SEVEN-TACKLE SET: NRL ROUND 17

Thoughts and talking points from an Origin-shortened – but highly eventful – Round 17 of the NRL.

 

Defensive steel goes missing

The Warriors’ 2017 campaign will rightly go down as one of their most wretched, winning just seven times and finishing the year on a nine-match losing streak. But amidst the rubble was this promising statistical nugget: despite some woeful defeats, their biggest losing margin was just 20 points.

The new and on-the-whole vastly improved Warriors have already lost four games by 20-plus margins, despite losing only six times to date.

On top of that, Stephen Kearney’s side was only held to 10 points or less three times last season; it’s already happened four times in 2018 even though this year’s version is a far more potent attacking outfit.

With the 36-4 loss to under-strength Penrith on Friday easily their most limp performance – on both sides of the ball – so far this season, a week of soul-searching and hard truths looms at Warriors HQ. 

 

Axe coach’s Pet or stick with Hiku?

When Manu Vatuvei had that infamous, butter-fingered shocker at Parrmatta Stadium in 2007, at least he was having a crack.

It’s dubious you could say the same for Peta Hiku, who put in an entry for the worst performance ever in a Warriors jumper. He had nine missed tackles – including two that resulted directly in tries – and was sloppy in attack. But it’s his lack of resolve in giving up on the chase shamefully early after a pathetic one-on-one miss on Bill Kikau in the lead-up to Waqa Blake’s try that should see him in the reggies next week.

It wasn’t far off Bryce Cartwright’s refusal to make a goal-line tackle earlier in the season – and the Titans back-rower hasn’t been sighted in the NRL since May.

Hooked with 15 minutes left, it shapes as a nervous Team List Tuesday for the New Zealand international. It’s a season-defining selection call for coach Stephen Kearney, who could have a torch and pitchfork mob storming into Penrose if he opts to give the erratic Hiku another chance.

 

Young guns take their chance

Jahrome Hughes, Jarome Luai and Kotoni Staggs are unlikely to feature in the NRL finals series barring injury to their teams’ rep stars, but the trio took their opportunities in spectacular style during an Origin-depleted Round 17.

Fullback Hughes was a clear man of the match in Melbourne’s win on Thursday; Luai played like a seasoned veteran in a stunning two-try, 20-point display opposite Shaun Johnson in the Panthers’ rampage; and Staggs laid on a try and scored another in the opening 20 minutes to cement his status as a future superstar before going off with an HIA.

Rival recruitment managers would have been frothing over the young guns’ standout performances.

 

Raiders stay alive with Belmore miracle

After losing five matches by four points or less already this season, Canberra kept its finals flame flickering with a remarkable escape to edge out Canterbury 32-28.

Down 28-14, the enigmatic Green Machine ran in three tries in the last six minutes as retrenched supersub Blake Austin started tearing it up.

They’re still six points adrift of the eight, but with the Warriors apparently wilting the Raiders haven’t given up on playing September footy just yet.

 

Leilua spoils match-winning effort

Joey Leilua is the John Hopoate of his era – a talented, explosive player whose terrible temperament means he is destined to be remembered as one of the least liked to ever play the game.

After scoring the late match-winner at Belmore Oval, Leilua stood over the Morris twins and gave them a gobful in the most disgraceful display of bad sportsmanship of 2018.

The irony is Leilua had an ordinary game up to that point and has been poor all season.

 

Toothless Titans put cue in the rack

Gold Coast seemed tremendous value as an underdog leading into Sunday’s derby with Brisbane at Robina, coming into the match off resounding away wins over Canterbury and Wests Tigers.

But with their slim chances of staying in the finals race riding on the result, the Titans played like their minds were already on Mad Monday in a 34-0 drubbing.

The meek showing did nothing if not underline Jai Arrow’s importance to the side.

 

Rhyse the beast provides Bulldogs’ silver lining

Canterbury’s history is laced with memorable goalkicking forwards – George Taylforth, Henry Tatana, Gavin Hill – but Rhyse Martin seems destined to become the best of the lot.

In easily our favourite record-breaking effort of 2018, the Papua New Guinea international scored 24 points (three tries, six goals) in the Bulldogs’ gut-wrenching loss to the Raiders.

Martin’s haul smashed the long-standing premiership record for most individual points in a losing team of 19, co-held by Balmain’s Joe Jorgensen (v Easts, 1945) and Norths’ Peter Schofield (v Wests, 1978).

That’s rugby league stats nerd heroin right there.

More importantly for the Bulldogs, though, is that the unheralded back-rower – who is a flawless 12-from-12 with the boot in his NRL career – shapes as a genuine game-breaker for many years to come. In a team lacking genuine attacking flair, the dynamic 25-year-old is a valuable find.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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