As we hit the halfway mark of the season, it’s been another wild couple of days in league.
The NRL Players Poll for 2020 was released, and unsurprisingly, the Roosters were well represented.
More importantly, Western Sydney is right on the cusp of bringing down Eastern Australian civilisation, so it’s back to the original hardcore Project Apollo biosecurity protocols for the NSW clubs, as Wests Leagues club had a confirmed case and closed down for a deep clean, Tigers players need to take tests because they live in hotspots, and in the event of Sydney becoming an even greater health risk than it usually is, the NRL are preparing a mass move to Queensland as a last resort, so we can have Magic Round every weekend.
I heard the Bulldogs wanted to base themselves in Port Macquarie, but the NRL aren’t prepared to go down that road again.
On another league-related note, yesterday morning, I saw Wigan led Hull 7-0 at half-time.
Being in a sleepy state, I assumed the mighty Wigan Warriors were playing Hull Kingston Rovers and the Super League had restarted….
Turned out Wigan Athletic had put 7 goals past Hull in the Championship.
Sydney Roosters (4th) vs Canberra (7th) at the SCG, 7:50pm AEST
For the first time since they lost the 1987 Grand Final to Manly, the Raiders are back on the SCG, and of course, they played the Roosters the week prior to that decider, and defeated them 32-24.
But, the bigger story – It’s Grand Final rematch time, the Raiders will forever think Ben Cummins robbed them, and according to Paul Kent, all Ricky Stuart has to say about the hype from the Fourth Estate is….
By some coincidence, Russell Crowe said the exact same thing to a New York hotel clerk while holding a phone in 2006.
Sticky was pissy about the hand the Raiders had been dealt for some apparent marquee game – A 5-day break versus a 7-day break for the Roosters, and not only could they not stay in Sydney overnight, they had to travel from Canberra to Sydney via bus instead of a plane.
In a small concession, the NRL apparently let them fly up on the day of the game, which means the only excuse left in the event of the Chooks beating them fair and square is that they’ve got 3/5ths of a team.
Can I just point out, the Roosters have had the same turnaround problem before a big game – Because of the forced move of the Dogs game in Round 5, they had to play the unbeaten Eels in Round 6 on 5 days rest versus 8.
Yet, Trent Robinson accepted the cirumstances, they knuckled down, and got the job done like consumate professionals.
Seems like Sticky needed six more things to talk about before the game.
After the heartbreak against the Storm, the Roosters did struggle in the opening half-hour against the Cowboys in Townsville….
Then Matt Ikavalu happened.
From a kick in front to go 8-0 down after 30 minutes, in a frighteningly amazing burst, the Chooks were 42-6 up after 64 minutes, as Ikuvalu joined the prestigious 5-try club, all thanks to Brett Morris and his sore groin in the warm-up.
Jason Gillespie may have been dropped after his double century against Bangladesh, but there was no dropping Ikuvalu after last Thursday’s events, and with Brett apparently fit, he replaces Ryan Hall, while captain Boyd Cordner is back from a head knock, Isaac Liu replaces a slightly injured Nat Butcher, while Jake Friend was named, but has his HIA protocols to pass.
Meanwhile, the Raiders hopes of returning to Homebush in October seemingly flat-lined the moment Josh Hodgson went down in the 1st Half, the horrid jewel in their shiny injury-riddled crown, which seems to get worse by the week, especially with Bailey Simonsson now gone long term as well.
Another casualty was Curtis Scott, who won’t play due to an infected cut on his arm, but with is form, you kind of think, “Meh.”
Filling in Hodgo’s big boots is Siliva Havili on debut, Jordan Rapana swings back into the starting team, and Tom Starling in on the bench.
In a damning stat that held up in October last year, the Raiders have beaten the Roosters in Sydney ONCE in 25 years.
And it was during an Origin round in 2011.
The Raiders are in a foul mood.
The Roosters are in a fowl mood.
Back on the wide open spaces of the SCG, I like the Roosters to rub it in.
Sunny Coast Storm (3rd) vs Gold Coast (15th) at Sunshine Coast Stadium, 6pm AEST
Now that most of that Thursday report has been sifted through, here’s a mighty South East Queensland Derby in the early Friday slot, and the first home game for the Storm at their new home at Kawana Waters.
What a sturdy old reminder of how suburban grounds used to be – 90% grass embankments with one grandstand.
Compare it to AAMI Park, which from the outside looks like someone glued 20 golf balls together and called it art.
Fresh off defeating both 2019 Grand Finalists, the Storm are back at home against their markedly inferior brothers from 180km down the road, who somehow came back from 12-0 down against the flannel-wearing Warriors to win at home for the first time in 15 months.
Amidst a raft of changes, the massive news for Craig Bellamy – Cameron Munster is back in the halves after making a rapid recovery from a knee injury to miss all of 2 games, Brandon Smith starts at prop for knee-stricken Jesse Bromwich, and Felise Kaufusi, who ALSO had a knee problem, goes straight into the starting 13, pushing Tino Faasuamaleaui to the bench.
Down on the Gold Coast, that was a coaching performance from Justin Holbrook, especially when you remember he had that many injuries to manage that he was forced to play meathead back-rowers like Bryce Cartwright in the centres.
Explains all the errors.
Fortunately, both their centres in Brian Kelly and Phillip Sami are back from injury, pushing last week’s try-scorer Sam Stone out of the team, but keeping the good news rolling, Herman Ese’ese will head to the Titans from the Knights from 2021, the first big addition to the forward pack, which will only get better after David Fifita succumbs to the lure of a $1.25m bait.
Yes, the Storm for me, and I don’t get points for coming to that conclusion.
Wests Tigers (8th) vs Brisbane (14th) at Leichhardt Oval, 7:55pm AEST
The first game at Balmain’s spiritual home in 4 months, as the COVID-19 hotspots in Western Sydney have already made an impact on the Tigers – Western Suburbs Leagues Club on Old Leumeah Road had to shut down for deep cleaning after an infected person popped in for a couple of pints…
On top of that, prop Josh Aloiai, gun winger David Nofoaluma, assistant coaches Brett Hodgson & Simon Dwyer, plus development player Zac Ciniall, all had to take COVID tests, because they all live in suburbs presently identified as hotspots by the Queensland government.
Assuming Josh and David test positively towards negative, they’ll be fine to play.
In the meantime, feeling the effects of 2 tough defeats in a row and their year still at a fork in the road, Michael Maguire is going for another attempt at dropping a star to get a response from the boys, and this time, it’s half Luke Brooks who gets punted to the bench after a dodgy tackling performance against Souths.
Combine that with Josh Reynolds copping 2 weeks for using Campbell Graham’s face as a football, the Tigers have got a new halves combination of Benji Marshall and Billy Walters, playing against dad Kevvie’s old team.
Goodness me, if Fox League roster Kevvie on for the game, it could be his most impartial call ever.
Meantime, after weeks of looking like the biggest disaster in Queensland since Sir Joh’s run for Prime Minister finished off the Nationals, the Broncos FINALLY WON A GAME.
Apparently all it took to turn the crapshoot around was the players taking over the training schedule from Anthony Seibold.
And the fact that they were playing Canterbury.
Still, who knows what a win against even the lowest of the low could do for a team’s confidence, especially a comedy act like these Broncos.
From that game, the obvious disappointment was the loss of skipper Alex Glenn to a knee injury in a dirty tackle, leaving former English rugby international Ben Te’o to start in the back row, and conveniently, Joe Ofahengaue is back from suspension on the bench, in the only actual change to the 17.
In their only clash last year, the Tigers came from behind to knock off the Broncs at Suncorp thanks to Michael Chee-Kam’s late try, and I reckon this is going to be another snout in the trough close game… with the Tigers somehow winning.
St George-Illawarra (11th) vs Canterbury (16th) at WIN Stadium, 3pm AEST
Who’d have thought that when the Dragons and Dogs met a month ago on the Queen’s Birthday, that it would be the Dogs who lost their coach before Saints, considering the Red V was in more dire straits than the Knopfler brothers.
But, it happened, and after another convincing defeat to the Broncos, Dean Pay willingly got the hell out of Belmore on Tuesday morning, before the club’s toxic board got the satisfaction of telling him this:
Backdoor Benny Elias went on NRL 360 and pointed out that the Dogs board had been elected on the basis of a 9-point plan to turn the Dogs back into the Family Club.
They’d be lucky to even hit 1 of those 9 points.
Deadset, if Canterbury-Bankstown are the Family Club, well, Dean Pay was treated like the red-headed bastard stepson.
And throw in the news about Jayden Okunbor and Corey Harawira-Naera being reinstated by the NRL Appeals Committee after being deregistered for the Port Macquarie schoolgirl fling, with CHN having no desire to ever wear a Bulldogs jersey again, given the way he was treated by the club for being no more than collateral to the crap that Okunbor pulled.
On another note, wasn’t it a great coincidence that both of their suspensions were timed to end after the school holidays.
So, in a situation millions of Australians faced months ago, Pay is gone – While Trent Barrett will probably get the chance to question his existence coaching this Dogs team, and for the interim, it’s left to Steve Georgallis to steer this dog’s breakfast.
Meantime, the Dragons are finally looking settled in the spine after the chaos of June – Matt Dufty is the absolute choice for No.1, Norman and Clune in the halves, and Ben Hunt at hooker.
Throw in Mikaele Ravalawa turning into Mikaele Rav’llwhackya, and they’re going from god awful to slightly below average, only slightly below where Mary needs them to be.
The only change from last week’s ball-tearing of Manly was losing Jordan Peirera to a suspension, forcing them to park Saab on the left wing.
If beating Manly was easy enough, surely the desire to get revenge for the humiliation on the Queen’s Birthday, and now having a sniff of the Top 8, will help drive the Red V against an old rival.
South Sydney (6th) vs Newcastle (5th) at Bankwest Stadium, 5:35pm AEST
The most evenly-matched game on paper – 5th vs 6th, with the Knights having scored 187 points in 9 games, and Souths on 188.
Both teams are currently sitting in the ‘Good But Not Great’ category – Despite winning 4 out of 5, Souths aren’t setting the world on fire, and after a nice start to life under Adam O’Brien, lately the Knights have played like they’ve lost access to the world wide web.
Because they can’t string two Ws together.
The main problem is that their attack is suffering under the weight of injuries, highlighted by only scoring a solitary try at home last Sunday, while another problem is that Kalyn Ponga seemingly has to go off for a HIA every week, which is taking its toll on the Maroons fullback, and Mitchell Pearce has to have a physical ailment, or he’s obviously been brainwashed into thinking it’s an early 2010s Origin series, because he just hasn’t looked right.
Oddly enough, the Knights have their best defensive record through 9 games since 2002, which is a positive.
Meantime for the Red & Green Redfern Rabbit Machine, they were always on top in a rather spiteful game against Wests last Friday, apparently with help from the referee, as Dane Gagai finally scored a First Grade hat-trick, and if Adam Reynolds had have brought his kicking boots, the Rabbits would’ve felt a bit more comfortable in the 2nd Half, especially when Wests made a late charge that fell 2 scores short.
The obvious problem on the team front – Latrell Mitchell was suspended for 2 games for that dog shot on Grub Reynolds (And he was lucky to ONLY get 2 games), Campbell Graham suffered a facial fracture after his face got booted into outer space by Reynolds seconds prior to the dog shot, Liam Knight buggered his ankle, although in some good news, prop Mark Nicholls had success appealing a dangerous contact suspension, leaving him free to play.
With Mitchell gone, Alex Johnston is back in the No.1, where he probably should’ve been to begin with, Gagai goes to centre to cover Graham, which leaves WAYNE to call up a a new wing pair of Corey Allan, and junior Kiwi Jaxson Paulo to debut in the No.2.
Bugger it – Give me Newcastle!
Manly (10th) vs Parramatta (1st) at Brookvale Oval, 7:35pm AEST
Another chapter in the War Of 1947, and the rematch of the thriller from Round 4, when the Sea Eagles were robbed of a massive comeback win by a dodgy forward pass call from the touch judge in the last minute.
Des and the Brooky faithful won’t forget that for a long time, and their beloved Silvertails will come out packing punches, don’t you worry about that.
But, unfortunately for them, the difference in quality on the park is a bit more profound than it was back in Round 4, even with Mitch Moses still being a week away from playing for the Eels.
Without the Turbo-charger down back, the Silvertails just can’t get anything going, evident in their low scores in their 3 consecutive defeats, and even if they drag the Eels down to their level and make it a defensive fight, Brad Arthur’s team have shown they’ve had no difficulty getting down and dirty – This past week at Newcastle being a recent example.
As for the team news, there’s not much going on, with Mitch Moses not quite ready to play, although the interesting story was Stefano Utoikamanu making his Eels debut last week, which was almost his last game for 2020, when he decided to heinously interact with his friends and relatives, but after being kept away from training for several days, he was cleared to play by the NRL after their mandatory tests came back clear.
Probably will have to stick with the Blue & Golds.
Once Were Warriors (13th) vs Cronulla (9th) at Central Coast Stadium, 2pm AEST
With the impending departure of a quarter of the team back to New Zillund, things are back to a natural disaster for the Warriors, and on the back of the loss to the Titans, Todd Payten cracked the shits with referees boss Bernard Sutton, after the NRL admitted they’d made at least 4 bad decisions against the Kiwis, one of which was the Jack Hetherington no-try that would’ve put them up 16-6 with a kick next to the posts.
The Warriors lost 16-12.
Yeah, the Warriors have been ram-rodded by the whistle-blowers this year – Look no further than when David Fusitu’a was high shotted by Latrell Mitchell and knocked into next year as he was cutting inside to score.
Not even a penalty, let alone a penalty try, but a knock-on and 20m tap to Souths after the Bunker started their forensic analysis AFTER the hit… and Mitchell didn’t even get charged.
It’s bloody disgraceful – Surely the NRL are crooked enough that they’ll get Bernie to instruct his officials give the Kiwis a couple of square-ups as a way of saying thanks for saving the season.
Still, the reason this is barely getting mentioned in the Australian press is pretty simple.
So as they return to their mysteriously good home of Gosford, they take on a Sharks team who were left reeling after the Panthers culled them with a devastating attacking display, and sold their fins to the Chinese.
Obviously the Panthers are in 2nd right now, and the Sharks have a terrible record against the top teams, but against the bottom-feeders, they’ll play like it’s the good old days of Greg Pierce and Steve Rogers.
Penrith (2nd) vs North Queensland (12th) at Panthers Stadium, 4:05pm AEST
For the first time since Round 1, the Panthers are back playing in the mountains, and goodness gracious me, you look at this game on paper, it looks like nothing short of a ball-tearing, especially with Val Holmes gone long-term for the Cowboys.
Maika Sivo destroyed their right edge.
Matt Ikuvalu destroyed their left edge.
It makes sense that a player like Viliame Kikau will complete the holy trinity by burning a hole through the middle.
I would’ve suggested Charlie Staines would be the one to do the damage…. if he hadn’t got himself stood down for having a piss-up at his place after scoring 4 tries on debut.
In the meantime, the young boy is laying low, given the Post Office Hotel in Forbes are probably out for revenge, after his try scoring bonanza helped nearly drain their taps dry, in the biggest case of promotion gone wrong since McDonald’s had the “US Wins You Win” promotion at the 1984 Summer Olympics.