A decision to send Eels half Chris Sandow to the sin bin proved crucial as the Storm piled on the points during his absence. Credit: Ian Knight. Copyright: NRL Photos.
Does punishment fit the crime?
It is clear after two games on Sunday were affected by sin-binnings of players for inopportune use of language towards match officials that two things need to happen: Players need to show more respect to the men in the middle and that a stint in the sin bin must be reduced from 10 to five minutes. The Eels, having clawed their way back from 18-0 to trail 24-16 midway through the second half, were reduced to 12 men when Chris Sandow was sent to the naughty corner for suggesting the Storm had provided financial compensation for preferential treatment from referee Ben Cummins.
Notwithstanding Sandow's cheeky nature, the comments are not far removed from those which saw Gorden Tallis famously sent from the field in Game One of the 2000 State of Origin Series and in the 10 minutes Sandow was missing the Storm cantered away with three unanswered tries.
On the Gold Coast Nate Myles' sin-binning for dropping the f-bomb didn't cost the Titans on the scoreboard as such but the physical toll of defending one man down meant they had little to offer in attack in the dying stages. I was highly critical of the lack of discipline instilled by referees Shayne Hayne and Ben Cummins in Origin II and it appears players think it is fair game in the NRL now, too. Ten minutes off the field for what could be construed as a minor indiscretion is too harsh a penalty but players need to be reminded of the boundaries.
The referees are mic'd up, we hear almost everything that is said; put the players on report with a Grade 1 offence for dissent and if they become repeat offenders their teams can go a whole game without their services.
Sharks circling their own
With the weight of the rugby league world apparently loaded onto their shoulders in the wake of the ASADA investigation into the use of drugs in sport, it was nothing short of a minor miracle that the Sharks went within two wins of playing in the Grand Final last year. But 12 months on and with the full ramifications of ASADA's investigation still to be handed down it is clear that Cronulla are coming apart at the seams.
I don't believe captain Paul Gallen meant in any way to question the coaching integrity of Peter Sharp in comments made at the weekend but merely echo Sharp's own sentiments that he is merely filling in until Shane Flanagan is reinstated. The news that 34 Essendon AFL players had been issued with show-cause notices by ASADA will have sent shockwaves through an already fragile Sharks playing group and with just two wins so far in 2014 only their two byes are keeping them from the wooden spoon position.
While trading Michael Lichaa for Michael Ennis may seem a strange exchange for the next two seasons, Gallen must be counting down the days until the current Bulldogs skipper becomes a Shark to share the load.
Titans throw out welcome mat
Encased in the away team dressing sheds of Cbus Super Stadium as his team conducted their warm-up, St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor got the shock of his young coaching life when he was welcomed to the coach's box by a sea of red and white in the Eastern Stand making up a large proportion of the 12,189 in attendance.
We didn't conduct any polling to determine whether residents of Kogarah and the 'Gong had been lured to the glitter strip by the combination of warm winter weather, the nearby Broadbeach Country Music Festival and watching their boys do their thing but a strong away presence is not a new phenomenon for the Titans. It appears residents of the Gold Coast support the Titans except when their actual favourite team comes to town, with the Dragons, Warriors and Rabbitohs the greatest drawcards.
Being in the midst of a six-game losing streak is enough encouragement for most fans to switch allegiances for a day and until the Titans can win over the next generation of fans with sustained periods of success it's a trend that seems set to continue. With six losses from eight home games in 2014 to date the Titans now boast a winning record at Robina of just 53 per cent while in their debut season at Carrara in 2007 they won seven from 10 home games.
Fans – and players – suffer Origin hangover
Just like for the players, it was a late night for fans last Wednesday night, what with the delayed kick-off and compulsion to see the emotion of victory and defeat flowing from the respective camps but backing up for weekend NRL footy seemed tougher than it normally does.
I stayed tuned in to the Bulldogs-Raiders game on Friday night mainly to see whether Ricky Stuart would bother to use his No.1 strike weapon Anthony Milford at all; the Warriors game against the Broncos was entertaining in the way most Warriors games are; but when Manly led a hapless Cronulla 16-0 with 15 minutes to go, I put my hand up to the sideboard and reached for the remote. If I'd found no better alternative I would have gone back to see whether Tinirau Arona could earn me any NRL Fantasy points but when I stumbled across 'Robocroc' on the "Syfy" channel in my whip around the grounds, I left the events at Remondis Stadium for the evening. Yes it was a horrible movie and I lasted only long enough to see Robocroc snare a couple of victims but, at that moment, it seemed the better alternative.
No worries down the track for Storm
It goes without saying Melbourne's holy trinity of Cam Smith, Billy Slater and the injured Cooper Cronk will wind up their careers as three of the modern day greats, but with Slater and Smith 'celebrating' their 31st birthdays on the same day that Queensland's eight-year run came to an end, and Cronk only nine months younger, the mind does wander to what will happen when these three finally ride off into the sunset.
Australian cricket has been left floundering twice in the space of 30 years or so, when a trio of greats – Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh in 1984, and Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer in 2007 – have bowed out of the game at the same time, and as one of the shrewdest operators around you can bet Craig Bellamy will have made a note of it.
While Bellamy himself has indicated he will hang up his coaching whistle at the end of 2016, judging by the contract lengths of his three superstars, moves have been made to ensure their gradual departure does not leave his successor carrying the mother-of-all cans. Assuming each will retire when their current deals expire, Slater, whose dodgy knees make him increasingly susceptible to injury, will be the first to wind up at the end of 2015 at 32, followed by Cronk a year later at 33, while Smith, the most important of the three as the Storm's skipper, will be guiding the next generation until the end of 2018, provided his body is still holding up by then at the ripe old age of 35. The form of all three this year, with Slater back at his mercurial best in Sunday's demolition of the Eels and Smith again a tower of strength in backing up after Origin, suggests retirement is the furthest thing from their minds at the moment, and that playing beyond these dates is a distinct possibility for both Slater and Cronk. But when they do eventually call it a day, the Storm's succession planning – think Kurt Mann, Ben Hampton and Cameron Munster – means their retirement won't necessarily mean curtains for the club's success. – Dan Walsh