No Billy Slater? No worries.
The legendary Slater might be gone, but young Kiwi Jahrome Hughes showed the future is still bright for Melbourne. Hughes bagged a try and was a handful with the ball in hand as Storm toppled Brisbane 22-12 at home on Thursday.
Cameron Smith might be the only one left of the much-vaunted ‘Big Four’ still at AAMI Park, but Melbourne remains the benchmark in the NRL.
Craig Bellamy’s side is a well-oiled machine that continues to regenerate impressively every year and will be tough to crack again in 2019.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) March 14, 2019
There was concern that the NRL’s off-season of shame would negatively affect TV ratings this season, with a meagre return at the Indigenous and Maori All Stars game last month used by some as evidence that interest might have waned.
Not so. Round 1’s opener between Storm and Broncos was watched by a total of 1.18 million viewers on free-to-air and pay TV, which was higher than any regular-season game last year. Thursday’s game was up 6 per cent from the 2018 opener between Brisbane and the Dragons.
Most of the attention on Friday night at the SCG was on Sydney Roosters’ classy halves, Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary.
Both were fresh from winning the World Club Challenge against Wigan in the UK and, of course, Cronk was the one-armed freak who led his team to an amazing grand final victory last year while putting up with a broken scapula.
But it was Cronk’s opposing No.7, South Sydney star Adam Reynolds, who stole the show on Friday. In horrible rain Reynolds put on a masterclass with the boot as he kicked the Roosters to death.
When on song there are few better organisational halfbacks than Reynolds. If he keeps up this kind of form, the 28-year-old will be in line for a State of Origin recall.
In a week where New Zealand, and especially Christchurch, was in all of our hearts, the Warriors put on a performance to savour. They thrashed the Bulldogs, running away 40-6 winners in a one-sided contest.
Many had predicted the Kiwi outfit would struggle this season after losing its marquee man, NZ Test star Shaun Johnson, who has defected to Cronulla. But in his absence veteran Blake Green ran the show and was ably supported by debutant Adam Keighran.
The pair pulled the strings perfectly, the 21-year-old finishing with 16 points and nailing six out of seven attempts in his first-ever NRL appearance.
It was certainly something to enjoy, and at the very least a small bright spot in an utterly tragic period for the Land of the Long White Cloud.
All on board the Taumalolo train
Johnathan Thurston might be gone, retired and off to stud in some paddock somewhere, but the Cowboys are still to be feared. That’s because they have 117 kilogram Jason Taumalolo in their arsenal.
The rampaging forward ran for an outstanding 301 metres and single-handedly tore apart the Dragons’ defence. Taumalolo made the game look easy in Townsville, toying with the Dragons and offloading at will. When he plays like this he is unstoppable.
‘JT’ might have hung up the boots but North Queensland have a new ‘JT’ to look for inspiration.
Old dogs, new tricks
Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall might be 35 and 34 respectively, but the duo threw back the years as they led the Tigers to a 20-6 triumph over Manly.
Farah grabbed a brace and got through a mountain of work, while Marshall ran the show in terrible conditions at Leichhardt Oval.
They might be older and greyer, and a touch slower too, but there’s still plenty of life in these two old stagers. The key point is that they remain two very smart footballers.
New coach Michael Maguire was left smiling as Wests ground down the Sea Eagles in the rain and mud.
For returning Manly coach Des Hasler, it’s back to the drawing board.