The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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St George Illawarra...
Across the tryline, one would assume. Despite dominating possession throughout its match against Parramatta, the Dragons were only able to score two tries. Once the man who set up those tries, Nathan Fien, was replaced with a long-term injury, the Dragons played like their crosscode, crosstown peers the Waratahs, that is, for penalty goals. Fien's replacement this week is Luke Priddis, who should have retired five years ago. The pressure is now on Ben Hornby to come up with something more incisive than a second man play, and Jamie Soward needs to run to the line more.
But when you're still winning, is a lack of points that important? Judging by last season, in which St George Illawarra had the best defence but only a middling attack, then it is only a concern when points are at a premium. Come semi finals, any genuine title contender will have a defence equal to the Dragons, but all of Melbourne, Brisbane, Parramatta, Canterbury and Wests Tigers have a far superior attack.
In the case of Todd Carney, straight home and into bed. The new sober Carney was a return to his magical season at the Raiders, with long runs, deep kicks and confident passing. His work to return the chip kick into play, and straight into Sam Perrett's arms for the try that established a 12-point lead, was phenomenal. Afterwards, Brian Smith rightly compared Carney at his best to Inglis or Slater, but Carney at his best is like good rap music: very rare.
Apparently Carney's ban from visiting his hometown expired this week. Roosters fans would be hoping he only visits that giant sheep and cuts out any visits to Flamingos.
A full Energy Australia Stadium. But it's unlikely to happen even with premiers Melbourne visiting. After such an incredible performance, especially defensively in the second half, Newcastle needs to repeat its attitude-beats-aptitude heroics this Saturday night against a Storm side that laboured to victory against an impotent Cronulla. Much has been made of the drugs scandal that has enveloped the Knights, but the injury to Kurt Gidley is far more unsettling than the dismissal of two bit part players, even if they were regular first graders.
Newcastle has a long history of producing quality forwards, so new boppers will emerge to fill Houston and Wicks' positions in the side. But for how long can they continue without their captain, talisman and central playmaker? Victory against Canterbury suggested they will not be easy-beats, but if ever a team needed its home crowd to be an 18th man, its Newcastle this week. The town and club had an atrocious off season, only 20,000-plus Red and Blue fans can start to heal those wounds.
To the top of the table. With Souths now on the ropes through injury and demoralisation, the door is ajar for the enterprising Gold Coast Titans to rack up a score this weekend. With St George Illawarra not certain to score points or win, the Gold Coast should enter Saturday on top, and with a decent points differential. The Panthers and Roosters are the most likely to overhaul them, but Penrith playing up in Townsville and the Roosters' match against Tigers likely to be close, the prospect of Gold Coast being on top come Monday morning is high.
While it's still only Round 2, being top of the table is essential for a side such as the Gold Coast. With the AFL side bouncing off on the Coast in 2011, it is imperative the Titans remain front of mind with the Gold Coast's famously fickle sports fans. An NRL season with the Titans at the top of the ladder is the best way to ensure good crowds, leading news coverage and players in State of Origin. A season in which the Titans limp into the finals, or even miss them altogether, would be disastrous, and just the fillip the AFL needs as Karmichael Hunt goes a-rucking, or whatever it is they do in that sport.
Whoever takes the kicking tee for Canterbury...
Closer than Michael Ennis. Canterbury's legion of fans is only now truly appreciating the blessed good fortune they've had over the last 17 seasons, with Daryl Halligan and Hazem El Masri's goal kicking more than making up for their lumbering play.
Whilst Michael Ennis is a much better player, it was his inability to convert a single goal last weekend that ultimately proved the difference. Three of his four attempts were from difficult positions, but even the most ardent Ennis apologist would concede that had either of his two most recent predecessors been on the field, Canterbury would have at least forced the game into Golden Point.
Ennis is out this weekend with suspension, which means either Steve Turner or professional stand-in Brett Kimmorley will be the new first choice. Kimmorley has been press ganged into goal kicking at three of his past clubs, and he's never convinced, whilst Turner has only kicked 14 goals during his 108-game career: how short are the odds on the Bulldogs' score against St George Illawarra being evenly divisible by 4?
Nowhere - they're back where they belong. At the risk of being labelled anti-Souths, the Rabbitohs' relegating straight to the bottom of the pile is no minor aberration. After an off-season spent puffing their chests about how big their pack was and how this team is the best on paper since 1989, Souths' humiliation at the hands of last year's wooden spooners was going to happen.
Add to that the injury to their best forward, Eddy Pettybourne, and Souths are in big trouble. After the Gold Coast tomorrow, Souths have a winnable fixture at Cronulla before hosting the Bulldogs and Newcastle. If Souths are to avoid spending another season carrying the rest of the competition, it needs to pick 6 points from these games. And even then, there is still one more team in worse shape...
Only down. The biggest threat to Souths' capitulation is Manly. Brett Stewart is probably out for the season, either through injury or incarceration, they've let their Dally M winning captain leave and they've already done the one thing most symptomatic of losers: blowing a big lead. Whereas the Tigers look set for a great year, Manly are already sinking fast.
Their most determined forward, George Rose, is suspended for the grudge match against Parramatta, and then it's away games at Newcastle and New Zealand. Then comes a home match against Cronulla before a trip to the premiers in Melbourne. Now is the time to bet on Manly for the wooden spoon.