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Round 21 Preview Questions: Anyone have faith in judiciary? Manly Seven speak up? Griffin happy with his 17?

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3rd August, 2022
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Try as we might as NRL onlookers, the judiciary can’t escape our collective bewilderment.

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves grinds his forearm into a rookie forward’s face. That’s a grade-one charge.

Nelson Asofa-Solomona drops his elbow into a tackled player’s head with such force that his opponent’s teeth are cracked. No sin bin, send-off or charge.

Josh King gropes at the face of a Warrior in almost a mirror image of an incident that prompted a five-week ban the previous round. Nothing.

Patrick Carrigan wrenches Jackson Hastings back in a three-man tackle in such a way that his leg snaps. He’s not only charged but referred straight to the judiciary. He gets five weeks. Poor old Hastings will be lucky to see a football field again for five months. 

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Jason Taumalolo shoulder-charges an opponent and can escape with a fine that could be covered by whatever loose change he has lying around. Do NRL players on multimillion-dollar salaries carry cash? However he looks after his finances, a $3000 fine isn’t going to break the bank or discourage him from this illegal and highly dangerous practice that the NRL was supposedly trying to stamp out.

Anyway, there’s eight games on again over the next four days. There’ll be more judiciary drama and as NRL head of football Graham Annesley constantly reminds the yawning media at his Monday briefings, “no two incidents are the same” but the wild variance in punishments that we saw over the past weekend were a black eye for the sport that’s supposedly trying to improve player safety.

Here are the burning questions for all 16 clubs in Round 21.

Round 21 Questions

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Thursday

Roosters v Broncos, 7.50pm at SCG

Does JWH have shortest fuse in NRL? It’s described by some commentators as the old bull marking his territory against the young bull when you see an old forward “welcome” a newbie to first grade with some rough treatment. But it looked more like a sign of insecurity from Jared Waerea-Hargreaves when the 33-year-old Kiwi international engaged in a running battle with Manly debutant Zac Fulton last week. JWH copped plenty of criticism five years ago when he talked a big game before a preliminary final against the Cowboys and then went missing as Jason Taumalolo steamrolled the Roosters on the way to the Grand Final. The Roosters prop has since been more aggressive in his actions, particularly in the club’s 2018-19 premierships, but this season when he’s attracted three charges from just 14 games, it seems more a case of trying to manufacture dominance over opponents rather than earning it.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 30: Patrick Carrigan of the Broncos passes the ball during the round 20 NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the Wests Tigers at Suncorp Stadium, on July 30, 2022, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Patrick Carrigan. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

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Was Patrick Carrigan’s ban too harsh, lenient or about right? If you ask Tigers fans or Jackson Hastings, who is unlikely to play again until 2023, then a four-game ban for Carrigan’s leg-breaking hip-drop tackle was way too light. The NRL’s legal counsel wanted five or six weeks but the Broncos wisely compared it with a similar Josh McGuire incident from last year which earned the Dragons veteran a five-week suspension. That was under the system where repeat offenders such as McGuire had greater loading applied to bans. Brisbane were never going to get the two matches they requested from the panel but there was no way they’d get five or more after bringing up the McGuire precedent so four in the end was about as fair as you could get.

Friday

Storm v Titans, 6pm at AAMI Park

Will signing David Nofoaluma make much of a difference for the Storm? Probably not a great deal but with the injuries they’ve got in their outside backs, any help from an experienced winger like him is going to be a benefit, particularly with Nick Meaney and Justin Olam out this week along with long-term casualties Reimis Smith, Ryan Papenhuyzen and George Jennings. The question is whether the NRL should allow transfers so late in the season and the answer there is a resounding no. The August 1 deadline was brought in during the pandemic when teams were hamstrung by biosecurity and travel restrictions. When they went out the window before Round 1, the cut-off date should have been restored to the usual June 30 this year rather than next. 

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So Toby Sexton was the problem? The rookie halfback has been doing what rookie halfbacks do – make the odd mistake while finding his feet at NRL level. He’s had multiple halves partners while the fullback and hooker roles have also been interchangeable with AJ Brimson, Tanah Boyd, Jayden Campbell, Erin Clark and Aaron Booth rotating in and out. Justin Holbrook is under immense pressure to come up with a winning formula and he is trying every combination under the Gold Coast sun but a spine in coaching is like trying to open an iPhone, if you don’t get those numbers right, you will soon get locked out.

Sea Eagles v Eels, 7.55pm at 4 Pines Park

Can Manly Seven come out, so to speak? Five of the seven Sea Eagles who boycotted last week’s game over the “inclusivity jersey” for Women In League Round are back: Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley. Josh Aloiai is out injured, which makes last week’s decision to make himself unavailable even more pointless, while Josh Schuster is in the No.18 jersey as the standby bench player. Other players were dished up to the media on Wednesday but still nothing from these seven explaining their actions, or their thoughts on the sinful gambling and alcohol sponsorships that contribute to their pay packets.

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 04: Jason Saab of the Sea Eagles celebrates scoring a try with team mates during the round 13 NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the New Zealand Warriors at 4 Pines Park, on June 04, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Jason Saab celebrates a try with teammates. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Will Eels fans cut Jake Arthur some slack? When the teams are introduced pre-game will there be boos again from Parra supporters who feel aggrieved about the coach’s son getting a run? Sport has a long history of faceless “fans” jeering players (Knicks fans before many an NBA Draft) before cheering them in the blink of an eye. Hopefully this storyline follows that theme.

Saturday 

Rabbitohs v Warriors, 3pm at Sunshine Coast Stadium

Has Latrell Mitchell been practising his kicking? And not just those of the field goal variety. He very nearly botched the conversion next to the posts after Tevita Tatola’s dubious four-pointer put Souths two behind Cronulla last Saturday. His casual kick attempt bounced in off the upright – poor old Shaun Timmins would have been hoping Latrell missed to take the heat off him for his 1997 clanger which cost the Steelers a win over North Sydney from a similar spot.

Mitchell’s three field goal attempts in extra time at Shark Park were much harder but the missed two competition points after Nicho Hynes booted Cronulla to victory could be crucial for the now seventh-placed Rabbitohs who could have been in a share of third spot.

Will Warriors win another game in 2022? After the Bunnies this weekend, they host the improved Bulldogs in Auckland, hit the road to face North Queensland and Penrith before finishing the season at home to the Titans, which could be a “blockbuster” for all the wrong reasons in that it could decide the wooden spoon. With Jazz Tevaga and Chanel Harris-Tavita now likely out injured for the rest of the season, the end of the Warriors’ three years of living out of a suitcase can’t come quickly enough.

Raiders v Panthers, 5.30pm at GIO Stadium 

Can Canberra cope with expectations? They’ve won three in a row and and they are at home against a depleted Panthers team missing star halves Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai. The Raiders still aren’t favourites with the bookmakers as they try to notch a four-game streak of success for the first time since they went on a five-match tear at the end of the shortened 2020 season. 

Is Ivan Cleary about to pull a late switch? With Nathan Cleary (five-game dangerous throw ban) and Jarome Luai (knee) sidelined, the coach has named Dolphins-bound journeyman Sean O’Sullivan and Jaeman Salmon as the halves. Kurt Falls, who was sidelined last week with a minor shin complaint, has filled in twice at five-eighth this season for two wins so don’t be surprised if he starts and Salmon reverts to his usual role as a bench forward. Salmon is a former five-eighth but is almost in the Josh Schuster class for too big to be a playmaker anymore syndrome.

Sharks v Dragons, 7.35pm at PointsBet Stadium

Why does rugby league DNA so rarely span three generations? Will Kennedy’s absence with an ankle injury opens the door for Kade Dykes, son of Adam and grandson of John Dykes, to make his debut at fullback. Zac Fulton, son of Scott and grandson of Bob, created history the previous week by becoming the first person to become a third-generation first-grader at the same club. Dykes will be the second. There have been a few other families that have had three generations make the big league and in modern times a lot of clubs have disappeared or merged but it’s strange that in a competition spanning 115 seasons, there have only been two examples of three generations playing for the same team.

Has Anthony Griffin kept the faith or lost the plot? After their heavy defeat to the Cowboys last Sunday and with their faint finals hopes on the line against the Sharks, you would have thought a team change or two, or many more, might be in order. Griffin has stood by the same 17 players, including his old favourite Josh McGuire, who in one particularly meat-headed effort that you can relive in the Twitter link above, gave away a penalty, then rushed up in defence to put on a late shot, then was unable to get back to make a tackle as the Cowboys sprinted through the gap he had created. As Ron Burgundy would say to his make-up artist, that’s bush league.

Sunday 

Bulldogs v Cowboys, 2pm at Salter Oval, Bundaberg

Have Bulldogs finally settled on their centres? They’ve chopped and changed for several seasons going back to the end of the Des Hasler era five years ago but Aaron Schoupp and Braidon Burns, not that there’s such a thing as a centre combination anymore, have shown they can be the two link men on each edge. Schoupp carved up the Knights with 223 running metres and a try to boot while Burns chalked up a couple of line break assists. The former Rabbitoh is in his sixth year in the NRL but has never played more than 10 games in a season due mainly to ongoing hamstring problems. He’s up to eight for 2022, hopefully he finishes with a lucky 13.

Braidon Burns. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Was Jason Taumalolo lucky to avoid a ban? Of course he was. His shoulder charge on Dragons forward Blake Lawrie was deemed a grade-one offence. Shoulder charges were supposedly one of the main areas of foul play the NRL was trying to eradicate – even the lowest-grade offences should attract an automatic ban. Taumalolo, who is on a seven-figure annual salary, was faced with the option of a $3000 fine or a two-game ban. He gets $40,000-plus per game, does anyone think such a paltry amount will make one iota of difference to his bank account or, more importantly, his tackling technique.

Tigers v Knights, 4.05pm at Campbelltown Sports Stadium

Can Tigers fans be patient? It’s a tough ask for supporters of a side that has the longest playoff drought of 11 years and climbing but the club has unearthed a few rough diamonds this season who can form part of the nucleus of an improving team in the next couple of years, particularly when paired with Api Koroisau and Isaiah Papali’i. Young centre Asu Kepaoa, middle forward Fonua Pole and back-rower Alex Seyfarth are showing enough to suggest they will become established first-graders.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 31: David Klemmer of the Knights is tackled during the round 20 NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the Canterbury Bulldogs at McDonald Jones Stadium, on July 31, 2022, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

David Klemmer. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Are Knights headed for yet another rebuild? David Klemmer’s always been a restless soul and a fiery one at that, and if he refused to come off and abused the trainer, then he deserves to be stood down and fined. But this club’s problems run much deeper and the prop and club might be better off if he hits the road at season’s end. The next few years look bleak for the Knights. When the Bulldogs finished with the wooden spoon last year there prospects appeared better than Newcastle’s right now. They’ve got Kalyn Ponga on a massive contract that he’s yet to prove he can consistently deliver on, there’s the Saifiti twins and to paraphrase Austin Powers, a gas shortage and a flock of seagulls, and that’s about it.

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