Round 14 Preview
Fri: Canberra Raiders v Canterbury Bulldogs at GIO Stadium: The Raiders get a Friday night game at home – a phenomenon rarer than an off-contract player signing with Canberra – but the exposure is likely to do little for the club against a Canterbury side desperate to snap a three-game losing streak. If their halves play, the Bulldogs will romp home. TIP: Bulldogs by 16
Sat: Cronulla Sharks v Manly Sea Eagles at Remondis Stadium: The Sharks welcome back the cavalry, but it won’t be enough against a team that should rightfully be outright title favourites. The battle of the beaches will be a fizzer – unless Gallen backs up. TIP: Sea Eagles by 24
Sat: New Zealand Warriors v Brisbane Broncos at Mt Smart Stadium: The Broncos have rested their Origin players, and with a couple of other key injuries, the visitors should be cannon fodder for a Warriors side showing good recent form. TIP: Warriors by 14
Sun: Melbourne Storm v Parramatta Eels at AAMI Park: Crunch time for the Storm, who snared a vital win without their Origins stars on the Gold Coast but are still teetering on the edge without Cooper Cronk. Jarryd Hayne’s fitness is the key to the Eels grabbing their first win in Victoria in almost a decade. TIP: Eels by7
Sun: Gold Coast Titans v St George Illawarra Dragons at Cbus Super Stadium: The injury-ravaged Titans have lost five straight, while their line-up is uglier than your average down at Nerang Police Station. But Origin stars Bird, Myles and Taylor will provide the impetus against a shonky Dragons pack. Likewise, NSW guns Dugan and Merrin are key for the visiting Saints, who are yet to receive any form of consistency from Benji Marshall. TIP: Titans by 1
Mon: Newcastle Knights v North Queensland Cowboys at Hunter Stadium: The tipsters’ nightmare of Round 15, a Knights side on a seven-match losing streak hosts a Cowboys outfit who have not won on the road all year. The Origin strain is likely to be more telling on North Queensland, with Brent Tate almost certainly out. Newcastle has been thereabouts in recent weeks and can smell win No.3 of the season. TIP: Knights by 6
Round 14 Most at Stake
If the Cowboys are ever going to win an away game in 2014, it has to be on their trip to Newcastle.
The Selection Table
-Sam Perrett and David Klemmer are out for six weeks for Canterbury. Mitch Brown takes over at fullback, with Drury Low coming onto the wing.
-Todd Carney, Jeff Robson, Anthony Tupou, Jonathan Wright and Sosaia Feki are all back for the Sharks.
-Ben Matulino is out for six weeks, but Ben Henry returns from injury for the Warriors.
-Andrew McCullough is injured, joining Corey Parker and the Broncos’ Origin contingent on the sidelines. Jake Granville will play hooker, while Corey Oates and Todd Lowrie start in the backrow.
-Mid-season recruit Daniel Mortimer could be drafted straight into the Titans’ halves after Beau Henry joined Albert Kelly and Aidan Sezer in the casualty ward. Brad Takairangi was named in the No.6 on Tuesday.
-Tariq Sims returns from suspension, with Jason Taumololo dropping back to the Cowboys’ bench.
-Cronulla has won just one of its last 10 against Manly, and one of its last six hosting the Sea Eagles.
-The Warriors have won three of their last four against the Broncos, who are winless at Mt Smart since 2009.
-Canberra has won three of its last five against Canterbury.
-Parramatta has not won in Melbourne since 2005.
-Newcastle has won just one of its last six against North Queensland.
-Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei needs just one try to join the legendary Ken Irvine as the only players in premiership history to score 10 tries or more in nine consecutive seasons. Nathan Merritt can also join that illustrious group this year, but he is stranded on one try and is struggling to get a run in first grade. Vatuvei’s next try will also elevate him to the top-20 try-scorers of all-time.
-If Brent Kite plays in at least 11 Penrith’s 12 remaining matches (or finals games) he will become the first player in premiership history to make 20-plus appearances in 13 consecutive seasons. In crafting this ironman-esque feat, Kite has played at least 21 games in every campaign since making his debut for the Dragons in 2002.
STATE OF ORIGIN II WRAP-UP
Desire gets the Blues home: For long periods of Origin II, it appeared Queensland would force a decider, combating NSW’s attack comfortably and coming desperately close to landing the killer blow on a few occasions. But ultimately, the Blues found that something extra, patiently waiting for that match-winning play as the Maroons have done so often in recent years. Put simply, they did a Queensland on Queensland. NSW appeared to want it just that little bit more – and the long-suffering Blues finally had the side to turn that desire into success. While motivation is not hard to come by at Origin time, the Maroons’ old guard seemed drained; the expectation weighed more heavily than in previous campaigns and they couldn’t dig deep enough for nine straight. Origin’s greatest team has been vanquished, not by much mind you, but by a better side.
Moments frozen in time: If it’s possible for someone who ranks Darren Lockyer’s try in the ’06 decider as their favourite sporting memory to be impartial for a second, I couldn’t help but be moved by the Blues’ post-match celebrations. Fittingly, it was Jarryd Hayne who cleaned up a last-second Queensland counterattack and sprinted over the dead-ball line to end so many years of heartache, before embracing the nearest clutch of ‘Blatchy’s Blues’’ thousands-strong wigged diehards.
Hayne standing in triumph on the fence was just one of many moments that will be frozen in time, set to take their place in the Blues’ cherished history alongside Steve Mortimer kissing the SCG turf in ’85, a bloodied Ben Elias at the SFS in ’92 and ‘Joey’ Johns’ triumphant rescue job in ’05. A fist-pumping Laurie Daley making his way down the stairs towards the field, Hayne’s tearful interview with Johns, and Daley’s emotional mid-pitch embrace with his skipper Paul Gallen will live on as strongly as any of the many moments of ecstasy Queensland has created in the last eight seasons. It was poignant, hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff. Queensland undoubtedly made Origin into the phenomenon it is today, but any question of whether it means as much to NSW in the present day has surely been put to bed.
‘Hodko’ the hero: Trent Hodkinson was at hundreds to play State of Origin at the start of 2014 – you would have got better odds on him lining up in a curtain-raiser for NSW Residents. It is incredible to think he was only a Mitchell Pearce grope away from not taking part in this series, but he now finds himself a NSW Origin icon. Hodkinson’s cool-headed performances have been vital to the Blues’ triumph, while his solo try – and subsequent pressure conversion – will go down in interstate folklore. He joins Ricky Stuart, Adrian Lam, John Simon and Brett Kimmorley as the only Origin halfbacks to win their first two games as a starting No.7.
Injury impact: Queensland’s hobbled heroes got through the match strongly, and in Daly Cherry-Evans’ case, quite courageously. But Matt Scott’s exit with a broken cheekbone midway through the first half and Brent Tate’s devastating injury 15 minutes into the second left the Maroons with a reshuffled line-up and a two-man bench. In the end, it was a big effort to remain in front for as long as they did.
Taylor comes unstitched: Taylor’s Mistake, or Te Onepoto, is a beautiful, secluded little bay near Christchurch. But ‘Taylor’s Mistake’ is destined to take its place in Origin’s hall of infamy after enigmatic Queensland forward David ruined his strong performance off the bench with a crazy, unnecessary pass inside his own half that went to ground with 13 minutes remaining. NSW pummelled the Maroons’ line for five subsequent sets, eventually breaking through via Hodkinson’s dummy at the back end of the fifth set – the Blues’ first try in almost two hours of football. Unfortunately for the ‘Coal Train’, he has probably donned the hallowed jumper for the last time.
Rub of the green: The Blues were rightfully aggrieved after several dusty decisions went against them in the series opener, but the victors could have no complaints after getting the line-ball calls throughout Origin II. In a game dripping with niggle and spite from both sides, NSW won the penalty count 9-5. Jarryd Hayne’s try-saving play on Sam Thaiday could have been construed as a strip, but was instead ruled a knock-on and a consequent seven-tackle set for the Blues. But the most contentious call of the night was from the kick-off after Hodkinson’s go-ahead converted try, with the ball apparently brushing Aaron Woods before sailing over the dead-ball line. Instead of a line dropout, NSW received a penalty on halfway and comfortably closed the game out thereafter. With so much at stake and at such a crucial stage of the match, why was it not referred upstairs as often happens in in-goal situations? The lack of consistency in this department is an increasing source of frustration. The referees did an admirable job in an incredibly tough match to control, however, largely making up for a subpar performance in the series opener.
Ch-ch-ch-changes: NSW, barring injury, will line up 1-17 in the Brisbane dead-rubber on July 9. But Queensland has some interesting injury- and form-related decisions to make. The Maroons have not been far off the mark in the two games so far and Mal Meninga will be reticent to make mass changes, but Taylor will surely be dumped and Chris McQueen is hanging by a thread. Ben Te’o probably did enough. Scott may struggle to recover in time, while Corey Parker will probably be back. Depth is a concern, but Josh McGuire and Brenton Lawrence could be on the verge of a maiden call-up. Brent Tate’s long and decorated Origin career is likely over, but Queensland’s best backline replacements – Will Chambers, Willie Tonga, Dane Gagai and Anthony Milford – are not wingers, although Tonga and Gagai boast a bit of experience on the flank. In-form Brisbane winger Dale Copley could be a bolter for the vacant spot after running in 11 tries in the first half of the NRL season.
NEW SOUTH WALES
- Jarryd Hayne: Couldn’t produce the attacking brilliance of game one but was safe as a bank at the back and came up with a vital try-saving effort on Sam Thaiday. Ran for 157 metres. 8
- Will Hopoate: Little impact but contained Boyd well and carried an arm injury through the second half to see out the 80 minutes. 6
- Michael Jennings: Overshadowed by Justin Hodges but did little wrong, making 16 tackles without a miss. 6
- Josh Dugan: Racked up 23 tackles and 116 metres, matching Greg Inglis and repaying Laurie Daley’s faith. 7.5
- Daniel Tupou: Struggled to make his imprint on the game but was sound, defusing a couple of dangerous situations. 6
- Josh Reynolds: Constantly spoiling and niggling, Reynolds was in everything once again, while his boot saved a try just before halftime. A couple of errors but still a key performer. 7
- Trent Hodkinson: Played an understated yet composed role before dummying his way into Origin folklore. 7.5
- Paul Gallen: Led from the front with 34 tackles and 24 carries for 201 metres, claiming man-of-the-match honours in what surely ranks as the highlight of his career. 8.5
- Robbie Farah: Another superb Origin display from the vice-captain, including a team-high 49 tackles. 7.5
- Aaron Woods: Talked a big game and largely backed it up, while his convincing acting on the dead-ball line potentially saved the game. 7
- Beau Scott: Rugged, intimidating and ultra-committed, Scott completed a stunning representative return. 7
- Ryan Hoffman: The only forward besides the hookers to play 80 minutes, Hoffman was outstanding, chalking up 30 tackles and 158 metres from 20 runs in his best-ever rep display. 8
- Greg Bird: His presence and fire was crucial, while he made 23 tackles and ran for 143 metres in 19 carries. 7.5
- James Tamou: Something of a forgotten man after dropping back to the bench, making 17 tackles and just five hit-ups in 23 minutes of game time. 5
- Anthony Watmough: Made 20 tackles in 26 minutes – including a dangerous throw on Nate Myles which should incur a suspension – but had just four runs. 5.5
- Trent Merrin: Afforded only 18 minutes, but contributed 14 tackles and five strong runs. 6
- Luke Lewis: Solid contribution of 16 tackles and nine runs in 28 minutes. 6
- Billy Slater: Was sound at the back, but unable to spark it up in attack as he did in game one, running for just 91 metres and making two handling errors. 6
- Darius Boyd: Didn’t receive his customary chances with the ball, but was faultless in everything he did. 6.5
- Greg Inglis: Well-contained again, despite looking dangerous whenever he touched the ball. Tallied 20 tackles and 113 metres from 11 runs. 7
- Justin Hodges: Close to being Queensland’s best, making a team-high 146 metres from 14 runs and a game-high eight dummy-half runs, while he recorded the only line break of the first half. 8
- Brent Tate: Rock-solid until being carted off midway through the second half with what appears to be another serious knee injury. 6.5
- Johnathan Thurston: The Maroons’ go-to man ultimately couldn’t pull the champs out of the fire, while he conceded three penalties. Tried hard, but it just wasn’t happening for JT. 6
- Daly Cherry-Evans: A courageous performance despite clearly being hampered, worked over relentlessly in racking up 31 tackles. Almost scored a dream try on halftime from a clever kick-and-chase but couldn’t replicate his NRL level dominance. 7
- Matthew Scott: Lasted just 23 minutes after breaking his cheekbone in a huge blow for the Maroons. 5
- Cameron Smith: Topped the tackle count with 52 and couldn’t have done much more for his side. 7.5
- Nate Myles: Shouldered a colossal workload with Scott out of action, making 17 hit-ups and an astonishing 50 tackles. Becoming one of the great Origin forwards. 8
- Aidan Guerra: Elevated to the starting line-up and proved he belongs, making 32 tackles and nine carries in a strong performance. 6.5
- Matt Gillett: Played all but three minutes and ran around like a man possessed, racking up 35 tackles and 118 metres from 12 runs. Has grown at Origin level after a couple of so-so campaigns. 8
- Sam Thaiday: Big impact, making 33 tackles and coming oh so close to being the hero of the night before having the ball dislodged as he dived for the line. 7
- Jacob Lillyman: Solid and busy in 19 minutes on the field, chalking up seven runs for 73 metres and 12 tackles. Should have been given more time with Scott sidelined early. 5.5
- Ben Te’o: Played 47 minutes due to injuries and reeled off 40 tackles, including several big hits – but he was unable to get to Hodkinson when the Maroons were on their heels. 6.5
- Chris McQueen: Solid in the backrow before replacing Tate on the wing, where he dropped the ball with the try-line beckoning. An unhappy night under difficult circumstances. 5.5
- David Taylor: Made a genuine impact with 16 tackles and six powerful runs, but unfortunately his needless pass put Queensland under pressure for what proved to be the match-deciding passage. 5.5