25 rounds, 192 games, #Origin on a Sunday, and a September Grand Final.
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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.
This week he looks at the competition balance being restored, a whip cracking north of the border, and the trouble brewing down two of our NSW highways. That, plus a wrap up of all the injuries and suspensions from the weekend. Let's get into it....
Performance of the Round
They say the cream rises to the top and that certainly appeared to happen as the NRL returned to our fields and screens over the weekend. Reigning premiers the Sydney Roosters and the team who finished second last season, the South Sydney Rabbitohs, both posted convincing victories over previously-fancied opponents in the Tigers and Titans at the weekend. Many said the rep weekend break would serve to separate the good from the bad and despite some dusty individual efforts within each of those victories, the Roosters and Rabbitohs look most likely to pressure the competition frontrunners like Manly and Canterbury.
The Paul Carige Award for the Worst Performance of the Round
Do we send this award down the Hume or the Princes? Whichever highway this coveted award travels down, it's certainly effort that (as Steve Price put it so eloquently) was soft from both his club the Dragons, and the place most of their recruits stem from, the Raiders.
Unpopularly shifting a home game to ANZ Stadium, the big Red V was trounced by the Doggies 38-6 on a forgettable Mother's Day afternoon. The Belmore boys had it easy, posting 38 unanswered points in the opening 70 minutes before allowing a late Brett Morris consolation with just a few to go. Their coach questioned their input after the game - and why wouldn't he? Meanwhile, across the Tasman, the Raiders turned up hoping to erase memories of their 54-18 hiding from Manly in Round 8 but copped an almost identical scoreline, with the Warriors putting 54 on them as well. Ricky Stuart and his players were all singing the same refrain - "we've got no idea why this is happening".
Well, let's just say ol' Rick is firming in the "next coach sacked" market.
North Queensland sprung out of the blocks on Friday night and announced themselves as a serious top eight contender. They stormed to a 14-0 lead despite solid attention from their Brisbane opposition and even missed Johnathan Thurston for a good period of the first half. If form and recent history counts for much, this column might be throwing the same team in the Paul Carige Award section next week, but for now credit where it's due - when the boys from Townsville click, it's not only going to get them wins, it's great to watch too. Michael Morgan outstanding, Matt Scott rampaging... let's hope they keep it up!
This column has defended referees and even video referees lately but there was one absolute howler at the weekend - and yep, it involved the Storm again. Melbourne's coach Craig Bellamy was spitting chips after the Sea Eagles were awarded a try to Peta Hiku after what appeared a clear knock-on in the air by David Williams. The video review process deemed the evidence to not be enough for an overturning of the original decision and awarded Manly the try. Bellamy subsequently refused to front the post-match press conference, sending assistant Justin Morgan instead. Worth mentioning though that Melbourne did actually win the game 22-19 through an outstanding try to Kurt Mann in the 76th minute...
While the men upstairs erred on Saturday, we do have to give credit to the on-field officials in Monday's Eels-Sharks contest - Parramatta kicked a 40/20 in the first half and chose to exercise their right to a quick tap - but were called back TWICE by the men in pink. The Eels and even FOX Sports' commentary team protested that the calls were unfair - but on review the first tap was clearly not taken on the 20m mark in from touch, and the second tap was taken while two other Eels players were offside. The only qualm we had? The Sharks probably deserved a penalty amongst the confusion.
Bumps and Bruises
Reports early this week indicate Jarryd Hayne has a bung shoulder, however he'll play through the injury, taking painkilling injections to be on the field against the Sharks on Monday and will do the same to get through Origin.
Good news for the Tigers who are expecting a bunch of players back this week including skipper Robbie Farah. Farah was cleared to play the Roosters last Friday after recovering from his elbow injury, but medical staff chose not to risk him so close to Origin I. The Rabbitohs are also expecting to have Issac Luke available, while the Titans welcome back Luke Bailey, Matt White and Paul Carter. Brad Tighe and Maurice Blair are also available for the glitter-strip side, but will likely play in Intrust Super Cup.
The Naughty Chair
TBA - contesting grading at judiciary
Apisai Koroisau (Rabbitohs) - Grade 2 Dangerous Throw || 3 weeks if unsuccessful
Sitaleki Akauola (Tigers) - Grade 1 Careless High Tackle
Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys) - Grade 1 Dangerous Contact (Knee)
Cameron Smith (Storm) - Grade 1 Dangerous Contact (Forearm)
Billy Slater (Storm) - Grade 1 Careless High Tackle
Peter Wallace (Panthers) - Grade 1 Dangerous Contact (Foot)
Adam Clydsdale (Knights) - Grade 1 Dangerous Contact (Unnecessary Head/Neck Pressure)
Mitchell Allgood (Eels) - Grade 1 Dangerous Contact (Forearm)
Anthony Tupou (Sharks) - Grade 1 Dangerous Contact (Head Slam)
Around the Social Media Traps
The news of Benji Marshall joining the Dragons lit up everybody's Friday afternoon heading into last weekend. We jumped on that bandwagon - our own Aaron Thomas drumming up this digital alteration of how Benji might look if he's to take the field in the Red V...
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Check back next week for more expert analysis from the seat of my pants.
- The Armchair Expert