The Bunker, shot clocks, the halves curse, the NSW Blues curse, the demise of debut coaches, reduced interchange, upset results and a Roosters outfit shot to pieces…. and it’s only round 1. Thank goodness for my NRL fix! Finally, it was such a relief to watch some real sport.
Played in mostly oppressive heat, Round 1 has provided so many discussion points, not the least of which was the impact of The Bunker technology. For a sec, I could’ve sworn I was watching Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise. For what it’s worth (and I hear it was worth a hec of a lot), I thought The Bunker experiment achieved resounding success. At least until my team falls foul of a poor decision. I loved it. Quick decisions, correct decisions, let’s get on with it. The shot clock needs some fine tuning. 35 secs is too much time to pack a scrum. Players were waiting for the clock to wind down. I think 30 secs would be the happy medium.
Serious injuries to halves Corey Norman, Blake Austin, Aidan Sezer and Adam Reynolds has left their respective team prospects in tatters. I can’t remember an opening round with so many key injuries. Sharks captain Paul Gallen may have suffered a career ending injury which is another blow to the NSW Blues following long term injuries to Brett Morris, Boyd Cordner, Robbie Farah as well as the suspension handed to Mitchell Pearce. Seriously, have any of the Queenslanders had a serious injury? Hey, the Storm play tonight don’t they…?
Round 1 also saw the 3 new coaches – Trent Barrett, Anthony Griffin and Nathan Brown – suffer first up losses and ever increasing pressure mount on the Warriors Andrew McFadden as Jason Taylor hangs by a thread. Who will go first?
The reduced interchange from 10 to 8 did provide for more entertaining play especially at the back end of each half. The heat obviously exacerbated the situation as well. We might need some more time to assess the impact of the reduction in interchange.
Eels v Broncos
It was always going to be difficult for a hapless Eels without their million-dollar play maker Keiran Foran, but to lose their other playmaker, Corey Norman, before half time meant they had next to no hope of beating a ruthlessly efficient Broncos outfit destined for the minor premiership. Despite the cries of “Get ya gear on Jarryd”, the Eels toughed it out well but the Broncos never got out of second gear and were ultra-impressive winning 17-4. The quote of the year was provided by new Broncos James Roberts in the post-match interview when he declared “I’ve got more speed than oxford street”. Enough said.
Sea Eagles v Bulldogs
Most tipsters had the new look Sea Eagles a red hot favourite but it was the underdogs who came out swinging in the first half to all but seal the game. Fielding a slim n trim version of the 2015 monster pack, the Bulldogs trumpeted their premiership credentials with a workman-like performance to down the Eagles 28-6. Manly had plenty of excuses. New coach. New structure. New players. It was always going to take some time to find that team cohesion. It’s way too early to be critical of them. The dogs simply completed their sets well and capitalised on Manly’s mistakes. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but Tony Williams was good! Will Hopoate was safe and the Dogs halves were effective and didn’t overplay their hand.
Raiders v Panthers
The Raiders started the game like they were going to steamroll the Panthers with new halves pairing Blake Austin and Aidan “Hail” Sezer starting like they’ve been playing together for seasons. But in 36 degree heat, the plucky Panthers, missing star player Matt Moylan, stayed in the wrestle and pushed the Raiders to the very end. Both teams lost key players in Austin and the Panthers James Segeyaro early in the second half and the game proceeded to be a battle of attrition. The Raiders, with an impressive forward rotation, eventually finishing deserved winners 30-22. I thought Bryce Cartwight made an early claim for an origin spot and Josh Papali and Sezer were outstanding for the Raiders.
Tigers v Warriors
This game was touted as Dead Man Walking vs The Green Mile with both coaches walking the NRL survival tightrope. It looked for all money that the Tigers had played their coach Jason Taylor into safety zone when they raced to a 28-4 half time leading. But, typically of both teams, you have to expect the unexpected. Lead by Shaun Jonson, the Warriors fought back to be within 2 points before Blues bound fullback James Tedesco sealed the victory for the home side 34-26 before a crowd of just over 10,000 fingernail-less fans. To me, the Warriors just don’t look like a happy team. Their coach Andrew McFadden seems hell bent on imposing his own will, perhaps to the detriment of his team. I thought it was strange naming Ryan Hoffman as captain displacing the revered Simon Mannering. At very least, why wouldn’t you make the second best player in the game – Shaun Johnson – captain? And why would you move Johnson from halfback to five-eighth? He was good enough to win a Golden Boot as halfback so why change?? Why have Blake Ayshford at centre ahead of Konrad Hurrell? Tuimoala Lolohea looks one of the most promising halves coming out of NZ yet he played on the wing! To me, Andrew McFadden doesn’t quite understand the Warriors culture and therefore, how to get the best out of an incredibly talented squad. Methinks the players don’t respect him and Ivan Cleary beckons.
Cowboys v Sharks
Great game in humid conditions! The Sharks showed they will be a force in 2016, taking the world champs to the line. The injury to Sharks skipper Paul Gallen will dominate headlines but it was the typically gritty Sharks performance that was most newsworthy. The Cowboys eventually ran out winners 20-14 through a late try to under-rated back rower Ethan Lowe. JT was….JT. So were the other two JT’s. The champs will be incredibly hard to beat this year but I really like the fact that Sharks coach Shane Flanagan managed to fit 3 superstars – Jack Bird, Valentine Holmes and Ben Barba (who is looking very 2012) in the one backline.
Roosters v Rabbitohs
Who saw that one coming? Rabbitohs 42 Roosters 10. Really? And I tipped the Roosters… it’s gonna be a long season for us in tipping competitions. Adam Reynolds was having the kind of game that screamed Origin selection until he injured his jaw with 20 minutes remaining. All the pity. The Rabbitohs just looked the fitter, faster and more disciplined team. The Roosters have excuses with so many changes to their squad compared to last year. Losing players of the calibre of Roger Tuivasa Scheck, James Maloney, Michael Jennings, Boyd Cordner, Mitchell Pearce and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was always going to pose a challenge to the Roosters but they will get better as the season rolls on. Did anyone catch Greg Inglis’ try from a standing position? There is no one else in the world that could’ve scored that try.
Titans v Knights
It was never going to be easy for the baby Knights fielding a near new team under new coach Nathan Brown. In torrential rain, it was a veteran in Greg Bird, playing at lock who provided the money plays. It was so refreshing watching a lock forward play the older style lock forward game rather than being there as the 3rd prop. The Titans eventually ran out 30-12 victors and, with a lively new halves pairing of Tyrone Roberts and Ash Taylor, they will not be the pushovers that everyone is predicting.