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.Embed from Getty Images
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.Embed from Getty Images
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.