NRL

Meaningless NRL Preview: Round 20, 2020

Craig Bellamy to everyone after resting 11 players

It took a solid 6 months to get there, but ladies, gentlemen and Bulldogs fans, we have reached the end of a regular season that looked like finishing up at Round 2.

I guess the only difference is we’re able to tack a 0 on to that 2.

Of course, this is a weekend to farewell several players across the code, but I’d like to bring to order a more devastating loss to the game from the ranks of the whistleblowers.

Gavin ‘The Badge’ Badger has been forced into retirement.

“It was not his not his choice to end his refereeing career.”

Or, in simple English, he was axed for not kissing the feet of the Sutton brothers like several of his colleagues.


Thursday


Brisbane Broncos (16th) vs North Queensland (14th) at Suncorp Stadium, 7:50pm AEST

First off, I’d like to give a musical tribute to a retiring great of the game in Darius Boyd, courtesy of the sweet sound of Kansas:

“I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high” could apply to him going on one too many seasons.

I get the feeling if Darius had retired after 2018, we’d fairly remember him as a player who was only bettered by Billy Slater as the best No.1 of his era – Clive Churchill Medalist, Dally M Fullback of the Year, RLPA Player of the Year, Unbeaten playing for Australia, Greg Inglis’ wingman – Instead of that guy who spent the his twilight years falling over in defence and leaving a worse legacy at Red Hill than Sir Joh left the Queensland Nationals.

On another note, 5 years ago, the Queensland Derby brought us one of, if not the greatest, Grand Final ever witnessed by the human eye.

The moment the Broncos began to slowly rot from the inside out

Now, the Queensland Derby of 2020 bring us one of the greatest Wooden Spoon fights ever witnessed by the human eye, in what is the final Thursday night game of the season.

The once-mighty Broncos, coming in with a record 10 consecutive defeats, against the Cowboys, with 1 win out of their last 10, proving Bob Katter wrong that North Queenslanders only get torn apart by crocodiles.

They get torn apart by knights, by panthers, by roosters, by eels….

While Darius gets a farewell game, David Fifita has sadly played his last game for the Broncos due to injury, thanks to the Eels forward pack clearly being paid off by the NSWRL to take out Dave’s legs so he’d miss State of Origin as well, because apparently the Maroons didn’t have enough problems.

On the Cowboys side, their 25th anniversary season will end only slightly better than their inaugural season, and of course, to go with it being the last NRL game for club legend Gavin Cooper, this is Josh Hannay’s last game coaching for the Cowboys before Todd Payten takes over, and fair to say this stint has ended as ingloriously as his playing stint in Townsville.

Of course, this is the also one of two games the NRL chose to trial out some prospective 2021 rule changes.

Yep, Gavin Cooper and Darius Boyd, two 300+ game Premiership winning players with Queensland and Prime Minister’s XIII representation next to their names, are apparently so irrelevant that their last games are considered meaningless enough to be used as rule trials.

I can see why the Broncos especially would have a sour taste in their gobs.

THIS GAME IS NOT A DEAD RUBBER – THE WOODEN SPOON IS AT STAKE.

As for who wins?

Well, if the Broncos can’t get up for the farewell of a club great, and a Graveyard crowd pulling for them to avoid the fate that they probably deserve with how awfully they’ve played all season, then they’ll have more than earned the spoon.


Friday


Gold Coast (9th) vs Newcastle (6th) at Cbus Super Stadium, 6pm AEST

I know they’ve got the 4 Horsemen Of The Apocalypse coming to the club to play in the forward pack in 2021, but I have to wonder, do the Titans really want this year to end, with the way they’re finishing things?

4 wins in a row, a late surge up to the Tigers’ coveted prize of 9th place, players producing the best footy of their careers, and Justin Holbrook has the entire club on the tip of his finger in the space of 12 months.

Whatever that means, I still don’t know.

Obviously those 4 teams the Titans dry licked weren’t much chop, but winning form is winning form, and they’re playing with enough confidence to knock off a Top 8 team like the Knights, who are slightly below average away from the old Marathon Stadium, having not won on the road since Round 10, when they bravely ventured to Western Sydney and brought down the Rabbits.

The equation is pretty simple for the Novocastrians – They win, and they get their first home final since 2006, a time when Andrew Johns had overtaken Jason Taylor as the all-time leading pointscorer, and the Melbourne Storm had decided the salary cap was more of an accessory than a rule.

Lose, and they have to hope the Roosters beat up Souths.

It’s Newcastle on the road, so I’m leaning towards the latter occurring.

South Sydney (7th) vs Eastern Suburbs Roosters (3rd) at ANZ Stadium, 7:55pm AEST

Pictured: Jaydn Su’A after ironing out Lachlan Lewis

The 224th meeting of the Foundation rivals, and I imagine this is going to be another night full of recycled jokes about latte sipping, salary cap sombreros, dodgy medical retirements, and Souths being founded in 2002.

On the subject of recycled Souths-Easts jokes, all I’ll say is:

How many Souths fans does it take to change a lightbulb?

None, because they’re always living in the Roosters’ shadow.

From the outside looking in, it looks like the wheels are starting to get a serious wobble on the Bennett Bunny Bus, especially after the piss poor performance against the Doggies last Thursday, and I think you can make a direct correlation between the wobbles getting worse, and Latrell Mitchell’s hamstring going east in that incident against Parramatta.

Still, I don’t think this Rabbits team would’ve been a serious premiership chance even if Mitchell was fit, simply because they were probably going to fall short of a double chance, and the forward pack is still a tad suspect.

For the time being, this might be Wayne Bennett’s last home game as an NRL coach, which is something I didn’t even think about until I wrote this, because he’ll probably end up picking up a gig somewhere next year, and keep coaching until he crumbles into dust at the age of 137.

Meantime, the Chooks have hit top gear as they ramp up the charge for the Threepeat, winning 5 games in a row by no fewer than 12 points, all the while managing to rest several key players and work Sonny Bill Williams into the gameplan.

Last week, Boyd Cordner, Jake Friend, Siosiua Taukeiaho and James Tedesco all got a rest, this week it’s Isaac Liu, Joey Manu and Lindsay Collins.

As I have said previously, I think there’s a conundrum for Trent Robinson and Nick Politis to wrap their heads around.

They can kick the crap out of their eternal rivals, finish 3rd, and wander up to Queensland to play the Storm in the latest edition of the NRL’s Hell In A Cell.

Or, they can play the trap card, lose, hope the Eels win and go up to 3rd, thereby reducing it to a long trek out to Penrith, where they’d play a Panthers team who could potentially go in having won 15 in a row, but having nowhere near the big game readiness that the Chooks have had.

Still, I think the former will happen.


Saturday


Canterbury (15th) vs Penrith (1st) at ANZ Stadium, 3pm AEST

After finally realising that NRL games span 80 minutes, the Bulldogs put together their best performance in 2 months and pulled the wool over the eyes of the Rabbits, lifting the Berries off last place for the first time since Round 6, and I think there’s one particular moment that should sum up that win.

Have a look at this defensive play by Will Hopoate on Jed Cartwright when Souths were trying to charge home with just on 10 minutes remaining.

Hopoate uses his hand instead of his finger = Souths momentum gets destroyed.

Anyway, the Berries will be watching tonight’s game with a keen intent, which will make you forget about Trent Barrett beginning his bloody purge and carving off 8 players ahead of 2021.

Meantime, they may have a 14-game winning streak, but the Panthers officially have nothing to play for, having secured the very thing they were playing for, and that was their first JJ Giltinan Shield since 2003.

Ivan Cleary did have the option of mass resting players like the Storm did, but he’s settled on Dylan Edwards, Stephen Crichton, and Viliame ‘Big Billy’ Kikau, probably as a means of keeping up momentum at the expense of a bit of freshness for the likes of his own son, although I wouldn’t discount Cleary getting scratched on Saturday morning like a couple of Rosehill runners.

I think the Berries will keep this close, but I can’t tip against a team with 14 wins on end.

Cronulla (8th) vs Canberra (5th) at Kogarah Oval, 5:30pm AEST

Based on the team sheets this week, it appears Sticky Ricky has crunched the numbers with Dandy Don Furner and the Raiders big brains, and they’ve come to the conclusion that the Green machine will more likely than not finish in 5th and play the Sharks twice, with the Eels looking like they’ll fall over the line against Wests immediately after this game and finish in 4th.

So with that thought process, Nicoll-Klokstad, Croker, Williams, Bateman, Rapana and Papalii are all putting their feet up on a Saturday evening, giving another 3 NRL debuts to Adam Cook, Darby Medlyn and Jarrett Sublo , and throw in Matt Frawley making his Raiders debut after playing for Huddersfield in 2019, keeping up the Raiders fetish of Super League players.

So the Raiders have pretty much lost every decent section of their spine, but the possible safety blanket is that they’re playing against a Sharks team that was pretty much spiritually and mentally destroyed last week when Shaun Johnson ruptured his achilles tendon, a blow to rival Wade Graham tearing his ACL in the 2018 Qualifying Final when the Sharks were neck and neck with the Roosters.

Still, with the quality of players Ricky gave the weekend off to, I’ve got the Sharks to win this one, and the Green Machine will crap in the rematch, which I imagine will probably be held next Sunday, if all goes to plan.

Wests Tigers (10th) vs Parramatta (4th) at Bankwest Stadium, 7:35pm AEST

An emotional night for the Wests Tigers, as they farewell a deadset hero in Chris Lawrence, who does have the somewhat unfortunate scenario of retiring on the same night that Benji Marshall plays his last game in the Orange & Black, the last remaining player from that 2005 Premiership team.

For old times sake, let’s enjoy 6 and a half minutes of Benji thoroughly taking the piss out of opposition defenders.

Of course, there is the obvious question of why this is being played at Bankwest – Well, Wests did attempt tomove the game to Leichhardt, giving up an estimated $100,000 in the process with the reduction in crowd capacity, but it was rejected by the NRL because the Tigers were holding their junior league finals in Lilyfield on the same day, and apparently they couldn’t meet biosecurity requirements by the time the game kicked off at 7:35pm.

Come on, what’s a global pandemic to Benji’s last game?

As for the Eels, the less said the better, because they may be in 4th, but honestly, they could put a glass eye to sleep with some of the crap performances they’re pumping out week after week.

Just watch, they’ll probably win this 8-6, because Wests are Wests, finish 4th and get the double chance, and still look thoroughly unconvincing.


Sunday


Once Were Tamworth Warriors (12th) vs Manly (11th) at Central Coast Stadium, 2pm AEST

The second of the dead-rubber rule trial games also doubles as the inagural edition of the Addin Fonua-Blake Cup, concoted by yours truly on Tuesday evening, after the big fella announced he was flying across the ditch to play in 2021.

Given this is the Warriors last game before they finally get to head back to glorious Aotearoa, I hope there’s a pre-game ceremony where Andrew Abdo and Peter V’Landys walk out on to Central Coast Stadium, and kiss every Warriors coach and player on the arse, because that merry bend of Kiwis and rejected loan players saved the arsecrack of everyone in the NRL.

Well, except the employees at the league office who got flicked to cut costs.

As for the game, with Tommy Turbo getting injured again, I think the Warriors can end this with a flourish.

St George-Illawarra (13th) vs Melbourne (2nd) at WIN Stadium, 4:05pm AEST

“Hi-diddily-ho Craig-erino, I don’t want to be a nosey Neddy, but, why are you resting 11 players on a free to air game?”

“Okily-dokily!”

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