Eels enforcer Junior Paulo landed a hit that saw him binned for its brutality rather than any lack of legality.
The Wests Tigers remain anchored to the bottom of the ladder and have slumped to historic new low.
Souths playmaker Cody Walker is struggling to repeat his record-setting 2021 campaign now that his little mate Adam Reynolds is playing in Brisbane.
Manly have discovered the silver lining of having reigning Dally M winner Tom Trbojevic sidelined.
Young guns at the Broncos and Roosters have silenced the critics, while Storm flyer Ryan Papenhuyzen took a significant psychological step.
Read on for all of the talking points out of Round 5.
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PAULO SIN BIN EXPOSES NRL HIGH SHOT INCONSISTENCY
The NRL’s rulings on high tackles have come under fire after a number of confusing decisions in Round 5, none more so than the call to sin bin Eels enforcer Junior Paulo for a tackle on AJ Brimson.
Paulo was sent to the sin bin for making direct contact with the head, but for some reason Brimson was not required to undergo a head injury assessment.
Mitchell Moses defended his captain Paulo over what he felt was just a good, hard shot that clearly hurt Brimson’s shoulder.
“He went down with a shoulder injury, not even a head. I think he has done his AC,” Moses said.
“It was a bit of whiplash and when you are running at Junior Paulo you feel it and your whole body feels it. So I don’t know about that call.”
Braith Anasta questioned why Paulo copped a sin bin, just because a player is visibly shaken and not even with a head injury.
“Paulo came up with the shot on Brimson and many were questioning if it was a sin bin, whether he made contact with the head or whether it was just whiplash,” Anasta said.
“He made contact with the shoulder of Brimson who goes down with an AC injury.
“Yes the contact is heavy. Yes it is a big shot. But is it worth 10 minutes in the bin?”
Corey Parker backed up Moses that Paulo had merely put on an excellent and brutal tackle that caused damage legally.
“We were sitting in the green room and we were all up out of our seats because we all thought it was OK,” Parker said.
“The fact that AJ Brimson got up holding his AC there was direct contact to the shoulder.
“It is a high collision game. He is a big man 120 kgs on Brimson who was going at speed.
“In my opinion I thought that was OK.”
Cooper Cronk believes a penalty was sufficient if the tackle was deemed high, but given Brimson admitted it was a shoulder injury, it is hard to conclude the tackle was high.
“I think AJ Brimson mentioned to Paulo on the way out that it was shoulder,” Cronk said.
“The video referee came through the mic and said it was direct contact to the head.
“I disagree with direct contact. It might have slightly got there, but at the end of the day I don’t think it was a sin bin.
“I think it was a penalty if anything because it changed the game completely. It nearly cost them the game.
“I don’t think that he made direct contact to the head.”
Benji Marshall slammed the decision after Brimson was allowed to finish the game without undergoing an HIA.
“Where’s the consistency?” Marshall said.
“The bunker is saying he has been hit in the head so at what point do they come in and say that Brimson needs to be checked for a HIA if it is direct contact with the head?
“He stays on the field and finishes the game.
“If that is the decision then where is the consistency with the head knock?”
Anasta feared great tackles would be lost to the game if players are sent to the sin bin for shots that are not to the neck or head.
“I think they have got it wrong,” Anasta said.
“Just because it is a good shot and physical and a big hit we don’t want to lose it completely.
“If you make contact with the head directly fair enough penalise, send-off, 10 in the bin.
“But that shot was a good shot and I thought it was legal.”
TIGERS SLUMP TO NEW LOW
The Wests Tigers have opened their season with five straight losses for the first time in club history, but embattled coach Michael Maguire is adamant they’re not going backwards.
Maguire came into the season under pressure following a lacklustre 2021 campaign, and the heat is cranking up with every defeat.
The Tigers have lost to the Storm, Knights, Warriors, Titans and Sharks, and remain the only winless side in the competition.
Maguire’s men scored thanks to an intercept in the final minute against Cronulla to snap a try-less run that lasted more than 200 minutes.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve gone backwards (this season), we’ve just been challenged,” Maguire said after the game.
The Tigers have won just three of their past 16 games and face the Eels, Rabbitohs, Dragons and Sea Eagles over the next month.
“The Tigers quite simply looked rudderless,” Broncos great Corey Parker said on Fox League.
“They have no life in them, they are lacking confidence.”
“It was looking down the barrel of two and a half games without a try and they come up with a consolation try with an intercept.”
The Tigers were without stars Jackson Hastings (suspended), Adam Doueihi (ACL), Daine Laurie (Covid) and James Roberts (back) on Sunday.
“We just have to keep working hard with how we’re wanting to play, we’ve had a couple of changes with our spine but that’s part of going through these sorts of periods,” Maguire said.
Hastings and Laurie will return this week to face the high-flying Eels.
“You are lost for words for where the bottom of the barrel will be for the Tigers, now not only do they not win, they have stopped scoring points,” Andrew Voss said on the Fox League commentary.
“But that man Michael Maguire, he will not sleep, he works hard, he’ll be up again at 4am tomorrow morning, he’ll train, watch the video, he’ll be ready to go at the start of the week.
“But I don’t know what he says.”
WHAT TO DO ABOUT CODY WALKER?
South Sydney may have done enough to notch their second win of the season with a 24-12 win over the Dragons, but Cody Walker’s worrying form slump continued.
Apart from a strong performance against the Roosters, Walker has struggled in the first month of the season and it was left to his teammates to get Souths home without Latrell Mitchell (hamstring) who went off injured after 14 minutes.
Walker is still without a try assist in 2022, which is remarkable considering he led the NRL in try assists last season and also broke the record for linebreak assists.
Walker had just 12 run metres from two runs, an error, seven missed tackles and no try or linebreak involvements against the Dragons, with Lachlan Ilias outshining him in the halves.
Corey Parker was critical of Walker for failing to take the game into his own hands and put Souths on his back in the absence of Mitchell, who went off with a hamstring injury early in the game.
“Just touching on some of Souths’ experienced players and I go to Cody Walker,” Parker said.
“Without pinpointing him too much coming into the 2022 season with the expectation based on what we saw last year.
“He was one of the best players in the competition for a long period of time. His running game was definitely on point.
“Latrell Mitchell leaves the field and they need somebody to stand up. Cody Walker in that first half was just watching the game go by.
“Some of his efforts have been lacklustre. He didn’t even run the ball. Zero runs for that first half. He made eight tackles and missed five of them.
“He needs to really stand up and demonstrate to his teammates around him that at 10-0 they need to go on with this and they need some of their stars.
“I just can’t see Cody Walker because we saw last year what he can do. He is just not displaying those efforts.”
Braith Anasta and Greg Alexander believe Walker looks unsure of himself and low on confidence.
“He has been far from his best all year and that was probably his worst half,” Anasta said.
“He needs to get better.”
“It has been a slow start to the season,” Alexander added.
“Unlike the Cody Walker we have seen for the last four years. Watching him against Melbourne in the opening 60 minutes where they really struggled, I had never seen Cody Walker second guess himself about who to give the ball to.”
There was always going to be an adjustment period for Walker without long-time half Adam Reynolds by his side, but now that Ilias is starting to play consistent football and know his role, Walker is out of excuses for his own poor form.
SILVER LINING TO TURBO INJURY
When news broke about Tom Trbojevic’s knee injury there was no doubt a lot of concern on the Northern Beaches — and rightly so.
According to Fox Sports Lab, since 2019 Manly have won over 70 per cent of the matches Turbo plays in and just a third of their games with him missing.
But Manly proved in a comprehensive win over the Knights on Thursday that they are so much more than just a one-man team.
Ideally, the reigning Dally M winner is out there in the No.1 jersey but Matty Johns believes Trbojevic being on the sidelines for the next four to six isn’t actually such a bad thing for Manly.
“Not having Turbo I reckon is good for Manly,” Johns said.
“Because when Turbo’s there I think there’s an over-reliance on him, they play Tommy-Ball, where while he’s away they’ll address all these other areas.
“So when he comes back it’ll be like it should be — like the cream on top.”
Manly take on the Titans, Sharks, Rabbitohs and Wests Tigers over the next month — all winnable games.
If Trbojevic returns after that he’ll be back just in time for the Broncos, Eels and Storm.
Reuben Garrick was solid while filling in for Trbojevic, while skipper Daly Cherry-Evans remained strong in the absence of the superstar.
Even bench utility Dylan Walker stood up, setting up two tries and running 97 metres.
LIGHT BULB MOMENT FOR OUT OF FORM BRONCOS WEAPON
The Broncos may have gone down 24-20 to the Roosters in a thriller, but the match saw a much needed return to form from their star centre Kotoni Staggs.
Staggs has struggled to return to his best in the opening month of the competition after coming back from a long-term injury, but he put in a masterclass against the Roosters.
Michael Ennis challenged Staggs to bottle his performance and try and bring it consistently every week for the Broncos to be successful.
“Sometimes as a player you go through different patches of form,” Ennis said.
“We all think differently and analyse ourselves differently so where Kotoni has been at over the last month I am not sure.
“But wherever he was tonight he needs to get himself home and self-analyse himself and say, how do I bring that out every week?
“That’s my benchmark because his teammates fed off his energy. His sheer strength ignited Brisbane. The home fans got behind him.
“I think part of it was there were moments where he thought, you know what this is on me to carry this side tonight and I’m enjoying this.
“This could be a real light bulb moment for Kotoni moving forward in the season and I really hope it is.
“I hope tonight he realises just how darn good he is and what damage he can do in the competition when he goes looking for work and gets himself involved because he is an absolute weapon.
“That Kotoni Staggs that we watched tonight can play Origin footy no dramas at all.”
Staggs spoke in the lead-up to the game that he was confident he would find form, but Benji Marshall commended him for backing up his words with actions.
“It is easy to say that (you back your ability) but you have got to go out and do it,” Marshall said.
“He backed it up with actions tonight and that is the biggest thing.
“I think it is not only a lesson for Kotoni, but if you go back and watch this and look at all the good things you did and get confidence from it.
“But it is a lesson for his teammates as well because when they dominate the field position and their forwards are going forward and dominating the ruck, that ball to Kotoni is quicker and it gives him space.
“Then the playmakers like Billy Walters and Adam Reynolds, they know how to get him the ball in key positions and that helps him and the team.”
SAM WALKER SILENCES CRITICS
Roosters five-eighth Sam Walker has copped plenty of criticism in the opening month of the season, but he proved why Trent Robinson is keeping the faith in him after a match-winning performance against the Broncos.
The Roosters were below their best and found themselves down 16-12 late in the second half before a Joseph Manu try gave Walker the chance to give the Roosters the lead.
Walker’s goal kicking has been poor this season, especially from wide out, but he had no hesitation in stepping up for the biggest goal kick of his life.
And just as he did in kicking multiple match winning field goals last season, Walker handled the pressure moment with ease, slotting through the kick.
However, Walker wasn’t done yet as he put the perfect grubber on a dime for Sitili Tupouniu Tupouniua in the 76th minute in what proved to be a crucial try after Corey Oates’ 78th minute try set up a nervous finish.
Walker’s defence has come under the microscope to start the season and he missed two tackles against the Broncos, one of which led to a try.
But Walker has proved it is time to stop focusing on the areas of his game that need work because he is 19 and most areas of his game can improve.
However, Walker’s ability to rise to the occasion and handle pressure moments puts him well ahead of the other playmakers his age and he will be a great player when the rest of his game catches up.
Michael Ennis lauded Walker’s vision to be able to produce a pinpoint kick to seal the game.
“That was a great moment because his kicking hasn’t been great,” Ennis said of the goal kick.
“But that was a really big moment in his early career. And off the back of it he topped the game off with that try assist for Tupouniua.
“That was great vision. Straight away he realised that Tesi Niu was out of the defensive line and he rolled the kick in. Great moment for Sam Walker.”
Benji Marshall praised Walker for having the confidence, skill and footy brain to be able to execute that grubber at a pivotal moment.
“Very smart play,” Marshall said.
“It was fourth tackle. Kick early in the set and they are not expecting that. Worst case scenario you get a repeat set. That iced the game.”
PAPENHUYZEN’S ‘BIG STEP’
Returning to the field after a HIA doesn’t seem like a big deal — but to Storm star Ryan Papenhuyzen and his coach Craig Bellamy, it was.
Papenhuyzen’s battle with concussion has been no secret. He missed 10 weeks last season after a brutal high shot saw him be stretchered off during Magic Round.
The star fullback opened up last year about the “awful” aftermath of the head knock. He suffered a series of painful headaches that forced him to stay in bed and go through a sleeve of panadol every day for two weeks.
Footy fans held their breath when Papenhuyzen stayed down after he was palmed off by Raiders powerhouse Semi Valemi on Saturday.
The 23-year-old was taken from the field, but in a huge relief for the Storm he passed and returned to the game in the second half.
Bellamy said the fact Papenhuyzen wanted to get back out there was a “big step” and it will fill him with confidence given what he went through last year.
“Obviously he passed and the doc was pretty clear that he’d pass,” Bellamy said.
“I think it was a big step for him actually to go back out there in the second half, he needs to do that at some stage.
“Again, we don’t want him going out there if he is affected or the medical staff are saying ‘no, no, it’s not on.’ But he got the all clear so I think it was a really important step for him to go back out there.
“I thought in the second half he did his job pretty well… I reckon today will give him a fair bit of confidence.
“He’s done really well all year. He didn’t have such a good pre-season, he rolled his ankle and missed probably eight weeks of running. We thought he’d be a bit behind in fitness and speed but it doesn’t seem to affect him too much.
“Just the HIA, we knew last year how long it took to him to get the confidence back so to go back out there this afternoon I thought it was good. But as I said the medical team passed him and he had to get over that next bit about going (back) out.”
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