Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 20 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round 20.

Last week we noted South Sydney’s Adam Reynolds had been reluctant to run in the last fortnight of NRL action but with the early exit of John Sutton in the halves on Monday night in Canberra 24 year-old Reynolds was called into a lead role to go with junior substitute playmaker Luke Keary. In a ‘man of the match’ effort, as awarded by Fox Sports, Reynolds ran on five occasions (more than his last two games combined) set up a try and scored a double of his own as part of a 14-point haul. The halfback’s only blot was his four missed conversions from seven attempts as the Rabbitohs ran rampant 34-18 against the hapless Canberra Raiders.

In Bathurst Cronulla survived late Penrith raids to pick up two points in a match where they were able to have a variety of attacking kicking options with Wade Graham surprisingly key. Whilst Andrew Fifita and Chris Heighington pulling off some opportunistic kicks (including forcing repeat sets) Graham was a great accompaniment to halfback Jeff Robson. With rookie pivot Fa’amanu Brown not a dominant kicker in first grade, he only kicked twice for the Sharks on Saturday, it’s significant for James Shepherd’s side to have an option which might put the opposition in two minds and former half Graham adds that with his four kicks on the weekend including ones which forced Penrith into goal-line dropouts. Adding to Robson’s kicking game this could be useful as Cronulla attempt to climb up from the bottom of the ladder in the closing weeks of the regular season.

Staying with the match in Bathurst and it was a colossal effort to no avail for Penrith backrower Elijah Taylor who made 60 tackles as his side was edged by two points 18-16. The week prior the former Warrior made 57 tackles in 70 minutes when Ivan Cleary’s side were beaten by the defending premiers the Sydney Roosters 32-12. Given the venue at Carrington Park was certainly rain affected it will be interesting to see what sort of rest, if any, Taylor gets ahead of the Panthers’ Friday night game against the Bulldogs as one would think 60 tackles in those wet conditions coupled with his exertions the previous week could equate to a longer than usual recovery time for the 24 year-old.

The afore-mentioned Roosters were sent packing 16-12 in a surprise loss to the Newcastle Knights on Friday evening and their halves combination had a bad evening backing up from the big win against Penrith. 2013 New South Wales halves combination James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce missed ten tackles between them, Maloney missed six, and they seemed to lack direction in attack despite a reasonable long kicking game.

Outgoing Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin took an interesting approach took to his bench this weekend going with a virtual 16-man playing roster as Corey Oates played only nine minutes off the pine in the Broncos’ 22-point loss at the hands of Melbourne. Interestingly Todd Lowrie played only five minutes in the week prior against the Warriors. On two other occasions bench players have only featured for 11 minutes in the past ten weeks for the Queensland outfit. Both Oates and Lowrie are named on an extended Broncos bench for round 21 so it will be interesting to see where the focus goes for Anthony Griffin against Manly on Friday evening.

@hamishneal

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 19 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round 19.

Three wins off the top of the table and emerging combinations in key positions wasn’t enough to secure Anthony Griffin’s job at Brisbane beyond this season and it’s a hugely unlucky result. As the dominoes fell on Sunday placing Wayne Bennett in Brisbane’s lap 47 year-old Griffin has become the odd man out. Brisbane have scored 15 tries in their last three games, interestingly they did lose two of those matches but by only one and two points, and had a lowest completion rate of 81% in that period. Despite those loses to Penrith and Cronulla they were continuing to maintain a low error rate and a high level of discipline in set completions.

Speaking of the Broncos, the side they defeated on the weekend the New Zealand Warriors took an interesting tack with their dummy half role in benching Nathan Friend for half of the match. Normally an eighty-minute player the former Titan was shifted to the bench also back in round 13 for a period in a match Andrew McFadden’s side also lost. Starting in Perth for that game against South Sydney was Siliva Havili with Friend coming on to play 62 minutes and make 50 tackles. On the weekend just gone the 33 year-old was usurped by returning former Wigan player Thomas Leuluia. Whilst Friend’s workrate is crucial what could be more important is the Warriors combinations at 1-6-7-9. With new buys such as Sam Tomkins the delivery and consistency the Warriors’ halves need sow maybe the two examples are important ones for McFadden in terms of the play-making quartet. Matt Ballin, James Segeyaro and Michael Ennis – the number nines in the leading three sides all play eighty minutes on most occasions as do Origin stars Robbie Farah and Cameron Smith.

Hunter Stadium was an emotional venue as the focal point for the #riseforalex round on Sunday afternoon but it provided a poor contest as Gold Coast ran out 22-8 winners in a match which yielded 31 errors. The victors missed 50 tackles to Newcastle’s 43 but had enough quality on attack to bank the two points. In the interests of balance the Wests Tigers upset win over Canterbury, also an afternoon fixture that day, provided a sparkling fixture and had only 14 errors.

Whilst missing 43 tackles would normally mean you lose the match missing 16 would, more often than not, normally mean you will win the encounter. That was the case for the Tigers on Sunday but not for St George Illawarra on Monday evening. Manly secured a 21-12 win late in the game where they had heavily targeted the Dragons right-side defence, honing in on Benji Marshall and Josh Dugan. Scoring four tries in total, and having have had a fifth chalked off for obstruction on that right edge, the Sea Eagles seemed always in control despite the fact the locals were only trailing by two points at the interval.

The rise of Luke Keary continued when he lifted South Sydney to a 20-point win over Parramatta to start round 19 but will it hasten the departure of Adam Reynolds from the Rabbitohs? The 24 year-old has managed to only make two runs in each of his last two matches and ran for only 25 and 26 metres respectively. Keary replicated the two runs/25 metres but ended up guiding his side home against the Eels. In fairness to Reynolds he was better against North Queensland in round 16 but it was a match Souths still lost and given Michael Maguire has carried a bench utility/hooker in recent times will this signal a change in role for the Redfern-playmaker based on the above statistics?

@hamishneal

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 18 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round 18.

Have the New Zealand Warriors over-played their hand in showing the pushover try as they trounced Parramatta on Saturday evening. Sam Tomkins raced over after he was feed the ball by Nathan Friend off the ‘scrum’ as the Andrew McFadden-coached extended their lead to 18-0 with Shaun Johnson’s successful conversion. However given the Warriors looked dominant and ended up thumping the Eels 48-0 was a ‘trick play’ such as this showing their hand too early? The win has bumped the Warriors up to sixth spot on the ladder and improved their for and against significantly to now be plus 70 but given the small margins in which finals games are won it’s worth pondering as to whether a similar play wouldn’t be best stored in the kit bag until later in the season in a close match.

Canberra’s Jarrod Croker was at his point-scoring best this weekend and ones of the Raiders brightest as Ricky Stuart’s men outran Gold Coast 30-16. Second on the competition’s top try-scorer list with 13 (two behind Parramatta’s Semi Radradra) the 23 year-old benefitted from dynamic fullback Anthony Milford’s outstanding game. Arriving on the spot to back up or support Milford the goal-kicking centre was key for his team but upon Milford’s departure what happens next? Croker may do as well with Reece Robinson back at fullback (if that ends up being the case) however the level of improvement in combination he could have had with the Brisbane-bound Milford will leave Green Machine fans lamenting their bad luck.

Last week we discussed the 100% completion rate of the Bulldogs and the Des Hasler-coached outfit were once again impressive in round 18 competing 86% of their sets as they edged Melbourne 6-4. Interestingly the round was one of discipline across the board with Manly at 90% (35/39) completions the most professional as they thrashed the Wests Tigers 40-8. However Mick Potter’s side at 74% (28/38) were actually not that bad compared to sides in recent weeks. Only a week earlier both Gold Coast and St George Illawarra won games with a completion rate of 73%. Has the return of Origin players had something to do with that?

One-time Australian player Jamal Idris had plenty of positives in Penrith’s dramatic 35-34 triumph on Monday evening but there also cause for concern as the centre missed six tackles and was at times a virtual traffic cone, including one occasion when Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt zoomed past him without the Panthers man laying a hand on him. Facing the Roosters on Saturday afternoon it might be a case of Panthers boss Ivan Cleary asking the 24 year-old to focus on his defensive duties and for those around him to ensure he doesn’t rush up too early when the Panthers are defending on their goal-line.

Round 18 was bookended by fixtures at so-called Sydney suburban grounds in Manly and Penrith on the weekend New South Wales Minister for Sport (amongst other portfolios) Stuart Ayres confirmed the state government’s intention to focus future funding on three key stadiums. Speaking on Sky Sports Radio in response to a Sunday Telegraph article Minister Ayres noted those stadiums are Allianz Stadium, ANZ Stadium and a third located in western Sydney. Typically it initiated a cry from those officials connected with clubs of the suburban stadiums stating their ‘need’ for funding. The audacity of some of the officials is surprising given even grassroots sporting clubs need to contribute some funding and often gain broader community support when applying for grants themselves to upgrade their facilities. One of the challenges is for NRL clubs to develop revenue streams which can support stadium developments and link with local communities in doing so to ensure the benefit don’t just fall to professional sport but the local community as a whole.

@hamishneal

Disclosure: I am a fulltime employee of the Sport and Recreation Division of the Office of Sport in the NSW state government but my role is not linked to decisions of funding for elite sporting venues.

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 17 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round 17 of the competition.

‘Sunday afternoon games are always the best games to watch because of the high quality’ It’s a refrain often heard but as Wests and, to a lesser extent, Penrith fumbled their way to a collective 27 errors at Leichhardt Oval it was notable that the above thought doesn’t seem to stack up. To look at an interesting cross section of games in round 16: A Saturday night game in Townsville featuring South Sydney yielded 15 errors, which was better than a 4pm local time kick off in Auckland when the New Zealand Warriors beat Penrith in a match with 19 errors, finally a disciplined Parramatta and Newcastle made only 13 mistakes in their 3pm game in Sydney. However in the weekend prior both Sunday afternoon games had 20 and 23 errors it what was a very error-riddled weekend of action. Sunday afternoon games would indicate better conditions perhaps for the crowd but do not, it would seem at least statistically, offer a greater guarantee of a better game when compared to a night match.

Five Metre Gap found a positive for Cronulla fans after an astonishing triumph over Brisbane and there is more good news after another stunning victory, this time 30-28 over the Sydney Roosters on Saturday evening. The Sharks have outscored their opponents 50-10 in the second half in their last two matches combined. Their adversaries this weekend, Newcastle have scored 16 points in the first half in each of their last two fixtures but notably (despite the fact the Knights ran out comfortable winners on both occasions) they have conceded four tries in the last 11 minutes across both games. Is this an indication for another come from behind win for Cronulla?

Their Monday night win was much needed for the Gold Coast Titans but what they did after their three tries will be a big lesson for John Cartwright’s men. On consecutive sets the Titans conspired to leave Mark Minichiello as the first receiver on the last tackle which was followed by a poor attempted kick and then turned over possession after a forward pass near halfway. Failure to complete their first two sets after a try was luckily not punished then for the visitors as the Bunnies struggled to complete their sets (60% in the second half.) When the Titans meet more disciplined sides like Manly (round 23) and Canterbury (round 26) as they attempt to keep pace for a finals spot slip ups such as those after tries could be costly.

Sitting atop the ladder on 24 points, but third on points difference, Canterbury continue to impress with their discipline. As they dispatched Manly 23-16 on Friday evening at ANZ Stadium they closed out the match with two second half tries on the back of a 100% completion rate (18/18.) Given the Bulldogs should see the return of their Origin halves duo on Saturday night in Melbourne a similar effort will give the Belmore outfit a solid platform to upset the Storm.

North Queensland’s defensive woes continue with another back-rower disappointing. As the Cowboys were beaten 27-24 by a resurgent St George Illawarra Dragons 24 year-old back-rower Tariq Sims missed six tackles as his side missed a collective 39 despite making a late play for victory before a Jason Nightingale try sealed the win. 39 was the most errors of any side on the weekend. Paul Green’s side have a much-needed bye and the return of their origin stars will be need to arrest this slide.

@hamishneal

Five Metre Gap- NRL Round 16 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round 16 of the competition.

Let’s look for a plus for Cronulla fans after a tumultuous five days. As this is posted Tuesday evening (AEST) the Sharks have lost their chief playmaker Todd Carney and interim coach Peter Sharp for various reasons (the former was sacked and the latter quit.) This came after a stunning two-point triumph in Brisbane on Friday evening. The come from behind 24-22 win over the Broncos was built by a terrific second half which included missing only two tackles and completing 19 of their 21 sets. If the Sharks can take their second half discipline into their Saturday night fixture against the Roosters they might be a chance of springing a huge upset.

Newcastle fullback Darius Boyd was the latest beneficiary of the recent trend in teams failing to cope with bombs. As Parramatta’s aerial assault ended up in a Newcastle try after 36 minutes when Queenslander Boyd pounced on the scraps and raced away for the decisive score after the Eels limp attempt to retrieve the bomb when on attack. That the try was only the third the Eels conceded, is a measure of how far Brad Arthur’s side have come. Previous recent incarnations of this club may have seen the scores blown out after that point but the Eels kept Newcastle within striking distance whilst ultimately failing in their late bid for victory.

Canberra’s lamentable attacking record was borne out at Campbelltown on Saturday evening as the Raiders’ had 23 sets to the Wests Tigers’ 14 in the second half but somehow still conspired to blow several chances on attack as they were beaten 19-18 by the joint-venture outfit. Also concerning for the Raiders is how the impact of Jack Wighton’s injury may affect their attack. Rookie Brenko Lee and future Warriors player Matt Allwood were caught out at times in the match and another adjustment to the outside backs may further exacerbate the Raiders’ woes given the lack of defending combinations between the relevant pairings. With Ricky Stuart’s side on the bye they will have additional time to look at their defensive combinations though.

From a bench player to a starting forward in recent weeks it would appear South Sydney coach Michael Maguire is grooming Thomas Burgess, one of Sam’s younger brothers, as the player to replace Sam’s impact when the 25 year-old departs the Redfern base at the end of the season. Playing 43 minutes as Souths fell 20-18 to the North Queensland Cowboys, the 22 year-old twin brother of George made 30 tackles and 12 runs whilst also busting one tackle. Sam Burgess and the also-departing Ben Te’o are given the playing numbers of backrowers and Burgess especially does a front rowers amount of work. The level of influence provided by Sam is hard to replace but one of the younger siblings seems to be helping the fourth-placed Rabbitohs.

The usual reliable Anthony Minichiello had a night he would rather forget at Brookvale Oval on Friday as the Sydney roosters fullback missed four tackles when the premiers were beaten 24-16 by Manly. The rot started when Peter Hiku stepped inside Minichiello in the 13th minute to open the scoring before the 34 year-old arrived as Jorge Taufua dotted down four minutes later. Proving bad luck comes in three, in the second half Brett Stewart smoked past Minichiello and Sonny Bill Williams to score following a series of passes at close quarters. Minichiello’s poor night also included Stewart monstering the Roosters custodian in goal to force a Roosters drop out in the second stanza. The sixth defeat of the season for Trent Robinson’s side might have proven some changes are needed for the premier to mount a serious title defence.

@hamishneal