Cody Walker celebrates a try with Rabbitohs teammate Alex Johnston. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Cody Walker celebrates a try with Rabbitohs teammate Alex Johnston. Picture: Phil Hillyard

Monday Bunker: Only the Roosters can stop them

With Round 8 of the competition now done and dusted, our team of rugby league writers analyse the NRL's talking points in the Monday Bunker.

 

The grudge match turned into a mismatch.

Wayne Bennett walked away with bragging rights over Anthony Seibold but there are bigger issues for the Broncos to worry about following their 38-6 thumping at ANZ Stadium.

For a start, Brisbane's annual objective of a top-four finish has been blown to bits after just eight rounds and that's an embarrassing scenario for Queensland's flagship club, which possesses more resources than any club in the league.

The argument that Brisbane need time to develop their youth is rubbish. They made the choice to release three grand-final campaigners: Josh McGuire and Jordan Kahu have joined the Cowboys and on the eve of the Souths clash, halfback Kodi Nikorima was allowed to join the Warriors. It's madness.

The Broncos' spirit as a squad looks battered and they quickly need to find some midfield grunt to have any hope of a finals campaign.

How they must yearn for the return of Bennett, who has steered Souths to equal top spot with a 7-1 record.

The Rabbitohs can win the premiership this year. Halves Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds are in supreme form, Damien Cook is so lethal at hooker and the likes of Sam Burgess, John Sutton and Cameron Murray are class acts in the forwards.

Only the Roosters can stop them.

- Peter Badel

HAVE COWBOYS UNLOCKED PLAYMAKING SOLUTION?

 

John Asiata starred in a new role for the Cowboys. Picture: AAP
John Asiata starred in a new role for the Cowboys. Picture: AAP

 

It appears the Cowboys have unearthed a new, rather unconventional, matchwinning playmaker.

Coach Paul Green pulled an absolute masterstroke just an hour before kick-off against the Titans on Friday night when he brought back human wrecking ball Jason Taumalolo from injury, omitting young half Jake Clifford.

It meant 104kg prop John Asiata was shifted into the halves alongside Michael Morgan and what a stroke of genius that panned our to be.

As a kid, Asiata dreamt of being the next Johnathan Thurston.

On Friday night, he showcased his impressive skillset.

His ability to see an opportunity for winger Ben Hampton by putting through a perfectly weighted grubber kick was shades of JT's master play.

Hampton was able to gather the ball and provide a great offload to allow Asiata, backing up his kick, to score his third try this year.

Green and Morgan could certainly benefit from Asiata getting an extended run in the halves for the Cowboys.

- Chris Honnery

 

GUTSY WIN HIGHLIGHTS CRONULLA'S CREDENTIALS

 

Chad Townsend and the Sharks celebrate victory over the Storm. Picture: Getty Images
Chad Townsend and the Sharks celebrate victory over the Storm. Picture: Getty Images

 

Everyone talks about the Sydney Roosters, South Sydney, Melbourne and now Canberra as being the genuine contenders for this year's NRL title.

Well, throw Cronulla into the conversation.

If they consistently turn up with the same hunger and intent that was displayed in Friday night's gutsy 20-18 victory over Storm, the Sharks can beat anyone.

Even without Matt Moylan, Shaun Johnson, Wade Graham and Aaron Woods they still found a way to go out and bring down a full strength Storm with a performance even Craig Bellamy conceded was defined by attitude.

As Bellamy explained: "We were out-played. We were out-toughed. We were out-toughed physically. We were out-toughed mentally."

As it highlighted, this is what the Sharks can do when they have their minds on the job, regardless of who they are playing or who might be out injured.

John Morris was full of praise for his players after the game, especially the youngsters who have stepped up, and the coach deserves a rap for the job he has done since taking over from Shane Flanagan.

The Sharks are four wins from their opening eight matches and tackle Gold Coast on Thursday night to kick off Magic Round at Suncorp Stadium.

Morris said Moylan should be back for the following game against Manly on Sunday week.

Following that Johnson should be available for the round 11 game against St George Illawarra and after the round 12 bye Graham should be back followed the first Origin and Woods soon after.

Morris conceded he was going to have some tough selection decisions in the coming weeks but Sharks fans should be excited from what they saw from their team on Friday night.

- Paul Crawley

BIG CHANCE TO PROVE RAIDERS ARE CONTENDERS

 

Jack Wighton impressed in Canberra’s win over Penrith. Picture: AAP
Jack Wighton impressed in Canberra’s win over Penrith. Picture: AAP

 

Penrith might be equal last and spiralling into a vortex of despair but there wasn't a Canberra fan alive who wasn't nervous before the two teams met on the weekend.

After all, the Raiders had some bad habits return in last week's loss to Manly and lost Jordan Rapana and Joey Leilua in the lead-up to the match.

Throw in a sin bin for Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, an injury to John Bateman and a lack of field position and possession in the first half and it was panic stations for the Green Machine faithful.

But instead, the Raiders were able to muscle up, weather the storm and come away from Wagga Wagga with a steadying 30-12 victory on the back of stellar displays from Elliott Whitehead, Josh Papalii and especially Jack Wighton, who played his best game since moving to five-eighth.

Canberra are now 6-2 after eight rounds, their best start to the season since biblical times but many still don't count among the true premiership heavyweights, not truly, not the same way they do the Roosters, Rabbitohs and Storm.

The Raiders only have to beat the bad teams to make the finals but to win in the finals they need to beat those three. This weekend, the Raiders face the Roosters in the marquee match up of Magic Round. Next week they face the Rabbitohs.

Canberra have already exceeded expectations this season and they can and should be proud of their efforts so far. But the final challenge, and the greatest, lies in taking on the best of the best - the Raiders have a chance to prove themselves to not just be challengers but true contenders.

- Nick Campton

FROM RESERVE GRADE TO SEA EAGLES SAVIOUR

 

Kane Elgey has to step up for the Sea Eagles. Picture: AAP
Kane Elgey has to step up for the Sea Eagles. Picture: AAP

 

Step up, Kane Elgey.

Just a fortnight after being axed, Elgey will be asked to take the lead for an injury-ravaged Manly side missing playmakers Daly Cherry-Evans and Lachlan Croker.

Dropped only last week by Des Hasler for not providing enough attacking punch, Elgey provided it in bucketloads in the Sea Eagles' win over Canterbury on Saturday night.

He threw two cut-out balls for winger Reuben Garrick to score in the opening 15 minutes on Saturday night, with one going more than 20 across field. On another occasion he kicked ahead for himself and almost set up what would have been one of the tries of the season, only to have put a foot into touch when batting the ball back.

"I just grabbed the ball and was lucky enough in the first 20 minutes," Elgey said when asked if Hasler's critique had changed his mindset.

"That's what I need to do, get into the game straight away and not float around and be that second playmaker.

"The second half probably wasn't up to scratch.

"I'm going to work on that this week and if I'm going to be the chief playmaker I'm going to have to take those moments in the second half especially on fifth tackle."

By his own admission, Elgey accepted he'd deserved to ride the rugby league rollercoaster after his form in the opening five weeks.

- AAP

FITTLER'S SOLUTION: MAKE NSW RED, WHITE, BLUE

 

Could Daniel Tupou be set for a State of Origin recall? Picture: Getty Images
Could Daniel Tupou be set for a State of Origin recall? Picture: Getty Images

 

The Blues could become the Tricolours for the State of Origin series opener.

Brad Fittler must be seriously considering a left edge consisting entirely of Sydney Roosters.

Skipper Boyd Cordner, James Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell are all incumbents and certainties for selection.

Clive Churchill Medalist Luke Keary is the form playmaker in the NRL (special mention to Cody Walker), and Daniel Tupou has donned the blue in the past.

A lengthy hamstring injury to Tom Trbojevic is likely to cost him a place in Origin I, opening up a vacant wing spot.

While Trbojevic played on the right side in the 2018 Origin triumph, Tupou's inclusion on his preferred left edge could be made possible by shifting Josh Addo-Carr to the opposite wing.

Combinations are everything in rugby league, particularly in an Origin arena with such little time to forge new partnerships.

Fittler admitted last week incumbency was key due to the already formed partnerships both on and off the field.

So why not keep the entire Roosters edge together on the big stage?

The defensive unit will be in perfect synch and their relationship in attack can be simply adapted to the new outfit.

On form, and with incumbency in mind, Tupou could be the last piece of the puzzle.

- Tim Williams

WARRIORS MUST OVERCOME TUIVASA-SHECK TACTIC

 

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was well contained by the Knights. Picture: Getty Images
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was well contained by the Knights. Picture: Getty Images

 

The Warriors are low in confidence after four straight NRL losses and desperate to get more ball to the man who could lighten their mood, skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

Coach Stephen Kearney admits his players' self-belief had taken a hit following the 36-18 home loss to Newcastle on Sunday which left them among the five bottom teams languishing on a 2-6 record.

A key tactic in Newcastle's win was halfback Mitchell Pearce regularly kicking the ball out on the final play or launching contestable bombs, rather than letting fullback Tuivasa-Sheck field possession with time to launch sets via a trademark stepping run.

It worked to perfection. The reigning Dally M medallist notched just 78 running metres, well down on his season average of close to 200m.

Kearney noted North Queensland employed the same methods to stiffle Tuivasa-Sheck at Mt Smart Stadium two weeks ago.

"If teams are going to take that approach, we have to have a plan for it," Kearney said.

"That's our job as coaches, find a way around it. I didn't think we were good enough."

Kearney said Newcastle's dominant pack allowed Pearce to adopt the kicking tactic. Because they had rolled so far down the field, it made kicking the ball out easier to achieve.

- AAP

PACK POWERS PARRAMATTA'S NRL RESURGENCE

 

Shaun Lane has been a great recruit for Parramatta. Picture: Getty Images
Shaun Lane has been a great recruit for Parramatta. Picture: Getty Images

 

Remember when the Parramatta pack was labelled soft?

Officially, it was only nine NRL games ago.

Back when the Slipperies finished 2019 with a wooden spoon a little respect.

But now?

Well, suddenly the Eels sit fifth on the NRL ladder thanks largely to the competition's most improved pack.

One where the stars, and storylines, are everywhere.

Like, rookie No. 9 Reed Mahoney. Or resurrected prop Junior Paulo.

Shaun Lane is as good a buy as he is tall, while fellow backrower Marata Niukore is a genuine rising star.

And all this before we get to a bench resembling a pack of Kamikaze pilots.

Truly, who wants Manu Ma'u running at them full tilt?

- Nick Walshaw

News Corp Australia


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