What caught our eye in Round 23 of the NRL
What caught our eye in Round 23 of the NRL

Likes, Dislikes: Super spine kickstarts title charge

Our rugby league writers reveal what caught their eye - good and bad - in Round 23 of the NRL.

EELS v BULLDOGS

Like: Josh Jackson not only deserves to be in the running for Dally M captain of the year but his form surely demands that he is in the frame for Mal Meninga's end of season Australian squad. Jackson was again absolutely inspirational in what was a wonderful team effort in the win over Parramatta. Even when the Bulldogs were struggling at the start of the year Jackson was consistently outstanding - and here we are heading into the final rounds and his form just continues to get better. People seem to think that because Jackson has been around for so long he's had his turn on the rep scene. The fact is he is still only 28 and in his prime rugby league years. Yes he was overlooked for NSW this year but you'd be flat out arguing

his club performances don't put him ahead of a few other back-rowers that did get an Origin call up.

 

Stream the 2019 NRL Telstra Premiership on KAYO SPORTS. Every game of every round Live & On-Demand on your TV, computer, mobile or tablet. Get your 14 day free trial >

 

Josh Jackson continues to lead the way for the Bulldogs. Picture: Getty Images
Josh Jackson continues to lead the way for the Bulldogs. Picture: Getty Images

 

Dislike: You'd have to be a pretty tough judge to have walked out of Bankwest Stadium last Thursday night complaining about anything given it was up with the very best games this season. But the one negative is that it is a shame the Bulldogs couldn't have done this just a couple of weeks sooner. This turnaround has been unbelievable and it further highlights the commitment and camaraderie that is driving a squad that has now won six of its past eight games. It would take a miracle for the Bulldogs to make the play offs.

But what it confirms is that Dean Pay is doing plenty right which in turn gives Dogs fans plenty to look forward to in 2020.

- Paul Crawley

COWBOYS v PANTHERS

Like: Tries off 20m taps are absolutely exhilarating. And Kyle Feldt's 80m surge off some crafty vision from Tom Opacic was no different. It'd be great to see sides really use the situation in the future as effectively a set play opportunity. Obviously you can't penetrate a set defensive line. But on the one or two occasions presented during a match where the defensive line is staggered and struggling to get into position there's a serious attacking threat. Current day rugby league is such a robotic game with fairly minimal area for creativity. The days of the mousetrap and chip and chase are sadly long gone. But there's a small window where coaches can get a little inventive and throw a few new plays.

 

James Maloney’s club combination with Nathan Cleary hasn’t paid off for the Panthers. Picture: AAP
James Maloney’s club combination with Nathan Cleary hasn’t paid off for the Panthers. Picture: AAP

 

Dislike: It's quite remarkable that a coach hasn't been able to work out the Cleary-Maloney dynamic. They're two stars who thrive when the other is absent, but ultimately their lack of cohesion together will likely cost them a finals spot. Both men are dominant playmakers and one needs to be given the reins. That man is likely Nathan Cleary. He's the future of the club, and James Maloney is more suited to playing the running five-eighth role. It's a tough decision, but it's one that has to be made. In fact, it had to be made many months ago, probably during pre-season. The pair worked in Origin because Cleary played as a traditional halfback steering the ship, while Maloney was allowed a little more freedom to play some attacking football. With likely two games left to play and Maloney set for a UK mission, it's a problem Ivan Cleary won't have for much longer.

- Tim Williams

BRONCOS v RABBITOHS

Like: South Sydney's spine. How good are the Rabbitohs to watch when their playmakers are firing on all cylinders? The Rabbitohs have been bumbling along for months but their epic defeat of the Broncos may have kickstarted a title charge. Spinal trio Damien Cook, Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker all produced sublime touches. Cook's display was one of the greatest solo efforts of the season. His speed destroyed Brisbane around the rucks and in racking up 47 tackles, he produced two heroic trysavers on Kotoni Staggs and Corey Oates. Souths need Sam Burgess back to give them a forward enforcer but the six, seven and nine have roared back into form at the perfect time.

 

Cody Walker was in great touch for the Rabbitohs. Picture: AAP
Cody Walker was in great touch for the Rabbitohs. Picture: AAP

 

Dislike: Anthony Milford has to go back to five-eighth for the Broncos. While Darius Boyd has been defensively solid in the No. 6 jumper, he lacks the speed and game-breaking impact of Milford. In the past two weeks at fullback, Milford has run for just 59 and 72 metres. The great fullbacks like James Tedesco and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck regularly rack-up 200 metres. If Brisbane are going to use slower halfbacks like Sean O'Sullivan and Jake Turpin, they need Milford's zip to complement them. Such is Milford's natural talent, he can do well at fullback, but for the Broncos to have any hope in the finals, they need 'Milf's' magic in the frontline.

- Peter Badel

SHARKS v WARRIORS

Like: Moving on from Shaun Johnson is one of the most significant decisions in Warriors' history and given the respective trajectory of Cronulla and New Zealand the Sharks have come out the winners. Johnson can't be a messiah anymore but he's still in the top tier of halfbacks across the league and when he's on his game the Sharks are a finely tuned attacking machine. Given the dog's breakfast of halves the Warriors have going on this year (Blake Green has looked his age, Kodi Nikorima came in on big money but Chanel Harris-Tavita's emergence has relegated him to the role of interchange utility) the New Zealander's

loss is the Shire's gain.

 

Shaun Johnson is still in the top tier of NRL halfbacks. Picture: Getty Images
Shaun Johnson is still in the top tier of NRL halfbacks. Picture: Getty Images

 

Dislike: Cameron George's comments in the lead up to the match were totally unprofessional and unbecoming of someone in his position. Such comments are a good representation of why the Warriors are steeped in a bottomless pit of mediocrity and trapped in a constant cycle of failure and under achievement.

- Nick Campton

TIGERS v KNIGHTS

Like: The shock decision to start Benji Marshall at hooker. The Tigers No. 9 stocks are severely depleted following the injuries to Robbie Farah and Jacob Liddle. Josh Reynolds was originally named to start at hooker but the Tigers pulled a late switch which meant Marshall would attack from dummy half. His game was aided by some strong go forward and flimsy ruck defence but Marshall took full advantage of the space. He returned to five-eighth after 31 minutes and finished the game with four try assists.

 

Benji Marshall starred for Wests Tigers. Picture: AAP
Benji Marshall starred for Wests Tigers. Picture: AAP

 

Dislike: The effort of Newcastle. Quite simply they gave up. For whatever reason they are no longer playing for coach Nathan Brown which is why he pulled the trigger on his own coaching career. They had everything to play for on Saturday night - a semi-final spot was on the line. But they meekly surrendered any hope of that with ill discipline, a lack of commitment and without any care. Brown deserved better than what his players dished up in a totally embarrassing performance.

- Michael Carayannis

DRAGONS v ROOSTERS

 

Cooper Cronk was superb for the Roosters. Picture: AAP
Cooper Cronk was superb for the Roosters. Picture: AAP

 

Like: Cooper Cronk. The Sydney Roosters maestro was at his brilliant best with three try assists, including a magnificent cross-field kick to put winger Daniel Tupou over in the corner. The footy Trent Robinson's side played in the first half was as good as rugby league gets and Cronk was front and centre of everything. As if the play-making performance wasn't enough, Cronk stepped in as the frontline goalkicker in the absence of the injured Latrell Mitchell. Despite having just one goal to his name from 2008, Cronk slotted four from four, including a sideline conversion in his first kick of the night - freak.

 

Dislikes: The Dragons' effort in the first half was appalling. Sure, they were up against a red-hot Roosters side, but Paul McGregor's team wanted nothing to do with the visitors from the outset and copped a chorus of boos as they left the field for half-time trailing 28-0. While the Dragons stemmed the flow after the break, the let up in scoring in the second half had more to do with the Roosters taking their foot off the throat than anything else. The one positive for the Dragons was the debut of Tristan Sailor who looked very sharp and never stopped trying all night.

- Russell Jackson

STORM v TITANS

Like: The most improbably try-saving tackle of the year. Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook's superb stop on Corey Oates was more important, but "The Fox" Josh Addo-Carr being run down in a 90m foot race to the tryline was remarkable. When the Storm flyer gets in the clear the race is already over - but somebody forgot to tell Phillip Sami. Coming from the opposite side of the field Sami showed astonishing speed to reel in the man regarded as the NRL's fastest player and then chop him down just metres from the line, forcing the ball loose in the process. As the aptly named commentator Brenton Speed said: "No one catches the Fox - do they?"

 

Josh Addo-Carr is stopped from scoring by Phillip Sami. Picture: Getty Images
Josh Addo-Carr is stopped from scoring by Phillip Sami. Picture: Getty Images

 

Dislike: In his first game back since Round 9, Curtis Scott could be set for more time on the sideline after the Storm centre was placed on report for a crusher tackle on Sami. Coach Craig Bellamy didn't appear overly concerned after the match, declaring "sometimes they're just accidents". But with Will Chambers already sidelined by an ankle injury, a suspension for Scott would be less than ideal for Melbourne.

- Dominic Burke

SEA EAGLES

Like: It's been written and said many times this year, but what Des Hasler has done with this Manly team is quite remarkable. The measure of a good coach is what he can get out of players and the Sea Eagles have made the most of their talent this season. In this win Manly had to dig deep given their injury toll and players like Jack Gosiewski, Corey Waddell and Morgan Boyle had to rise the occasion - and rise they did. A grand final might be beyond Manly this year, but with one or two key additions they can be one of the premiership's heavyweights.

 

Manly’s stunning season continues. Picture: AAP
Manly’s stunning season continues. Picture: AAP

 

Dislike: Joey Leilua's costly moment of madness. With Canberra in control, the match turned after an eight-point try to Reuben Garrick which came courtesy of Leilua dropping his knees into the Manly winger's back after he scored. From 10-4 down the Sea Eagles took a 12-10 lead. Coach Ricky Stuart had no complaints after the match and revealed he had spoken to his centre about the incident. "I think it's justified. I have spoken to BJ. I do think it was justified," Stuart said.

News Corp Australia


School teacher busted for high-range drink-driving

premium_icon School teacher busted for high-range drink-driving

A GLADSTONE school teacher was told he had “let his students down” when he fronted...

REVEALED: Schools with fastest growth

premium_icon REVEALED: Schools with fastest growth

An analysis of federal government data has revealed the Gladstone region schools...

Heartbreaking search for son's 'best mate' after fatal crash

premium_icon Heartbreaking search for son's 'best mate' after fatal crash

Desperate search in bushland for missing passenger