Musician Denis Carnahan shares his rendition of the ‘referees’ victory song,’ one that despite being written at the birth of rugby league in 1908, has never once been sung.
MANLY’S over-reliance on Brett Stewart is exposed by the Storm, Trent Merrin gets a big win off the park, and the return of the shoulder charge comes at a time when the ugliness of sports-related brain injury is front and centre of the sports conversation.
It’s all in the highs, the lows and the big blows for NRL round one.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs have started the season on a high, defeating the reigning premiers the Sydney Roosters 28-8 at ANZ stadium.
Cream rises to the top
We all know Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith and Ben Barba are elite players in the NRL. What round one reminded us was the value of these superstars and why they get paid so much. Smith is the coolest customer in the business. Even at 20-0 down against a quality opponent, his teammates look at him and feel confident.
His first field-goal in his NRL career to win the game in golden point was a fair indication of why. In a similar position against the Raiders — 16-0 down early in the first half — Thurston put his team on his shoulders and led them back from the brink, with a 60 metre try from a quick-tap penalty summing up his genius. While GI and Barba starred in less improbable victories, both showed the value of having genuine X-factor in your side.
Wingers and the art of finishing
When did wingers get this good? From Josh Mansour’s powerhouse display for the Panthers, which has already plonked him into early Origin discussions, to Dale Copley’s phenomenal display for the Broncos. Then there was Cowboys pair Kyle Feldt and Antonio Winterstein defying gravity to score tries when the odds were with the cover defence to push them out. Both Eels wingers scored hat-tricks and Sisa Waqa and Bryson Goodwin showed that even without Izzy Folau the NRL still possesses some truly gifted aerialists.
The Parramatta Eels have started the season with a win after beating the New Zealand Warriors 36-16.
Hope for the hopeless
Out of all the NRL fans, none (besides perhaps the Tigers’ faithful) would have approached this NRL season with as much trepidation as supporters of the Dragons and Eels. Between them they knocked up 80 points in round one, and both sides had moments where they looked breathtaking in attack. Dragons fans can now be sure Gareth Widdop was a good buy and can look ahead with optimism about the combination he might strike up with Josh Dugan. The Eels can genuinely hope to be fighting for a top-eight spot with Brad Arthur looking an excellent choice as the club’s new coach.
Dally M for batting overs
In the absence of a category that truly demonstrates the disbelief of this situation, we’ll be nice and leave it in the ‘highs’. What are we on about? In the past week it has emerged that St George Illawarra enforcer Trent Merrin has hooked up with surfing beauty Sally Fitzgibbons. Now, in no way is this a gossip column, but this is such an unlikely pairing it was impossible to let it slide. Merrin we’re sure is a cracking bloke. And no doubt he’s a very good football player. But from here on out he’ll be forever looked upon as a champion for blokes batting overs. Trent, we salute you!
Injury carnage cripples Knights
If Wayne Bennett had four players he didn’t want to lose early in the season it was Jarrod Mullen, Tyrone Roberts, Kurt Gidley and Darius Boyd. Mullen’s Auckland Nines injury was bad enough; having the rest of the spine ripped out in round one is devastating. Thankfully, none of Boyd, Gidley and Roberts have joined Mullen on the long-term injury list, but Boyd’s hamstring injury could keep him sidelined for the best part of a month. After suffering concussions, both Roberts and Gidley will be hoping to return for Newcastle’s round two clash with the Raiders, but neither is a certainty, leaving the Knights in real danger of being 0-2, despite a soft draw to start the season.
Melbourne produced an amazing comeback to defeat Manly at Brookvale Oval.
Manly without Snake
He may not be the best player in the competition, but surely no other team is so reliant on one star as the Sea Eagles are on Brett Stewart. In the first half against the Storm on Saturday night, Manly looked breathtaking in attack and well-organised in defence and Stewart was at the heart of everything. But when that dodgy hamstring went twang, so did the Sea Eagles. Without him, they lack the pace and the nous out the back to create overlaps from their sweeping set plays. Attack becomes a grind, and suddenly confidence is lost. Simply, if a healthy Stewart is on the park in the second half against the Storm, Manly wins the game untroubled. Without him for large chunks of the season, the Sea Eagles will almost certainly drop out of the top four.
New Zealand Warriors coach Matthew Elliott talks to the press following his teams 36-16 loss to the Parramatta Eels.
Bulldogs, Tigers, Warriors in trouble
Canterbury started the season without some key players, but the most worrying thing about their loss to the Broncos was a sore lack of imagination in attack. They had the possession and the field position to win the game but with no X-factor in the backline following Ben Barba’s departure, they looked like a blunt instrument. While the Tigers showed some promise in attack, their defence is horrible. Missed tackles and a lack of urgency were a feature throughout, making Mick Potter’s men look like prime wooden spoon candidates.
Wests Tigers coach Michael Potter addresses the press following his teams 44-24 loss to the Dragons.
But perhaps the most disappointing weekend performance was that of the Warriors. A team that talented just simply should not get a thrashing like that from last season’s wooden spooners in round one. After a promising pre-season Matt Elliott now joins Mick Potter as the coaches under most pressure.
Return of the shoulder charge
Sonny Bill Williams will miss three weeks after seemingly forgetting the shoulder charge was outlawed last year. SBW made two tackles without even trying to get his arms involved — the second of those two making contact with the head of George Burgess, which is what the NRL is trying to avoid.
Sonny BIll Williams is facing up to four weeks on the sidelines because of a shoulder charge on Rabbitohs forward George Burgess after being cited by the NRL’s match review committee.
Earlier in the same game, Ben Te’o was lucky he got his timing right with a big hit of his own on Sonny Bill. Had he got his position wrong, he could easily have knocked the Roosters superstar out cold. Revelations over the weekend that former rugby league hard man Ian Roberts is suffering from brain injury after a long career of head knocks makes the return of the shoulder charge all the more concerning.
Alarming crowd figures
Despite some incredibly entertaining football throughout the weekend, the NRL has got to be concerned about the number of fans coming through the turnstiles, with the crowd figures across round one the worst in years. Playing three feature games at ANZ Stadium may have contributed to the disappointing start, but the contrast couldn’t have been more stark as on Saturday night when the A-League’s Sydney derby attracted a full house to Allianz Stadium.