NRL Round 7 Team of the Week & Talking Points
Roosters lose their best Friend, Dogs bark back, Broncos show a pulse, the mad scientist does it again.
ROOSTERS LOSE THEIR BEST FRIEND
It was a captain’s knock from Jake Friend on ANZAC Day – the hooker made a spectacular return following a shoulder injury with his trademark defence combined with attacking creativity and even a 40/20. Unfortunately, though the Roosters’ impressive 20-10 win over the Dragons was later bittersweet with news Friend suffered a ruptured biceps meaning a minimum of three months until the Queenslander can return.
It makes Friend’s performance even greater – his side lost momentum when Friend came off during the second half for what was believed a breather – when in hindsight it was with a serious injury. But he came back on and his tackle on standout Dragons fullback Matt Dufty to dislodge the ball and inadvertently set up Sia Siua Taukeiaho’s game-sealing try was essentially done with one arm. Friend’s injury is a huge blow for both state and club. For Queensland it was looking a done deal this would finally be the year Friend would debut in Origin – an arena he was made for.
But for club, it presents the biggest challenge yet to the Roosters going back-to-back. Victor Radley expressed his relief for Friend’s return last week meaning he could revert to his normal lock role. But the young enforcer is now going to be relied upon to take over from Friend for months. It also means potentially either Mitchell Aubusson to provide in-game cover for Radley at 9 or Robinson needing to include either inexperienced Lachlan Lam or Sam Verills on the bench.
The Roosters will be grateful they’ve had their best start in 20 years to give them breathing space early on – there might be some teething pains adjusting to life without Friend.
DOGGIES BARK BACK
It’s been a tough 2019 so far for the Bulldogs but their performance Friday night defeating North Queensland 24-12 was a positive glimpse into the future. With Canterbury still recovering from their previous regime’s salary cap management it’s crucial their recent signings hit the mark – and while some haven’t quite worked out (Sauaso Sue, Christian Crichton), others led by example against the Cowboys.
Corey Harawira-Naera had a breakout game, the Kiwi backrower scoring twice and also made a try-saving effort against Origin forward Gavin Cooper which Matt Sing would have been proud of. Fullback Nick Meaney and five-eighth Jack Cogger are growing in confidence with each appearance together.
Veteran prop Aiden Tolman also deserves praise – by far their most experienced middle forward, the big man had 63 involvements and along with Josh Jackson laid the platform allowing the likes of Harawira-Naera and Rhyse Martin to ram home the Dogs advantage. It’s performances like this one which will give Dogs punters confidence that things may be on the up Belmore way.
BRONCOS SHOW A PULSE
Finally, the Brisbane Broncos are back in the winner’s circle after defeating a depleted Cronulla Sharks 29-6 at Suncorp Stadium. After four straight losses, the Broncos simply had to win and they would have gained confidence in how easily they put away Cronulla.
Halves Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima will always be under the spotlight but they’ve at least created some breathing room from the critics with their best 2019 performance. Milford, in particular, stood out in the first half with two try assists and effortlessly nailed a field goal in the 40th minute to ram home the Broncos’ domination.
Cronulla were already understrength heading into this game – then lost Josh Dugan to injury with thirty seconds left in their warmup and Shaun Johnson not long into the match itself – but the Broncos were ruthless. An interesting attacking structure in the first half opened the scoring with star winger Corey Oates instead playing as a sweeping fullback to charge through Cronulla’s goalline defence.
It also showed coach Anthony Seibold is slowly tweaking his backline even if it’s not through personnel changes. With three games in eleven days, Seibold heavily rotated his pack late in the second half with the game secured – particularly keeping his side fresh for their next match.
Up next – A game where more media attention will be focused on the coaching boxes than the ANZ Stadium pitch – old coaches face off as Wayne Bennett’s Souths ($1.45 – Sportsbet) face Seibold’s Brisbane ($2.79 – Sportsbet).
THE MAD SCIENTIST DOES IT AGAIN
Eyebrows were raised Brookvale way when Manly coach Des Hasler revealed he had dropped incumbent five-eighth Kane Elgey for ex-Raider Lachlan Croker’s first NRL appearance in 366 days just before kickoff. Elgey had been a decent foil for Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves but clearly, Hasler had something different in mind – and it paid off in ways not even the Mad Scientist himself couldn’t have seen.
Croker was a revelation, not just taking the pressure off Cherry-Evans but instead becoming the dominant playmaker. This freed Cherry-Evans to play more off the cuff as a roving five-eighth and added a new dimension to Manly’s attack. Croker bagged a try from his great support play and were right in the game trailing 14-12 after halftime.
Then Cherry-Evans suffered an ankle injury and limped out for the rest of the game and the pressure entirely fell on Croker’s shoulders. But instead of Manly collapsing, the Sea Eagles instead rallied and Croker was the star. He shortly crossed for his second try and his teammates stepped up to assist – whether Reuben Garrick taking over goal-kicking, Manase Fainu ramping up his dummy-half work, Corey Waddell at times becoming a 104kg five-eighth or Jake Trbojevic taking charge of the middle.
Compared to at times a rabble in 2018 under Trent Barrett, Manly in 2019 are playing with all heart and with a coach prepared to back them in. It’s making a world of difference and with Cherry-Evans facing an injury-enforced break, Croker will have all the confidence he can step up in his absence.
ODDSCHECKER TEAM OF THE WEEK
1- Kalyn Ponga (Knights)
2- Corey Oates (Broncos)
3- Latrell Mitchell (Roosters)
4- Dane Gagai (Rabbitohs)
5- Mahe Fonua (Tigers)
6- Anthony Milford (Broncos)
7- Mitchell Pearce (Knights)
8- Sio Siua Taukeiaho (Roosters)
9- Jake Friend (Roosters)
10- Martin Taupau (Sea Eagles)
11- Corey Harawira-Naera © (Bulldogs)
12- Boyd Cordner (Roosters)
13- Jake Trbojevic (Sea Eagles)
ODDSCHECKER PLAYER OF THE WEEK
When this forward requested an early release from his Panthers contract to take up a long-term deal at the Bulldogs, Phil Gould broke down in paying tribute upon his Penrith departure. But on Friday night, Corey Harawira-Naera left the Cowboys in tears with a massive performance to deliver his side their second win of the year.
Harawira-Naera earned plaudits for his two tries but there was so much more to his game – like a trysaving effort on Queensland backrower Gavin Cooper which would have made Matt Sing proud, or making more tackles than any Cowboys player. It was a sensational effort and the Dogs will look for a repeat performance against Des Hasler’s Manly on Saturday.