Welcome back! And folks, it is great to be back.
NRL Round 1 is in the bank and as is the way of all Round 1s, there were unpredictable results, rough edges to new combinations and a gulf in approaches from teams with premiership designs and those who just want to do better than last year.
Here’s your talking points from the NRL opening weekend.
Round 1’s glorious unpredictability
Newcastle fans were amped after doing over the Roosters, who everyone and their cousin has tipped for the premiership. Knights fans rightly teed off on anyone who’d been involved in the ‘Newcastle for the wooden spoon’ narrative, which for reasons unknown had been banging around in the pre-season.
The Knights were great against the Roosters, even if the Chooks showed they’d spent the trial games making sure players didn’t get injured rather than getting match fit. It’s not a big deal – the Roosters will be just fine – but it’ll be interesting to see if the Knights will carry over this energy, particularly in defence.
Cronulla rookie coach Craig Fitzgibbon had to miss his side’s debut against Canberra because of COVID-19, but his side showed plenty of grit after the Raiders once again dominated an opponent early and had very little to show for it. The Sharks really should have closed the game out with a 19-18 lead, but Canberra finally found a way to win a game late.
Thank you Brisbane, thank you Canterbury
Their two games were the lowest scoring, but the most Round 1 thing of Round 1 were the 11-4 win to the Broncos over South Sydney and the 6-4 escape by the Bulldogs in hosing rain in Townsville.
These were pretty fun games to watch and even if neither team is going to be achieving much this year, at least their fans might see a bit more goodness this season than the last few.
There’s a strong case to be made that the most fun event of the weekend was Kurt Capewell’s field goal to seal the deal for the ponies, a quality surprise big-man achievement.
The Bulldogs fought hard, got a lot of luck when a late Cowboys try was disallowed and had to bring on their 18th man Aaron Schoupp when Jeremy Marshall-King left the field in the last ten minutes. Chris Patolo, Brent Naden and Braidon Burns had already been taken off for HIA checks.
While the Roosters and Bulldogs had their HIA issues, Melbourne had the worst of the injury front from the weekend. Premier front rower Christian Welch tore an Achilles tendon, hooker Brandon Smith broke his hand and winger George Jennings suffered a bad knee injury. Only Smith will return in 2022.
The Storm dug deep to beat a willing Wests Tigers outfit and rack up a 20th consecutive Round 1 victory, which was also Craig Bellamy’s 350th win as coach.
Melbourne playing (and winning) without key pieces is hardly news to rugby league followers. So let’s just put a placeholder note of mild concern here for now.
Penrith’s defence still has that premiership glow
Their 2021 season was built on formidable defence and Penrith wasted no time showing they still had the organisation and hunger to keep turning away an opponent.
With Penrith losing a couple of players and star halfback Nathan Cleary missing, Manly were favoured by quite a few pundits for Thursday night’s season opener but the Sea Eagles were just bludgeoned by the champs.
Penrith possessed the ball for 12 minutes longer than Manly, broke the line at will and outran, out tackled and out enthused their opponent to the point where the final 28-6 score was pretty flattering to Des Hasler’s men.
Last year Penrith only conceded 11.9 points a game, in the finals it was ten. They toyed with Manly for most of the night and it’s obvious they haven’t forgotten how they got where they are.
Who decided the real was unreal?
Over the decades, rugby league has had some of the great marketing campaigns in Australian sport. Tina Turner with ‘Simply the Best’, the Hoodoo Gurus and ‘That’s My Team’, even that ‘Feels Like Woah’ campaign by Australian Idol winner Wes Carr wasn’t too bad.
But as we settled into relaxation mode to watch and follow games this weekend, a heap of bizarre promos and posts started showing up driven by the NRL’s 2022 slogan – ‘It’s so real, it’s unreal’. There was also a few posts about players, like this one for Penrith winger Brian To’o:
Funnily enough, after another equally bizarre effort about Canberra’s Josh Papalii, the ‘unreal’ player promos vanished before the Saturday games kicked off.
Keep an eye out, because there’s a chance all this real/unreal business might quietly find itself moved aside, like what happened to Thomas Keneally and ‘Blow that whistle ref’ in 1999…
Remember, it’s just Round 1
For those who need to hear this: A Round 1 loss means very, very little in the wider scheme of the season. The ladder right now is completely irrelevant. There’s 24 rounds to go and nothing really matters until maybe Round 14 when State of Origin starts to bite.
Having said all that…
If you’re a South Sydney fan, you might be looking at this Thursday’s trip to Melbourne with a little more trepidation than usual, even though Latrell Mitchell is back and the Storm are down a Welch and a Smith.
Souths are five wins and 30 (yes, 30) losses against the Storm and they’ve never won in Melbourne. Storm talisman Cameron Munster returns after an enforced break. It’s also Craig Bellamy’s 500th game as a coach.
St George Illawarra had a good win over the New Zealand Warriors and will front up to Penrith, which is a whole other world of challenge.
Manly and the Roosters get a do-over of sorts on Friday night at the SCG, Cronulla face Parramatta, who staggered past the Gold Coast on Sunday, and then there’s the game of the round on Sunday night when the 1-0 Broncos face the 1-0 Bulldogs! And yes, it felt as weird writing that as it felt for you to read it.
What did you make of NRL Round 1, Roarers?