2018 PREVIEW 🔍 Perennial underachievers? Our fifteenth preview is here. Andrew Ferguson assesses whe...
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The Armchair Expert is back for another week of peerless analysis of our great game.
Each week leading into the finals, our Armchair Expert runs his lazy eye over the weekend that was. He'll look at the happenings of the previous weekend, and keep you up to date with the big issues like refereeing, social media and the current controversies.
This week, our Guru looks at the electric Eels, the end of an era, embarrassing offloads and the NRL looking not East... but West.
All those, plus a wrap up of all the injuries and suspensions from the weekend. Let's get into it....
Phwoar. After an indifferent late season period the Parramatta Eels turned it ON last Thursday night when they visited Suncorp Stadium.
The blue and gold boys were absolutely electric, piling on 24 points in the opening twenty minutes and they didn't let up til much later in the evening. Semi Radradra was absolutely on fire bagging four meat pies, while Kirisome Auva'a barely had time to think before scoring the fastest NRL try in history following a botched first-tackle offload by Adam Blair after just 18 seconds.
They'll be disappointed they didn't contain a late flurry from Brisbane, but the attacking prowess shown over the first hour of the game will stand them in good stead come finals time. Do Eels fans dare to dream?
Special mention goes to 'Cool Hand Daly' - Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans had a largely quiet Sunday in his side's golden-point win over the Warriors but produced two very well struck field goals to ensure the Eagles got back into the winners circle after what can best be described as a lean August.
This almost calls for a renaming of the award. The aforementioned Blair produced arguably the dumbest play of the 2017 season when he attempted an offload in the first tackle of the game. Yep. The VERY FIRST.
The calamity set the tone for the Broncos' night and they never looked likely from there, despite finishing the game with a handy 34 points from a late landlside of tries.
It's easy to be critical of the NRL - and when the ARU booted the Western Force from the Super Rugby competition a few weeks ago, it seemed justified to criticise Todd Greenberg and his administration for not taking some sort of immediate action to plug the gap.
Fast forward a fortnight or so and it really sounds like all the right sounds are being made from NRL HQ. On Tuesday it was confirmed the Bulldogs and Rabbitohs would be taking their opening round home games next season to the brand-new Perth stadium (which put a few noses out of joint, mind you). Put this together with the efforts of both South Sydney and Manly in recent seasons, the Rugby League World Cup double header scheduled in the Western capital this November, as well as last year's pre-4Nations test match, and suddenly a picture is being painted.
Could the WA Pirates be on their way to an NRL licence in the coming seasons?
We're doing away with Ref Watch this week to bid farewell to what has become somewhat of an institution in the NRL landscape - the Under 20's. Around 6pm on Sunday evening the final whistle will sound on the last regular season match in the Holden Cup (fittingly between the teams placed 15th and 16th) at Leichhardt Oval.
While 9 finals matches await over the coming months, the end of the season proper gives time to reflect on a system that, while with its faults, brought us some outstanding talent over the past ten seasons since its inception in 2008.
While the national competition is being disbanded, the pathways remain with both the NSWRL and QRL picking up the slack with 16-team Under 20's competitions in each state to be introduced next season, each 20 rounds in length.
Broncos: Andrew McCullough (knee), Korbin Sims (arm)
Raiders: Dunamis Lui (knee)
Bulldogs: Brett Morris (ribs)
Sharks: Tony Williams (knee)
Titans: Ryan Simpkins (knee), Chris McQueen (neck), Karl Lawton, Nathan Peats, Ryan James, Tyrone Roberts (shoulder), Dale Copley (groin)
Sea Eagles: Jorge Taufua (knee)
Storm: Christian Welch (ACL), Cheyse Blair (ankle)
Knights: Rory Kostjasyn (throat, retired), Brock Lamb, Dylan Phythian & David Bhana (knee), Pauli Pauli (fibula), Luke Yates (ankle), Daniel Saifiti (shoulder)
Cowboys: Josh Chudleigh & Matt Scott (ACL), Johnathan Thurston (shoulder), Patrick Kaufusi (foot), Ben Spina (biceps)
Eels: Clint Gutherson & Kaysa Pritchard (knee), Beau Scott (biceps), Isaac De Gois (concussion, retired)
Panthers: Leilani Latu (jaw)
Dragons: Yaw Kiti Glymin (shoulder), Siliva Havili (pectoral), Euan Aitken (shoulder)
Rabbitohs: Greg Inglis (ACL), Alex Johnston (hamstring)
Warriors: Jacob Lillyman (biceps)
Wests Tigers: Matt Ballin (knee, retired), Jamal Idris (ACL)
Bulldogs: Josh Reynolds (calf)
Titans: Dan Sarginson (shoulder), John Olive (elbow)
Sea Eagles: Brad Parker (knee)
Knights: Jack Stockwell (shoulder), Anthony Tupou (knee)
Cowboys: Justin O'Neill (elbow), Kalyn Ponga (indefinite), Antonio Winterstein (hamstring)
Eels: Bevan French (hamstring), Tepai Moeroa (head), Frank Pritchard (shoulder)
Panthers: Dylan Edwards (knee)
Dragons: Drew Hutchison (knee)
Rabbitohs: Connor Tracey (ACL), Siosifa Talakai (ankle)
Warriors: Matt Allwood (ribs), Nathaniel Roache (hamstring), Bodene Thompson (pectoral)
Wests Tigers: Josh Aloiai (knee), Jacob Liddle & Elijah Taylor (shoulder)
Returning this week or in finals
Broncos: Tevita Pangai-Junior (hamstring)
Sharks: Jack Bird (shoulder), Wade Graham (leg), Sam Tagataese (calf)
Titans: Konrad Hurrell (hamstring)
Sea Eagles: Curtis Sironen (pectoral)
Storm: Brandon Smith (wrist)
Knights: Sione Mata'utia (concussion)
Cowboys: Gavin Cooper (calf)
Eels: Beau Scott (biceps)
Panthers: Matt Moylan (hamstring)
Roosters: Daniel Tupou (groin)
Warriors: Albert Vete (arm)
Jarrod Wallace (Titans) - Grade 3 Shoulder Charge (early plea, 375 points)
Matt McIlwrick (Wests Tigers) - Grade 1 Dangerous Contact - Head/Neck (early plea, 155 points incl. priors)
Michael Chee-Kam (Wests Tigers) - Grade 1 Shoulder Charge (early plea, 150 points)
Zane Musgrove (Rabbitohs) - Grade 1 Shoulder Charge (early plea, 150 points)
Josh King (Knights) - Grade 1 Dangerous Contact - Head/Neck (early plea, 75 points)
Chris Heighington (Sharks) - Grade 1 Dangerous Contact - Head/Neck (early plea, 75 points)
Isaiah Papali'i (Warriors) - Grade 1 Dangerous Contact - Head/Neck (early plea, 75 points)
There might be one round (and four weeks of finals) left of this season, but as evidence by the Perth double header announcement earlier this week there's already strings being pulled right around the traps ahead of the 2018 season. Minor premiers Melbourne and top four side Brisbane have already put their membership packages for next season on sale while this morning Parramatta confirmed they'll be moving their jersey manufacturer across to popular brand ISC Sport.
No doubt over the next few weeks we'll see plenty more announcements. Meanwhile, we're told to expect the 2018 NRL Draw around late October.
Awards season is already underway - the QRL and Parramatta Eels have both held their main 'night of nights'.
Check back next week for more expert analysis from the seat of my pants.
- The Armchair Expert