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Opinion

NRL Round 11 talking points - It’s evolution, baby

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22nd May, 2022
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The NRL’s young talent showed yet again why the NRL is in great hands, while injuries started to bite as winning streaks extended.

Here are your talking points from the weekend’s games.

How bout dem Cowboys?
In the ‘Experts Roar’ piece a little earlier this year I had the Cowboys finishing bottom four, saying “North Queensland haven’t evolved as much as I expected under Todd Payten”. Hoo boy – I happily admit I whiffed on that call, big time. The Payten evolution is well and truly here.

Melbourne travelled to Townsville for Saturday’s game heavily favoured and went home heavily beaten, tuned up 36-6. It’s been a rough fortnight for the Storm, but they were deservedly lit up by a North Queensland side who sensed uncertainty early and went right after the kill.

Scott Drinkwater, Valentine Holmes and Tom Gilbert feasted while 19 year old Jeremiah Nanai continued along his merry way with two tries.

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Can they sustain this form? Right now, it doesn’t matter. The Cowboys travel to Penrith this Friday and are basically playing with house money. North Queensland have come from so far back all you can do is appreciate the work they’ve put in to rebuild themselves, often in the face of harsh criticism. I hope they do well.

Did Parra need that, or did Parra need that?
After a Magic Round stinker against the Roosters, the Eels’ 22-20 theft from Manly was critical for their top four plans. A ripping Mitch Moses sideline conversion in hosing rain capped a fun game full of back and forth, with both sides copping (justified) sin bins but fighting to the end.

That 2 points gets Parramatta tied with Cronulla and Brisbane for fourth and they need to just keep accumulating wins by any means necessary. A matchup with resurgent Canberra awaits, followed by a week off then Canterbury. Teams who want top four spots win those.

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Dragons v Warriors was pleasantly entertaining
Be honest now – the St George-Illawarra v New Zealand stoush was not high on your list of games to watch this weekend, was it.

But it turned into a belter, with some fantastic individual efforts.

Dragons fullback Cody Ramsey was brilliant, centre Moses Suli ran for 228 metres and broke six tackles, showing again what he’s capable of, prop Michael Molo scored on debut, New Zealand’s Addin Fonua-Blake rolled for 206 metres with just under half of that post-contact and centre Viliami Vailea scored a double. All in all, it was all a good show providing an entertaining afternoon.

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Having said this…

Let New Zealand go home
The Warriors have now spent almost three seasons based in Australia and it’s time to let them play back home. The departure of prop Matt Lodge because he didn’t want to move to New Zealand is indicative of how their current position is between a rock and a hard place, particularly when it comes to roster management.

It’s impossible right now for the Warriors to be able to cultivate their homeland for membership, crowds, sponsors, cash flow and most importantly, local players.

The impact of this period on New Zealand rugby league will last for many years and hopefully the NRL is alert to these long term risks – never mind the actual human side of players being able to live in their own homes, with their own families in their own neighbourhoods.

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If Super Rugby can manage trans-tasman travel and fixturing, the NRL can too. Get it done and get it done now. Otherwise, all this constant ‘thank you for your sacrifice’ or talk of a second NZ team from key figures in the NRL is just hollow bullshit.

Selwyn Cobbo is something else, man
What a player the Broncos have on their wing. 19 years old, 6 foot 2, 99 kilos and bloody fast, nine tries in Brisbane’s five straight wins, the subject of a ‘contract war’ that’ll set him up for life.

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This rugby league caper’s pretty easy, isn’t it. Should he play State of Origin? Why not?

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

And heeeeere come the injuries
The Cowboys have a couple of knee concerns for Kyle Feldt and Jason Taumalolo (the severity of both to be confirmed at time of writing), Warriors prop Addin Fonua-Blake had a belter of a game but damaged his foot late, and Newcastle centre Bradman Best dislocated his elbow in Thursday’s loss to Brisbane.

Wests Tigers halfback Jackson Hastings could barely walk after his side’s win over Canterbury, but coach Michael Maguire assures all he’s ok. Jock Madden stepped into halves admirably for Luke Brooks to keep things rolling.

These are pretty important players to each team and big time injuries just ahead of the Origin period isn’t good news.

The big news, though, was not good for Manly fans and New South Welshpeople as gun fullback and talisman Tom Trbojevic went down yet again with a suspected season-ending injury, this time a dislocated shoulder.

You’d be within your rights to say Trbojevic has a chronic problem, having played 44 from a possible 86 games since the end of the 2018 season (and because you’re curious, Manly went 30-14 in those games).

Also because you’re curious, Turbo is on good cash with the Sea Eagles until the end of season 2026.

Quick hits
– Melbourne have lost two in a row, sure. But they’re still second on the table with a +169 points differential… Spare me the panicking.
– South Sydney have had a double figure error count in every game this season and averaging 13 mistakes a week.
– No Tom Trbojevic, Victor Radley, Dale Finucane, Cam Murray, Latrell Mitchell or Ryan Papenhuyzen for Brad Fittler in State of Origin 1…
– You all know how much I love my big boppers – so hearty congratulations to Canberra prop Josh Papalii marking game 250 with a try and the Tigers’ Alex Twal marking his 100th by remaining tryless, as tradition dictates.
– Matt Lodge won’t be missed by New Zealand. Would you want him at your club? See also Paul Vaughan.
– Melbourne winger Xavier Coates’ 40m chasedown and try saving tackle on Cowboy Murray Taulagi was unbelievable, and done in the 70th minute down 30 points. That’s the Storm mentality.
– Since scoring just six second half tries in their first nine games, Canberra have scored four in their last two on the way to a three game win streak.

To the next
Next week is the last full round before Origin byes kick in and there’ll be plenty of teams looking to pinch a crucial two points.

Melbourne host Manly on Thursday night in what’s shaping as quite an important one. Brisbane and the Gold Coast face off, the Warriors and Knights approach the last chance saloon. Souths play the Tigers and the Sharks and Roosters will try to get space on one another, while Canberra and Parramatta might be a sneaky good one too.

The best game of the round though is undoubtedly Penrith hosting North Queensland – 1st v 3rd, grizzled champs v the precocious up and comer. Fittingly, this one’s played in that 6pm Friday marquee spot… Sometimes, the fixture just does you wrong.

What did you think of the weekend’s rugby league, Roarers?

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