Languishing in the premiership cellar and facing the reality that the worst days of the ASADA saga are possibly yet to come, the hapless Cronulla Sharks hit a new low on Saturday night when they became the first side in premiership history to be held scoreless in three successive games.
But the unwanted record paled in comparison to the withering attack skipper Paul Gallen aimed at the club on Sunday, with the appointment of a reluctant coach in Peter Sharp at the forefront of Gallen’s beef.
“I don’t want to sit here and bag Sharpy because Sharpy has been thrown in the deep end … because he came out day one and said he doesn’t want the job,” Gallen said in a radio interview. “I don’t think players have been putting 100 per cent in because they’re under the impression Sharpy isn’t putting 100 per cent in.”
Finals race clouded by more Origin casualties
One of the most open and unpredictable NRL premiership races in history has been thrown into further disarray by a fresh batch of injuries arising from Origin II. The North Queensland Cowboys – currently languishing outside the top eight – were hardest hit, rocked by luckless veteran Brent Tate’s season-ending knee injury and front-row anchor Matt Scott’s fractured cheekbone.
Defending champs the Sydney Roosters’ vaunted backline has lost arguably its most potent weapon for six weeks as Michael Jennings recovers from a back injury. Will Hopoate was forced to sit out Parramatta’s heavy loss to Melbourne after suffering an arm injury on Wednesday night, while in-form Queensland backrower Matt Gillett lasted just 12 minutes of Brisbane’s loss in Auckland, leaving the field with an AC joint complaint.
The recent damage also ensures several spots are up for grabs for the Origin dead-rubber. The Maroons will be looking for at least one forward to replace Scott, while Chris McQueen, Ben Te’o and David Taylor are under pressure to hold their places.
The likes of Josh McGuire, Brenton Lawrence, Ben Hannant, David Shillington and even Dylan Napa could come into the frame. Utilities Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford may also be in line for a bench spot. Will Chambers and Willie Tonga are the obvious contenders to replace Tate on the wing, but Dale Copley is a potential bolter.
Josh Mansour and Tim Lafai are among the possible debutants in a NSW three-quarter line set to be reshuffled once again, while Tony Williams is the obvious choice to return for the suspended Anthony Watmough, but Josh Jackson or Wade Graham could be blooded instead.
Rep stars’ courage
Player welfare around Origin time will continue to be an unresolved hot-button issue while the current broadcasting rights deal remains, but several NSW and Queensland heroes backed up from another gruelling encounter with inspiring performances in Round 15.
NSW halves Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson had just a two-day turnaround from Wednesday’s euphoric victory before guiding Canterbury to an important 22-14 win over Canberra, snapping the Bulldogs’ worrying three-match losing run.
On Saturday, Warriors prop Jacob Lillyman and Broncos backrower Sam Thaiday produced mammoth 50-minute performances in a Mt Smart slogfest.
Following his herculean man-of-the-match display in leading the Blues to glory, Paul Gallen tried vainly to inspire his Cronulla side, somehow churning out 71 minutes. Luke Lewis was also tireless off the bench for the badly beaten Sharks, while on the other side, Daly Cherry-Evans shrugged off his injury concerns by playing almost a full game in Manly’s 26-0 win.
Queensland veterans Billy Slater and Cameron Smith were magnificent for Melbourne, while Ryan Hoffman – the Blues’ players’ player in Origin II – was also strong off the bench in the 46-20 drubbing of Parramatta, for whom NSW juggernaut Jarryd Hayne was the best player.
Josh Dugan and Trent Merrin capped superb displays with crucial tries in St George Illawarra’s 19-18 eclipse of the Gold Coast, while Greg Bird and Nate Myles left nothing in the tank in attempting to lead the Titans out of their slump.
A week to remember for
You would have got better odds of Trent Hodkinson representing NSW Residents in a representative curtain-raiser than snaring the Blues’ No.7 jumper in 2014, but the Canterbury playmaker is now the hero of an entire state after etching his name into Origin folklore with the winning try and goal on Wednesday night. To top the greatest week of his career, Hodkinson backed up just 48 hours later on a freezing night in Canberra – after initially being tipped to sit the game out – to steer the Bulldogs to victory.
Play of the week
A quick play-the-ball on the last tackle appeared certain to result in Brisbane prop Ben Hannant powering over from close range for a vital try inside the final 10 minutes, but a phenomenal front-on tackle by Warriors tyro Charlie Gubb cut Hannant in half just short of the line. The crunching hit protected the Warriors’ tenuous nine-point lead, which they held onto for a gritty, scrappy win.
Blunder of the week
The Melbourne-Parramatta clash was in the balance at 24-16 with 20 minutes to play, but the Eels’ comeback was snuffed out when halfback Chris Sandow was sin-binned for giving Origin referee Ben Cummins a gobful after a penalty. The Storm rolled in for three tries while Sandow cooled his heels, putting the result to bed.
Billy Slater was everywhere in the Storm’s shellacking of the Eels, backing up in trademark fashion to score two early tries – equalling Andrew Ettingshausen as the third-most prolific try-scorer in history – and producing three brilliant assists as the home side racked up a big scoreline. He assumed plenty of the playmaking responsibilities as Melbourne adjust to the absence of Cooper Cronk, while he outpointed Parramatta No.1 and fierce NSW rival Jarryd Hayne.
North Queensland has lost all six of its away games in 2014 and will be without injured Maroons Tate and Scott for the trip to the Hunter. Newcastle has lost seven straight, but the embattled club’s recent efforts have been promising and win No.3 of the season looms for the Knights.