Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 20 2015

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed from round 20 of the National Rugby League.

The Roosters charge towards the finals, they registered a 12th win for the season on Friday night, is coming on an unlikely run of winning the penalty count. Even a recently as earlier this month when Fairfax highlighted the fact the Roosters rarely get over seven penalties in the game it was continuing to be a talking point amongst the Eastern Suburbs faithful. So what happened next? The third-placed outfit won a penalty count for the fourth game on the trot as Trent Robinson’s side beat the Wests Tigers 33-8 at ANZ Stadium at the weekend. The Tricolours also won the infringement factor 12-5. This comes after the following penalty count wins in recent weeks, 6-4 v Warriors, 7-6 v Penrith and 7-3 v Gold Coast. The least comprehensive of those wins on the scoreboard was a 20-10 victory over the Titans. This is good news for the Roosters getting a rhythm in attack. So who in your fantasy team drafted Blake Ferguson and/or Daniel Tupou? They might have a good few weeks coming up.

With Andrew Fifita facing time on the sidelines for his abuse of junior match officials the Sharks, despite sitting in sixth-spot after an 18-16 win over Canterbury face an uphill battle in the forward department but the weekend might provide a window for their next steps in the forward pack. The most-used bench player on Sunday, Chris Heighington made 20 tackles and for his 21 runs gained 170 metres, in 45 minutes on the park he shapes as a logical replacement in the starting line-up in round 21. Fifita himself played 53 minutes as a starter against the Bulldogs but the change could be significant as it may also mean the two other bench forwards (Jason Bukuya and Matt Prior at Belmore) start or play longer minutes.

The lose of Shaun Johnson has seemingly struck the final blow to the Warriors realistic finals hopes, even though they are a top eight side now. In the first half Andrew McFadden’s unit completed 82% of their sets (14/17), missed 12 tackles and made only four errors. Johnson was injured in the act of scoring with 15 to go in the half and things went bad from then. In the second stanza the Warriors missed 13 tackles, so a similar number to the first half, but eight errors meant the completion rate dropped away to 61 % for 11 of 18 completions. The home side were looking to push more passes chasing the game in the second half after Jorge Taufua scored four minutes in to give Manly the lead for the second time in the game. Without Ryan Hoffman to bring strong edge defence and Manu Vatuvei to get them going at the start of sets out of their own end the Warriors lacked any real defensive or attacking zeal.

Parramatta bowed out of contention in Monday night’s encounter when Jason Taumalolo scored his second try for the evening, the 60th minute four-pointer was the first of five tries late in the game for the home side. However it could have been different had the Eels had another potent attacking option. Down 16-4 the Eels ran a set after a penalty to near the Cowboys line but when new first-choice halfback Luke Kelly was caught with the ball on the last it fell to Joseph Paulo to launch a bomb. For all his benefits the USA international isn’t a fearsome kicker close to the line and the Cowboys defused the bomb easily. In the subsequent set Johnathan Thurston let rip a 40/20 kick before Kiwis forward Taumalolo crossed for the first of five tries in 20 minutes later in the next set. One can’t blame Kelly or Paulo for the try and those that followed but an extra recognized playmaker may have put the pressure on better in that set with 22 minutes to go and give the Eels and chance to draw within a converted try

Finally with Rick Stone sacked as Knights coach it’s worth noting the 48 year-old’s comments about senior players not stepping up for the side may have merit. 33 year-old skipper Kurt Gidley missed five tackles in their 52-6 defeat at the hands of the Rabbitohs this weekend. That’s not the most and halfback Tyrone Roberts, 24, has missed 12 tackles in the last two defeats combined but it’s not exactly benchmark stuff from the former Origin utility. By way of comparison between skipper’s who feature in the halves, North Queensland’s Thurston has missed two tackles in the last two weeks.

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 19 2015

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed from round 19 action of the NRL. All sides were in action with no more byes for the balance of the season.

Paul Gallen is a lightning rod for opinion in the NRL but the Sharks skipper was key on Saturday afternoon in Canberra as Cronulla triumphed 21-20. Not only did Gallen make the most tackles of anyone in his team (41) and the most metres of any player in the game (231) he was influential when his side needed a try. Taking the ball off scrum-base Gallen ran to start the set, and nearly scored himself, with the Sharks needing a try to win. The NSW skipper handled twice more in the set before Andrew Fifita crossed the stripe only to be ruled no try by the video officials. Rallying his troops once more Gallen in extra-time helped to guide his side towards the posts before Valentine Holmes potted the winning point. Whilst NSW coach Laurie Daley is right in his recent constructive criticism that the Australian forward doesn’t need to try to be the focal point (aka play 5/8) every set Gallen does know when to inject himself into the game for maximum impact. Gallen’s running allowed the Sharks to have plenty of options and it’s not the first time a Gallen run on the prior play has led to a try for the fellow Australian representative.

Sunday afternoon in Brisbane was proof timing is everything as the Broncos skipped clear of the Wests Tigers to win 42-16 but not until seeing off a spirited comeback by Jason Taylor’s men. Having scored the last three tries in the game to cut the margin back to 26-16 the Sydney-siders were cruelled by a penalty on the fifth tackle (the second of those they had conceded all game and one of seven penalties all up) which was followed by trying to withstand a further Broncos set after Anthony Milford forced the first drop-out the Broncos had gotten all game. The wall couldn’t hold and the damn burst after Lachlan Maranta grabbed his second try of three in the game Tigers winger Kevin Naiqama inadvertently batted Jack Reed’s pass to him. A three-try plus lead is not irretrievable in 11 minutes and Taylor might be concerned with how his team dropped their bundle and let in two more tries late in the game.

Brisbane leads the competition and North Queensland, who won on Monday night, sit second. Much of the focus around the Cowboys normally involves Johnathan Thurston and, lately, Michael Morgan but Lachlan Coote should not be forgotten. The former Penrith custodian laid on the second try for the Cowboys as they beat the Sea Eagles 30-12. Running a hard line after the play of the ball Coote charged at the line drawing the attention of Jamie Lyon and some of his teammates. Coote then shuffled the ball to Kane Linnett who put the Cowboys back in the lead, which they never relinquished.

After they had shipped their fourth try in Melbourne on Friday night Penrith had missed 15 tackles in half an hour to Melbourne’s one before the Storm crossed six more occasions to thrash Ivan Cleary’s men 52-10. It didn’t get much better as the Mountain Men missed 54 tackles all up. Whilst key Penrith staff are at pains to point out the injury toll the cub face it’s worth noting Melbourne injuries include star fullback Billy Slater, Kiwi international Matt Duffie, emerging forward Jordan McLean and utility Slade Griffin. Whilst Penrith were more impacted by injuries Melbourne’s missing are significant as well.

Newcastle’s 30-2 victory over the Gold Coast might not be cause to break out the bunting yet in the Hunter but the performance of bench forward David Fa’alogo was a highlight as his team ran riot against a limp Titans outfit.  Fa’alogo’s 186 metres gained from 21 runs was the most of any player in the 28-point triumph and a stellar effort for a bench player who only featured for 42 minutes. Fa’alogo, 34, who returned to the NRL last season is a key player if the Knights are any hope to start a winning streak and attempt to move up from 14th.

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 18 2015

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed from round 18 action in the NRL. Parramatta, North Queensland, South Sydney and the Tigers were on the bye.

Newcastle had more than twice the amount of ball in the ‘red zone’ (last 20 metres) compared to the Raiders on Friday night in Canberra, at one stage it was 23 tackles to 10, but did little on attack as they were humbled 36-22. As recent weeks have shown it’s what you do with the ball when on attack that matters not so much the volume of possession. This was further proved by the fact Rick Stone’s side actually had a better completion rate 85% (33/39) compared to Canberra 78% (28/36). Knights halfback Tyrone Roberts ran five times, as much as Canberra duo Blake Austin and Sam Williams combined, but combined with the clever kicking game of the Green Machine Canberra was far more efficient in every facet of the game.

Warriors’ rake Nathan Friend was at his acrobatic best in the lead-up to Tuimoala Lolohea’s second try on Sunday as the Auckland-based outfit beat Melbourne 28-14. In addition to his spectacular play Friend was again solid with 33 tackles but was on the field for the least amount of time (57 minutes) for the dummy half in the last month. Friend managed to bust four tackles in round 16 when he played 80 minutes, the week prior in a 65-minute effort Friend broke three tackles but significantly ran for 103 metres in a game when he scored a try as the Warriors thrashed the Gold Coast. The last month tells me Friend, 34, can still be effective in first grade and this coincides with the news he will not be taking up a new deal with the Warriors who have recruited Kiwi hooker Issac Luke. Playing eighty minutes or off the bench with another bench pivot/hooker Friend could help an NRL side in 2016. I’m thinking Newcastle or one of his former sides the Gold Coast.

Despite a less than glamorous start to his Brisbane career former Kiwi prop Adam Blair landed in one of those ‘dud buy’ columns over the weekend in News Limited publications. This is despite a pretty good last month. As the Broncos went unbeaten through the Origin period the All Star has been a pillar in Wayne Bennett’s team and made 28 tackles on the weekend to go with his 17 runs which notched 137 runs. From the attacking point of view he outperformed Sam Thaiday significantly and only made three less tackles playing 54 minutes compared to the Queensland forward’s 56 minutes. In the previous game when Josh McGuire got injured Blair was again called upon and ran for 140 metres. Against Melbourne in round 14 McGuire did outperform Blair in attacking and defensive stats, 50 tackles to 40, but that game was very much focused on defence as Melbourne constantly threatened the Brisbane line so the middle forwards were all crucial and all very good that day. Across those last three games the former Tiger has also been very reliable making only one error and missing just two tackles. Maybe not a best buy, but a more than solid real life (and fantasy) NRL prop.

In the wake of NSW getting vanquished by Queensland in the State of Origin series last week almost every Blues player seemed fair game for the axe in 10 months time and Titans centre James Roberts was a touted replacement. The former Penrith man has un-tapped attacking ability but a former NSW fullback, Brett Stewart, showed Roberts still has a way to go defensively. On Monday night as Manly saw off the Gold Coast 38-6. Roberts, along with teammate Daniel Mortimer, were shown up by Stewart as he scythed between the duo 40 metres from the Titans line to set-up Manly’s fourth try of the night. Mortimer shuffled too far inside and Roberts shifted to the outside of his player which allowed Stewart to bolt through and away to lay on the pass for Jorge Taufua. Substitute Greg Inglis/Billy Slater for the runner and Darius Boyd for the support player and it’s a bit of proof Roberts might need some defensive work to combat Queensland in Origin should be get a go in 2016.

Junior Kangaroos halfback Drew Hutchinson went through a torrid NRL debut as the Dragons were beaten 28-8 by Cronulla on Sunday. The playmaker, coming in for the injured Benji Marshall, had to make a very high amount of tackles for a player in the halves, 28. Hutchinson did miss four but that was as many as English international teammate Gareth Widdop and a fair better success rate as Widdop only made 13 tackles. So it’s probably a defensive pass mark but hard to assess the attack given he was behind a pack that was thoroughly dominated as the Sharks ran for 1765 metres compared to St George Illawarra’s 1336 metres. It wasn’t the worst week for Hutchinson as the 20 year-old was involved in the NSW side who beat Queensland in the Under 20 Origin fixture 32-16.

Five Metre Gap – Origin III 2015

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed from Origin III. A review of the game at Suncorp Stadium won 52-6 by Queensland who reclaimed the interstate crown.

With Queensland having twice as much possession in good attacking areas in the opening half of the series decider the result only appeared to be going one way. The Marrons lead 22-2 at the break before running out 46-point winners. With 22 sets in the NSW ‘red zone’ (last 20 metres) from their 22 sets of play in the first half Queensland scored three tries. Comparatively the Blues for their 13 sets had 11 goes into the ‘red zone’ for only a penalty goal. Even allowing for the weight of possession, on balance NSW didn’t take their chances and the home side did.

Dane Gagai’s wing was targeted by NSW in the decider but what will be galling for Blues coach Laurie Daley was the time the Newcastle back did make mistakes it didn’t result in a full six points, one case of the dropsies looks to be costly and one was missed. The NSW main avenue of attack drew little in the first half.

Speaking of wingers, Will Hopoate was seen as the ‘lucky’ player by many to keep his spot in the NSW side given his moderate club form in early 2015 but such was Queensland’s dominance that their tries on Hopoate’s right side defence in the first half we hardly the winger’s fault. With Queensland pivot Johnathan Thurston pulling the strings two plays, which looked like they might need the Parramatta back to be called upon, were in the end easy tries for the Maroons closer to his inside.

Much was made of the NSW pack in game two but one player who was disappointing in the climatic game was Tigers prop Aaron Woods. Along with Matt Scott, from Queensland, both were amongst the more reliable players for their respective sides throughout the series but Woods lost the plot to a degree in game three. Despite 39 tackles and 10 runs, which is line with his normal workload at this level, Woods conceded three penalties in the first half in Brisbane. This was after his early run helped to draw the Blues opening penalty. He conceded another penalty which led to a try in the second half as Queensland continued the rout.

The ludicrous niggling of Queensland for dumping their ‘pick and stick’ philosophy now looks petty after the thrashing which was dished out to NSW. Whilst some of the changes are were injury enforced it’s a nod to the system Queensland have in place that Michael Morgan, Josh Papalii and debutant Dane Gagai have all come into this squad for game three having not featured in game two (or at all in this format) and scored a try.

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 17 2015

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, looking at the points you may have missed from round 17 of the NRL. There were four games in this round.

Reigning premiers South Sydney fell 20-6 to the Panthers in Penrith on Friday night and their attacking incisiveness left a lot to be desired. By half-time South Sydney had 24 tackles inside the Panthers ‘red zone’ (last 20 metres) compared to the home side’s 10 with Penrith already two tries to the good. Michael Maguire’s halves combination of Luke Keary and Adam Reynolds ran only three times between them all game content to feed the ball to the edges, possibly in the hope a recently energised forward pack might catch Penrith napping. It didn’t work and Ivan Cleary’s side picked up their seventh triumph for the year and edge just outside the top eight. As Panther pivot Jamie Soward noted the following day on Triple M without Greg Inglis lurking to come into the play the Rabbitohs lacked a cutting edge in attack.

Speaking of under-performing playmakers Ben Barba ran only once for the Sharks as they were beaten 28-16 by Manly on Sunday at Brookvale Oval. The former Bronco came on halfway into the first stanza and played 57 minutes. Immediately normal halfback Jeff Robson shifted to dummy half but it seemed a futile change as Barba’s 24 possessions yielded little with a late Andrew Fifita double flattering the visitors.

As an under-strength North Queensland won in Wollongong 18-12 it appeared to be a bonus win given the absence of four of their key players, Michael Morgan, James Tamou, Matt Scott and future immortal Johnathan Thurston. The victory, their seventh away from home in 2015, was sealed by a 100% completion rate (20/20) in the second half and the Dragons inability to breach the Cowboys defence in that period, bar Mark Ioane’s try 28 minutes from time. The result whilst close was ground out by Paul Green’s men against a team also impacted by major absentees but the North Queensland side was very impressive as they failed to complete only one set in the first half. It is worth noting Paul McGregor’s side also completed at a high-rate, 95% for 35/37.

Another interesting point from the Steeler Dome on Saturday was the seemingly low use of two bench forwards by McGregor as try-scorer Mark Ioane and debutant YouTube hit Luke Page only spent 18 and 12 minutes on the park respectively. When chasing the game utilising fresh players would seem a good strategy but former Steeler McGregor instead elected to run with other experience players for longer as the side trailed for almost the last half hour until they fell to the six-point loss. After the defeat, the Red V outfit still sit fourth but could have kicked clear of the other sides on 20 points with a win.

With two tries to his credit in the first half things were going well for Kevin Naiqama as his Wests Tigers went to the break leading 16-12 over Parramatta on Monday night. Unfortunately for the winger he was caught on with two kicks which lead to Eels tries as Brad Arthur’s men overhauled Wests 28-16 at ANZ Stadium. First trying to stop Semi Radradra from side on and 12 minutes later tackling Radradra low down before the Fijian popped the ball to Chris Sandow the 26 year-old was well and truly caught out. The ex-Knights flyer had a night to forget capped off when he tried to snatch an intercept which allowed Radradra to score his second for the night as Wests slipped to bottom stop on the ladder. In fairness to Naiqama he is player outside the more inexperienced side of the Tigers defence but at this level those three errors are unforgiveable, particularly in such a short space of time.