The blowouts are back! Alright, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
After some tense clashes last night, the scorelines in the Super Saturday of trials were a little lopsided, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t entertaining. Not for a second.
We had Parramatta smashing the Panthers, the Dragons wresting the Charity Shield back from South Sydney after a decade and the ongoing soap opera that is the Brisbane Broncos taking another torrid turn up in Mackay.
All that was missing was the Titans – Warriors game, which fell victim to the horrendous weather, but with three games taking place up and down Australia’s soggy coast (and in a dry Mudgee), there was no lack of talking points.
Here’s the best of them.
Penrith Panthers 36 – 0 Parramatta Eels
Just like the last one, it’s always their year
Don’t get carried away.
Don’t get carried away.
Don’t get carried away.
Did Parra just beat the reigning Premiers? If this was boxing, they’d be champions by now.
Yes, it’s a trial. Yes, it was their first team against a Penrith side with a few out. But this might be as good as it gets for the Eels this year and you have to let them dream – it’ll be funnier when it all comes crashing down.
Jokes aside, this was as good a performance as we’ve seen in any of the trials, and perhaps shows us where the game on the park might be going in 2022.
Cooper Cronk mentioned it in passing on the commentary: the new rules will really benefit the teams that can spread the play via their forwards.
It’s a different beast to halves pinging long passes, because when forwards can gradually move the ball over, the defenders have to engage and stay honest rather than sliding in a block.
Smart viewers saw that last year – the way that Isaah Yeo and Cameron Murray were used by their clubs, for example – and if that were to continue to a logical conclusion, the ability of the back row options to move the football will be the difference between the quite good and the very good.
Parramatta showed that in spades today: the trio of Ryan Matterson, Isaiah Papali’I and Shaun Lane were consistently able get the ball in the hands of Clint Gutherson and Will Penisini exactly where they needed to be.
Don’t throw the baby out with the rainwater
If Parramatta fans are going to get carried away, the Panthers will do well to do the opposite.
Eight of their 17 played last year’s Grand Final but that means that nine of that squad didn’t. Parramatta, on the other hand, arguably put out a stronger team than the one that exited last year’s finals to the Panthers.
What Penrith learned is that they aren’t quite as good when all their stars aren’t on deck, but to be honest, that’s not really a learning.
We have a salary-capped sport and even when clubs can build youth conveyor belts like Penrith can, that doesn’t mean that they can stockpile talent or have grade-ready youngsters waiting to go against top opposition.
Penrith themselves saw that last season, losing to a bang average Tigers side during Origin when they were missing a few key bodies.
Today wasn’t a great day for the Panthers, but they won’t be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Manly in two weeks will be a different proposition entirely.
St George Illawarra Dragons 16 – 10 South Sydney Rabbitohs
The razzle-dazzle Dragons
It wasn’t so much that the Dragons came firing out of the blocks, it was the manner with which they did it.
Cody Ramsey’s flying putdown will go great guns on social media, but the other two tries – plus the daring early kick that sprung Tyrell Sloan – showed something that we haven’t seen from the Dragons before: adventure.
Last year, and if we’re being honest, for several years before that, St George Illawarra have looked scared. For a club of their size to go 15th, 12th and 11th in consecutive years will do that.
Corey Norman seemed to exemplify that atmosphere, playing like he knew his reputation was diminishing week on week.
Now, they seem to have embraced the new rules, backed the young guys to play off the cuff and decided that this footy lark can actually be a bit of fun.
The addition of Sloan and Talatau Amone has had an obvious impact in terms of adding flair, and that will only be improved when Jayden Sullivan returns.
Zak Lomax, if told to play freely, can be a classy centre in the grand Dragons tradition, elevated by the Red V and not weighed down by it.
It’s one thing to do it in a glorified trial game in Mudgee, however. If they can bring the same attitude to real footy in two weeks’ time, with points on the line, then they might go alright after all.
Lachlan Ilias, Adam Reynolds 2.0
Lachlan Ilias doesn’t look much like Adam Reynolds, but he seems to have one part of his game sorted: the kicking.
Souths have put the farm on their young halfback filling the not-inconsiderably-sized boots of Reynolds, because their attacking system is built around having a very specific type of halfback in the 7 jersey.
Ilias must be able to kick, organise and then get out of the way while Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker do their thing.
That’s what Reynolds did, and he was so integral to the system that the Bunnies were willing to play him on half a leg in the Finals last year.
Tonight, Illias showed he can do the most important part of that role very well indeed. There was a 20/40 and a range of other long and short kicks that did a fairly decent impression of his predecessor.
We won’t be able to make a full assessment of the new 7 until the star man at the back returns, because the other half of Ilias’ job was getting the ball to Walker and Mitchell – especially on the left – at the right time for them to execute.
Souths were very effective in attack in 2021, and they don’t need to reinvent the wheel – they just have to hope that their new tyre goes close to as good as the last one.
North Queensland Cowboys 26 – 6 Brisbane Broncos
Val at home in the centres
Initially, it seemed like the experiment of playing Valentine Holmes in the centre was simply a case of trying to get him on the field somewhere.
He’s too good and on too much money to sit on the bench, plus he’s the Cowboys’ best goalkicker, so Todd Payten had the task on finding a place for him that didn’t disrupt everything else.
The role of the winger has changed significantly since Holmes came back from the NFL, and with both in Kyle Feldt and Murray Taulagi taller and ten kilos heavier, Holmes can’t go there.
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow has proven himself as the long-term option at fullback, so that one is out too. Left centre is where Payten has settled.
There’s no doubt that Val has the attack to play there – watch the line he ran for the Cowboys’ second try or the pass for Taulagi’s first – but it’s his defence that has been the sticking point.
He went straight up against Kotoni Staggs tonight and came out pretty well. It’s a question of doing it all the time, because you don’t get many second chances in the centres, but it’s a solid start.
Tyson Gamble might get a gig, and that really tells you where the Broncos are
Tyson Gamble’s performance in last week’s audition for the bizarre reality show prize that is the Broncos 6 jersey – pause, briefly, to imagine Kevvie Walters as a rugby league RuPaul, judging all before him – was less than stellar.
Thanks to the continuing absence of Adam Reynolds and a positive Covid test for Albert Kelly, he got a second go, and this time made a better fist of it.
At times last week, Gamble appeared to be trying to do everything himself, a surefire way to achieve nothing in rugby league unless your name starts with a T and ends with rbojevic.
This week, he was more restrained and just did his job, kicked alright, ran when he got a chance and made his tackles. In short, he played like a first grader.
Perhaps it is because there’s nobody else, so the pressure is off. Adam Reynolds will come back, but tonight it was Gamble and Billy Walters in two spots, with Ezra Mam getting the last 15 off the bench.
Perhaps, though, this is the big problem that the Broncos have. There is nobody else. They struggled to create anything in attack and that’s probably a reflection of where their spine is at the moment.
Tesi Niu is out, so the untested Selwyn Cobbo is at the back. They don’t know who their 6 is going to be. They haven’t decided on Cory Paix or Jake Turpin to start at 9. So it’s Adam Reynolds, if he’s fit, plus three other blokes.
Reynolds is a superstar but beyond him, it’s a big drop off. It doesn’t really matter who Walters picks, because all the options are, at best, passable.
The coach has seen another 80 minutes of his son and Tyson Gamble, and with Souths on horizon in two weeks, he’ll have to make his call.
Speaking on Fox after the game, Adam Reynolds seemed to express his desire for Albert Kelly to partner him, though he also said “there’s a lot of answers to be answered”, which kind of sums up the level of confusion over the halves position at Suncorp.