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Drama shifts back to the field

Newcastle prop Robbie Rochow carried the football 124 metres in a whole-hearted 80-minute display after being pitched into Wayne Bennett’s starting side in Monday Night Football.

But after starring with 30 tackles in the 34-6 win over North Queensland at Hunter Stadium, the 22-year-old from Maitland was faced with an altogether more unusual challenge.

With his right hand too injured to use to put on a set of headphones – I had to do it for him as Triple M’s NRL sideline eye – the 189-centimetre giant was faced with a bizarre question from the legend after whom a nearby grandstand was named.

“Robbie, full disclosure: I came in here tonight, I looked at the team sheets, I saw your name and I thought ‘you were in my dream last night’,” Andrew Johns told Rochow down the line.

“I’ve not many brain cells left; I can’t remember what we were getting up to – but I guarantee it would be fun!
“I think we might have been in Kurri somewhere.”

Rochow looked stunned. “I’m not sure if I’m creeped out or happy,” he said.

It was an off-the-wall end to a round in which rugby league regained its controversy mojo. Last night, it’s fair to say Cowboys coach Neil Henry was left with plenty to dream about. Let’s call them nightmares.

Since making a positive start to the campaign just down the road in Gosford, against Canterbury, North Queensland have conceded 66 points against Melbourne and Newcastle.

“It’s been a long couple of weeks,” Henry said. “Last week our attack at least sparked up... tonight we didn’t even look like rolling up the field.”

Asked for a possible reason for the slump since their victory at Bluetongue Stadium, he said: “I don’t know... the old ‘believe your own’ [publicity]? The press has been saying what a strong squad we have, but you’ve got to work every week.”

While the first fortnight of the season may have been played in the shadows – somewhat – of the ASADA investigation into drugs in sport, rugby league’s capacity to create drama without outside assistance was well showcased at the weekend.

There was Billy Slater’s boot collecting Bulldogs David Klemmer and Cooper Cronk’s disallowed try on Thursday; Parramatta’s spectacular implosion early in their match on Friday; Richie Fa’aoso’s hit on 250-gamer Ashley Harrison on Saturday; and a disallowed try to Brett Morris on Sunday.

Add to that the varying degrees of expectation which St George Illawarra, the Warriors and Brisbane are so far failing to live up to, and the sport itself is competing well with outside influences when it comes to newspaper and online column inches.

Clubs like South Sydney, Newcastle and – despite the distractions – Cronulla seem to be finally realising the potential they’ve had for a couple of seasons.

But for Robbie Rochow, speaking on air to a rugby league icon whose subconscious he had unwillingly invaded, the primary sentiment was one of confusion.

When I reported that the front-rower had started to sweat all over again in the middle of the field, Johns replied: “Funnily enough, you were sweating in the dream too.”
Truly bizarre. 

BEST OF ROUND 3: Melbourne overcoming some tough calls to win the grand final rematch on Thursday.

WORST OF ROUND 3: Ashley Harrison being carted off on a stretcher after clashing heads with Richie Fa’aoso in a shoulder charge gone wrong.

WEIRDEST OF ROUND 3: Newcastle conceding a try in the Holden Cup when one of their own players scooped the ball back into the in-goal as it was about to go dead.

CLEVEREST OF ROUND 3: HG Nelson’s appearance on the cult ‘Fire Up!’ radio program on Friday. He said that for Easter we should use just one upright and crossbar.

WHAT I SAW: Canterbury trainer Tony Grimaldi ‘sent off’ by referee Ben Cummins on Thursday. He was replaced by assistant coach Jim Dymock only after the former Test star’s qualifications to do the job were checked.

QUOTE OF ROUND 2: “You won’t quell my optimism” – Warriors coach Matthew Elliott.

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