As we enter the back end of the 2021 NRL premiership season every game means a little more as teams fight for finals spots, some players fight for new contracts while others fight for vacant starting roles. The Inner Sanctum takes a look at the biggest takeaways from round 14 of the NRL season.
Manly Sea Eagles v North Queensland Cowboys
Manly – No Trbojevic, no trouble
After a poor start to the season, the Sea Eagles season was resurrected with the return of fullback Tom Trbojevic but after a man of the match performance for New South Wales in State of Origin game one, he had a well-deserved break in Manly’s season-defining clash with the Cowboys.
However, that didn’t stop the Sea Eagles from continuing on their winning ways. Daly Cherry-Evans provided a captains performance with his kicking game on song, and Reuben Garrick and Brad Parker filled the void left by Trbojevic in the backfield.
If the Sea Eagles can manage their stars through this Origin period they will put themselves in a good position to compete come finals time
Cowboys – Fundamentals lacking in important clash
In must-win games against teams positioned around you on the ladder, you have to nail the basics and opportunities will present themselves, the Cowboys failed to do that on Friday night.
They struggled to get through their sets, completing at 61 percent for the night.
They also committed 13 errors with seven of those penalties and also missed 52 tackles as the Sea Eagles pierced their defensive line with ease.
Cronulla Sharks v Penrith Panthers
Cronulla – Old boys still have plenty in the tank
A trio of Sharks veterans Shaun Johnson, Aaron Woods, and Josh Dugan were recently told that they wouldn’t be receiving contracts for 2022, but Johnson and Woods proved to potential suitors that they have plenty still in the tank for next year and beyond.
Johnson scored a try, had two line-break assists and put on a masterful kicking display, kicking for 604 metres and scored the winning field goal. Woods ran for 151 metres with 16 hit-ups and had a team-high 58 post-contact metres.
Friday nights performance also showed that the pair have a lot to offer the Sharks for the remainder of the season as they remain firmly in the hunt for finals, currently sitting one game outside the eight.
Penrith – Burton the major beneficiary of Origin stars hiatus
Despite signing with the Bulldogs for season 2022 and beyond, Matt Burton’s flexibility could still be invaluable for the Panthers as they chase a premiership.
Burton again assumed his preferred position in the halves on Friday night and singlehandedly drew the Panthers back into the contest after halftime.
His all-round ability was on display as he crossed for two tries and assisted the other whilst kicking for 470 metres.
Burton’s run of form in the halves could provide a different look for Ivan Cleary on fifth tackle options when finals are on the line come September.
Gold Coast Titans v Sydney Roosters
Titans – With momentum on their side no one can stop them
The Titans were slow out of the blocks conceding five of the first six tries of the game.
With State of Origin stars AJ Brimson and Moeaki Fotuaika not playing and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and David Fifita coming off the bench the Titans looked all at sea for the first 50 minutes.
But when skipper Jamal Fogarty crossed the line for his second try at the 55-minute mark the tide began to turn as they scored a further four tries in a 17-minute window, seizing the lead with eight minutes left on the clock.
A late try and a Sam Walker field goal saw the Titans go down by the barest of margins but they showed with momentum on their side they can be very hard to stop.
Roosters – Young brigade looking dangerous
The Roosters have been brutalised by injuries so far this season, with key players missing large chunks of the season.
However, with injury comes an opportunity for young players and some of the Roosters youngsters have taken their opportunity with both hands.
Young halves duo Sam Walker and Lachlan Lam played their third game together against the Titans and showed they could become a deadly combination for the future.
Walker scored a try, had two try assists and kicked the match-winning field goal, while Lam had one try assist, laid 22 tackles and kicked for 292 metres.
18-year-old Joseph Suaalii also played his third game for the Roosters after skipper James Tedesco failed a fitness test prior to the game.
If the Roosters can continue to play these youngsters whilst still winning games, it will not only be a bonus for this year but for years to come.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Newcastle Knights
Rabbitohs – Squad depth to be highlighted in the coming weeks
The Rabbitohs are another team that has struggled through injury this season and have entered the State of Origin period with seven representatives, but their performance on Saturday afternoon highlighted how much depth they actually have.
Veteran halfback Adam Reynolds stood up yet again kicking for 488 metres, while halves partner Cody Walker showed his playmaking prowess with two try assists and three line break assists.
Winger Alex Johnston added a further three tries, bringing his season tally to 15, the second-most in the competition and Benji Marshall showed his flexibility filling it at hooker whilst Damien Cook was rested after State of Origin game one.
As various players are rested throughout the remainder of the State of Origin period these four players will be pivotal for the Rabbitohs remaining at the top of the ladder
Knights – In serious need of line-breaking prowess
The Knights season has also been derailed by injury, and on Saturday they had more time in possession and completed their sets at a higher rate but just struggled to challenge the Rabbitohs defence as their best line breaking players sat on the sideline.
Fullback Kalyn Ponga and halfback Mitchell Pearce have missed large portions of the season, only managing five and four games respectively and would have provided the much needed offensive spark.
Centre Bradman Best threatened early but was forced out of the game after half time with an ankle injury.
New recruit Jake Clifford tried his hardest, kicking for 665 metres, as did the Safiti brothers with Jacob clocking up 147 run metres and Daniel 161 metres.
The cavalry cannot arrive soon enough for the Knights as they hold onto a glimmer of hope of making the finals.
Canberra Raiders v Brisbane Broncos
Raiders – Look dangerous with Wighton and Papalii up and running
The Raiders have had a disappointing first half of the season that has been riddled by injury and poor form.
However, on Saturday night they looked more like the team who had made a preliminary final last season.
Reigning Dally M Medallist Jack Wighton controlled the middle of the field scoring a try, assisting another and providing a good one-two punch with halfback Sam Williams kicking the ball.
While prop Josh Papalii looked like he had a point to prove after returning from a suspension that forced him to miss State of Origin game.
He scored a try ran for 178 metres and had 17 hit-ups in just 50 minutes of playing time. If these pivotal Raiders can continue their good form they still might be able to make a run for the finals.
Broncos – Need to settle halves combo as soon as possible
The Broncos rolled out their seventh halves combination of the year on Saturday night with Karmichael Hunt playing his first game in over 10 years and Tyson Gamble a late inclusion for the injured Albert Kelly, and the lack of chemistry was evident.
The Broncos held onto the ball well and completed their sets at a decent percentage but just struggled to put any pressure on the Raiders defence with their fifth tackle options.
The emphasis on the halves is becoming even more important as the Broncos have plenty of talented options in the backfield that just can’t get a look in near the try line.
Tesi Niu was a late inclusion for Xavier Coates and showed he is a player for the future with a special play just before halftime.
The inclusion of Adam Reynolds at the season’s end can’t come quick enough for Broncos coach Kevin Walters, but he will still need to find someone to partner him with before the end of the season.
New Zealand Warriors v Melbourne Storm
Storm – Embarrassment of riches evident as they regain top spot
The Storm have regained top spot with their 11th victory in a row over the New Zealand Warriors.
Their incredible winning streak has been done without stars Harry Grant, Cameron Munster and Ryan Papenhuyzen for large stretches and as Munster and Grant returned from Origin duty the teams embarrassment of riches became evident.
Munster was quiet in the halves but it didn’t matter as the Grant and Brandon Smith partnership was electric again as the hookers teamed up for the second try of the game.
With Papenhuyzen’s return on the horizon, the question will now be where does coach Craig Bellamy play in form utility Nicho Hynes?
Hynes is leading the league in try assists with 19, surely he will be too good to leave on the bench when Papenhuyzen returns?
Warriors – Failed to put scoreboard pressure on early
When playing the good teams they will only ever give you a handful of chances to put the pressure back on them.
In the opening minutes of Sunday’s game, the Warriors were all over the Storm but failed to score, and when the Storm had their chance they piled on the points.
If you looked at the stats you would have thought the game was much closer than what it was, the Storm just took their chances when they were presented with them.
If it wasn’t for a late hat-trick from departing winger Ken Maumalo, it would have been a bigger blowout.
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Parramatta Eels v Wests Tigers
Eels – Lack of Orign players may prove to be silver lining
The Eels were one of the only teams towards the top end of the ladder that avoided being pillaged by State of Origin selection, a fact that could be a silver lining come the end of the season.
With Junior Paulo the only player amongst the Origin squads, the Eels remain at near full strength when the rest of the best teams will need to manage their best players so they are right for the finals series.
Against the Tigers, the Eels flexed their muscles with Clint Gutherson, Maika Sivo, Tom Opacic, Waqa Blake and Mitchell Mosses all running for over 130 metres.
With clashes against the Bulldogs and possibly undermanned Panthers outfit before the bye, the Eels could prove to be one of the teams to beat with some convincing results.
Tigers – Stung by the sin bin
Despite only have 30 per cent of possession in the first half, the Tigers entered halftime well and truly in the contest after a late try to Jacob Liddle.
However, with Shawn Blore in the sin bin, Mitchell Moses cut apart the Tiger 12 man defence and took the game away from them in a five minute period.
Tigers coach Micheal Maguire said after the game that he is sick of seeing the refs decide the games.
“I know that. It’s playing a big part. You’re losing players and you need to adjust to what is going on. But they’re going to need to find it fast because it is costing games,” he said.
Canterbury Bulldogs v St George Illawarra Dragons
Bulldogs – Consistency in the halves produces stunning result
The lowly Bulldogs have been stuck on the bottom of the ladder for the majority of the season as they rebuild their squad and give players as much exposure as they can.
However, coach Trent Barrett has looked to settle his team down in recent weeks with halves pairing Brandon Wakeham and Jake Averillo playing their third consecutive game together, sparking an upset win.
Averillo was everywhere, showing off his running game as well as his kicking game as he scored two tries, ran for 122 metres and kicked for 566 metres as he dismantled the Dragons.
Prop pairing Jack Hetherington and Luke Thompson were also pivotal in the sides win, running for 127 and 167 metres respectively.
If the Bulldogs can continue this model of consistency for the rest of the year expect another upset or two towards the end of the year.
Dragons – Struggles against the competitions weaker sides continue
The Dragons currently have six wins and eight losses and narrowly hang onto eighth position on the ladder.
However, the biggest concern for coach Anthony Griffin is how his boys perform against teams in the bottom eight.
Currently, the Dragons have a three-win, six loss record against teams currently in the bottom eight, this compared to their three-win, two-loss record against teams currently in the top eight.
The Dragons missed another chance to further cement their place in the top eight against the Bulldogs in their annual Queen’s Birthday clash making them susceptible to the chasing pack.