Five and a kick: Latrell lets the side down, the Titans win that had been coming and Ciraldo’s ideological purity


It rained a lot. People got injured. Important people, the ones who play for NSW, tore hamstrings. Less important people – Starford To’a, for example – did them too.

Thankfully we lack the medical nous to tell you why hamstrings are all going at the same time, so instead, let’s talk tactics.

The biggest takeaway this week was how to play in the rain, best exemplified by St George Illawarra’s kick and control masterclass on Saturday teatime, where they did 1% more than the Bunnies and turned it into a classic wet weather win.

If they want, they could enter the Super League and get to play in the rain all the time, though they’d only be the second best Saints in that competition.

It was aided by the strange performance of the returning talisman on the other team, mind, so let’s start our final look back there.

1. Latrell letting the side down

The Bunnies losing again is hardly surprising. Losing to a Shane Flanagan-coached Dragons team on a rainy night in Kogarah was even less surprising.

When Flanno pulled open the curtains on Saturday morning and saw the weather, he could well have banked the two points there and then.

Souths are playing half a side of reserve graders at the moment and will do well to beat anyone under those circumstances, but if they are going to do anything, it’ll require their better players to play better than this.

The effort areas from Latrell Mitchell, in particular, were terrible. His was a Shaun Kenny-Dowall-esque showing, where every good thing is caveated by a bad thing.

It doesn’t matter if you score twice and lay on the other if your contribution beyond that is so negative. The clean-up work at fullback – the sort of thing Flanno publically shamed Tyrell Sloan over – was shocking.

Three of the four Dragons tries were from kicks, and that was just the ones they scored. There could have been more.

Latrell is one of the game’s great players but, as has been so often the case this year, it’s all fur coat and no knickers. Any Souths improvement has to start with him.

2. Those Dragons

What the Dragons have in spades under Flanagan is, as we have called it elsewhere, suffering.

They compete and compete, which puts them in the position to beat bad teams enough of the time that they will rise up the ladder almost by default.

Within that, there are moments to showcase their footy, but it’s all secondary to the grinding, predictable other stuff that delivers results at the bottom end of the competition.

The attacking plan hasn’t gone much beyond ‘give it to Dozer’, though they have added a ‘kick it at Zac’ that doubles the amount of endeavour they can show.

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Kyle Flanagan has been plenty maligned over the years but, by essentially playing two controlling halves, Flanno senior has doubled the kicking potential. His left foot option for Jaydn Su’A was exceptional, one of the best moments in a game devoid of them.

It’s baby steps, but they are in the right direction at the moment.

3. Ideological purity in Penrith

Cameron Ciraldo was on one this weekend. His Bulldogs played very well against Penrith, but did so in a way that never looked like they were ever going to win the game.

The coach knew that this was the ultimate test of how his side had improved and, in that sense, they have improved a lot because it was a good contest between the two red zones.

Scoring points, however, tends to involve winning the red zones and in that aspect, the Bulldogs were miles off.

They prioritised playing the Panthers at their own game to the extent that they failed to fire any meaningful shots at all in attack until very late on, with the upshot that, even though they generated theoretical chances to score, they were never close to actually scoring.

“We came here confident but I think we’re leaving here even more confident,” said the coach.

“Physically we look really good, systems wise we’re looking a lot better and the more we train the better we’ll get.

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

“I thought it was a good contest, I really liked the start of the game with both teams going set for set.”

He’s not wrong, and yet he was also wrong. The point of going set for set is that you eventually win the grind and capitalise in points.

Canterbury did win the grind in the first half of the first half but never got close to scoring. Penrith won in thereafter and scored twice.

It was like Ciraldo wanted the ideological purity of going to Penrith and trying to beat them at their own game, like he was sending a message to his own players about how he wants them to play.

It might work out in the long-term, especially against other teams, where this style of footy can be effective. They have to attack though, and that took far too long to arrive on Friday night.

4. Manly make you want to scream into the void

This column has taken aim at the Sea Eagles’ inability to manage a game before, but that went into overdrive last Thursday night at Suncorp.

No side can pile on points like Manly, but it’s all fluff when you can’t stop them either. They’ve covered the total points line in six straight games now.

The Phins were, in many ways, the perfect side to expose this. They’re a mite more spectacular than previously, but still base their game on the free stuff, organisation and exploiting mistakes.

Manly are all-spectacular all the time, but fail to do the free stuff well and will offer every opponent chances to beat them.

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

It’s hard to put the finger on why they fade out so badly. It might be fatigue, with few dead plays in attack contributing to poor defence.

Manly ran 107 decoys and supports – 30 more than Redcliffe. They had 98 the week before in defeat to Canberra and 108 in the win over Parra.

For comparison, the Sharks, who love a support, had 72 on Saturday night, as did the Lee Briers Broncos – and their coach claims to have only lost once, ever, when winning the supports battle.  

Manly are second for push supports and sixth for decoys, and no other team is close. If fatigue is a factor, this might go a long way to explaining why.

5. That Titans win had been coming

Is it news that, as soon as the Titans learn to defend, they start winning footy matches?

Probably not: the Titans DNA, as every club likes to call these things, is to be great in attack and awful in defence, so any minor improvement without the ball tends to filter through into results relatively quickly.

They’ve were aided by playing the Cowboys, who are allergic to defence, and a Cowboys side that decided to drop the ball for the entirety of the first half.

It’s quite impressive for a team to complete at 61% and still win the territory battle, but really spoke to just how bad North Queensland were.

Des Hasler will be surprised that, for once, it wasn’t his team who beat themselves.

None of their three tries were any great shakes, and they probably don’t score them against good defences, but you take what you can in this life, not least when you’re a Gold Coast sporting team and luck is never something regularly offered.

Just quietly, this is now a decent run for the Gold Coast: they should have been the Raiders and Manly, did beat the Wahs and Cowboys and were in with a chance against the Storm too.

Granted it’s two wins from five, but performance-wise, not bad.

They can add to it again over the weekend against a Newcastle side that is very meh despite results being the other way around for them, and the Titans also have a derby with Brisbane and a run during Origin – in which they lose no players – that includes the Bunnies, Tigers, Wahs (again) and two byes. It’s not looking up, really, but it’s not looking down either. Dessie might take that right now.

David Fifita celebrates his first-half try. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Kick: The Cowboys

Look, it’s easy to kick North Queensland at the moment. They’re a bad footy team.

They’ve lost five straight and of the four games they won, they had the benefit of the Titans at their worst, the Dragons at their worst and the Phins early on – not to mention an extra time victory over Newcastle that they absolutely should have lost.

Amazingly, this is a side currently topping the NRL for line breaks at over six per game, but don’t let that fool you: this team defends as badly as anyone that isn’t the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Yes, that includes the Titans, who they just lost to.

It’s strange, really, because through the middle they’re not ostensibly that bad – sixth best for metres conceded – and fifth for line breaks conceded.

It’s just that all the linebreaks seem to become tries. In fact, they concede on average 4.2 breaks a game but their opponents score 4.3 tries. It’s scramble, it’s kick defence, it’s all the free stuff.

That would suggest that things could turn around with better application. Then again, that rarely happens.

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