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Raiders overcome Sticky date with destiny? Roosters dark horses? Storm in strife?


“I was certainly not in control of my emotions at the time and acted irresponsibly and irrationally,” said Ricky Stuart, before adding “but that’s not an excuse for my behaviour.”

This was said by him in 2008, four days after he had called Ashley Klein a “f—ing cheat” and the c— who cost us the World Cup” in a Brisbane hotel after he had refereed the final the previous night, a game in which Stuart’s Kangaroos suffered an upset 34-20 loss to New Zealand, which remains the only time Australia has not won the trophy since 1972.

Is it unfair to bring up a quote from 14 years ago? Possibly, but it’s nowhere near as bad as holding a grudge against a player for something their actions when they were in the under 12s.

It also shows Stuart has done little to curb his temper which often comes out after his team has lost a game.

(Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

The words in the above apology are similar to the sentiment he expressed on Sunday after his “weak-gutted dog” spray towards Panthers five-eighth Jaeman Salmon the previous night. 

“I allowed my emotions to get the better of me and for that I am very sorry.”

It’s a sign of character when someone is mature enough to apologise for their behaviours but after repeated five-figure fines and now a historic suspension, it’s about time Stuart learned the error of his ways.

When it comes to on-field results, what a coach is ultimately judged on, he has let his team down by being banned for Sunday’s home game against St George Illawarra, a crucial contest that the ninth-placed Raiders must win to keep their playoff hopes alive.

If they drop this game to the bumbling Dragons, then he will truly be sorry.

Here are the burning questions for all 16 teams for Round 22.

Round 21 Questions

Thursday

Panthers v Storm, 7.50pm at BlueBet Stadium

Is James Fisher-Harris the piece that will finally bring Panthers back to the pack? The Kiwi international, arguably the best prop in the game, has been banned for two weeks for a careless high tackle on Canberra’s Ryan Sutton. The absence of Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai hasn’t slowed the Panthers machine so maybe nothing will. JFH leaves a 103kg hole in the Penrith pack which will no doubt please his New Zealand comrade Jesse Bromwich and the rest of the Melbourne forwards.

Jahrome Hughes of the Storm

Jahrome Hughes (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Can Storm replace Hughes’ playmaking? The Kiwi halfback’s absence for a week or two with a shoulder injury couldn’t have come at a worse time with fourth-placed Melbourne facing a tough draw of four games against top-eight heavyweights to finish the regular season. They lost both matches he missed midway through the year, including a 32-6 drubbing at the hands of Penrith. Cameron Munster is not a chief organiser so Cooper Johns needs to step up while Harry Grant and Brandon Smith need to be dominant with ball in hand as well.

Friday

Warriors v Bulldogs, 8pm (6pm AEST) at Mt Smart Stadium

Can Warriors nab Isaiah Papali’i? It would be a massive coup if the Parramatta star can get out of his Wests Tigers deal to be able to return home for personal reasons. Somehow the Warriors have let history repeat and are losing another of their top young prospects to an Australian team with Eliesa Katoa joining Melbourne so if they don’t jag Papali’i, their pack is going to look fairly average next year.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 18: Bulldogs interim head coach Michael Potter looks on during a Canterbury Bulldogs NRL training session at Belmore Sports Ground on May 18, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Could a few other teams do with some Potter magic? He had a rough time of it for a couple of seasons at the Wests Tigers nearly a decade ago when the club was rebuilding after the nucleus of the Tim Sheens golden era had left or was beyond their best. Canterbury are all but certain to land Cameron Ciraldo as their next coach but Potter, who has put the bite back in the Bulldogs as caretaker, wouldn’t look out of place at one of the likely next vacancies, such as the Gold Coast, Newcastle or St George Illawarra.

Eels v Rabbitohs, 7.55pm at CommBank Stadium

Can Eels break Bunnies hoodoo? They have been thumped by Souths in their past five encounters, conceding 30 each time. They copped a 30-12 drubbing just over a month ago and if the trend continues, the fifth-placed Eels will not only be leapfrogged by the Rabbitohs, they could be down to seventh spot heading into the final three rounds. 

Will Jason Demetriou snare the Wayne Bennett Footsteps Trophy? The first-year coach can achieve the highest finish in the season after Bennett has exited a club if he can lift the sixth-placed Bunnies one rung higher. Ivan Henjak holds the record by taking Brisbane to sixth in 2009, ahead of Anthony Seibold (eighth at the Broncos in 2019, Steve Price (ninth at St George Illawarra in 2012) and Rick Stone (wooden spooners and sacked before season’s end in 2015). Scarily for Demetriou, none of these coaches had their contracts renewed with Price’s two years and 10 rounds the longest tenure among the Bennett successors.

Saturday 

Roosters v Cowboys, 3pm at SCG

Are Roosters title dark horses? They looked dead in the water a month ago, slumping to 10th spot before the Round 17 bye. They have since won four on the trot but last week’s victory over Brisbane was the only one over a current top-eight team. A win over second-placed North Queensland will go close to cementing a playoff berth and also show they can mix it with the big dogs but a loss will open the door for the Raiders to threaten their finals hopes.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Can Cowboys go the distance? They’ve shown signs of tapering off a bit in the past month with a big loss to Cronulla and a lucky win over the Tigers before dominating the Dragons and Bulldogs. Todd Payten’s team has been the big improver in 2022 but will they be remembered as a side that over-achieved in the regular season then petered out or can they hit top gear again as the finals loom?

Tigers v Sharks, 5.30pm at Scully Park, Tamworth

Is Papali’i doubt a symptom of broken system? Isaiah Papali’i signed a deal for 2023-25 in November 2021 and now in August 2022 is refusing to commit to it. It was his decision to sign the deal and at the time it was clearly to his satisfaction but he’s clearly developed cold feet. The way the NRL signings system is set up with such a long leeway between when deals can be done and when the player has to report to their new employer, it’s actually surprising this kind of imbroglio doesn’t happen more often. A week is a long time in rugby league, 12 months is an eternity.

Andrew Fifita. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Can Sharks take advantage of a soft schedule? They have won seven of their past eight and have a dream draw to finish the season with the Tigers, Sea Eagles, Bulldogs and Knights left, four teams outside the eight. Cronulla have only snared a top-two finish five times in the top grade since their 1967 debut (one of those was in the 1997 split year with Super League) and have not done so since Andrew Ettingshausen led them to the minor premiership in ‘99. Finishing first is out of reach but overtaking the Cowboys will mean the difference between a trip to Townsville in week one of the finals or hosting a game in Sydney, unlikely to be at Shark Park duo it limited current capacity under 12,000.

Broncos v Knights, 7.35pm at Suncorp Stadium

Can Brenko rescue Broncos? Kevin Walters experimented with rising star Deine Mariner the past couple of weeks at left centre but he made a couple of costly errors and seasoned campaigner Brenko Lee has been reinstated. Brisbane’s other centre Kotoni Staggs should also shoulder plenty of blame for the losses to the Tigers and Roosters as he made more missed tackles than his rookie counterpart.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 31: David Klemmer of the Knights is tackled during the round 20 NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the Canterbury Bulldogs at McDonald Jones Stadium, on July 31, 2022, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Should David Klemmer be in Kangaroos consideration? His dummy spit with the trainer aside, which clearly became a bigger issue than it should have been, Klemmer is still one of the most impactful props in the NRL. There are 13 front-rowers averaging more than 120 running metres per game – Klemmer is third behind Payne Haas and Joseph Tapine. Every other name on that list will be at the World Cup or was picked in State of Origin this year. Klemmer is also top 10 among props for tackles per game with 27 so it’s not like he shirks his work at the defensive end either.

Sunday 

Raiders v Dragons, 2pm at GIO Stadium

Will Raiders players be affected by Stuart’s absence? To be frank, probably not. That’s not a criticism of Stuart, we’ve seen many times this season that a coach being out for a week when they’ve gone into COVID-19 protocols has not really had much of an effect, the Tigers actually put in one of their best performances of the year when they were down to their third coach, Ben Gardiner, when caretaker Brett Kimmorley couldn’t fly to Townsville.

Can anyone explain this? Tariq Sims gets suspended and Josh McGuire is called into the starting side. No words.

Titans v Sea Eagles, 4.05pm at Cbus Super Stadium

Will Sam Verrills be a quality recruit? For sure. There has been a bit of negative feedback to the news that the Gold Coast have signed the Roosters hooker. He’s a damn fine player, not a superstar but when you’ve spent a season trotting out someone who is suited to lock or bench utility forward (Erin Clark) or a journeyman (Aaron Booth) who has just suffered a horrific knee injury, getting Verrills from the Roosters coop is a coup.

Sam Verrills of the Roosters runs the ball during the round 23 NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Sydney Roosters at Clive Berghofer Stadium, on August 22, 2021, in Toowoomba, Australia. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

Can Morgan Harper put it together at both ends? There’s no doubt he’s talented but the Manly centre can be a rocks or diamonds proposition. He made 226 running metres, very good numbers for a centre, last week against Parra, notching six tackle breaks but also missed six tackles and had a couple of handling errors. 





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