Meaningless NRL Preview: Round 1, Attempt 2
After 2 months of travel through the lightless reaches of space appealing for some form of a bailout from the alien governments of the galaxy, Commander V’Landys and his Project Apollo crew have reached the surface of the Moon, and restored the 2020 rugbaleeg season by the promised date of May 28, despite the sudden loss of Ensign Greenberg from mysterious stabbing wounds after the ship passed Uranus during April, and the ejection of dissenting referees a fortnight later.
V’Landys has declared that this isn’t the end – The surface of Mars is the next target.
Quick note Peter – Matt Damon beat you by 5 years.
Anyway, let’s see how many jokes I can fit in about missing 2 months of play.
Brisbane vs Parramatta @ Suncorp Stadium, 7:50pm AEST
After going undefeated through the opening 2 months of the 2020 season, the clash of the decade sees the Broncs and Eels meet at Lang Park in prime time, in front of absolutely no-one.
Some Broncos fans would prefer to forget (For understandable reasons), but this is a ‘rematch’ of last season’s historic Elimination Final in Sydney, which looked closer to a Satanic ritual than a game of rugbaleeg.
That final proved once and for all that a late night pokies session probably isn’t an ideal way to warm up for a sudden death game.
Still, the Broncs apparently don’t have PTSD from that afternoon, as evidenced by them starting the season 2-0, wrecking the Cowboys christening up north, and getting their revenge on their cranky former ex coach on the back of the brute strength of their forward pack.
On the team front, veteran Andrew McCullough left the club after 17 years without hugging Darius Boyd, David Fifita is still 5-6 weeks away from playing after knee surgery in April, but, the Broncos have received a positive side effect of COVID-19 – Skipper Alex Glenn is into the starting 13, and Matt Lodge returns from a pre-season partial ACL tear after just 2 games on the sidelines.
If you ask me, with Lodge returning, Peter V’Landys has a solution to convincing Government officials to getting the crowds back, but he simply hasn’t realised it yet.
After the promise of 2019, the Eels and their fanbase had massive tickets on themselves pre-season, and at the very least, they lived up to expectations on the defensive side of the ball across the opening fortnight of the season – Just the 1 try conceded across 160 minutes of footy, although the footnote is that the Doggies and Titans would struggle to recognise a white line even if they were in a Kings Cross nightclub.
Based on the events of a training session this past Saturday, it appears the only team that can stop the Eels from playing finals… is the Eels.
As is tradition.
The ladder leaders will only have to make 1 obvious change – Marata Niukore replaces Nathan Brown, who got himself suspended for dangerous conduct in that Titans game many months ago, earning a 2 week punishment that promptly turned into 10 weeks.
The other facet is that Reed Mahoney is apparently set to play, despite the cloud of doubt that still lingers since he hurt his foot 2 months ago.
The market suggests this clash as being a genuine 50/50, and given we’re all effectively tipping blind again… I might just tip the Broncs at home.
North Queensland vs Gold Coast @ North Queensland Stadium, 6pm AEST
Despite getting a flashy new boutique stadium, the Cowboys still haven’t tasted that first official victory at the House that JT Built after 2 bloody months.
Somehow, Paul Green has been able to use Jason Taumalolo running over the Bulldogs in Round 2 as a bulletproof vest for the last 2 months, despite that glaring fact still remaining unresolved.
I think we could best sum up the Cowboys as the pivot team – They appear to have the talent (JT, Holmes) to knock off most lower-ranked teams, but they’re not in the ball park of premiership contenders.
The big news is that Michael Morgan and Gavin Cooper are both missing, with Morgan having shoulder surgery during the break, and Cooper suffering an old man’s injury.
As for the Titans, Bryce Cartwrtight and his missus were the faces of the anti-vax resistance that popped up after mandatory flu vaccines were announced, and the Titans seemed to agree that a prick didn’t help anyone’s cause, so they dropped Bryce to the reserves.
English signing Kallum Watkins had to return home on compassinate grounds to be with his family, and AJ Brimson has shagger’s back, leaving Tyrone Roberts at fullback, Tyrone Peachey and Dale Copley at centre, Phillip Sami on the wing, Jamal Fogarty makes his Titans debut at halfback, and Ash Taylor switchesto five-eighth.
On another note, good to see Keegan Hipgrave make his return to the NRL after several head knocks.
This is an opportunity for the Titans to actually get within single figures of their opponents, but I’ll have to follow the consensus and pick the Cows, who have won the last 9 contests in the lesser of the Queensland Derbies.
Eastern Suburbs vs South Sydney @ Bankwest Stadium, 7:55pm AEST
There’s only four words that need to be written ahead of the latest chapter in the Book of Feuds.
Latrell vs The Roosters.
Still, it appears the bigger rivalry at the moment is Latrell vs Australia’s Firearm Laws.
In the pursuit of a hat-trick of Premierships, Easts have experienced their worst start to a season since the imperfect year of 1966, and looking at their draw, it’s not going to get any better.
Unsurprisingly, Uncle Nick led the charge to wipe the first 2 rounds from the record books before the season restarted, but even Uncle Nick couldn’t stop the V’Landys V12 from changing his mind.
Honestly, if the NRL really wanted to make things tough for the Tricolours in order to level the playing field, they didn’t need to saddle them with a tough draw…
They just had to schedule all of their home games at Central Coast Stadium.
Even a decidedly average Cowboys team knocked them off there last year.
Still, the big names are back in pursuit of that maiden win – Boyd Cordner’s body is apparently all good, Nat Butcher is back on the bench, and at last, Josh Morris is set to make his Tricolours debut alongside Brett.
If this game is anything like trading card games, the Chooks will get some kind of bonus power from combining the Morris twins.
As for Souths… Well, where do you start.
It all kicked off when Latrell went on an ANZAC Day weekend camping in Taree with Josh Addo-Carr, Tyrone Davis and his mates, complete with rifles, quad bikes, bourbon and matching flannel shirts in an effort to get culturally connected.
They were connected with $1000 social distancing fines instead.
Then, James Roberts checked himself in to rehab, but hasn’t made the side, even after checking out a week ago.
Then, the 2019 footage of a shirtless Cody Walker going 3rd man in during a fight in Casino, and landing the best fly kick to the chest since Shawn ‘HBK’ Michaels dropped Shelton Benjamin found itself on the internet, and he copped a 2 game ban from the Integrity Unit.
In short, Russell Crowe has a pearler of a post-COVID film idea.
As for the game, both teams probably have no idea where Bankwest is, so with little confidence, Easts To Win.
Tamworth Road Warriors vs St George @ Central Coast Stadium, 3pm AEST
If there was a contest for “Team most rooted by COVID-19”, the team formerly known as the New Zealand Warriors would win by so far that the organisers wouldn’t even bother giving the silver and bronze medals.
It wasn’t just the players having to leave their families, the injury bug (Better than the COVID bug) struck them hard – Leeson Ah Mau, Adam Keighran and David Fusitua all went down, while Chanel Harris-Tevita could only appear as a reserve.
After initially saying no, the NRL allowed the Kiwis to sign a loan player – Apparently, it’s Roosters prop Poasa Faamausili.
The Warriors matched their off-field status by putting in 2 grim performances in the opening 2 rounds – Blanked by the Knights in Round 1, and the only try they scored against the Raiders was a penalty try.
Henceforth, they are – THE ROAD WARRIORS.
While the Road Warriors have some genuine excuses, the Dragons just appear to be the Dragons.
The only bloke in red & white you can actually trust to appear and do his job at least once a year is Santa.
They ran close against Wests and Penrith, but crucial errors and their defence leaking points like stigmata victims leak blood have the Red V sitting at 0-2, and the flames around Paul McGregor’s pyre are getting warmer.
Still, the reinforcements are back in numbers – Skipper Cameron McInnes only missed 2 games after his knee injury at the Perth Nines back in February, Tariq Sims & Korbin Sims are back, as is Mikaele Ravalawa, and Euan Aitken onto the bench.
4 starters, right there.
As an odd side note, this is only the second time in their merged history that the Dragons have played on the Central Coast.
Their only previous visit was back in Round 4 of 2000 in a merger melee against the Northern Eagles.
The Eagles won 21-20 thanks to Jason Taylor’s right foot (4/4 and the winning drop goal), despite Luke ‘The General’ Patten scoring a hat-trick for the Red V.
If the Dragons can’t win this, Mary McGregor should run to the nearest cathedral and claim sanctuary.
Cronulla vs Wests Tigers @ Bankwest Stadium, 5:30pm AEST
Top notch trolling from ASADA – Wait 6 months to announce Bronson Xerri’s positive doping results, by which point the Sharks had let Josh Morris walk to the Roosters.
The only bit of better timing in that saga was this story from the AAP the day before ASADA said hello:
Another entry into the historical list of “Things said moments before disaster.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers finally got the Harry Grant-Paul Momirovsky swap with the Storm done, while Moses Mbye and Luke Brooks are both back into the 13, but even that can’t cover up the reality that Wests were horrid defensively against Newcastle, and based on how well the likes of Joey Leilua went under the high ball, several cardboard cut-outs of their backs combinations would’ve been more effective.
Still, these Sharks appear to be the marine equivalent of a cockroach – They cop regular nuclear attacks from ASADA and the Integrity Department (Mostly brought on themselves), and trot out the next week and run a team within a try.
Still, it’s probably safe to assume Wests will win, especially if they can be bothered having a tribute for a Western Suburbs legend Arthur Summons.
Melbourne vs Canberra @ AAMI Park,7:35pm AEST
While the Roosters-Rabbits might headline the round, the Storm-Raiders looks like a genuine battle of the heavyweights, especially after what the Raiders did to the Storm twice in a month last year.
In an effort to beat the lockdown in Victoria, the Storm made a very public attempt to smuggle themselves into Albury like actual Mexicans, with the local council attempting to play the role of the US Border Patrol and banning them from all public grounds.
The Albury Tigers came to the rescue and let the Storm train on the Albury Sports Ground (Which is quite possibly the only sporting ground in Albury with grass), a plan that ran smoothly, until ‘Dictator Dan’ and the Victorian Government saw the light and allowed them to train back home.
The Storm are 2-0 (What’s new), and the only addition is Origin rep Christian Welch on the bench, in his first game back after another ACL tear ended his 2019.
After flying out of the blocks, the Green Machine have spent the last 2 months nestled in that frozen hole we call a capital, and it seems their only worry on the quest for Grand Final vengeance is a lover’s tiff between John Bateman/His management, and Fox League’s James Hooper, as the network’s No.2 chrome dome (Behind Brenton Speed) claimed the Raiders were rejecting Bateman’s release requests as he wanted out of his current contract, which the Mayor of Batemans Bay responded to with a time-honoured poo emoji.
Johnny boy can continue his lover’s spat from the sidelines this week as he still recovers from shoulder surgery, Josh Papalii finally gets to play his 200th First Grade game, than that, the Raiders had to cut Jack Murchie, Luke Bateman, and JJ Collins, who I only just found out about 5 minutes ago.
The other side effect of COVID is that the Raiders can’t play in Canberra for another 2 months, leaving them stuck in another remote village called Campbelltown.
If you ask me, this game in particular will highlight how much shit players are going to get away with in the ruck because of the switch back to the single referee.
The Storm niggling to the point of insanity, the Raiders stripping the ball from them at every chance – I’m crazy enough to think that the visitors can probably complete the greatest hat-trick of wins seen in Melbourne since…
I dunno, Hawthorn? Winx? Makybe Diva?
Penrith vs Newcastle @ Campbelltown, 4:05pm AEST
The Pink Panthers started the season 2-0, although in the downtime, Nathan Cleary and Tyrone May (Who already had a 4 game ban) went 0-2 against the New South Wales Police and the NRL Integrity Unit for lying about that ANZAC Day ‘social gathering’:
That’s a bit of a piss poor performance from Cleary – He missed a golden opportunity to score from that position.
Still, Tyrone upheld the Bro Code and didn’t rat-dog his mate to the authorities, knowing full well he’d be punished for it, and that the truth would probably get out anyway.
Good on you, Tyrone.
The end result, Nathan be back in a fortnight, leaving Matt Burton to take his place in the halves.
Other than that, the Panthers set themselves up for a bloody big Mad Monday in their last meeting with the Knights, winning a lazy 54-10 in Round 25 last season.
The major news from the Coalfields is that Andrew McCullough signed for the Knights after 17 years at Red Hill, and as quickly as he signed for the Knights, he’s planning on leapfrogging his way to Belmore.
Upon further analysis, McCullough has basically adopted General MacCarthur’s island hopping strategy from the Pacific, and applied it to rugby league.
Still, it wasn’t enough to get him in the Knights squad, with Connor Watson starting as the hooker in place of Jayden Brailey, who suffered the most forgotten season-ending injury of 2020 in the win against Wests.
Joining Cleary on the sidelines is Kalyn Ponga, who was another big name who was suspended months ago, which should give him more time to add a couple of extra 0s onto his new contract to stay at the Knights, which should make him the richest man in Newcastle after the pandemic is over.
In an omen that the Novocastrians will be trying to avoid, the last time the Knights started a season 3-0 was 2015.
We all know how that ended.
So on that note, I’ll say the Knights.
Manly vs Canterbury @ Central Coast Stadium, 6:30pm AEST
Having to travel to Gosford to play on a Sunday evening in the middle of a pandemic.
Apparently the players haven’t suffered enough.
The Berries can look on the bright side, they don’t have to go to Brookvale and deal with asbestos and mutant Sea Eagles fans attacking them in the race.
On paper, this doesn’t look an inspiring contest- The Silvertails have the edge across the board – Des in the coaching box, and a noticeable talent advantage on the field (Especially in the halves), while the Dogs are without Aiden Tolman, currently struggling with an injury and Kieran Foran still isn’t ready to return.
I think you have to give it to the Berries – A situation like this was ripe for some of their genuine meatheads to keep the Doggies tradition going and take another gold medal in the abridged off-season scandal competition, but the club were clearly still dealing with the remnants of Jayden Okunbor and Corey Harawira-Naera’s Port Macquarie high school fling, which shows their culture is getting cleaner, and more boring than the Canterbury-Bankstown we once knew.
I’d like to think the Sea Eagles will snag the 2 points in this one, simply based on the Dogs not understanding that the aim of rugbaleeg is to score points to complement your solid defence, which means Jorge Taufua could return to belting rubbish bins in celebration.
I like how he knocks the clock off and doesn’t even flinch.