NRL Round 3 Team of the Week & Talking Points
Dragons emotional rollercoaster, Parra's reality check? Melbourne show who's on top, Tigers hit a brick wall, plus Team of the Week close out our NRL Round 3 wrap up
DRAGONS’ EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER
Thursday night’s stirring 25-24 upset win over the Broncos at Suncorp would have felt far longer than 80 minutes for coach Paul McGregor and his St George-Illawarra Dragons. The joint venture club couldn’t afford an 0-3 season start and just like they did in the 2018 finals, the Dragons ambushed the Broncos on their own turf. However unlike last year, St George-Illawarra didn’t blow Brisbane off the park – this was a game full of momentum changes and unpredictability.
Just like their opening two rounds, the Dragons did start well however the difference this time was they had a second wind when the tide turned against them. Korbin Sims was a key part of this fightback, he may have conceded three penalties after coming off the bench but his mongrel has been something lacking from the Dragons. The biggest turning point for St George-Illawarra- both on the night and possibly their 2019 campaign- was the cruel loss of skipper Gareth Widdop to yet another shoulder dislocation. In the fullback’s final season before moving to Warrington in the UK Super League, the Dragons’ inspirational leader was left in agony after attempting to tidy up Darius Boyd’s kick.
The third dislocation to the Brit’s shoulder since 2018, scans this week will determine if Widdop has played his final NRL game. Widdop’s leadership may be irreplaceable long-term but with little notice, Corey Norman stepped up under immense pressure to help steer the Dragons home. Norman has been quiet since joining the Dragons in the off-season but it was his final 15 minutes which showed why McGregor was so intent on signing him.
Norman took control and against his former side played like a man possessed. His final minute field goal icing the upset win and giving Dragons fans reasons to believe. McGregor’s spine reshuffle has been one of the league’s biggest talking points but with Widdop’s unavailability, any selection conundrums are no more. Matt Dufty- dropped entirely against the Broncos after spending the previous two games on the interchange- will replace Widdop at fullback with Norman and Ben Hunt now knowing this is their side to lead.
This against-the-odds win could galvanise the Dragons and with key backrower Tyson Frizell inching closer to his return, McGregor’s side may be a different prospect to the one who collapsed back-to-back in rounds 1 and 2. The Dragons are now a $2.25 (Sportsbet) chance of reaching the Finals.
PARRA’S REALITY CHECK?
If ever the Eels were going to shock the world and move to 3-0 in 2019 by stunning the Premiers Sydney Roosters, Friday night had to be the night. Parramatta were competitive in the opening half, only trailing 8-6 at the break before opening up their attack in the second half through Fijian winger Maika Sivo’s double, taking the lead on two separate occasions.
A boilover was on the cards but the Roosters delivered like champion sides do. Missing Cooper Cronk and Brett Morris pre-game before losing Jake Friend and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in-game, the Chooks found a way to lift the game’s intensity. James Tedesco’s silky skills and Sio Siua Taukeiaho rampaging runs couldn’t be stopped by the plucky Eels.
The 32-18 scoreline didn’t reflect how close this game was and make no mistake, the Roosters had to dig deep against last year’s wooden spooners to get their win. The Eels won’t lose any admirers from the loss – their quality may have dropped late on but they never stopped trying and Blake Ferguson looks a potential NRL signing of the year for them. But this may slightly temper any lofty expectations out Parra way. The Eels are in a far more promising spot than this time last year but there’s still a way to go in Brad Arthur’s latest rebuild. $1.50 (TAB) on Parramatta to miss the top eight is worth considering.
Up next – Parra stepped up but couldn’t overcome a 2018 top four side in the Roosters. They get another chance though when they host Cronulla on Saturday night.
MELBOURNE SHOW WHO’S ON TOP
The wind chill may have felt below freezing in Bathurst on Saturday night but the Storm were on fire in their 32-2 thrashing of the Panthers. This on paper looked a clash of two potential top-four sides but the gulf in performance was more suited to a Premiership contender against an also ran.
Penrith dominated possession and territory in the first half, having over 30 tackles inside Melbourne’s 20 and yet looked like never a chance of breaching the Storm’s defence. This frustration caught up with Penrith as Cameron Munster ran rings around a shellshocked Panthers who imploded. The Queensland star had a complete performance, including a clinical kicking game which will give Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards nightmares this week.
When Munster fires like this, Melbourne become near impossible to contain. It allows Cameron Smith to pick his spots more freely out of dummy half, while it also gives the inexperienced Jahrome Hughes and Brodie Croft more time when they have ball in hand. Coach Craig Bellamy would have noted his side’s relatively low completion rate – 65% - as an area for improvement, which is a scary proposition given how comfortably they dispatched Penrith. And Melbourne are now 3-0 and banking wins early is crucial for any Premiership contender – it alleviates the pressure when Origin callups can potentially derail a season. The Storm are $6 (TopBetta) to add another Premiership in 2019.
Up next – the Storm get a huge chance to go 4-0 in 2019 when they host a Bulldogs side who will be large underdogs despite their upset win against the Tigers.
TIGERS HIT A BRICK WALL
If it was a Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah-inspired fairytale start to 2019 for the Wests Tigers, they got cold dose of reality in their shock 22-8 defeat against the Bulldogs at Campbelltown. The Doggies entered the game winless and facing a historic all time low for points scored across their opening three games.
Instead the Bulldogs blitzed the Tigers and scored 22 points before Wests started to fight back. By the time the Tigers built momentum the game was already lost. Marshall limped off with a hamstring injury and the Tigers made too many basic errors to stand a chance. Moses Mbye had a game to forget at fullback, looking lost with the windy conditions and an early injury to backrower Luke Garner – who returned in the second half and managed to score from a Ryan Matterson kick – impacted their bench rotation.
Perhaps the biggest omen for the Tigers is every time they’ve previously started a season 2-0, they’ve missed the finals every time, and their defeat to a previously winless Dogs isn’t a great sign they’re about to break the hoodoo. You can get $1.70 (TAB) for history to repeat itself with the Tigers not to make the finals.
Up next – it’s going to dominate league media all week – a grudge match between the Tigers and Panthers, with former Tigers coach Ivan Cleary going to be in the firing line of the travelling Tigers fans.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
FB – Tom Trbojevic (MAN) ©
W – Campbell Graham (SOU)
C – Jack Bird (BRI)
C – Josh Morris (CRO)
W – Maika Sivo (PAR)
5/8 – Cameron Munster (MEL)
HB – Daly Cherry-Evans (MAN)
FR – Paul Vaughan (STG)
HK – Jayden Brailey (CRO)
FR – Dylan Napa (CBY)
BR – John Bateman (CAR)
BR – Joel Thompson (MAN)
LK – Cameron Murray (SOU)
Player of the Round – Tom Trbojevic
Welcome back Turbo Tom! A hamstring injury in a trial prevented Manly’s dynamic fullback from starting the season, which saw the Sea Eagles attack not quite hit the heights they’re capable of. But the NSW representative’s return in round three blew apart a shocked Warriors outfit.
Trbojevic played out of his skin showing zero signs of rust in his game-breaking performance. His comeback stats were ridiculous considering his recent injury:
- - 2 tries
- - 2 try assists
- - 3 line breaks
- - 2 line break assists
- - 192 running metres
Manly are a different side with their superstar at the back and will fancy their chances of causing a bunny boilover at Lottoland against unbeaten Souths if Trbojevic maintains his belated 2019 hot start.