Last year’s runners up have taken a slide down the ladder in recent weeks. After a strong start to their 2016 campaign, Brisbane’s form has wavered stringing together several less than impressive performances to fall to 6th spot.
Their previously dynamic duo of Milford and Hunt in the halves, now lacks confidence and enthusiasm.
I had been a Ben Hunt advocate, and believed that after his horror grand final blunder, the 26 year old would use it to fuel his competitive edge. Hunt is a quality player but has yet to find maturity and leadership in his game. At times he appears to be back in Under 20’s trying to score on every play. With a game on the line he can be found placing an attacking kick early in the count, rather than completing the set and placing a defensive kick to build pressure. His 5th tackle options have been well scrutinised and his barrage of midfield bombs and incorrect decisions can cost a game.
Milford is a “live wire” and brings great attacking spark to the side. He has shown signs of maturity, kicking a field goal for a golden point win against the Cowboys. He to struggles at times with leadership but at age 21 and with only a season in the halves he is progressing nicely. Brisbane need to get Milford linking up with James Roberts, as last year’s centre of the year, has rarely featured since his arrival to Brisbane. He is a waste sitting out on the edges only receiving two touches a game. I thought Wayne Bennett would have came up with something to get the speedster involved in the game.
Ben Hunts failure to meets demands appears telling, with rumours Brisbane has offered Rabbitoh’s Cody Walker a 3 year deal. If they miss Walker, they should look at picking up Kieran Foran, bringing with him maturity and easing the pressure on Milford, allowing him to become the star he should be.
The Canterbury based team now find themselves in the top 4, but are they really a top 4 team? Just like Cronulla’s credentials were questioned even though they were in top spot, I am still in doubt over the Bulldog’s premiership chances in 2016.
The top 8 is always divided by the top 4 and the bottom 4, and somewhere between 3rd and 5th spot is a defining difference on team’s actual strength. For me, the Sharks, Cowboys and Storm are leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the pack, including the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs appear to be in a transition period, still playing the old side to side football which uses Kasiano and Graham as the games biggest halfbacks, while showing glimpses of a more direct, power game which will eventually give Mbye every opportunity to make himself a star in the game.
The problem is at times Mbye looks lost on the field and doesn’t seem to take control of the game. His halves partner, Josh Reynolds while throwing up a few good performances this season, also seems to struggle with the combination, with the pair appearing to play very different styles of football.
While there is no disputing the Doggies position on the ladder, metaphorically speaking, they need to do more if they want to match it in the top 4. Round 20 where Canterbury will take on the Cowboys will be a true reckoning for the Bulldogs.
Wind the clock back only one season and the Roosters are the minor premiers for the 3rd consecutive year. They consistently boasted the best defense in the competition and led the competition despite being the most penalised team in the NRL. The Roosters lost a fair amount of talent this year in James Maloney, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Michael Jennings and despite acquiring some handy replacements their season has fallen well short of expectation.
Looking at the Rooster rosters, it is bewildering how they sit in 15th place of the Ladder. Jackson Hastings and Ryan Matterson have put up some great performances in the halves, Latrell Mitchell is a star in the making while only Dale Copley has failed to deliver in 2016. The young halves have played well, but definitely would have benefited from lining up alongside a senior half like Maloney or Pierce all season. Still I don’t believe they are the reason for the Roosters slide down the competition ladder.
Why are the Roosters looking for a new fullback? Latrell Mitchell!! He is the first since Greg Inglis to boast such size and speed, and to be fair when GI entered the competition he was much smaller than the GI we know today. I understand that the young fullback is not a ball player, having yet to register a Try Assist and only throwing up 3 Line Break Assists for the 2016 season, but it is his debut season. The Chooks have already given him a full season at the back, it seems absurd to move him aside. I don’t know if he is happy to move to the wing and learn from a more experienced fullback, but I believe if he is unwillingly moved to the wing or relegated to the lower grades he will be poached by another club that will offer the No.1 spot.
Ultimately it is the defense of the Roosters that is to blame for their ambiguous season. It seems strange that losing a 5/8, Fullback and Center would cause a deterioration of defensive culture. For mine they still possess enough talent to be top 8 competitive. The Forwards need to dominate the middle third as they did in previous years and give these young talents something to play off the back of. While Trent Robinson needs to go back to the drawing board and re-instill the defensive culture of years past.
Up until this week I had my reservations about the Sharks. They had been playing well and had managed to string together an impressive 9 straight wins, but there is a big difference between regular season form and winning a Grand Final. Monday night’s game against the in form Cowboys cemented their status as “Genuine Premiership Contenders”.
Cronulla have now beaten every team in the top 8 with the exception of the Parramatta Eels, but no game was more important than defeating the premiers. The Sharks needed to prove they could rival a top 4 team at their best, and they did so on Monday night. The Sharks stayed in the grind and matched the physicality of the Cowboys and despite not being able being able to crack the Cowboys line in the 2nd half, they stayed in the contest through their resilient defence.
The whole club is in tremendous form, reflected by the selection of Jack Bird and Wade Graham for NSW, joining Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita and James Maloney. The challenge for the Sharks is carrying this form into a distant final series. The final test for Cronulla will be a mental test, should their form start to waiver late in the regular season.
Will 2016 be the first time the Premiership is brought to the shire?