We’re just about one third through the regular NRL season. The cobwebs are dusted off. So before Origin talk takes over the entire competition, right now is a good checkpoint on your team’s form in 2018.
Below are the 3 biggest surprises in NRL 2018 so far.
1. Cowboys Capitulate
Last year the Cowboys made it all the way to the big dance with 2 million bucks of salary cap (Thurston and Scott running the drinks). With the addition of Jordan Mclean, fit and rested Thurston and Scott and Te Marie Martin providing a utility option, it is no wonder the Cowboys were firm premierships favourites at the start of 2018. But with just 2 wins from 7 starts, just what on earth is going on?
There is speculation Thurston is past it, tired and slow. There is speculation that Morgan has to again take a back seat to the premiership play maker and can’t run the side as he did in 2017.
The real fatigue looks like it’s coming in the form of their predictable game plan. Green and his staff are an amazing management team. After all they took the Cowboys to the club’s first major title a couple of years back. So we’re not about to go coach bashing.
But the blueprint is clear, Taumalolo and Scott on for the first 20, they rest for the middle period and come on for the last 20. They go out the back and run bock plays on play 3 or 4 when they are pinned in their end. And on the try line they go short to the lead runner or send a big man like Hess or Mclean back on the inside.
It’s just too predictable. The Cowboys are a champion team and they are too good to not at least make the 8. But sitting this far back with Origin about to hit their playing roster, it’s going to be a tough slog.
2. Warriors on the War Path
What is in the water across the ditch? Second on the ladder and with no sight of slowing down, the Warriors are at least a really firm chance of making a run at a top 4 spot this year.
The New Zealand men have always had the skills but often times found themselves lacking the will. Lacking that 80 minutes. Too often we’ve seen the Warriors just switch off. So what’s the key in 2018? Kearney is the key. The coach used 2017 to have a good hard look at the side.
The Warriors signed flair in Tuivasa-Sheck in 2016 and brought in a Test Quality hooker in Isaac Luke the same year. But probably the more important signings were made last off season with the addition of Tohu Harris and Blake Green.
Blake Green, an NRL Journey Man often under estimated and under publicised, is a major contribution to his side’s success. Green brings the stability of the Melbourne Storm system and pairs it with the brilliance of Johnson.
Up on the coaches box Kearney has had a full year to build his combination between nine, seven and one and it’s all starting to pay dividends. The Warriors are never as heavily affected in rep season as other sides and they are coming into the period when they usually build their wins and make a move on the competition.
The Caveat is that we’ve seen it all before. We get excited about the Warriors only for them to fall away at the back end of the season. I wont be convinced that the Warriors can make the top 8 until they make the top 8. But they are everyone’s second team and every supporter wants to see their style of football in semi-finals.
3. The Knights Notable Start
Nathan Brown was brought in to do one thing and one thing only at the Newcastle Knights. Bring them back from the brink. His first move was figuring out a way to get a winning culture at the club.
Decimated by injury the last couple of seasons, the hapless Knights often looked like a bunch of under 10’s running around with men.
But midway through 2017, something started to change. When they were close in games they didn’t drop off. When they had opportunities to win they did their best to take those opportunities and sometimes did. And finally we saw the makings of a squad who believed they could win football games.
The Ace up Brown’s sleeve at the end of last season was that he didn’t get too hasty with his salary cap at the start of his tenure. He was honest with the board and his fans. Rather than come in and splash cash around straight away, he let them know that they’d have to wait. Bide their time. They’d have to put up with heartache and some ugly losses just so they could be in a position to pounce. And pounce they did. The patience paid off for Brown when he had a wallet full of cash and a Test Quality halfback not only on the market but ready to move.
Mitchell Pearce’s club made the message loud and clear when they signed Cronk. So Pearce went to the Knights. The addition of a player like Mitchell Pearce with the hard nose culture of a club who’s had to dog fight for every win in the last two years makes for a very dangerous prospect. The downside to all of this is that after a start that has seen the Knights sitting in equal 8th, Pearce had suffered a potentially season ending injury.
For the Knights, making the 8 without Pearce would be amazing. If they do and they get Pearce back in September, what a year it would be. And what a success for the club.