2016 NRL First Trimester Report Part 2 – Cooking with Gas

It is that time of year again. A third of the season in the bag and the wheat has already separated itself from the chaff. I covered the chaff last week. This week, the wheat.

Panthers

Leilani Latu - Photo by Naparazzi - CC-BY-SA-2.0

Leilani Latu – Photo by NaparazziCC-BY-SA-2.0

Ladder Position

Pre-season Prediction – 13th

After First Trimester – 8th

Points after First Trimester – 8

For and against after First Trimester – -11

The Journey so far

When I say that the Panthers have been in every game, I mean that literally. Their average margin of victory/defeat is 3 points. In fact, the only game with a margin larger than 6 points was the loss against the Raiders in round 1 (30-22), which was decided by a try in the final minute. They are doing better than I expected. Injuries have not been kind to them this season with James Segeyaro, Jamie Soward and Matt Moylan all missing time. That has been partially offset by the astute move by Anthony Griffin to shift Peter Wallace into Hooker and start Te Maire Martin in the halves. Unfortunately, Martin is gone for the season now, as is Dean Whare. The Panthers can’t catch a break with injuries but they have more depth this year. Cartwright is growing in stature and consistency every week. Leilani Latu is providing depth in the back row, as is James Fisher-Harris.

First Trimester Grade

C

MVP

Bryce Cartwright – Cartwright is a dynamic player who is starting to find the consistency necessary to play first grade. The highlight play is still a staple for him but he is turning up every week as well.

Prognosis

6th to 14th is only separated by 4 points so the 8 is definitely in play for the Panthers but their endless run of injuries, which derailed their 2014 and 2015 campaigns, shows no sign of abating. The loss of points by the Eels should make a spot in the 8 easier to come by. I think the Panthers will still miss out.  

Raiders

Ladder Position

Pre-season Prediction – 7th

After First Trimester – 7th

Points after First Trimester – 9

For and against after First Trimester – 18

The Journey so far

The Raiders have continued to improve, a trend which commenced at the start of last season. To put that statement into perspective, there is still a fairly sizable gap between them in class and the top 5, demonstrated clearly by solid losses to the Eels and the Sharks. They’ve won most of the games they should win and absolutely annihilated the Tigers. Josh Hodgson has been a standout but their pack has played well to lay the platform and they are getting contributions from the whole team, including Elliott Whitehead and the underrated Jordan Rapana. Blake Austin has had a quiet start to the season, missing a number of games through injury, as has Aiden Sezer.

First Trimester Grade

C+

MVP

Josh Hodgson – He has been a bit of a revelation since arriving on Australian shores but has stepped it up a gear this season. Must be the leading contender for the English number 9 jersey, although Daryl Clark might have something to say about that.

Prognosis

The Raiders should make the 8 but everything after that is a bonus. Should be ignored again come Origin time which will help immensely. Not terribly troubled by injuries at this stage with Jeff Lima, Sia Soliola and Adam Clydsdale all back on deck by round 13 and sufficiently covered by depth at any rate. They should keep trending upwards.

Bulldogs

Ladder Position

Pre-season Prediction – 5th

After First Trimester – 6th

Points after First Trimester – 10

For and against after First Trimester – 21

The Journey so far

I’ll be honest, I don’t really know what to make of the Bulldogs. After making the GF in 2014, they’ve hovered around the top 8 without ever looking totally convincing. On their day they can grind a team into powder but every other week they don’t turn up. For instance, in round 5, the Bulldogs beat the Storm at AAMI Park 18-12. In round 6, the Warriors beat the Bulldogs 24-20 in Wellington. In round 7, the Storm beat the Warriors 38-0. Good luck trying to work that out. Moses Mbye and Josh Reynolds have led them ably around the park with Aiden Tolman and James Graham solid rather than spectacular. The change of scenery has done Will Hopoate a world of good and he is playing better as well.

First Trimester Grade

C+

MVP

Moses Mbye – He has the keys to the car now and has definitely shown flashes of brilliance. Still developing as a ballplayer but his ball running is definitely ahead of schedule.

Prognosis

I get the feeling the Bulldogs are quietly rebuilding their roster, Lichaa for Ennis, Mbye for Hodkinson and Kerrod Holland for Tim Lafai, and it is showing on the field. Don’t underestimate 3 things. Firstly, it will take some time for all the new combinations to gel. Secondly, the Dogs are a massive side and the reduced interchange is having effect on them. Lastly, Frank Pritchard was their best player last year and they are missing his X-Factor on the edge in attack and defence. A resurgent Tony Williams would help but he has been struggling for form…again. They will make the 8 but unless things drastically improve their final series will be eerily like 2015. 

Eels

Ladder Position

Pre-season Prediction – 8th

After First Trimester – 5th

Points after First Trimester – 12

For and against after First Trimester – 45

The Journey so far

I expected the Eels to be better this year but they’ve been even better than that. Kieran Foran has been amazing and similar to when he was at Manly everyone else is playing better too including Corey Norman who is having his best ever season. The whole forward pack has been consistently making metres, especially Junior Paulo (or Lunch Money Lewis as Andrew Voss refers to him) and Manu Ma’u. Special mention for Kenny Edwards who has been dynamic off the bench. The salary cap drama will most likely derail their season and that has been a massive distraction but the Eels have handled it well so far.

First Trimester Grade

B

MVP

Kieran Foran – Despite having a forced leave of absence for personal issues and being troubled with injury early on, Foran has brought some stability to the unpredictable Eels. It is a modern day miracle.

Prognosis

The provisional penalty for salary cap breaches includes a complete loss of current points. You can stick a fork in the Eels. The Eels would have to win at least 12 of their final 15 games, which still won’t guarantee them a spot in the 8. They are done. 

Sharks

Ladder Position

Pre-season Prediction – 4th

After First Trimester – 4th

Points after First Trimester – 14

For and against after First Trimester – 61

The Journey so far

The Sharks have stamped themselves as contenders. Similar to last season, they are thriving off the back of their highly mobile and confrontational pack with Andrew Fifita and Paul Gallen the standouts. What is different this year is the halves are capitalising off this with the outside backs giving them the strike power to score from anywhere. Chad Townsend has been a standout. Ben Barba is well and truly back and Valentine Holmes has been dynamic as well. Michael Ennis is having a stellar season in his own annoying way. The latest win against the Broncos probably stamped them as true contenders.

First Trimester Grade

B+

MVP

Michael Ennis – I’m pretty sure Michael Lichaa will turn into a special player but Canterbury must be having at least a sliver of seller’s remorse. Ennis just keeps on being an outstanding football player. Arguably the best 2 year period for his career. His ball playing around the line is especially virulent.

Prognosis

Rep season and injuries will really play a part but the Sharks are on course for finals football. Equal contenders with the 3 teams above them on the ladder the Sharks, with the right surge of form, could easily win their first title. I don’t think they will, but they easily could. Would still rate the Broncos and the Cowboys above them but only just.

Storm

Ladder Position

Pre-season Prediction – 10th

After First Trimester – 3rd

Points after First Trimester – 14

For and against after First Trimester – 98

The Journey so far

The Warriors and the Storm are continuing to derail my prognostications. I always overrate the Warriors and underrate the Storm. I just can’t see how the Storm can keep this up. When Billy Slater went down I was certain the Storm would falter but they are the consummate professionals. Craig Bellamy is on the top coaching tier. Cameron Smith has been Cameron Smith. He’s either a cyborg or the Storm have cloned him and just run out a new model every year. The real Cameron Smith is sitting in a log cabin somewhere in Oregon. Cooper Cronk is doing Cooper Cronk things and Cameron Munster is doing Billy Slater things. The pack is massive and mostly Kiwi and lay the perfect foundation to do all of the above. Simple really.

First Trimester Grade

B

MVP

Jesse Bromwich – Jesse Bromwich is a man mountain who sets the tone for the Storm. He is so reliable and hardly misses a game making his consistent performances even more impressive.

Prognosis

I’m putting the Storm in the same bucket as the Sharks. They just haven’t played a good finals series since 2012 despite their consistent excellence and I think the Cowboys and Broncos are ahead of them in the pecking order. 

Broncos

Ladder Position

Pre-season Prediction – 2nd

After First Trimester – 2nd

Points after First Trimester – 14

For and against after First Trimester – 135

The Journey so far

As good as advertised. Have surmounted most challenges with only the hiccup against the Panthers and failing to reel in the fast starting Sharks blotting their copy book. The litmus test was the golden point win against the Cows which they won by the skin of their teeth becoming the beneficiaries of some 50/50 calls at the end from the video ref. To be fair, the Broncs also seemed to get a rough call from the video ref as well. Anthony Milford has been other-worldly but Ben Hunt has been a little up and down. Andrew McCullough was solid before going down with injury. He is the kind of player whose value is more evident in his absence than when he is on the field. The forward pack has been excellent with Corey Parker, Adam Blair and Josh Maguire leading the way. Darius Boyd is all the way back to top form.

First Trimester Grade

B+

MVP

Anthony Milford – Red hot start to the season which has him in the hunt for the Dally M, let alone best player for the Broncos. Will be absent from the Origin series, along with Ben Hunt, Dylan Napa, Jarrod Wallace, Valentine Holmes and Cameron Munster after the Emerging Origin debacle so won’t the Broncos be happy about that.

Prognosis

Subject to injury and with only Andrew McCullough on the long term injured list (back in round 14) the Broncos will definitely be top 4 and I think they are on target for the GF where they will meet the Cows. Flip a coin after that. 

Cowboys

Ladder Position

Pre-season Prediction – 1st

After First Trimester – 1st

Points after First Trimester – 14

For and against after First Trimester – 140

The Journey so far

The Cows have maintained the momentum from last season with no signs of abating. They are just as hungry but are playing without the monkey on their back. There are parallels that can be drawn with the Golden State Warriors. They have the best player in the World, a team first attitude and a confidence that they are never out of the game. JT is playing just as well as last season but isn’t nearly as visible, predominantly because so many other players have stepped up to carry the load. A scan of the Cowboys current Dally M ranking tells the story as follows:

James Taumalolo – 8

Lachlan Coote – 6

Michael Morgan – 6

Johnathan Thurston – 6

James Tamou – 4

Ethan Lowe – 4

Matt Scott – 3

Gavin Cooper – 3

Justin O’Neill – 1

Jake Granville – 1

Has Jake Granville been the Cows 10th best player? Not on your life, but it is a star studded cast. Everyone is playing better.

First Trimester Grade

B+

MVP

JT – JT is still the most valuable player for the Cows and is playing accordingly but another JT, Jason Taumalolo has been immense. He almost single handedly pulled the Cows over the line against the Broncos in his second shift and that was not an isolated occurrence. Nearly every run results in a potential tackle bust. The Cows must be overjoyed that he doesn’t play Origin.

Prognosis

The injury caveat must always be raised. Subject to this, it will be Cows vs Broncs in the GF. Cows by a nose. 

What is sweeter than Jelly Bread?

  • Leicester. Just awesome. Cinderella story for the ages.
Leicester City - Photo by Ronnie Maddonald - CC-BY-2.0

Leicester City – Photo by Ronnie MacdonaldCC-BY-2.0

  • GSW. Chugging along despite the hurdles. It seems the whole team is carrying injuries. 

What isn’t? 

  • Newcastle United. Too little, too late.

EPL Tips Match Week 38

Arsenal vs Aston Villa – Arsenal 3-0

Chelsea vs Leicester – Draw 1-1

Everton vs Norwich – Everton 2-0

Man U vs Bournemouth – Man U 2-0

Newcastle vs Tottenham – Tottenham 2-1

Southampton vs Crystal Palace – Southampton 2-0

Stoke vs West Ham – West Ham 2-1

Swansea vs Man City – Man City 2-1

Watford vs Sunderland – Watford 1-0

West Brom vs Liverpool – West Brom 1-0

BTW I’m going head to head with Lawro (Mark Lawrenson of the BBC) again this year. He has gone and changed his scoring system (a correct result (picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth TEN points and picking an exact score FORTY points).

Week 37

Me – 120 (6 from 14 with 2 perfect scores) and Lawro – 150 (6 from 14 with 3 perfect scores)

Season so far

Me – 2870 and Lawro – 2890 (Is Lawro going to pip me at the post?) 

NRL Tips – Week 10

Dragons (+2.0) vs Raiders – Raiders

Eels vs Rabbitohs (+5.5) – Eels

Panthers vs Warriors (+4.0) – Warriors

Storm (+6.5) vs Cowboys – Cows

Sea Eagles (+14.5) vs Broncos – Broncos

Knights (+14.0) vs Sharks – Knights

Tigers (+8.0) vs Bulldogs – Bulldogs

Titans (+6.0) vs Roosters – Roosters

Week 9

5/8

Season so far

34/72 

Creeping towards respectability. 

Stay Tuned

BTW I’m having a bit of a break and heading to Melbourne.

Next exciting episode will be on Tuesday, 7 June 2016 titled ‘The NRL Rookie’.

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