All posts by Thomas Beauchamp

Panthers turn on the heat to scorch the Dragons

Penrith Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary

The Penrith Panthers have staged a late comeback to condemn the Dragons to their second home loss to start the season.

The Dragons led the see-sawing affair 28-18 with just twelve minutes remaining before a four-minute flurry from Penrith saw the Saints’ lead evaporate.

The Panthers exploded out of the gates to lead by twelve after just fifteen minutes courtesy of a dummy-half scoot from Api Koroisau to start.

This was followed by a sweet Nathan Cleary show-and-go that left Ben Hunt and Tyrell Fuimaono clutching for air.

Led by new recruit Zane Tetevano, the Penrith forward pack simply poured through the middle third, doubling the Dragons’ run metres over the first twenty minutes.

Players were given some relief from the oppressive conditions with a drinks break after twenty minutes.

Little seemed to change for the Dragons as Isaah Yeo split the defence before passing inside to an unmarked Dean Whare.

However, in a game-changing moment, the pass was sensationally intercepted by Matt Dufty who raced away to score a ninety-metre effort and complete a twelve-point swing in his fiftieth NRL appearance.

Seemingly inspired by Dufty’s antics, the Dragons further turned the momentum through a beautiful cutout pass from Corey Norman.

He made up for his earlier defensive deficiencies by sending Jordan Pereira down the sideline to set up a try for Brayden Wiliame.

Zac Lomax was the next to cross, capitalising upon an errant offload from Josh Mansour to give the Dragons a 16-12 half time lead, despite having just 40% possession.

After the break, a deft grubber from Nathan Cleary appeared to regain control of the game for Penrith through a Brent Naden try.

However, following his relegation from the squad last week, Matt Dufty again provided the spark the Dragons needed as he crashed over from short range.

When Corey Norman dived on Ben Hunt’s banana kick four minutes later, the Dragons looked to have the match on ice with less than twenty minutes to go.

In keeping with the volatile nature of the match, it wasn’t long until the momentum swung one final time.

Viliame Kikau ran over Issac Luke off the back of a hail-mary offload from Josh Mansour.

It was then up to the man with the magic touch, Stephen Crichton, to ice the match.

After scoring within seventeen seconds of entering the field last week, Crichton raced onto an inside ball from Nathan Cleary before combining with Liam Martin for the game winner.

Speaking post-game, Dragons coach Paul McGregor condemned his side’s discipline, agreeing that the Dragons gave away a golden opportunity to post their first win of the season.

“We had complete control with 16 mins to go… it’s not good enough,” McGregor said.

“Last week, we had three opportunities with the line open that we didn’t finish and today we led at halftime… we’re making it hard (for ourselves).”

In comparison, Ivan Cleary admitted his team were well below par tonight, but will happily accept another tight win to start the year.

“I was worried the whole second half… we just didn’t have the edge we needed to have… but you’ve just got to find a way to win those sorts of games, especially early in the season” he said.

Penrith will advance to play Melbourne at AAMI Park next week, while the Dragons will head South to the nation’s capital in search of their first victory of the season.

NRL News Player of the Game:

3 Points – Nathan Cleary – The Panthers’ half was simply superb, steering his side around shrewdly for the second week running. Chimed in for a try, try assist, line break and line break assist.

2 Points – Apisai Koroisau – Quickly putting his hand up as an early contender for buy of the year as he crossed for a try and made 38 tackles.

1 Point – Matt Dufty – Lost his fullback spot to Zac Lomax over the off-season but did his future selection chances no harm tonight as he crossed twice and seemed to be the Dragons’ enigma, bringing them to life twice when hope appeared lost.

Pangai Jr. and the Broncos Spoil Cowboys’ Homecoming

Brisbane Broncos forward Tevita Pangai Jr.

The Brisbane Broncos have ruined North Queensland’s housewarming party, prevailing 28-21 in the first match at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

Eight of the past eleven Queensland derbies had been decided by less than four points.

There was to be no repeat dosage for the 20000 strong crowd who attended the game in spite of the ongoing coronavirus scandal that has rocked the NRL.

The contest was dominated by Brisbane’s much touted forward pack, with Thomas Flegler, Payne Haas, David Fifita, Tevita Pangai Jr. and Patrick Carrigan all running for over 100 metres.

Jason Taumalolo and Jordan McLean were the only Cowboys to match their counterparts, running for 156 and 112 metres respectively.

It was far from an ideal start for the Cowboys, who put the ball out on the full from the opening kick-off, before losing Justin O’Neill in the opening minutes after a Pangai Jr. high tackle.

Broncos rake Jake Turpin opened the account with an audacious dummy, fooling two Cowboys defenders to stroll over for the first try at the new stadium in the eleventh minute.

Valentine Holmes lost the ball on his first touch back from the NFL and dropped a bomb in the opening stages, but later found his groove to open the Cowboys scoring.

The try came on the back of a sweet right-to-left shift that had fans and commentators alike reminiscing on his breakout 2017 campaign with the Sharks.

The game then descended into the end-to-end, fast-flowing style of play that clashes between these two sides are renowned for, with Kotoni Staggs and Kyle Feldt each crossing the line as the Broncos entered the sheds as 12-9 leaders.

Staggs was particularly impressive in the first period, linking up nicely with new recruit Brodie Croft before leaving the field early in the second half with cramps.

Following an early try from Pangai Jr., the Broncos gained the ascendency early in the second half through their completion rate, which sat above 85% through fifty minutes.

The game’s defining moment then came in the fifty-seventh minute, with David Fifita breaking through the Cowboys’ right-side defence and stepping past Valentine Holmes to score a sixty-metre epic.

Two late tries to Gavin Cooper and Ben Hampton threatened to provide the thrilling finish that fans were expecting, but a late Bunker reversal ended the Cowboys’ chances of a comeback.

Speaking after the game Broncos coach Anthony Seibold credited his side’s preparation, labelling tonight’s victory was one of the proudest of his career.

“I was really confident with the guys knowing and executing their roles… and there’s some really good signs that we’ve made a considerable improvement over the pre-season” Seibold said.

On the other side, Paul Green was unsurprisingly unimpressed with the Cowboys’ performance in what he described as an otherwise ‘great night’ for the region.

“Our starts to both halves weren’t good enough… we need to start like (how we finished) and not let the scoreboard affect our effort” he stated.

Brisbane will move on to face South Sydney at an empty Suncorp Stadium next week, while North Queensland will travel to Sydney to battle the Bulldogs.

NRL News Player of the Match:

3 Points – Tevita Pangai Jr – It was tough to single out any of the Broncos forwards tonight, but Pangai was the main man in the Broncos’ sixteen-point second-half run that sealed the game, running for 115 metres, setting up the Isaako try and scoring one of his own. The hit on O’Neill was the only negative point for ‘TPJ’, who may have difficulties with the judiciary this week.

2 Points – Payne Haas – Nothing special from Haas on the attacking front tonight, but he played over seventy minutes on an extremely warm Townsville night, running for 199 metres and making twenty-eight tackles. At just 20 years old, this kid could be special this season.

1 Point – Jamayne Isaako – A late mistake at the back to gift a try to Ben Hampton was the only sour moment in an otherwise solid night for Isaako at the back. He was in the seventeen jersey when teams were announced on Monday, but following tonight’s performance and the Jack Bird ACL injury, Isaako has booked his spot in the starting side for the foreseeable future.

What We Learned from the Canterbury Cup Decider

Newtown Jets 2019 Canterbury Cup success

While all eyes were focused on the stellar performances of the Roosters and the Raiders last week, many Rugby League supporters missed the enthralling finish to the Canterbury Cup competition.

After controversy over the league’s decision to overlook the idea of holding the game as a curtain-raiser for the Raiders preliminary final, Bankwest Stadium would host the Newtown Jets and the Wentworthville Magpies – two teams that extraordinarily made the big dance from seventh and eighth on the ladder respectively.

With the scores locked at 14-all at full-time, the Magpies secured the first lead of extra-time with a field goal, before an outlandish team effort from the Jets secured the 20-15 victory.

So, as the Jets progress to face the Burleigh Bears in this week’s State Championship, here are five things we learned from the epic finale of the Canterbury Cup.

  1. The System is a Winner

Many involved in the creation of rugby league’s junior pathways were eager to discover the potential success of the new competition format in 2019 after the dissolution of the Holden Cup for Under 20’s.

This season – topped off by the exhilarating grand final – has proven that the NRL and the ARLC have got the recipe spot on.

One only has to look at the score sheet from Sunday’s decider to see the solid mix of youth and experience that the competition combines, with Newtown’s Ronaldo Mulitalo, Scott Sorensen and William Kennedy appearing alongside the established NRL names of Josh Hoffman and George Jennings for Wentworthville.

The competition’s new format has enabled great potential for individual growth for younger players as they line-up with and against stars of the present and the past.

This was exemplified by the Western Suburbs Magpies, whose stars of the future were provided with the opportunity to play alongside the trio of Josh Reynolds, Robbie Rochow and Chris McQueen in 2019.

Between them, they had over 400 games of first-grade experience for seven different clubs.

  1. The Future is Bright for Cronulla

When analysing the line-up of their feeder club Newtown, it is evident that the future is bright for the Cronulla Sharks as a wealth of young talent makes its way through the club’s development systems.

While Matt Moylan is expected to hold onto the number one jersey for 2020, Jets fullback and man-of-the-match William Kennedy will undoubtedly begin to pressure John Morris into providing him with more first-grade experience after a stellar performance on the big stage.

Kennedy combined with fellow Sharks’ prodigy Ronaldo Mulitalo for the Jets’ first try of the game and led his team in running metres with 248 metres gained across sixteen carries.

With the departure of his brother Jayden to Newcastle, Blayke Brailey is set to feature in the number nine jersey for the Sharks in 2020 as he made 48 tackles and played the full ninety minutes. At halfback, Braydon Trindall had a strong game, kicking fourteen times for 392 metres and slotting three conversions including a clutch goal to send the game into extra time.

In the engine room, Sharks development players Jaimin Jolliffe and Toby Rudolf combined for 76 tackles at an efficiency rate of 92.7%.

  1. Billy Magoulias is a Future Star:

Only adding to Cronulla’s pool of young talent is the man dubbed ‘Gal Jr.’, Billy Magoulias.

Touted as the long-term replacement for the Sharks’ skipper, Magoulias made his NRL debut in Round 19, coming off the bench to help his team secure a two-point victory over North Queensland.

While the lock-forward is known for his consistent work ethic on defence and hard-hitting runs in attack, it was Magoulias’ playmaking skills that caught the eyes of many in the Canterbury Cup Grand Final.

He grubbered through for Scott Sorensen to score the Jets’ second try of the match, before Magoulias had a major role in the match-defining play by placing a perfectly weighted chip kick onto the chest of Tyrone Phillips who sent William Kennedy racing away to score.

With Wade Graham on the left edge and Briton Nikora patrolling the right, Magoulias should round out a back row that is set to become a part of one of the league’s most potent forward packs in 2020.

  1. The Eels are Flush with back-line Talent:

While Cronulla are evidently stacked with future stars, the Magpies’ line-up proved that the Eels possess considerable depth in positions one through seven.

Should Dylan Brown or Mitchell Moses miss any time through injury or potential representative duties in 2020, the Eels will be well covered in the halves by Jaeman Salmon and Rhys Davies.

Salmon was provided limited NRL experience in the early stages of 2019 and showed glimpses of promise, while Davies has excelled in reserve grade, tallying 136 points and 15 try assists across 28 appearances this season.

Out wide, Greg Leleisiuao was tipped to challenge Maika Sivo for the starting wing spot to start this season but was narrowly overlooked in favour of the Fijian flyer.

He has done his case for future selection no harm with 12 tries, second only in the Magpies outfit to Bevan French.

Likewise, Ethan Parry has impressed in attack and defence with nine tries, six line-breaks and an average of 98 metres gained per game.

His moment of the final came in the 44th minute as he shrewdly came across in cover defence to block a pass that would have led to the Jets taking the lead.

  1. Extra-Time is the Way to Go:

While golden point provided us with the thrilling finals conclusions to the 2015 Grand Final and 2010 qualifying final between the Roosters and the Tigers, it has come under fire in 2019 for producing results that have a greater reliance on luck than skill.

Golden point for the finals was scrapped in 2016, less than a year after Jonathan Thurston’s history-making field goal at ANZ Stadium. In its place, the NRL has re-introduced the ten-minute extra-time period, as was seen in the famous 1989 NSWRL decider between Canberra and Balmain.

Should Sunday’s decider have been determined by Golden Point, the game would have reached its conclusion with Jaeman Salmon’s 82nd minute field goal, robbing fans of the opportunity to witness one of the all-time great Rugby League grand final plays.

By providing oppositions with the right of reply following a field goal, the NRL is hoping to produce fairer results that don’t detract from the excitement and suspense of Golden Point.

This game proved exactly that.

Will we see extra-time in this week’s NRL decider? Only time will tell.

Thomas Beauchamp is a Journalism Student at the University of Technology Sydney. You can follow him on Twitter at @T_Beauchamp23.