Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 12 2016

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the twelfth round of the NRL, the first split round of the season. Canberra defeated the Bulldogs for the second time this season and the Dragons beat North Queensland by four points.

nrlrd12theguardiancom

With the first State of Origin game of the year leaving sides missing key players the frustration of Origin was prominent across the weekend but some truisms held, including having key international players in your squad who are not eligible for State of Origin. Canterbury forwards James Graham (England) and Greg Eastwood (New Zealand) ran for the most metres of any forward on the weekend. Falling 32-20 to the Raiders the efforts of the international duo are worth noting with Graham (237 metres from 25 runs) and Eastwood (212 metres from 21 runs) putting in solid performances. Eastwood’s five offloads and six tackles breaks were each a game high also.

Despite defeat in Canberra, and the resultant spray from coach Des Hasler about the absence of Josh Morris, the Bulldogs might have unearthed a future regular first-grader in Reimis Smith. The winger, who played NSW Under 18s last season, not only scored his two tries well but managed to rush up and force an error when the Raiders were on attack at one stage during the game showing some tactical nous to go with his finishing ability. Playing in a team that conceded three tries in the last 15 minutes to throw away a winnable game was disappointing but it was a better than average first grade debut for the Junior Kiwi representative.

After a round 11 19-18 win the Broncos fell to defeat by the same score-line to open round 12 in Brisbane on Friday night. Like their second half last weekend which we wrote about it was errors which cost Brisbane. After eight second half mistakes, despite beating North Queensland, Wayne Bennet’s outfit made six in each half as the Tigers registered their fifth win of the campaign. Stood down from Origin for this season Anthony Milford was prominent in attack, making ten runs, but failed to drive the Broncos to victory despite the home side opening the scoring.

Labelled ‘the best player on the park’ late in the game by Knights premiership-winning half-back Andrew Johns in the Triple M commentary Nathan Ross made the most metres (225) of any player in the Monday night game. To go with his first half try Ross nearly grabbed the winning four-pointer as game wound down but Parramatta claimed the victory. Debuting in first grade as a 26 year-old late last season the former Toulouse Olympique back was a key player for Nathan Brown’s side who almost grabbed their second victory of the campaign.

Granted there were only four games this weekend so the volume of games to analyse the 30 Set Standard (TSS) is smaller than normal but there are still some interesting figures around completions this weekend. The Cowboys defeat came despite the reigning-premiers having 39 completed sets but perhaps highlighted the key aspects around their missing top-line halves combination in Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan. In addition to that, whilst they still had Kiwi international Jason Taumalolo (203 metres) starting props Ben Hannant and Scott Bolton didn’t quite have the same impact as Maroon Matt Scott and Blues forward James Tamou normally would. Meanwhile Parramatta’s 20-18 victory came on the back of completing 25 of their 34 sets. Even if the Knights had got the win late in that game they only completed 27 sets.

Image via theguardian.com.au

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 11 2016

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the eleventh round of the NRL, the last full round before the Origin series gives us some split rounds. The Titans grabbed a thrilling win in Penrith and the Broncos went back to playing on Friday night, but lost to the Cowboys.

nrlround11espncomau

Surprise New South Wales selection Dylan Walker featured as Manly slumped to their seventh loss of the season beaten 20-18 by the table-topping Sharks on Saturday night. Across the first two and half months of the competition Walker has three tries and three tackle breaks plus one try assist. Hardly compelling numbers for inclusion in a Blues side that needs to find a way to score points given they are playing a squad that scored 13 tries in three games last year. For a player spending a fair amount of time in the halves the try assists figure, whilst it should not be looked at in isolation, is concerning. Sharks utility Jack Bird with two tries, three try assists and four line breaks seems a better option. Even Brisbane’s James Roberts with also three tries but eight line breaks and four try assists seems a more dynamic attacking option even allowing for the fact Roberts is not a like-for-like player compared to Walker. Given it’s essentially a utility position Walker is playing the comparison seems fair and I’m would think Roberts could adapt closer in to the ruck if needed. Defensively Cronulla’s Bird, with 21 missed tackles from 184 attempts, to Walker’s 29 (from 169 attempts) is again better and our third option Roberts is better than the first two with only 11 missed tackles from 166 attempts. Over to you Dylan, and Laurie.

Eight second half errors cruelled the Broncos on Friday night to see North Queensland edge home 19-18 as Brisbane became the first side this season to blow a lead of 12 points or more twice, Fox Sports’ Aaron Wallace (@wallyscr) pointed out this on Twitter in the wake of the defeat and coach Wayne Bennett should be concerned by this as this match, whilst it was with some players having Origin on their mind, wasn’t in the real heart of the Origin period. Having coughed up a 22-6 lead in round three before Penrith claimed a 23-22 victory Brisbane lost their way 18-6 up. Playmaker Anthony Milford was the only player to make multiple errors (two) so the inconsistency was spread around the team. Heading into this game their season average was 8.2 errors per game so it was a very un-Brisbane like effort to make so many in the second stanza.

A consequence of the axing of Roosters pivot Jackson Hastings was the elevated game time it meant for goal-kicking back-rower Sio Suia Taukeiaho who played 80 minutes for the first time since round five. Upon return from his month out injured Taukeiaho played 34 minutes in round ten on the Gold Coast but featured for the entire game as the Roosters were beaten 32-20 by the Bulldogs on Sunday. To go with his two successful kicks from four attempts Taukeiaho made 44 tackles and ran 11 times for 105 metres (the second most of any Roosters forward behind Boyd Cordner – 114 metres.) In the tradition of club legend and goal-kicking forward Craig Fitzgibbon Taukeiaho’s role could be crucial through the Origin period as Trent Robinson’s side try to salvage something from a season they are quickly losing touch with after only two triumphs. It’s especially interesting for people who own Taukeiaho in fantasy competitions given he can expect to play a full match if Hastings remains banished to the Wyong Roos.

Last week we honed in on a disappointing Knights effort, but despite another defeat this weekend at Five Metre Gap HQ we thought it worthy to praise the efforts of Daniel Saifiti. The interchange forward played 47 minutes and ran for 221 metres in an effort which also saw Saifiti, 20, break two tackles and make two offloads. The Fijian international made a strong claim for a starting spot against the Eels in round 12 with the most metres gained of any forward in the match won 20-12 by the Wests Tigers.

Another interchange forward who ran the most of any forward in their game, this time in a winning team, was Titan Agnatius Paasi. The Auckland-raised forward ran for 125 metres from 9 runs in a dynamic effort which included a try three minutes before half-time. Paasi, a Tongan international, broke five tackles and logged a line break as the Titans won by four points at the foot of mountains.

Image via espn.com.au

A-League Off-season: O’Toole’s journey to the Roar.

@hamishneal

In the days following Adelaide United’s A-League grand final triumph Football Federation Australia inked a deal with the J-League to ensure closer ties between the Japanese top flight and the domestic game in Australia. The three primary aspects trumpeted in the Memorandum of Understanding focused on sharing of technical, marketing and administrative expertise to the benefit of both domestic competitions however player development links between the two nations were further enhanced when Australian Under 19 international Connor O’Toole inked a two-year first-team deal with the Brisbane Roar.

Somewhat lost in the maelstrom of player movements post the decider which included Romeo Castelen leaving the Wanderers and Adelaide attacker Bruce Kamau joining Melbourne City, O’Toole’s senior recruitment will add some dynamism and youth to the Roar’s squad who also added central defender Kye Rowles, 17, and Joeys captain Joe Caletti to their senior team in the last five months.

IMG_20160522_171841.JPG

O’Toole is the latest Australian footballer to have spent time at the renowned Seiritsu Gakuen High School in Japan to then go on and gain a first team deal with a professional club. Notably the Tokyo-based school had Socceroo Jason Davidson as a student from 2005. The defender who spent time for three academic years at Seiritsu Gakuen was spotted by Australia Under 20 and Olyroos coach Paul Okon before joining in on Australian youth team camps. It has been a rare pathway to professional football for O’Toole who has played with the Roar’s NPL Queensland side in the last month as well as training with the first team.

O’Toole represents the common dynamic of much of the Australian population (43% according to the last Census) who have at least one parent born overseas. O’Toole has a Japanese-born mother and Irish-born father. So, like Davidson – whose paternal grandmother is Japanese, O’Toole’s links with the country made the move to Tokyo logical. With Seiritsu Gakuen best described as having specialisations similar to Westfields Sports High based in the Sydney suburb of Fairfield West and similar institutions nation-wide it would seem O’Toole has found an interesting career pathway which has already proven successful for Australian football.

O’Toole graduated in March from the school which also hosted future All White Michael Fitzgerald from 2005, the same period Davidson attended. The students at the school regularly train five times a week whilst playing games on a Saturday and Sunday is not uncommon.

A 2015 feature in Leopold Method by Scott McIntyre noted the importance high school programs still have to Japanese player development pointing to the cases of Shunsuke Nakamura and Keisuke Honda. The duo were left on the scrapheap of J-League youth clubs only to be picked up via the high school system before going on to star for Celtic and AC Milan respectively.

During O’Toole’s time at Seiritsu Gakuen he has had some company from an Australian point of view with Jeremy Carpenter, brother of Matildas player Ellie, also attending the school.

Given the recent deal between the A-League and J-League perhaps O’Toole could prove the success of Davidson was not an outlier and other players may follow the path in the future.

O’Toole has an excellent role model in Davidson, who has played in a World Cup, and O’Toole could easily be challenging the former West Brom player for the first choice role on the left for Ange Postecoglou’s team in years to come should his career trajectory continue upward.

First up, aside from his focus at the Roar, 18 year-old O’Toole will be hoping to seal selection for October’s U19 Asian Football Confederation Championship in Bahrain. The event acts as the qualifying tournament for the Under 20 World Cup to be held in South Korea next year. Australia will be looking to first qualify out of their group in Bahrain (which contains China, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan) before ensuring qualification for the world event  – something Australia failed to do last time around. The 2015 edition in New Zealand which was won by Serbia went by without Australia taking part.

mms_20160512_192628

O’Toole logged a starting and substitute appearance in the qualifying tournament in Laos in October last year, featuring in wins over the Philippines and the host nation, so will be a good chance to feature prominently in Bahrain. However he will have strong competition from former Sydney FC player Alex Gersbach. Now with Norwegian Tippeligaen side Rosenborg Gersbach, 19, left the Sky Blues showing signs of promise during his 18 months with the A-League side but now that O’Toole will have local prominence this may tip the balance in the favour of O’Toole should he get consistent game time. However Ange Postecoglou naming Gersbach in an up-coming Socceroo squad shows just how much competition there is for places in the national team.

Australia’s one defeat in the pool phase in Laos was against Japan who will be a strong chance in the main AFC event.

In addition to the established Davidson, O’Toole and Gersbach will be keeping an eye on Craig Goodwin. After an exceptional title-winning season with the Reds the Adelaide-born flanker has secured a move to Sparta Rotterdam in the Dutch Eredivise. It’s also worth noting with the retirement of Brisbane’s Shane Steffanuto, and the Roar’s push to recruit highly-credentialed youth players, a smooth path to the first team for O’Toole seems assured in the Sunshine State.

mms_20160512_192623

Without an official agreement in place Japanese player development could provide the Socceroos with their left back/winger for the next decade but first O’Toole and his teammates might have to stop them again in Bahrain.

In O’Toole’s A-League focus the redemption of John Aloisi as an A-League coach in guiding his side to within touching distance of another grand final appearance will help shape Brisbane again this season. Given Aloisi has experience coaching youth players in Melbourne, both with the Heart and Victory National Youth League teams, it seems O’Toole has landed in the right environment to be guided by a coach who has the core of a relatively successful senior team around him, has experience coaching youth players and whose side could feature in the Asian Champions League group stage in 2017.

Signing a deal between two footballing bodies could prove important down the track for football in Australia but enterprising parents signing up their children for overseas opportunity is already bearing fruit for Australian in Japan.

Images: Supplied.

 

 

Five Metre Gap- NRL Round 10 2016

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the tenth round of the NRL. The Australian/New Zealand top flight competition resumed with a golden point victory to the Dragons and included a record win for the Sharks over the hapless Knights.

nrlrd10espncomau.jpg

As Penrith sealed a 12-point win in Christchurch over the Warriors to leap into seventh spot one of their representative back-rowers played a huge role in the triumph. Unlike City forward Bryce Cartwright’s efforts of recent weeks James Fisher-Harris had had a quite a tidy few weeks without as much attention. The Junior Kiwis representative ran for 85 metres, three less than Cartwight but the Kohukohu-native played 14 minutes less than his teammate. Fisher-Harris made 41 tackles, compared to 30 from Cartwright, in addition to a second half try assist. Rightly Cartwright gets plaudits, and Fisher-Harris does need to work on his defence after missing five tackles in the 30-18 triumph, but all of Penrith’s edge forwards are playing well.

Whilst the nightmare Dane Gagai had as fullback for the Knights when Cronulla routed them 62-0 on Sunday in Newcastle has gained plenty of focus for not the first time this season the Knights bench failed to help their starting 13, or coach Nathan Brown, adequately when they have entered the game. Fiji forward Korbin Sims could only muster nine runs coming on early in the game, he played 69 minutes, for 56 metres. By way of comparison Mickey Paea in 27 minutes made 56 metres. Sims also missed four tackles, which was not the lowest on the day but for a side which has now seen ten players debut in the NRL this season a player of four years’ experience must do better.

Picking up their fifth win of the season on Friday night the Dragons must have a sense of get out of jail given almost every major team statistic meant they should have beaten Canberra handily instead of needing Euan Aitken’s try from Jack Wighton’s risky pass to get them over the line at Kogarah. Ricky Stuart’s side failed to complete 13 of their 40 sets making 19 errors. Canberra outgained Paul McGregor’s outfit by 59 metres in the first half before the Red V turned things around but despite multiple Canberra errors St George Illawarra only grabbed one try in each game stanza. The Dragons missed tackle count of 46 was the second worst of the weekend behind the Knights (53.)

Melbourne (29), Penrith (29) and Souths (25) all won games this weekend completing less than 30 sets. A recent benchmark we have discussed. Cronulla, our (30 Set Standard) TSS team we first identified, won for the eight time this campaign and did it completing 27 sets. Proving it’s not how often you have the ball what you do with it the Knights actually completed at 82% (28/34) much better than the Sharks (71%) 27/38. Shane Flanagan’s side out-gained Newcastle by nearly double 963 metres to 1783 metres.

Finally, in a rarity for this season every player featured off the bench this weekend, that statistic is notable as up to round eight at least one player, on average, every weekend hasn’t played at all. On Monday night City representative back Ryan Matterson looked like he might not get the nod from Trent Robinson but the 21-year old featured late in the game for the Roosters as the Titans ended a five-game losing streak with a 26-6 victory.

Image via espn.com.au

Five Metre Gap – May Representative Weekend 2016

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the weekend’s representative rugby league fixtures which saw wins for the Kangaroos, Kiwi Ferns, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, NSW Residents and City Origin.

bremnerrooskiwissmhcomau.jpg
Australia’s 16-0 triumph in Newcastle on Friday night was at time and uninspiring contest with 22 errors in the game. By way of comparison in round nine only the Warriors triumph over the Dragons (25) and Penrith’s win over Canberra in Bathurst (26) had more errors. Those sides are currently running seventh, eighth, tenth and eleventh. The figures are probably not surprising given the test teams would have had little time together but for six games to have less errors last weekend it’s a pretty damning statistic.

One of the strong efforts at Broadmeadow was from Australian bench forward James Tamou who, for his 30 minutes on the park, made 100 metres and also 13 tackles to help Mal Meninga to a debut win as Kangaroos coach. Kevin Proctor of the Storm was the busiest Kiwi defender making 45 tackles in his 69-minute contribution as Stephen Kearney’s team fell to defeat.

In the second game at Hunter Stadium on Friday night the Kiwi Ferns claimed a 26-16 win in the women’s test. With the Jillaroos chasing down the victory late in the contest it seemed winger Karina Brown should have been involved more. The flyer, who scored two of Australia’s tries, would perhaps have been better served playing at full-back or a first receiver role late in the game given the creativity she showed for her first four-pointer. Brown beat four defenders then kicked for herself to score to bring the margin within single digits and the Queenslander finished her second try well. Perhaps Jillaroos coach Steve Folkes could have changed things up in the final quarter of the game.

Raiders pivot Aidan Sezer’s lean run laying on tries continued despite City Origin’s 44-30 win in Tamworth on Sunday. Sezer picked up one try assist against the Country side which doubles his season tally. The former Titan has one try assist in six games for Canberra this campaign and given that it’s hard to see how he was been listed as a chance for New South Wales selection this year. In Sezer’s defence Bryce Cartwright and half-back Chad Townsend were among the stand-outs for the winners so it was hard for Sezer to play a prominent attacking role. The 5/8 did play a key role in a few second half tries with the second last pass twice and, naturally, he isn’t a dominant play-maker but two try assists in seven games seems a minor amount for a player in the halves. Sezer has a strong long kicking game and nailed six of eight attempts at goal for Brad Fittler’s side but it would be hard to see him playing a major role in attack for New South Wales in the Origin series given Queensland scored 13 tries in last year’s series win for the Maroons and NSW might need to score at least four tries per game to guarantee a series win. This would make things more difficult for whoever played halfback if all the attack fell to them should Sezer play six.

Elsewhere in the Scully Park contest Jack DeBelin performed the best of the forwards in terms of metres gained with the Country prop running for 117 metres from his 12 runs. Craig Fitzgibbon’s Country side were somewhat of a hope to when DeBelin crossed with 20 minutes to go and the margin was cut to 16 points with the conversion. Panthers forward Leilani Latu, who debuted in round 21 last season, was the best forward from the winning sides in the metres statistics running 11 times for a gain of 101 metres and providing the ball for Kyle Lovett’s 40th minute try.

Image via: smh.com.au

Leicester City: Sliding doors leading to glory.

@hamishneal

Leicester City’s English Premier League triumph is rightly categorised as a fairytale but it also epitomises the sliding doors nature of modern sport.

lcfcheraldcozw

When Tottenham Hotspur coughed up a 2-0 lead on Monday night in west London to Chelsea – who were reigning title-holders up to that point – the little club that could from the East Midlands claimed the domestic crown and glory that goes with it.

Such a result was incompressible back in June when the club, owned by Thai Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, axed manager Nigel Pearson and embarked on a search to replace him with a manager who could improve on their 14th-place finish from the 2014/15 season.

Pearson’s dismissal was not your normal sacking. Clubs part ways with managers often after an under-performing season but the modern want to ‘spread the word’ of the club, an off-season trip abroad, bought on a calamity which resulted in the coach and three players leaving the club.

Pearson’s son, James, plus Tom Hopper and Adam Smith were involved in a consenting adult encounter during their tour of Thailand. In the ranking of player shenanigans that’s not much, except that it was filmed, and except that the video was leaked. Racial abuse was hurled at a Thai female during the act which clearly tipped it into the unacceptable category. None of the three players involved were first team regulars but context is everything and that saga must have made club management wondering what they were in for during the coming season. Despite coming off securing Premier League survival in the season after they had won promotion from the Championship clearly that failed to meet expectations.

Pearson was on shaky ground prior to the off-field saga but the incident appeared to be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ as the club parted ways with the former Hull City manager. This was met with strong opposition from Gary Lineker, former England footballer. Lineker, a former Leicester player, is a friend of Pearson but he has since swung in behind the team.

JamieVardyexpresscouk.jpg

But a manager sacking wasn’t the only key off-season situation which helped lead Leicester down to their path to Premier League success. A halted shift of striker Jamie Vardy away from the club proved crucial.

Vardy, who went on to score 22 goals this term in the league, was the subject of a bid from Championship club Sheffield Wednesday just over 12 months ago. English Premier League followers will scoff at this possible move but those devotees of football before 1992 will be aware that ‘the Owls’ are a big club (like Leeds United and Nottingham Forest). Vardy is a childhood fan of the Owls and was with them early in his youth career. Despite the fact Wednesday are playoff-bound this season the quashing of the move turned out well for Vardy.

Even allowing for the efforts of the other Leicester players such as PFA Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez it would seem improbable that the Foxes could have claimed the crown without Vardy’s magnificent form which has the striker set for a key role in England’s Euro 2016 campaign.

In addition to the Vardy retention, and following on from the Pearson’s exit, it’s worth noting Claudio Ranieri was not prominent in the next manager markets (yes they exist) with betting agencies to be his replacement

The Italian last managed a club in France, guiding Monaco to second in Ligue 1 for the 2013/14 season. Despite finishing behind moneyed power-house Paris Saint-Germain it wasn’t enough for him to be kept on and the one-time Juventus boss moved on to manage Greece for a period, infamously in charge when they lost to the lowly Farore Islands. A UEFA Supercup winner with Valenica in 2004 when he joined them after leaving Chelsea Ranieri was long odds for the appointment.

Whilst there seems to be a stock standard list of potential managers thrown up when jobs are available in England. Ranieri moving back to the EPl was so unrealistic the Tinkerman jokes started as soon as he was appointed. It’s rare for managers to leave a country and then be seen as a viable option having been away for such an extended period of time. Roy Hodgson faced similar criticism having spent nearly a decade overseas (including managing international sides) in between his time at Blackburn before joining Fulham in 2007 and eventually moving up to manage England.

Leicester’s management could easily have looked for one of the rising managers in British football like Sean Dyche or Brendan Rodgers with then-Bolton boss Neil Lennon also reported to have been in the running.

ranierigazettaworld

The Thai pre-season tour is not the only shadow which hung over this campaign with the Guardian’s David Conn revealing details last month of financial irregularities from Leicester’s time in the lower divisions surrounding Financial Fair Play requirements. Given the spending on players in recent years of their Premier League rivals Leicester’s effort this season is hugely laudable but when they were on a more level playing field of the Championship if they were (as one owner of another Championship club put it) engaging in ‘financial doping’ there is a query over their rise and ability to stay in the top flight last season. However, when we are comparing behaviour in a league which allows Massimo Cellino, Leeds owner, to still run a club despite a series of less than honourable antics in recent times maybe it’s not even the worst offender.

Let’s remember the deal current EPL side West Ham got on their future home at London’s Olympic Stadium. In the sphere of dubious financial scenarios in English football I’m not sure Leicester would even make the Europa League.

leicester-city-m.jpg

Sliding doors in football. Monaco don’t get upset at running second, Leicester stay home in the summer of 2015 or Jamie Vardy returns as the prodigal son to Sheffield – any of those three things could have upset the alignment needed for Leicester’s title triumph.

The fact Ranieri, title-less in terms of league championships as a manager, was able to bring together a bunch of footballers without an apparent title pedigree and drive them to victory is the true epitomisation of capitalising on their sliding doors moments but also making sure that Leicester (33/1 to win the 2016/17 title) made the most of their premiership window.

I’m not sure how the lads from English band Kasabian viewed result but they are amongst the fans who can’t have dreamt of this title in their life-time. They will be celebrating the result with an upcoming concert at the King Power Stadium. Speaking of Kings, perhaps we will leave the final word on the Foxes’ triumph to Richard III who also went through upheaval in Leicester in recent years.

Images via herald.co.zw, gazettaworld.com, express.co.uk and indianexpress.com

Five Metre Gap -NRL Round 9 2016

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the ninth round of the NRL. The Cowboys, Broncos, Storm and Sharks are joint top of the ladder on 14 points with North Queensland the leaders on points difference.

nrlrd9zimbiocom.jpg

Defeating Brisbane 30-28 to join them in a clutch of sides leading the NRL ladder the Cronulla Sharks attacking efficiency was again on display on Sunday, particularly in the first half, but again they failed to meet the 30 set standard (TSS) we wrote about last week. Racing to a 28-6 lead at the interval Cronulla had completed 12 sets. Brisbane roared back in the second period as Shane Flanagan’s side completed a miniscule nine sets in the last 40 minutes but still collected the two points. Two others sides didn’t meet the TSS this round but still won. Warriors (26-10 winners over the Dragons) and Penrith (19-18 victors over Canberra) both completed 26 sets in their triumphs.
Melbourne forward Dale Finucane has helped lay a platform for his side in the last fortnight running for over 150 metres in their last two triumphs in which they have blanked the Warriors (42-0) and Gold Coast (38-0). He was matched only by fullback Cameron Munster on Sunday and in round eight Tohu Harris (228 metres), Marika Koroibete (183 metres) and Munster (212 metres). Finucane played 71 minutes on Sunday and ran for 158 metres from 18 runs plus he logged 32 tackles. In round eight (which was a 60 minute effort) the former Bulldog ran for 161 metres from 14 runs and made 31 tackles.

If NSW veteran Greg Bird was looking to make a point after missing out on Australian selection he would have been hoping new Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga wasn’t watching as Bird and his Titans were humbled by Melbourne. Bird missed five tackles (he made 21) in his 60-minute stint and made only nine runs on the edge. It was a huge drop off from last weekend when he made 29 tackles to go with 21 runs (203 metres) in 70-minute appearance.

As Souths slumped to their sixth defeat of the season fullback Greg Inglis started a weekend trend with fullbacks, and those fielding kicks, seemingly reluctant to catch the ball on the full. Inglis stood off after a Luke Brooks kick and the bounce allowed the Wests’ halfback to regather and score on Thursday night as the Tigers won 30-22. Brooks’ four-pointer was the third of four tries for the Tigers in the opening 20 minutes and even allowing for the brief comeback of Michael Maguire’s side Wests had the game in hand for most of the contest. However they weren’t blameless in the air either with fill-in fullback David Nofoaluma fluffing his lines on one occasion. Nofoaluma’s attempt was harder than Inglis’ but the nature to not charge to get into position initially was strange. The following night at ANZ Stadium as the Eels won 20-12 over the Bulldogs players were also reluctant to approach the ball on the full, with a bomb in the first 20 minutes turning into a scrappy contest after a bomb was left. With such an important position how come this is a trend?

In an odd scenario for the NRL, two players who last month switched clubs debuted during round nine. Whilst players leaving clubs during a season does happen the virtual switch of players during one is rare but in this case Shaun Lane left the Bulldogs to join the Warriors with Raymond Faitala-Mariner going the other way. On Friday night former Warrior Faitala-Mariner suffered defeat in his club bow playing 27 minutes off the bench for a good output of 19 tackles, seven runs plus a tackle break and offload, although he did make an error. In his debut for the New Zealand franchise Lane started, but only played 21 minutes for nine runs and four tackles, as the Warriors beat St George Illawarra. It’s a points decision to the new Bulldog Faitala-Mariners but Lane was in a winning side.

Image via zimbio.com