The NRL Tackle: Paul Crawley reveals his likes and dislikes from NRL round 7

No wonder there are concerns that Andre Ponga carries too much clout at Newcastle - one incident this week highlighted his power at the club, writes PAUL CRAWLEY.

PAUL CRAWLEY reveals his LIKES and DISLIKES from Round 7 of the NRL season.

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DISLIKES

WHY WAS PONGA’S DAD SEATED AT PRESS CONFERENCE?

No wonder there are concerns that Andre Ponga carries too much clout at Newcastle.

As great as the news was for the Knights that the star fullback has finally committed his future, a question the club needs to answer internally is why on earth did they felt compelled to put out a seat for Andre at the media conference announcement?

Even allowing for the fact Andre manages his son, so what?

Go back over the years to all the champion players from Johnathan Thurston to Andrew Johns, Cameron Smith to Brad Fittler, Darren Lockyer to Alfie Langer, Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley and Mal Meninga.

Do you ever remember any of their agents getting a front row seat at an extension announcement?

The manager’s job is to get the deal done and let the player be the star, and most would view a parent’s job to be in the background to offer support.

This whole contract circus certainly didn’t do Team Ponga’s public profile a lot of good.

EMBARRASSING MIX UP EXPOSES SOUTHS

The Jai Arrow field goal moment summed up where South Sydney is at so far this season.

That embarrassing set-up just wouldn’t happen if Adam Reynolds was still at the Rabbitohs.

In fairness to Arrow it should not have been left to an edge forward to try and make that play.

But it again raises more questions about the decision to let Reynolds walk out the door.

Jai Arrow came up with a horror play (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Jai Arrow came up with a horror play (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Reynolds is up there with Daly Cherry-Evans, Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith as the most successful clutch kicker in the NRL era.

This is not a shot at Lachie Ilias either because he is at the beginning of his NRL career and doing a pretty decent job in a position that comes with a truckload of pressure.

But what can’t be ignored is if it was a local A grade team that came up with that same field goal set up you would be extremely disappointed.

And here it was last year’s NRL grand finalists, with spine players that include Damien Cook and Cody Walker supposedly pulling the strings.

Then after watching Souths stuff it up, the Tigers marched up the other end and came up with the perfect execution that saw Jackson Hastings used as decoy to allow Luke Brooks precious time so he could calmly slot the winning shot.

Who would have thought the Tigers would be giving the Rabbitohs a lesson on how to handle clutch plays this year?

Jai Arrow dejected after defeat against the Wests Tigers (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Jai Arrow dejected after defeat against the Wests Tigers (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

FIFITA’S SHOCK MOVE BACKFIRES

What is going on at the Gold Coast Titans is disturbing.

That’s now three straight defeats, capped off with a 30-4 belting by the Cowboys.

You have a State of Origin calibre fullback in AJ Brimson struggling to make it as a five-eighth.

You let the experienced Jamal Fogarty go and hand the team over to rookie playmaker Toby Sexton, who is now expected to take charge of the game’s most inexperienced spine.

Then you shuffle your biggest and best strike weapon in David Fifita from back row to centre and that backfires.

You can understand Justin Holbrook is searching for answers, but right now the Titans are going backwards at an alarming rate.

And it is sad seeing a talent potentially as great as Fifita being wasted.

At the start of the season many thought the Cowboys would be the Queensland team fighting to avoid the wooden spoon and it would be the Titans leading the way for their state.

But they are sitting behind both the Cowboys and Broncos with their season in freefall ahead of this Friday’s game against Penrith.

If the Cowboys can do that to the Titans, it’s scary to think what the Panthers might do if there is not a dramatic improvement.

David Fifita had a rough game at centre (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
David Fifita had a rough game at centre (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

SEA EAGLES BLOWN OFF THE PARK

Siosifa Talakai’s phenomenal first half performance was as dominant as you will ever see.

But would the barnstorming Cronulla centre have got away with that against the likes of Penrith and Melbourne?

It again exposes Manly’s right edge defence that seems to buckle every time they come up against one of the top teams.

Morgan Harper was the main target, however Haumole Olakau’atu, Daly Cherry-Evans and Jason Saab were all in some way responsible.

Until they fix it you can forget about Manly being a fair dinkum premiership force.

Morgan Harper had a nightmare evening against the Sharks - and was hooked after 40 minutes. Picture: NRL PHOTOS
Morgan Harper had a nightmare evening against the Sharks - and was hooked after 40 minutes. Picture: NRL PHOTOS

NEWCASTLE STORM BREWS

Where does Adam O’Brien go from here?

Until now no-one has been talking about the Newcastle coach being under any real pressure.

But on the back of a 39-2 flogging by Parramatta, that is now five straight defeats for a team that started the season with back-to-back wins.

And this was by far the Knights’ most embarrassing performance.

Now they take on the Storm next Sunday also at home.

BARRETT BATTLES TO AVOID ALL-TIME LOW

Trent Barrett is staring down the barrel of equalling the worst coaching record in Canterbury’s proud rugby league history.

In the countdown to next Saturday’s clash with the Sydney Roosters, Fox Sports Stats show Barrett is on the brink of entering unwanted territory not seen in 87 long years.

Barrett’s record at the Dogs currently stands at 4 wins in 31 matches, for a winning strike rate of 12.9 per cent.

That will drop to 12.5 per cent with another loss to the Roosters, potentially equalling the previous worst record set by Ed Courtney way back in 1935.

Courtney lost 14 of 16 games that season including a record 87-7 defeat to the Roosters.

It’s worth noting Dean Pay had a 33.3 per cent winning record before he was unceremoniously punted to make way for Barrett.

Other recent coaches all moved on included Des Hasler (a 56.8 per cent winning record), Kevin Moore (53 per cent), and Steve Folkes (56.1).

A Bulldogs loss in Round 8 will see Trent Barrett’s win record at the Bulldogs fall to the equal worst in club history. Picture: Getty Images.
A Bulldogs loss in Round 8 will see Trent Barrett’s win record at the Bulldogs fall to the equal worst in club history. Picture: Getty Images.

No one is saying the Dogs currently have a roster that ranks anywhere near the premiership heavyweights.

But there’s also no ignoring that there was a lot of expectation this year they would be vastly improved following a big recruitment drive that landed the likes of Josh-Addo-Carr, Matt Burton, Tevita Pangai, Paul Vaughan, Matt Dufty and Brent Naden.

In Fox league commentary former Bulldogs players Braith Anasta and Michael Ennis were scathing in their assessment following the loss to the Broncos, even questioning if Barrett had been guilty of over coaching.

That related to whether he was trying to do with the Dogs what he did with an extremely gifted crop at Penrith when he was the attack coach under Ivan Cleary.

There’s no question the Dogs aren’t trying hard for the coach but for some reason it is just not working.

After seven rounds they are dead last on the ladder with just the one win and the league’s worst attack.

In fairness it was a tough week leading up to the Broncos with a stack of players missing through Covid and injury.

But with due respect the Roosters would hardly be considered an easier assignment, and this is to avoid a record every coach would rather not have on their resume.

LIKES

MADGE GETS ONE BACK ON THE MEDIA

If there is one coach who deserved a free shot at the media it’s Michael Maguire.

So you won’t hear any complaints after the Wests Tigers coach took a subtle jab back following a second stunning upset in as many weeks.

James Tamou was politely answering a question about what had changed among the playing group in recent weeks when the coach interjected.

“I reckon what we need to do Jimmy is probably thank you guys,” Maguire said as the post match press conference was about to wrap up.

“For three or four weeks we were absolutely under the pump and that has brought this group together in a way that I haven’t seen.

Luke Brooks kicks the winning field goal (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Luke Brooks kicks the winning field goal (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Matchwinner Luke Brooks (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Matchwinner Luke Brooks (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

“It is not nice obviously when you are going through those periods but at the end of the day we have gone through it and they have come out the other side a lot tighter. You see that in the change rooms and I see that at training every single day so thanks.”

These two performances prove that the players have not given up on Maguire. And the decision to move Jackson Hastings to halfback and Luke Brooks to five-eighth has been a coaching masterstroke.

Aside from maybe Mitchell Pearce, there probably hasn’t been a player in the modern game who has copped as much criticism as Brooks. But to see him land that winning field goal and the jubilation and relief that followed was as good a moment as we have seen this season.

TALAKAI V STAGGS AND PRE-ORIGIN BLOCKBUSTER

It’s going to be a showdown worth watching when Siosifa Talakai goes head-to-head with Kotoni Staggs this Thursday night with a spot in the NSW State of Origin team potentially riding on the outcome.

Talakai’s blockbusting performance in the win over Manly was right up with the best we have seen from Greg Inglis and Latrell Mitchell over the years.

And the question everyone is now debating is whether the Sharks centre is ready for Origin this year after such limited experience playing in this position.

But what you just can’t shy away from is that in 40 minutes on Thursday night he had 11 runs for 193m that included 9 tackle busts, 2 tries and 3 try assists.

It will make the highlights reels for years to come.

And don’t forget Talakai also had a dominant victory over Queenslander Dane Gagai in recent weeks in the match against Newcastle.

The problem for him could be that the competition is just outstanding with the likes of Staggs, Stephen Crichton, Matt Burton, Campbell Graham and Jack Wighton all in the frame.

The Blues are ready to pick whoever they think is the best option, regardless of which side of the field he usually plays, given Tom Trbojevic can play either side.

Scott Drinkwater starred at fullback. Picture: NRL Photos
Scott Drinkwater starred at fullback. Picture: NRL Photos

DRINKWATER MUST STAY AT NO. 1

Three weeks ago Scott Drinkwater’s career at the Cowboys looked to be on a road to nowhere.

But the injury absence of Hamiso Tabuia-Fidow has certainly made a serious argument that Drinkwater should stay wearing the No. 1 jumper when the Hammer returns from his knee injury.

Drinkwater was again outstanding in the big win over the Titans, finishing with two try assists as well as that spectacular solo effort when the scorched David Fifita.

Drinkwater has been threatening to take the NRL by storm ever since he arrived at Melbourne some years back.

While he has always had the attacking flair, his defence has been the big question mark.

But at 24 he seems to be improving in that area, and as his confidence grows he just looks more and more dangerous.

If he doesn’t keep his spot at the Cowboys you’d imagine rival clubs will come knocking real quick.

BUY OF YEAR CANDIDATES FACE OFF

If we were doing a poll right now on who has been the buy of the year, Cronulla’s Nicho Hynes would probably lead the way.

But Adam Reynolds is certainly doing everything in his power to lift the Broncos after delivering his best performance for his new club.

The little halfback had a tremendous game against the Bulldogs, finishing with a try and four try assists as the Broncos snapped a four game losing streak.

Now Reynolds goes up against Hynes in a game where the Broncos need to come out and make a statement of their intentions.

This is exactly the type of game the Broncos recruited Reynolds to lead the way in.

It’s one thing running up a score against an under strength Bulldogs outfit, compared to this week’s challenge of taking on this season’s biggest improvers.

Other contenders for buy of the year include Chad Townsend, Dane Gagai and Jackson Hastings, who now probably goes into the top five candidates ahead of Matt Burton and Shaun Johnson.

Viliame Kikau (11) lays a strong hit on Brad Schneider. Picture: NRL Photos
Viliame Kikau (11) lays a strong hit on Brad Schneider. Picture: NRL Photos

PANTHERS SET A NEW BENCHMARK WITH PHYSICAL DOMINANCE

Everyone knows it’s defence that wins premierships and right now it’s scary how strong the Penrith Panthers look in that department.

They have mastered this technique where they keep their opponents upright and drag them back like it’s men against boys.

The Raiders were brave on Sunday but physically just no match for the reigning premiers who hardly let them out of their own half.

It must have been demoralising for Ricky Stuart to watch.

That’s now 21 straight wins for the Panthers at home.

After seven rounds they remain the only unbeaten team with only 78 points scored against them, an average of less than 12 points a game.

Originally published as The NRL Tackle: Paul Crawley reveals his likes and dislikes from NRL round 7

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