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Manly goners? Storm lucky? Waddell ban harsh? Eels miss finals?


It’s Women In League Round, the bunker stuffed up yet again leading to the top referee being dropped, a Kiwi international was sacked for vaping in the toilets and the Storm have lost four straight matches but has anyone noticed?

The build-up to Round 20 of the NRL has been swept aside by the Manly “inclusivity jersey” dramas because seven players have decided they don’t want to wear the rainbow-tinged maroon uniform.

There’s been enough said, responses, apologies and counter-responses in the past few days to last a lifetime so there’s no point adding more fuel to that fire – the seven players have stood down from the game and that is their right, hopefully one day they will get that chat with Ian Roberts, who can educate them on why homophobia can literally be a matter of life and death.

On the football field, the Sea Eagles are next to no chance of winning against the Roosters on Thursday night, which will put a massive dent in their hopes of making the top eight.

Manly, the Roosters, Canberra and St George Illawarra are in a four-way tie for eighth spot on 20 competition points.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 26: Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler speaks to the media during a Manly Warringah Sea Eagles NRL media opportunity at 4 Pines Park on July 26, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The Sea Eagles’ likely loss and the Raiders having a clash with the struggling Titans means Manly will probably be 10th, two points adrift of eighth by the end of the round, potentially 11th if the Dragons upset the Cowboys at Kogarah on Sunday.

There’ll be another media circus next week when the seven boycotting players are available for selection again – as we head into the final six rounds of the season, this saga has the potential to send the club into a downward spiral, similar to the one which engulfed St George Illawarra last year when Paul Vaughan decided a party at his house with a dozen teammates was a good idea even though the country was in a COVID-19 lockdown. 

The Dragons didn’t win another game after that infamous incident.

Here are the burning questions for all 16 teams in Round 20.

Round 20 team lists

Thursday

Sea Eagles v Roosters, 7.50pm at 4 Pines Park

Can Sea Eagles put controversy aside? The seven players who have made themselves unavailable – Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolu Koula and Toafofoa Sipley – have been replaced by three rookies, a couple of journeymen while Jake Trbojevic, Lachlan Croker and Andrew Davey returning from bouts of COVID-19 offers Des Hasler some hope.

There is likely to be a charged atmosphere at Brookvale – it could galvanise the team but the severely understrength Sea Eagles are rank outsiders against the revitalised Roosters.

Has there been a better pre-game media conference than Trent Robinson’s one on Wednesday? Short answer – no. He spoke about how rugby league needs to be truly inclusive, that homophobia is not contained to this or any sport, that it’s a societal issue that can have grave consequences, pointing to youth suicide rates being five times higher in the gay community.

You don’t have to agree with what he said, you’re allowed to be wrong.

Friday

Warriors v Storm, 6pm at Mt Smart Stadium

Are Warriors shuffling deckchairs? There’s a sense of Stacey Jones trying anything at the moment to get some sort of spark from his team. Reece Walsh was relegated to the interchange last week, now he’s back at fullback.

Jones has made a few other moves with Chanel Harris-Tavita going back to five-eighth among them – hopefully it works because Kiwi fans have been starved of top-flight league for the past three years and the Warriors can’t afford to get flogged on home turf in the closing rounds.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

How has Nelson Asofa-Solomona avoided suspension yet again? The Storm prop is the perfect example of the new judiciary system being flawed. The one that was rushed through less than 24 hours before the season kicked off. In Round 3, he was fined $1000 for a careless high tackle. A couple of weeks ago he hit Jordan Rapana with a high shot and was slugged $1800.

Last week in the loss to Souths, he was charged with dangerous contact as well as another careless one on Cameron Murray, which added up to another two fines, each worth $3000.

So he’s been fined $7800 for four incidents – let’s be conservative with the estimation and say he’s on around $400,000 a season – that’s not even 2% of his salary. Repeat offenders should get suspensions, not endless fines.

Eels v Panthers, 7.55pm at CommBank Stadium

Are the Eels going to make the eight? You wouldn’t be putting too much money on it at this stage. They will get up for the contest against their pesky little brothers from Penrith who have this annoying habit of winning premierships while Parra’s drought continues but on recent form, the Panthers should win comfortably.

The Eels finish the season with mostly home games but tough contests against Manly, Souths, Canterbury, Brisbane and Melbourne. If the Roosters and Raiders continue their late-season momentum, Parra could drop out of the playoff equation altogether.

Can Panthers break premiership record? Last week it seemed possible but not probable that Penrith could set a new all-time record for dominance.

Then they came from behind to beat Cronulla and the Cowboys went within a second of what should have been a loss to the Tigers. Penrith remain eight points in front but if North Queensland slip up again, the Panthers could have a chance when they meet the Cowboys in the final round to open up a 12-point gap on second place to beat the record of 11 set by Souths in 1951.

Saturday 

Titans v Raiders, 3pm at Cbus Super Stadium

Can Kevin Proctor salvage his career? Let’s hope the bloke is getting the help he needs because the half-time vaping social media post stupidity last weekend was clearly a cry for help. His manager has since announced he’s dealing with some personal problems and is hoping to finish his career on better terms with a Super League deal next year after rightly being punted by the Titans.

In his prime at the Storm and with the Kiwis, he was a relentless force in the second row who could sniff out a line break and snuff out an attacking raid with incredible force either way.

Kevin Proctor’s Instagram post.

Can Raiders record first hat-trick since this time last year? They broke their seven-game sequence of alternating between wins and losses when they made it two on the trot with an unconvincing home victory over the Warriors last Saturday. They won’t get a better chance of making it a hat-trick than coming up against the tackle-shy Titans.  

Sharks v Rabbitohs, 5.30pm at PointsBet Stadium 

Did Sharks err in taking on the judiciary? Yes and no. They started it off with Dale Finucane facing a two-game ban, it became three when the guilty verdict was handed down and they successfully argued for a downgrade to get it back to two.

Finucane intended no malice in his hit on Stephen Crichton and was trying to force an error at a crucial stage of the game against Penrith but, irrespective of how gruesome the split ear injury looked, it was impossible to argue that he didn’t make high contact and in the current climate, that has to attract a charge.

PENRITH, AUSTRALIA - JULY 23: Dale Finucane of the Sharks looks at the ear of Stephen Crichton of the Panthers after the

Dale Finucane looks at the ear of Stephen Crichton. (Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images)

Is this the Rabbitohs’ biggest game of the year? Yes, but they’ll potentially face bigger ones in the final rounds. If the Bunnies can upset Cronulla, they will be in a share of fourth spot at worst after Round 20 but if they lose, they will be just two points above the cut-off for the eight. They have the toughest final six rounds of any team and despite improved form in recent weeks, they’re still walking the proverbial tightrope.

Broncos v Tigers, 7.35pm at Suncorp Stadium

Do Broncos have another star in the making in Deine Mariner? There has been plenty of hype around this 19-year-old the past two seasons as he’s made his way through the junior representative ranks, earning Australian Schoolboys selection.

A lightning fast centre, he has been racking up the tries at Queensland Cup level and Kevin Walters is giving him a taste of the NRL late in the season ahead of veteran Brenko Lee. With Herbie Farnworth out for the year, Mariner may just stay there.

Tigers players dumbfounded after last-minute loss

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Are the NRL ever going to reverse a result? Based on what happened in Townsville on Sunday, the answer is no. The AFL changed a result a few years back when a draw was amended to a Fremantle victory after St Kilda kicked a behind after the umpires did not hear the final siren and allowed play to go on.

The NRL admitting the bunker stuffed up by incorrectly awarding the Cowboys a penalty on a dubious captain’s challenge verdict after time had expired is cold comfort to the Wests Tigers. If ever the NRL was going to change a result, this would be it but it’s looking extremely unlikely they’d realistically consider it.

Sunday 

Knights v Bulldogs, 2pm at McDonald Jones Stadium

Should Adam O’Brien be worried about his job? It’s time for the Knights to seriously debate whether he is the right coach for the job. Just because you were a Craig Bellamy understudy does not guarantee you will be a successful head coach.

After taking Newcastle to the finals two years in a row, this season has been a disaster and the way this team is travelling, it would not be a surprise if they don’t win another game this year.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 24: Corey Waddell of the Bulldogs tackles Tino Fa'asuamaleaui of the Titans with his hands on his eyes during the round 19 NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Gold Coast Titans at CommBank Stadium, on July 24, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Corey Waddell tackles Tino Fa’asuamaleaui. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Was Corey Waddell unlucky to get a five-game ban? He was. It was a careless act to reach over the top and grab Tino Fa’asuamaleaui by the face and it’s clear tensions were running high between the Canterbury forwards and the Titans skipper after his headlock on Matt Burton in Origin III.

Anyone who eye-gouges should be rubbed out for at least double the five-game ban that Waddell received, it’s one of the most despicable acts that a player could do. But this was not an eye gouge, it was careless, perhaps even reckless but not malicious or intentional and a couple of weeks on the sidelines would have been a more fitting punishment.

Dragons v Cowboys, 4.05pm at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium

Does Jack Bird still have the pace to play centre? He’s only 27 but a couple of serious knee injuries have restricted Bird’s explosiveness in attack. He’s done well to rebuild his career at the Dragons over the past two seasons, missing just a few games after 17 appearances across three seasons in Brisbane.

Bird has been shifted from the back row to centre up against the Cowboys with Moses Mbye switching to fullback for the injured Cody Ramsey. At least Bird won’t be up against an out-and-out speedster when he marks up opposite Peta Hiku out wide.

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 23: Reuben Cotter of the Cowboys loduring the round seven NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Gold Coast Titans at Qld Country Bank Stadium, on April 23, 2022, in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Reuben Cotter. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

How much have the Cowboys missed Reuben Cotter? Their form has been patchy in recent weeks, particularly the loss to Cronulla and then lucky escape against the Tigers, so Cotter’s likely return from a hamstring injury off the bench comes at the perfect time.

They’ve missed his effort-area plays and relentless activity in attack and defence. If he can use the next few weeks to work his way back to full fitness, Cotter could give the Cowboys a much-needed late-season jolt to have them all guns blazing by finals time.





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