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NRL Round 3 Talking Points: Blowouts, bad bunnies, and bunker babies are back

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24th March, 2024
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Three weeks of NRL season 2024 are in the bank and there’s no shortage of stories starting to take shape. Let’s have a look at your NRL talking points.

The Rabbitohs are rank

In their opening game of the season against Manly, South Sydney led by 8 points just after halftime before collapsing in a heap. In round two, the bunnies were held at bay comfortably by Brisbane and Friday night’s debacle against the Roosters was a team playing like they’d been introduced in the tunnel before kickoff.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 22: Cameron Murray of the Rabbitohs talks to team mates during the round three NRL match between Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs at Allianz Stadium, on March 22, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Cameron Murray talks his teammates at Allianz Stadium. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

With off-field drama slowly leaching out to the press, public scrambles at selection from coach Jason Demetriou and an even fiercer focus on literally everything Latrell Mitchell does, it looks like the magnifying glass will be firmly pointed at Redfern until either they burn under it or they get themselves together.

They don’t look fit enough, their defence falls apart under rudimentary testing and their attack is light years away from what we’ve seen they’re capable of.

Demetriou called Friday night ‘the lowest point of my career’. If things don’t get right quickly, this call might have come too early.

A bit of a blowout

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As you all know, your talking points always try to take it a bit easy in the first month of the season to avoid breaking the ‘don’t overreact before round 4’ rule. So this is something just to note, not to freak about.

Round 3’s average winning margin was 19.75 points. Five of the eight games of the round were decided by 20 points or more – there were 4 in total across rounds 1 and 2. Teams like the Gold Coast, St George Illawarra and South Sydney are very slow out of the defensive blocks.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Ryan Papenhuyzen of the Storm tackled by Bradman Best of the Knights during the round three NRL match between Newcastle Knights and Melbourne Storm at McDonald Jones Stadium, on March 24, 2024, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

Ryan Papenhuyzen is tackled by Bradman Best. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

But there were some beauties…

The three close games were beauties for different reasons – Canberra and the Warriors went head to head in front of a rabid Christchurch crowd. What a venue Rugby League Park is, it looked like it was absolutely pumping on the broadcast. New Zealand earned every bit of the 18-10 win in a good quality, high tempo contest.

Newcastle’s 14-12 win over the undermanned Melbourne was important because the Knights were in all sorts if they’d started 0-3. Mind you, they didn’t score in the second half and the Storm had plenty of chances to pinch it, but only the haters would disagree justice was done when Newcastle hit the bell in front. The quality was debatable but who cares – there was a bit on the line.

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The bunker babies are at it again

The game of the round was Parramatta and Manly, a 28-24 belter that had each team taking their turn to own the play until the Eels worked out just enough of what Manly were doing and finished on top.

But this is rugby league and we can’t have good things, can we?

The coverage of the game has been focused purely on the referee, courtesy of a sooking Anthony Seibold post game press conference and a media pack wanting to inflame controversy where there really isn’t any.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Junior Paulo of the Eels is tackled during the round three NRL match between Parramatta Eels and Manly Sea Eagles at CommBank Stadium, on March 24, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Junior Paulo is tackled. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The instant Jake Trbojevic stops in the Eels’ defensive line, it doesn’t matter how much ‘effort’ Luca Moretti puts into getting across because he’s been obstructed. All the wailing and moaning about ‘common sense’ from the bunker is irrelevant. The only common sense the bunker follows is the rules of the game.

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Ignore the bloated megaphones out there gleefully taking yet another chance to shit on the game they pretend to love. Just remember Parramatta and Manly was a belter of a game.

Wests Tigers were great – but what’s going on, Cronulla?

The Tigers put the cleaners through the Sharks in an uplifting performance. There were flashes of positivity against Canberra last week, but this time Benji Marshall’s team grabbed their chances with two hands and did not let go on the way to a 32-6 party at Leichhardt Oval.

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Api Koroisau dominated the game, even more impressively after a bout of gastro in the leadup. The forwards did as they pleased. Lachlan Galvin and Aiden Sezer matched well in the halves. The Tigers smashed Cronulla in every statistical category and kept them scoreless for 65 minutes.

If this is a sign of how they’ll approach their games, win or lose, 2024 will be a good bit of fun for Tigers fans.

Cronulla, however, are back where we thought they were. Their ineptitude reeked of a team who thought they could walk in a win, but the boys for the shire came up well short. They don’t have an easier Easter weekend either, when they’ll get a strong challenge from the Raiders.

Good games this week

Season 2024’s first month closes out with a few Easter treats – starting Thursday with the Roosters hosting Penrith. The Panthers are settling in and just doing all they need and no more at this stage of the year and while the chooks put their sworn enemy South Sydney to the sword, it’s still a bit up in the air as to just how good they are.

Friday’s games begin at Homebush for the Good Friday afternoon battle between South Sydney and Canterbury. The Dogs are a much better outfit this year and as mentioned, the Rabbitohs are a much worse one…

Friday primetime is Brisbane and North Queensland, a game meaning a lot to the Broncos because if they lose, they’re 1-3 and with a poor points differential.

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 23: The Tigers celebrate a try by Alex Seyfarth of the Tigers during the round three NRL match between Wests Tigers and Cronulla Sharks at Leichhardt Oval, on March 23, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

The Tigers celebrate a try by Alex Seyfarth. (Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

Only two games on Saturday’s slate as Manly head to Wollongong to play the Dragons, then the hapless Titans host the Dolphins.

Sunday looks appetising when the Knights head to Auckland to battle the Warriors, then Cronulla host Canberra in the evening kickoff.

The Easter Monday holiday is Commbank Stadium co-tenants (snort) Parramatta and Wests Tigers, and this one might be a sneaky good one.

After playing without their starting halves and more injury issues added on top, the Storm welcome the bye.

Round 3’s random thoughts

  • Roosters halfback Sam Walker had his concussion grading reduced on appeal and will be ‘ok’ to play Thursday. Just your weekly reminder the NRL might not be as serious about head trauma as they say.
  • Melbourne usually get kitted out pretty well, but 2024’s away jersey is a stinker.
  • Was it seriously $55 for an adult ticket to Leichhardt Oval on Saturday night? That is outrageous. There’s no regular season NRL game that should cost an adult more than $30.
  • A quirk of the scoring this year has seen one team kept scoreless every week. Will it be your club in round 4?
  • After his Titans got rolled 32-blot by Canterbury, Des Hasler has now won just 5 of his last 20 games as head coach including his last 9 in a row (11 if you include preseason cup games). I hope the Gold Coast don’t get some buyer’s remorse, cos there’s three years left on the deal…
  • Hasler’s cause isn’t helped by the horrible luck Tino Fa’asuamaleaui copped doing his ACL and sitting the rest of the season. If I was a cheeky team manager, I’d be asking David Fifita about his mythical opt-out clause again.
  • The Bulldogs were well worth the win too. Are Cameron Ciraldo’s plans starting to bear fruit?
  • Did you know Round 3 was the themed ‘Multicultural round’? Don’t feel bad – the NRL really doesn’t put much energy into promoting things like this, do they.
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What else caught your eye this weekend, Roarers?

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