Monday Smelling Salts: Round 20
Sea Eagles and Warriors' rollicking finals prelude
Anyone else feel like September came about a month-and-a-half early on Sunday? That Warriors-Sea Eagles clash? Absolute corker, with more than a whiff of finals footy about it. Admittedly the execution was not quite where it's expected to be come business time, particularly from the butter-fingered Warriors, but with more back and forth than a Wimbledon five-setter and those Mt Smart tribal drums cranking the adrenalin glands into overdrive, this one just felt like something whipped up at the pointy end of the season. And tellingly after all the whacks, wallops, 40/20s, intercepts, superman-style touchdowns and goal-line defence more desperate than an over-40s singles mixer, after all of that, when the dust settled it was those September specialists Manly who came out on top. The boys from the peninsular are on track for a decade of consecutive finals appearances (of which only three of those have been made from the bottom half of the top eight), and in-fighting or no in-fighting, they’ll take one hell of a beating when the greatest month of the year does finally roll around.
– Dan Walsh
Titans being kicked to death
There are few teams in more need of an emergency SOS than the Gold Coast Titans but despite the precariousness of their situation, five-eighth Aidan Sezer will not be rushed back into the team for Saturday night's clash with the Cowboys. Once again last Saturday night the Titans' kicking game let them down badly against the Eels who were able to build pressure on the back of four goal-line dropouts while the Titans were unable to earn a single repeat set. Mid-season recruit Daniel Mortimer possesses an inadequate, one-dimensional kicking game and despite his best intentions there is a lack of polish on the kicks of makeshift five-eighth Brad Takairangi. The Titans are also without a genuine kicking option out of dummy-half and the stats from the past 10 weeks are indicative of why they are clinging on to finals aspirations despite such a strong start to the season. Up to the point where Sezer suffered his pectoral injury in Round 10, the Titans had forced the opposition into 15 goal-line dropouts while having to kick 16 of their own; 10 weeks later and opposition teams have earned an additional 16 repeat sets in Gold Coast territory while the Titans have managed just five. Goal-kicking percentage has also taken a hit with Sezer's strike-rate of 89 per cent dropping to a team percentage of 72 per cent in his absence. In the tightest competition in recent history, that's the difference between winning and losing.
– Tony Webeck
Rain, hail or boggy conditions
After his team secured an upset win, it was easy for Cronulla’s stand-in skipper Wade Graham to praise his former club Penrith for taking a game out to the central-western NSW town of Bathurst. The initiative to go bush has many wonderful positives for any club – not least the cash that goes into the coffers. However Panthers coach Ivan Cleary wasn’t afraid to suggest that the Carrington Park surface could do with a major upgrade, and while that might be true, the tense affair was an ideal advertisement to show that rugby league was truly a game played in all conditions.
– Matt Encarnacion
Refs' dead-ball clangers
The Roosters and their fans have every right to cry foul after the match officials in their clash with Newcastle blundered like Keystone Cops in failing to identify and enforce a basic rule which led to points being scored immediately by their opposition on Friday night. In the 58th minute a Roosters kick with too much weight on it bounded just past the dead-ball line – but before it landed on terra firma Knights fill-in fullback Sione Mata'utia rushed it dead, with his last footsteps in the field of play. That means he took the ball dead. As we've seen with some spectacular try-scoring feats in recent years - including Greg Inglis' gravity-defying bat-back for Mark Gasnier to score in the Centenary Test in 2008 – the Steeden isn't dead until it touches the turf – hence Mata'utia should have been ruled to have taken the pill dead and ordered to restart play with a line dropout. Clearly it was touch judge error. Crucially the Knights were able to march up-field from the incorrect 20-metre restart ruling and posted their first points with a try to Tyrone Roberts at the end of the set. Many fans and media at the ground as well as the Channel Nine commentary team recognised the blunder, yet none of the match officials picked it up. An even more clear-cut blunder emerged in the Dragons’ win over Wests Tigers on Sunday, and at a crucial juncture in proceedings. With the Dragons finally having opened the scoring after 20 minutes, a characteristically massive Pat Richards restart soared towards the Red V’s dead-ball line. Realising the ball was close to going dead on the full, Dragons half Benji Marshall put his back leg out and fielded the ball. Problem was, his back leg was still in the air, and didn’t hit the dead zone until after the ball was well within his grasp. It was pretty clear to the assembled reporters up in the media box more than 70 metres away that a goal-line drop out was the logical ruling. It got past the officials as the Dragons raced upfield, despite replays on the big screen highlighting the error. When Josh Dugan’s quick tap was called back because the side had passed – rather than run – the ball upfield, it gave the officials even more time to correct the call. But with the players milling round and the big screen still highlighting the mistake, the Dragons smartly took a quick kick for touch and got on with the job. Besieged Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter called it a “100 metre mistake”, noting that a different call there could have changed the whole complexion of the match. Exasperated Tigers captain Robbie Farah wondered why the video referee was not able to intervene despite the lengthy delay between the erroneous call and eventual restart, and we're inclined to wonder the same thing.
– Nigel Wall & Chris Kennedy