The Titans’ season is on life support after suffering a heavy loss to a depleted Cowboys side. In fact, a premiership-winning coach has put a line through their chances completely.
Viliame Kikau’s form is proving to be a double-edge sword for the Panthers, while a player that couldn’t crack the 17 at the start of the season has been declared “the pulse” of the red-hot Cowboys.
The Roosters were without three Origin players on Sunday but they were missing an injured star more, Manly pushed on without Daly Cherry-Evans and it was the same old story for the lacklustre Bulldogs.
Read on for the Round 13 NRL Talking Points.
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Scott Drinkwater started the season in reserve grade and now he’s one of, if not the Cowboys’ most important player.
With Tom Dearden in camp with the Maroons, Drinkwater took his playmaking to another level, setting up three tries in the Cowboys’ 32-6 win over the Titans.
The 25-year-old had to fight hard to get into Todd Payten’s 17 — and his opportunity only came through an injury to Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.
But now he’s kept Tabuai-Fidow out of the No.1 jersey and is proving every week to be the key to the Cowboys’ stunning form.
Matty Johns said he was “playing great footy” before he and Brian Fletcher agreed that Drinkwater’s personality is just as big of an asset to the side than his attacking prowess.
“We were discussing how he’s a little bit of a scallywag and the way he plays is a bit like that — it’s high-risk,” Fletcher said on The Late Show with Matty Johns.
“When he came through the grades, he’s a little bit like Nicho Hynes where he’s probably more of a seven or six but plays as a one,” Johns added.
“He’s got really good natural instincts for the game and he’s a personality player. Every sides need a couple of these scallywags — they’re the pulse of the side.
“An outstanding player in the Queensland Cup and it’s taken a little while to find his feet here but he’s doing very, very well.”
Gorden Tallis is also a fan of Drinkwater because he plays with no fear.
“They can’t put the lid on him because he tries stuff,” he said.
“He’s not going to get everything perfect but when you play with a guy like that, we just back him and make sure you have a strong set of six after.”
Along with his three try assists, Drinkwater also got three tackle busts, three linebreak assists, an offload and ran for 193 metres.
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PUT A LINE THROUGH THE TITANS
Premiership-winning coach Shane Flanagan has put a line through the Titans’ premiership hopes after they were defeated 32-6 by a depleted Cowboys outfit.
The Titans came out firing and scored the first try of the night, but reality hit when the Cowboys scored three tries seven minutes.
Alarm bells sounded for Fox League analyst Michael Ennis who said the Titans were “in quicksand.”
But Flanagan took it one step further, declaring the Titans’ season rested on what they did in the second half.
“They have to come out with an attitude change, there wasn’t a lot of aggression in their first half, they didn’t run hard enough and they didn’t respect the football,” he said at half time.
“But for me, if the Titans can’t win this second half and win this game, they can’t make the semis — it’s over.”
The Titans didn’t produce any more points — instead they conceded three more Cowboys tries.
They’ve now slumped to 15th on the ladder at the halfway mark of the season.
Nine months ago they showed plenty of promising having missed out on a semi-final appearance by one point and for that reason Matty Johns conceded the Titans have been “really, really disappointing” this year.
“After last year you thought ‘well OK, they’re going to take that next step’ — I’ve heard people like Cameron Smith say that this side has the capabilities to push towards the top four but it’s been really, really disappointing,” he said on The Late Show with Matty Johns.
Nathan Hindmarsh said the Titans’ performance was a “little bit of a let down” given the Cowboys were without Valentine Holmes, Jeremiah Nanai and Reuben Cotter.
“This was a real opportunity for the Titans to get a couple of competition points with all those Cowboys players out but even just their last-play options there was no conviction, so I think that was a little bit of a let down,” he said,
“I think they got a little disheartened that they didn’t cross as many times as they’d like to.”
Gorden Tallis pointed out that the Titans do have good moments, but struggle when the don’t have control of the game.
“They were up 18-nil against the Broncos and gave up a 20-point lead against the Raiders so there’s times when they play really good but it’s when things go against them I don’t think they dig their heels in enough,” he said.
Johns believes that could be because they feel the pressure of the scoreboard.
“That’s typical of a young side,” he said in response to Tallis.
“At the beginning of the game when there’s no real bearing on the scoreboard, they play relaxed and fast but when the scoreboard starts to impact them, they come up with errors and their game starts to fall apart.”
KIKAU SHOWS WHAT PANTHERS WILL MISS AND DOGS WILL GAIN
Despite being without six Origin stars, the Panthers near undefeated season rolled on in a 30-18 victory over the Bulldogs with Viliame Kikau putting in a masterclass against the team he will join in 2023.
The 116kg beast showed just how much the Panthers will miss him next season in a superb display, with Corey Parker suggesting he is in the form of his career and getting better with every game in 2022.
“Kikau produced a brilliant cover tackle in the first half, what a season he is having,” Parker said on Fox League.
“The little effort areas in his game, while he hasn’t dominated in terms of run metres, his sleight of hand and his little effort areas to cover from the inside whether it be a tackle or cleaning up kicks.
“He came up with a barnstorming run. He scored a try. He put on a monster hit rushing out of the line.
“He has taken his game from what we know as this devastating back-rower to being that real fine, acute player and working on the real finer details of his game. It is terrific coaching.
“They are going to lose him at the end of the season, but from where he has started his career to where he is right now he is just outstanding.”
Kikau finished the game with 83 run metres, three tackle busts, two offloads, a linebreak, two linebreak assists, 18 tackles and a try in a complete performance from the versatile second-rower.
Benji Marshall believes the Panthers won’t know how important Kikau is to their team until he is running around against them for the Bulldogs next year.
“His impact hasn’t just been on the big plays of the game where he is the main guy doing all the fancy stuff or running through players,” Marshall said.
“It is all those little effort areas.
“He is going to be a big loss for the Panthers next season and he is just showing his new team what he can really do.”
Only a week before being dropped, fullback Matt Dufty record three try assists in his side’s loss to the Dragons.
Then in Round 13, the Bulldogs went out and struggled in attack, with Matt Burton and Josh Addo-Carr providing the only spark, combining for all three four-pointers.
Speaking in the post-match press conference, coach Mick Potter suggested his side will remain next week, confusing Fox League’s panel of experts who slammed the Dogs “pedestrian” attack.
“Interestingly there when he (Mick Potter) was talking about Jake Averillo and his overall performance, he said he saw signs of life and he is going to get better the longer he spends in that position,” Fox League’s Hannah Hollis said.
“Mick Potter also said the team tonight did a good job, that tells me he is not looking to bring Matt Dufty back into the side.”
“Going by what we just heard you’d say yes, I thought Dufty last week created, he got three try assists for the Bulldogs which is where they struggle,” Corey Parker said.
“I mean you talk about giving the Panthers way too many opportunities, they completed at 90 per cent, 38 from 42 so that is pretty good right.
“You take Matt Burton out of that football side, their attack is rubbish, it is pre-lined, one dimensional, it is pedestrian-like, you can see what’s coming before it even gets there.
“Between Burton, Marshall-King and Addo-Carr I don’t know where they go, I don’t know, they try hard but is the same old stuff they keep talking about, it is a cut and paste every single week.
Fox League expert Corey Parker explained he feels bad for captain Josh Jackson.
The veteran lock puts in week-in week-out and plays with his heart on his sleeve, but Parker believes the same can’t be said for the rest of the Bulldogs.
Rugby league legend Benji Marshall also explained it looked like the Canterbury side had forgotten how to win in the NRL.
“I feel sorry for Josh Jackson, he has to front up every week and pretty much repeat the same chorus about what has happened and what has unfolded, you know they just don’t learn,” Parker said.
“They don’t know how to win,” Benji Marshall said.
“They won three games last year, two games this year, they are getting used to losing… I actually feel sorry for them, for the players who have been there for a few years and have gotten used to losing.”
“All we talk about is the same rubbish about what the Bulldogs do,” Parker said.
“I have no doubt there is individuals in that side driving to the game on the way to Penrith stadium thinking, oh here we go again another loss.
“You are talking about giving up, I think they have.
“Josh Jackson, he must drive home at night… he gives his absolute all every week, but he must drive home and just go what am I doing, why are we doing this, how can we fix this?”
NO DCE, NO WORRIES FOR MANLY
Prior to Round 13, the Sea Eagles had lost their past three games and were lining up without their two best players in Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom Trbojevic.
Des Hasler’s side also had the worst record in Origin-affected rounds since 2016, having lost all five of their matches in bye rounds.
The Warriors had won seven of their past 10, but were put to the sword by the Manly side, slumping to a 44-12.
Pressure was heaped on million-dollar half, Daly Cherry-Evans shoulder after Turbo’s season ending injury, and many were sceptical about their chances without him.
Step forward Kieran Foran and Josh Schuster.
The pair dismantled the Warriors defence, combining in the lead-up to Olakau’atu’s try early in the first half.
Schuster then produced a try out of nothing on the left edge, charging over the Warriors outside backs to score.
Kieran Foran also consistently probed the line and showed his experience, making crucial plays at the right time.
“Great performance from Manly, exactly what they needed coming off three losses on the trot,”
“They needed to find something, Kieran Foran for me, although his stats don’t say the big numbers, with try assists or whatever it was, I thought his control for the side was probably more important than the stats.
“He needs to do that without Cherry-Evans.”
Foran himself spoke glowingly of Schuster, who will likely be taking the No.6 jersey next season after his departure to the Titans in 2023.
“You saw the brilliance of Josh Schuster, I thought he was outstanding, he made some real crucial and key touches there and came up with some pretty incredible things,” Foran said.
“I suppose with a guy who is so talented like Schuey, you don’t want to take away from that, you just want him to be able to play eyes-up footy, and he does that better than most.
“But I think for him it is just about pulling the trigger and the right time… I thought we saw his brilliant touch in the first half when he scored that try, I thought he was reasonably controlled which is something that I have spoken to him about and if he keeps doing that the big plays will come, he will be a real handful.”
Des Hasler may put Daly Cherry-Evans on ice in Round 14, giving him a rest after Wednesday’s series opener.
The performance of his makeshift halves partnership have certainly helped him make that call.
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BROWN’S SURPISING ADMISSION
In the midst of a five-game losing streak and struggling for answers to turn the form slump around, Warriors coach Nathan Brown made a surprising admission.
“We by no means haven’t entered every game this year where we have gone out there thinking we are going to win every contest,” he said after the 44-12 loss to the Sea Eagles.
“But we’d certainly like to compete in every contest.”
While Brown could be applauded for his brutal honesty, it unfortunately exposed just how far away the Warriors are from being a consistent finals threat every year.
That comment in particular left former premiership-winning playmaker Benji Marshall confused.
“One of the things I took away that I was quite puzzled about is that he said sometimes we go into games thinking we can’t win but we want to compete,” Marshall said on Fox League.
“I know it wasn’t that long ago that I played, but I went into every game that I could at least win the game or try to win the game, not just trying to compete.
“If that sort of thing is filtering through the side, well, that’s not a good thing.”
Marshall said Brown is “definitely under pressure” and the hits keep coming for the Warriors.
They face the Sharks and Panthers in the next fortnight and games with the Eels, Raiders, Storm and Rabbitohs soon after.
The way they are playing, the Warriors won’t win any of those games and instead may have to settle for four points should they get past the Tigers in Round 16 before the bye.
If Brown is already under pressure now, it does not look like it will get any better for him soon.
MISSING PIECE OF THE ROOSTERS PUZZLE
During the split rounds, focus is usually on the omission of Origin stars.
The Roosters were without star fullback and skipper James Tedesco, winger Daniel Tupou and prop Lindsay Collins and were ultimately unable to get the job done against the Raiders.
Tedesco is arguably the Tricolours’ most important player, steering the ship from the No.1 and providing crucial plays.
But, another exclusion could have had the biggest impact on Trent Robinson’s side, according to Fox League’s Brian Fletcher who said the Roosters were missing prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves more than any other player.
The Kiwi international was a late exclusion from the side due to a hamstring injury and has been performing strongly in 2022.
“I suppose they (Roosters) had a few excuses with a few players out,” Fletcher said on The Matty Johns Show.
“Obviously no Tedesco but I think they missed Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, I think his form over the last month has been really good, he would have tightened up that middle.”
While Waerea-Hargreaves can sometimes draw the ire of referees, his impact on the Roosters side cannot be understated.
His leadership in the middle of the park is vital for Trent Robinson’s side, steering the forward pack around the park while also taking tough carries.
Even Robinson conceded in his post-match press conference that the team lacked the punch in the middle.
“I felt like we lost the ruck. I felt like they were more dominant in the way they carried,” he said.
“Overall, it’s really disappointing not to pressure right until the end.
“To let in 22 points and then miss some opportunities that we did have … we didn’t deserve to win.”
This season the Test prop has averaged only 40 minutes on the park, but totals an impressive 144 run metres from 12.6 carries.
In 2020, with eight more minutes on the park, Waerea-Hargreaves averaged only seven metres more from 1.3 more runs, displaying his impact this season.
There’s been no word on when Waerea-Hargreaves will return to the field, but the Rooster will be hoping it’s sooner rather than later given they take on the Storm, Eels and Panthers in the next three weeks.