First tackle: Top 8 takes shape
The NRL cream has risen to the top, and this year's Top 8 has started to take shape, following big losses by the Sea Eagles and Tigers, the two teams which had the most realistic chance of forcing their way into the post season.
The Sharks are four points clear in eighth position, with the Rabbitohs a further two points ahead of them. The big concern for the Sharks is that they have struggled against the top teams this year and they do face a tough run home against the Cowboys, Knights, Warriors, Roosters and Raiders. They should beat the struggling Cowboys, but even the Warriors are going to be a solid test of their resolve in the run to the finals.
The Sea Eagles do have a relatively soft run home after they take on the Storm, with the Tigers, Bulldogs, Titans and Warriors to come. They are really struggling at the moment, with their capitulation to the Rabbitohs coming on the back of losses to the Knights, Warriors and Panthers. If they can't put up a decent fight against the Storm, they might even have problems beating the lesser teams that follow.
The Tigers have a much tougher run, facing the Panthers, Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs, Storm and Eels. It is hard to see them winning more than one of those games. The Dragons have the Titans and Cowboys before a tough last three games, facing the Raiders, Knights and Storm. The Warriors, fielding a ragtag bits and pieces team, face the Knights, Eels, Sharks, Raiders and Sea Eagles.
It all boils down to how the Sharks finish off their inconsistent season. If they crash and burn, it just might give one of the other four teams a sniff of playing finals football.
Second tackle: Easier said than done
I'm about to tell you how to tackle a rampaging Viliame Kikau when you are defending your own try line. No, I can't show you, I value my life far too much, but for a start take a look at Penrith's first try against Cronulla on Friday night. Young Sharks halfback Braydon Trindall gives the perfect example of how not to do it. Could I have done better? well no, I thought we covered that.
You simply cannot stand upright, toe to toe with him, like you're partaking in some kind of quickstep dance, back-pedalling as he leads you all the way to the try-line. You have to drive in low and hope you get tangled up in his legs as a teammate helps wrap the ball up over the top. First defender has to hit him low, second and third defenders need to be right behind the first. Poor Trindall was left to handle the runaway truck by himself. He had no chance once he decided to go high.
Third tackle: Eight points and ten minutes?
On the way to being completely outplayed by the Rabbitohs we saw an unusual incident from Sea Eagles fullback Tevita Funa. The youngster raced across his own goal line in a desperate attempt to stop Rabbitohs flyer Alex Johnston from scoring his second try in the corner. Funa dived head first at Johnston swinging his right arm around in an attempt to punch the ball clear before it was grounded. Unfortunately, his fist missed the ball, instead clocking Johnston across the jaw. Funa immediately checked on Johnston's welfare. There was no intent, just a very poorly executed move.
It was an unfortunate incident that definitely warranted a possible eight point try. Under the rules, any foul play committed during the act of scoring a try is penailsed by allowing the try scoring team a second shot at goal from in front of the posts. It has been that way forever, but the difference this time was having the player also sent to the sin bin for ten minutes. At the time it seemed like an unnecessarily heavy double punishment for the offence. That was until Johnston failed his HIA and took no further part in the game. Then it seemed more reasonable.
It came at the worst possible time for the Sea Eagles who had just conceded three-straight tries to fall behind 20-0 in less than 20 minutes. Manly couldn't get their hands on the ball, such was the dominance of the Rabbitohs. The final score of 56-16 extending a horror run of results at ANZ for Manly to 11 consecutive losses.
Fourth tackle: Boot flinger penalised
There was a strange moment in the Bulldogs embarrassing loss to the Warriors on Sunday. Warriors interchange forward Jack Murchie completed a tackle by tearing his opponent's boot off and throwing it towards the sideline. It's not the first time it has happened, but the referee was having none of it, awarding a penalty to the Bulldogs.
It didn't help them as they threw away a winning lead by failing to compete for much of the second half. Fox commentator Greg Alexander said at the start of the game that the Bulldogs didn't deserve the wooden spoon as they weren't the worst team in the competition. I'm not sure whether his mind was changed by their insipid effort after the break. The Broncos are certainly enjoying the Bulldogs determination to secure the club's sixth wooden spoon.
Fifth and last: Another Knight falls in battle
The Newcastle Knights can't take a trick this season when it comes to serious, season-ending injuries. It started when new hooker Jayden Brailey tore his ACL in their Round 2 clash with the Tigers at Leichhardt Oval. The Knights cleverly signed Broncos veteran Andrew McCullough to fill the void after the coronavirus break. They lost him to a ruptured hamstring and in the same game lost replacement hooker Connor Watson to an Achilles tendon rupture.
In order to move Kurt Mann into the cursed No. 9 jersey the astute Knights nabbed Blake Green from the Warriors. Green was playing his third game at the club after impressing all with his professionalism and the way he has slotted straight into the No. 6 jersey. Now it seems certain that his season is over a well, after he hobbled off with what appears to be another torn ACL tendon. Coach Adam O'Brien shared his feelings after the game.
"He's shattered," O'Brien said. "I felt like crying with him. But I'm getting used to it now though, I've had to do it a few times this year - it's carnage.
"It's not good, it's a bit like soldiers getting repeatedly shot, it's unbelievable. I feel for him at the moment but we have a crew that he can work with for the rest of the year as part of the coaching staff. Too big a crew at the moment."
It has been said that one of the key ingredients to any team winning a premiership is luck with injuries. The Knights have had absolutely none this season.
Handover: Crusher overload
One thing to come out of the weekend's action is that the crackdown on crusher tackles has opened an ugly can of worms. There are countless numbers of tackles in each and every game, where close analysis will show the basic ingredients of a crusher tackle. The player with the ball has his back turned to the defence, he goes to ground with the tacklers whilst in a seated position. His head will pop through the armpit of a defender, but will often be caught on the way through. Having players feign injury when it happens, to milk penalties, is an ugly blight on the game.
The crusher tackle rule is there to protect against the pile driver type tackles where defenders lift themselves and drive down on the back or the head of a ball carrier. It is a move that could prove lethal in the true sense of the word and has to be stamped out. While their concern is justified, there is a danger that the NRL crackdown is seeing players penalised and possibly suspended for incidents that are not of that nature and are simply unavoidable consequences of ball-carriers going into a tackle backwards.