Five and a kick: Benji Marshall’s Tigers lost to Penrith, but did they actually win in the long-term?


The Tigers played Souths last year when the Bunnies were at their very highest point.

Tim Sheens coached them to an ultra-conservative 20-0 defeat that was vaguely creditable, in that they didn’t get thrashed, but also pointless, as they didn’t make the slightest effort to win.

Compare and contrast to Saturday in Bathurst.

Having already pulled off the impossible in 2023, a victory over the Panthers two years in a row was always unlikely and doubly so when facing them straight off the bye.

Instead, new coach Benji Marshall seemed to set his side up to go through the processes of how he wants them to play every week, attacking with intent and defending their line with pride.

For a side that is in such a formative part of their cycle, that’s absolutely fine. Nobody, whether at the club or externally, is making any judgements based on results against Penrith.

What they can judge is how the Tigers approached the game, how they sought to embed a style and play to their strengths. They can’t control Penrith’s defence, their lack of errors, their relentlessness.

Though the Tigers lost the game, they did all the other bits well enough to make the trip west a success.

They offered a lot of threat, especially on their left edge, with the combination of Justin Olam and John Bateman looking superb.

They had the confidence to throw passes that gave them a chance, even if they didn’t always come off, and the energy to get up around the footy and ask questions.

They defended their errors well enough, making the Panthers work superb hard to beat them.

For guys like Lachlan Galvin, the Fainu brothers and Jahream Bula, this experience is priceless. Nobody is ever going to say that winning doesn’t matter, but in this stage of the cycle, the performance might matter more.

A year ago, they were setting up not to get thrashed. This time, they’re setting themselves up for success.

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

When do we start talking about the Wahs’ attack?

Cast your mind back to Round 1, when the Warriors lost at home to the Sharks. Plenty of possession, little penetration.

Then there was Round 3, when they scored 18 points at home to the Raiders off 43 sets’ worth of possession, and Round 6 against Manly, when they scraped a draw that probably should have been a loss.

On balance, the Wahs have the constituent parts of a good footy team and winning the metres, possession and territory will likely deliver results in the long term. It’s far from panic stations.

But other teams have analysts and those with coaches smart enough to listen to them have clearly noticed imbalances in the attack and, thus predictability.

The right is outweighing the left, which is understandable given the dominance of Shaun Johnson in the attack, but Andrew Webster must see the law of diminishing returns in his side as a result.

Te Maire Martin is pretty serviceable as a five eighth, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is parked out on the left and Jackson Ford can run a good line. They need to get a little more ball, though.

Good luck, then, that it’s Titans at home and Knights away for the Warriors. They’ll get two games to tune up with little threat before travelling to the Roosters and hosting the Panthers.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Chevy Stewart wins performance of the round

Rugby league is great because it’s where systems meet stones.

Few sports so beautifully combine physical brutality, and the mental fortitude required to put oneself into that situation, with complex structures. You’ve gotta be tough, smart and brave all at the same time.

Though Chevy Stewart has only played two NRL games, and one of them was a near-disaster on Saturday in Brisbane, he’s already showed all the bits that you need to see to decide that he’s got it.

Everyone has bad nights, not least when it’s throwing down, you’re a fullback and the ball is swirling overhead.

To keep coming back, to truck the ball into the onrushing shoulder of Kobe Hetherington, to put the hand up time and again and, crucially, to still try things creatively in attack – these are the signs of a proper player.

This is all very intangible, which Ricky Stuart will love, but he also knows that statistically the best players are the ones who make the most mistakes.

The current frontrunners for errors are Tom Trbojevic, Ben Hunt and Zac Lomax, all of whom are having great seasons. Kalyn Ponga, Scott Drinkwater and Reece Walsh are knocking about the leaderboard too.

With Jamal Fogarty now out, Sticky has to play the kids. It mightn’t be the worst thing to happen to the Raiders, because if Stewart is anything to go by, they’ve got all the attributes that he likes.

Thomas Hazelton scores a try. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

The Sharks are on one

Cronulla can seem a little rinky-dink at times.

Their ground is small, miles away from everything and a bit of a pain to get to if you don’t already live in the Shire.

Their footy team is rarely that newsworthy, a definitive second best to the major Sydney powerhouses and thus a little bit of an afterthought when there’s a crisis at Souths and one brewing at Parramatta.

Yet this side are great. They’re good to watch, they’re largely nice guys, Craig Fitzgibbon is consistently one of the best voices in coaching and they’re winning.

Yes, it won’t matter until they actually show up in the finals, but disposing of the Cowboys with ease the week after doing the same to the Bunnies isn’t an accident.

The only game Cronulla have lost this year was when they hit a perfect storm of the Tigers at Leichhardt and were reduced to one man on the bench.

They always get lucky with the draw, true, becuase of the aforementioned rinky-dinkiness that helps them in scheduling, and that is compounded further this week by facing a Raiders side shorn of their most important player with injury.

Still, you can only beat what’s in front of you and the Sharks are doing that. They get the Storm in Melbourne, the Roosters at Magic Round and Penrith at home in May, so the jury will return with a verdict soon.

For now, though: it’s all looking great.

Josh King is tackled. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The varying types of bad football

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” – so said Leo Tolstoy.

We saw some rank rotten rugby league this weekend, and each bit was rubbish in it’s own way.

On Thursday, the Roosters and Storm combined for a match that, ostensibly, wasn’t that bad but in actuality was, with the Chooks managing precisely zero line breaks across 80 minutes and the Storm getting just four.

All five tries were from kicks and the bulk of the play before that seemed to be a deliberate time waster to get to the important bit when boot connected with ball.

It’s ironic that the Roosters are losing so many players to rugby union given how kick-friendly they are already.

Melbourne won, which is the point, and are top of the ladder, so they won’t care a jot about aesthetics, as is their right. But for those watching on, it wasn’t great.

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon and you got line breaks aplenty, though it was even worse.

Manly would have lost to literally anyone who wasn’t the Titans and the Titans should have lost by 50.

There’ve been some stinkers on the Gold Coast over the years, but none as bad as this with defences taking the day off.

Anthony Seibold pointed to having bodies out and the two points being enough, which is all well and good, as long a lesson is learned.

The Sea Eagles have back to back home games against the Eels and Raiders, both of which they should win, and then a trip to the Dolphins, which they should also win.

But this is a side that aims up against the best and aims down when favourites. That has to change.

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Parra are up the creek

The good news for Manly is that they’re facing a Parra side that totally capitulated on Friday night.

We’ll do well to see a worse showing all year than that which the Eels dished up in Darwin, combining as it did their worst two traits, which are an ability to lose the middle defensively that has been there for years and a new-found lack of spark in attack.

Brad Arthur’s position is increasingly under threat given his contract situation, and the higher-ups at Parramatta will have to urinate or remove themselves from the pot sooner rather than later.

At the moment, they’re Manly deluxe: able to fire up for a big clash, some of which they invariably lose anyway, while not being able to put away the easy wins.

The attack shouldn’t fall over immediately when Mitch Moses is out, but it does, and they have arguably the best 7 in NSW Cup running around trying to find another club as Parra won’t offer him a pathway.

Ethan Sanders has to come in this week, not least because Daejarn Asi is an enforced absence with a concussion.

The playstyle can work, but only if you convert middle dominance into points. Currently, that’s not happening, so adding a pure halfback to allow Dylan Brown to be the best version of himself that he can is the most obvious solution. It certainly can’t get much worse than that second half against the Dolphins.

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