NRL Hits and Misses: Fittler tries to fix his Origin blues

Round 15 of the NRL season saw a monumental fightback from the Cowboys, the Warriors packing their bags for home, more bunker frustration and the Blues hit the panic button again.

Read on as we take a look back at some of the biggest hits and misses of the weekend.


Brilliant theatre in Brookvale battle

I'm not sure what was going on in Brookvale on Friday night, but the Cowboys scoring 14 points in four minutes to run down the Sea Eagles was extremely entertaining rugby league.

Having worked their way back to 26-24 down, through two late tries, the Cowboys looked to have lost their momentum with a knock-on from the ensuing kick-off. With seven minutes remaining, Manly players and fans breathed a massive sigh of relief as the scrum packed down in the middle of the field, 15 metres out from the Cowboys line.

Queensland star and Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans picked the ball up from the scrum base and drifted to his right looking to time a pass to one of his outside backs. Cowboys fullback Scott Drinkwater hit him from behind before he had a chance and the ball dribbled across the field where Cowboys centre Valentine Holmes scooped it up. The former New York Jets running back had 80 metres to cover and plenty of work to do before putting the Cowboys in front.

Holmes brushed off the first defender, out-sprinted the chase of Kieran Foran and headed for the corner. Manly speedster Jason Saab, coming from the opposite side of the field, converged and had one final shot at stopping him 10 metres out, but Holmes stepped inside and flicked him away before diving over the line. It was a great finish to an exciting game, although there are plenty of Manly players and fans that would disagree.

- Darren Arthur

Warriors finally going back home

If there's any team that deserves a bit of good news it's the Warriors, who have been based in Australia since the COVID-19 outbreak. In that time they've lost a lot of games, sacked two coaches and been stuck on the wrong end of the ladder.

They were 10-to-one outsiders to beat the Panthers on Saturday and didn't spring any surprises, but at least it was the final time they will have to "host" a game in Redcliffe due to Covid restrictions.

Their next home game in round 16 will be back in front of a genuine home crowd at Mt Smart Stadium when they take on the Tigers. It will be the first time in 60 games they are on their home turf.

There were some bright moments against the Panthers, with fullback Reece Walsh a lively presence with a few sharp kicks to go with his sharp footwork. But it's hard to underestimate the impact that living away from home for so long has had on the New Zealand club, and it's sure to be a boost when they get back home next round.

- Dominic Brock


Fittler corrects some of his own blunders

The entire state of Queensland must be sitting back with wry smiles on their faces as they watch the New South Wales Origin brains trust turn itself inside out ahead of Game II. Coach Brad Fittler announced eight changes to the squad he assembled for Game I, a game which they only lost by six points. Jack Wighton, the Blues' best player from the series opener, is out through COVID, but the other seven squad changes were all Fittler, as he would explain.

"When you get beaten, you need to reassess," Fittler said.

"We have no safety net at the moment.

"We went into the first game thinking a certain way about how the game would go and what we could do but it didn't happen."

So out went Ryan Matterson, Kotoni Staggs, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Tariq Sims from the team and Jacob Saifiti and Tyson Frizell from the squad. In comes Jake Trbojevic, Siosifa Talakai, Angus Crichton, Matt Burton, Api Koroisau, Victor Radley, Jordan McLean and Clint Gutherson.

Who would have thought having a debutante centre in the No.14 jersey would be a mistake, who would have thought tearing the heart out of the pack by dropping Jake Trbojevic would cause problems, who would have thought Tariq Sims' best days were behind him?

"He's done a fantastic job for NSW. We really appreciate what he's been doing, but we're looking towards the future," Fittler said of Sims, who had apparently aged terribly over a couple of weeks.

A lot of observers were convinced that Fittler had erred in leaving proven Origin performers Jake Trbojevic, Angus Crichton and Josh Addo-Carr out of his first team. He has gone part of the way to fixing that with the return of the two forwards, but Addo-Carr remains on the outer despite a run of tries for the Bulldogs.

Meanwhile the Maroons have made only one change due to injury. They will build confidence off the back of their Game I win and with the familiarity of those around them. They know that the Maroons way is to stick solid with proven Origin players, even if they have an off game. Most of the Blues players run out with the shadow of Fitler's erratic axe following them.

Roosters finals run in danger

The Sydney Roosters have been one of the dominant forces of the past decade in the NRL, finishing in the league's top five in eight of the past nine seasons -- a run that includes three premierships and four minor premierships.

They've reached the finals in each of the past five seasons, defying a horror injury toll last year to go into the business end in fifth place.

That streak may be coming to an end.

Right now, 15 rounds into the 2022 season, the Roosters sit in ninth place. They're in a five-way battle for the final two spots in the eight, along with the Rabbitohs, Dragons, Sea Eagles and Raiders. They've played all four of those teams already, for one win and three losses.

It's not looking good. The positives? They remain stacked with talent -- from NSW skipper James Tedesco, to star halves Sam Walker and Luke Keary (who missed Saturday's loss to the Eels with concussion), to rep forwards Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Angus Crichton and star outside backs Joey Manu and Joseph Suaalii. Victor Radley will return from injury shortly.

The expectation is still that they'll turn things around at some point, but then again that's been the expectation all season. The pressure will only intensify if they slump to a fourth straight defeat in their round 16 clash with Penrith.

- Dominic Brock

More bunker frustration across the weekend

There were several bunker decisions across Round 15 that had fans scratching their heads, but the lack of bunker intervention on halftime between the Broncos and Storm simply defied common sense. Cameron Munster fielded a Broncos kick-off near his own dead ball line and poorly time his step across the chalk. Replays showed clearly that he had the ball in his possession before stepping dead, meaning the penalty awarded to the Storm should have instead been a goal-line drop-out.

The referee's call was that the decision could be challenged and the Broncos failed to do so in the allotted time. The score was locked at 16-16 at the time and thankfully the Storm's penalty shot from halfway was unsuccessful, as the siren sounded for the break.

I'm not sure how a captain is meant to see a poor call from a kick-off, where a player puts his foot dead seconds after catching the ball. The Broncos players were about 30 metres away as Munster earned his team a penalty. Even from that distance they knew something didn't look quite right, but they weren't going to throw away their challenge on a hunch. With the on-field officials also a fair distance away, surely it was the bunker's job to get the call right.

- Darren Arthur