Axed Dragon Tyrell Sloan sent a big statement to coach Anthony Griffin with a dominant performance in New South Wales Cup.
A hat-trick hero has emerged as a silver lining to the Eels’ backline woes and a Sharks fullback and prop are enjoying a rapid rise.
Several first-graders returned from injury via reserve grade over the weekend, while the Bulldogs’ Covid-19 crisis opened the door for the next generation.
However, one Bulldogs first-grader featured in New South Wales Cup despite among the bunch ruled out from NRL — and Phil Gould has explained why.
Tristan Sailor played his first game with Souths Logan and the North Sydney Bears’ undefeated streak came to an end.
Read on for this week’s Reserve Grade Wrap.
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ALL EYES WERE ON
The likes of Cody Ramsey, Hymel Hunt, Jayden Campbell, Tanah Boyd and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown returned from injury, while Josh Kerr and Mitch Kenny found themselves in NSW Cup after being axed from the Dragons and Panthers’ NRL sides respectively.
However it seems Hunt may move straight back to the casualty ward after suffering a suspected fractured cheekbone in what was his return from a knee injury.
For what it’s worth, the Knights back had a busy day running for 186 metres and getting three tackle busts in Newcastle’s loss to Parramatta.
Ramsey put his hamstring injury behind him to score a double. He also got two tackle busts and notched up 118 running metres in the Dragons’ impressive win over the Bears.
Meanwhile, Kerr was originally named in Griffin’s 17 but was spotted playing Cup on Sunday before it was confirmed by the club that he had been dropped. The 26-year-old prop scored in the first minute, had a linebreak and ran for 130 metres while also making 23 tackles with zero misses.
And speaking of making a statement, Sloan sent a reminder of what he’s capable of in his best performance since being dropped to reserve grade. The young gun fullback scored a try and set up two more, while also getting a linebreak, linebreak assist, seven tackle busts and 180 running metres.
Kenny was also spotted in NSW Cup on Sunday and played a big role in the Panthers’ 44-12 thrashing of the Raiders. He played the full 80 minutes at hooker, setting up two tries, getting two linebreak assists and two tackle busts while also making 39 tackles with three misses.
The 24-year-old’s response to being dropped will no doubt put some selection pressure on coach Ivan Cleary.
Meanwhile, young gun fullback Campbell didn’t walk straight back into the Titans’ 17 and instead made his return from a rib injury via Queensland Cup feeder side, Tweed Seagulls. The 22-year-old was solid at the back, running for 125 metres, getting four tackle busts and making 10 tackles with zero misses.
His Titans teammate Tanah Boyd also returned from a fractured cheekbone, which he suffered in Round 1. Boyd, who played 40 minutes off the bench at hooker, had a relatively quiet game, taking just two runs for 11 metres, but making 23 tackles.
Taunoa-Brown was back in action for Northern Pride after copping a head knock while featuring in the Cowboys’ side a fortnight ago. The 25-year-old was impressive in the 71 minutes he spent at lock, running for 146 metres and making 30 tackles with zero misses.
If anything were to happen Rabbitohs halfback Lachlan Ilias, fans can rest easy knowing Dean Hawkins is more than capable of stepping in. The 23-year-old ran for 112 metres, got a linebreak, two linebreak assists, three tackle busts and just a casual SIX try assists in the Bunnies’ 34-10 win over the Magpies.
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Newtown are back in the winner’s circle thanks to some sublime performances from several players.
Jayden Berrell returned from injury and showed exactly why Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon gave him his first-ever NRL contract.
The 26-year-old played 80 minutes at hooker and set up two tries, had two tackle busts and ran for 91 metres while also making 38 tackles with just one miss.
The Sharks really do have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to fullback. Will Kennedy — a nominee for the 2021 Dally M Fullback of the Year — rightfully owns the No.1 jersey but Lachlan Miller stunned in the opening rounds for Newtown to show he’s more than capable of filling in.
Miller has since switched to five-eighth and development player Kade Dykes is now running amok at fullback.
At 19-years old Dykes is still eligible to play Jersey Flegg but when he’s racking up 263 running metres, three linebreaks and 14 tackle busts like he did last weekend it’s easy to see why he’s been promoted to Cup.
Miller is doing just fine in the halves too. The former Rugby Sevens star set up a try in Newtown’s 34-16 win over Blacktown and also had two linebreaks, three linebreak assists and ran for 163 metres.
The Eels’ backline crisis has a silver lining — the development of speedy winger Matthew Komolafe being fast-tracked.
Komolafe, who was selected in the NSW Under 16s side alongside Will Penisini, has come up through the Eels system. He started the year in Jersey Flegg but with injuries hitting the NRL squad he’s found himself in Cup and is making the most of the opportunity.
Komolafe has scored eight tries in three games — including a hat-trick in the last two games. He also ran for 150 metres and had five tackle busts in the Eels’ 26-8 win over the Knights on Sunday.
Komolafe was as humble as they come in his post-game interview.
“(Coach) Ryan Carr just tells me to back it up every single week so I’m just trying to back up my performance and get a win for the team,” he told Fox League.
The 19-year-old featured in an NRL trial for the Eels during pre-season and is one to keep an eye on.
Fellow Eel Ky Rodwell put in a mammoth performance on Sunday, playing 80 minutes at lock and notching up 148 running metres while making 49 tackles with zero misses. Another one to keep an eye on after he inked a two-year extension in February.
Still on the Eels, skipper Jordan Rankin missed out on a Top 30 contract for this season but he’s proving he still is a ready-made NRL replacement. The 30-year-old has spent time in the halves and at fullback this season and on Sunday, while in the No.1 jersey, scored a try, set up two more, had a linebreak, a linebreak assist, four tackle busts and ran for 143 metres.
Tyson Smoothy was dominant in the Sunshine Coast Falcons’ win over Mackay Cutters. The 22-year-old hooker set up two tries, had three tackle busts, kicked a 40/20 and made 30 tackles with two misses.
His teammate, utility Dan Atkinson, also nailed a 40/20 and capitalised off it by scoring less than a minute later.
Thomas Hazelton has been named in the Sharks’ extended NRL squad a couple of times this season and although he hasn’t cracked the final 17 yet, he’s knocking on the door of a debut and his consistent performances for Newtown prove why.
The 23-year-old prop was once again a standout for the Jets, scoring a try, getting a linebreak and seven tackle busts while also making 187 running metres.
Hailing from Golburn, Hazelton first joined the Sharks via their Jersey Flegg side in 2018. He had some interest from the Raiders for this year but he stayed put in the Shire and trained with the NRL squad during pre-season.
At 198cm tall and 114kg, Hazelton cuts an imposing figure and makes up a lethal front row partnership with the 190cm, 130kg-beast Franklin Pele.
Hazelton, who played soccer growing up before switching to rugby league as a teenager, had only played three NSW Cup games before this season but he’s quickly adjusting to the grade. In the first four rounds he averaged 37 minutes per game, but in the last three games he’s averaged 59 minutes.
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Jake Averillo was a late addition in the halves for the Bulldogs in their clash with Mounties on Sunday.
That is despite him being ruled out of the NRL game mid-week due to testing positive to Covid-19.
Bulldogs football general manager Phil Gould cleared up the confusion via Twitter.
“Strange one. He had a positive RAT. Next day a negative PCR,” Gould said.
“But his mother, who he lives with, had a positive PCR.
“We decided not to risk taking him to Brisbane. He has tested negative twice a day, every day, since.
“We decided to give him a game today.”
Still on the Bulldogs, young centre Paul Alamoti returned from an ankle injury that was suffered during a trial game and with injuries and Covid-19 wreaking havoc on the Dogs, there was an opportunity for several players to make their NSW Cup debut. The likes of Khaled Rajab, Harry Hayes, and Bailey Howard made the step up from Jersey Flegg.
Tyran Wishart’s versatility was on show over the weekend with the Storm hooker partnering Cooper Johns in the halves for feeder side Sunshine Coast Falcons. He put in a nice chip kick to set up the Falcons’ first try.
Tristan Sailor returned to the field after being found not guilty of sexual assault. He signed with Broncos feeder side Souths Logan and scored while playing fullback in their 24-18 win over fellow Broncos feeder side, Wynnum Manly.
North Sydney have dropped from first to third on the NSW Cup ladder after suffering their first loss of the season to a stacked Dragons side. The Panthers now sit at the top with an impressive 166 points differential, with the Jets second.