The Case of the Missing Penalties
It’s not something the average NRL fan might notice, but the declining trend in weekly penalty counts has been persistent from Round 8 onward, and dropped markedly again this weekend.
As a matter of fact, up until last night’s game, there was an average of only 9.5 per game in Round 16. Normalised for the usual eight matches, that’s only a total of 76. The 17 penalties last night blew out the number a touch (almost two matches worth!), but even then, we’re back to the period of Rounds 4-6 which were characterised by anomalously low penalties.
Be gone, golden point!
The Warriors-Broncos match was notable for being a riveting contest. But even more than that, for avoiding the wretched golden point. Thank goodness we didn’t have to live through a field goal shootout that would make Rove McManus look interesting. Instead, we had a pulsating match where the outcome was uncertain until right on full-time – an entire half that counted down to a finale with intense anticipation. A kick to draw was a fitting climax.
Golden point, as it always is, would have been like eating another M&M after you’ve just had about 4,000 of them. Kind of interesting, but about as enjoyable as shaving with a cheese grater.
More on the Warriors
Also, what’s with the two point margins at Mount Smart? The Warriors lost by two against the competition front-runners, the Rabbitohs and Roosters, while taking the bikkies against the Cowboys, Manly and Broncos by the same amount.
To change things up they accounted for the Titans by the solitary point, and then threw in a couple of 30 and 56-point drubbings (away) to keep everyone guessing. This is clearly a team that can cause some damage, as mentioned right after the Panthers put 60 on them six matches ago. They haven’t lost a game since, and a big reason for that is what you see below. It’s amazing what a lot of ball can do …
Even so, I cannot agree with Andrew Johns (is that allowed?) that they are some hope of winning the premiership. A place in the top eight still needs to be negotiated, and they still haven’t nailed the habit of putting in an 80-minute performance with regularity, which means being able to subconsciously draw on that experience in the big finals matches. Only the Rabbitohs and Storm have shown this trait so far.
The Premiers in July
The Rabbitohs are clearly everyone’s mid-season choice as Premiers. You can’t argue with their improving consistency and raw point-scoring ability. The point to note about a team that is playing with this intensity is that it is being done in the context of being mid-season. While Bunnies fans should be quite relaxed about a top two finish and likely Minor Premiership, the nerves will begin soon after Round 26. The inevitable comparisons to 1989 will occur, and this is the point where they are not the shoe-ins everyone seems to think.
Despite recent Origin-affected losses, the Storm is the other side that deserves to be hot favourites. Don’t forget last year’s five week streak of losses, and compare that team to the one that turned up for the finals.
The outsider here still remains the Roosters. On their day, assisted by some SBW magic, they can beat either of the top two teams. They haven’t yet, although they have achieved something almost unheard of for them – beat Manly twice.
The two major drawbacks for them are that they allow the opposition far too much ball, and that they still bomb so many tries. I can’t think of another team that has missed so many draw-and-pass opportunities (update: forgot the Sharks!) or, like Jennings last night, drop the ball cold in blue ribbon try-scoring moments.
Their defence is the best in the NRL, but it simply won’t last three or four finals in a row if they can’t get an even possession share, and bomb tries on top of it. They should have won by 20 last night (oh yeah, get a reserve kicker …).
NSW Origin 5/8 Candidates
By all accounts, James Maloney’s eye socket should be up to Origin 3, and that’s a good thing. The other two 5/8s mentioned as possibilities are quality players, but in both Mullen’s and Carney’s cases, they still don’t have the running game that is required to complement Mitchell Pearce’s style.
Mullen has run more in the last three rounds, but he still averages 3.6/game, the lowest in the NRL. Carney isn’t much better at 4/game – 3rd lowest.
Carney also put up a horrific effort in defence against the Cowboys. He made 12, but missed eight, many of which directly resulting in tries. Awful figures in anyone’s language, but which would have Sam Thaiday kneeling by his bed at night praying for his selection.
Should Maloney not be fit, John Sutton seems to me to be the obvious choice. He is a big and damaging runner, is accustomed to running often (11.6/game – and 1st place), and is a strong defender. He might lack Josh Reynolds terrier-like qualities in some respects and back-up play, but he’s the one I’d choose. I also like the left foot kicking option.
Dear AFL, Clean up your act, no butts …
The NRL is the poster boy for the media when it comes to on-field violence, yet we are constantly reminded, sometimes with deliciously ironic timing, that the AFL has its fair share of grubs.
North Melbourne’s Lindsay Thomas only received a two week suspension for a blatant head butt, a place where the NRL players don’t even go.
In a game where punching is seen as a low act, I don’t know how they square an incident like this receiving such a paltry sentence.
I wonder if Mark Robinson has much to say about it, or whether he’d like to wax hysterical about intentional blind challenges that are designed to maim.
I dunno … I kinda like knowing what’s in store for me rather than being hit by complete and utter surprise …
Peponis the Proponent of Shoulder Charges
It’s nice to see Dr George Peponis comment in favour of returning the shoulder charge to the game.
I’ve written many times about this dreadful rule (even before it began!) and the difficulty NRL referees seem to have with it (along with their shoelaces).
Not only is it policed inconsistently and poorly, which brings referees into the game far more than most would like, but the issue is, and always has been, head contact. Had the NRL got that right, these types of discussions would not be required.
The idea that “you don’t actually have to hit the head to cause a significant concussion or head injury” is possibly the same reasoning we could use to ban the header in soccer.