Our talking points from Round 13, which heralded the halfway point in the 2014 season, and what to look forward to this weekend.
Things pan out for Farah... eventually
Just like that, with a backflip from a kid momentarily stunned by dollar signs, the next Wests Tigers premiership window has appeared.
Outside of diehard Tigers fans, there was little to like about the James Tedesco situation. Once again the Canberra Raiders have been left as broken-hearted as Dave Taylor at a salad bar, and the latest round of calls to scrap the Round 13 contract rule have justifiably emerged.
Even Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah admitted the only party to have handled the situation properly was Canberra. Nice guys finish last, and all that. The one upside was that Tedesco stayed loyal to his teammates despite a massive offer elsewhere... sort of, eventually.
Underneath the initial discomfort, Farah is utterly elated. When committing the final years of his career to the Tigers, the gun hooker was dreaming of winning another premiership, replacing 2005’s Brett Hodgson, Benji Marshall and Scott Prince with a brilliant young spine of Tedesco, Mitchell Moses and Luke Brooks.
Farah was amid two seasons of pain when he signed on with the Tigers for another four years, with an 11th-placed finish in 2011 and a dismal 15th in 2012. But he knew full well what was coming, and the signs are becoming clear this season.
Brooks is the best young halfback in the game, destined to play at the highest level. Moses isn’t far behind in terms of pure talent, with the club bringing him along slowly in NSW Cup – where he is carving up, as he did in under-20s State of Origin this year.
Tedesco is the second-best young fullback in the game, shaded in a photo finish by the man he was supposed to replace at Canberra, the utterly exceptional Anthony Milford.
Farah himself is the second-best hooker in the game behind Cameron Smith, the rugby league equivalent of trailing Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan or Phil “The Power” Taylor.
Add to that Aaron Woods, the best young prop in the game, plus other highly exciting youngsters like Curtis Sironen, Tim Simona, David Nofoaluma, James Gavet and Nathan Brown. Next, a few quality veterans like Adam Blair, Keith Galloway and Pat Richards.
There’s a huge argument to be mounted for the Tigers going all the way in 2015 and beyond. They could provide massive nuisance value this season.
While Tedesco denied the Raiders to stay with his mates, he also surely knew he was a much greater chance of winning a comp with the Tigers rather than the unlucky Green Machine. Money talks, but so do premiership rings.
What a difference 10 kilometres makes
ANZ Stadium at Homebush is situated just a 10.2-kilometre drive east of Parramatta Stadium up the M4, according to Google Maps. You could walk it in around two hours, or drive it in much less than that (provided you weren’t attempting to do so anywhere close to peak hour, in which case it might take you even longer). Yet at the latter venue the enigmatic Eels are on an eight-game winning streak, while at the former, they have lost their past FOURTEEN straight, predominantly against the Bulldogs and Rabbitohs, plus a loss apiece against the Dragons and Wests Tigers.
It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is about the short shift away from their home patch to the 83,500-seat venue that strips them of their mojo but the 2014 surprise packets have turned that 10km road trip into their toughest journey in the NRL.
Their last win at the venue was against this Sunday’s opponents, the Bulldogs, back in July 2010. With those 14 straight losses at the venue, and famously just four wins from their past 27 starts without NSW Origin fullback Jarryd Hayne (who will be on representative duty this Sunday) the Eels could be beaten before they get on the team bus. Luckily for them the Bulldogs will also be handicapped, having both first-choice halves in Origin camp.
Ludicrous call of the week
Hands down it goes to Bulldogs skipper Michael Ennis, who in the moments after big Sam Kasiano was penalised for attacking the legs of Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans (who left the field and never returned), approached referee Gerard Sutton and accused: "It's [penalties are] all going one way - and you know it!" Ref Sutton countered with: "Michael, you can question my decision but not my integrity."
Surely Ennis would have been better served having a dig at his prop for such a blatant indiscretion?
While Kasiano could find himself in hot water with the NRL match review committee, we wonder whether Ennis may need to do some explaining also.
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McLean returns to the footy field
It didn’t grab too many headlines but young Melbourne Storm forward Jordan McLean played his first game in 10 weeks, since that tackle on Alex McKinnon went tragically wrong, turning out for Storm feeder team the Sharks in the VB NSW Cup, playing strongly and scoring a try.
Although no penalty could compare to the devastation McKinnon is enduring after the accident, it is unlikely any suspension could take as hefty a toll on McLean as the guilt and the public attention that have accompanied the incident. From all reports he’s a great young man and nobody wishes to see two careers ruined by one awful accident – let’s hope he can move past what happened and get back on the field for the Storm.
It’s somewhat disquieting when the best coaches in the game simply can’t do anything to help their teams. Craig Bellamy’s Storm are injury-ravaged, and his players are performing like they know they’re well up against it before they take the field. Wayne Bennett’s Knights look like a team that has forgotten how to win. Both coaches, undisputed masters of their craft, are fumbling for answers. The remainder of the season will be an intriguing test for their immense skills.
At the other end of the experience spectrum, the New Coach Effect kicked in for Dragons caretaker Paul McGregor over the weekend, while Mick Potter is surely close to getting a new Tigers deal.
Not so Titans coach John Cartwright – things are starting to get a little tense on the Gold Coast after four consecutive losses and a skydive from the top of the table.
Ricky Stuart’s Raiders are up on Monday night against the Broncos – boy he could sure use a win.