Clear as mud
Coach Laurie Daley and the fractured NSW brains trust have plenty to ponder after precious few contenders put their hands up for selection in the Blues’ squad in the series opener.
After the bizarre public feud between controversial broadcaster Ray Hadley and NSW assistant coach Matt Parish almost saw Hadley’s confidant Bob Fulton step down from his role as an advisor in the Blues’ setup, ‘Bozo’ must now work with Daley – who blasted Hadley for unsettling NSW’s campaign – to somehow come up with 17 men capable of toppling eight-time champs Queensland.
Although they combined brilliantly for a try as Souths mounted a brief second half comeback in a disappointing 13-point defeat to Melbourne, John Sutton and Adam Reynolds were overshadowed by a dominant performance from the Storm’s Queensland linchpin Cooper Cronk, all but ruling out an Origin debut in the series opener for the Rabbitohs halves.
An ankle injury also looks set to rule Boyd Cordner out of contention, compounding the loss of Greg Bird to suspension.
Canterbury pair Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds performed adequately in the 16-12 win over the fast-finishing Warriors without emphatically demanding to be selected, leaving the door ajar for the incumbents – the disgraced Mitchell Pearce and out-of-form James Maloney.
An ankle injury also looks set to rule Boyd Cordner out of contention, compounding the loss of Greg Bird to suspension. Of the remaining backrow contenders, Bulldogs behemoth Tony Williams had a strong first half against the Warriors, teammate Josh Jackson was hardworking but nondescript, and Wade Graham was unable to produce the Bird-like dynamic display Daley and co would have hoped for.
The front-runner for the vacant NSW wing spot, Daniel Tupou received few opportunities to solidify his claims in the Roosters’ heavy defeat to North Queensland.
The Maroons are not without their worries, however, after injured Bronco Sam Thaiday reportedly ruled himself out, but uncapped Aiden Guerra is a custom-made replacement. Josh Papalii may be left on the outer following a listless display in Canberra’s 26-20 loss to Penrith, although Dave Taylor did little to earn a recall in Papalii’s stead in Gold Coast’s 22-8 defeat at the hands of Brisbane.
Electric Eels wreck Benji’s return as Dragons sink deeper
Parramatta turned Benji Marshall’s NRL comeback into a nightmare, inflicting a 36-0 drubbing on St George Illawarra in front of a rapturous 18,631-strong home crowd. Jarryd Hayne and Ken Sio crossed for outstanding doubles, while mercurial halfback Chris Sandow complemented a superb all-round game with six goals from as many attempts from all angles.
The late inclusion of mid-season recruit Marshall started promisingly enough, with the high-profile playmaker producing some nice touches and unluckily having a forward pass call go against him after putting Mike Cooper over for what would have been a score-levelling try.
But a dropped ball that led to a runaway Parramatta try a few minutes later, and a number of dusty passes – including two that skidded over the sideline – made for a disappointing day out for Marshall and the slumping Saints, who are now languishing in 13th.
The Eels, meanwhile, are flying in third place, the club’s highest ladder position after 10 rounds since 1986.
A week to remember for …
A couple of the NRL’s most prominent figures celebrated milestone games with momentous victories. Craig Bellamy’s 300th game as Storm coach garnered an emphatic 27-14 upset result over in-form South Sydney, a vital win for the Storm on the eve on the Origin series after a subpar start to the season. North Queensland skipper Johnathan Thurston became just the fourth player to make 200 first grade appearances for the club and produced a typically dominant performance in the Cowboys’ thumping 42-10 win over the Roosters. The Storm climbed into the top four with their victory, while the Cowboys returned to the top eight for the first time since round one.
A week to forget for …
Injuries to key players in round 10 have clouded the campaigns of a couple of clubs. A pectoral injury may force the Gold Coast to soldier on without key five-eighth Aiden Sezer for remainder of the season, while North Queensland’s damaging veteran backrower Gavin Cooper will be sidelined for some time after he was carried off with a dislocated hip. The Cowboys’ concerns were compounded in the latter stages of their win over the Roosters when interchange hooker Cameron King, making just his second appearance since joining the club, suffered suspected ACL damage to his left knee. Meanwhile, the Roosters’ trip to Townsville was made doubly dismal by the ankle injury picked up by Boyd Cordner.
Play of the week
Veteran centre Justin Hodges booked his place at the top of the highlight reels with a daring through-the-legs pass from dummy-half to send winger Dale Copley over for a vital second half try at Suncorp.
The sheer audacity and precision of his 57th-minute play was something special.
Hodges had already set up the Broncos’ and Copley’s opening try with a brilliant cut-out ball, but the sheer audacity and precision of his 57th-minute play was something special, locking the scores up at 8-all before the home side powered away to a patchy but comfortable 14-point win.
Blunder of the week
With the score at just 6-0 after 32 minutes at Pirtek Stadium and the Dragons hot on attack, Benji Marshall spilled a pass which was snapped up by Eels five-eighth Corey Norman, who raced 80 metres to score and create a handy buffer.
Best individual performance
Melbourne fullback Billy Slater enjoyed a vintage performance after starting the season off the pace, outshining opposing No.1 Greg Inglis – who some have called for to take Slater’s place as Queensland’s and Australia’s custodian – with two outstanding tries and 173 metres from 16 runs.
His second touchdown, featuring two slick dummies in a sizzling 30-metre run, quelled the Rabbitohs’ brief comeback.
Queensland’s and NSW’s selectors will name their squads for May 28th’s Origin series opener on Tuesday.
Thrashed last week by Penrith, the 15th-placed Newcastle Knights face an uphill battle to claim just their third win of the season, against Manly at Brookvale, despite the continued absence of Sea Eagles stars Jamie Lyon, Kieran Foran and Glenn Stewart. NSW hopefuls Anthony Watmough, Jorge Taufua, Jarrod Mullen and Beau Scott have one final chance to impress the selectors in what should be a sizeable victory to the home side.