Monday Morning Halfback: Round 11
The State of Origin standalone debate heats up, rugby league showcases its best and worst, the Cowboys break a club record and the Wests Tigers look to re-invent themselves after premiership hangover reaches a decade.
Sweet and Sour
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"
Charles Dickens may have been writing about the French revolution in his novel A Tale of Two Cities but he may as well have been referring to the football we saw at the weekend heading into State of Origin I.
The Wests Tigers clash with the Cowboys on Saturday night was a low-scoring, dour affair with high-profile players missing from both sides taking out much of the spectacle of the contest. For 77 minutes, Ethan Lowe's penalty goal threatened to be the match winning play, until a late try off a Wests Tigers error finally troubled the scoreboard attendants at Campbelltown Stadium.
One day later in Canberra, Channel Nine commentator Phil Gould declared the Bulldogs 41-34 win over the Raiders as "the craziest game of rugby league I've ever seen".
It was high energy, high action, high drama.
The two games were polar opposites.
Cowboys set record streak
North Queensland broke a club record when they defeated the Wests Tigers, stretching their highest winning streak to eight. They have accounted for the Storm, Panthers, Warriors, Rabbitohs, Knights, Bulldogs, Broncos and Wests Tigers in a series of wins stretching back to Round 4.
Last week's column talked about sliding door moments for a season, how everything has changed since Johnathan Thurston's heroics against Melbourne in a game that was all but done and dusted. The Cowboys were staring down the barrel of 0-4 and their critics were already writing off their season.
Since those frantic few minutes, they haven't looked back. They have now learned an important lesson, how to win ugly and that could be the final piece of the jigsaw as they make their tilt at a maiden premiership.
"We were confident that we'd play well as a team, we had expectations that everyone that come into the team just had to do their job and I thought they did that. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't expansive but we turned up for each other," Cowboys coach Paul Green said of his side's tough win over the Tigers.
Premiership celebration a hangover for Taylor
It wasn't pretty, but coach Jason Taylor revealed a lot when he said the Wests Tigers had been playing pretty for a decade since their last Premiership win and it hasn't worked. On a night the club celebrated their historic Grand Final win, Taylor believes the losing performance was a step in the right direction for the club to move into a new era.
"That's been the motto at Wests Tigers for a long time, they're the facts," Taylor said.
"But it hasn't worked since 2005 and we're about changing that. We are heading down the path of changing and regardless of the team we played, we conceded one try and our defence was probably the best it's been all season.
"We have some challenges ahead for us, we have to be head down, bum up and working really hard, but it's not as bad as it looks is my message to our boys. We made some improvements, we have a simple goal this season and we did well in regards to that goal. Albeit the result in the end wasn't good enough."
Sticky's thought of Origin
Ricky Stuart had a novel answer to the Origin debate during his post match press conference. Pushed by veteran scribe Steve Mascord on the dramatic difference between the two games and how it may have been a result of the Origin players missing, Stuart was very matter of fact.
"We haven't got Origin players," he said.
"Everyone thinks it is unfair that they are losing Origin players and playing against us, well we haven't got any! So it's equal."
The fact Canberra are in the top eight without any Origin players shows just how well they are playing at the moment and what a tremendous job Stuart is doing in the nation's capital.
Is standalone Origin the answer?
The question of standalone Origin is as regular as clockwork this time every year. But the genuine consensus is that there must be a better solution to the current system. The NRL will not rush into a change - nor should it - without first considering all the ramifications of what it would mean for all levels of the game.
Newton's third law, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, cause and effect.
From a Telstra Premiership standpoint, it is a no-brainer. Any solution that means clubs do not lose their players for extended periods of the competition will be a good thing for the credibility of the league.
However, there are many other factors that need to be considered before making the change.
From a State of Origin perspective, the most common model mooted - a standalone Saturday night game - would mean players come into camp on Monday and play on the following Saturday. That is only five days of preparation and media promotion heading into arguably rugby league's marquee event. Or roughly what would equate to just two full field sessions. Let alone all the promotional and great community work both teams do in their current eight day build.
By fixing the Telstra Premiership, the NRL will be conscious of any changes that may adversely affect the showcase and spectacle of Origin.