FIVE METRE GAP: NRL Finals Week One

Hamish NealBy HAMISH NEAL

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from the first week of the finals.

The now-legendary Geoff Toovey blow-up over penalty counts which earned the Manly mentor a $10,000 fine wasn’t needed despite the Silvertails narrow 4-0 loss to the Sydney Roosters. The Sea Eagles won the penalty count by an astonishing 12-5 after it was 4-3 in their favour at half-time. This was the most lopsided count of the weekend with two or one the difference in the other three fixtures.

Despite the defensive intensity in their one-score loss to the Roosters, Manly was reluctant to go to their bench for reinforcements on Saturday evening. Replacement forwards Richie Fa’aoso (13 minutes,) Tom Symonds (17) and George Rose (24) were used sparingly in the game (although Fa’aoso was knocked out). The lack of play for the latter duo was all the more surprising given Fa’aoso’s injury. With the quick turnaround to Friday evening it would be surprising if the Manly’s #14-17 players were not used more against Cronulla given the physical toll of last weekend’s encounter.

Three hookers topped the match tackle counts in the first week of the finals with Melbourne and Australia skipper Cameron Smith making 51 tackles, his earmarked Queensland replacement Matt Ballin topped a half-century but Canterbury’s Michael Ennis earned his Mad Monday with 52 tackles to his name as the weekend record. The only outlier from the #9 brigade was the Cowboys’ back-rower Gavin Cooper with 43.

It was like watching Melbourne circa 2009 as South Sydney executed their task in attack with ruthless efficiency in their 20-10 victory over the Storm on Friday evening. The Michael Maguire-coached side completed 33 of their 37 sets for a 89% completion rate, the highest of for the weekend. Melbourne failed to completed ten of their 42 sets

Speaking of Melbourne, their research on the Wayne Bennett-coached Newcastle side may have turned up two targets in the Knights defence. Halfback Tyrone Roberts and Robbie Rochow each missed six tackles in the Novocastrians’ 16 point triumph over the Bulldogs. Only the Roosters Luke O’Donnell (eight) missed more over the weekend but the ease of the Knights win would have coach Bennett concerned about the figures for Rochow and Roberts.

FIVE METRE GAP: Round 14

Hamish NealBy HAMISH NEAL

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round fourteen

The clash of the cousins in Cairns between Greg Inglis and Albert Kelly made headlines as the Rabbitohs won the high-scoring encounter 30-24 against the Titans. The late play which saw Queensland Origin star Inglis tackle Kelly, 22, to secure the result for Souths was much talked-about it was the defensive effort of Kelly and his Gold Coast halves partner Aidan Sezer which helped contribute to the loss for John Cartwright’s men. Kelly missed six tackles in the match (he made seventeen). Coupled with the fact Sezer missed four of his 12 tackle attempts, it is a concern for the Titans who will be short of tough-tackling duo Nate Myles and Greg Bird this weekend.

Parramatta’s Chris Sandow is slipping back to some of the habits that saw him dumped in NSW Cup last season. The Kingaroy native made only four runs in the Eels’ 32-14 loss to Cronulla. For a side which – despite losing to the Roosters the previous weekend – had put in an improved effort, it was surprising to see Sandow cede the initiative when on attack. Over the weekend in the halfback ranks, Robert Lui also ran only four times for the Cowboys but the difference was he had Johnathan Thurston who took on the line on, on 10 occasions. Sandow (in having Joseph Paulo) can’t afford the luxury of a catch and pass because the Paulo (five runs-36 metres) is unlikely to run too.

Following on from a position topic last week, it was another wanna-be fullback displaying great wing play to conclude round 14 action. Brisbane winger Josh Hoffman, in the same way Warriors fullback Glen Fishaii prefers the custodian role, produced a terrific performance playing left wing as the Broncos dispatched Wests Tigers. The 25-year-old had 10 tackle breaks as he ran in two tries, logged 129 metres from 13 runs and also assisted in a try.

Former London Bronco Craig Gower may be stuck playing hooker if Danny Buderus remains out for the Knights. Despite Gower’s stated desire to play halfback he was used primarily in the number nine role against the Storm in the Knights’ 16-14 defeat at the hands on Melbourne. Significantly, he was asked to play dummy half when the Novocastrians were chasing the game, even though Indigenous All Star Travis Waddell – who has been with the side since the start of the season – was available. The potential World Cup representative for Italy will be hoping 35-year-old Buderus is available in round 16.

Canberra’s Reece Robinson logged an interesting statistic on the weekend by making no tackles as the Raiders saw off Penrith 24-12. The Raiders fullback did make 18 runs for 149 metres with 10 tackle breaks to go with his 15th minute try as the Raiders joined three other teams on 16 points. Interestingly, in the near-84-minute struggle between the Bulldogs and the Sea Eagles, Manly’s fullback Peter Hiku only made one tackle so sometimes this rare duck is not down the teams attacking dominance.

FIVE METRE GAP: Round Three

Hamish NealBy HAMISH NEAL
Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round three.
Let’s start off on Monday night with praise for the Newcastle defence. Looking at some specifics of the Knight’s 34-6 victory two players stood out earlier with Neville Costigan and Robbie Rochow each making tackles in as many minutes to start the game. Both players are not noted for high tackle counts, with Rochow not even noted as a regular first grader finished with 31 and 30 tackles respectively in the victorious Knights.
With Sky Sport TV and the NRL coming up with a last-minute deal to ensure games were broadcast into New Zealand during 2013 it seems some aspects of the deal are still annoying fans. The deal doesn’t, initially, include the suite of new shows such as Fox Sport’s Sterol and NRL 360. The extra shows/analysis during weekdays was a point trumpeted at the announcements of the (Australian-based) deal. Several talkback callers to Radio Sport in New Zealand don’t like the Footy Show so some variety would be a positive. I am sure a deal to show those programs in New Zealand would be well received, so someone get it sorted.
Another week another draw moan, yes I can pick them. I’m not sure if the 8pm kick-off on Thursday evening for Manly versus Wests in Gosford is such a great call. Holiday-makers heading north for the holiday weekend plus commuters heading back from Sydney plus game traffic spells trouble. I hope I am wrong. Fans need to be given great game day experiences and that includes getting to games. On a holiday weekend that game should have been a Sunday afternoon.
Not to become beholden to statistics but it’s worth pointing out Nathan Fien (five times) ran the ball more than Jamie Soward (three) on Sunday evening in the Dragons 30-17 loss to Canberra. Whilst these stats when compared to say Chris Sandow (six runs in lose to Tigers) need to be taken in context it can’t be viable for Soward to continue with such low output.
 Anyone else suffering Thursday night burnout yet? Between fantasy teams, tipping, and other ways to interact with the game I can’t seem to remember what night of the week it is. I almost thought I was watching a live game on Tuesday night when I realised it was a replay of a Superleague game, big win for Wigan over Widnes, from the weekend.