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Trbojevic Origin recall? Broncos miracle? Eels wake-up call? O’Brien buying time?


For some teams who have not yet had the bye, Round 15 is the end of a lengthy first chunk of the NRL season.

For others, it’s the second match in a fortnight block between the Round 13 bye and next week’s Representative Round layoff.

But for teams like Penrith and Melbourne, who will each have double-figure representation in Representative Round from Origin and Test duty, there is no mid-year let-up.

It won’t surprise to see Ivan Cleary and Craig Bellamy give a few of their stars a week off here and there in the run-up to the finals, otherwise the solitary bye in the 25-round season is the only time off that the entire squad actually gets.

The workload is even more onerous considering they will have a World Cup tournament at the end of the year as well.

Round 15 will also be the last chance for Brad Fittler and Billy Slater to cast their eyes over prospective talent before the State of Origin II squads are selected for next Sunday’s second match in Perth.

Here are the burning questions for Round 15.

Round 15 Questions

Thursday

Dragons v Rabbitohs at WIN Stadium, 7:50pm (AEST)

Can Dragons at least put up a fight for Andrew McCullough: The veteran hooker will play his 300th NRL game after starting out for the Broncos way back in 2008. He played 260 matches for Brisbane, eight during a brief stint at Newcastle in 2020, which was ended prematurely by a torn hamstring, and has racked up 31 across two seasons at St George Illawarra.

How many tackles do you reckon he’s made in that time?

The answer is below the photo.

Don’t scroll down for a peak.

(Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

A whopping 12,333. He’s only missed 522. That’s a career tackle efficiency rate of a hair under 96 per cent. It’s safe to say he would have more Queensland jerseys in his wardrobe than four if not for that Cameron Smith fella.

Should Rabbitohs rest Lachlan Ilias at some stage? The rookie playmaker has not only played all 13 matches but has played every minute of those games, one of four Bunnies to do so alongside Cody Walker, Alex Johnston and Campbell Graham. Once Latrell Mitchell returns after the Representative Round, the Rabbitohs could look to give Kodi Nikorima and Blake Taaffe a run at halfback to break up an arduous first season for Ilias.

Friday

Sea Eagles v Cowboys at 4 Pines Park, 6pm (AEST)

Should Jake Trbojevic get an Origin recall? These items are supposed to be a decent length but this one doesn’t need to be. The answer is yes. He shouldn’t have been dropped by NSW for game one and they missed him.

Jake Trbojevic of the Sea Eagles looks on

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Can Cowboys maintain defensive output? After being the worst defence in the NRL last year, they are elite in the stats that matter. They are fourth for running metres conceded at 1309.4 per game, second for line breaks conceded at 3.1 and on the scoreboard where it ultimately matters the most, they are also second at 12.2. Not surprisingly, premiers Penrith are first in each of those three categories.

Storm v Broncos at AAMI Park, 7:55pm (AEST)

How many times can Felise Kaufusi claim he was unlucky? The Storm did well at the judiciary on Tuesday night to get Kaufusi cleared after he was charged with dangerous contact for the forearm to the head of Sam Walker. It wasn’t as bad as the one on Ryan Matterson last year but it still should have warranted at least a week on the sidelines. There’s a difference between being aggressive and reckless, and Kaufusi has transgressed enough times over the course of his career to not get the benefit of the doubt in such matters.

Do you believe in miracles? Adam Reynolds is sitting this one out with rib damage, Herbie Farnworth may not play again this season, while Payne Haas and Kotoni Staggs are doubtful because of shoulder problems. Add to that injury toll the fact that Brisbane have beaten Melbourne just six times since losing to them in the 2004 qualifying final. The Storm have won 32 times in that span, including the last ten straight. The last time Brisbane won in Melbourne was 2016 – Corey Oates is the only Bronco still in the team from that game yet, funnily enough, nine other players are still in the NRL at other clubs: Tom Opacic, James Roberts, Anthony Milford, Ben Hunt, Josh McGuire, Andrew McCullough, Jarrod Wallace, Tevita Pangai Jr and Jai Arrow.

Saturday

Sharks v Titans at C.ex Coffs International Stadium, 3pm (AEST)

Can Sharks keep rising up ladder before horror stretch? They weren’t totally convincing despite running up a big score on the Warriors and they should account for the last-placed Titans before doing likewise to Canterbury next round. Then the true test of their title credentials will come within the space of four weeks in July when they host Melbourne, travel to North Queensland and Penrith before returning to Shark Park against Souths. How they perform in that stretch will likely be the difference between a possible top-four berth or just scraping into the finals.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 12: Siosifa Talakai of the Sharks scores a try during the round 14 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Cronulla Sharks at Moreton Daily Stadium, on June 12, 2022, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Siosifa Talakai. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Should Justin Holbrook be worried? He says he’s not but he probably should be – the three teams above his last-placed Titans on the ladder currently have caretaker coaches in harness. After leading St Helens to grand final success in the Super League in 2019 and getting off to a promising start at the Gold Coast the following year, he had his deal extended until the end of 2024. That means the Titans are unlikely to pull the trigger on Holbrook any time soon. The team is one of the youngest in the NRL and expectations were probably too high this year. If the club is patient with the coach and the nucleus of the team, better times are ahead.

Warriors v Panthers at Moreton Daily Stadium, 5:30pm (AEST)

Should Shaun Johnson be dropped? If he was playing for a more stable club, he probably would be on the bench by now. However, the Warriors have had that much turmoil this season that even though the Kiwi veteran is struggling, they have little alternative but to stick by him for now and hope that he can turn the corner. The elevation of young playmaker Ronald Volkman to make his NRL debut this weekend is a sure sign that interim coach Stacey Jones is looking to the future and that could be bad news for Johnson if he doesn’t lift his game sooner rather than later.

Can you remember more of a charmed run than the Panthers’ current streak: Penrith have gone six straight weeks without one member of their 30-man senior squad being injured. The only absence they’ve had is Isaah Yeo sitting out last week’s cakewalk in Newcastle due to his head knock from Origin I even though he passed his HIA. Coach Ivan Cleary has been the only injury concern – missing three matches this season due to his knee operation and blood clot complications post surgery.

Eels v Roosters at CommBank Stadium, 7:35pm (AEST)

Was Monday the wake-up call the Eels needed? You know what it’s like on a public holiday. You want to sleep in, laze about without extending yourself in any great physical capacity. That’s OK for the average Joes and Josephines out there but the Parramatta Eels are supposed to be a professional football team. They looked like amateurs in their 34-4 humiliation at the hands of Canterbury, summed up by Mitch Moses losing the ball over the line when he lacked the urgency that Matt Burton displayed in defence. The Eels have been lukewarm and cold since their hot performance to upset Penrith five weeks ago.

Luke Keary. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Can all the armchair doctors stop diagnosing Luke Keary? The Roosters halfback has had a history of concussions and he copped a bad knock last Saturday against Melbourne. Too many people – commentators, journalists and fans alike – are too quick to prognosticate on what it means for his future. He’s not a dope, the Roosters have a track record of being careful with these issues – as all clubs should – and the medical experts who will conduct tests on Keary and advise him about his best course of action, whatever that is, will do just that, particularly in the age of litigation for anyone involved in contact sports who does not treat this subject with the utmost seriousness.

Sunday

Raiders v Knights at GIO Stadium, 2pm (AEST)

Is Joe Tapine now one of the best props in the NRL? For the first eight seasons of his NRL career, Tapine has been somewhat of an underachiever. The talent has always been there but questions about his attitude and aptitude have lingered. Not this year. He’s been phenomenal for the Raiders, easily their best player. Tapine is averaging 160 running metres per game, which is 35 clear of his previous best, and he’s only had one better season for total post-contact metres (1042 in 2020) than his 964 thus far and we’re only just over the halfway mark.

Does it seem a bit rich for Adam O’Brien to start deriding the Knights’ culture now? Newcastle’s coach made some extraordinary claims after last Sunday’s 42-6 drubbing at the hands of Penrith, saying it’s going to take time before the Knights turn their fortunes around. “It’s not a quick fix and there’s some stuff that has been ingrained in this club for decades that we need to get on top of. Progress is rarely in a straight line.” There was no mention about any such problems the first couple of years when he was coach and the team made the finals but this year, all of a sudden, in 2022, he’s making out like he needs to rebuild the joint, which was what supposedly happened when Nathan Brown was in the role before him. It sounds like a coach under pressure trying to buy more time.

Bulldogs v Tigers at CommBank Stadium, 4pm (AEST)

Is it lunacy to think the Bulldogs could become half decent this year? Yes, it was just one win but their emphatic victory over Parramatta showed interim coach Mick Potter is moulding, pun intended, the building blocks for a team that can rise from the depths of laughing stock status to the dizzying heights of not a laughing stock status. Jake Averillo deserves to spend the rest of the season at fullback based on his first foray to potentially solve another problem in the Canterbury spine, which when coupled with Matt Burton at five-eighth and Reed Mahoney next year at hooker, means they’ve nearly set. There are four teams worse than them as far as for and against goes and if they beat the Tigers, they’ll be 13th with the rapidly declining Knights and Dragons in their sights.

Canterbury Bulldogs players celebrate a try

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Does Luke Brooks fit in once Adam Doueihi’s all the way back? Adam Doueihi will make his return from a torn ACL via the interchange this weekend and should be back in the run-on team soon. Michael Maguire’s preseason plan was to use Jackson Hastings as a ball-playing lock with Brooks and Doueihi in the halves once he was ready to return. There are a couple of things making that no longer relevant – Maguire is not coach anymore and Hastings is their chief playmaker in the No.7 jersey. Brooks and Doueihi are not comfortable being the on-field general. With Daine Laurie ensconced (great word) at fullback, the other option could be to put Doueihi at centre but that seems a waste of his talents.





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