GOLDEN POINTS: NRL ROUND 8

It’s taken a while but WILL EVANS’ Golden Points column – previously seen on Back Page Lead, Making The Nut and Commentary Box Sports – has received a reboot for This Warriors Life.

RED HOT

Storm’s back-to-back bid 

After some dusty performances in the opening five rounds, the Storm have rocketed back to top form – culminating in the most devastating 40 minutes of football you could ever wish to see on Anzac Day.

The Warriors were poor in the first half, but could any team have stopped the onslaught that carried the Storm to a 38-0 lead? If any doubts remain as to who the 2018 premiership favourites should be, the Storm can put them to bed in this Sunday’s mouth-watering match-up with the Dragons.

Josh Addo-Carr’s Origin hopes

It shouldn’t even be a discussion anymore: ‘The Fox’ has to be on the Blues’ flank for Game 1. He was untouchable against the Warriors and it’s his brand of game-changing magic NSW desperately needs. All-conquering Melbourne has long been packed with Queenslanders, so the Blues should be taking advantage of a rare chance to bring a Storm star into their ranks.

Kalyn Ponga

Has any young superstar lived up to sky-high expectations in their first full season of NRL with the same authority as Ponga? He’d only played nine first-grade games for the Cowboys heading into 2018 – and only six at fullback – but the 19-year-old is already one of the most valuable and well-rounded No.1s in the game.

He’s super-elusive and quick, a great ball-player and his goosestep-and-short-ball move is almost impossible to combat, but Ponga’s toughness and maturity have also been standout features of his play. Geez it must be tempting for the Maroons selectors to put him on the bench.

Esan Marsters

Our new favourite non-Warriors player. After an eye-catching 2017 rookie year at the Tigers, the Auckland-born centre has developed rapidly this year, locking down a backline spot and keeping some handy players out of one of the NRL’s in-form sides.

Big and powerful but also wonderfully skilful and boasting deft footwork, Marsters’ assist for Corey Thompson to score on Sunday was all class. And he’s 90 percent off the tee.

With few New Zealand centres in genuinely good form this year, he has gone from Kiwis roughie to being a must for the Denver Test.

Parra’s resurgence

A 2-6 record still doesn’t look too flash – but you’d rather be 2-6 after two character-filled wins than the slumping 2-6 the Sea Eagles, Bulldogs and Cowboys are sitting on.

The Eels have given up a huge head-start, but anything’s possible if they keep producing the type of performance they put up to edge out the Tigers. Clint Gutherson’s enthusiasm has transformed the side, while the likes of David Gower gave the blue-and-gold pack a grunty 2017 look again.

Penrith’s grit

The Panthers are moving away from the brilliant-but-streaky persona that stopped them from taking the next step in 2016 and ’17. After losing Dylan Edwards on top of an already heavy injury toll, they showed real guts to claw back from a double-digit deficit and get over the top of the Bulldogs 22-14.

If James Maloney can steer the Panthers to premiership glory this year, he’ll surely bump King Midas out of Greek mythology after also guiding the Roosters and Sharks to grand final wins at his first attempt.

Fusitu’a’s tryscoring strike-rate

Warriors flyer David Fusitu’a’s second-half double – his fourth of the season – against the Storm kept him at the top of the NRL’s try charts and Addo-Carr at arm’s length, taking his tally to 10 in just eight games.

While it may be unrealistic to expect ‘Air Fus’ to continue his prolific scoring rate for the entire season, if he does he will smash the Warriors’ season tryscoring record (23, by Francis Meli in 2003) and become the just the third player to reach the magical 30-try mark in premiership history by the end of the regular season.

Fusitu’a now has 42 career tries from 65 games – a strike-rate of 0.65 tries per game, behind only the great Manu Vatuvei in Warriors history.

 

ICE COLD

Cowboys’ finals prospects

The legendary Johnathan Thurston’s premiership farewell is shaping as being more like Wally Lewis with the wooden-spoon Seagulls in ’92 than Mal Meninga with the grand final-winning Raiders in ’94 after his Cowboys slipped to 2-6 with a loss in Canberra.

The Cowboys have dug themselves out of holes before – 0-3 before going on to win the title in 2015, 2-5 to a semi-final in 2014, 6-12 to finish eighth in 2013 – but they need to turn things around pronto.

Manly

Draw a line through the Sea Eagles for 2018. The salary cap drama, a raft of injuries, the Jackson Hastings fiasco, spiralling results, and now speculation Trent Barrett could be ready to pull the pin and is off with Daly Cherry-Evans…it’s all a bit of a nightmare on the northern beaches at present.

The Bunker

It’s been a much-improved NRL Bunker in 2018, which makes the Nene Macdonald ‘Try’ ruling on Anzac Day all the more frustrating. They came up with the right call on a dozen more difficult calls in Round 8 – but that matters little when they can’t get the glaringly obvious ones right.

Bryce Cartwright

What a fall from grace for a player that was lauded as one of the most gifted, dynamic ball-playing back-rowers the game has seen in years.

Cartwright was viewed as an Origin player-in-waiting after a breakout year with the high-flying Panthers in 2016. Now he’s barely a first-grade quality lock or five-eighth in a struggling Titans outfit.

Warriors’ edge defence

Maybe it was their five-day turnaround from a mammoth defensive effort against the Dragons, or perhaps the Storm’s savvy tactics in employing the early wide shift to devastating effect. Either way, the Warriors were embarrassed on the edges on Anzac Day.

Mason Lino, Peta Hiku, Anthony Gelling, Blake Green and Simon Mannering were all made to look second-rate by the near-perfect Storm in a 38-0 first-half rout. They’re better than that – which they showed by shoring things up after the break – but Stephen Kearney will no doubt be spending a bit more time on D in the lead-up to Saturday’s crucial showdown with Wests Tigers.

Blues five-eighth debate

Wade Graham? Jack Bird?! The notion being put forward by some good judges that NSW should take a punt on a stopgap at five-eighth for the 2018 series should be extremely concerning for Blues fans.

Nathan Hindmarsh suggested Graham as a smoky, while Andrew Johns has pushed Bird’s barrow to link up with James Maloney in the NSW halves. Maloney is a certainty – at No.6 or 7, depending on Nathan Cleary’s fitness – but if his club halves partner is unavailable, the Blues have to go with Luke Keary, Cody Walker, Blake Green or even Matt Moylan or Luke Brooks.

Surely Brad Fittler, the prince of NSW pivots, will heed the harrowing lessons of picking part-timers in the key position – such as Mark Gasnier in the 2006 decider.

Rugby union traits

It’s the elephant in the room that has barely rated a mention – the NRL’s glut of penalty goals and sin-binnings is undeniably rugby union-esque.

The penalty crackdown and referees’ liberal use of the once-dormant sin-bin option is admirable, but the alternative – conceding a try – will always be less preferable, so it’s hard to see the NRL’s campaign having the desired effect. I’m not sure what the solution is.

Fortunately, the NRL is still infinitely more watchable than Super Rugby, which has been dreadful in 2018.

 

SIX MORE TACKLES

After the naming of 25 candidates to fill six Hall of Fame spots later in the year, we look at six players who arguably should have been in the mix.

Geoff Toovey: The toughest player pound-for-pound in premiership history, ‘Tooves’ was a massively influential halfback and captain for Manly. Led the Sea Eagles to a premiership in a Clive Churchill Medal-winning display in 1996, played 286 first-grade games and skippered his state and country amongst 15 Origins for NSW and 13 Tests for Australia.

Ben Elias: Like everyone, we love Roycie Simmons – but does anyone truly believe he left a bigger legacy than the unlikable Elias? The Balmain livewire revolutionised dummy-half player with his halfback-esque skillset. An Origin icon in 19 games for NSW – including five series wins – and an Ashes hero as vice-captain on the 1990 Kangaroo Tour, but he wasn’t a man of the people or enjoy a famous farewell like Simmons, so he missed out.

Jack Rayner: Although overshadowed by Souths’ incomparable fullback Clive Churchill, Rayner was the inspirational captain-coach of the Rabbitohs’ 1950-51 and 1953-55 premiership successes. The tough second-rower toured with the 1948-49 Kangaroos and was named at No.71 by Rugby League Week in 1992 and No.73 by The Daily Telegraph in 2000 in ‘Top 100’ polls, but was a notable omission from the ARL’s 100 Greatest in 2008.

Nathan Hindmarsh: ‘Hindy’ played 330 NRL games, 23 Tests and 17 Origins, and was a key part of two Parramatta grand final sides. One of the most valuable forwards of the past 20 years, the only thing he didn’t do was win a premiership – but that didn’t hold the likes of Andrew Ettingshausen and Steve Roach from strolling into the Hall of Fame.

Dick Thornett: Former Wallaby (and Australian water polo rep) Thornett was at the forefront of Parramatta’s first great era and one of the most respected forwards of the 1960s, playing 14 Tests from 1963-68 and scoring seven tries in 12 matches for NSW. Named at No.78 by RLW and No.84 by the Telegraph in previous ‘Top 100’ lists.

Bob O’Reilly: ‘The Bear’ played a then-record 284 first-grade games from 1967-82, including an underrated role in Parramatta’s maiden premiership in the twilight of his career. A front-row enforcer with ball skills second only to Beetson, O’Reilly represented Australia in 16 Tests. He was named at No.62 in 1992 and No.77 and 2000 in the aforementioned polls.

We’d leave out Simmons, Elwyn Walters, Craig Young, Rod Reddy, Paul Harragon and Dennis Flannery from the final 25 in the ballot. Our picks to get the six Hall of Fame slots: Ricky Stuart, Steve Renouf, Petero Civoniceva, Stacey Jones, Ian Moir and Michael O’Connor, with Danny Buderus and Gorden Tallis missing out in a photo finish.

 

FORM ORIGIN TEAMS

New South Wales

1 Matt Dufty
2 Josh Addo-Carr
3 Euan Aitken
4 Latrell Mitchell
5 Tom Trbojevic
6 Luke Keary
7 James Maloney
8 Reagan Campbell-Gillard
9 Damien Cook
10 Tevita Pangai Jr
11 Tariq Sims
12 Isaah Yeo
13 Jack De Belin

14 Paul Vaughan
15 Jake Trbojevic
16 Tyson Frizell
17 Tyrone Peachey

Queensland

1 Kalyn Ponga
2 Corey Oates
3 Will Chambers
4 Greg Inglis
5 Dane Gagai
6 Cameron Munster
7 Ben Hunt
8 Christian Welch
9 Cameron Smith
10 Matt Lodge
11 Coen Hess
12 Felise Kaufusi
13 Jai Arrow

14 Billy Slater
15 Matt Scott
16 Jarrod Wallace
17 Josh McGuire

 

FORM KIWIS TEAM

1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
2 Jason Nightingale
3 Esan Marsters
4 Dean Whare
5 Ken Maumalo
6 Benji Marshall
7 Shaun Johnson
8 Bunty Afoa
9 Issac Luke
10 Herman Ese’ese
11 Tohu Harris
12 Raymond Faitala-Mariner
13 Adam Blair

14 Jazz Tevaga
15 Simon Mannering
16 Slade Griffin
17 Nelson Asofa-Solomona

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