What an amazing opening couple of rounds of the 2018 NRL season we have had. Footy tippers everywhere are pulling great clumps of their hair out, while Parramatta supporters are looking for answers after yesterday’s humiliation. Tigers fans are getting their hopes up and Knights fans are just really, really happy to be off the bottom of the ladder.
What six things stood out this week? Narrowing it down to just six was the real struggle.
First tackle: You attract more tries with sugar than you do with vinegar
There were reports out of Parramatta after their capitulation to Penrith last week that coach Brad Arthur tore the paint off the walls with a withering midweek tirade. That old-style verbal shaming just might not work on this new generation of players. These are young men who have grown up without corporal punishment in schools. They have gone through life with authority figures encouraging positive behaviour, not berating them when they make errors. This is the generation who were first taught to believe that everyone is a winner, and competing is all that matters.
The Sea Eagles came out firing on Sunday and the Eels players looked like they just didn’t want to be there. Did Brad hurt their feelings? Did they need consoling last week, rather than an ear-bashing? Will some form of counselling be required before they can turn their season around? With the amount of talent they have wearing blue and gold jerseys, their opening performances indicate that something isn’t quite right. Any comment please Mr Hayne?
Second tackle: Are the Tigers for real?
So, that really did happen, the Tigers beat the Storm on the night they were celebrating Billy Slater’s 300th NRL game. Milestone games mean so much more in Victoria and the Storm have a history of not losing whenever one of their players runs through a personally addressed banner made of tissue paper. The Tigers were already up against it, facing the reigning premiers, who they have only ever beaten once before in Melbourne. Yet there they were crashing over for the winning try in the dying minutes of the game.
Coach Ivan Cleary has to be congratulated for the team he has assembled to carry the black, white and gold colours into the 2018 season. Front row forwards Ben Matulino and Russell Packer have been a powerful combination for the Tigers. Those two have brought a toughness and a competitiveness to the pack, driving the team on and giving Luke Brooks and Benji Marshall room to operate. Gone are the recent days when the Tigers were described as soft up the middle.
They meet the Broncos this Friday at Campbelltown Stadium. The joint will be packed with the most fervent of Tigers fans, buoyed by their incredible early season efforts. If they knock over the Broncos, there’s no saying how far they can go this year.
Third tackle: Bulky Bulldog missing out
Bulldogs captain Josh Jackson has built a career on the back of extremely solid defence and straight, no-nonsense running — but mainly on defence. In the first two rounds of the 2018 season he has missed more key tackles than he has in the previous two seasons.
Two things have changed since last season when Jackson was chopping players down for the Bulldogs and New South Wales. He has been given the captaincy of the team under new coach Dean Pay and he appears to have bulked up in the arms and upper body.
He is not the only Bulldogs player looking sluggish and lacking lateral mobility in defence, but it certainly stands out more noticeably because he is Josh Jackson.
Fourth tackle: Heart attack Panthers
I’m not sure what is going on at Penrith, but they are winning plenty of plaudits from cardiologists in the outer western suburbs. Business is booming as fans wearing Panthers jerseys line up clutching at their chests. For the second week in a row the Panthers have conceded a 14-point start to their opposition. Against the Eels and the Rabbitohs their early defence looked inept and their commitment lacking. They looked set for a couple of solid beltings to start the season.
With fans shaking their heads in despair, they managed to turn things around both times. The talk from inside the club is that they can’t afford to keep giving away big starts to their opponents. The good news for the team and their fans is that they face the Bulldogs in Round 3. The Bulldogs have proven themselves incapable of scoring 14 quick points against anyone.
Fifth and last: The worst half of football this century
Anyone tuning into the second half of the Sharks clash with the Dragons on the weekend might have decided right then and there that rugby league was no longer for them. Atrocious is a word not often thrown around when describing a whole 40 minutes of NRL action, but there is no other way to describe it.
The Sharks and Dragons looked to be locked in a battle to determine who could lose the game. Ball security was non-existent, completion rates went out the window and the local Under 5s would have provided more entertainment.
The Sharks are really struggling to fit new players Matt Moylan and Josh Dugan into their structure. They had enough opportunities to put the Dragons away at home in front of a packed Shark Park, but they fumbled their way to defeat. The Dragons remain undefeated and quietly building towards a very promising season.
Handover: How hot is too hot?
Player welfare is a phrase trotted out often in the NRL, usually regarding concussions, injury prevention and off field concerns. When the Sea Eagles kicked off against the Eels yesterday, the thermometer was nudging 40 degrees.
Junior sporting bodies have strict conditions for cancelling events when the combination of temperature and humidity reaches a dangerous high. NRL players are finely tuned profession athletes, but the dangers are still real. Just this year Manly forward Lloyd Perrett was hospitalised after collapsing at training due to heat stroke, which is potentially fatal.
Rugby League is a winter sport for a reason, it is physically demanding in the coolest weather, add extreme heat and players face the real threat of physical harm. The NRL has at its discretion the option to insert drinks breaks into games played in extreme conditions. For some reason that option wasn’t taken at Lottoland yesterday.