My old coach Warren Ryan always said: “You can’t sugar coat a bitter pill” and he was never far from the mark.
I feel for Newcastle Knights who have lost their best player Mitchell Pearce for most of the season with a pectoral injury.
Pearce has been instrumental in getting the Knights into a good position after 7 rounds and has had played an integral role in closing out games against Manly, the Raiders and the Broncos.
He also kept them in contention last week against the Tigers when they went behind on the scoreboard and his role cannot be underestimated.
Into the spotlight comes Jack Cogger who played the perfect supporting role last week in his first game of the season – but the pressure increases on him to provide the team with direction and leadership.
He will need the support of his coach Nathan Brown and the senior players, including their newly appointed captain Aiden Guerra, to help him handle the game management responsibilities in the weekly grind of the NRL.
I recall losing Andrew Johns to a season ending ACL injury in the early rounds of the 2004 season and it provided a number of opportunities for other players to step up – including the inspirational Danny Buderus who went on to win the Dally M medal.
In their first test without Pearce - they will face an under siege and resilient Manly team on Friday night at Brookvale Oval who will desperate to put the damaging off field issues of the past few weeks with a good on field performance.
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The NRL has implemented a crack down in certain areas of the game including the play the ball, the 10 metres and using the sin bin for players who come up with repeated infringements, especially close to the try line.
But with any crack down – there is always a lack of consistency and interpretation of the match officials – which drives the fans, the players and the coaches crazy.
One example caught my eye last week when the Roosters Latrell Mitchell was sin binned for tackling an opposition player without the ball. This call made was by the video referee – well after the infringement was ruled upon by the on-field referees – because he was certain the Bulldogs player was going to score. This was highly unlikely and thankfully this call didn’t have a bearing on the result.
The other area of the game that the NRL has dropped the ball is the extreme latitude that is being given to team’s in their obvious mis-use of the Head Injury Assessment (HIA) rules.
In the opening seven weeks – we have seen an increase of HIA’s especially in the latter stages of the first half – where team’s get the benefit of the15 minutes assessment period before and during the half time break to give their players the additional time to “recover”.
Of course this measure was introduced to safe guard the players from serious head injuries but I am certain the coaches at most clubs are taking advantage of the rules and putting pressure on their doctors and on field medical staff to assist in the eight change rotation.
We saw a number of heavy sanctions introduced last year when some team’s got this assessment wrong and left players on the field but we are yet to see any action taken by the NRL publicly to get this subjective issue resolved – stay tuned.
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ANZAC Day games always increase level of motivation as traditional rivals - the Dragons and the Roosters; and the Storm and the Warriors do battle this afternoon.
All of these teams come into these games in good form and are all travelling along nicely in the competition.
In my view, today’s results could be determined by an ounce of luck or couple or a couple of bad calls by the officials.
The Roosters have not found their attacking groove just yet – but they were fantastic in their defensive effort against the Bulldogs. However, they will need to score more than 20 points to win against the Dragons who are the best attacking team in the competition – averaging close to 30 points per game.
Melbourne have had their share of trouble beating the Warriors (with the results evenly shared) and the New Zealanders are coming off a great win over the Dragons last week. Both teams are averaging 23 points in attack and less than 15 in defence.
My tips this week:
Roosters, Storm, Rabbits, Sea Eagles, Panthers, Sharks, Cowboys, Eels.
Michael Hagan is a member of the Newcastle KOFM NRL Footy Call team, Premiership winning coach with the Newcastle Knights and Premiership winning player with the Bulldogs, former Queensland State of Origin Coach and current Kangaroos Assistant Coach.