Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 8 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from the eighth weekend of the 2014 NRL season.

No tackles made by the fullback and only three made in total by the wingers. It doesn’t take much guessing but the Canberra Raiders poor effort in defence was highlighted by three players Anthony Milford, Reece Robinson and Bill Tupou on Sunday afternoon at Brookvale as Ricky Stuart’s men were dispatched 54-18 by Manly. Whilst the threat from the Sea Eagles attack came from the all over the park it was out wide, lead by set-up play from Daly Cherry-Evans, who tore through the Green Machine. It wasn’t only the missed tackles for the Raiders it was the horrible misreads that allowed players like Peter Hiku – who scored four tries, to waltz over the white stripe. Jarrod Croker, one week the hero against Melbourne, missed four tackles but that was almost the average for each player in the Raiders outside backs so it seems that the Raiders have a lot of work to do prior to their match in New Zealand in round nine.

Talk as the season got underway had South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds unsettled with the club and management looking at shifting him out the door. Whilst the 23 year-old hasn’t set the world in fire the City Origin halfback has worked well with his teammates in recent weeks as evidenced by the playmaking he has shared with John Sutton. Seemingly bound for origin selection in game one on May 28, Sutton ran more (eight times compared to six) and for more metres (71 to 59) than Reynolds. With their dangerous edge runners to go with this apparent development of a ‘plan B’ in attack the Rabbitohs could improve on their 4-4 record in coming weeks.

Whilst Leichhardt Oval was good in terms of the result for the Gold Coast with a 22-6 triumph over the Wests Tigers on Sunday it remains to be seen what impact the injuries to halves Aidan Sezer and Albery Kelly will have on the Titans. 23 year-old Kelly played for only 23 minutes but made 3 runs totalling 66 metres in addition to breaking six tackles before succumbing to a minor fibula crack. Five-eighth Sezer played on with an injured ankle and was instrumental in their sixth win of the season. The one saving grace for the Titans might be the fact they don’t miss a match this weekend due to the representative fixtures but the following three weeks could be a challenge given Paul Carter will also miss a game due to suspension.

Out of the weekend, but with an eye on Friday, named Kiwis hooker Ben Henry was busy at centre with 12 runs for 90 metres in attack as the Warriors upset Melbourne16-10. 22 year-old Henry didn’t make any tackle breaks but was solid in defence making 21 tackles (he missed two) in a strong defensive unit. The absence of the injured Isaac Luke who would have likely excelled for Stephen Kearney’s side out of dummy half is a loss but Henry’s solid defense and reasonable metres in attack appears a safe option for a side depleted in the key play-making roles.

Staying in Sydney for Friday night’s test in Sydney one player who was overlooked for New Zealand from the Roosters line up was very dynamic off the interchange bench on Friday at Allianz Stadium. Auckland-born Frank-Paul Nuuausala made 22 tackles in his 42 minutes on the field coupled with two tackle breaks and 10 runs was an impressive output in the title-holder’s 34-14 rout of St George-Illawarra. However it will fall to players like Martin Taupau and 2013 World Cup cast-off Tohu Harris to provide the required spark off the visitor’s bench.

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 7 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from the seventh weekend of the 2014 NRL season.

It seems 2014, whilst also wallowing in refereeing controversy to start the season, is ‘the year of the bounce.’ On multiple times already through seven rounds many fullbacks, and their wingmen, have been reluctant to field kicks on the full. A case in point came in the first few minutes of Canberra’s dramatic win over Melbourne on Sunday. An innocuous Cooper Cronk bomb from near the half-way line was made to look good with fullback Reece Robinson but the closer winger Bill Tupou letting the ball bounce. Luckily for the Raiders they were able to recover possession. Interesting after this early blip for the home side the Storm had a very ‘un-Melbourne’ play in their following attacking set when Billy Slater conspired to throw a pass which Mahe Fonau overran. Those two plays ending up summing up the Storm’s luck for the day.

Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt seems to have thrived since the addition of former Bulldogs custodian Ben Barba in 2014. With Josh Hoffman providing further impact in the triumvate at five-eighth Hunt was able to make five runs for 49 metres on the weekend in Newcastle. Importantly he made one tackle break and set up a try. With Barba and Hoffman at #1 and #6 respectively each breaking multiple tackles on the weekend things are looking up for the Rockhampton-born player. This column has been critical of the playmaker in the past but having additional support seems to have aided the 24 year-old which will be a huge bonus for Broncos coach Anthony Griffin.

Staying on Brisbane’s 32-6 win in Newcastle it was interesting to note Griffin not going to his bench as much, but in doing so possibly revealing a new pattern of play. Utility Corey Oates (18 minutes) and hooker Jake Granville (8) played only 26 minutes combined on the weekend off the bench. For one of the lowest returns for two bench players in 2014 what it did show was Ivan Henjak’s replacement, Griffin, is not wedded to playing Andrew McCullough for 80 minutes. McCullough, 24, made 62 tackles in 72 minutes on the field but it appears he will now be freed of his full match efforts for allow another Rockhampton junior to provide a further impact and add to the 1,6,7,9 attacking quartet.

Heading further north, the axing of North Queensland halfback Robert Lui for round eight wasn’t a surprise when you look at his attacking contribution in the Cowboys loss to Manly. The 24 year-old made three runs for a miserly four metres and missed four tackles, a quarter of his 16 attempts. Whilst the runs/metres measure isn’t the sole measure for distributing playmakers it does means defences can focus further on Johnathan Thurston when it’s clear teammate is no attacking threat. In the week prior when the Queenslanders scored only one try the Townsville local was more dynamic in attack but still a liability in defence. Sitting on two wins in 13th place it is critical Paul Green’s side get some wins on the board prior to the Origin period which is likely to drain players like Thurston, Matthew Scott and James Tamou.

If it’s not Jason Bukuya or Konrad Hurrell it’s someone else letting the New Zealand Warriors down in edge defence. In round seven it was former Titan Dominique Peyroux. The 25 year-old Cook Island representative missed six tackles, but did make 21 in his 62 minutes on the park. Seemingly the lack of combinations of defence is causing major dramas and until former Raider Andrew McFadden finds his preferred line-up the unfamiliarity between players within their patterns in defence will be an avenue teams continue to exploit.

Five Metre Gap- NRL Round 6 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from the sixth weekend of the 2014 NRL season.
What I found interesting about the siren/timing controversy out of Melbourne’s dramatic win over the Dragons on Monday night was that the shock that decisions made in milliseconds may be wrong. The ‘split second’ decision regarding the play the ball is akin to a 50/50 call about a play the ball or strip. Rewind any game and there would be more than 40 decisions, probably at least one per set, which fall into the ‘split second’ or ‘borderline’ category. As an aside Major League Baseball has introduced replay for the first time in this season and it has only taken two weeks for controversies (yes – the plural.) So it’s worth noting even North American sport (often held up worldwide as the bastion of having perfected technology use) makes errors so perhaps we should all relax if the clocks can’t be synced yet.
Maligned Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce leads the (relatively newly taken) stat of line break assists with 11 after a month and a half of the competition. This suggests the Roosters are getting in to good positions and have the players to make big inroads in their tackle sets but can’t convert given they have only scored three tries in the last three weeks coming up against Manly, the Bulldogs and (latterly) Parramatta.
The South Sydney number 9 conundrum rolls with starting hooker Apisai Koroisau playing less minutes (39) than his bench replacement Cameron McInnes (41) as the Rabbitohs triumphed by 16 points over Penrith on Friday night. Whilst this is by no means an anomaly, the Raiders Glen Buttriss (46 minutes) and Josh McCrone (44 minutes) also had a fairly evenly split time at acting half, it completely changes the bench dynamic for Michael Maguire who is not accustomed to using the hooker/halves utility option in his match-day 17 so much. With suspensions to Ben Te’o and George Burgess in round seven it means more squad upheaval for a side whose consistent best 17 were well known during the 2013 season.
It what seems to be becoming a weekly theme the Warriors have issues leaking points and have axed centre Konrad Hurrell on the back of their one-point loss to Canterbury. Dropped for defensive inadequacies, the Tongan international only missed one tackle in the Eden Park defeat but has been horribly misreading plays in his first grade matches this season. Whilst Hurrell is not the only offender from the Warriors fringe defence, you may remember Jason Bukuya missed eight tackles back in round one, Andrew McFadden’s statement seems to indicate Hurrell actually hasn’t progressed in training when trying to improve these aspects of his game. Interestingly McFadden since the loss has also said he is concerned about the form of former Queensland representative Dane Nielsen when it comes to preventing tries. A horrible slide for the one-time Maroon who should be a start of the New Zealand franchise’s outside backs
For a team struggling with play-making options in 2013 the Wests Tigers now have ample back-up after a fine display from Blake Austin, 23, in place of veteran Braith Anasta at the weekend. In the 12-point victory over the Cowboys on Saturday evening the former Panther made six runs for 55 metres, broke one tackle to go with his 46th minute try. The only slight blemish was four missed tackle but he wasn’t alone in that aspect as, again, halves partner Luke Brooks was targeted and missed six tackles. Austin will miss out this weekend as Anasta returns but Mick Potter will be pleased he has an adequate back-up for the balance of the season.

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 5 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from the fifth weekend of the 2014 NRL season.
Whilst there was plenty of controversy about the decision which gave Gold Coast the chance to kick the winning penalty goal in Melbourne on Sunday afternoon the penalty itself came after a big turnaround from the first half. The Victorian-based side were ahead 4-1 and the Storm then went from infringing once in forty minutes to conceding seven penalties in the second stanza, including the one which led to the winning points off Greg Bird’s boot. Did someone say ‘How’s Trent’? – this is a reference to a famous monitoring call referees once used for penalty counts. The officials at AAMI Park were Ben Cummins and Brett Suttor.
Elsewhere relating to penalties it was interesting to note Manly, despite ‘winning’ the penalty count 11-9 in their 16-point loss to the Wests Tigers that the joint-venture side led the penalty count 6-3, and the score line 26-6, before Manly won eight penalties in the second period. This would look to be another fairly strong candidate for ‘How’s Trent?’ but could also be a result of the Tigers discipline slipping late. Ashley Klein and Adam Gee controlled the fixture at Leichhardt Oval.
We noted earlier in the season when back-rower Jason Bukuya missed eight tackles as the New Zealand lost to the Eels 36-16 and in round five it was four missed tackles to pivot Chad Townsend, the most of any Warriors player in their loss to Cronulla, which has cost him his spot for round six. Including some poor attacking options the former Cronulla man is one of several changes (both tactical and forced) made by acting Warriors coach Andrew McFadden.
Balance in attack has helped lead Parramatta to a 3-2 start to the NRL season and a current spot in the top eight. Both Corey Norman and Chris Sandow ran six times as the Eels won by seven points in Brisbane. Add to that Jarryd Hayne’s 11 tackle breaks and the off-loading capabilities of new back-rowers Kenny Edwards and Manu Ma’u shows Parramatta have gone from a team devoid of ideas and reliant on the attacking poise of fullback Hayne to one with attacking weapons across the park. By an odd quirk of the NRL draw though they face the Roosters this weekend who they were humbled by only back in round two to the tune of a 56-4 score line.
With his attacking prowess a key part of the Dragons game after his return St George Illawarra fullback Josh Dugan might want to spend a bit more time on the defensive side of things as he missed four tackles and made only three as the Dragons were humbled 26-6 by South Sydney. The 23 year-old wasn’t the only star fullback to perform poorly defensively. Knights’ custodian Darius Boyd misread a kick costing Newcastle a try in their 28-2 loss in Townsville. The Queensland fullback also horribly mis-read a bomb but that decision didn’t end up costing the Knights as it was over-turned by the video referee in the visitor’s favour.

Five Metre Gap- NRL Round 4 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from the fourth weekend of the 2014 NRL season.

With Isaac Luke missing for the next two months it was interesting that round four saw South Sydney split time between three players to replace the Kiwi international. Named at lock, John Sutton take up some of the slack at acting half and former Raider Joe Picker played 29 minutes off the bench in his utility role. Replacement number 9 Apisai Koroisau only played 51 minutes but did make 32 tackles. The 21 year-old Fijian international, who ran three times, is unlikely to develop into at 80 minute player at NRL level within the next eight weeks. It may take coach Michael Maguire a while to settle on his preferred back-up during games and this may also be complicated with the use of Sutton at five-eighth.

Plenty of attention for the Tigers in recent weeks has been on boom halfback Luke Brooks, but it was a horror show for the young tyro on the weekend in Wellington. The 19 year-old made just and many tackles as he missed, eight, and was a target as the Warriors raced in eight tries in a 44 minute-period. Brooks wasn’t alone in dropping off tackles with Adam Blair missing seven tackles. The former Storm forward did make 32 tackles in 80 minutes however Robbie Farah (45 tackles) only missed two.

In fairness to Brooks he wasn’t the only halfback missing a large amount of tackles in round four. as happens most weekends halves are targeted even if more solid defenders are nearby in the line but the attacking output and percentage of tackles missed must be a worry for Tigers coach Mick Potter. Eel Chris Sandow, whilst missing six tackles in Parramatta’s 16-point triumph over Penrith, did enough to mask that impact as he was able to contribute well in attack on his return to first-grade and also had four from six conversions with the boot.

In the Warriors 42-18 triumph at Westpac Stadium fullback Sam Tomkins really shone. In addition to his 74th minute try he busted seven tackles and seems to now be adapting any difference between the NRL and Superleague. His figure of seven tackle breaks was not as many as leading fullbacks Greg Inglis, nine, and Jarryd Hayne, 12, but it was a marked improvement on recent weeks when the 25 year-old could only muster three tackles breaks and also looked a bit wobbly under the high ball on several occasions.

Last week we discussed the volume of time Bulldogs forwards have been getting recently and may get in the future with the impending arrival of Andrew Fifita (how things can change quickly.) In round four it was Raider Shannon Boyd who had a big impact within a short space of time. Relegated to the bench in favour of David Shillington the 21 year-old bench prop made 24 tackles and 10 runs in just 17 minutes on the park at ANZ Stadium as Canberra upset South Sydney 30-18.