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Hit whoever you want, it’s just fine

Misguided Cowboy decisions, roast Bunnies and some critical wins for teams hunting the eight. Here are your NRL talking points for Round 15.

The NRL’s judiciary system remains a joke

If it wasn’t apparent how busted the NRL’s new and improved judiciary system is after Round 1 when Melbourne’s Nelson Asofa-Solomona was fined for hitting an opponent late and high, or after Cronulla’s Toby Rudolf was fined for a crusher tackle on Esan Marsters, or after Antonio Kafusi was fined (then exonerated) for elbowing Rooster Sam Walker in the head, then take a look at the ‘punishment’ Roosters prop Lindsay Collins got for a tackle the likes of which has seen players sent off, sin binned and suspended in 2022.

Placed on report at the time, Collins can plead guilty and pay $2500 without missing time. Also one to behold this weekend was Sea Eagles centre Morgan Harper, who should have been sin binned or sent off for kneeing North Queensland’s Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow in the head.

Instead, Harper got a grade one penalty, a $1000 fine with an early guilty plea. Again, for kneeing an opponent in the head.

It’s absolute garbage, and yet again, a sign the NRL is not serious about protecting its players from foul play. The game seems pretty much lost to that dinosaur ‘there’s nothing in that, what’s he supposed to do, he can’t disappear’ mentality.

Why did the Cowboys fly Reuben Cotter to Sydney?

When North Queensland’s Queensland Origin rookie Rueben Cotter pulled up lame with a hamstring injury in the warm-up on Friday night in Manly it was just bad luck, a bolt of misfortune from the sporting gods. On Saturday though, we learned Cotter had been having trouble with his hamstring throughout the week.

Why in God’s name would you risk the fitness of one of your key players, who’s in the middle of a breakout season, in Round 15 for an ultimately meaningless Friday night game in Sydney? If Cotter was having issues during the week he should have been left behind to get himself right.

We all understand pro athletes are beasts which want to run free – given the choice, they will play on through pain, illness, emotional trauma and anything else. They don’t want to let down their team mates, fans and club.

But sometimes, you need to make them sit down and realise that theirs and the club’s long term prospects are better served by taking time to get yourself close to 100 per cent as possible.

Win or lose on Friday, the Cowboys were safe in the top four ahead of the Origin/international break. Now Cotter is out for a month. It’s just madness the team and Cotter tried to play through. That’s not what premiership teams do.

Did the Sea Eagles choke on a finals place?

Seventy-two minutes into Friday’s game against North Queensland, Manly led 26-12 and were on the verge of breaking through against a genuine top-four side. Eight minutes later, they were beat 28-26 and now have a battle to hang in with the group of teams chasing seventh and eighth place.

Manly now sit a game behind eighth-placed St George Illawarra, and so far their for-and-against of -4 is keeping them afloat, but how’s this for a season-defining run after the break? The Sea Eagles front Melbourne, Newcastle, St George Illawarra, the Roosters then Parramatta.

There’s a softer run after that but if Des Hasler’s team isn’t good enough to take three of that next five, it might not matter.

Jason Demetriou’s rationale for benching Lachlan Ilias made sense

Like most, I thought it was harsh for South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou to drag his rookie halfback just 29 minutes into Thursday’s bloodbath in Wollongong.

There’s nothing wrong with a coach making a drastic change to short circuit a problem or send a message, but at the time down 32-0 and with laughable defence from some of their biggest ‘stars’, you could hardly say a rookie halfback was the Bunnies’ biggest problem. So, it was with interest I listened to Demetriou’s post-game comments.

“It’s not on him, it’s about trying to get a response for the team,” he said.

“That first half wasn’t on Lachlan Ilias, no doubt. It’s part of his learning. I don’t think he’s the first bloke who’s had a bad day at the office, he wasn’t on his own. He’s got great resilience, he’s got good temperament, he’ll learn from it no doubt.

“But again he is a guy that has barely played any footy over the last two years and he is 14 games into his NRL career and we were 20-odd-nil down.

“It is not fair on him to expect him to be the one to get us out of that. We had some experience to put Kodi Nikorima there and bring Blake Taaffe on, who has played in some big games and that was today.

“Next week Lachie will be there and he will get himself going again.”

All fine and fair enough. But the follow-up is what matters – supporting Ilias during the week, then giving him the confidence to continue. It’s a harsh game and young players need to be looked after.

Finally, New Zealand goes home

After getting thoroughly dusted by Penrith, the Warriors finally get to board a plane and go back to New Zealand for the first time as a team since the start of 2020. They’ll play the Tigers at Mount Smart Stadium after the Origin/international break.

There’s been much discussion of how to thank the Warriors for what they did to keep the show on the road during the COVID-19 pandemic, like a full home season or salary cap relief, among other ideas – let’s hope head office comes up with something meaningful.

Quick hits

– Canberra’s first try in Sunday’s win over the Knights marked the 221st consecutive game where they’ve scored a four-pointer, tying North Queensland’s NRL record set between 2012-2020. The Green Machine’s record-equalling streak started at Round 7, 2013.

– Brisbane’s seven-week win streak may have ended in Melbourne, but they still gave a quality opponent a good shake. It’s almost like Kevin Walters knows what he’s doing.

– Well played Dragons hooker Andrew McCullough, who on Thursday notched game 300, a magnificent achievement in this game of rugby league.

– Parramatta got back to business with a workmanlike finish against the Roosters after scooting away early.

– The Gold Coast gave Cronulla a game in Coffs Harbour, but the Sharks continue to chalk up those wins.

– Did Canterbury’s 36-12 win over the Wests Tigers get them cleared away from this year’s wooden spoon? Is the next step out of the bottom four? On the other side of the ball, are the Tigers now headed for the kitchen utensils?

– Still no Josh Addo-Carr for New South Wales. Utter madness from Brad Fittler.

To the next

Next week? No NRL games, but lots of fun to be had. First up on Friday in Canberra with a big crowd expected is the women’s State of Origin, which will be a ripper as New South Wales try to win the shield back from Queensland.

Then we’ve also got a massive Saturday filled with international football! New Zealand and Tonga in women’s, then men’s belters on Saturday afternoon in Auckland. After that it’s a Campbelltown doubleheader with Samoa and the Cook Islands, then Papua New Guinea against Fiji.

If you can get along to any of these, do it.

The weekend wraps with State of Origin Game 2 in Perth on Sunday night primetime. A massive crowd, the series on the line for New South Wales – it should be a great cap to a good old festival of representative rugby league. By gar, it’s been a while.

What did you think of the weekend’s games, Roarers?

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