The quality of football being played at the moment means that when two form teams meet, the completion rates are extremely high and the action can be almost non-stop for what must seem like ages to the players out on the field. Surely we can’t put the squeeze on what little time players have to catch their breath – we have already reduced the number of interchanges, these blokes must have a breaking point.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey blew up about the rule changes and when you see a coach do that there is usually an element of self-interest involved. But these changes have come completely from left field and left most of us scratching our heads. Toovey of course would know a thing about having his players pushed to the edge of their physical capabilities after last Monday night’s golden point draw with Melbourne Storm.
Manly only allowed Melbourne to score one try despite an absolute mountain of possession going the Storm’s way in the second half. The defensive effort was just incredible with over 400 tackles made, 64 of them by tackling machine Matt Ballin. The effort showed just how tough the Sea Eagles are, but also illustrated that the Storm still aren’t at their best. They now face a very tough run in the lead up to, and through, the State of Origin period starting this weekend with Sydney Roosters.
The Roosters are a genuine top four side and should prove their title credentials at home against Melbourne. They just keep doing all the little things right and that seems to be where Melbourne are slipping of late. It doesn’t take much to make a big difference in how the tight matches are decided, but when a team gets it totally wrong the results can be horrible, as West Tigers and New Zealand Warriors found out last week.
The defence the Tigers put on against South Sydney was simply disgraceful. I really felt for their fans and coach Mick Potter as I watched the Rabbitohs walk straight through players who really should be doing much better. It’s fair enough to remember that the Tigers have had a terrible run with injuries, but you’d like to think the players who take the field could show a bit more pride in themselves and the jersey they have pulled on.
I have no idea what is going on with the Warriors. Each year I am amazed by the incredible talent they have lined up and usually have them in my list of genuine premiership threats. Each year they seem to find a new way to disappoint. I have had huge wraps on Shaun Johnson and after his first season I thought he could go on to be one of the best players in the world. Sadly, like the team itself, Johnson has gone nowhere over the past two years. There is something seriously wrong with the club and their performance against Penrith just wasn’t good enough.
The Knights travel to New Zealand to take on the Warriors this week and it will be interesting to see how they go over there. If Jarrod Mullen plays the way he did last week against the Bulldogs and the Warriors tackle the way they did against Penrith it could be another massacre.
I ran into my old mate Paul “Chief” Harragon last week after the game. He confessed to being a little emotional as he watched the Knights destroy the Bulldogs in the second half. He saw some ‘die for each other’ qualities in the team that he knows are the backbone of Newcastle as a club and a city. When Willie Mason fired up after the Krisnan Inu tackle on Mullen, he knew the club was getting back to the way he remembered it in his day.
Mason has really found his rugby league home in Newcastle. Originally from the area, it was always his dream to play for the Knights – it has just taken him around 20 years to get there. He has brought a spirit to the club which is great for the team and great for the game. He came off for a break towards the end of the game against the Bulldogs and the crowd roared their approval. He responded by high fiving players on both benches, then some fans in the crowd, before accepting a chocolate from a kid over the fence. Willie is just a big kid himself. He’s thoroughly enjoying his football at the Knights and Newcastle has really welcomed him home.