The NRL is ready for a week off ahead of Sunday’s State of Origin Game 2; but first, there is plenty of action to unpack from Round 15. Here are my talking points.
Radical change the only answer for Tigers
The Tigers actually did well to keep the Storm to 66 in the end.
That is possibly the strangest statement I have ever made in this column, but when it was 30 points to nothing after 16 minutes, the history books were being consulted.
Soft as warm butter from the opening set, the Tigers lacked any sort of defensive tenacity in the middle, or any sort of positive attitude, and looked like a team who didn’t want to be there.
It’s difficult to remember a worse opening to a game by any team in the NRL era, and the final scoreline came as no surprise.
Because the Tigers single biggest need is leadership, radical change can’t be achieved overnight. It needs to be a process over the next 24 months where they essentially clean out their entire roster. Regardless of the talent in the side, the NRL’s second-worst defence desperately needs change. Whether Michael Maguire is the right man to lead the club forward or not is up for debate as well.
Experienced campaigners like Luke Brooks, James Tamou and Moses Mbye simply refuse to stand up when it matters, and it’s time for the Tigers to give prolonged shots to players like Jock Madden, Asu Kepaoa, Reece Hoffman, Zac Cini, Jake Simpkin, Kelma Tuilagi, Stefano Utoikamanu, and most importantly, hand a long-awaited debut to Tukimihia Simpkins.
Complacency is rampant at the club, and the only way to make that change, is to quite literally change.
It’s not up for debate anymore. In both the short and long-term, running a broom through the club is the only way to go.
And on teams who forgot how to defend…
What did Justin Holbrook say to the Titans?
The Titans led 24 to 8 at half time.
The Sea Eagles then ran on nine tries to nothing for a 48-zip second half.
Unlike the Tigers, the Titans did actually arrive at the ground ready to play, but whatever was said to them at half time put them in holiday mode.
They simply forgot the game existed after the break, and while they were far from wasteful with the football, only making two errors for the entire contest, their defence was again the problem.
It has been all season for the Gold Coast; their structures and line simply aren’t working. And yet, Holbrook refuses to make the changes necessary.
His coaching must come under the microscope following the dismal fadeout, given the Titans have now conceded more than 30 points on seven occasions in 15 weeks. That is the mark of a team who will not go anywhere in 2021 without significant change to their structure.
The clock is well and truly ticking.
It turns out six Origin players really do make a difference
It might have been a shaky start for the Panthers, but it didn’t last long as they ran away from the hapless Roosters.
The biggest problem for Penrith during this Origin window was always going to be their attack, and it was proven to be spot on through the previous two weeks.
Without Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, the Panthers were barely able to score a point, despite having the second-best attacking record in the competition before Origin, only behind the red-hot Melbourne Storm.
But they are so reliant on their New South Wales halves pairing, who had 34 try involvements between them through the first half of the season.
The Roosters were simply powerless to stop the onslaught as Cleary added a try and a pair of assists, while Luai had a hand in plenty. Isaah Yeo was also outstanding at lock.
Jack de Belin could be back in the Origin picture next year
Before Jack de Belin was subject to the NRL’s no-fault stand down rule, he was a representative lock at the peak of his powers, and one of the best forwards in the game.
Saturday’s win for the Dragons over the Raiders saw him back in the starting team, and with each passing performance it’s clear he hasn’t lost one bit of the talent which took him to the highest level.
De Belin has been steadily improving with each passing week since his return, and his game against the Raiders may have been the difference for the Red V.
He had 156 metres and 31 tackles from around an hour on-field, and ran the ball with intent; while his ball-playing at the line has also been severely lacking for the Dragons in previous weeks.
He may have only been credited with a single tackle break and no offloads, but his performance felt more than the stats suggested.
You can only wonder what another 12 months back at first grade level will do.
The Rabbitohs will never again tempt letting Alex Johnston go
It’s hard to go past South Sydney winger Alex Johnston as the most in-form player in the NRL at the moment
Eight tries in his last three games, with a pair of hat-tricks, is just the tip of the iceberg. Scoring tries is like waking up in the morning for Johnston – it just seems to happen.
He was phenomenal out wide again for South Sydney against the Broncos on Thursday evening, and for the third straight week, went north of 150 metres with the ball in hand.
Johnston has had 12 line breaks and 12 tackle busts in the last three games, while also defending quite solidly; he’s seemingly in career-best form.
But this isn’t new for Johnston. He leads the NRL for tries this year with 17 in 14 games, while he has 123 at NRL level in 158 games.
That is a phenomenal career strike rate, and while he will never be the best winger, it’s quite insane to think the Rabbitohs were on the verge of letting him go 12 months ago.
Blayke Brailey is improving with every week
The Sharks were able to scrape away from Townsville by the skin of their teeth with the two points on Friday night.
For the second week in a row, the men in black, white and blue won narrowly, with a penalty goal proving the difference in the end. Regardless of how it happened, banking points while embroiled in the mid-table logjam are invaluable for Cronulla, who now sit eighth.
As he was in last week’s one-point win against the Panthers, Blayke Brailey was excellent. Now approaching game 550, Brailey has turned himself into an 80-minute hooker, and while stats will generally show how good a hooker is defensively, they don’t show the impact offensively.
Brailey is rock-solid in defence, and came up with 51 tackles on Friday – the third time he has passed 50 this season – but it’s his attack which is proving so crucial for the Sharks.
Unsurprisingly, Shaun Johnson’s form rise has coincided with the quality service being provided by Brailey. The forwards were also all over the Cowboys in stretches on Friday; again, a lot of that is down to the way Brailey is organising the attack.
Experience can’t be taught, but it’s starting to make all the difference for Brailey. As a result, his Cronulla outfit, who are in full preparation mode for 2022, despite still being in with a chance of playing finals footy this year.
The Warriors need to make winning a habit
The Warriors have now had nine games decided by less than ten points this season. Following a four-point loss to the Knights on Saturday, have lost five of them.
While the game itself won’t be considered a classic, there are plenty of learnings the Auckland-based side can take away from the contest.
In a scrappy affair, the Warriors let their usual high standards drop when it came to ball security, and it came back to haunt them.
Coming into this weekend, the Warriors had completed a higher percentage of sets than any other team, sitting at around the 80 per cent mark. It was critical they continued with that against Newcastle, but were instead below 70.
They allowed themselves to be dragged down to the Knights’ level, and it’s just one of many reasons the Warriors have lost close games: whether it be poor defence, attack not having enough punch, or now, too many errors.
This is a team who seem to have forgotten how to win on a consistent basis. They aren’t a million miles away, so with a bit of edge injected back into their game, they may well start turning matches like Saturday’s into victories.
Nathan Brown is crucial to Parramatta
It probably goes without saying a starting lock will be incredibly important to a team, but Nathan Brown seems to have extra influence on the Eels’ performance.
Crossing 180 metres on Sunday in a nearly 70-minute performance, there are very few areas of the game in which Brown isn’t at, or near the top of, his class.
He runs hard and tackles harder, but also has excellent footwork and ball-playing ability, which, in this modern, fast-paced era of rugby league, is what sets the good and great locks apart.
It may be naive to call Brown great at this stage, but his combination with the likes of Clint Gutherson, Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown through the middle third for the blue and gold is critical.
Given he has a line break and an offload in him, but also drags extra defenders into the tackle, Brown helps to create the time and space Parramatta’s creative weapons need to operate effectively in.
You’d almost go as far as to say Parramatta would be struggling to sit in the top eight without him.
Roarers, what did you make of Round 15? Drop a comment and let us know.