The inept scheduling of NRL games has been a huge talking point for our game in recent weeks as the fall out from the rep rounds continues.
NRL boss Todd Greenberg must be feeling a little bit embarrassed as tonight’s game of the round between the Storm (4th) and the Dragons (1st) is being played – minus 11 Origin players.
Meanwhile, the Panthers (4th) will be minus their Origin stars when they take on the Warriors (5th) who are not affected by the demands of interstate rugby league.
It’s the same old story every year – as the more successful you become as a team – the more you are penalised when it comes to the scheduling and demands of rep footy.
It is also highlights the strategy that needs to be put in place by the coaches to cope with these demands when they arrive – especially the high flying Dragons this year who are in unchartered waters with a record number of players representing NSW, QLD and England recently.
Their coach Paul McGregor will be relying on a 29-year-old journeyman Darren Nicholls when he makes his first grade debut against the Storm tonight.
He will also be relying on a host of kids to get the job done – including five players under the age of 22. However, he does some experience including James Graham, Gareth Widdop and Jason Nightingale to guide their young team to a victory over the Storm.
I was surprised by Kevin Walter’s decision to pull the trigger on Ben Hunt and elevate Daly Cherry-Evans to the critical halfback role as QLD head into their first “dead rubber” since 2014.
Ironically it was DCE (who was the starting halfback in game 2 of that year) that missed the tackle on Trent Hodkinson to allow him to score a match winning try for NSW to claim the series.
To be fair – he had a limited preparation due to a knee injury and only completed one session (the capt’s run) which is not ideal when you are playing in such a high-pressure game.
The other irony – was that Ben Hunt was 18th man that week – and he was very nearly called in to start the game.
They both now find themselves in different roles within the 17-man squad that is required to stop NSW from winning their fourth ever clean sweep since 1986, 1996 and 2000.
There have been less than 10 dead rubbers in Origin history and QLD will be hoping to avoid such a spine chilling thought as they return to Suncorp Stadium for the first time this series.
They will be motivated by a number of factors including Billy Slater’s last game as captain – which is a fitting end to such a remarkable Origin career – an emotional tribute to their longest serving player Cameron Smith and 52,000 passionate QLD fans.
They reckon there is no such thing as a “dead rubber” and I recall attending one at Suncorp Stadium in 2009 when NSW showed up with a much better attitude and some fiery personal battles unfolded as the Blues succeeded in stopping a clean sweep!
I will never forget watching Steve Price and Brett White having a good “old fashioned” dust up with Price being knocked out and White being sent-off.
Storm, Warriors, Raiders, Broncos.