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Split rounds are over, the run home begins as Dragons, Storm falter, Roosters face the music

The final split round is done, the byes are all over, we cross our fingers the game’s stars make it through this Wednesday’s State of Origin and we set ourselves for the last eight weeks of NRL season 2022. Here’s your round 17 talking points!

The Dragons don’t deserve to play finals

Heading up to Brisbane to face a Broncos side butchered by Origin and injury, St George-Illawarra never would have had a better chance to beat a team above them and move two games clear in eighth spot.

But it seems the Dragons thought just showing up and acting tough would be the way to victory, as Tariq Sims sat out 20 of the first 35 minutes in the sin bin for two bad tackles, the second of which should have seen him sent off after he shoulder charged Rhys Kennedy in the face.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 10: Tariq Sims of the Dragons is sin binned during the round 17 NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Suncorp Stadium, on July 10, 2022, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Tariq Sims is sin-binned during the round 17 match between the Brisbane Broncos and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Suncorp Stadium. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

While Sims got a sideline seat for two Brisbane tries, the rest of the team wasn’t much better as the ‘Baby Broncos’ tore them apart. For their part, Brisbane were great. Full of energy, speed and commitment to the cause.

St George-Illawarra’s 32-18 debacle against a team missing nine of their first grade run-on side shows that while they might indeed stick in eighth spot as others fumble around them, they don’t deserve to extend their season.

But who can take their place?

While the Dragons leave the door ever so slightly ajar, there’s been no real volunteer for that eighth spot two-thirds of the way through the season.

On the heels of St George-Illawarra’s 18 points and -84 differential are Manly (16 and +2), the Roosters and Canberra (both 14, +21 and -41) and maybe Newcastle (12). You can forget the rest and I’m being extra generous to the Knights, because their differential is -164.

It’ll be points differential that matters here and that’s good news for the Roosters and Manly, because every other contender’s is diabolical.

Here’s a quick rundown of the key remaining games for each:

– St George-Illawarra: Roosters, Manly, North Queensland, Cronulla, Canberra and Brisbane

– Manly: Newcastle, St George-Illawarra, Roosters, Parramatta, Cronulla, Canberra

– Roosters: St George-Illawarra, Newcastle, Manly, Brisbane, North Queensland, Melbourne, South Sydney

– Canberra: Melbourne, Penrith, St George-Illawarra, Newcastle and Manly

– Newcastle: Manly, Roosters, Brisbane, Canberra, Cronulla

It’s a brutal stretch for the Roosters, who play five of the top eight plus Newcastle and Manly. Not much of a picnic for the Raiders and Newcastle either, and there’s a chance they’ll both be all but eliminated after this week when they play Melbourne and Manly respectively.

Manly and St George-Illawarra have tough enough runs too so maybe in the end – and this isn’t a prediction, just a maybe – it might be the Dragons just hold their spot because no one else is good enough to take it.

Who do you think can rise above mediocrity and play an extra week?

Is it time for Storm panic?

Usual caveats apply here because the Storm were so undermanned in their 28-6 loss in Cronulla, but there’s growing cause for concern in the southern capital.

They’re now just 1-3 against the rest of the top four (Penrith, North Queensland and Cronulla) by a combined 114-52, and throw in last week’s 36-30 loss to Manly to make this Origin period one of the Storm’s worst.

Injuries, State of Origin and form are wreaking havoc with this usually reliable club, who face finishing outside of the top two for the first time in six years if you can believe it.

The problem isn’t just big names getting hurt or having to miss games, it’s that the support players aren’t lifting like they usually do. Players like Dean Ieremia, Nick Meaney and Marion Seve aren’t providing that backline buttress for Ryan Papenhuyzen, Jahrome Hughes and Justin Olam.

It doesn’t help the cause their Roosters bound hooker Brandon Smith was sent from the field and referred straight to the judiciary for calling referee Adam Gee a ‘cheating bastard’, also having a back and forth with a Sharks fan on the way out. That’s highly unlike a Storm player and it’ll be interesting to see how much of an example is made of him.

I’m not writing the Storm off (because I’m not an idiot), they’ve only lost five games and their for and against is +181. But there’s definitely an eyebrow raised.

Is eight weeks enough time to rearrange themselves?

Who could take a place in the top four?

Penrith are three games clear on top and aren’t going anywhere with 30 points while North Queensland, Melbourne and Cronulla are tied on 24. Is there scope for one of Brisbane (22), Parramatta (22) or maybe even South Sydney (20) to pinch a double chance?

Here’s a quick rundown of the key remaining games for each:

– North Queensland: Cronulla, Roosters, South Sydney, Penrith

– Melbourne: South Sydney, Penrith, Brisbane, Roosters and Parramatta

– Cronulla: North Queensland, Penrith, South Sydney

– Brisbane: Parramatta (twice), Roosters, Storm, St George-Illawarra

– Parramatta: Brisbane (twice), Penrith, South Sydney, Melbourne

– South Sydney: Melbourne, Cronulla, Parramatta, Penrith, Cronulla, North Queensland, Roosters

In short: South Sydney plays all of the top four and also the Roosters, Brisbane and Parramatta might cancel each other out and Cronulla’s run also includes Wests Tigers, Manly, Canterbury and Newcastle, so if they do what’s expected they should hold fourth. The wildcard might well be the Storm, who have a brutal last two months even though they have all that points differential.

The best part? There’s eight more weeks of games to go and anything could happen. Can anyone bust into that top four?

Quick hits

– The solution to save the regular season from the moneymaking State of Origin behemoth is tricky, but surely there’s a way around it. A shutdown for a fortnight? A month-long hiatus? Do it post season again? It’s not likely to change, much as it should.

– NSW coach Brad Fittler on why forward Regan Campbell-Gillard is out of game three: “I think Reagan just has a style of footy and right now mostly he doesn’t suit the way we want to play.” Isn’t Origin supposed to be the best players getting the chance to represent their state, not the best fit for the coaches’ gameplan?

– Paul Vautin’s reaction on Channel Nine’s broadcast of the first Tariq Sims sin bin was disgraceful, calling the decision ‘disgusting’ and ranting against it. Save the drama for the podcasts, Fatty. Call the game properly.

– Adam Douehi, Jackson Hastings, Luke Brooks. Who are you choosing for the Wests Tigers halves pairing? Whoever coaches the Tigers next (maybe even Tim Sheens) needs to make a hard choice, because the odd man out won’t want to hang around to play out of position.

– Newcastle prop David Klemmer was sent off in the dying stages in their loss to South Sydney for “reckless contact on the ground directly to the head” of Bunnies prop Daniel Suluka-Fifita, and got a $1000 fine with no suspension. Don’t get me started.

– Confirmation round 15’s Mark Hughes Foundation round saw over 170,000 beanies sold and almost $4 million raised, a truly magnificent effort.

To the next

Round 18 will still have that State of Origin tang to it as players back up from Wednesday, sit it out for a rest or miss with injury. There are some pretty good matchups with the potential to mess with the top four, eight and twelve…

It begins with Cronulla heading to Townsville and the Cowboys for Friday night’s early game, Parra get a chance to make a kill against New Zealand afterwards.

The Roosters simply must beat the Dragons on Saturday arvo, and vice versa. Manly may have a tough one against Newcastle, the Titans face Brisbane, Penrith has the Tigers, Canberra have a must win… unfortunately it’s in Melbourne, and the Bulldogs and Bunnies round out the post-Origin period.

What did you think of round 17, Roarers?

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