Likes, Dislikes: ‘They can’t win the competition’
Our rugby league writers reveal what caught their eye - good and bad - in Round 24 of the NRL.
COWBOYS v BULLDOGS
Like: It's impossible to go past retiring Cowboy Scott Bolton's conversion.
It was the prop forward's first career attempt at goal, meaning he'll end his career with a 100 per cent success rate.
Bolton joins the illustrious group of players never to miss a conversion including the likes of: Mitchell Barnett (3/3), Gorden Tallis (1/1 sideline) and Jai Field (7/7).
As a side note, I'm still dirty on Gareth Widdop for denying James Graham the same opportunity in his 400th game against the Gold Coast a few weeks back … The Englishman even held the ball on the tee!
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Dislike: Here's a controversial take, and it's hardly a dislike, and also one that I'm not even totally convinced of but it's Round 24 and the Dogs are looking towards 2020 so here it is.
Could Lachlan Lewis be an edge back-rower?
Think the Wade Graham type mould with a crafty ball playing ability and kicking game.
Prior examples of players to make the transition include Bryce Cartwright (when he was good), Curtis Sironen and Greg Bird.
This isn't to say Lewis can't succeed as a five-eighth, but perhaps without the additional pressure of game management he could really thrive.
Lewis is an astute defender - think the Round 6 duel with Sam Burgess - and has plenty of size about him.
With a full pre-season in the role and an extra five kilos it could be worth some thought for Dean Pay provided he has capable halves on deck.
- Tim Williams
WARRIORS v RABBITOHS
Like: Big Englishman Sam Burgess has evolved into South Sydney's inspirational leader over the course of his time at Redfern, but he's facing some serious competition for that title from young gun Cameron Murray.
The 21-year old lock forward is enjoying a breakout season and on Friday night against the New Zealand Warriors revealed himself as a genuine leader of the side even at his tender age and experience.
Murray was instrumental in helping his side to a 14-0 start but it's what happened when Murray came off the field in the 32nd minute that truly highlighted the forward's impact on the Bunnies.
The Warriors ran in two tries in quick succession as the Rabbitohs appeared to switch off while Murray was off the filed. They missed his defensive starch through the middle and the effort areas that keep the Bunnies on the front foot.
Dislike: Warriors' mental steel, or the lack of it. Coach Stephen Kearney called out his side before Friday's match accusing them of not playing for each other over the last two weeks, after they had conceded 84 points in two games against the Roosters and the Sharks.
The Warriors looked to have showed up against the Rabbitohs ready to defend with some purpose and managed to get the opposition into an arm wrestle early.
But they yielded in the second half and the Bunnies also ran over them, making 500 more metres in the final 40 minutes alone.
- Fatima Kdouh
BRONCOS v EELS
Like: Brisbane can be finals giant-killers.
They had an awful opening two months as new coach Anthony Seibold attempted to put his stamp on the club but the Broncos have improved markedly since March.
Their young guns have gained immeasurable experience this season and now the likes of Payne Haas, Matt Lodge, David Fifita, Pat Carrigan and Kotoni Staggs have developed the mental toughness for finals football.
Parramatta are a top-six team but Seibold's Babes had no problem handling what the Eels threw at them.
The Broncos could easily knock off Manly, Parramatta or Cronulla in the opening week of the finals. One sudden-death win could be the catalyst for a run deep into September.
Dislike: The jury remains out on Mitchell Moses as a big-game player.
He leads the NRL for try assists this season with 24 so clearly Moses is no mug but does he have the nerve and leadership to put his stamp on the playoffs and lead Parramatta to a premiership?
The Eels had 55 per cent of possession against the Broncos and dominated the first half as Junior Paulo took charge of the midfield, but Moses' option-taking was questionable.
For the Eels to go past the opening week of the finals, Moses has to play career-best football and ignite Parramatta's powerful back five.
- Peter Badel
KNIGHTS v TITANS
Like: Mason Lino is one of those players who a certain type of fan knows very well.
Those fans who know a little too much about the goings on in the NSW Cup, or who remember the 2014 Warriors under-20s side a little too fondly, they all know a lot about Mason Lino.
The Samoan international is the king of the state cup, a cunning and skilful operator who has proven himself more than capable of dominating the second tier competitions.
As such, whenever Lino finds himself in first grade it's a trainspotter's delight - and when he plays well, like he did in this win, it's cause for celebration.
In one of the best games of his NRL career, Lino cut the Titans to pieces and unless the Knights make a signing or two he's their best option to partner Mitchell Pearce, now and in the future.
Dislike: The Knights may have turned up and they may have kept their finals hopes alive but the home crowd of a mere 8274 said it all.
Newcastle fans are the hardiest in the league, but even they have limits.
They stuck with the team through all conditions, through multiple wooden spoons - but the ongoing disaster off the field and a lack of effort on it recent weeks is something they cannot abide.
Yes, it was raining - but this was the lowest crowd since 1997, and it's rained plenty since then. For the first time in a long time, the Knights have to win the faith of their people back.
SEA EAGLES v STORM
Like: In all the mayhem that occurred on Saturday it was easy to gloss over the Storm's performance.
But they were clinical as they clinched another minor premiership.
Their first half in pouring rain was outstanding. They showed great poise and patience as they strangled the life out of the Sea Eagles.
They had a handful of consecutive line drop outs but never looked rushed nor frustrated. They just built and built before cracking the Sea Eagles defence.
Cameron Smith again put on another masterclass laying on two tries. How does this guy get better with age?
Dislike: Another injury to Tom Trbojevic.
While the Sea Eagles are holding out hope we may see Tommy Turbo again this year that looks at long odds.
And with that goes the Sea Eagles' premiership hopes.
Trbojevic has been dynamic when he has featured this season but it has been a horrid year for the Manly superstar, with repeated hamstring injuries and now a serious pectoral injury. It's been a terrible year.
Manly can't win the competition without him so they need to some how hope for a miracle and get their star man back on the field.
- Michael Carayannis
ROOSTERS v PANTHERS
Like: The Roosters are missing nearly 800 games of experience with Boyd Cordner, Cooper Cronk and Jake Friend on the sidelines, however it hasn't slowed them down at all.
No matter the injury, no matter the player out, there's always someone there to fill the role and do a good job.
At the club, they've got the saying that "steel sharpens steel" and that's been evident all season.
Rookie dummy-half Sam Verrills was superb against the Panthers as he grabbed his side's first try, set up another and topped the tackle count.
Halfback Drew Hutchinson may not have done anything exceptional on Saturday night, but he didn't look out of place filling in for Cooper Cronk, allowing every other play to remain in their normal positions. Their depth is second to none.
Dislike: The Panthers were denied a game-levelling try just before half-time due to an obstruction ruling, but the man who was obstructed, Zane Tetevano, made absolutely zero effort to tackle Nathan Cleary.
He basically turned the other way and milked a penalty. Technically the Bunker made the right decision because Reagan Campbell-Gillard had stopped in the defensive line, but his presence had no impact on the try as Tetevano stopped and made zero effort to get to the man.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary was filthy at the decision, saying teams shouldn't be able to milk penalties that easily and it was a bad look for the game.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson fired back at Cleary, labelling it was a clear penalty but admitted he would talk to Tetevano about stopping on the play.
- Michael Blok
SHARKS v RAIDERS
Like: NRL bad guys. Say what you like about retiring Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen - plenty do - but there are few better things in sport than watching clubs rally around that Public Enemy No.1 who they love and most everyone else boos.
It's a special bond. And one Gal has built with Shire fans with close to 20 years of toil.
Which is why his final appearance at Shark Park was an emotional sell out.
And for those of you who can't stand him? Well, that matters too. Understanding there is nothing more important in sport than the athlete who makes us 'feel' something. Positive, negative, doesn't matter. So long as they aren't vanilla.
Dislike: Shaun Johnson's season. From the moment he signed on with Cronulla for $3 million, genuine footy fans were excited by the prospect of seeing this most gifted of halfbacks play behind one of the competition's grittiest packs.
Injury, however, cruelled all that, with Johnson failing to even take the field against Canberra on Sunday afternoon after again being injured in a warm up.
- Nick Walshaw
DRAGONS v TIGERS
Like: In his prime Benji Marshall was the best rugby league player on the planet bar none. But the way he has fought back to make the future his decision to own is every bit as inspiring.
Five years ago Benji's career looked washed up at the Wests Tigers. Today the now 34-year-old has well and truly earned the right to go out on his own terms at the club where he belongs.
While the emotion in the countdown to Sunday's last round clash at Leichhardt Oval against Cronulla will understandably focus on Robbie Farah's fitness as he fights to play on his final game at his beloved home ground, what is unknown if whether or not it will also be Marshall's last game.
As it stands Marshall hasn't made a decision on his future and while it seems most likely he will go around for another season it is worth celebrating this moment just in case.
Playing on a contract worth $170,000 this season, Marshall was again the standout in the Tigers' 42-14 flogging of St George Illawarra at the SCG where he left the Dragons $1.2 million man Ben Hunt in his wake.
Marshall turned back the clock with a sparkling man-of-the-match performance that included a solo try while setting up two more in the seven tries to two victory.
Dislike: In what has been a bludger of a season for the Dragons you couldn't help but feel sorry for Cameron McInnes when he suffered a broken leg in the dying minutes at the SCG.
It was a cruel end to the season for the inspirational hooker who has been without doubt the Dragons' best this year.
When a team is going bad it is easy to lump the blame on everyone but the one person who should not be criticised for his performances this year is McInnes.
If Damien Cook wasn't in such red-hot form I would have McInnes as the next NSW and Australian hooker on the form he has shown this year.
It's just a shame the team around him has been terrible.
- Paul Crawley