Monday Morning Halfback: Round 6

An old school battle between two forwards, the difficulties of kicking field goals, concerns about players staying down and why it is gut-check time for Manly fans.

Hargreaves v Thaiday: great spectacle, no need for punches

The ongoing battle between Sam Thaiday and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves on Friday night was compelling viewing. Despite some mundane calls to 'let them punch', the 80 minute contest was everything that is good about rugby league.

This was a battle of wills between two players trying to get the decisive edge over their opposite number and lead their side to victory. Thaiday would earn man-of-the-match honours for his troubles.

Rugby League is a tough game, you prove nothing by throwing punches. Thaiday and Hargreaves figuratively went toe-to-toe for 80 minutes, neither took a backward step. No quarter was asked or given. They played close to the line, but they never overstepped it. There is still a place for hard aggression and it left us wanting more. For the record, if you want to see them throw punches, watch boxing.

No field day

Last week's column mentioned how good Trent Hodkinson is at kicking clutch field goals. On Friday night we saw how tough it actually is and how easy the Bulldogs make it look. Former Bulldogs captain Andrew Ryan tweeted during the wrap-up of Friday night's epic that it is impossible to just ruck the ball one-out up the field and then expect your halfback to slot the field goal under pressure. By running one-out in the middle, the defence has time to charge, make good contact, control the speed of the play-the-ball and have time to pressure the kicker. Kicking field goals isn't as easy as it looks.

 

While there is risk in promoting the ball, it also does force the defence to move and thus open up more opportunities. Ben Hunt's play to take the game by the scruff of the neck and take on the defensive line was brilliant. It was a fitting end to an absorbing encounter.

Manly fans - hold fast

There can be no doubt that this is gut-check time for Sea Eagles fans. The Manly faithful have enjoyed an amazing run in recent seasons. The club has made the finals every year for a decade, has featured in 'the final four' five times in the last eight years and made four grand finals, winning two of them. It has truly been a golden era on the northern beaches. 

To put it in perspective, Melbourne are the only other club in the competition to feature five times in the preliminary finals in that time, and three of those have since been erased from the record books. The next best are the Rabbitohs and Roosters on three each. It has been a seemingly endless procession of greatness on the field, despite highly publicised off-field issues and squabbles. 

But now Manly fans are faced with real uncertainty for the first since the ill-fated Northern Eagles brought the club to its knees. Finals fooball is no longer a foregone conclusion. It is easy to be a fan when the team is winning, tougher when you start losing players (as all clubs do in the salary cap era) and tougher when a once great team is running stone motherless last. But, it is still only Round 6. 

Having already used up 25 players this season – they used just 28 all last year – coach Geoff Toovey said he couldn't remember the last time the club had endured such a horrific injury toll. Suggestions that the highly publicised defections of Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran have affected their on-field performances are as ludicrous as they are predictable. There is no doubt the team is trying, but with a horrific injury toll chewing up more of their salary cap than taking the field, it is little wonder they are struggling at the moment. 

Every club goes through tough times, but it will be interesting to see how the story develops and how the club and the fans respond in the cold winter months. If Manly can get their full compliment on the field, they can conceivably turn it all around. This is a proud football club, the players won't stop trying, the fans shouldn't either.

Enter the Dragon

If the Sea Eagles are looking for inspiration, they need look no further than 2010 Premiers St George Illawarra. Like Manly, the Dragons have undergone intense scrutiny and had their fair share of speculation circling about all aspects of the club. But the Red V has strung four wins together in a row, conceded only two tries in their last three games and moved into fourth position on the NRL ladder. It's been an amazing turnaround and deserves recognition. Well done.

Robinson's frustration laying low

Roosters coach Trent Robinson accepted his side's epic golden point loss to the Broncos on the chin, but  – not for the first time – raised concerns with the trend of players staying down in the hope of getting a match-defining penalty. 

He certainly made his feeling pretty clear.

"There's no qualms about the result from me. The sore point for me is I think there is an epidemic in our game about lying down," he said.

"The [Anthony] Milford one, that's the thing that gripes me more than anything. No one wants to write about it, no one wants to talk about it, but no one likes looking at it. It just shouldn't be in our game but it's creeping in more and more. That's the issue, I've got no problem with how that finished.

"No one likes it, that's not rugby league, it's not what we like and we shouldn't be taking our players there but no one wants to say anything about it.

"Back the refs. If they miss it, then they miss it; if it's that bad they'll get suspended anyway from it. The referees know that if it's high, it doesn't even have to be on report, they're going to penalise it. We talk about taking the video refs away, just take them away from that. That would be a good start. Just let it play. If it is that bad, they do get suspended."

Quote of the week:

“I was on standby for the game but when I saw them warm-up I thought I was alright so I started eating KFC and Chinese food,”  Dragons winger Peter Mata’utia said. 

Mata’utia was a very late call-up for the Dragons in their win over the Bulldogs and played in jersey 21 when Jason Nightingale was injured in the warm-up. He made 16 runs for 186 metres, grabbed a linebreak and a try. Not sure the nutritionist will recommend it as regular pre-game fuel but his performance was so good.