Monday Morning Halfback: Round 4
Queensland derby as good as Origin
“This game is selling our game to the world,” Channel Nine commentator Phil Gould gushed during arguably the greatest grand final of all time.
The sequel to last year’s epic decider between the Cowboys and the Broncos was every bit as good and possibly even better.
Objectively, this was just another game of football worth a standard two competition points.
Subjectively, it was the greatest advertisement for the game administrators could possibly hope for. There is nothing like a live sporting event not only living up to, but surpassing the hype and entering bold new territory.
Forget State of Origin, this series of matches between the Broncos and the Cowboys is the best thing rugby league has going at the moment.
A natural rivalry, two squads at the top of their game, hard-nosed forwards with ball-playing ability on both sides and thrilling outside backs with blinding pace and skills, playing a brand of footy that meshes perfectly together.
It’s rugby league of the highest order and we’ll be talking about this rivalry for decades to come, it’s that good.
The 2015 grand final overshadowed an equally epic semi-final clash between the sides in the opening week of the finals. The latest instalment is the third game of this calibre they’ve played in a row. And we as footy fans are much better for it.
Johnathan Thurston versus Anthony Milford is worth the price of admission 10 times over on its own; a bona-field immortal in waiting in Thurston against Milford who has all the potential to take the mantle for the next 10 years into the future.
Milford was unlucky not to get the Clive Churchill Medal in the grand final, and he’s taken his game to another level – setting up tries and nailing a huge field goal to win the game for his side.
The rematch takes place in just seven weeks time in Round 11. Buy your tickets now!
Gold Coast show incredible heart
Three wins from four games and at the time of writing, equal first on the NRL ladder.
When Dally Cherry-Evans infamously back-flipped on a lucrative deal, then prodigious local halfback Kane Elgey went down in the first training session of 2016, it looked bad for the Titans.
When they lost their star centre James "Jimmy the Jet" Roberts due to a contract bungle, the writing wasn’t on the wall, because there didn’t look to be anything holding the Titans together.
What they have achieved in the first month is unbelievable courage under fire. There is a determination in their performances that has been deeply engrained into this club.
In Round 3 they trailed a red-hot Wests Tigers outfit by 10 points early, before coming over the top in impressive fashion to humble the more fancied opponents 30-18. Only a late brace of tries made the scoreline respectable for the Tigers.
Against the Raiders in Canberra they trailed 20-6 with under 15 minutes remaining and found a way to win. There is nothing flashy about the way they are playing, but they remain composed throughout the 80 minutes and are just competing for everything they get.
It’s a tough brand of footy and a tough way to get two competition points, but at the moment, they are working for each other and their hard work is getting results against teams expected to walk over them.
Their forwards led by Greg Bird and Ryan James off the bench are providing plenty of grunt work, and they manfully go about their business.
Off the back of what many have described as the off-season from hell, there is a lot to be proud about as a Gold Coast fan the way this team has started the season.
Next week it doesn’t get any easier against the Broncos, but you can guarantee they’ll be ready for the scrap.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall carrying the Roosters
It was his 200th NRL game and Shaun Kenny-Dowall has never been better. The Roosters winger grabbed two tries, made two line breaks, 11 tackle breaks, ran for 192 metres and looked threatening every time he touched the ball in a losing effort against Manly.
Last week, he was the lone resistance in a 40-0 rout in Townsville. In a hopelessly beaten team, SKD ran for 142 metres, made two line breaks and nine tackle breaks all by himself, trying to inspire his team into action.
Make no mistake, Kenny-Dowall is one of the form players of the competition. That’s an amazing feat when your team starts the season 0-4.
His coach lamented his side's ability to get the job done for Kenny-Dowall, especially considering how well he has started the season.
"He was doing everything to win, and he's been doing everything to win every single week for us," Robinson said.
"We've been playing off the back of Shaun a lot and he was desperate to get a win. He kept going and kept going and kept going and he created a lot of those opportunities for us but we couldn't do it. We acknowledged that after the game that it was disappointing not to get that win for Shaun."
His teammates were equally shattered to fall short on such a special night, with Roosters halfback Jackson Hastings describing the loss as "heartbreaking".
"He puts his soul into this club every single day and he's done that for 200 games now," Hastings said.
"He's not just a champion player, but he's a champion off the field. It's very disappointing that we couldn't win as a team, but not to win for 'Skidz' on such a big occasion is very disappointing."
Penalty goal debate rages on
There were 11 penalty goals kicked across the first five games of Round 4. Five in the aforementioned grand final rematch. It’s an interesting talking point at the moment.
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett was very vocal against what he perceived as negative tactics by defensive teams.
“We’ve got to have a better ruling than to keep giving penalties away,” Bennett said in the aftermath of the golden point win.
“We got four penalties inside that 20-metre zone, we want to play football, we don’t want to be taking two points to be honest. I think the game has to start to take a look at it, because certain teams are using that to give you two instead of six.”
There is nothing stopping the attacking team taking the tap and going for the six, but that chance to score is stifled by teams willing to give away penalties to slow momentum, limiting the try-scoring opportunities.
Broncos captain Corey Parker believed his team had no choice but to take the points gifted to them.
“We picked up 8 points from those penalties, we knew against the Cowboys that you take the points when they are on offer,” Parker said post-match.
In the end, the points proved crucial.
Recent calls to reduce the penalty goal to one point do nothing to curb defences from using the negative tactic – in fact they would achieve the opposite.
Like with everything in rugby league, any changes made to the rules have far-reaching implications.
It is sure to continue to be a talking point in weeks to come.