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My Round 20 review through Covid-tinted glasses

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Roar Rookie
4th August, 2022
6

It was going to be an enjoyable weekend in Melbourne. A must for architecture nerds, Melbourne Open house was on for the first time in two years.

Look it up if you don’t know about it. Plus dare I say it, but I was also off to the G Sunday afternoon to see the Lions take on Richmond.

At least I dodged a bullet there… For alas, waking up Thursday morning feeling more than worse for wear, my worst fears were confirmed when the dreaded second line appeared on my RAT.

All that was left was to get as comfortable as possible, and subject myself to eight NRL games and 16 odd hours with the Foxsports commentary team and all that Round 20 of the NRL would offer.

Here is my Covid-induced take on the round.

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Sea Eagles v the Roosters
The Pride Punchbowl

The sort of game with few highlights. Partly because most of the talking points had nothing to do with the game itself and the fact it was an ordinary spectacle by most standards.

The Roosters had too much class, as you sort of expected they would for what was a willing performance from Manly. The Roosters are a strange one. In terms of sheer talent across the park they match up well against any team in the comp and, they should have lapped Manly here.

Kieran Foran Manly

Kieran Foran (photo by Getty Images)

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On the one hand a Roosters-supporting mate of mine insists Robinson is working on freshening them up for the finals. Countering that is the fact that given their ladder position, he’s leaving his run late. Lindsay Collins is a huge loss for the Roosters going forward and you must fear for the guys’ future. Being knocked out like that is just awful to watch.

The referee laid a strange marker for the round in this game. Alfred Smalley was only penalised for his high shot on Sam Verrills in the first half. Yet in the last minute, Nat Butcher was sin-binned for a lesser shot on James Segeyaro, and Tom Burgess was marched for lesser contact again two nights later. Consistency remains a startlingly elusive prize in the NRL.

Warriors v Storm
The Steven Kearney Cup

Melbourne really is just like that sketch from Monty Python & the Holy Grail. “It’s just a flesh wound,” the black knight proclaims, after both arms have been chopped off. There was a time when the Warriors were something of a bogey team for the Storm.

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Those days have long passed. Though in fairness, considering the margin between these two teams was 60 three months ago, a 12-point gap this time could be considered progress for the Warriors.

The Storm certainly weren’t great in this game and probably wouldn’t have beaten many teams on the night, but despite being down on troops and losing a couple more, they were good enough for this Warriors team, who have the look of a group that desperately wants the season to be over.

And seriously though… what is with that idiot with the shoe in front of Stacey Jones? He’s a prop comic in desperate need of new material.

Eels v Panthers
The Western Sydney windup

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Why Nathan why? For the second time this round, a potentially cracking encounter was ruined as a spectacle. The unfortunate reality from this game is that it really left so many unanswered questions. Could the Eels sustain the early onslaught for 80 minutes?

Including when Penrith inevitably started to get some possession of their own? What has Spencer Leniu done to Ivan Cleary? Dropped last week and just 13 minutes off the bench this week? Why is Gordon Tallis even in the Foxsports studio? Three times he replied to a Hannah Hollis question with, “I don’t know.”

Also, serious question… I haven’t been to too many games the past few years. But what is with the stadium lights flashing after the home team scores a try? I watched Stranger Things 4 over the past couple of weeks and that at least gives a health warning of the potential health effects of flashing lights.

The Eels were clearly up for the game and in fairness were well on top when Cleary was sent off. Penrith fought bravely in the second half and could have scored a few tries, but the contest was lost by then. I really liked Sean O’Sullivan’s second half and as one of their lower profile signings, I think the Dolphins will get huge value out of him as a full-time halfback next year.

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(Photo by Steven Markham/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Titans v Raiders
The Neil Henry Cup

The Titans remind me of that junior team where the players are all trying hard, but they’re coached by one of the kids whose dad claims to have played a bit of bush footy 20 years ago.

Consequently, they’re not terribly organised and while they all try hard, the other teams’ have a real coach who teaches them how to attack and defend as a team. The Titans are an amateur outfit playing in a professional competition.

It’s well known that the Titans football department runs on the smell of the proverbial oily rag and the repeated shots of Justin Holbrook during the game showed he is a lone hand in the coach’s box. Where other teams have a cast of thousands, it seems with Jim Dymock recently getting his marching orders, Holbrook is the extent of the Titans coaching staff.

At least they’re not asking him to run the water during games. Here is one possible solution. Let David Fifita go and use the savings on a couple of assistant coaches to teach some attack and defensive structures. Never mind, the RLPA probably wouldn’t allow it.

The Raiders continue their late season run and Hudson Young has to one of the most improved players in the comp. With their run home, they’re a decent chance of sneaking into eighth spot before getting knocked out in the first week of the finals.

Sharks v Rabbitohs
David Peachey Plate

Call me a traditionalist but this game presents a perfect argument against golden point and bringing back the draw. Here we had two teams who having tried to score tries for 80 minutes, ignored that tactic entirely and spent the better part of 10 minutes missing field goals.

The seven-tackle rule makes it worse because when the missed field goal inevitably goes dead, the other team are almost compelled to attempt a field goal when they find themselves within range at the end of the extended set. Or consider it another context; Tom Burgess, who is critical to the Rabbitohs and led the team in run metres on the night, makes a desperate attempt at a covering tackle late in extra time and collects the player with the ball high. With his record he will probably miss a couple of weeks.

It would be an interesting hypothetical for Jason Demetriou. You lose the game but get Burgess next week; or you have a chance to win it, but he’s rubbed out for a fortnight?

That aside, it was a scrappy game that though tense and exciting, was more so due to the errors from both sides. I doubt Jason Demetriou was too upset with the loss and I think of the two sides, his has more improvement in them. Also, the Sharks long kicking game is a worry, neither Moylan or Hynes seem to be able to generate big distance on their kicks and that may cost them come finals.

Broncos v Tigers
The French Maid Frolic

So named after stand-in Broncos captain Shane Walker, who having captained a “Baby Broncos” team (due to them missing most of their players who were on Origin duty) to a 2002 win over the Wests Tigers, delivered the memorable post-match quote, “I haven’t been this happy since I came home, and my missus was dressed in a French Maid’s costume.”

The NRL would probably fine him for that now…

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Easily the most entertaining game of the weekend for me. Except for listening to Mick Ennis shout for two hours that is. The irony for me was that the Tigers who looked like they were trying to score on every play early, were more direct and purposeful when Tyrone Peachey came into the game at dummy half.

Good to see them get the win though. They nearly beat an admittedly understrength Panthers team a fortnight ago, were seriously unlucky against the Cowboys last week and finally had some reward here. The way the Foxsports team look after their own, I’m surprised they didn’t cross to Benji Marshall post-match to offer congratulations for the win.

This Broncos team is seriously talented and off the back of a big win away from home, the week prior, they seemed a bit off the mark here. They will learn from it though and keep improving.

Knights v Bulldogs
The 5-14 Sweepstakes

For two teams that went into this game with identical records, the relative contrast in the optimism levels of the two fan bases must be stark. While nobody would suggest the Bulldogs can call the year a success, they are at least playing like a team that are enjoying themselves. In saying that, watching the Bulldogs in the first half of this game reminded me of the Titans in 2020.

After claiming 3 wins from their first 14 games, the Titans finished 2020 by winning their last 6 games to finish ninth. The point being that throwing the ball around, getting offloads away and playing with a sense of freedom is much easier when your seasons’ not on the line.

While few Bulldogs fans would have been hoping to see the back of Trent Barrett this year, their late season form, plus the development of guys like Jacob Kiraz and Aaron Schoupp should be cause for optimism going into 2023.

Contrast that with the Knights however and they look every bit the team that is devoid of inspiration and ideas. Their inability to crack the Bulldogs in that second half was telling and while sure they are missing a few key players; they weren’t exactly facing a team of superstars. It’s hard to know where the Knights go from here and it’s also hard to see much reason for optimism next year either.

Dragons v Cowboys
The Ian Russell Shield

So named for Ian Russell, a modern lock forward who was ahead of his time playing for Illawarra in the early 90s before joining the Cowboys for their inaugural season. At my high school, each year the senior league team played a game against the teachers.

The games were willing, and some would argue physical, but every year the school team would soon realise that if they moved the opposition around, they could pretty much have their way with them. For some reason I was reminded of those games while watching this contest.

This Cowboys team are seriously enjoyable to watch and seemed to really relish the challenge posed by the Dragons at Jubilee. I have a friend who supports the Broncos. We’re still friends. He insists that Adam Reynolds is the buy of the year. I would argue Chad Townsend has him covered. Townsend is a year younger, is more durable and is probably on a third less than Reynolds.

The way the Cowboys won the arm wrestle and ran away from the Dragons in the second half was impressive and their defence was also much improved on recent weeks.

Dragons fans at this game must look at the Cowboys with envy and this stat won’t make them feel better. This will be the first year since 2018 the Cowboys have not finished bottom 4. The Dragons last played finals in 2018. Five years later, the Cowboys will finish top 4, while the Dragons are burrowing forward in the misguided hope of securing eighth spot.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 31: Scott Drinkwater of the Cowboys beats the defence to score a try during the round 20 NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the North Queensland Cowboys at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, on July 31, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Scott Drinkwater. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Apparently, the Dragons have a boom set of youngsters coming through, or so we’re told because they rarely get picked. I did read with interest that Ben Hunt is about to sign a two-year extension with the Dragons. He will start that new contract as a youthful 33-year-old.

I suspect Anthony Griffin thinks he’s about to enter his prime. Also, in a brilliant nugget from the commentary box. Mick Ennis called Jack Bird, “one of the great defensive centres of our game”. It must have been news to the Cowboys who ran four of their six tries down his side of the field.

So that’s it for the round. Two out of eight results that could be considered upsets, though one of those was heavily influenced by a send-off. As we jump into August, while contenders and pretenders are well and truly confirmed, the shadow of finals football starts to loom large over the teams at the top of the table. Bring on round 21.

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