2014 NRL Final Trimester Report Part 3

Let’s get it on cause we don’t get along.

Learnings from previous Trimester Reports have led me to believe that they are murderously long and should be broken up into at least 2 parts. Even that is too long. This time I’m breaking it up into 4 bite size chunks for easier consumption. This is Part 3. BTW I’m trying real hard not to let the results of the Finals taint this report. Honestly.

Broncos

Ladder position

Pre-season Prediction – 11th

After First Trimester – 6th

After Second Trimester – 7th

After Final Trimester – 8th

Points after First Trimester – 6

Points after Second Trimester – 20 (including 4 points for byes)

Points after Final Trimester – 28 (including 4 points for byes)

For and against after First Trimester – +35

For and against after Second Trimester – +77

For and against after Final Trimester – +93

The Journey so far

The Final Trimester was completely overshadowed by the Anthony Griffin/Wayne Bennett show, closely followed by speculation about who did or didn’t fit into Bennett’s plans for next season. Wayne Bennett’s initial press conference cleared that up for us as follows: Russell Packer and Darius Boyd – In (well Packer Out of prison but In the Broncos unless left Out by the NRL, if you can follow all of that). Josh Hoffman (not officially) and Ben Hannant (officially) – Out. Captain – TBA (not plural).

Lost in the shuffle was the fact that the Broncos had the toughest run home of all the Finals contenders including games against the Warriors, Storm, Sea Eagles, Bulldogs, Rabbitohs and the Storm (again for good measure) in the final 8 rounds finishing with a creditable 4-4 record to sneak into the Finals.

Final Trimester Grade

C+

Final Trimester MVP

Justin Hodges – In terms of the whole season, I think Ben Hunt was the MVP for the Broncos but when considering the Final Trimester only, I think Hodges lifted to the next level almost carrying the Broncos on his back in many games.

How close was my pre-season prediction?

Given the Broncos were only 2 points away from 11th I’m going to give that a pass mark. In reality, the Broncos were slightly better than I gave them credit for in the pre-season. This was primarily because Ben Hunt exceeded expectations in terms of play making ability. Ditto Josh Hoffman. I think both players have a particularly strong running game but I thought the Broncos would get no playmaking at all from their halves. In the end they were slightly (but not greatly) better than I thought they would be.

Prognosis

It is fair to say the Brisbane public are hungry for success. There was a time when missing the Finals was unthinkable and 8 seasons without a premiership is par for the course in Cronulla, New Zealand, North Queensland and the Gold Coast. In Brisbane that constitutes an eternity. Wayne Bennett is being counted on to save the Broncos. I don’t remember him being treated particularly well in his final few seasons so it is with some surprise I see him returning home. He is one of the best coaches all time let alone in the current competition so that is something in Brisbane’s favour. I think he will make some personnel moves to better mould this team to his liking, however, that always takes a season or two from a standing start. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is in the market for at least another half. If that doesn’t work I think he will start with Milford and Hunt in the halves. It will be fascinating viewing.

Bulldogs

David Klemmer - Photo by Naparazzi - CC-BY-SA_2.0

David Klemmer – Photo by Naparazzi CC-BY-SA_2.0

Ladder position

Pre-season Prediction – 9th

After First Trimester – 1st

After Second Trimester – 3rd

After Final Trimester – 7th

Points after First Trimester – 12

Points after Second Trimester – 24 (including 4 points for byes)

Points after Final Trimester – 30 (including 4 points for byes)

For and against after First Trimester – +65

For and against after Second Trimester – +64

For and against after Final Trimester – +7

The Journey so far

If I could describe the Bulldogs Final Trimester in 1 word it would be ‘Freefall’ (that might be two words, I’m not sure). Sporting a 2-6 record they were fairly abysmal including floggings from the Tigers and Broncos. To compound this, out of all of the Final contenders their run home was probably the easiest. Some of their Final Trimester fade could be put down to post-Origin fatigue from their halves and Josh Reynolds found himself suspended primarily for frustration of the ‘brain snap’ variety but they just weren’t playing very well at the end of the day. In the end, they were lucky to make the Finals.

Final Trimester Grade

D

Final Trimester MVP

Josh Reynolds – Despite his 3 game suspension, I think Reynolds was still the Bulldogs best individual player in the Final Trimester. The forward pack provides a wonderful platform in attack and defence, however, Reynolds mongrel typifies the Bulldogs and he punches above his weight (much the same as the Bulldogs, which is a strange analogy given the size of their pack).

How close was my pre-season prediction?

I’m going to give myself another pass mark. I know I’m the World’s softest marker but once again the Bulldogs only finished 1 win out of 9th place. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I think the Bulldogs overachieved again this season. Their forward pack excelled and Hodkinson and Reynolds played well off the back of that. Reynolds in particular amazes me. He isn’t very big or very fast but he is always up for the contest. He has a penchant for getting under his opponent’s skin (obviously a disciple of the Michael Ennis school of annoying people) which doesn’t hurt either. Tim Lafai is also starting to mature into a reliable centre option. It doesn’t hurt that Josh Morris is one of the World’s fastest human beings.

Prognosis

Well at this stage with the Bulldogs surprisingly 1 win away from the GF it seems a little too early to think about next season. I’ll give it a shot anyways.

Des Hasler has proved that he is the perfect fit for the Bulldogs and will be looking forward to next season. He’s definitely brought that siege mentality over from Manly. It is positively Queensland-like but definitely crankier. They don’t lose much at all with Michael Ennis swapping jerseys with Michael Lichaa which is really age + niggle < youth + talent. I would take that swap every day of the week. The forward pack will be just as strong. The medical staff just need to figure out a way to keep Sam Kasiano on the field and they will be even better. He had a wretched year for injuries. I think they will be just as strong in the backs with Hodkinson and Reynolds another year on and Origin under their belts adding to their confidence. As I mentioned earlier Lafai is growing into a better player by the day and Josh Morris is still a premier centre option. Things are certainly looking good for the Bulldogs next year to contend for the premiership again.

Storm

Ladder position

Pre-season Prediction – 3rd

After First Trimester – 10th

After Second Trimester – 9th

After Final Trimester – 6th

Points after First Trimester – 8

Points after Second Trimester – 20 (including 4 points for byes)

Points after Final Trimester – 32 (including 4 points for byes)

For and against after First Trimester – -24

For and against after Second Trimester – -32

For and against after Final Trimester – +76

The Journey so far

I’m putting the Storm’s Finals capitulation aside (which is very, very hard to do) when I assess the Final Trimester. With that caveat (and the wonders of hindsight) I can say that the Storm played much better in the Final Trimester than at any other stage of the year. They sported a 6-2 record (with marquee wins against the Panthers and the Broncos (twice)) based firmly on the shoulders of their Big 3 and it was clear the team was treading water until Cooper Cronk returned. That being said, they lost a tough game against the Roosters and also dropped an away fixture against the resurgent Knights. They are still a consistently above average side but the Big 3 (I’m sure that’s trademarked) are losing the depth around them as each season progresses and the team was dreadfully thin in some key positions.

Final Trimester Grade

B

Final Trimester MVP

Cooper Cronk – It is always a toss up between Cronk, Smith and Slater in terms of the best player but Cronk gets the nod this time. Cronk steered the Storm around with aplomb and equally made a substantial difference to the Queensland side in the last State of Origin.

How close was my pre-season prediction?

Missed by that much. There isn’t much margin for error in the NRL. 1 win and 4 more net ‘for and against’ points and the Storm would have been playing the Roosters in week 1 of the Finals. That is the margin for error these days. In the end injuries and a lack of depth was just enough to tip the boat. Losing Cooper Cronk in the middle of the season really hurt them. Otherwise they may have still been in the hunt for the premiership.

Prognosis

I mentioned the following in the Second Trimester Report:

‘I would be loathe to write them off for next season. They have a San Antonio Spurs feel about them and followers of the NBA will know what that means. For those of you who don’t follow the NBA we have Google.’

I think those comments still stand. Time is running out for the Big 3 but time has not run out. Write them off at your own peril.

Cowboys

Ladder position

Pre-season Prediction – 5th

After First Trimester – 12th

After Second Trimester – 13th

After Final Trimester – 5th

Points after First Trimester – 6

Points after Second Trimester – 16 (including 2 points for byes)

Points after Final Trimester – 32 (including 2 points for byes)

For and against after First Trimester – +34

For and against after Second Trimester – +60

For and against after Final Trimester – +190

The Journey so far

The Cowboys stormed back into contention with a torrid 7-1 run in the Final Trimester, a drop goal from Matt Moylan being the only thing between them and a perfect record. They even overcame their away hoodoo winning 3 of their last 4 away games after dropping their first 8. JT even found some support in the resurgent Robert Lui and the ever improving Michael Morgan. The forwards lifted markedly as well.

Final Trimester Grade

A

Final Trimester MVP

Johnathon Thurston – This is a no brainer. Will be neck and neck with Jarryd Hayne in the race for the Dally M.

How close was my pre-season prediction?

Spot on. I probably thought that they would be more consistent across the course of the season but that is a lot to ask for as far as the Cows are concerned.

Prognosis

After a third straight year of crashing out in the Finals series I get the feeling time is running out for the Cows (I think I may have said that before). They are keeping the nucleus of this side, however, they are losing Ashton Sims, Tariq Sims and Brent Tate replacing them with promising but largely unproven players. It will be season 2 of the Paul Green Administration, which had a solid introduction. I thought the way they handled the controversial exit to their Finals campaign was classy. I give the current generation of Cowboys 2-3 more years to win the Premiership, otherwise they will be in rebuilding mode.

What was sweeter than Jelly Bread?

  • The Roosters first 34 minutes.
  • The Cowboys from the 35th minute until the 70th minute.
  • The whole Bulldogs vs Sea Eagles game. Riveting till the end.
  • The share price for Beauden Barrett Limited.
  • Free publicity/advertising Wayne Bennett generated for the Brisbane Broncos. Day 1 produced a multitude of stories in the Courier Mail. Priceless. I’m pretty sure there will be a Wayne Bennett statue beside Wally Lewis, Darren Lockyer, Artie Beetson and Mal Meninga soon.
  • The Leicester comeback.

What wasn’t?

  • The Cowboys first 34 minutes.
  • The Roosters from the 35th minute until the 70th minute.
  • The referees from the 71st minute until the 80th minute. I can live with the decisions but it sure takes the focus away from an amazing game.
  • The whole naming players in multiple international sides is just embarrassing for the sport of Rugby League. It needs to be sorted. Pronto. Some players could potentially qualify for three or more nations. I may or may not have mentioned this before.
  • Aaron Cruden stock. If you are auditioning for the position eventually vacated by Dan Carter probably shouldn’t be giving your competition a free pass.
  • The Man U capitulation.

Other random thoughts 

  • If the NRL thinks it has problems it should look at what the NFL is going through at the moment. Unbelievable.
  • Mal Meninga coaching the PNG side. Conflict of interest? Not a lot of Queensland eligible Kumuls picked in that side BTW. 

Bill James Award 

James Graham – Run Metres – 142m, Tries – 0, Try Assists – 1, Tackle Breaks – 2, Tackles – 36, Offloads – 0, Line Breaks – 0, Line Break Assists – 1, Errors – 0 and Times bitten Billy Slater in 2014 – 0 (thankfully). 

NRL Tips for Finals Week 3 

Home teams first

Rabbitohs vs Roosters – Rabbitohs (After crashing into the final hurdle 2 seasons in a row I think the Rabbitohs will get the job done after a week off. This will be as close as last week though)

Panthers vs Bulldogs – Panthers (I think the Panthers will have enough to get across the line. This is a hard one to read though. The Bulldogs have been back in form after stumbling into the Finals series. The Panthers have been underrated all year)

Last week – 0/2 

Season so far – 115/198 

EPL Tips for Matchday 6 

Home teams first

Liverpool vs Everton – Liverpool 3-2 (The Merseyside Derby. Probably both sides aren’t where they want to be. Liverpool have lost 3 times already and are answering post-Suarez questions (although I don’t think he would take away their defensive frailties) while Everton have had a mixed bag with only a win and 2 draws to show for the season so far. I think Liverpool will narrowly shade the Toffees in a shoot-out)

Chelsea vs Aston Villa – Chelsea 4-0 (Villa have overachieved so far this season but I think they will come crashing to ground at Stamford Bridge)

Crystal Palace vs Leicester – Draw 1-1 (Both teams coming off impressive last starts (Palace toppled Everton away and Leicester swamped Man U at home) although Palace lost mid-week to the Geordies in the League Cup. Expect this to be a cagey draw although Leicester are sneaky good up front and could jag this)

Hull vs Man City – Man City 3-1 (Hull aren’t pushovers but City will be in the mood for goals after underperforming by their standards so far this season)

Man U vs West Ham – Man U 3-1 (Man U fans will be despairing after last week’s capitulation at Leicester (their flogging of QPR seems like a distant memory now) but Di Maria et al should click again this week. They should be able to score more than the Hammers)

Southampton vs QPR – Southampton 2-0 (Southampton to continue their impressive start to the season)

Sunderland vs Swansea – Draw 1-1 (The Black Cats are one of only 3 squads not to record a League win so far this season and I don’t expect that to change this week against the sneaky good Swans)

Arsenal vs Tottenham – Arsenal 2-0 (Conversely the Gunners are one of only 2 squads not to a record a League loss so far this season. I think they will have enough quality to sink a disappointing Spurs squad)

West Brom vs Burnley – WBA 2-1 (Both of these teams will do well to stay up this season with the Baggies doing their chances no harm against the defensively minded Clarets)

Stoke vs Newcastle – Draw 2-2 (Both teams will be desperate for a win to lift themselves mid-table. Most will tip a Stoke win but I think the Geordies are starting to warm up and a draw is a more likely result)

I’ve adopted the scoring system utilised by Mark Lawrenson on the BBC (a correct result (picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth ONE point and picking an exact score THREE points) and even though he wouldn’t know me from Adam we are going head to head all season long. It’s on like Donkey Kong (unless I get a letter from his lawyer or Donkey Kong’s lawyer and then I’m tipping against myself again).

Last week – Me – 4 (4 from 10 with no perfect scores) and Lawro – 7 (5 from 10 with 1 perfect score) 

Season so far – Me – 31 and Lawro – 33 (Lawro has run me down already) 

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode on Thursday, 2 October 2014 titled ‘NRL Final Trimester Report Part 4’

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