Adam Reynolds delivered one of the performances of the season to inspire his side to a huge victory over Tom Trbojevic’s Sea Eagles.
Jayden Campbell had a starring role in his side’s victory over the Dragons.
Craig Bellamy has some huge decisions to make with Ryan Papenhuyzen’s replacement failing to fire against the Panthers.
Meanwhile, Sam Walker and Luke Keary have finally delivered a complete performance as a halves pairing.
Read on for all of the biggest talking points out of Round 10.
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BARNETT REPAYS KNIGHTS AFTER LENGTHY BAN
The Knights’ downfall began when Mitch Barnett was sent off in Round 3 for a bizarre elbow to the head of Panthers forward Chris Smith.
Barnett copped a six-week ban and had to watch on from the sidelines as his team suffered a seven-game losing streak.
The 28-year-old returned against the Bulldogs on Friday and knew he had a lot of work to do to make up for his brain explosion.
Barnett was named the VB Hardest Working player after finishing the game with 132 running metres, five tackle busts, three offloads and 30 tackles with zero misses.
The performance came after rugby league legend Gorden Tallis declared pre-game that Barnett “owes his teammates” after the lengthy suspension.
“I think he owes his teammates, he spent six weeks on the sidelines,” he said.
“The Knights had a great start to the season and they were going good against Penrith, then he has a brain-fade and comes up with a play that I don’t think he can even explain so I think tonight Mitch Barnett owes all of his teammates a really top-class performance.”
Barnett echoed Tallis in his post-game interview and declared that he will “try and repay” the team every week from now on.
“It’s been very tough (watching on from the sidelines) but it was a lesson learnt,” Barnett said.
“It’s an incident that myself, I don’t even want to see but I learnt a lesson and I had that time to train hard and I’ll try and repay the boys now week by week.”
REYNOLDS MAGIC HELPS BRONCOS ‘BELIEVE’ FINALS DREAM
Adam Reynolds is the early frontrunner for buy of the season after yet another stunning performance with his new club.
The star halfback set up two tries and had his fingerprints on just about everything in Brisbane’s 38-nil win over Manly.
But Cooper Cronk believes Reynolds has brought so much more than just his playmaking skills to the club — he’s helping the young side “believe” that they genuinely could play finals footy this season.
“The captain was red-hot, he was the best player on the field,” Cronk said.
“Adam Reynolds put it on a string and the fact that he could do that put a lot of confidence amongst the rest of the Broncos and then Gamble starts thinking ‘I can contribute here.’
“The fact that Adam Reynolds is doing all the high percentage stuff, he’s showing some really top shelf stuff, those other Broncos players are starting to believe. They’re starting to believe that ‘we can fight, we can play and we might be able to play finals this year.’
“Kevin Walters, while there’s almost 50,000 fans here screaming for the Broncos’ good performance I think he is the happiest man at Suncorp.
“That is their best performance under Kevin Walters. It was a really good overall performance, they started off hot, they never went backwards.”
The Broncos have now won four consecutive games and take on the lowly Titans and Knights next up before enjoying a bye. Essentially they could be sitting in the top four by Round 14. It would be a stunning turnaround from finishing 14th last season and claiming the wooden spoon in 2020.
Benji Marshall believes a big reason behind the Broncos’ form is of course the addition Reynolds, but also consistency starting to build in the spine.
Coach Kevin Walters chopped and changed his halves last season and was forced into a change early on this year after Albert Kelly got injured. But the spine has stayed the same for the last month and the winning streak proves it’s working.
“I haven’t seen this dominant display from the Broncos for a few years now and it was off the back of defence,” Marshall said.
“You look at the Manly side, how much talent and class they have, but the Broncos just worked hard for each other and I thought they outshone (Manly).
“The Broncos’ spine, they bring Te Maire Martin into fullback, who hasn’t played in a long time, Tyson Gamble at five-eighth, Adam Reynolds at halfback and Billy Walters at hooker. “That move of the spine, they’ve had consistency for three or four weeks in a row now and that builds cohesion. When you have the spine playing consistent footy together it brings confidence to the side.”
TURBO CARRYING INJURY AS MANLY ACCUSED OF GIVING UP
Manly’s inconsistent start to the season continued with a shock 38-0 hammering at the hands of the Broncos and in a worrying sign Tom Trbojevic clearly appears to be playing injured.
Manly’s defence has been brutally exposed in a number of heavy losses in 2022 and Cooper Cronk believes it is up to the forward pack to set a better platform.
“It wasn’t there night at all,” Cronk said.
“There is no doubt when you get dominated with territory and possession you have got to find a way to get through the front door and get down the other end and Manly never did that.
“Zero punch through their middle third. Keppie four runs for 30 metres. Trbojevic four for 30. Aloiai six for 50. When your middles are having those type of numbers you just can’t get over halfway and come up with any plays.
“Cherry-Evans was under pressure. Turbo was basically shut down. Then the errors came on the back of it through frustration. They just weren’t in the contest.”
Gorden Tallis believes the Sea Eagles need to show more fight when the game is going against them if they want to be contenders in 2022.
“It was clunky and they went sideways before they went through the middle,” Tallis said.
“A telling play for me was when Selwyn Cobbo takes the intercept, Dylan Walker stops chasing after 20 metres. You have got to keep on chasing.
“Obviously it is not your night, but you can’t give up either. Manly were clunky and everybody wasn’t at their best and Tommy was injured, but it is not an excuse to not keep on trying.
“If I’m a Manly fan sitting at home I would be really disappointed.”
Des Hasler is adamant that Trbojevic isn’t playing injured, but he could barely walk in the second half and was heavily iced post match and Tallis believes he is clearly not at his best physically.
“He was covered in bandages and his knee was heavily strapped,” Tallis said.
“When he is a Ferrari and I know that Manly are better and they did show they can win without him, but you think that if your star player has any doubt you don’t push him. I believe you don’t push him.”
‘BRILLIANT’ CAMPBELL STEERS TITANS TO CRUCIAL WIN
No one was happier with Jayden Campbell’s return to the NRL than Titans coach Justin Holbrook who declared the young gun was “the best player on the field” in Saturday’s win over the Dragons.
Campbell suffered a rib injury in Round 3 and returned to the field a fortnight ago via Queensland Cup. But after five-straight losses, Holbrook knew it was time to bring the exciting fullback back into the 17 and revert to his first choice spine.
Holbrook said after the 20-16 win that Campbell was “brilliant” and revealed there was a confidence at training during the week knowing the spine would be back together after six weeks.
“AJ has been into me saying ‘hurry up and get him back.’ I thought he was the best player on the field by a long way. In tough conditions, for a guy that plays the way he does, he just looked a threat all night,” he said.
“We’ve had a lot of losses but our spine that we had all pre-season we had only really played a game and a half (together). We’re rolling into Round 10 with some losses, I think everyone got confident — not just the coaches – the players during the week after getting back to what we practised.
“It showed tonight and we needed him – he was brilliant.”
Campbell stunned with 217 running metres, 11 tackle busts and a linebreak. He also played a key role in the Titans’ matchwinning try.
“I’m loving the acceleration that Jayden Campbell has brought to this contest,” Cooper Cronk said during the game.
“Whether he’s accelerating at the line or sweeping out the back, he is moving quick and putting the Dragons’ edge defence under all sorts of pressure.
“It’s his first game back from a rib injury and he has not hesitated. He’s gone searching for contact and he’s taking himself to this game. It’s been an outstanding return from Jayden Campbell.”
Skipper Tino Fa’asuamaleaui is glad he’s on the same team as 22-year-old Campbell.
“He’s just smiling every run, taking the hit and it gives you the confidence knowing that your fullback is catching the ball ready to do anything for you,” he said.
“It’s awesome to have that because he’s a young fella but he can control that game and still really add that spark. It’s awesome to see him run back hard like that.
“You look at him and you think you’re going to rag-doll him but he always finds a way to get past you.
“I’m just happy he’s on our team.”
STORM’S CRUCIAL MID-SEASON HICCUP
Craig Bellamy had a number of huge decisions to make leading up to his side’s Panthers grudge match.
Ryan Papenhuyzen’s injury created a No.1 headache, then add in Jahrome Hughes’ late omission — the Storm always had their backs against the wall.
In the past it was the Melbourne way to slot the next player in, who would often deliver for the competition heavyweights.
That wasn’t the case in Magic Round.
Tyran Wishart took the fullback role, having played a short stint in the position in Round 9, while Cooper Johns slotted into halfback.
Both did their job, but at times were exposed in defence by the rampaging Panthers.
Fox League’s panel of experts explained how crucial Papenhuyzen and Hughes are for the Melbourne outfit.
“Have they hit a point the Melbourne Storm — No Papenhuyzen, no Hughes, no answers. They’re so influential those two individuals. Take them out of the team and they were a completely different outfit,” Corey Parker said.
“It’s a good point, usually it’s next man up for Melbourne but they struggled tonight,” Braith Anasta said.
“I know the Storm can generally slot anyone in there and they still perform as the Storm do but if you take Hughes and Papenhuyzen out of the side it does make things tough,” Greg Alexander said.
“Not only do they miss Papenhuyzen with the ball but they miss him in defence, his organisation and his chat behind the line. Wishart (was in) an unfamiliar position.”
Braith Anasta questioned Bellamy’s decision to play Wishart at fullback.
Papenhuyzen is set for at least a four-week sideline stint, leaving the master coach with a huge call to make this week.
“I would have went with Meaney at fullback and I thought that before the game let alone after the performance that I saw tonight. I just don’t think Wishart, this early in his career, in a big game, playing the best team in the competition at fullback when you’ve got a guy like Nick Meaney who’s in form and would have easily accommodated and I think played a lot better in the No.1 jersey,” Anasta said.
“What do they do now? Papenhuyzen is out four to six weeks and Hughes is out for four weeks and we saw how they played tonight without those two players. We’ve already discussed fullback but what about Cooper Johns? Does he stay in the No.7 jersey? Do they have any other options? They can’t do what they did tonight for the next four weeks.”
“I guess that depends on what he wants to do at fullback. Wishart can play in the halves,” Alexander said.
Storm legend Cooper Cronk suggested Bellamy would make a change after the poor performance, bringing Nick Meaney into fullback, the man who was initially picked in the No.1 jersey.
“I think they’ll bring someone in on the wing that they have in the lower tier system so I think Nick Meaney goes to fullback and Wishart has a spot in the side because he’s such a competitor,” Cronk said.
“If Penrith lose Cleary and Eels lost Mitchell Moses, I don’t think there’s any team in the competition that has depth in those key positions so it’s detrimental to anyone’s performance but the Storm will have someone – they’ll find a way.”
WALKER AND KEARY ANSWER CRITICS
The Roosters halves have been under fire in 2022 to the point Cameron Munster was linked with a shock move to the club, but they put that talk to bed with a starring display against the Eels.
Benji Marshall believes Keary and Walker are starting to work out how to compliment one another.
“I think it is the Roosters best performance of the season,” Marshall said.
“It was an 80 minute performance they put together.
“We talked about their halves and how they weren’t combining that great and Cooper Cronk talked about how he wanted them to set up the game a bit more.
“They needed to play more direct and not just go for the big plays and I thought tonight Luke Keary played his best game in terms of game management and kicking the ball to the corners.
“Off the back of that Sam Walker just played footy. They are a dynamic duo and they copped a little bit of criticism and from themselves as well, but they will be happy with the way that game turned out.”
Cooper Cronk believes the Rooster let it be known they are a contender with Keary and Walker shining in an epic battle between the two halves pairings.
“I thought both sets of halves had the ball on a string at different stages,” Cronk said.
“It was a statement game for the Roosters.”
Corey Parker believes the improved display against a top side like the Eels will do wonders for the Roosters’ confidence.
“The Roosters haven’t put an 80 minute performance together all year, but that will certainly impress Trent Robinson,” Parker said.
“That will give the Roosters plenty of confidence up against one of the competition heavyweights and to dominate the way they did for long periods.
“The Eels came back and the scoreboard looks a bit different, but for long periods of that game they were well in control.”
NANAI AND THE COWBOYS DEFY CRITICS
The Cowboys have easily been the surprise package of the 2022 season.
Many NRL pundits and fans tipped Todd Payten’s side as genuine wooden spoon contenders.
To kick-off the year, the North Queensland coach couldn’t get the best out of key forward Jason Taumalolo — now he has found a spark in almost every player in his side.
Reuben Cotter, Scott Drinkwater, Peta Hiku, Valentine Holmes and a number of other players have been simply outstanding.
One young gun has been in stellar form, recording eight tries across ten rounds of the 2022 season, Jeremiah Nanai.
The 19-year-old had huge wraps at the start of this season, but no one could predict how quickly he has become an attacking threat.
One of the best aspects of Nanai’s game is his ability to reel in bombs, scoring six of his eight from Townsend and Dearden bombs.
Both of the Cowboys halves have a strong kicking game and clearly seek out Nanai’s aerial ability whenever possible.
Nanai bookended a strong Cowboys performance with another aerial try in Magic Round, capping off a win which saw Todd Payten’s side slot into third place on the competition ladder.
“There you have it, Nanai, he is a pearler,” Andrew Voss said after Nanai scored.
“He is special under the high-ball, he just keeps doing it, it is no fluke, this young fellow, Jeremiah Nanai.”
“Nanai, what a wonderful athlete, proving dynamic under the high-ball, again picks up another try for the Cowboys,” Michael Ennis said.
“What a threat he is becoming for the Cowboys, he was so desperate to get there.”
“You can’t coach that, you can’t coach desire, you can’t coach someone to want to go and get that footy,” Benji Marshall said.
“It is not a fluke, he has done that so many times this season, one of the best up and coming stars and could be a future superstar for the Cowboys.”
Off-season recruit Chad Townsend spoke glowingly of a pair of young guns who performed strongly against the Tigers.
Murray Taulagi also delivered one of the best game’s of his three-year career, scoring two and finding Scott Drinkwater with a ridiculous flick pass.
“It is huge, they are playing with that confidence, those two guys Jeremiah and Murray, wonderful guys who just enjoy what they do,” Chad Townsend said in the post-match press conference.
“Always turn up to training with a smile on their face so it makes it very easy for me.”
CANBERRA FAIDERS NO MORE
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart revealed his senior players worked with a psychologist on their “mindset” last week in a bid to avoid coughing up leads in games.
It worked a treat as Canberra delivered their gutsiest performance of the season, beating the Sharks 30-10 despite losing three players to the sin bin.
The Green Machine faithful have endured some shocking collapses over the past two years but Stuart’s men performed from start to finish against the Sharks. .
“With all due respect to the Raiders, it’s not the backs-to-the-wall win they’ve been known for over the years,” Corey Parker said in commentary.
“It will be heartwarming for Ricky Stuart and they’ve done it against a good team.”
Canberra have blown eight double-digit leads since 2020 – the most in the NRL. They surrendered a 22-0 start against the Titans in Round 3 and gave up an eight-point lead in the final 15 minutes against the Warriors two weeks ago.
“We’ve been talking about it a lot. We sat down with our leaders this week and did some work on our mindset from a psychological point of view,” Stuart said.
“In 2019 and 2020, when we had all experienced players on the field and for the majority of the season we didn’t have a lot of disruption with injury, that was our bread and butter, we were winning games, we were coming back and winning games or holding leads.
“When it’s happening at the moment, it’s very hard for me to come out honestly and say what I believe it is because it might affect individuals, it might affect team dynamics.
“Those senior boys help you hold onto leads because they’re experienced at it, you’ve got to experience to improve and be better at it.
“We can now go back and work off this and go ‘well these are the scenarios that worked for us, what was your mindset in this situation’ so the younger players will benefit from this tonight.”