The Roar
The Roar



Round 26 Talking Points: JWH, Ricky and a few others a bit 'tired and emotional' as pressure of finals race hits boiling point

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27th August, 2023
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A few people got a bit tired and emotional with finals spots on the line in the second last round and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Ricky Stuart in particular could regret their actions. 

We even saw Nathan Cleary, who is as level headed as they come, get cranky with his side after Penrith were short of their best in their loss to Parramatta.

The length of the season, the changes in the interpretation of the six-again, Origin, more sin-binnings, there’s a whole range of factors that make everyone just that little bit more highly strung at this time of year.

It was too little, too late for the Eels but that loss means Brisbane will probably take out the minor premiership and along with Jarome Luai’s shoulder injury putting him out for the next few weeks, the finals series is now much more wide open. 

We still don’t know which eight teams will be in the finals and there’s now five teams fighting it out for the last three spots.

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

The top four is an advantage but finishing top two is huge because it means you’ve got to win a home qualifying final, you get a rest in week two and then you’ve just got to win one more game to be in the Grand Final.

Parramatta showed the teams that make the finals a blueprint for how to beat the Panthers – you’ve got to offload the ball with intent, run the ball on the last tackle, look to kick early but not make any errors, pretty much play the perfect game. 


But even without Luai, they will be very difficult to beat. Jack Cogger has done a fine job filling in here and there this season so he will do his role if Ivan Cleary goes with him ahead of someone like Jaeman Salmon.

There has been a bit of drama at South Sydney too with Sam Burgess leaving the coaching staff. 

It’s hard to know exactly what’s been going on at the Rabbitohs unless you’re in the inner sanctum but if there is a bit of preferential treatment going on for star players, it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened in rugby league.

They’re such a big club that anything that happens there is going to be magnified but Jason Demetriou got on the front foot and he’s tried to make a stand with some of the decisions that have been made, including Burgess moving on. 

Most clubs have got a few big personalities who will have their say but Demetriou’s got to be able to harness that to make sure they’re assisting him with his overall vision of how he wants the team to play.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 25: Latrell Mitchell of the Rabbitohs celebrates with Rabbitohs head coach Jason Demetriou after victroy during the round four NRL match between South Sydney Rabbitohs and Manly Sea Eagles at Accor Stadium on March 25, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Latrell Mitchell with Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

When you’re not winning and playing well, all these things come into the equation.


Looking ahead to their Friday night rumble with the Roosters which is the finals a week early for both teams, Souths will be coming off the bye but the momentum is with their opponents going by recent form. 

But the Roosters have shot themselves in the foot with Waerea-Hargreaves getting charged twice and looking like he won’t play again this year with his couple of brain snaps against the Wests Tigers.

Coming back to on-field discipline, it was just unnecessary because they were well ahead in the game at the time. 

Jared’s a good fella, experienced and he’s actually pretty intelligent but he sails close to the wind and it’s hard to explain what he was thinking there. 

He got away with a few other charges earlier in the season where he escaped with fines instead of suspensions but his track record has caught up with him.

Latrell Mitchell spoke during the week about how he’s tried to get that grubby stuff out of his game after he was banned for his elbow on Tyson Frizell last Sunday. 

It’s a balancing act for players because they need to be aggressive but they can’t let their team down if they engage in foul play. 


It’s not just suspensions putting players out with the importance of injuries also sky high in the final rounds. 

Joey Manu having a hamstring problem could be a major setback for the Roosters even though they’ll get James Tedesco back from his head knock.

Sam Walker being back helped Luke Keary get back to his best and all of a sudden Brandon Smith has been unlocked so they’re dangerous.

Just about every player at this time of year is carrying some sort of injury. I know of one guy who had to have a pain-killing injection to train, then another needle to play and another one at half-time. You can’t fault their bravery.

I remember my final year coaching at Parramatta, we had Nathan Hindmarsh carrying a toe injury and he couldn’t train every week so it was agreed that he could skip most sessions, just do the captain’s run and I think he played every week. 

It’s just what you’ve got to do as coaches sometimes.


As a former coach I can see why Ricky Stuart was so annoyed with some of the decisions that didn’t go his team’s way in Canberra’s loss to Brisbane on Saturday night but it’s still going to be costly for him. 

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 26: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves of the Roosters scuffles with Tigers players during the round 26 NRL match between Sydney Roosters and Wests Tigers at Allianz Stadium on August 26, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves scuffles with Tigers players. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

He’s got some history in that regard and I think the NRL will be sending another fine his way. 

It’s clear that it was the culmination of being unhappy with a number of things over a few weeks and when your team’s up 18-16 and a couple of line-ball decisions go against you, then you get frustrated quickly. 

The competitive nature of coaching is you want to win and it’s like the Anthony Seibold gripe the previous week in the press conference after Manly lost to the Warriors, finals spots are on the line and you want everyone to be accountable if they make mistakes. 

When you go through the pain-staking process of complaining through the official channels days later, it can be infuriating as a coach because you often get the same sort of answers. 

The reality of the situation is you can’t dwell on it because you’ve got to start planning for the next week and do it all again. 


It’s that exhausting coaching process that you deal with all the time. 

Canberra’s form in the past four weeks doesn’t really put them in a strong position for next Sunday’s game against Cronulla and the finals.

Ricky’s entitled to have a whinge but when you boil it right down, his team’s not playing well enough.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 27: Knights celebrate the try of Kalyn Ponga during the round 26 NRL match. between Newcastle Knights and Cronulla Sharks at McDonald Jones Stadium on August 27, 2023 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

Knights celebrate the try of Kalyn Ponga. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

Newcastle Old Boys delighted by Sharks mauling

I was very fortunate to present jerseys to the Newcastle team on Sunday alongside Paul Harragon and Brad Godden as part of Old Boys Day. 

The Knights were honouring their 1992 team that was the first to make the finals, which I was a part of, and it’s always special to be part of pre-game presentations like that.


But it’s so much more special when the team goes out and puts on a performance like they did against Cronulla.

It was like the days of old for Newcastle with a sell-out crowd and the team playing a tough style, topped off by Kalyn Ponga’s brilliance. 

His run from the backfield early in the second half when he collected the ball just inside the sideline and then sprinted through and around the teeth of the Sharks defence was special. 

You don’t get that kind of play from a run of the mill player, it was a star turn. 

But it wasn’t just him – the whole side muscled up. Old stagers like Dane Gagai and Tyson Frizell have found the fountain of youth and the rest of the team is playing off the back of Ponga’s touches of class.

He got a standing ovation when he came off with his shoulder injury in the second half and if it’s only a bit of damage to his AC joint, he should only miss next Saturday’s game against the Dragons and be right for the finals.


And the way he and the entire side is playing, they’ll be a dangerous proposition in the playoffs.