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Storm storm back into contention, Broncos barely cling onto top-eight spot

Look, I’m going to level with you. About five rounds ago, I began trying to make all these intros have a musical theme. I did so because simply listing what had happened over the weekend of NRL fixtures was, to my mind, a little dull, and I thought it would be a fun exercise.

For a few weeks, it was a funny bit, but now, as we review Round 23, it’s getting quite hard. We’re going for ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ by Brothers Johnson, of course, because of a dearth of options and also because it’s a banger.

This column is a little more Brothers Penrith than Brothers Johnson, but there were a lot of funky scores this weekend and that can be our link. Wish me luck for Round 24. Here are the power rankings.

1 – Penrith Panthers (-)

It’s been very funny in recent days to read about how the ‘return of the blowouts’ could be solved with a draft. Meanwhile, a team missing three of their most important players, assembled almost entirely from local juniors, just won the minor premiership, defeating a major finals rival on a hot streak by playing in a cohesive and consistent manner, enabled by culture and coaching. Funny, that.

Sharks celebrates after scoring a try (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

2 – Cronulla Sharks (+1)

Yer Sharks jump to second as that is where they will almost certainly finish – wait for that chat come Cowboys time – and are well-placed going into the top four.

It’s very much a case of playing the waiting game – the waiting game sucks, let’s play hungry hungry hippos – for Cronulla. They ran through Manly, will likely run through Canterbury and then get Newcastle last up for what should be a chance to rest literally their entire team.

The good news for those of us who like such things is that Newtown are great at the moment and we’ll get to see Franklin Pele back in top grade.

In terms of post-season, it’s a holding pattern until the second week of September.

3 – Melbourne Storm (+3)

The Storm battered the Broncos on Friday and jump back up into contention as a result. They’re a funny team, this Melbourne lot. If you’re a second off your game, they can and will make you look very, very silly. This was evidenced against Penrith a week ago and at Suncorp over the weekend.

But then…it’s hard not to see that they were also beaten quite handily not that long ago. The defence is much improved from those days but it was barely tested by a poor Broncos side. The Roosters on Friday night will be much stiffer competition and could teach us a lot about the actual levels of Craig Bellamy’s men.

4 – North Queensland Cowboys (-2)

North Queensland drop to fourth, even though they won and won comfortably, as a) it was the Warriors and b) the Sharks also won.

As I have repeated ad infinitum, I think the Cowboys need to play a home final to have much of a chance in the post-season, and thus they’ll be pretty motivated to make the most of their remaining games. Their issue is going to be that they face Souths, who will be much more motivated because they are not mathematically certain of making the eight.

NQ would have to better the Sharks’ results, and I don’t see that happening with Cronulla having far easier fixtures and the potential to win both and also overcome a 50 point differential.

Then you add in that, given the form of the Storm, the Cowboys aren’t really third best anymore either. They realistically can’t go out of the top four, but I would also put them behind the Roosters if they met tomorrow.

5 – Sydney Roosters (-)

The Roosters don’t get many points for winning handsomely against the worst team in the NRL. They acheived all they had to and would probably have been better off sending half their lads out to get a proper game on Sunday afternoon playing for the North Sydney Bears.

This time of year is about confidence and results, and winning 72-6 is undeniably good for both of those. They leapfrog Souths and are a genuine threat. If you’re North Queensland or Cronulla, watch out.

6 – South Sydney Rabbitohs (-2)

Major good defeat points for South Sydney this week. They got a lesson in finals football – Jason Demetriou said as much afterwards – from Penrith and will be stronger for having lost.

They have now lost in the final seconds to Melbourne, Penrith, Cronulla and (lol) the Wests Tigers, four wins that would see them has high as second. On such fine margins, etc, if me Granny had knackers.

The reason the Bunnies get our good defeat points is that they, to use the phrase, steered into the skid. Penrith, depsite missing players, are a supreme defensive unit and dominate through line speed, but Souths were the first team to attempt – successfully, too – to pass round them, as they would against any other team.

When they were under pressure, Souths trusted their system to work and, largely, it did. It’s encouraging stuff, and even if they don’t do anything this year, you’d back them to do something next year on this evidence.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

7 – Parramatta Eels (+1)

The Eels jump over the Broncos, but honestly: who knows at this stage? This weekend they beat a Dogs team that turned up with buckets and spades, and looked good in doing so.

Dylan Brown and Mitchell Moses were excellent, on the back of a forward pack that won. But will they do that against anyone decent? Your guess is as good as mine at this stage. They could beat Brisbane and Melbourne back to back and make the top four, they could lose both by 20 points.

I’m sorry I don’t have a better tactical insight, other than that they’re about two forwards short, but I’ve said that a thousand times now.

8 – Brisbane Broncos (-1)

Brisbane’s edge defence is quite bad, as you will have noticed on Friday evening, but it’s also kind of not their fault. They miss Herbie Farnworth badly and Kurt Capewell went off. This is a team that is far from the finished article and is somewhat limping to the line.

Look: we’re 23 rounds into this caper now and it’s hard not to just repeat the same things, but for new readers: they aren’t as good as they seemed to be at times this year, got a lot of lucky calls and have eventually regressed to about as good as they are, which is probably 8th.

And that’s fine, because this is the first year of the project, with a lot of improvement on last year and plenty more of it still to come. Unlike, say, Canberra and Parramatta, this Broncos team are only going one way and can be forgiven for not quite being there yet.

I do worry that they could miss the 8, with the Raiders able to win all their games and the Bronx facing two tough fixtures to round out the year, but realistically, they’ll get beat in week one anyway, so who cares? Well, Brisbane fans do I guess, but I’m not one so I don’t.

If you like things like ‘processes’ and ‘evolution’, then you can be very happy with 2022.

9 – Canberra Raiders (-)

The opposite of processes and evolution is the 2022 Raiders, who don’t seem to improve and yet continue to win. Good work if you can get it, I suppose.

They do present an interesting proposition to the neutral: on one hand, they’re single-handedly keeping the finals race alive but winning week to week, and there might just be enough losses in the teams above them to sneak in at the last minute.

On the other, the idea that this team actually makes the finals despite being conclusively worse than the eight above them is worrying, and would be a waste of a perfectly good match in week one.

The best possible option is that they go into their final game, away at the Tigers on what is sure to be a sunny afternoon at Leichhardt Oval, and then lose hilariously, blowing their season in the process.

Imagine the hill. Imagine Ricky’s press conference. Imagine the hubris.

Hudson Young scores. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

10 – Manly Sea Eagles (-)

Manly are doneskis so we won’t waste any time of them other than to say: Des, send em on holidays early. There’s not much to be gained at this stage and, having blown up their season so spectacularly, there is something to be said for giving some of the lads a rest and some of the others a go.

The Cup team are also running last, and while the Flegg aren’t much better, the likes of Kaeo Weekes, Gordon Chan Kum Tong and Zac Fulton certainly could be interesting next year. With my Sea Eagles hat on, this is what I want to see.

11 – Canterbury Bulldogs (-)

The original and best members of the bucket and spade brigade, the Canterbury Bulldogs briefly vibed on Saturday afternoon before realising that it wasn’t really worth the hassle after all.

Mick Potter says he wants a job for next year, and he should get one. That’s about it.

12 – St George Illawarra Dragons (-)

The Dragons had fun in a tackling-optional clash with the not-so-Titans on Sunday. it was a wholesome afternoon out, I presume, for the Wollongong faithful, but the fact that Tautau Moga scored a hat-trick and Jack Bird looked like a world beater should tell you all you need to know.

The potential for a roadblock on the final weekend for Brisbane is there, I guess, and will be very funny if it happens. I doubt it, though: any team that turns up and tackles beats St George Illawarra.

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

13 – New Zealand Warriors (-)

The best thing you can say about the Warriors is that they’re nearly done. They go to Penrith on Friday night and the 72-6 scoreline from the weekend’s Tigers-Roosters game is in danger.

14 – Newcastle Knights (-)

Newcastle were great, with threat in their halves, a real punch through the middle and bucketloads of commitment. Oh wait, that was their NRLW team.

The men had a crack but ultimately lost, which I feel like I could have written for 75% of their games this year.

15 – Gold Coast Titans (-)

To win rugby league games, you have to tackle your opponents. The Gold Coast Titans can’t tackle, therefore rarely win games of rugby league. It has been this way for a long time and looks highly unlikely to change.

16 – Wests Tigers (-)

My pal Big T – short for The Biggest Tiger – is the most positive Wests Tigers fan in the world, with a well of love for his frankenclub that is near limitless. To steal his review: ‘not nil’.

(Yes, this is the same as last week.)

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