The Armchair Expert - NRL Round 1

In a new weekly feature for LeagueUnlimited, our Armchair Expert will run his lazy eye over the weekend that was. Each round 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.

In some ways it was a big round for Rugby League. In other ways, it was a bit of a letdown. This week I'll look at the controversy that was crowd figures from Round 1, a massive surprise we all got on Sunday afternoon, and the fact that we seem to have scared referees away from making decisions entirely. Not only that, I'll also bring you up to speed on all of the injuries and judiciary issues from Round 1 of the NRL.

Performance of the Round

Hard to go past the South Sydney Rabbitohs for this one. The Sydney Roosters started as outsiders when betting opened, but had so much money put on them in the few days preceding the game, they actually started the game as favourites. Even our own expert tipster Paul Mitry tipped the Roosters to get the points. Instead, the Roosters were totally blown off the park.

The talk during the week was all about the battle between Sam Burgess and Sonny Bill Williams, but it was Greg Inglis that stole the show. Inglis scored three tries in the Rabbitohs win, perplexing the Roosters' defence in a display of power, speed and skill.

Was this a case of South Sydney catching the Roosters napping, and playing their grand final six months late - or are the Rabbitohs the real deal in 2014?

Surprise Packet

The St George Illawarra Dragons were the talk of the off season. The departure of Daniel Vidot, Jamie Soward, Chase Stanley and Matt Cooper left many questioning the strike power of the Dragons outside backs. These critics were somewhat silenced in Round 1, as the Dragons notched up 44 points in 80 minutes. New recruit Gareth Widdop was instrumental in the win, setting up tries and kicking a bagful of goals. But the whole team chimed in, with the forward pack scoring more points than the outside backs. Maybe the Dragons have found their method of scoring points in 2014.

Then again, it was against the Wests Tigers - most people's tip for the wooden spoon…


Ref Watch

Have we finally scared referees away from making decisions entirely? In the Parramatta Eels vs New Zealand Warriors game on Sunday evening, video referees Chris Ward and Andrew Dunemann more than earned their paychecks. On field referees Adam Devcich and Henry Perenara sent almost every decision upstairs - even the ones that looked pretty straightforward. There was an audible groan from the crowd each time this happened, with the stoppages obviously frustrating the fans. Our news editor Tim voiced his disapproval of the over-usage of the video referee in the live update, with his comment "The refs go upstairs for the millionth time"

Was this a case of the on field referees erring on the side of caution, or has the media really scared the decision making ability out of them? I can't speak for everybody, but I'd prefer a slightly bad decision made quickly, than the 100% correct decision made over a 15 minute review period. Where does it stop? Give every fan in the stands a buzzer? Allow the ref to ask the audience…?

Bumps and Bruises

The Newcastle Knights will be wanting a do-over for Round 1. Not only did they get thrashed by the Penrith Panthers, but in one game they managed to knock out most of their spine. And that's on top of the long-term injury Jarrod Mullen suffered in the Auckland 9s.

The full injury list from Round 1 is:

  • Dragons: Michael Witt - Shoulder injury (expected to miss 1 or 2 weeks)
  • Dragons: Jack de Belin - Leg Injury
  • Knights: Darius Boyd - Hamstring injury (expected to return round 4)
  • Knights: Kurt Gidley - Concussion (won't miss a game)
  • Knights: Tyrone Roberts - Concussion (won't miss a game)
  • Sea Eagles: Brett Stewart - Hamstring strain (expected to return round 3 or 4)
  • Sharks: Paul Gallen - Ankle Syndesmosis (possibly round 7)
  • Tigers: Liam Fulton - Concussion (won't miss a game)
  • Titans: Luke Douglas - Thumb

The Naughty Chair

Round 1 was full of bad boys! Most of the charges to come out of the weekend were due to the newish shoulder charge rule.

The full list of judiciary charges from Round 1 is:

  • Roosters: Anthony Minichiello - Grade 1 Dangerous Contact (0 weeks)
  • Rabbitohs: Dylan Walker - Grade 1 Tripping (0 weeks)
  • Rabbitohs: Sonny Bill Williams - Grade 2 Shoulder Charge (3 weeks)
  • Broncos: Andrew McCullough - Grade 2 Careless High Tackle (0 weeks)
  • Eels: Peni Terepo - Grade 1 Careless High Tackle (0 weeks)
  • Sharks: Michael Gordon - Grade 1 Tripping (TBA)
  • Sharks: Siosia Vave - Grade 1 Dangerous Contact (TBA)
  • Sharks: Andrew Fifita - Grade 2 Shoulder Charge (TBA)

Controversy Corner

Rule changes
Of all of the new rule changes the NRL have introduced for the 2014 season, the zero tackle rule has been the most controversial. Opinions have been divided - there are a number of people who think that the new rule is a massive let off for the defensive team, and a disincentive for kickers to grubber into the in goal. On the other hand, a lot of people praised the new rule, because it brings a bit of excitement back to the game, allowing us to see fullbacks and wingers in full flight. One thing is for sure, it doesn't look to have increased the number of times teams have ran the ball through the hands on the last

Ben Barba Racism Row
The issue of faceless cowards on social media has again reared its head, this time with Benny Barba the target. An 18 year old Canterbury fan was responsible for the racist comment, calling Barba a "filthy Abo". The difference between this case, and many other attacks on social media, was that this individual could not rely on anonymity to protect him. The young man from Dapto was contacted by the NRL, after it was discovered he is registered to a Country Rugby League Club - he has since apologised to Barba for the incident. It does illustrate the fact that anonymity is often the security blanket for these bullies, and perhaps removing that anonymity is the key to a solution.

Crowd figures
In a bit of a PR debacle for the NRL, Round 1 resulted in the lowest average crowd figures in over a decade - with only 15800 people on average attending games. There are a number of factors that contribute to this, including Thursday night games, 8.05pm kick offs, and high ticket prices - but the bottom line is that these crowd figures are worrying. The NRL went into damage control to defend their crowds, but one swallow doesn't make a summer. I'll keep an eye on crowd figures and check back over the course of the season.

Around the Social Media Traps

I noticed this gem on  @brisbanebroncos yesterday:

Check back next week for more expert analysis from the seat of my pants.

 - The Armchair Expert