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Monday Smelling Salts Round 21

Monday Smelling Salts Round 21
Round 21 featured a number of contentious grounding calls by the match officials. Credit: Col Whelan. Copyright: NRL Photos.
Hayne's form makes Dally M race interesting

For the second week running, Parramatta fullback Jarryd Hayne was in vintage 2009 form, proving the difference as his side earned a brace of vital away wins, earning man-of-the-match awards in consecutive games at the Gold Coast and Cronulla.

What he's almost certainly also done is racked up six Dally M points in those two weeks – a fortnight in which two other players who were at the pointy end of the Dally M tally when counting went behind closed doors after 16 rounds accrued zero points between them.

Broncos halfback Ben Hunt is having an outstanding season but, like his club overall, has had an extremely mediocre past fortnight. South Sydney's British rugby-bound forward Sam Burgess has somehow reached even greater heights in his last season (at least for a while) in the NRL but has been troubled by a shoulder injury of late, resulting in a quiet game against Canberra in Round 20 and a withdrawal from the match against the Knights in Cairns in Round 21.

Probably the other significant mover over the same period is Cowboys and Queensland playmaker Johnathan Thurston, who has been instrumental in his side's wins over the Bulldogs and Titans.

When voting went behind closed doors after 16 rounds, Hunt and Thurston (19) held a slender one-point lead over Hayne, Burgess and Dragons pivot Gareth Widdop (all 18), and Widdop is another player who has almost certainly polled recently, with a likely three points in his man-of-the-match effort against Wests Tigers in Round 20.

One factor playing into the hands of Hayne and Thurston is that they are such dominant players within their side that if their team wins, they are close to certain to poll well, and Thurston possibly has a head start on Hayne. However Burgess, in particular, is the type of player who can poll a point or two even if his side loses, such is his work rate. His claims will depend on him getting back on the park sooner rather than later.

But at the risk of labouring an already well-worn and possibly obvious point: Hayne's current form does have a touch of 2009 about it. Back then he went close to polling all three points in the seven consecutive games Parramatta won towards the end of the season as he made a late charge to the medal. With that still in our minds we've got to conservatively suggest the Eels custodian, if he can maintain what he's producing week to week right now, could well be looking at his second Dally M medal.

Chris Kennedy

Do we need a better grounding on tries?

If we can't decide what constitutes the fair grounding of the Steeden in the in-goal is it time to examine exactly how we define what constitutes a try in the modern game?

Starting with Tim Lafai's 'no try' ruling against the Panthers on Friday night, weekend discussion seemed to be dominated by what referees and video referees are actually looking for when awarding a try. A 'no try' ruling on Johnathan Thurston on Saturday night was over-ruled despite any clear evidence of the ball touching the grass, Thomas Burgess was the beneficiary of an error by referee Adam Devcich after he awarded a try with no consultation with the video referees and then a 'no try' ruling on Knights hooker Adam Clydsdale was overturned upon review as his control of the football consisted of holding it against the boot of a South Sydney player.

"It will always be a problem, it's not straightforward," said Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett after his side's 50-10 loss. "If you see enough of them you kind of get yourself confused about what is a try and what isn't a try sometimes. I'm sitting beside guys and they're thinking it's a try and I'm thinking sometimes that it's not a try. The system's not perfect, it never will be and we're just going to have to live with it."

Surely if the greatest coach in our game's history is questioning what constitutes a try we need to start looking at the problem from a different angle.

Tony Webeck

Johnston on fast track to fame

How fast is Alex Johnston? The fastest of the modern finishers at least, that's how fast. Johnston's hat-trick against the Knights pushed his flying start in the top grade into warp speed, and has now netted the 19-year-old 14 tries in his first 10 games.

Brought to our attention by Nick Campton, aka Twitter's Random Footy Facts, this trumps the efforts of Israel Folau and Billy Slater (10 four-pointers in their first 10 games), Semi Radradra (11) and even Jarryd Hayne's 13 meat pies back when he first took the NRL by storm in 2007, and unfortunately our records don't allow for a comparison with the greats of yesteryear; Ken Irvine, Harold Horder, Brian Bevan and the like.

Oh and as for that bloke who played an older version of Johnston in a commercial a few years back, Inglis is it? Not even on the radar with five from his first 10 NRL games, and at the rate Johnston's motoring, he could be making a start on GI's unprecedented eight tries in his first 10 Origin games in the next year or two.

Dan Walsh

Rabbitohs take it to the people

There is a commercial agreement for South Sydney to take home games to Cairns over a three-year period but more than simply take a game to North Queensland on Sunday, the Rabbitohs took the game to the people.

An hour after full-time there remained hundreds of footy fans waiting out the back of the Barlow Park grandstand and each South Sydney player who made their way to the team bus painstakingly moved down the line of fans signing autographs and having their photos taken with local footy fans who rarely get to see their heroes up close.

But to us, the act of engagement that we would like to see all 16 NRL clubs adopt every weekend was having Nathan Merritt and Beau Champion available to meet fans and sign autographs on the hill for an hour in between the two games on Sunday. That's the greatest try-scorer in the history of the Rabbitohs on the hill in Cairns signing autographs.

We see no reason why both teams at every NRL game each weekend can't set up a table at either end of the stadium in between the under-20s and first grade and make two injured or suspended players available to sign posters and meet fans. If we truly want to make the game-day experience memorable, we have to send our young fans away excited at the prospect of going again next week. Not only would it enable parents to get the kids out of their seat for 30 minutes but if you send them home with a team poster signed by two of their heroes, we guarantee they'll be telling their friends about it at school on Monday.

Fan engagement is critical to growing crowd numbers and the Rabbitohs showed how simple it is to give fans a moment they will never forget.

Tony Webeck

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