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Sick of ‘rugby wars’ already? Storm to change their ways? Should Dogs hunt Ben?


Is there anything more tedious than high-fallutin’ administrators waging a phoney war about the merits of their version of a particular sport?

With Rugby Australia having a supposed multimillion-dollar “World Cup war chest” for an “audacious raid” of “bombshell targets” and the NRL ready to beat its chest over how boring the rival code is, prepared to be quickly comatose at the hyperbole.

The tired cliches will come thick and fast – league types will say stuff like “kick and clap” to deride the rah-rah mob while rugby will hit back by pointing to its advantage of being a genuinely global sport with phrases like “play league and see northern England, play rugby and see the world”.

If Joseph Suaalii or any other professional athlete wants to try their hand at another sport, good on them. Union’s amateur era died about three decades ago – players switching back and between has barely made a ripple either way ever since. 

Joseph Suaalii of the Roosters

Joseph Suaalii. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The rival codes have co-existed for more than a century and will continue to do so for a lot longer than that into the future. 

For league fans, the final round leading into the playoff series is much more interesting and deserving of attention.

Here are the burning questions for all 16 teams leading into Round 25.

Round 25 Teams

Thursday

Eels vs Storm, 7.50pm at CommBank Stadium

Is Shaun Lane on his way to a World Cup? Kangaroos assistant coach Michael Hagan revealed in his column for The Roar on Wednesday that the in-form back-rower’s name has been jotted down by Mal Meninga and the (reinstated) selectors Darren Lockyer and Laurie Daley. Lane has always been dynamic but has usually been hot and cold – if he can keep his current heater rolling deep into the finals, his size on an edge could be handy for Australia against some of the very large humans who will pack down for other nations.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Does anyone expect the Storm or Nelson Asofa-Solomona to change their ways? Of course not. The club has been getting away with dubious tactics for a decade-plus and Asofa-Solomona is simply the latest face for the wrath of rival fans. When asked about the Kiwi prop’s latest grubby act which resulted in a fine rather than a ban, Craig Bellamy on Wednesday said “the committee who put the charges out, they haven’t seen it as that severe that they’ve given him weeks”. Translation: The match review committee has slapped him over the wrists with a feather yet again so we will continue to do as we please.

Friday

Bulldogs vs Sea Eagles, 6pm at Accor Stadium

Should Bulldogs be in Hunt for Ben? For sure – in many ways they would be better served prying the skipper away from St George Illawarra than building for the future around his deputy, Jayden Sullivan. The Dogs will have a relatively experienced side next year and Hunt could be the ideal complement to Matt Burton in the halves with a fresh team approach under new coach Cameron Ciraldo, similar to Nicho Hynes arriving at Cronulla to pair with Matt Moylan under Craig Fitzgibbon.

Ben Hunt passes

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Have Sea Eagles given up? All signs point to yes. The impact of the seven-player “inclusivity jersey” boycott was massive but has been somewhat overstated. The under-strength side played well that night to only lose by 10 to the Roosters but since then Manly have been woeful to plummet from playoff contention, conceding at least 36 in the last four games as their losing streak now stands at six. It will be seven on Friday night.

Roosters vs Rabbitohs, 7.55pm at Allianz Stadium

Have Roosters peaked too early? There’s a possibility that Trent Robinson’s team has expended too much fuel rebounding from 10th to fifth over the past seven weeks to be able to kick again now that the finals are just about here. They no longer have a chance to sneak into fourth but they can’t afford to take the pedal off the metal against the Bunnies (not that they would against their main rivals anyway) because they would lose home-ground advantage in week one of the finals if they took it easy for the Allianz Stadium reopening.

Cody Walker of the Rabbitohs runs the ball

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Why does Cody Walker look grumpy? Here’s why – he’s tired. No one in the NRL has spent more time on the field than South Sydneys iron man five-eighth. Walker has played every minute of all 23 matches, including 11 minutes of extra time from the golden-point losses to Melbourne and Cronulla. Eels duo Dylan Brown and Clint Gutherson have also played every minute plus three extra ones while Canterbury’s Matt Burton and Penrith centre Izack Tago are the only other players who have not missed a minute for their team. Tago’s streak ends this weekend after he was one of a dozen Panthers excused from the trip to Townsville.

Saturday 

Warriors vs Titans, 3pm at Mt Smart Stadium

Are Warriors about to be screwed by the 2023 draw? It certainly appears so. Check out this article published by stuff.co.nz on Wednesday night – despite all the bonhomie towards them for relocating over three seasons and talk of clubs taking matches to New Zealand next year as a debt of gratitude, the Warriors look like they will have only 11 matches on Kiwi soil next season. As in, no Australian sides are willing to transfer a home game as it’s not going to be financially beneficial. The NRL should be offering incentives to ensure at least some clubs take a match to other venues in New Zealand to help revive the code in the rugby-centric land.

Can Titans clone Beau Fermor? Apart from captain Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, the second-rower is the only other Titan who you can say has made a genuine leap forward this year. Fermor has played the most minutes for the team in 22 matches, scored the most tries (10), and also leads them in line breaks (10, equal with AJ Brimson) and tackles (663). He was in the Maroons’ extended squad this year and will probably get his first Origin jersey in 2023.

Dragons vs Broncos, 5.30pm at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium

Anyone need a decent forward to boost their depth? Jackson Ford, Poasa Faamausili and Josh Kerr all looked to be reliable first-graders but have been out of favour this season as coach Anthony Griffin has persisted with older players well past their prime. The first two are free agents while Kerr is under contract for next year but could definitely get a release – it would not surprise to see them pop up elsewhere next year and be solid contributors.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JULY 16: Adam Reynolds of the Broncos runs the ball during the round 18 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Brisbane Broncos at Cbus Super Stadium, on July 16, 2022, in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Adam Reynolds. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Are Broncos too reliant on Adam Reynolds? Absolutely. They lost their way big time when he was forced off early last week due to a failed HIA. The arrival of Reece Walsh will give them more options in their spine next season and Ezra Mam will grow into the five-eighth’s role but clearly needs to add some bulk to his 19-year-old frame to not be a liability in defence, coming up with 18 missed tackles in total in Brisbane’s past two floggings.

Cowboys vs Panthers, 7.35pm at QCB Stadium

Was Coen Hess unlucky or lucky to get a one-week ban? His main contact with Campbell Graham was body on body but because of the head collision, the impact looked a lot worse, leading to his sin-binning late in last week’s loss to Souths. He ended up taking a one-match suspension, which was two less than what Dale Finucane received for a similar incident but in that tackle, the Sharks forward’s shoulder made contact with Stephen Crichton’s head. 

Why shouldn’t Panthers rest all their stars? They finished as minor premiers so they’ve earned the luxury of being able to ensure their stars have 80 minutes where they’re not risking injury. Anyone who thinks the week off will stall their momentum definitely has not been paying attention to the juggernaut that’s been created the past few years in Penrith.

Sunday 

Knights vs Sharks, 2pm at McDonald Jones Stadium

Do these Knights train on a regular basis? There’s clueless and then there’s what Newcastle dished up against Gold Coast last week. When Brian Kelly was rightfully sent off early in the second half, the match was there for the taking but the Knights played with little to no structure and looked bereft of ideas when it came to exploiting their one-man advantage. Gold Coast extended a 16-point lead to 22 before a couple of late Newcastle tries made the final scoreline numerically better at 36-26 but no less embarrassing.

How did Rugby Australia let Lachie Miller slip away? He was part of the sevens side which went to the Tokyo Olympics but surely someone with his natural gifts of speed, evasion and size would have been an asset in the 15-player version too. At a time when RA bigwigs are talking up how they’re going to look to recruit league players, someone should be asking their retention crew how Miller was not viewed as the kind of player who could have worked his magic at one of the five Super Rugby franchises.

Tigers v Raiders, 4.05pm at Leichhardt Oval

Worst Tigers? They will finish as the worst team in the NRL this year – the ladder doesn’t lie – and they have easily been the worst-run club. From the farcical coaching review at the end of last season to the various botched player signings to Michael Maguire’s messy mid-season sacking to the loan deals leaving interim coach Brett Kimmorley with the shell of a football team, culminating in the 72-6 recent pelting at the hands of the Roosters. The board and management should take full responsibility for this mess. Swords should be fallen on.

Wests Tigers players look dejected after conceding a try

(Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

Will Raiders be making up the numbers in the finals? Probably. They haven’t been terrible against the other top-eight teams, winning five of the 11 match-ups with the other playoff-bound sides. But whether it’s the Roosters, Rabbitohs or Storm facing them in week one of the finals, the hot-and-cold Green Machine are highly unlikely to be progressing any further. 





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