Sport Rugby League Why Mal and the Maroons have a migraine
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Why Mal and the Maroons have a migraine

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Inglis joins the walking wounded

A broken arm suffered by No.7 linchpin Cooper Cronk and injuries clouding the involvement of Billy Slater and Daly Cherry-Evans in Origin II are obstructing Queensland’s bid to save the series in Sydney.

Darius Boyd could be in line for Origin honours. Photo: Getty
Darius Boyd could be in line for a move to fullback. Photo: Getty

But the Maroons’ campaign has now hit crisis point after Greg Inglis hobbled off during Souths’ gutsy win over the Warriors. The initial signs are that an ankle injury will rule Origin’s most prolific try-scorer out for the remainder of the series.

Melbourne’s Will Chambers is primed for a debut and will adequately plug the gap left by Inglis at centre, but coach Mal Meninga’s most pressing concern is who will don the No.1 jumper if Slater fails to recover.

Darius Boyd is the standout choice, an experienced big-game player who has played fullback at Test level.

Anthony Milford and Ben Barba – who incidentally square off on Monday night – are the obvious contenders, but the diminutive duo would be heavily targeted by the Blues. North Queensland’s Michael Morgan is a viable option after making a superb transition from the halves this season.

But Darius Boyd is the standout choice, an experienced big-game player who has played fullback at Test level. After a dreadful start to the year for Newcastle, he was close to being the best afield in Sunday’s loss to the Tigers.

The only problem is Queensland’s dearth of wing options – Dale Copley, Daniel Vidot and Dane Gagai would come into contention for Boyd’s spot on the flank.

Whichever backline he comes up with, there is little doubt Meninga faces the biggest challenge of his charmed coaching reign.

Centre contenders stand up for NSW selection

The inside word is Laurie Daley and co. are set to take the conservative approach by plugging the right centre gap left by Josh Morris’ injury with one of NSW’s versatile backrowers, Beau Scott or Luke Lewis.

Dylan Walker was the pick of the bunch. Photo: Getty
Dylan Walker was the pick of the bunch. Photo: Getty

But three stunning performances over the weekend may have forced the Blues’ brains trust into a rethink. Parramatta’s Will Hopoate did a brilliant defensive job on big Kane Linnett and produced several sharp touches in attack in Friday’s gripping defeat of the Cowboys.

Then Josh Dugan, playing in the centres for just the second time, put his hand up with a stunning hat-trick as the Saints thrashed Cronulla.

But Souths’ teenage sensation Dylan Walker was the pick of the bunch, making three line breaks, a game-high 194 metres and scoring two brilliant tries – the second a breathtaking effort after taking over in the unfamiliar fullback role – against the Warriors.

The in-form trio will also grapple for Brett Morris’ vacant wing spot, arguably moving past steady option James McManus in the pecking order.

Halfway mark: Manly the team to beat

South Sydney and Sydney Roosters carved out emphatic wins over handy opposition in Round 13, but fellow heavyweight Manly has displayed the most resounding championship qualities of any side as the NRL season rounds the halfway marker. 

Manly linchpin Dale Cherry-Evans. Photo: Getty
Manly linchpin Dale Cherry-Evans. Photo: Getty

The Sea Eagles disposed of table-topping Canterbury 32-10 in the Brookvale Oval slop on Friday night after trailing early, clawing their way into equal-premiership favouritism with the Roosters in the process.

Buffeted by injuries to their galaxy of superstars at regular intervals this season, the Sea Eagles have remained near the top of the table throughout 2014 to solidify their reputation as Rugby League’s most resilient outfit.

The belief and toughness pulsing away beneath every maroon-and-white jumper looks increasingly like propelling Manly to its third title in seven seasons.

Halfback Daly Cherry-Evans appeared tentative and uncomfortable early against the Bulldogs, clearly hampered by the knee injury he picked up during Origin I.

But the linchpin exploded during the back end of the first half, brilliantly setting up tries for Steve Matai and Peter Hiku to send Manly to the sheds 18-6 ahead.

Despite Cherry-Evans’ exit courtesy of a controversial Sam Kasiano challenge soon after halftime, the Sea Eagles powered to an ominous victory with Kieran Foran and Brett Stewart taking the attacking reins.

Manly boasts what is widely regarded as the game’s most potent backline, but the top four staples were tipped to tumble down the ladder after a host of key engine-room departures in the off-season.

The Sea Eagles’ pack has defied the odds to remain one of the most physical and effective in the NRL, however, with unheralded young bucks Josh Starling, Jesse Sene-Lefao and Dunamis Lui stepping into the breach fearlessly.

The belief and toughness pulsing away beneath every maroon-and-white jumper looks increasingly like propelling Manly to its third title in seven seasons.

Week to remember

Penrith surged to the NRL competition lead for the first time since taking out the minor premiership in 2003 after swamping Gold Coast 36-14, leapfrogging Canterbury on for-and-against. James Segeyaro, Jamie Soward, Tyrone Peachey and Matt Moylan provided the spark and polish for the Panthers’ hardy band of toilers, who are sailing towards two bites of the finals cherry as the NRL’s quiet overachievers.

The Penrith Panthers are on top of the table ... and loving it. Photo: Getty
The Penrith Panthers are on top of the table … and loving it. Photo: Getty

Week to forget

Three trips to Perth, three halftime leads surrendered. That’s the sorry tale of the tape for the Warriors, who inexplicably capitulated to a brave South Sydney side that was reduced to an empty bench during the second half. The Warriors extended their advantage to 14-6 shortly after the break, but conceded five straight tries to the wounded Rabbitohs and sunk to a 34-18 defeat.

Play of the week

The eventual result took the gloss off it somewhat, but teenage winger David Fusitua’s ‘Superman’ effort to open the scoring for the Warriors was one of the most spectacular gravity-defying tries of the season.

Benji Marshall turned the clock back. Photo: Getty
Benji Marshall turned the clock back. Photo: Getty

Blunder of the week

Newcastle captain Kurt Gidley gave referee Ashley Klein no option but to sin-bin him after he bowled over counterpart Robbie Farah in the 65th minute as the Tigers rake prepared to take a quick tap after a 40-20 kick. The Knights’ 16-14 lead turned into a seven-point deficit with Gidley off the field, while Akuila Uate’s third try could not prevent a 23-20 loss.

Best individual performance

Pilloried for his two previous performances since returning from Rugby Union, Benji Marshall turned back the clock with a mesmerising display in St George Illawarra’s pressure-relieving 30-0 drubbing of hapless Cronulla. Marshall provided the key pass for the Dragons’ first four tries, while a pinpoint kick produced their fifth.

Monday night

Putting aside the salary cap controversy hovering over the club, Brisbane has embarked on a mini-revival in recent weeks, while little is going right for Canberra on or off the paddock. Thirteen of the last 15 clashes between these sides have been won by the home side, but the Broncos have enough class and momentum to grab the two points in the capital.

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