NRL Agenda: The litmus test will reveal dragons as contenders or pretenders
If the Dragons are to complete their remarkable turnaround since the Charity Shield debacle, two things need to happen against the Broncos.
From a side that promised the world but didn’t deliver, to concussion controversies and NRL expansion, we reign supreme over the big talking points in rugby league.
FAMILIAR FACES VS BRONCOS
Veteran No. 7 Adam Reynolds has already claimed the scalps of Nathan Cleary and Chad Townsed and will be shooting at Ben Hunt this weekend.
If the Dragons want their man Hunt to have the upper hand, they’d better get to Suncorp Stadium ready to beat the Broncos into submission.
St George Illawarra manager Anthony Griffin and Hunt take on former club Brisbane in what will be a real test of the Dragons’ remarkable turnaround since the Charity Shield.
Both Griffin and Broncos coach Kevin Walters received preseason salvage jobs, and so far both men and their teams have exceeded expectations.
Everyone scoffed at Griffin when he described the side’s hapless Mudgee against South Sydney as an “easily fixed system glitch”. Maybe he was right.
Or maybe the big men of Red V finally stood up for the count and dominated the middle, running sheer hard against the Titans.
Now they face a tougher test in a Broncos pack led by Payne Haas and Pat Carrigan.
The Broncos were a defensive powerhouse early in the season, while the Hunt-orchestrated Dragons have found their mojo in offense.
The outcome will depend on which of the crafty halfbacks can orchestrate the win.
ALL THE EQUIPMENT, I DON’T KNOW
There’s no way Wests Tigers fans went into the season thinking their first competitive points could realistically come from a Round 7 bye.
Frustrated fans can’t let the headlines after David Klemmer’s clash with former player Jackson Hastings distract from the harsh reality of this side – their attack is no better than a wooden spoon.
For all their big-name recruitment and three-time Premiership winner Api Koroisau at the ruck, the Tigers’ attacking doesn’t appear to have improved from their meager average of two tries-a-game last season.
If they fail to see improvements against Canterbury on Sunday, the new-era Tigers face a familiar predicament anchored at the bottom of the ladder.
It doesn’t get any easier, then they meet Melbourne, Brisbane and the Eels.
They scored two tries last week and were lucky to have two on the scoreboard against Newcastle despite tackling 46 tackles in the Knights’ red zone.
We were promised attacking football with echoes of the 2005 title-winning season.
Instead, the Tigers’ attack only stuttered and struggled in the first two rounds of 2023.
At times their attack seemed to have no shape or direction. The ball found flat footed or players not pressing the ball in a shift.
Even Koroisau gazed from its depths. He hit an offload, gave away possession and shook off a last-kick play with a bad kick.
FAIR DINKUM EXTENSION
If the NRL is to be fair about expanding into the Pacific, it must give players from that region a fair chance to play for the controversial team.
There must be a quota in the top 30 squads for players from Samoa, Tonga and Papua New Guinea.
Having a Cairns-based Pasifika team made up entirely of players born and developed in Australia or New Zealand is a cynical approach to expansion into that region.
And one that isn’t doing enough to leave a real footprint on the islands, even as the Australian government promises funding to help the game’s growth in the region.
If the NRL wants to capitalize on the increase in influence and participation of Pacific Islander players by having a Pasifika team, then the game should also put money back in the pockets of local players by ensuring they get a fair chance to get an NRL contract.
Yes, NRL funds are already making their way back to the Pacific, with dozens of players sending funds to family members in their home country.
And yes, a player like Jason Taumalolo is revered in his native Tonga despite being born and raised in New Zealand.
But this Pasifika team needs to show native talent.
The fans in the region deserve it, especially when the team isn’t based in either the islands or PNG.
And if there’s no local talent good enough to land an NRL contract, then maybe now isn’t the time to have a Pasifika franchise.
TIME TO RETHINK HIAs
The NRL should reconsider the mandatory 15 minutes a player must be off the field and how to deal with foul play that forces a player onto the field.
Tommy Talau got a punch in the nose after a head-high tackle from Jackson Hastings, the West Tigers center was forced off the field for a 15-minute HIA, but Hastings stayed on. No penalty, no scapegoat, but Talau, on the other hand, failed to return to the field.
Then there’s the matter of players being cleared to return by doctors but being forced to sit out the entire 15 minutes.
It can be argued that once a player is given the green light, they can return.
This can ensure that a team is not disadvantaged by foul play that results in an HIA, especially when the offender can remain on the field of play.
The idea was originally floated by South Sydney centre, Campbell Graham, and it has a merit.
Let me be clear that this columnist would never advocate less protections for players, in fact the NRL is letting players down by not requiring a mandatory resignation if a player has a concussion, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t Room for improvement of the process.
SUPERCOACH MUST HAVE: J’MAINE HOPGOOD
If you’re one of the 40 percent of supercoaches who decided against J’maine Hopgood, it’s time to reconsider that decision.
The new Parramatta lock forward assisted a 101-point round against Melbourne with 124 against Cronulla, aided by two try assists, 43 tackles, a line break and a line break assist.
Hopgood also has a negative breakeven and is poised to become a cash cow for owners once price increases are activated after round three.
Ryan Matterson is expected to return in round four from his suspension but Hopgood has shown Brad Arthur enough to retain his place in the starting XI.
DOUBLE MOTION CONFUSION
It seems we have a new rule in the NRL, at least a new, head-scratching, interpretation of one – the double move.
The bunker ruled that even though Tigers forward Stefano Utoikamanu had put the ball forward, the momentum got him over the line.
It has always been known, at least by experts, that once the ball is promoted forward, there is no more attempt. No longer.
The NRL really has two options here, admitting the bunker made the wrong decision or using the interpretation in Sunday’s game to move forward.
Luckily for the Knights, the head-scratching decision didn’t rob them of a hard-fought win over the Tigers.
MARKET MOVER: WILL KENNEDY
Will Kennedy may not be contracted for the 2024 season, but with every game he’s played his stocks are rising, helped by a hat-trick performance against Parramatta.
Cronulla is quietly confident he will re-sign, but the longer it takes the greater the chance a rival will trap the full-back who has no doubt attracted the attention of other suitors.
The Sharks have high hopes for the injured Kade Dykes, believed to be their longtime full-back, but that attitude could cost them Kennedy.
IN THE LINE OF FIRE
Wayne Bennett already knew what Kalyn Ponga didn’t know, that the Knights superstar isn’t a five-eighth.
But as it turns out, not because of the fact that Bennett didn’t believe he was a half, but because of what was seen on Sunday, Ponga’s propensity for head injuries.
Ponga’s move from full-back to half might be the right move for the Knights in the long run, but it looks like the wrong and potentially dangerous move for Ponga.
Ponga was knocked out in his first tackle attempt when he tried to bring down Tigers forward Asu Kepaoa.
As a full-back, Ponga suffered four concussions in 10 months, three of which occurred within six weeks, ending his 2022 season early.
Moving Ponga into the halves has only put him in the firing line, where he’s expected to do more tackling and defensive work.
While the headbutt that led to his most recent concussion was purely an accident, it raised questions about Ponga playing in a position where he will see a lot of traffic.
Originally released as NRL Agenda: The Litmus Test will reveal dragons as contenders or contenders
https://www.codesports.com.au/nrl/nrl-agenda-litmus-test-will-reveal-dragons-as-contenders-or-pretenders/news-story/c76d404c0efec175f4fe56d180aa4dc8?nk=c6367c59b1959e3706c0073ef89d1ad8-1678682823 NRL Agenda: The litmus test will reveal dragons as contenders or pretenders