Monday Morning Halfback: Round 24
Injuries strike hard on the eve of the finals, Tuivasa-Sheck running into the record books, the women's game grows at unprecedented levels and what should be the NRL try of the year?
Battle of the fittest
Just when you think you have a firm handle on the NRL Telstra Premiership, it serves up a wicked bounce to keep you guessing and throws the fate of the Provan Summons trophy wide open. Only time will tell how a spate of injuries will affect the destiny of the 2015 season.
Medical teams will be working overtime on the eve of the finals with a number of high profile casualties coming out of Round 24.
Three premiership heavyweights were all hit hard with Roosters Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Mitchell Pearce, Cowboys James Tamou and Michael Morgan and Rabbitoh Greg Inglis all leaving the field early.
Influential Roosters duo Waerea-Hargreaves and Pearce were both injured during their side's tense 12-10 win in the top-of-the-table battle with Brisbane.
Waerea-Hargreaves has been arguably the form forward of the competition in a bruising past month, but suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the 12th minute and was followed shortly after by Pearce, who strained a hamstring diving to retrieve a pass out in front of him in an attempt to score a try.
It is believed Pearce will be back in time for the finals, but coach Trent Robinson refused the insurance of an excuse, reminding us all that history doesn't remember which players were unavailable when recording who won the premiership.
"We've got to do our bit for Jared, but you just move on. We're at a point in the season, everyone has these, we've just got to make sure there's no excuses," Robinson said.
"No one makes excuses within a season, no one looks back in years gone past and says someone was out, you just move on. We've got to get ready and prepare for Manly next week and the back end of the season."
The Cowboys were hit with their own injury concerns in a typically entertaining 50-16 encounter in New Zealand. Prop James Tamou suffered a neck injury and was taken to hospital in Auckland as a precaution, while in-form five-eighth Michael Morgan went down with an ankle sprain just before the half hour mark. It remains to be seen if the important cogs will return for North Queensland this year. It would be a bitter blow to their premiership credentials to lose either player for the season.
South Sydney's leader Greg Inglis also left the field early in his side's loss to the Bulldogs favouring a troublesome right knee. But the Rabbitohs are hopeful their inspirational fullback will be right to play a crucial Thursday night game against the Broncos.
Manly were dealt a double blow during their shock loss to Parramatta at Brookvale Oval, not only did their chance of making the finals virtually slip through their hands, they also lost rake Matt Ballin to a season-ending ACL. Manly now have to beat the Roosters and Sharks without their dummy-half and hope results go their way. It's a tall ask.
Meanwhile in the totally bizarre moment of the weekend, Titans' Greg Bird injured himself during the kick-off against the Raiders on Sunday and lasted only three minutes. It hasn't been a good year for Bird and the Gold Coast outfit.
With just two weeks left before the NRL finals begin, there will be a lot of nervous players, coaches, medical staff and fans. There is still plenty of football to be played to crown the winner. And plenty of work to get players back on to the park.
Rampaging Roger's ridiculous running
Fleet-footed Roosters custodian Roger Tuivasa-Sheck ran for a highly improbable 331 metres without the aid of a single line break on Saturday night, taking his absurd season tally to 5,270 metres at the superhuman average of 239.5 per game.
To put it in perspective, coming into the round he was 1.5 kilometres ahead of the season's next best, Storm prop Jesse Bromwich (3,391 metres at 161 per game). A better comparison may be the next-best fullback, Josh Dugan, whose 18 games prior to Round 24 yielded 3,289 metres at 183 per game – still more than 50 metres per week below Tuivasa-Sheck.
Women's game grows
Female participation in rugby league has increased 26% in a single year. The introduction of touch football and tag competitions has increased the pathways for women to get involved, while many are also adopting the tackle version of the game after the recent success of the Jillaroos and more exposure of the women's game in mainstream media. Let's hope the numbers continue to increase.
Try of the year?
With the end of the season looming, NRL.com undertook an exercise to create a shortlist for try of the year. To date there has been 175 games and 1,231 tries scored in the 2015 NRL Telstra Premiership season. Haven't there been some amazing four-pointers scored! From the individual brilliance, to the gravity defying, to the old fashioned hail marry team try, this season has thrown it all at us. Your correspondent has narrowed the contenders down to a 'short' list of 20 tries. In the coming weeks we'll name our best 10 tries of the year. Needless to say, the tries left out may cause some debate, but that is the beauty of the exercise. What has been your favourite?
Shot clock – how long is too long?
For the second time over the course of Round 24 the shot clock was put into effect for the Holden Cup clash between the Titans and Raiders and it was clear that the 35 seconds being trialled may be too generous. Teams were given 35 seconds to complete a scrum or take a line drop-out during the Titans' big 40-12 upset win over the sixth-placed Raiders but rarely did the clock get anywhere near its expiration. Most scrums were set and completed with 15 seconds still to run and no penalties were issued for teams failing to pack in time, only once in the second half did the clock sneak under the 10 second mark. Perhaps a nice round 30 second allowance will be the magic number when it is introduced in the NRL proper next season. But we could possibly do it in 25. Let's keep the game rolling!
Pomeroy's dangerous tackle
Ben Pomeroy was shown a red card in his first game back from suspension in the English Super League for a tackle that was similar to one you'll see at WWE SumerSlam on Monday from Brock Lesnar. It was more German Superplex than rugby league tackle as Pomeroy grabbed Ashley Gibson and threw him over his head backwards.
Pomeroy had only just returned to the team after a one-match ban for a reckless strike on St Helens centre Josh Jones.