Monday 17 August 2009

Did You Enjoy That? A Review of Round 23 of the 2009 NRL Premiership

Continuing our Series of 2009 NRL Premiership Reflections, here's a look at Round 23 of the 2009 Premiership.
Did you enjoy that? If you like intense football or tries being scored - Round 23 of the 2009 NRL Premiership featured both in high definition. On Saturday Night in Canberra, the home side beat the likely Minor Premier's St.George-Illawarra for the second time this season, as both teams produced a game of unparalleled intensity in 2009. Canberra were shut down in attack in the first half by the methodical Dragons, but once Dean Young had a brain snap and threw punches at Terry Campese - the door opened for the Raiders in the match. Despite leading 12-0 just after halftime thanks to a superb individual effort from fullback Darius Boyd, the Dragons seemed intent on making their tackles hurt rather than contain, especially after Michael Weyman was knocked out in a head clash with Josh Miller. Once Canberra scored their opening try to Jarod Croker, they repeated the dose with a fine try to winger Daniel Vidot and when Dane Tilse scooped up a Campese kick that hit the upright - Canberra had bolted to an 18-12 lead. Just ten minutes earlier the Dragons looked capable of going on with their 12-0 advantage but the visitors were just too distracted by the physical battle that began in the opening half. Seeing Young sin-binned for throwing a decent first punch then Campese being sat down for petulance was great, but Jeremy Smith launching his head at a vulnerable Jarod Croker was disgusting. All in all, it was a great spectacle. Even if the game lacked a little quality and polish, it was thoroughly enjoyable. Sometimes the most gripping games aren't the ones featuring sweeping backline moves or touches of skill around the ruck. This was an intense game of football for 80 minutes. The Raiders took advantage of a St.George-Illawarra team that lost their edge once the Raiders levelled up and deserved their victory. The Dragons can't afford to be as ill disciplined in defence come Finals time and Jamie Soward was a complete non-factor when the game was in the balance - both would be a concern for Coach Wayne Bennett. Just on Soward, he shouldn’t be rested as he needs to get back on the paddock right away to get his confidence back. For the Raiders - it was a victory to savour, but it should serve as a reminder to the team and their supporters - that winning games like this only really matter in a season when there's Finals Football still to be played. > CANBERRA RAIDERS 24 (J Croker, D Vidot, D Tilse Tries; T Campese 6/6 Goals) defeated ST.GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 12 (B Morris, D Boyd Tries; J Soward 2/4 Goals) at Canberra Stadium on Saturday 15 August, 2009. < ================================================ TRY-MACHINES PRODUCE 34 FOUR-POINTERS Round 23 also saw four teams rack up huge scores on their hapless opponents. The winning sides scored a remarkable 34 tries between them, with the Broncos (10), Tigers (10), Sea Eagles (7) and Eels (7) turning on the flair. Make no mistake, the vanquished Panthers (58-24 losers to Brisbane), Sharks (56-10 losers to the Tigers), Roosters (44-12 losers to Manly) and Warriors (40-4 losers to Parramatta) were all terrible. Only the Panthers have anything to play for in 2009 and the way they capitulated in the final 20 minutes - conceding 5 tries - would have turned Coach Matthew Elliott's temples an even lighter shade of grey. Brisbane may have just got some pride back from their 56-0 defeat by the Raiders a few weeks ago, but they beat up on a side that has probably knocked itself out of Finals contention with the loss. Penrith had to take advantage of a Brisbane side down on confidence with games against the Rabbitohs, Eels and Knights ahead. If they'd won in Brisbane, they probably end the Broncos season and control their own destiny. Instead they enter three games against teams desperate for victory - and two of those sides sit on the same odd point total as the Panthers. For Brisbane, their two most important players Darren Lockyer and Karmichael Hunt fired in a way we haven't seen for a while as they ripped the Panthers apart. The Broncos have a chance to win out and hold onto 7th or 8th spot. But one loss against the Dragons, Cowboys or Raiders and Brisbane are done for 2009. > BRISBANE BRONCOS 58 (K Hunt 2, B Te’o 2, D Taylor, A Winterstein, A Sims, J McGuire, S Thaiday, J Yow Yeh Tries; C Parker 9/10 Goals) defeated PENRITH PANTHERS 24 (F Pritchard, L Walsh, B Tighe, T Waterhouse Tries; M Gordon 4/4 Goals) at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday 16 August, 2009. < In the three games that predictably saw the teams with premiership ambitions win comfortably; the Tigers were the most impressive. They destroyed a pathetically undermanned and unimaginative Cronulla side at Toyota Park on Sunday. Ricky Stuart can complain all he likes about being short of quality, but he's not letting those players he's picked loose in attack and they play boring one out football until Paul Gallen or Anthony Tupou can create an off-load or Scott Porter can bomb for the wing. Nathan Stapleton is the one bright spot in the backs, with his natural ability to support the ball carrier something to watch in the future. For the Tigers, Robert Lui's debut was solid and a gentle introduction into the top grade. He didn't look out of place and might be a real handful if he runs at the line more. But the Tigers 56-10 win was all about Benji Marshall, Robbie Farah and the arrival of Tim Moltzen. The youngster has been teasing us with some moments of quality this year, but his performance against the Sharks has you convinced he's going to be a star playing alongside Farah and Marshall well into the future. If the Tigers beat the Eels this Friday Night – I’m locking them in as a serious title threat. > WESTS TIGERS 56 (T Tuiaki 3, B Marshall 2, B Ayshford 2, B Ryan 2, T Moltzen Tries; B Marshall 9/10 Goals, 0/1 Field Goals) defeated CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS 10 (M Brown, M Wright Tries; L Covell 1/2 Goals) at Toyota Stadium on Sunday 16 August, 2009. <
Manly helped boost the differential with an easy 44-12 win at the SFS over the Roosters. As Brad Fittler said in the post-match press conference, the Sea Eagles weren't great but they were too good. For the Roosters, they'll play out the year without another victory. But if they can find some defensive backbone, they may not take out the Wooden Spoon as Cronulla's recent struggles to score points have them back in contention for the kitchen utensil. Manly are only a contender if Brett Stewart returns and is the same player of the past couple of seasons. If he can’t find top form quickly then the Sea Eagles are done and dusted. > MANLY-WARRINGAH SEA EAGLES 44 (D Williams 2, M Robertson 2, G Stewart, M Orford, J King Tries; M Orford 6/6, J Lyon 2/2 Goals) defeated SYDNEY ROOSTERS 12 (S Kenny-Dowall, I Hauraki Tries; C Fitzgibbon 2/2 Goals) at Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday August 15, 2009. < On Saturday Night – the ‘IT’ team of the month put the Warriors away in a clinical display. Parramatta are riding the crest of the Jarryd Hayne wave and as long as he doesn’t crash in the next two weeks, they could be playing Finals Football. He’s playing that well that he might make a late dash at the Dally M Medal (although let’s be honest – the Dally M should never be considered the greatest individual accolade given how some of the voting works alongside one newspaper’s ‘ideals’). The Warriors are a team playing clueless football and gave up on the season and their coach three months ago. > PARRAMATTA EELS 40 (J Reddy 2, L Burt 2, D Mortimer, M Keating, E Grothe Tries; L Burt 6/7 Goals) defeated WARRIORS 4 (M Vatuvei Try; K Locke 0/1 Goals) at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday 15 August, 2009. < ================================================ THE OTHER RESULTS In Friday Night Football, the Bulldogs showed they can grind out a win with the best of them, defeating the disappointing North Queensland Cowboys 22-12 in Townsville. While in Sydney at ANZ Stadium, the Gold Coast Titans tuned up for a possible Finals appearance at the ground with a tough 22-14 victory over the Rabbitohs. Both the Bulldogs and Titans are unsexy picks for the premiership but their respective victories shouldn’t be overlooked. The Dogs played most of their game with a two man bench and the Titans withstood a Rabbitohs side with plenty of possession in the middle of the second half – both wins achieved on the road. As for the Cowboys - they need to find at least two wins from games against the Knights, Broncos and Roosters - so they are far from done. But the Bunnies have to win every game and that means beating the Panthers, Dragons and Sharks - which itself is not impossible, but improbable without Roy Asotasi and a hobbled John Sutton. > GOLD COAST TITANS 22 (M Minichiello 2, M White, D Mead Tries; S Prince 3/4 Goals) defeated SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS 14 (C Best, C Sandow, F Talanoa Tries; C Sandow 1/3 Goals) at ANZ Stadium on Friday 14 August, 2009. <
> BULLDOGS 22 (J Morris, H El Masri, B Goodwin Tries; H El Masri 5/5 Goals) defeated NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS 12 (J Thurston, W Tonga Tries; J Thurston 2/2 Goals) at Dairy Farmers Stadium on Friday 14 August, 2009. <
================================================ STILL TO COME Monday Night Football 17 August, 2009: NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v MELBOURNE STORM at EnergyAustralia Stadium. Melbourne can secure a home final and a Top 4 spot if they defeat the Knights in Newcastle on Monday Night. In the wake of the Greg Inglis incident the Storm will be determined to rebuff some of the ‘can’t win without Inglis’ talk straight away. For the Knights – they’ve got a new coach with Brian Smith stepping down and his assistant Rick Stone taking over – but it will be interesting to see if they’ve got a new attitude after their pathetic performance at Parramatta last Sunday. THE LADDER AFTER 23 ROUNDS Dragons 36, Bulldogs 34, Titans 32, Storm 29, Tigers 26, Sea Eagles 26, Broncos 26, Eels 25, Panthers 25, Cowboys 24, Knights 24, Rabbitohs 23, Raiders 20, Warriors 18, Sharks 14, Roosters 14. So twelve sides still have a shot at premiership glory with three rounds to play in the regular season. Just a note on the Top 8 format. The argument for a Top 8 (well apart from revenue viewpoint) is that more teams can ‘stay in the hunt’ during the 26 Rounds. Yet here we are after 23 Rounds and if we still played under the far superior Top 5 system – all twelve teams would still be in contention for a Finals spot. Yes that’s right – even if the Storm win on Monday Night and go to 31 points, only 3 points would separate 5th from 12th on the table. Just something to consider. ================================================