The Melbourne Storm, after a blip in the past fortnight, are back in form. Given the inconsistent performance of some of the team and injuries to key outside backs, Saturday night’s win was as much about the Victorian side’s systems as anything else. Back in the first grade side in recent weeks, former Panther Maurice Blair provided the last pass for one try in addition to scoring his own with the 28 year-old likely confirming his spot in the first grade line-up during the turbulent State of Origin period. For three weeks running the Storm haven’t started with the same centre pairing, impairing the development of key edge combinations in attack and defence and this win was a tribute to players believing the game-plan which is put in place for them.
After bursting onto the scene (for everyone who wasn’t a Canberra Raiders fans) in an encounter with the Sharks and Paul Gallen, forward Josh Papalii has continued to come on in leaps and bounds. Drafted in as cover for the Queensland State of Origin team, the 21 year-old back-rower is no longer just an ‘impact player’ for the ACT side and in the Raiders’ six-point loss against Manly on Saturday evening he proved it. His 80-minute effort saw him makes 34 tackles, 15 hit-ups and produce three tackle busts, proving the 110 kg ball-runner will be a more-than-worthy Maroon should he get a run.
In this day and age of some NRL players giving one word answers at all-in press conferences it was refreshing to see the Warriors opening themselves up to a lot of fan scrutiny last Saturday. On New Zealand-based radio station Newstalk ZB, coach Matthew Elliott and chief xxecutive Wayne Scurrah were guests on the ‘Spotlight Hour’ (yes hour) on Saturday which included some direct questioning from host Tony Veitch and a range of fans. Some Warriors fans who tuned in may not have liked the answers, including around recruitment, but at least the club was willing to front up and deliver answers of more than one syllable.
On the Warriors victory against Newcastle, it was interesting to note they didn’t play at a high level from a key statistics point of view but still won. The Auckland-based side completed fewer sets than the Knights, percentage-wise (68%-73%) and only had a 7-7 penalty count in a home game. That said, they managed to get away more off-loads (18-10) and did miss fewer tackles (30-19), which was a marked improvement on the 37 missed tackles in their 10-try loss to the Panthers.
Last week we noted that despite blow-out scores, the NRL was guaranteeing at least two close encounters this season when fans venture to the ground or tune in via TV, radio or live score services and round 11 held true to this again. The Wests Tigers and Cronulla Sharks registered two-point wins over North Queensland and South Sydney respectively. How long will this trend run? So far it has for six of the last seven weeks.