WITH the halfway point of the NRL season just ticking over, we run the rule over the four teams languishing at the bottom of the ladder.
What’s gone right: On their day, the Tigers can rip almost any defence in the competition apart. Witness the opening quarter of their 22-4 evisceration of the Dragons, Pat Richards’ wizardry in their 22-6 win over Parramatta and the insanity of Kevin Naiqama in their 38-14 thrashing of the Dogs and you’ll see just what this team is capable of when they’re feeling it. Close wins are still hard to come by and late match collapses have become almost routine, but somewhere in there is an offensive powerhouse.
What’s gone wrong?: The Tigers are blessed with a galaxy of young attacking stars and when they turn loose they can be beautiful to watch. But Jason Taylor has decided that to get their house in order they must concentrate on defence and the results have been difficult to stomach. Five wins from 12 games is a modest return and their recent run of four straight losses, a sequence that has seen their highly regarded youngsters struggle with the rigours of first grade, has seen them plummet down the ladder.
Who’s been their best?: James Tedesco has proven himself to be the brightest prospect in a team filled with young talent. The nippy fullback has managed to stay healthy, playing every game this season, and his speed, nous and support play has seen him become one of the elite fullbacks in the NRL. The Tigers leading tryscorer with nine tries from 12 appearances, Tedesco has become the focal point of everything good in the Tigers attack. Aaron Woods has stamped his authority on the rest of the NRL by posting mind bending stats every time he takes the field.
What’s gone right: The Knights were sitting pretty at the top of the NRL table after four rounds. They were undefeated, playing an exciting brand of football and looked to be thriving under Rick Stone. “Wayne who?” said the Novocastrians. Yes sir, the opening month of the season was a happy time to be a Knight.
What’s gone wrong: Pretty much everything since. Since Round 5 the Knights have dropped eight of their past nine. Jarrod Mullen has succumbed to injury and whoever bought Tyrone Roberts on eBay needs to demand a refund. Sione Mata’utia has failed to kick on and Joey Leilua’s handling has been worse than his haircut.
Who’s been their best?: Dane Gagai by an absolute mile. The slippery centre has been playing a lone hand on some occasions this year and has done well since switching to fullback several weeks ago. Kade Snowden started the season with his best form in years, but has since fallen away. Tyler Randall has looked likely and provides some sorely lacking spark around the ruck. Akulia Uate has tried hard and carries the ball well but basic errors continue to let him down.
What’s gone right: Not a whole lot. The Eels have already been through enough drama for 10 seasons but due to a couple of good early season wins and the closeness of the competition they’re still in with a shot at the finals. Semi Radradra has continued to score tries at a rate that is downright alarming, racking up seven in just six games, while Danny Wicks has been the value for money buy of the season — his work rate and strong carries in the middle of the field give the Eels the momentum they’ve been sorely lacking in recent years.
What’s gone wrong: Injuries to the outside backs have shone a light on some poor squad management from the Eels as they’ve been forced to showcase the lack of depth in their roster. Brad Arthur clearly prefers the scrappy Luke Kelly in the halves to Chris Sandow but the big money man’s superior creativity, goal-kicking and kicking game mean that Kelly must continue to cool his heels in NSW Cup.
Who’s been their best: Amidst a storm of injuries, out of form players and soul-crushing losses, Corey Norman has been the one constant for the Eels. The five-eighth has consistently been their best, desperately trying to spark the side and direct them around the park. A wily ball-player, the best results for the Eels this season have come when Sandow and Norman have been able to link together. Skipper Tim Mannah and hooker Nathan Peats have also given their all every time they’ve stepped onto the field.
MANLY SEA EAGLES
What’s gone right: Again, not a whole lot. Injuries have ripped their star backline apart, they’ve been flimsy in the middle and after half the season they sit stone motherless last on the ladder. However, they did manage to sign Daly Cherry-Evans for at least the next 200 years, so they seem pretty set at halfback for the foreseeable future. While the start of the season has been painfully forgettable for the Sea Eagles, they’re slowly but surely getting their troops back and have the skill and experience to claw their way back up the ladder.
What’s gone wrong: Blaming referees and injuries for a team’s poor form is the last refuge of the damned, but the Sea Eagles have well and truly had their hearts ripped out by injury. Last weekend’s loss to the Broncos was the first match this season where they’ve had their full strength backline and coach Geoff Toovey will be hoping that now Daly Cherry-Evan’s future has been FINALLY settled, it will help the team focus. Of course, that’s assuming he remains the coach for the rest of the season.
Who’s been their best? Jamie Lyon has battled grimly in a difficult period for the Silvertails. Switched between the halves and centre, Lyon has done his best to try and ignite the sputtering Sea Eagles and lead his injury ravaged team around the park. Tom Symonds has played some great footy, as has young prop Jake Trbjoevic.