The NRL season’s penultimate round saw plenty of action which may well have lasting impacts for clubs chasing a premiership. Here are your talking points for NRL Round 24.
NRL head office needed to be quiet about Latrell Mitchell
We all knew Latrell Mitchell should have been sent off for his ugly high shot which broke Joseph Manu’s cheekbone and ended his season. We all knew he was facing a hefty suspension because of his poor record at the judiciary. We all knew there was an issue with the bunker missing the hit initially and Mitchell only getting sin binned.
What we didn’t need in the aftermath was NRL CEO Andrew Abdo and Head of Football Graham Annesley publicly shooting Mitchell, the referees and the bunker before the Rabbitohs custodian had even been charged.
No matter how hot an on-field issue might be, the CEO doesn’t need to get involved. And Abdo shouldn’t be passing opinion on something that at the time was still to be decided. If you’re doing media the day after, you should be able to talk your way around anything.
When something like this occurs, there are protocols to be followed and decisions to be made by players and clubs about how they intend to address the charges. What happens to due process and procedural fairness if the game’s CEO and Head of Football are weighing in with what they thought should have happened?
Great win, Eels – can you do it again?
How about Parramatta! Undefeated against Melbourne this year and responsible for ending the Storm’s tilt at history, stopping their winning streak at 19.
The Eels own two of Melbourne’s three losses this season and ran Penrith to one point in Round 16. Yet they sit in fifth, needing to beat Penrith and then hope for an unlikely Cowboys win over Manly to secure a double chance.
Parramatta’s win was built on a fantastic defensive effort. They hit hard, they scrambled fantastically and were able to endure Melbourne relentlessly targeting their left side when it looked like they were going to stroll through at will. Melbourne came at them over and over again, but the Eels stood firm and took their opportunities.
Can they pull it off again against the Panthers, who are chasing top spot? Injury to Clint Gutherson and the suspension of Junior Paulo will make it tough.
If it wasn’t a season defining win on Saturday, it was certainly a huge confidence booster which couldn’t have come at a better time.
Gold Coast can steal eighth
While their own narrow loss to Newcastle secured the Knights back-to-back finals appearances, the Titans come out of the weekend with the door ever so slightly ajar to take the last postseason spot.
The Gold Coast finish their regular season at home against the Warriors, who had their own finals hopes ended by Canberra on Friday. Cronulla and Canberra are ahead of the Titans on points, but both have brutal games to finish – Melbourne and the Roosters, respectively.
Assuming those games go to type, the Titans can vault both if they get a decent win to extend their season by a week, and maybe more.
There are a lot of ‘ifs’, ‘ands’ and ‘coulds’ in this, which usually means it’ll be hard to do. Will they be a challenge for whoever finishes fifth? That’s another story. But you’ve got to be there to have that chance.
Are the Queensland stadium surfaces holding up?
South Sydney fans had their hearts in their mouths when the Suncorp Stadium turf gave way under the boot of halfback Adam Reynolds on Friday. He left the field (but did come back) after suffering a hyper-extension in his knee, which could have easily been much worse.
Was this a sign the likely grand final venue was suffering too much wear and tear?
One of the main concerns the NRL had when they moved the competition north was the resilience of the turf on the Gold Coast and Brisbane grounds in particular under such heavy traffic.
The league have done well to spread games across regional spots and smaller areas like the Sunshine Coast, Rockhampton, Mackay and Redcliffe to carry the load.
After some earlier concerns, the Gold Coast didn’t host any games this weekend and Brisbane only has one game allocated in the final round. Reynolds’ issue aside, the surfaces at the finals venues are getting the best management possible.
Big time injuries and suspensions
The carnage to the game’s stars wasn’t limited to Mitchell and Manu in Round 24.
With just one game until the finals, Eels skipper Clint Gutherson is hurt, Shaun Lane failed his HIA against the Storm and is surely in some doubt, Melbourne flyer Josh Addo-Carr did a hamstring and may miss at least one game, and of course Reynolds who did return to the field and kicked, but probably should be held out of this week’s game against the Dragons, just to be sure.
On the discipline side of the ledger, there was a hell of a lot of business for the NRL judiciary.
Storm forward Jesse Bromwich got a week for a crusher tackle, Harry Grant got a fine, Brandon Smith and Nathan Brown are incredibly lucky to only get fined for high shots on Niukore Marata and Tom Eisenhuth respectively, Eels big man Junior Paulo got a week for a shoulder charge, Bunnies forward Liam Knight is suspended for this week and their first final, Dane Gagai was fined, Rooster Fletcher Baker is facing suspension, and his teammates Isaac Liu and Egan Butcher got fined for grade one tackles and contact.
That’s a lot of little niggly charges that might add up to something a bit more serious if a player transgresses again either this week or during the finals…
It gets harder for the Warriors in Australia
Reports started coming through late Sunday the New Zealand club would have to spend another season out of home and in Australia for season 2022. It’s sure to be another hit to the morale of players, their families and loved ones, who have been dealing with challenges and many of us couldn’t handle if we were in the same boat.
The Warriors haven’t played a home game across the ditch since 2019. Some players haven’t been home since then. It’s such a hard price to pay to keep the NRL afloat and the fact they’ve more than held their own on the field is commendable, especially compared to other clubs.
Pre-season training is due to start on November 1. Barring some kind of miracle, the New Zealanders will likely be doing that in Redcliffe. I hope the game is able to repay the club and do its part to grow the game in New Zealand when it’s possible.
What did you make of Round 24, Roarers? There was a bit happening…