the incredibly disappointing Gold Coast was their tenth straight win, the first time they’ve done so since 1989. The Bunnies also became the first team in history to score 30 or more in eight straight games, which had led to their best ever point scoring season with 689, more than their premiership year of 2014.
All fine achievements. But guess what? There’s still three regular season games left. Depending on what happens next with the rules of play, I wager some of these records will never be broken.
We’ll miss you, Sterlo
For decades now the one shining light in Channel Nine’s increasingly horrible rugby league coverage has been Peter Sterling.
The Eels premiership player and Rothmans Medallist (that’s what the game’s best player won before the NRL and the Dally M award, kids) was a beacon during broadcasts with his even handed opinion, shrewd observation bro from innate game knowledge and the fantastic ‘if you freeze it there’ analysis seconds after a big play, where he broke down into simple terms what just happened for the audience.
His knowledge and understanding of the game, its tactics and his ability to translate that for the viewer was unparalleled. When his colleagues worked a game with Sterling, it was obvious they took their job a bit more seriously than the usual bluster and ref baiting.
Rumours abounded as they do in rugby league abut why he was leaving, but he summed it up to the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Turning 61, I guess I felt like I’d have maybe 15 good years physically to direct my energy into other things, mainly family and eventually the opportunity to travel. You know, I’ve never been able to see Europe in their summer because of 30 seasons of working in our winter,” he said.
“It’s just about steering my energy away from watching eight (NRL) games every week. I just want to do those things now while I can. If I want to walk up the steps of Machu Picchu, I don’t think it’s the type of thing I could put off much longer.”
So happy trails, Sterlo. Your influence will be very much missed. God knows Nine needs more rugby league brains like yours.