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.

The NRL have got it wrong…again

It’s hard to believe the NRL match review committee could compound the issue regarding Sia Soliola’s hit on Billy Slater. But they’ve done exactly that by giving the Canberra prop just a five-match suspension as opposed to the six that certain parties were pushing for. If they were interested in taking a tough stance on careless tackles, be they intentional or not, Sia Soliola had to be given the maximum penalty available.

That means he shouldn’t be returning in round 26 against, you guessed it, the Melbourne Storm. He should’ve been banned for the rest of the season without pay and received a reprimand from the club and the NRL.

This was the NRL’s only option after the on-field referees, and those reviewing the decision from the bunker, decided to allow Sia Soliola to remain on the field despite clear-cut evidence he deserved to be sent off.

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Billy Slater was stretchered from the ground on Saturday. Image Source: Pacific – Epeak

Many have argued that the referees are either scared to make this decision because they fear being dropped over poor decisions, or are totally lost as to what does and doesn’t constitute a send-off.

Either way, the NRL had the opportunity to put the argument to bed on Tuesday night but squandered the opportunity much like they did at Canberra stadium on Saturday.

The issue for me, as the match review panel currently stands, is that players are being given lighter sentences when they plead guilty. This simply doesn’t make sense.

‘Sia, because you’ve accepted that you are in fact guilty, we have decided to reduce your charge by one week.’

We are not dealing with convicted murderers here; we are dealing with footballers. As a result, charges should not be downgraded because they have accepted that their actions were not befitting of the NRL’s rules and regulations. What message does that send to the rest of the competition – you can hit a player late and high but still get away with a lighter sentence because you’ve acknowledged that your actions were wrong?

It’s no wonder the NRL has an image problem.

This isn’t the first time they’ve botched a sentence this year. When Tim Simona was found to be fixing matches and committing heinous crimes, Todd Greenberg didn’t mark him down on the no fly list, leaving the door ajar for corruption to creep back into the game at some point in the future.

And what about their soft approach to salary cap breaches in the past.

By not taking a hardball stance on blatant thuggery at the judiciary earlier this week, the NRL have effectively condoned violence.

Slipping or not, hits like Soliola’s give rugby league a bad name.

If the NRL were to make strides forward in preventing a repeat of the shocking events of Saturday night, Tony Archer, or another NRL representative, needed to make clear the rules around send-offs, sin-bins and general misconduct.

It’s no good leaving it to ‘instinct’ as some sources have suggested. We need black and white rulings.

This means contact to the head of an opposition player is made a send-off offence – whether it was intentional or not. Players must be protected.

If the NRL are truly committed to making the game cleaner than it currently is, then its high time they stopped operating their judiciary hearings like a court of law and removed those outdated and non-functional grading terms like ‘careless, late and reckless’.

The more criteria the NRL use for determining the extent of a penalty, the more decisions they are going to get horribly wrong. And for a game already losing its place amongst the younger population due to acts like Soliola’s, it cannot afford for the NRL to continue going soft on brutal hits.