No respite for tipsters, bookies
Tipping sheets will yet again have more crosses than ticks, while the odds makers will be reassessing their career path after another weekend of boilover results. Four underdogs – Gold Coast, Newcastle, Parramatta and Wests Tigers – saluted for the NRL ladder to retain its baffling order. The Titans continue to lead the premiership despite having a negative for-and-against, while 2013’s bottom two clubs, the Tigers and the Eels, are tied for second place with Canterbury and Manly. Premiers the Sydney Roosters are languishing in 11th after a third straight loss, while early front-runners St George Illawarra will tumble out of the top eight unless they can spring an upset in Melbourne on Monday.
Barba-ric loss for Broncos
Brisbane coughed up a late advantage for the third time in the space of four matches, crashing to a 12-8 defeat on the Gold Coast after leading from the half-hour mark until the 73rd minute. But the major talking point in the wake of the loss was the second straight diabolical performance by superstar fullback Ben Barba. The high-profile recruit was all at sea under the high ball, while he had the ball stripped from him in the in-goal by Titans five-eighth Aidan Sezer, who dotted down for the match-winning try.
Barba appears to have lost all confidence, becoming an easy target with his unsure and timid play at the back. Coach Anthony Griffin will be loath to change his line-up, but swapping Barba with the rock-solid Josh Hoffman – who is offering little in the way of playmaking in the No.6 jumper – may save Brisbane’s quest to reach the finals. Meanwhile, halfback Ben Hunt continues to produce at least one piece of brilliance per game, but is letting the side down with a patchy kicking game and questionable option-taking. The Broncos’ spine problems are threatening to derail their campaign.
Farah injury sours weekend for Tigers and Blues
Wests Tigers’ gritty 16-4 success over North Queensland at Campbelltown incorporated a devastating chaser, with in-form captain Robbie Farah dislocating his elbow in the dying minutes. He is likely to miss six weeks in another blow to the resurgent Tigers after losing star fullback James Tedesco for two months.
Farah’s injury also provides the NSW brains trust with a pounding selection headache. The cupboard of No.9 replacements is astoundingly bare – veteran former Origin rake Michael Ennis, outstanding Parramatta recruit Nathan Peats and Dragons youngster Mitch Rein are seemingly the only feasible options at Laurie Daley’s disposal. Farah is also the Blues’ incumbent captain, while regular skipper Paul Gallen has not played since round one.
Week to remember for …
Parramatta’s renaissance continues to gather momentum, reversing a 56-4 loss to the Sydney Roosters in round two by holding out the premiers in a gripping 14-12 result on Saturday night. After a pair of exciting high-scoring victories, the Eels showed resolute defensive qualities to chalk up three straight wins for the first time since 2010.
Week to forget for …
Engulfed in controversy and a harsh media glare after the contentious departure of coach Matt Elliott, the Warriors seemed destined to finish one of the most difficult weeks in the club’s history with a character-laden win over contenders Canterbury. But after leading 10-0 during the first half and 20-12 with 13 minutes to go, the home side crumbled in customary fashion to extend their Eden Park hex to five matches. Untimely errors and an inability to land the killer blow brought the much-improved Warriors undone, with a Trent Hodkinson field goal at the 78-minute mark putting the Bulldogs in front for the first time. A long break by Konrad Hurrell after the siren unravelled with a loose pass, handing Canterbury a nerve-jangling 21-20 victory.
Play of the week
Gold Coast’s stand-in fullback David Mead turned Friday’s grinding derby with 20 minutes remaining, defusing a dangerous Brisbane kick and racing 98 metres for a spectacular try to get the Titans on the scoreboard. The momentum swung dramatically after man-of-the-match Mead’s piece of inspiration.
Blunder of the week
For the second time in as many appearances, Canberra’s erratic winger Bill Tupou butchered a try with the line wide open. The Raiders trailed a Knights side decimated by in-match injuries by 12 points with 12 minutes to go, but Tupou spilled a regulation pass to snuff out any chance of a comeback by the home side, who were kept scoreless in the second half of the 26-12 defeat.
Halfback Trent Hodkinson was the hero of Canterbury’s late come-from-behind victory in Auckland, making a long break against the run of play to set up a decisive try for Tim Lafai, kicking four superb goals from as many attempts (keeping his season strike-rate above 90 per cent) including a levelling 75th-minute penalty and coolly potting the winning field goal with two minutes remaining in a brilliant all-round display.
While NSW has been left reeling after the injury suffered by linchpin hooker Robbie Farah, Queensland has been boosted by the successful return from the casualty ward of automatic selections Justin Hodges and Josh Papalii. Meanwhile, the battle for the New Zealand fullback job is heating up. Canterbury’s Sam Perrett, the only Kiwi who is playing in the No.1 for his club on a regular basis, has charged into the frame. World Cup understudy Josh Hoffman, centre incumbent Dean Whare and uncapped Manly youngster Peta Hiku are other options as reigning Test custodian Kevin Locke sits on the sideline with injury.
A team lumbered with a couple of notable hoodoos against their NRL rivals, St George Illawarra will need to overcome a winless run in Melbourne stretching back to 1999 to get their spluttering campaign back on track. The Storm have struggled since the tragic Alex McKinnon accident, dropping their last two matches, but should have enough in the tank to edge out the Dragons in a tight one.