And so ends the home-and-away section of NRL season 2021. Some teams fought to the end, others looked as though they’d had enough, and eight teams have at least one more week to go.
Here are your talking points for the final round of the season.
Resting players is fine, but let’s see how it ends
Newcastle had nowhere else to finish other than seventh, so it doesn’t matter they got rolled by Brisbane. They were sitting several players with a definite eye to their eliminator with sixth place (now the Eels) on Sunday. It’s worth noting the Knights have the worst defensive record of any finals team in the NRL era, so let’s see if they can go one step further than last year.
Regular season is over and now Newcastle have the worst defensive record of side to make the top 8 in the NRL era.
They join just three other teams to make the top 8 with below average points scored and conceded.
And they finished comfortably in 7th place. pic.twitter.com/5Ka8xSZulc
— The Rugby League Eye Test (@LeagueEyeTest) September 5, 2021
As for their opponent, Parramatta made their plans clear on Tuesday when they announced a side missing at least seven first choice regulars. Brad Arthur gave away hopes of a top-four finish and let’s be honest, that was the realistic approach.
It’s go time for the top four
Finally, after weeks of dusty performances, resting players and marking time to avoid injury, Melbourne, Penrith and Souths are ready to rock in the serious stuff. Manly haven’t been able to coast as far as the other three, but they’re still in good nick at the right time too.
The only ‘freshness’ question marks may be on the Storm because of their concerns with Cam Munster and Josh Addo-Carr. Harry Grant has also been dinged up a bit but is pushing on.
Manly’s bruise-free opposed training session against the Cowboys was just what they were looking for, but they’re 0-3 against the top two. Penrith took care of business against the Eels’ second squad and they’re going to be burning to avenge 2020. Souths have come to the finals in the form they want, but are still 0-4 against the top two.
This weekend’s top four qualifying finals are going to be sensational games.
Cecchin retires and everyone’s ‘shocked’
Referee Matt Cecchin has pulled the plug, adjudicating his final NRL game on the weekend.
Cecchin was sent off with a shower of praise and respect from the media, given a guard honour by players, called ‘the game’s best whistleblower’ and lauded for a great career in the middle.
But where was all this praise during his time actually doing the work over the years?
Every code has its problems with umpires, referees and judges, but you’d be hard pressed to find a sport with such an ingrained disrespect for its match officials than rugby league.
The dumfounded ‘why is Cecchin leaving? He’s a great ref’ commentary from the likes of Andrew Johns rings extra hollow when those same people lamenting Cecchin’s departure made it their business for years to shitcan his and his fellow referee’s performance on the field to viewers, listeners and readers.
Respect for referees comes from the example set by key NRL figures, our families and through local teams. Maybe now we shouldn’t wait until a ref decides they’ve had enough before we show how much we appreciate them?
Trent Robinson, coach of the year?
Quite rightly, Craig Bellamy and Ivan Cleary are the pace setters. But there were murmurings over the weekend asking why not Robinson? He has managed a belted, injury smashed Roosters squad with a teenage rookie halfback into fifth after being in contention for the top four right to the end.
The impact of Robinson was obvious on Thursday night’s win over Canberra. His team stuck to their planning and structures while Canberra went to pieces under relentless pressure, real and perceived. The Roosters were ruthless and that’s a winner’s muscle memory.
But let’s be real. For all Robinson’s work to keep the Roosters in contention there is the small matter of a 1-7 record against the top four. There’s also the fact the Roosters are one spot behind Des Hasler’s Sea Eagles, who were being laughed out of the game after starting 0-4 and copping some horrendous beatings. Uncle Wayne has Souths humming along and there’s no real coaching standouts from the lower parts of the table.
Robinson is a fantastic coach, and you can’t argue otherwise. But coach of the year for 2021? I don’t think so.
It’s a huge offseason for…
Canberra, Wests Tigers and New Zealand. Canberra and Wests need to forensically examine and overhaul both their playing rosters and their gameplans. If they had plans to achieve anything in 2021, they weren’t able to handle the pace of the game or drag themselves back into contention when faced with adversity.
Raiders fans were gutted with how meekly their team turned up their toes when challenged, and how leaky the home base got to the press when times were tough.
Tigers fans got more of the same, with glimpses here and there but on the whole another season of mediocrity. Can Michael Maguire turn it around? It’s not as easy to clean out a roster and get the players you want as lots of folks hope it is.
As for the Kiwis, for all the effort and grit they showed, they end up worse off than last season and still have Matthew Lodge and Kane Evans on the books. Lodge seems to be on report every week and his conduct leaving the field yesterday after being sin binned was disgraceful.
For all the ‘lessons’; he claims to have learned from the consequences of his off-field actions, you’d think Lodge would know to pull his head in.
I’ve got no idea what Nathan Brown is thinking with those two. They’re hardly dynamic, indispensable players. If they’re still at the Warriors next season it sure sends a message that Brown’s happy to do the same thing while expecting a different result…
Wild card talk returns
We’re at the time of the season where people talk about a possible ‘Wild Card weekend’. This isn’t a new idea, and I’m on the record fully behind it. That’s all from me on the topic of Wild Cards. I stand by what I wrote.
So that’s all for the regular season, Roarers. What stood out for you in Round 25?