Tackling six talking points from Round 11

A set of six talking points covering all the rugby league world has to offer.

Josh Morris an inspired selection

Josh Morris’ selection in the NSW side for Origin has been met with mixed opinions. For what it’s worth, I’m with those who think his selection will be beneficial for Fittler’s ‘Baby Blues’. When rumours were swirling about Smith’s return to the Origin arena, I crossed my fingers and hoped those rumours would be proven true. There is nothing quite like a player making a return to the biggest stage after ‘retiring’ in any sport. While I was too young to remember Alfie making his return to the Queensland side in 2001, it remains one of the game’s most magical moments and without a doubt its greatest comeback story. The photo of he and Bennett embracing each other after the game is iconic. Morris’ return mightn’t be on the same level, but it has put a sprinkle of romance back in Rugby League. Morris is a great club man and an astute thinker on the game, but it will be his desire and hunger in defence that will most inspire his side.

Munster Queensland’s X-Factor

Cameron Munster’s 100th NRL game somewhat flew under the radar this weekend, but it should be celebrated, for he has come a long way since his early days in first grade. When he takes the field for Queensland next week he will do so in the knowledge that just a few short weeks ago he was being talked about as a candidate for captaincy honours. Nobody could have imagined this would be the case when he was sent home from Kangaroos camp two years ago. As much as anything, Munster’s meteoric rise from off-field liability to Dally M favourite speaks to Bellamy’s coaching methods. They say the player that oppositions most fear is the one they spend hours studying. If there is one man NSW will analyse to the hilt before the opening game, it is Cameron Munster.

Queensland’s new Messiah 

Daly Cherry-Evans has been selected as Queensland captain and New South Wales fans have been quick to bring up the tumultuous days of 2015. The cover of the Gold Coast Bulletin with the heading ‘Filthy Cockroach’ has been doing the rounds on social media since his selection yesterday morning. In fact, when Cherry-Evans leads his Queensland side out onto Suncorp Stadium next week, it will have been just over four years to the day since he backflipped on a deal at the Gold Coast. While the media have made his manner of speaking out to be obnoxious and clichéd, others see it to be considered and inspirational. Cherry-Evans’ captaincy style doesn’t fit the traditional Rugby League mould, but it will do for Queensland’s band of strong-willed battlers.

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Players going the extra mile

The off-field drama of the last few years has taken a significant toll on the game’s image – perhaps irreparably so. But videos of the interactions between players and fans posted to social media are quickly picking up the pieces. Last week, Jarrod Croker was filmed giving his playing shorts to a young fan following Canberra’s narrow loss to South Sydney. It is moments like these that can break the stigma so often attached to Rugby League and bring new fans into the game.

Benji Marshall’s legacy

Benji Marshall was the reason I started watching Rugby League as a youngster. His footwork and speed were both qualities that I believed made the perfect footballer. A lot of commentators talk about kids watching their stars on TV and then replicating their favourite plays in the backyard. During the mid-2000s, the player every young football fan imitated was Benji. When he made the move from League to Union in 2014, I was devastated. But that devastation turned to joy when the Dragons announced he had been signed as Widdop’s halves partner on a two and a half year deal. I am still in awe of Marshall’s skills at age 34 and the form he has shown across the last two seasons back at his spiritual home. If the Tigers are to make the finals, he will be the man to take them there – and will show age is no barrier in the process.

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Relief for struggling Dragons

The Dragons were today granted salary cap dispensation for Jack de Belin to the tune of $239,000. For this price, they will struggle to lure a first-grade quality forward to the club, but it does open the door for Trent Merrin to return to the Dragons on a short-term deal. Merrin is currently plying his trade in the Super League with Leeds Rhinos where he is signed until 2022 as a marquee player. He squashed rumours of a return to the NRL in March, but with the Rhinos languishing in 10th position on the Super League ladder and the salary dispensation official, there are now grounds for the Dragons to make further enquiries. Time will tell what happens here but with Graham out for two months with a broken leg, the sooner a replacement is finalised, the better.

Tackling six talking points from Round 10

A set of six talking points covering all the rugby league world has to offer.

Game of the season

There have been some great matches so far this season, but none have come close to Friday night’s classic between the Broncos and Roosters. With the exception of their clash earlier in the season, these two teams are building quite the entertaining rivalry. There was a classic encounter back in Round 6 of 2015, where Ben Hunt crossed in Golden Point to hand the Broncos a four-point win. And who can forget Round 11 last year, a match best remembered for Jamayne Isaako’s forty metre Houdini act to sink the Roosters in the 77th minute. It is hard to see any match going past Friday night’s thriller for game of the season.

Broncos on the move

Friday night might go down as the moment the Brisbane Broncos turned their season around. There were plenty of good signs for fans, including an impressive return to Rugby League for former Cronulla hooker James Segeyaro. The most impressive part of Brisbane’s performance was their defence against a Roosters side featuring two of the best attacking players in the game right now: Tedesco and Mitchell.

Dragons in a hole

The Dragons are either in the middle of one of their worst form slumps in recent memory or fast approaching the end of their premiership window. The Dragons last lost four games in a row back in Round 21 of 2016, where they went down to Canterbury 13-10. The following week they lost their fifth straight match against the Broncos 8-12. With the exception of that season, the Dragons have had a relatively good run since the start of 2015, making the finals on three occasions. With Gareth Widdop departing for England at the end of the season and Jack de Belin’s long-term future uncertain, the Dragons could be about to enter a rebuilding period. As a Dragons fan this is hard to write, but it seems they are now struggling to keep in touch with the teams inside the top eight. So far this year, three of their four wins have been by a margin of 2 points or less. This reminds me of 2016 where their attack was virtually non-existent and most wins earned by a slim margin.

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Brown the saviour

Nathan Brown has been heavily criticised since taking over the reins at the Knights, but he deserves to have praise heaped on him for his side’s turn around. A number of Knights sides over the last few years have fallen apart following a run of losses. This one has bounced back into the top eight. Mitchell Pearce was considered a spent force after the first few rounds but suddenly he is in the frame for Origin selection. Danny Levi’s career was also headed down a dark path but he too has found form – perhaps the best of his career. Brown’s finest move, though, was bringing Kurt Mann into the starting side in place of Connor Watson and allowing him to do what he does best: run the ball. Accepting he had made an error by moving Ponga to the halves is another big tick against his name.

An Immortal in waiting

Andrew Johns took the Knights to their first premiership back in 1997 against Manly and backed it up in 2001 against Parramatta. This period was, without doubt, the best in the club’s history. If there is one man that can return the club to these heights, it is Kalyn Ponga. Having followed his career closely since his debut game for in 2016 for the Cowboys, I have no doubt we are about to witness history unfold as he becomes one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. Whether he surpasses Billy Slater as the best Fullback of all time is anyone’s guess, but I believe he will go past Cameron Smith as the game’s greatest point scorer by the time he calls time on his career many years down the track.

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Farewell Cooper

Cooper Cronk gave a lot of credit to his former Melbourne teammates for the career he has forged. But as his form at the Roosters has shown, he is a fine player in his own right and not merely a product of those around him. As a Queenslander, I will never forget his series-sealing field goal during the third and final game of the 2012 Origin series at Suncorp Stadium. If there is one thing you can count on, it is the Roosters growing another leg to deliver Cronk one last Premiership.