NRL

JT’s Meaningless NRL Preview: Round 19

Still: NRL.com

It’s the annual Beanie for Brain Cancer Round, as the rugby league community celebrates the work of former Knights stalwart Mark Hughes and his Foundation, and remembers the work of Mark’s good friend Matt Callander, brother of Richie and son of Kenny, who lost his life to brain cancer back in 2017.

Usually the sight of hulking men running onto the field in beanies would be a strange sight to foreigners, but this week, we CELEBRATE it!


Thursday


Cronulla (11th) vs North Queensland (13th) @ Shark Park, 7:50pm AEST

It’s not too often that a team can lose five games in a row, be on the verge of a team boxing session with their star recruit, and STILL start favourite for a game, but in the Shire, that’s called “Another weekend”.

The trip to Wellington against the Warriors summed up the Sharks’ recent form- an 18-10 lead with a quarter to go, then Andrew Fifita did a thing, got himself binned, and before you know it, they’d lost 19-18, and just about torpedoed their own season at 7-10.

Meanwhile, the Cows are ‘almost’ in a similar conundrum with the exact same record, as not even Matt Scott giving his teammates the emotional gee-up by announcing his retirement could get the job done against Souths, as they coughed up an 18-12 lead to concede 3 tries to the Bunnies in the final 10 minutes.

The real turning point came when Murray Taulagi knocked on a mere 5 metres out from a certain try with 13 minutes to go, probably because he still had tears in his eyes from listening to Scotty’s speech.

Whoever wins is still screwed, and whoever loses is screwier than screwed.


Friday


Newcastle (8th) vs Wests Tigers (12th) @ Beanie For Brain Cancer Stadium, 6pm AEST

Of all the teams involved in this Beanies for Brain Cancer Round, the Knights are undoubtedly the flagship team, obviously due to Hughesy’s successful career with the club, which included Origin appearances and the 2001 Premiership.

The man himself in action (Still: NRL.com)

A Round like this is the emotional lift the Knights need in their downward spiral back to square one, as they’ve lost three consecutive games to drop below 50% on the year, and to cap it off, they’ve been barred from just about every pub in the city thanks to Mason Lino.

As for Wests, Robbie Farah has finally reached 300 games, and boy oh boy it was a long, strange journey getting there.

Farah was dropped by Jason Taylor in 2016, which led to him moving to Souths, where Michael McGuire left him stuck behind a young Damien Cook in Reserve Grade, until McGuire departed, and Farah was offered with a return to Wests by Ivan Cleary, who had replaced Taylor, and then Cleary departed to Penrith, while McGuire became the coach of Wests, and Farah was left in the starting line-up.

It’s a stranger story than the lyrics to ‘I’m My Own Grandpa.’

Of course, Robbie had a pearler of a sledge for Taylor at his presser on Monday, declaring that “I’m still here, and JT is coaching reserve grade”.

Damn dog, that’s cold.

Souths (2nd) vs St George Illawarra (14th) @ ANZ Stadium, 7:55pm AEST

Spread the word, the Bunnies are back!

Two wins in a row, with WAYNE deciding to name the same 17 from the trip to Townsville, with Slammin’ Sam (Plus brother Tom) named in the Reserves, although his chances of playing are between none and zero.

Meanwhile, after a fairly quiet week in which nothing of note happened besides being roasted alive, the Dragons finally have a captain that can try and steer this rudderless, sinking ship of a season.

Gareth Widdop is back after some 4 months out, Ben Hunt is back to join his regular partner in the halves, and named to make his debut for the Red V in the No.2 is former Australian schoolboy Jason Saab, who is a distant relation to the famed Swedish rugby league champion Jason Volvo.

Unlike a Volvo, this Dragons team aren’t as strong as a tank, and to be honest, the only hope they’ve got is if that dynamic duo of Widdop and Hunt magically turn back into world beaters, but then again, if Boris Johnson can become a major world leader in the blink of an eye, anything’s possible.


Saturday


Parramatta (6th) vs New Zealand (9th) @ Bankwest Stadium, 3pm AEST

Being Captain Obvious, the Eels seem like a different team without a player of Blake Ferguson’s quality on the field, and it definitely showed at Brooky, as the old Fruit Pickers just didn’t have an answer to Manly’s destructive play out wide with Tommy Turbo and Reuben Garrick, losing 36-24 in a game that wasn’t as close as the 12 point margin indicated.

Fergo is still out for this weekend with a knee infection, but on the bright side, the Eels return to the confines of their sunny concrete castle that is Bankwest, with former Panther Waqa Blake due to make his Eels debut.

Aside from the usual relations with mutton, the Kiwis love a close game in 2019, having played in five consecutive games decided by under a converted try, which could seemingly have ended in five consecutive losses, or five consecutive wins.

Alas, they’ve racked up 3 wins and a draw to stay in the King of the Ring battle for 8th place, led in no small part to RTS running past his opponents saying “Meep meep!” to the tune of 300 metres a game.

With how bipolar the Eels are this year, they’ll either belt the Warriors in front of the faithful, or the Warriors will eek out another win.

Gold Coast (16th) vs Brisbane (10th) @ Cbus Super Stadium, 5:35pm AEST

The Titans have won their last two games against the Broncos at Suncorp, including what turned out to be Garth Brennan’s win as a coach a few weeks ago, but based on the past two South Queensland derbies played at Robina, the first task for the Titans would be to actually score a point.

54-nil in 2017, and 34-nil in 2018.

I believe that problem can easily be achieved with a surprise drop goal on the opening set of the game, which will leave Anthony Seibold and the Baby Broncos reeling for about 5 minutes, before they wake up and most likely win 36-1.

Melbourne (1st) vs Manly (5th) @ AAMI Park, 7:35pm AEST

Congratulations to Cameron Smith, who plays his 402nd NRL game, breaking the record of 401 previously held by Cameron Smith!

I remember a time when the Storm & Sea Eagles rivalry was downright murderous- The 2007 & 08 Grand Finals, the Battle of Brooky, all the close games this decade, Curtis Scott punching Dylan Walker- The list goes on.

Back to the present, and the Storm rested their Origin stars against the Titans, spotted them a 12-nil start with their new regime, and then beautifully crushed any hope the Tits had by scoring 7 of the next 8 tries.

With a 3 game break and +132 in points on the Bunnies, Mr Greenberg should hop in the car, drive down the Princes Highway and drop off the J.J. Giltinan Shield at Olympic Park next weekend.

Not that Des will give a rat’s arse, as he’s masterfully returned the siege mentality to the underdog Sea Eagles, turned Brooky back into a fortress, and returned a beleaguered club to the edge of the Top 4, on the back of the resurgence of DCE, the explosion of the Twin Turbos, and the emergence of Reuben Garrick on the wing.

In fact, I don’t think they’re called the Sea Eagles anymore- They’re just “The Underdogs”, which could be a strategy adopted by THE COACH WHISPERER next year.

Tommy Turbo’s perfect record versus a team who kill people’s dreams for a living- I think there’s half a chance the earth could split open and Satan himself rise up from the underworld.


Sunday


Canterbury (15th) vs Sydney (3rd) @ ANZ Stadium, 2pm AEST

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, have the Bulldogs got an offer FOR YOU!

For only $700,000, down from the full price of $1.2 million, you can have Kieran Foran’s contract rights for 2020!

On that note, I’m off to go and start a GoFundMe page, because I need someone who can clean the house every fortnight, and a bloke of Kieran’s quality doesn’t come up every day of the year.

As it stands now, Foran is named in the reserves, with Aiden Tolman slotting straight back into the forward pack.

The Doggies are ‘okay’ defensively, but what routinely kills them is that their attack is as sterile as Homer Simpson after years of working in nuclear power, which was proven again at Lang Park, as the Doggies held tough with the Broncos for a half, before being completely creamed in the 2nd Half, once again scoring in single figures in 2019.

Meanwhile, the Chooks sure did live up to the Easts club song at the SCG, as they were put on the field by Robbo and showed the Knights how to play, to the tune of 6 tries in 25 minutes, turning a normal 12-10 game into a 48-10 slapping- Despite once again losing Jake Friend- dragging them back up to 3rd in the war against Souths for a home final.

It served as yet another reminder that when they’re crowing, the Chooks still stand as the only team who have the nerve to stand up to the Mexicans down south, assuming Souths don’t beat the Storm in a few weeks.

On paper, this looks like a stock standard Sunday afternoon win for Easts, but on an unrelated note, for some reason I only just found out that Dylan Napa’s middle name is Hercules.

That’s the best middle name I’ve seen since I found out as a kid that Nicky Winmar’s middle name is Elvis.

Penrith (7th) vs Canberra (4th) @ Panthers Stadium, 4pm AEST

After 7 consecutive wins, the Panthers have miraculously obtained a winning record for the first time in 2019, and are effectively a game inside the Top 8, with the latest win apparently destroying the fabric of St George-Illawarra as a merged entity, although they have lost Viliame Kikau to suspension, which will be big, considering the form he was in.

If the Mountain Men can win on Sunday, it would equal the club record from the memorable 2003 season, where they won 8 in a row between Round 6 and Round 13, which formed the backbone of what turned into their most recent premiership.

In some major news for The Riff, James Maloney is absolutely positively leaving Australia for the south of France in 2020, where he’ll sit on his hands for an entire year playing for Catalans Dragons, and then pull an Alfie ahead of Game III next year when the Blues need him.

Although, if Blake Austin can turn into a legend in the Super League within a year, then the French will probably end up building a statue for Jimmy.

Meanwhile, the Green Machine obviously weren’t built with an ‘Off’ button, as they’re still right in the race for 2nd spot on the back of 3 consecutive wins, and Sticky Ricky is going with the same 17 that held Wests at bay in front of the heroes of 1989.

On paper, it’s the most even game of the round, and considering the Green Machine haven’t won in Penrith since 2015, the Panthers certainly have half a chance against the toughest challenge in their winning streak.

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