NRL Round 4 Team of the Week & Talking Points
We wrap up the major talking points from Round 4 of the NRL, plus a playmaker puts his 2018 nightmare behind him to captain our team of the week.
RED HOT ROOSTERS ARE CROWING
The Sydney Roosters sent a not-so-subtle reminder to the rest of the NRL competition why they’re the team to beat in an ominous 36-4 demolition of Brisbane at the SCG. This was a total performance from the Chooks. Their attack was in full-gear despite missing hooker Jake Friend plus halfback Cooper Cronk’s mid-game withdrawal. Luke Keary has evolved from a five-eighth suited to a complementary playmaking option to a man capable of being a halfback field general.
Cronk left his mark with three first-half try assists but Keary’s kicking game ensured there was no hope of a Broncos second-half fightback, like the Roosters experienced against Manly in round two. James Tedesco also has evolved from his earlier days as a line-breaking fullback reliant on speed, to a genuine ball-player who can create tries with his passing vision – although as Darius Boyd will attest to, the NSW custodian is still capable of leaving opponents in his shadows.
The Roosters’ forwards meanwhile became the latest pack to upstage Brisbane’s young big men. Victor Radley must be under serious consideration as a bench utility for NSW – the lock flawlessly played 80 minutes as a hooker without one handling error. Sia Siua Taukeiaho stepped up in Jared Waerea-Hargreaves’ absence with an inspirational performance – the Tongan running for 191 metres and led the Roosters forwards in offloads.
It’s the performances in particular of Keary, Tedesco and Taukeiaho which shows why the Roosters are such a force. Each man is a far superior version of the player they arrived at the club – no mean feat given Keary was a Premiership winner and Tedesco was already an established star. Coach Trent Robinson demands improvement of his players – or else they risk being left out or moved on. There can be no question of the Roosters’ hunger in going back-to-back.
TITANS HIT ROCK BOTTOM
The optimism from a promising pre-season recruitment campaign seems a long time ago for the defeated Gold Coast Titans. A month into the season they’re 0-4 and with the NRL’s worst attack, it’s hard to see a way back in 2019 already.
Facing the Warriors in New Zealand is never an enticing proposition but with the Warriors reeling from horrendous consecutive thrashings, this was as good an opportunity the Titans could have hoped for. They also had first-choice halves Tyrone Roberts and Ashley Taylor fit again after injury ruined their season start.
Instead it was more of the same for Gold Coast. They again failed to complete over 70% of possession, while their forwards again failed to lay a platform to allow Roberts and Taylor time to get into the match. Jai Arrow and Jarrod Wallace stood out but they can’t do it alone, as their 0-4 record shows. Coach Garth Brennan may have seen enough – things can’t continue on the Glitter Strip like this for much longer.
CANBERRA CONTINUE TO IMPRESS
In a make-or-break season, the Canberra Raiders are making significant progress already in 2019. Having only made the finals once in the last six seasons, Canberra have now made their best start since 2004 in their 3-1 record. They faced a potentially tricky match in Townsville but their 30-12 win against the Cowboys was never in doubt.
The Raiders have made a habit in recent years of starting matches hot before fading out painfully late on. That hasn’t happened to the 2019 Raiders however – they’re looking far more reliable. Sam Williams has continued to ably fill-in for injured halfback Aidan Sezer, a crucial move given the struggles other NRL rivals are experiencing when they lose a first-choice half.
Their British-loaded forward backrow of John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead and Ryan Sutton are leading the way – they collectively ran further (311m) than the Cowboys all-Queensland representative backrow of Gavin Cooper, Coen Hess and Josh McGuire (253m) and with Jordan Rapana now in full flight on the wing, the Raiders are a serious top eight chance ($1.60 – Sportsbet).
MELBOURNE NOW ALONE AT THE TOP – BARELY
Canterbury will return home from Melbourne with pride, increased confidence they’re on the right track, experience – everything possible except two Premiership points. The Storm’s 18-16 win was only assured in the last minute when Rhyse Martin missed a sideline conversion to level the scores. The Storm were almost unbackable favourites and such was the expectation of a large score, Hazem El-Masri – the NRL’s all-time top points scorer – was flown to Melbourne given Cameron Smith was nine points away from surpassing this total.
Smith came short and Melbourne very nearly joined him against a suddenly confident Doggies. Melbourne weren’t their methodical selves in attack. Josh Addo-Carr was a late withdrawal for personal reasons and “the Fox” was sorely missed. What also was missed was the usual defensive steel of right-side pairing of Will Chambers and Suliasi Vunivalu, as they twice leaked tries to see Melbourne trailing by 12 before snapping into gear after the break.
Cameron Munster found a way to outsmart the Bulldogs off a scrum with eleven minutes left to snatch a belated lead which eventually proved enough. It was the least convincing performance of Melbourne’s campaign – yet here they are as the NRL’s only unbeaten team a month in. It’s another invaluable win for the Storm with rep season drawing near and is another step closer for the Storm to establishing themselves in the NRL’s top two come season’s end. And at $3 (Sportsbet) to win yet another Minor Premiership (with 2016 and 2017’s Minor Premierships still fresh in mind), the Storm are only going to get stronger.
Up next – Melbourne are strong favourites ($1.36 – Sportsbet) to stretch their unbeaten run to five straight when they travel to Townsville against the struggling Cowboys ($3.10 – Sportsbet) but a five day turnaround with interstate travel will test Melbourne’s resolve.
ODDSCHECKER TEAM OF THE WEEK
1 – James Tedesco (Roosters)
2 – Blake Ferguson (Eels)
3 – Michael Jennings (Eels)
4 – Joseph Leilua (Raiders)
5 – Jordan Rapana (Raiders)
6 – Corey Norman (Dragons)
7 – Mitchell Moses (Eels) ©
8 – Sio Siua Taukeiaho (Roosters)
9 – Josh Hodgson (Raiders)
10 – Paul Vaughan (Dragons)
11 – Ryan Matterson (Tigers)
12 – Marata Nikuore (Eels)
13 – Jake Trbojevic (Sea Eagles)
Oddschecker Man of the Round – Mitchell Moses
You would have gotten long odds for the 2018 version of Mitchell Moses to get an Oddschecker Man of the Round nod – but Moses is putting his nightmare year behind him and was inspirational in the Eels’ crucial 24-12 win over Cronulla.
Moses deserves plenty of praise for his performance. His kicking game was on point and forced errors from Sharks fullback Josh Dugan and winger Sosaia Feki, his running game broke the Sharks line and created chances particularly for Michael Jennings while his control over the game’s tempo was too much for Cronulla to handle.
Three try assists and a kicking game generating 416 metres proved the difference for an Eels side who are exceeding expectations on 2019. Moses is playing for his next contract and if he performs like this again when the Eels face Canberra next start, his bargaining power will better resemble the last time the former Tiger came off contract.