Our team of experts run their eye over the Round 18 NRL action.
TITANS V EELS
Like: The Eels proved they have plenty of tricks up their sleeves in firing without NSW Origin stars Mitchell Moses and Junior Paulo. In the absence of their chief shot-caller in Moses, it would have been easy for Parramatta to be rudderless. Instead, Dylan Brown stepped up with a sensational performance along with Clint Gutherson at the back.
Backrower Ryan Matterson terrorised David Fifita to the point he was dragged from the field after just 30 minutes and Reed Mahoney was excellent in his return from injury. The Eels have got plenty of depth to make a fist of this year’s premiership race — they just have to find another gear against the NRL’s top two teams in Melbourne and Penrith.
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Dislike: The Titans are one of the NRL’s most infuriating teams. They look like rockstars against the bottom sides and barely fire a shot against the top teams. The Titans are yet to beat a top eight team in 2021 and that is a fair reflection of the team they are.
They lack defensive resolve and only want to play easy attacking footy. There is a softness about the club and it doesn’t help when the highest-paid player in Fifita is getting benched in the first half for not firing a shot. Fifita’s inconsistency is endemic of the Titans and they won’t be a finals force until they address it.
— Travis Meyn
Dally M votes: 3 Clint Gutherson 2 Ryan Matterson 1 Brian Kelly
David Fifita’s inconsistency epitomises the Titans (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
SEA EAGLES V DRAGONS
Like: The return to form of Kieran Foran is one of the feel-good stories of the year. Seeing him in other jerseys never felt right, and his move back to the Sea Eagles has worked wonders for the team and for Foran himself.
With Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom and Jake Trbojevic missing, the veteran five-eighth steered his side to victory with a try and a stunning double pump try assist to set up Brad Parker in a five-star Manly comeback. His body isn’t letting him down anymore, and his 15 games in 2021 are already more than he played in each of the past three years.
Dislike: When you’re a senior player and part of one of the biggest scandals of the year, you’d like to think you’d do everything you can to win back the respect of fans and teammates on the field. Some individual performances by the Dragons’ highest-paid players weren’t up to standard, highlighted by Corey Norman’s shocking tackle attempt on Haumole Olakau’atu that led to Manly’s first try.
Tackling bigger blokes isn’t fun, but you’ve got to at least put your body in front. And while the defence was poor, their attack was even worse. Matt Dufty might have been out, but Tyrell Sloan seems an exciting prospect. It would have been nice to see him get the ball instead of playing flat to front-rowers close to the line.
— Martin Gabor
Dally M votes: 3 Kieran Foran 2 Josh Schuster 1 Haumole Olakau’atu
Corey Norman failed to impress (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
COWBOYS V ROOSTERS
Like: Joseph Manu is close to the best specialist centre in the league but the dynamic Rooster has the potential to be just as effective at fullback or five-eighth. The Kiwi international has filled in at both positions at times this year and was excellent at the back again in this one, scoring a try and running for 201 metres while also breaking six tackles.
Manu is a top class centre without doubt and he’s more valuable to the Roosters because of his ability to fill in at two other positions. But given he can negotiate for the 2023 season from November there’s a chance another club swoops in and offers something the Tricolours cannot — a more prominent role in the side in a playmaking position.
The Roosters rarely lose someone they want to keep and they’re smart enough to find ways to keep Manu engaged while keeping him at centre. But even they have limits to what they can do and the idea of assuming more responsibility away from Bondi will no doubt be tempting to the 25-year-old.
Dislike: Everything about North Queensland — the good, the bad and everything in between — is personified in Scott Drinkwater. The Cowboys five-eighth is a gifted attacking player, who can create points against even the stoutest defences, and he put on two tries in the opening 15 minutes to give North Queensland a 12-0 lead.
But Drinkwater’s defence is a serious problem. He missed a tackle on Joseph Manu that led to the Sitili Tupouniua try, before he rashly reached out to score when he was clearly held with the Cowboys down six inside the final 10 minutes. From the ensuing penalty, Walker scored and the game was gone.
For Drinkwater to become one of the competition’s best, which he’s capable of doing, and for the Cowboys to make the finals, which is still possible, neither can afford such rapid swings between their best and worst efforts.
— Nick Campton
Dally M votes: 3 Sam Walker 2 Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 1 Issac Liu
Joseph Manu is at home in multiple positions (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
RAIDERS V SHARKS
Like: Rookie fullback Xavier Savage announced himself as a star of the future with a man of the match display founded on blinding speed, self-belief and resilience. The former schoolboy sprint star set up a try for Jack Wighton where he burnt the Sharks from a standing start with electrifying acceleration and played the second half with a busted shoulder.
The Raiders have struggled to kick on in the second half of games but Savage gave them the thrust to put the game to bed. With Corey Harawira-Naera on fire with his offloads, Canberra now look a team capable of securing one of the two playoff spots up for grabs.
Dislike: Sharks coach Josh Hannay acknowledged that the club’s DNA is tied up with a gritty and resilient mindset and that was severely lacking in this game. With a so-called “easy” draw in the run to the finals Cronulla played like a side that thought the game would be handed to them on a plate and got what they deserved.
Their total of 49 missed tackles was embarrassing and very un-Cronulla. Halves Braydon Trindall and Shaun Johnson also have work to do as a combination with Matt Moylan injured.
— Joel Gould
Dally M votes: 3 Xavier Savage 2 Corey Harawira-Naera 1 William Kennedy
Xavier Savage was brilliant for the Raiders (Photo by Regi Varghese/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
STORM V KNIGHTS
Like: Jahrome Hughes has become one of the game’s elite halfbacks. It is hard to believe he is just in his second full season wearing the No.7 jersey.
You can consider him to be now among the game’s best. His running game has always been a feature but it is now his timing and ability to pick his moments which has seen him grow.
Hughes laid on a try and scored one of his own before he came from the field with a calf injury.
Dislike: The lack of steel in the Knights. Last year when they faced adversity they found a way to overcome the situation. This year they can’t do that. They lost Mitchell Pearce before kick-off and then Kalyn Ponga and David Klemmer failed first half HIAs.
But they have lost their backbone. For some reason the defensive mindset they carried last year is gone. Unless they find it, their season will fall away quickly. As soon as something goes against them they can’t find a way to pull themselves out of the hole.
— Michael Carayannis
Dally M votes: 3 Nicho Hynes 2 Jahrome Hughes 1 Justin Olan
Kalyn Ponga went down a number of times.Source:Supplied
WARRIORS V PANTHERS
Like: The bravery and sheer commitment of the Warriors after playing the entire second half with no-one on the bench was inspirational stuff and the reason why coach Nathan Brown called it the side’s best performance of the season.
Props Matt Lodge and Addin Fonua-Blake epitomised that grit with Lodge playing the entire game and Fonua-Blake having a just few minutes to catch his breath. The pair can be one of the best front-rows in the comp and must bottle that performance.
Dislike: The Panthers won while not being at their best, which is a plus, but they are way off the mark being set by the Melbourne Storm less than two months out from the finals. The Storm have handled the loss of key men better than the Panthers. Matt Burton and Tyrone May had their moments but need to find more polish to their end of sets if they are put in a similar position in the future when Nathan Cleary and/or Jarome Luai are injured.
— Joel Gould
Dally M votes: 3 Addin Fonua-Blake 2 Liam Martin 1 Brian To’o
Tohu Harris comes off with a suspected ACL injury (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
BRONCOS V TIGERS
Like: Tigers coach Michael Maguire should look to use Adam Doueihi more often in attack. Doueihi was incredible in the No.6 jersey during the Tigers 42-24 romping of the Broncos on Sunday night. The Lebanese international set up five tries on his own and booted five conversions as he steered his side to a convincing 18-point lead over the Broncos.
Usually a centre, Doueihi was named to play at five-eighth in place of Moses Mbye and did not disappoint. He admitted after the game that he enjoyed playing in the five-eighth role and hoped he retained the position in the future. After his performance at Suncorp Stadium, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea for him to become a long-term playmaking option at the Tigers.
Dislike: The defensive effort from both these sides. There’s a reason both are languishing at the bottom of the NRL ladder and it’s their poor defence. Sunday’s clash saw 54 missed tackles between both teams and it stopped either side building pressure.
Brisbane coach Kevin Walters admitted pre-game that his side’s defensive effort was their “Achilles heel” and they will need to fix it soon to avoid a thrashing to the Panthers on Saturday night. The Broncos left edge defence in particular let in five tries and it’s an area Walters is keen to fix.
— Chris Honnery
Dally M votes: 3 Adam Doueihi 2 Payne Haas 1 Daine Laurie
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RABBITOHS V BULLDOGS
Like: It’s a joyous moment any time a largely-built front-rower runs away for a rare four-pointer, but for Mark Nicholls to celebrate his 100th game with only the fourth four-pointer of his career is a one for the memory bank.
The veteran prop doesn’t get a lot of credit for his tough work in the middle, but with 155 metres from 18 carries, Nicholls was among the best big men on the field against the Bulldogs.
Dislike: It was the question the rugby league fraternity, in concert with Trent Barrett, was asking: What on earth was Lachlan Lewis thinking? Canterbury had courageously fought back from two tries down to take a shock two-point lead against one of the league’s heavyweights when Lewis mindlessly judo-tackled Cody Walker to the ground as they were walking from the field, rightly resulting in the Bulldogs playmaker being sin-binned.
Furthermore, Sione Katoa followed him up by running a South Sydney player off the ball from the second-half kick-off! Trent Barrett’s side have found various ways to lose a game this season — but this was by far the most bizarre, and frustrating.
— Matt Encarnacion
Dally M votes: 3 Cody Walker 2 Kaeon Koloamatangi 1 Cameron Murray
Originally published asThe Tackle: Dragons Covidiot loses even more respect
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