Monday Morning Halfback: Culture shock

The Panthers administration made a brave and bold decision to stand down trio Matt Moylan, Waqa Blake and Peta Hiku for breaking team protocol.

In doing so they made a statement about the club, not only what it stands for now, but what they believe it should stand for moving forward. 

It all starts with accountability and respect. 

Culture is the buzz word in rugby league circles. Building a 'good culture' is talked about in nearly every interview, with every player, across every club, every week across this country and the Tasman. 

The fact that the Panthers stood down their captain and superstar fullback Moylan sent a powerful message. Reputation or standing counts for naught if you don't follow the team rules. 

Respect for your teammates, the jersey and the journey is paramount. 

The Panthers took this course of action even though they had a slow start to the season, including a heavy loss to the Storm. 

Sure, the players could have been slapped on the wrist, fined and allowed to play. Plenty of clubs have taken that route. Plenty still would. 

But what message would that have sent to firstly the players involved and secondly their teammates? 

When your captain breaks the team rules, why can't everyone else? 

There is little question the team with the greatest aura and culture is the Melbourne Storm. But it is not lip service paid at media conferences, nor is it just a result of the 'big three' and Bellamy. It is lived and breathed by everyone that works for the organisation. 

It's hard to think of a player who has gone to Melbourne and not improved and become a better player. 

That's no fluke. 

A good culture takes years to build. 

Almost a decade ago Storm CEO Dave Donaghy was at a bar in Moore Park when he was then the media manager for the club. It was not a working day for him, he was going to the Sydney Football Stadium as a fan to watch two non-Melbourne teams play. 

Asked if he wanted a beer, he politely refused, saying the team was on an alcohol ban leading into the finals. 

It was one-in, all-in. 

It wasn't up for discussion, it was a pact that ran through the whole organisation, from the players, through to the support staff. So Donaghy stayed off the booze, even though no one from the club would have known. 

The respect for the club and the self-policing was not just restricted to the players. 

It was so powerful in its simplicity and it has stayed with me to this day. 

Back to the Panthers, who were gallant in their one-point defeat against the Rabbitohs, there's no guarantee the banned trio would have made any difference to the result. 

All three played in the Intrust Super Premiership against the Newcastle Knights and their side still went down 26-20. 

But being forced to watch from the sidelines as their team lost by one point in the dying seconds would have been an incredibly difficult lesson to learn. You can't imagine they or anyone from the team will be breaking team protocol again. 

Coach Anthony Griffin knows it too. The decision wasn't about this week, it was about something much bigger. 

The Panthers might have lost to the Rabbitohs, but it's just one loss in a long season. If the Panthers go deep into this competition, or even next year's, they might look back on this week as a key step in that direction.

Good culture starts from the top. 

McCullough's play of the week 

Andrew McCullough is the youngest ever player to reach 200 NRL games, and Broncos captain Darius Boyd believes it is time the consistent rake is rewarded with a representative jumper.

McCullough came up with a match-defining play against the Roosters and it sums up everything that his teammates love about the 27-year-old. 

The Broncos dummy-half saved a certain try against the Roosters after he had already made 41 tackles in a frantic clash at Suncorp Stadium. When the Roosters made a break, McCullough chased and caught Daniel Tupou, forcing the winger to pass to Michael Gordon who was steaming on his outside. McCullough managed to get around Tupou and chased again, desperately diving and clipping the fullback's boots with a centimetre perfect ankle tap. It was a lung-busting play that saved a certain four points that would have got the Roosters back in the contest. 

It was inspirational, and while the ankle tap itself may have been somewhat lucky, the effort to get himself into a try-saving position twice in the same play was anything but. 

 


Taumalolo is a stat monster

The Cowboys didn't get the result despite being heavy favourites against the Wests Tigers, but lock Jasaon Taumalolo could hold his head high. While his team lacked cohesion and polish, Taumalolo tried almost single handily to keep them in the contest. 

If he isn't the best player in the competition at the moment, he's in the top three. 

His Dally M medal was no fluke. 

Against the Tigers, Taumalolo ran for 260 metres, made 23 tackles, 9 tackle-breaks, a linebreak, two offloads and scored a try for good measure. Opposition teams have no answer for the 23-year-old. 

The scary thing for opposition teams is that it was a typical Taumalolo performance. 

He ran for 295 metres against a huge Raiders pack in Round 1, 231 metres against the Broncos in Round 2 and 'just' 217 metres against the Rabbtohs after serving a two game suspension in Round 5. 

In season 2017 he is averaging a staggering 96 post contact metres, every game. That's more than a lot of forwards make in pure metres a game. 

The Cowboys and Taumalolo both took a big risk in signing his lucrative 10-year contract, but if he keeps that form up, he could go down as one of the all-time greats. 

Mighty Red V

With the Sharks beating the Storm in Melbourne – their first ever win at AAMI Park – it means that every team in the NRL Telstra Premiership has now been beaten. 

It also means the St George Illawarra Dragons are the league leaders with the best attack in the competition. 

Who in their right mind would have picked that? 

The Dragons have earned their place on the ladder, but face a daunting month of football. We'll soon learn a lot more about the Red V with clashes against Cowboys, Roosters, Storm and Sharks in the coming four weeks. 

Are they the real deal? We are about to find out.