With just three rounds to go in the NRL regular season, rugby league writer Daniel Boss casts his eye on some important games and some important issues that could be important come finals time.
Where is the Sin Bin???
In last Sunday’s game between Melbourne and Newcastle, Cooper Cronk was penalised for taking out Darius Boyd as he was chasing an attacking kick close to Melbourne’s try line. It was a blatant professional foul and should have been sin binned. I, like the Channel Nine commentators and Newcastle crowd, were flabbergasted when only a penalty was given. In my opinion acts like this go against the spirit of the game, as Newcastle caught the Storm slightly out of position and were looking to take advantage of it. Yet, the Knights were unable to take advantage of this. I should also point out that Cronk is a serial offender at conceding professional fouls. It’s the one part of his game that I don’t respect. One example of this that comes to mind came in Game 2 in last year’s Origin series, where he blatantly conceded a penalty to prevent a sure New South Wales try. Thankfully he was sin binned at that point or the referees may not have gotten out of Sydney alive. At the time, this drunken NSW supporter was so angry that he called all Queenslanders a bunch of f***ing cheating c-bombs. Not my finest hour, but I had every right to be angry. Especially after the dodgy refereeing in the first origin game of 2012, but I digress.
The Roosters have been smart enough to realise that referees are very reluctant to use the sin bin in 2013. They are one of the worst teams in the league in regards to conceding penalties (I don’t have the figures with me) and have clearly blatantly conceded penalties in defence to stop the attacking teams’ momentum in multiple games this season. Yet, they have yet to see a player sent off for repeated offences and are also sitting at top of the competition ladder. I’m not suggesting that this is the only reason why they are at the top of the ladder but it is a factor, at least in my opinion. It appears that referees just lack the confidence to make such a stand. In previous seasons, referees have been criticised for taking such action from the media. I know we all want to see two sides at full strength battle for victory but action does need to be taken on repeated infringements. There needs to be some reward for having good discipline.
David Furner sacking
It came as a surprise to me today that Canberra’s coach David Furner was sacked effective immediately. It was a surprise as it happened now and not two years ago. In almost five seasons as head coach, two late season runs have led to the only finals appearances for Raiders sides that should have been title contenders for the past few seasons. This will come as welcome news for Raiders supporters who have been asking for Furner’s head for the past few years, yet I feel that he was slightly unlucky.
Speculation is rampant that Furner’s support of Blake Ferguson is the reason for his dismissal but as I have stated in previous articles, I don’t blame him for this as he didn’t want to see another one of the players that he nurtured play well for another club. In saying that, I think this is the right move for Canberra as the club needs a culture change. They need a strong disciplinarian who will get the best of the big (and currently underperforming) forward pack and to clip the egos of various members of the backline.
Round 23 tipping results
In Round 23, I selected 6 from 8 tips correctly. This included both the lock and upset of the week thanks to victories from the top 2 sides, the Roosters and South Sydney respectively.
Season tipping results
Lock of the week: 20/23
Upset of the week: 5/19*
*: in rounds 2, 6, 12 and 18 there were no upsets
Penrith Panthers v Brisbane Broncos
Tip: Broncos. This figures to be a more competitive game than what meets the eye. The Panthers bounced back into form by defeating the Warriors in New Zealand, which has kept their slim top 8 hopes alive. The Broncos did enough to get over the Eels last round but were far from impressive. This is essentially an elimination game for both sides and I see the Broncos just getting home here. I think that they will have too much class in their side to win. Josh Hoffman has been in outstanding form since being moved to fullback. This should make the club reconsider signing Ben Barba or Anthony Milford (provided that both are released from the current contracts). The only addition for Penrith is Matt Moylan as 18th man, while the Broncos are unchanged aside from the additions of Scott Anderson and Nick Slyney to an extended bench.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canterbury Bulldogs
Tip: Souths. The Rabbits did get the rub of the green in last week’s victory against Manly but they also did show a lot of mental toughness in coming from behind to win the game. They have bounced back into strong form over the past two games. The Bulldogs were very good against Canberra, especially Josh Morris. Watching him carve up the Raiders from the Mal Meninga stand was a sight to behold. Again, this will be a close game but I think Souths will just be too good for the Dogs. For Souths, Ben Lowe returns to replace the suspended Jeff Lima at lock. They have also added Dave Tyrrell, Justin Hunt and Matt King on an extended bench. Canterbury are unchanged, aside from the addition of Martin Burr as the 18th man.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Wests Tigers
Tip: Dragons. For the second time this season, these two sides will clash at the SCG to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the 1963 Grand Final. The prize for the winner: the knowledge that they will not win the wooden spoon this season. The Dragons should be too strong in this game. They weren’t bad against Cronulla and probably should have won the game. On the other hand, the Tigers were again abysmal against the Roosters. The Tigers supporter in me can’t wait for this season to end. It’s been painful. There is a positional change in the Dragons backline, with Runciman moving to centre and Vidot moving back to the wing. Craig Garvey has been added to the Dragons’ extended bench. For the Tigers, Ayshford is out due to injury and is replaced in the centres by Bodene Thompson. The only other additions are Jack Buchanan and Shaun Spence to an extended bench.
Gold Coast Titans v New Zealand Warriors
Tip: Titans. Both sides were quite poor last round. The Titans struggled to threaten the Cowboys’ defence last round but they still are hanging on to 8th position. The Warriors are a far cry from the side that was climbing the ladder only a month ago. In fact, I think that last week’s loss to Penrith was the end of the Warriors’ finals chances this season. The Warriors are a far worse side away from home than at home, which is the main reason why I am tipping the Gold Coast. Also, the Titans have the addition of Albert Kelly. Kelly is named to start at halfback, which moves Sezer to five eight and Harrison to lock. As a result, Bird (who is in doubt with an injury) moves to the second row for Ridge who is named on the bench. O’Dwyer is omitted as a result of an injury. For the Warriors, Jerome Ropati is named to start on one wing for Laumape, who is named as the 18th man. The only other changes are positional, with Taylor moving from lock to the second row, Lowrie moving from the bench to lock and Mateo moving from the second row back to the bench.
North Queensland Cowboys v Newcastle Knights
Tip: Knights (Upset of the week). The Cowboys are attempting a Lazarus in the sense that they are looking to revive a season that was pronounced dead weeks ago. They have won three straight games and are looking quite dangerous. The Knights have been in better form in recent games and showed quite a lot against Melbourne, despite not being able to take advantage of the chances that they had in the first half. I think the Cowboys will be truly tested this round and I like the Knights in this game, even though it is played in Townsville. The only change to the Cowboys team is the omission of Ashton Sims to suspension, with Scott Bolton and Ethan Lowe added to the 5-man bench in his place. The only change for the Knights is on the bench with Neville Costigan returning in place of Korbin Sims. Tearaway Tariq is the only Sims brother that will play in this game, from a potential three.
Canberra Raiders v Manly Sea Eagles
Tip: Manly. Last round, both sides were losers. I was very convinced that Manly would win this game before hearing of David Furner’s dismissal. For whatever reason, teams always respond to the sacking of a coach so I expect the Raiders to come out firing in this game. Also, it is in Canberra, where the Raiders have a strong record. This is an upset worth considering if you need to make up ground in a tipping comp. However, Manly will be angry after last week’s loss to Souths and I also expect them to come out strong as a result. Canberra have a lot of changes, including the move of Milford from fullback to five eight, which means that McCrone moves to halfback for Williams who is named as the 18th man. Robinson moves from the wing to fullback, with Sami Sauilama coming onto one wing. Bill Tupou replaces the injured Wighton in the centres, while Berrigan is named to start at hooker for Buttriss who is named on the bench. Also, Vaughan is named to start at lock with Edwards relegated to the bench and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs returns to start on the bench in place of Foster. The only addition for Manly is the addition of James Hasson as 18th man who will most likely be cover for Watmough who is in doubt for this game due to injury.
Melbourne Storm v Parramatta Eels
Tip: Storm (Lock of the week). Melbourne is still a way away from their best, yet they have won their past 3 games. They will be looking to find their best form against a Parramatta side that has been better in recent weeks. Yet, I can’t find a way that this rematch of the 2009 Grand Final combatants can be competitive. I know that this is a pretty soft selection for lock of the week but I’m very confident in seeing the Storm win this one. Melbourne has named an unchanged line-up to last week’s team, while the only omission from the Parramatta side is that of Hayne through injury. As a result, Roberts moves from centre to five eight, Toutai moves from wing to centre and Semi Radradra comes onto one wing. Also, Daniel Harrison has been named as the 18th man for the Eels.
Cronulla Sharks v Sydney Roosters
Tip: Roosters. Cronulla have been quite poor over the past couple of rounds, despite snatching victory from the jaws of defeat against the Dragons last round. On current form, the Roosters should blow them off the park. Yet, the Sharks are at home and should play better than they did last weekend. The Roosters continue to keep winning as their winning streak has now extended to 8 games. I get the feeling that they may end up like the Bulldogs last year and may be peaking too soon. Time will tell on that one. Wade Graham returns for Cronulla to start in the second row, which means that Heighington moves back to a 5-man bench. For the Roosters, Aubusson moves from the second row to the centres for the omitted Langi. Guerra moves from the bench to the second row, while Dylan Napa is added to the bench. O’Donnell is named on the bench, despite being charged for a dangerous throw.
‘Beat the Boss’
Both favourites won the elimination semi-finals last week, which means that the top 4 sides will play in the preliminary finals this week. Last week, Pearce’s Pride thumped the Pit Dogs 619-275 and P7Panthers beat the Funky Bunch 533-453. The preliminary finals are:
- The Crackalackers v P7Panthers
- Boggabri Bandits v Pearce’s Pride