From The Couch – Rd 12

From The Couch, Round 12, by Nick Tedeschi @ makingthenut.com

The 2018 Mid-Season Report Card:  At the halfway point of the season, it is time to grade how each club has performed:

BRISBANE (C-): Opened 7-5 with a negative differential. Their defence has been abhorrent, one of the worst in Wayne Bennett’s long and storied career. Been hit hard by injuries but the main instigator of their poor showing is the terrible recruitment that led to Ben Hunt’s departure without an organising half to take his place. Jack Bird has only further highlighted the recruitment woes.

CANBERRA (D): That is a ‘D’ for dumb. There is no more stupid, self-defeating team in the premiership. The Raiders have the talent to be a Top 4 team but now seem favoured  to miss the Top 8 after a 5-7 start. Five losses have come by eight points or fewer and all were with leads after 65 minutes. The halves are a disaster.

CANTERBURY (C+): The Bulldogs have had one of their worst starts to the season in 50 years but have still overachieved. Canterbury were cast after the last administration doubled down on some bad contract extensions by signing two big-priced duds. Defensively Canterbury try hard. There is no speed or creativity in attack. Long road ahead for the Bulldogs.

CRONULLA (B+): Started the season slowly but have pushed into the Top 4 on the back of six straight wins. A veteran team that has been hit hard by injuries but has kept on keeping on. Andrew Fifita is having an astonishing year. Need to settle on a spine but look to have done so with Moylan at six and Dugan at one.

GOLD COAST (C): The pre-season wooden spoon favourites. Have managed four wins to sit 13th on the ladder but have won just one of their last seven and have the second worst defence in the league. Jai Arrow has emerged as a superstar but the continual playing of Bryce Cartwright combined with some very poor decision-making has hurt them.

MANLY (C-): The Sea Eagles have been a complete mess off of the field, to the point it seems likely Trent Barrett is going to walk away from the job. A massive salary cap penalty means the Sea Eagles are playing with less talent than most. The Trbojevic brothers have been outstanding and Martin Taupau wonderful but just not enough good players to threaten.

MELBOURNE (B-): The Storm have opened the season 7-5 and have disappointed by their high standards. The Brodie Croft experiment didn’t work and Ryley Jacks has only been serviceable. The error-rate has been particularly un-Melbourne while ill disciplined showings like that against Manly also aren’t typical. The upside is there to win again but need to improve.

NEWCASTLE (D): Started the season with a couple of wins to suggest the misery may have ended but haven’t beaten a team that is higher than eighth on the ladder. Their defence is worst in the NRL and they have conceded 28 or more points in eight games. Kalyn Ponga has emerged as a legitimate superstar. Halves offer nothing.

NEW ZEALAND (A-): Stunningly spent the first 11 weeks in the Top 4 before dropping out. Hit a poor patch of form with some very lax defensive efforts but they are fit, running hard and playing with relative intelligence. Blake Green has been a quality buy. Done well considering they have rarely had their best team on the paddock.

NORTH QUEENSLAND (F): The Cowboys have been utterly abysmal this year after starting the season as one of the title favourites. Johnathan Thurston’s final year has turned into a nightmare. No team looks older with the game passing many in the team by. Michael Morgan’s form has fallen through the floor.

PARRAMATTA (F): The Eels went into 2018 significantly overrated but even to the haters their two-win first half of the season was stunning. Mitchell Moses has again proven himself to be a disaster. Jarryd Hayne always looked like a terrible buy and was. Their pack is the smallest and least effective in the NRL.

PENRITH (A+): Penrith’s first half of 2018 has been truly remarkable. No team has suffered a longer list of injuries yet the Panthers are entrenched in the Top 4 and are equal title favourites at the halfway mark. James Maloney has been the buy of the year. The amount of talent coming through at the foot of the mountains is scary.

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA (A+): Few had the Dragons making the Top 8 but they have spent the first half of the season on top of the table with the best attack and the top defence. No pack is more fearsome than that of the Saints, who have brutalised opponents. Ben Hunt was mocked when signed but has been central to their success.

SOUTH SYDNEY (A): It is hard not to be impressed by what has gone on at South Sydney. New coach Anthony Seibold was a magnificent hire and the way he has brought this Souths team on has been wonderful. Damien Cook is the most damaging hooker in the competition. The Burgess boys are rejuvenated. Alex Johnston has found his old form. No team plays a better brand of football.

SYDNEY ROOSTERS (C+): After signing James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk, the Roosters started 2018 as premiership favourites. They have played a long way below that but they have put the sword to the bad teams and are poised just outside the Top 4. Have been far from consistent or impressive but are doing enough.

WESTS TIGERS (B+): Nobody expected anything from the Tigers but Ivan Cleary had the bus rolling early with two wins against the Storm and one against the Roosters. Their defence has been quality but points have been very hard to come by. Benji Marshall has proven an excellent pickup. Form has slipped a little but still in the Top 8.

Talking Origin – Maroons Forwards: With State of Origin just around the corner, attention turns to Queensland and this week the pack and bench:

Props
Matt Scott is a long-serving Queensland stalwart and Dylan Napa and Jarrod Wallace started in game three last year so it can be expected all three will be in the team for the series opener. Tim Glasby also came off the bench last year but looks unlikely with Jai Arrow enjoying a monster season and deserving of a call-up.

Selections: Matt Scott and Jarrod Wallace, Dylan Napa and Jai Arrow (Bench)

Hooker
The retirement of Cameron Smith has thrown the hooking role wide open. Since his Origin debut, Smith missed just one game since his debut and the now-retired Matt Ballin was his replacement. It looks a fairly close race in three between Andrew McCullough, Jake Granville and Jake Friend. McCullough has the most complete game and is the most defensively stout of the lot and should have his nose in front.

Selection: Andrew McCullough

Backrow
Josh McGuire is a certainty at lock if he recovers from injury. If he doesn’t play, Jai Arrow is the man who should play. Felise Kaufusi should replace Matt Gillett on a right edge. Due to lack of option, Gavin Cooper will retain his spot on the left. Josh Papalii has been rejuvenated and will keep his spot, most likely on the bench. Youngster Coen Hess looks likely to miss out.

Selections: Josh McGuire, Felise Kaufusi and Gavin Cooper, Josh Papalii (bench)

Referee Power Rankings: The NRL always stick with the big names for big games but here is the actual order of referees based on talent rather than reputation or nepotism:

  1. Grant Atkins
  2. Matt Cecchin
  3. Adam Gee
  4. Gavin Badger
  5. Ashley Klein
  6. Gavin Reynolds
  7. Gerard Sutton
  8. Chris Butler
  9. Ben Cummins
  10. Chris Sutton
  11. Henry Perenara

The 2018 Willie M Origin Teams: Based on Willie M votes in 2018, positions capable of playing and state availability:

NSW: Matt Moylan; Akuila Uate, Sione Mata’utia, Jack Bird, Blake Ferguson; Aidan Sezer, Mitchell Moses ©; Aaron Woods, Peter Wallace, Matt Lodge, Wade Graham, Boyd Cordner, Bryce Cartwright; Brock Lamb, Luciano Leilua, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Kurt Dillon.

Queensland: Darius Boyd; Kyle Feldt, Justin O’Neill, Ben Hampton; Dane Gagai; Kane Elgey, Michael Morgan ©; Sam Thaiday, Jake Granville, Dylan Napa, Gavin Cooper, Kurt Capewell, Josh Papalii; Brodie Croft, Jake Friend, Korbin Sims, Aidan Guerra.

Sam Williams Screwed Again: Ricky Stuart was asked immediately before the Raiders’ lucky win over Manly whether he considered bringing Sam Williams into the team in place of one of his beleaguered halves. A gruff “no” was his one-word response. This, despite his halves almost certainly costing the Raiders a finals berth and Williams starting the season. It has become more than clear that the Raiders need to bring the axe down on Stuart as soon as possible.

2018 Field Goal Update – 21: Friday night was a big evening for field goals with Aidan Sezer and Cameron Munster slotting match-winning field goals in respective one-point games.

Fun Fact #1: Referee Grant Atkins is the son of 1981 Parramatta Grand Final winner Graeme Atkins and the grandson of Parramatta player from the 1950s Noel Atkins (courtesy of Steele Sport)

Fun Fact #2: Former Newcastle player Mark Hughes won a premiership in his very first season in first grade

Fun Fact #3: The 17.82 penalties per game this season is the highest since 1985 (17.83 penalties per game)

Betting Market of the Week: Bryce Cartwright could make a tackle on the following:

$1001: An NRL footballer
$101: An NRL mascot
$51: An NRL referee
$11: A small child
$6: A baby
$4: A giant slug

Rumour Mill: There is strong speculation hitting the rumour mill that Billy Slater will retire at season’s end. Clint Gutherson is expected to leave Parramatta with Manly his most likely destination. Corey Norman will be at Canberra in 2019. Valentine Holmes is expected to make a move to Queensland with the Cowboys the favourites to snare his signature but the Broncos well in the mix. The Ivan Cleary to the Roosters rumour just won’t go away. Speculation is rife that Angus Crichton is looking to back out of his deal with the Roosters for 2019.

Key Stat for a Player Who Should Not Be in First Grade: Tepai Moeroa holds the NSW Under 13s and Under 15s shot put records as well as the Under 14s discus record.

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 12: Penrith 28 – St George Illawarra 2. The final score did not do this one justice. The top two teams did battle in front of a sold out Penrith Stadium and both teams lifted with no game having the intensity of this one. A belter of a game.

The Coaching Crosshairs: The biggest story in Rugby League over the last week has been Brisbane’s supposed pursuit of Craig Bellamy and the Melbourne coach entertaining a shift north. The media is reporting it as virtually a done deal. It is not and the favourite in betting is that Bellamy will stay in Melbourne. The one certainty out of all this though is that Wayne Bennett’s time in Brisbane is drawing to a close. Whether it be the end of this season or next, Bennett’s firm grip on the levers of power at Red Hill is gone. Wayne no doubt envisaged handing over to a successor of his choosing at a time of his making but that dream seems just that … a dream.

Moronic Coaching Decision of the Week: Garth Brennan may be a highly promising young coach but his time at the Titans will not last long if he continues to select Bryce Cartwright. The former Panther’s move to the Titans should have been aborted immediately after he refused to make a tackle in the loss to the Storm. Weeks later, he has done exactly the same in a pathetic performance against the Roosters. Brennan is right to get behind his players but he is wrong in supporting a player who would not get a run for the Lithgow Workies reserve grade bench.

Beard Watch: James Fisher-Harris has the moustache of a middle-aged Errol Flynn and the mischievous eyes of a Goodfellas-era Ray Liotta.

Correspondence Corner: Davey G and Jason, you are right and I think I was wrong … Napa didn’t deliberately lead with the head but he did make contact and it was careless.

Mike Butterfield, there is so much obstruction that goes on that goes unpenalized.

Robbo, spot on about the two. The issue is the penalties. The quicker they can be eradicated, the happier we will all be.

Gary and CTPE, I think Ennis is great. Roach is the worst thing to ever go into my ears.

Watch It: Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin by all reports said goodbye to television last week. This week we go all the way back to his television debut with David Morrow on the ABC. Watch it here.

 

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