All posts by Victoria

Rugby League: The Great Escape

I am currently locked inside a hotel room with no chance of an escape. This is no joke.

Having recently returned to Australia from the United States, I am in an understandable forced quarantine inside a hotel organized by the Australian government and federal police.

I do not have a key to my room and there is security patrolling the hall in which I and other’s are placed, as well as downstairs in the lobby.

Occasionally, when my boredom strikes, I’ll look out the peep hole of my door and watch police officers on their patrol.

If I chose to make a run-for-it, I’d be looking at jail time as it is a federal offense now to break these requirements.

So, I am locked in a hotel room with no escape…well, no physical escape.

I may not be able to leave my room but I have the greatest mental escape to turn to. Rugby league.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been watching weekend games through an iPad connected to my TV.

I found myself setting an alarm for 2-3 am more times than my body could truly handle.

I leaned on the support of my blood family and internet family for a sense of community while I unsuccessfully begged Americans to watch the game with me.

As time went on, it became harder and harder to keep up with the action.

When the game returned after the COVID-19 hiatus, I found it pretty impossible to juggle the footy alongside my work and developing social life.

Away from Parramatta’s games, I wasn’t watching anywhere near as much as I would’ve wanted.

Some teams, I hadn’t seen play at all yet. Realistically, I had probably only watched 20% of the games.

Then, I packed up all my things and hopped on a plane for 15 hours and flew down under.

After a crazy airport experience, two young men in their army uniforms accompanied me to my room, dropped off my suitcases and shut the door behind them.

It was a surreal experience that I can not put into words. The sense of uncomfortability sunk in almost immediately.

Then, I looked outside my window. There in front of me was the beautiful ANZ stadium.

Suddenly, I was rushed with emotion as I went on a nostalgic rollercoaster of memories inside that stadium.

From watching my first ever Parramatta final live to watching NSW claim the series in front of 80,000 screaming fans.

Just the look of ANZ made me feel home. I had no idea what to expect from the 14 days ahead of me but, I did know that I had a sense of comfortability in footy.

Thursday rolled around and I had something to look forward to.

Same thing on Friday then again on Saturday and on Sunday.

I was stuck in a hotel with no way to get out but I had 8 games ahead of me to watch after months of barely finding time to watch 1 game.

For the first time in God knows how long, I watched an entire weekend of football.

I sat in my little hotel room, jumping between my bed and couch, talking to friends online while I ranted about the commentators and celebrated the highs and lows of Corey Norman’s passing game.

I had looked at the prospect of quarantine and was terrified. I was scared that I would fall into a place of sadness and loneliness but that hasn’t been the case at all.

With the love and support of those around me and the game I love with all my heart, I feel free in a locked room. I will never call this sport “just a game” as so many love to do.

For me, right now, this game is my escape when I have no escape.

The Newcastle Knights Dominate the St George Dragons in Mudgee

The St George Dragons once again opted to take one of their home games to Mudgee this week however, it was the Newcastle Knights who felt right at home at Glen Willow Oval.

The Knights dominated from the kick off scoring their first try of the afternoon only 4 minutes into the game with Tim Glasby

With all of the ball and full control of the game, the Knights took advantage of an easy points opportunity as Kalyn Ponga slotted a penalty goal right in front to take the lead to 8.

From this moment on, the Knights never looked back.

Kalyn Ponga kept the points coming with back-to-back tries, both with successful conversions and a penalty goal in between.

The first was a textbook Ponga try that saw him step and beat 5 different defenders to get the ball down. The second was a real low light for the Dragons as he practically crawled his way over the try line after breaking through the defensive line.

Kurt Mann got himself 4 points in a revenge game against his former club once again humiliating his defenders this time with a step on rookie Jai Field.

Shaun Kenny-Dowall almost had a try with an intercept however the Dragons managed to hold him out to head to the sheds down by 28 and looking very deflated.

The Knights picked up exactly where they left off in the second half with Shaun Kenny-Dowall getting a try in the corner after coming up short before half time.

The Dragons continued their shambles in defence this time with the defender failing to clear the ball in the in goal which Mitchell Pearce was able to ground for a 4 pointer.

Ponga converted and the Knights led 38-0.

The game took a drastic turn however when Kurt Mann was sin binned after 4 consecutive penalties, the final within the 20.

With a man down, the Dragons were able to take some control of the game and got 12 points on the board.

The first, in the set of six immediately following the sin bin, went to Tariq Sims who rolled over the try line however the second was the real beauty for the Red V.

Before the 5th, Ben Hunt saw a defensive gap and put in a little cross field kick to a flying Zac Lomax who acrobatically got the ball down right in the corner.

10 minutes ticked on too quickly for the Dragons however and once Kurt Mann returned to the field, the Knights bounced right back with a try to Connor Watson who jumped on a fantastic offload from Mitch Barnett.

To add even more salt to the wound, Mitchell Pearce kicked a ginormous field goal to take their final tally to 45 and making it 4 in a row for the boys from Newcastle.

NRL News Man of the Match

3. Mitchell Pearce

2. Kalyn Ponga

1. David Klemmer

Raiders make it four straight beating the Broncos

Canberra Raiders English forward John Bateman

The Canberra Raiders proved once again that they are genuine contenders in the 2019 competition, extending their winning streak to 4 games after a win over the Brisbane Broncos.

The Raiders win handed the Broncos their 4th straight loss at GIO Stadium on Easter Sunday.

The boys at home struck early in the game with Jarrod Croker offloading just a couple of metres from the sideline to Nick Cotric who scored in the corner.

The Broncos responded through Kodi Nikorima who capitalised off a poor defensive decision from Jack Wighton.

A decoy runner from the Broncos drew Wighton in as the halfback received the ball and scored in the gap left behind.

The stars from the Raiders all joined together for their teams next try giving fans every reason to clap.

It started with a great 25 metre run from the firing fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad who put his team in perfect scoring position.

The ball was then given to Wighton who zig-zagged his way across field before passing it astray to John Bateman.

Bateman showed off his skills as a potential footballer for England, with a kick for his centre Joseph Leilua who them steam rolled over Darius Boyd to score.

Just 90 seconds later, the centre was on his feet celebrating again.

English recruit Bateman carried defenders for nearly 10 metres then let out a sneaky offload to a flying Leilua who practically had no one to beat to score.

The home team went to the sheds holding on to a 10 point lead, however, not comfortably knowing how dangerous their visitors can be.

The Broncos were the first to strike in the second half, too.

David Fifita fooled Jarrod Croker and the camera man with an amazing dummy allowing him to break through the line and run 15 metres in open field to score.

6 minutes later, Anthony Milford put his team in front for the first time with a beautifully placed grubber right into the hands of Corey Oates for a try just in from the sideline.

Jamayne Issako found no problem converting and the Broncos held on to a tight 2 point lead.

They weren’t able to hang on for long though after Bateman saw himself as a hooker momentarily scoring from dummy half.

The Raiders extended their lead further with a messy try for fellow Englishman Ryan Sutton who capitalised off a head-butt try assist from Jack Wighton.

The Broncos attempted to claw their way back into the game with a Jack Bird try which Isaako was able to convert but they ran out of time and went down 26-22.

Despite what appeared to be a bad injury for Nicholl-Klokstad, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart is confident he won’t miss any game time.

“It was a gutsy effort to stay out there,” Stuart said.

“He played the game quite physical and every time he’s involved with bringing the ball back it’s with a lot of collision and he handles it very well.

“We’ve got be smart about our preparation, we’re going up to a very heavy field next weekend, so we have to be smart.

“I don’t think he will miss [next week] the way he finished it [the win over Brisbane].”

Despite slumping to a 1-5 record, Broncos coach Anthony Seibold has implored fans to trust the process and the team.

“When you’re going through tough times, that’s when you really see who’s the rusted-on supporter and who’s dedicated to the cause,” Seibold said.

“This is an easy time for people to have a free shot at the Broncos.

“I’ve only been back there since December but whether it’s ex-players, supporters, members, it’s an easy time to have a crack at the club.

“The thing I’ve seen in my short time at the club is we have a resilient bunch in there (in the change rooms) and if people are willing to be patient through the tough times, they’ll get some joy.”

NRL News Man of the Match

3. John Bateman

2. Joseph Leilua

1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad

Titans bury Knights for second win of the season

Gold Coast Titans half Tyrone Roberts

The Gold Coast Titans have now won 2 straight after a win over the Newcastle Knights.

Most fans had the Titans billed as wooden spoon contenders and they put themselves in that position with four losses to start the season.

The battle at Cbus Super Stadium between the Newcastle Knights proved that they still have a lot in them despite the poor start and injury blows.

The first half started slowly, as the two teams fought in a tug-o-war of possession.

Acknowledging this, the Titans decided to turn a penalty into two points for their first of the afternoon.

Just 5 minutes later Philip Sami scored the first try, again turning a Knights error into points.

Watson dropped a stray pass from dummy half which the Titans jumped on to, quickly seeing they had an overlap on the left hand side that left Sami space to run alongside the sideline and score in the corner.

Two minutes later, in nearly the same exact style, Tyrone Roberts got his team a four pointer between the posts.

Daniel Saifiti put the ball down and Ash Taylor scooped it up for a quick pass off to his halves partner who broke through the Knights defense easily for the try.

With just over a minute to go in the half,the Titans weren’t ready to head to the sheds just yet as they found themselves in excellent field position.

Tyrone Roberts threw a beautiful pass to Brian Kelly who broke through a very weak defensive line from the Knights that would have definitely left many fans shaking their heads during half time.

The second half started off in no other way but the Titans scoring their third try off a Knights error.

Edrick Lee was unable to gather a Shaun Kenny-Dowall pass however, Dale Copley was able to.

The winger offloaded to a flying Anthony Don for his 71st try at the Gold Coast club.

In some promising signs for Knights fans, their team were looking for a comeback and were not going to admit defeat despite being down by 28.

The Knights scored three tries in 10 minutes proving how dangerous their attack truly can be.

Conner Watson gave an amazing assist, bringing in the defensive players to pass it off to Hymel Hunt for their first points.

Then, six minutes later, Pearce put a grubber into the in goal which Tyrone Roberts was unable to clear and Mitch Barnett turned into a try.

Kalyn Ponga then scored his first try of the season after breaking through the Titans defensive line and ran 30 metres to score.

With the scoreline looking much tighter and still just shy of 15 minutes on the clock, the Knights were looking at pulling off a spectacular comeback.

The Titans, however, had other plans in store as they looked to extend their winning margin and help their point differential some more.

With three minutes to go in the second half, Tyrone Roberts put in a grubber on the fifth tackle.

However, there was no one to chase it from his team and no one to clear it from the Knights, so he broke through to score himself.

A try off his own kick and what seemed to be the nail in the coffin for the Knights.

The boys from the Gold Coast weren’t done yet as they put together their best try of the evening with only ten seconds to go on the clock.

The halves combined moving the ball across field to Dale Copley who quickly passed back inside to a flying Michael Gordon.

The veteran fullback broke through a weak attempt at a tackle from Mitchell Pearce making the score 38-14 leaving Titans fans very happy and Knights fans very concerned.

The loss was only soured by a potential season-ending ACL injury to captain Ryan James.

Although the scoreline is not flattering for the Knights, coach Nathan Brown says there is not too much the side really needs to change.

“I don’t see why we’d want to change it, that combination,” said Brown.

“We were very threatening today.

“While the scoreboard suggested we were bad – and we were very bad in a part of the game – whenever we threw any sort of structural shape at them or the guys ran their plays, we caused them plenty of problems.”

NRL News Man of the Match

3. Tyrone Roberts

2. Phillip Sami

1. Michael Gordon

Raiders shut out Eels at GIO Stadium once again

Canberra Raiders five-eighth Jack Wighton

If you had said that the Parramatta Eels and Canberra Raiders would be one of the games of the round in 2019 a year ago, many would not have believed you.

And yet here we were at GIO Stadium in Round 5, both teams with only 1 loss to their name.

The battle proved very vicious too – so vicious Blake Ferguson was left clutching what was surely a broken nose early in the first half and then left the field in the second half with suspected fractured ribs.

Ferguson not being the only casualty, with Joseph Tapine also suffering a bad ankle injury, the third of the round.

The Raiders led the possession leaving the visitors with only 38% of the ball in the first half, however, the boys in blue and gold refused to fold on defense.

After 6 repeat sets, the Raiders finally got their first points for the night in the 27th minute through Josh Papalii after he steamrolled an exhausted Eels defense.

The Eels held strong for the remaining of the half however the home team chose to turn a penalty into points which saw them heading to the sheds up by 8 at half time.

Despite being down by 8, the Eels showed their strength in their best defensive half in 2019 but also showed by far their worst attacking half with only 57% completion rate.

The Eels carried their poor completion into the second half, turning the ball over every time they had any sort of opportunity and leaving their fans feeling deja vu of the round 6 loss in 2018.

The Raiders capitalised, this time a lot quicker, through Elliott Whitehead jumping on a loose ball that the Eels were unable to clean up.

It appeared that the Eels were incapable of completing any sets and the Raiders took full control because of it.

Jack Wighton dominated in the second half and got himself 4 points after he outjumped the Eels defenders for a Sam Williams try assist with a beautiful cross field kick.

The Raiders had moments of excellence in attack but their defence was exceptional as well, holding out Parramatta every chance they had to score.

With 3 minutes to go, Sam Williams wrapped the game up and added some salt to the wounds with an uncontested field goal to extend the lead to 19.

The Eels will travel back to Parramatta having only completed 19 sets of 34 and well and truly feeling the reality check of the Canberra Raiders and GIO Stadium.

NRL News Man of the Match

3. Jack Wighton

2. Josh Papalii

1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad

Hunt Dominates in Bulldogs beatdown

St George Illawarra Dragons halfback Ben Hunt

After a rocky start to the season, the St George Illawarra dragons well and truly quietened their haters after a brutal beating of the Canterbury Bulldogs in front of 13,409 fans at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.

The Dragons were first on the board with Euan Aitken steam rolling over his defenders off a bullet pass from Ben Hunt.

Tim Lafai proved that he has been practicing his kicks on the training paddock converting the try and a penalty goal 5 minutes later.

With 10 minutes to go in the half, Lafai found himself attempting to convert his own try, a beauty which started with a one on one strip.

Hunt, who had his best game of 2019, jumped on an attacking opportunity stripping the ball one-on-one and then breaking down the field putting his team in excellent attacking position.

They carried the ball to the left and Corey Norman put Lafai over through a cut out pass, not before he broke through some defenders first, though.

Just 5 minutes later and with the game in full control, the Dragons extended their lead even more this time through Mikaele Ravalawa.

Once again, Ben Hunt was there to provide the assist.

The Dogs went up the tunnel at half time without any points to their name.

However, Dragons fans weren’t entirely comfortable with the 18 point lead knowing how unpredictable both teams can be.

The first half of the second half proved to be much more of a tug-o-war which saw both teams coming up with some costly errors and incapable of capitalising on prime opportunities.

Ben Hunt thought he had himself a try after having a part in every other try, however he was denied because Ravalawa took his defender out of play.

Just a few minutes later however, Jordan Pereira got himself his 4th try this season this time off a beautiful Matt Dufty play.

The Dragons spine, which was under so much scrutiny just a few weeks earlier, today proved their power.

After being denied one earlier, Ben Hunt got himself his 4 points, jumping on a poor offload decision from Kerrod Holland and extending the lead to 28.

Rhyse Martin looked to have got his team their first points but the Dragons defense was far too strong holding him up.

The Bulldogs were then unable to convert the goal line opportunity turning the ball over.

The Dragons, however, did capitalise on their opportunity through the help of no one else but Ben Hunt.

Norman put up a ginormous bomb which Jayden Okunbor was unable to handle, handing it over to Hunt who passed it off to Zac Lomax, fresh on the field and scoring his first NRL try.

In what could be called a consolation try, Reimis Smith got the Bulldogs their first points of the night turning a repeat set into points and giving their fans something to celebrate at least.

Despite letting their opponent on the board, the Dragons weren’t done.

Euan Aitken was denied his double but after the ball was turned around once again, Ben Hunt got his in what is being crowned as a potential try of the year so far.

After being under pressure to start the year, Hunt is enjoying his footy and that improves his overall game.

“Benny is really enjoying his footy,” Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.

“When someone with that much talent is enjoying his footy, it’s exciting to watch. He’s had a couple of good games this year but that was his best.”

NRL News Man of the Match:

3. Ben Hunt

2. James Graham

1. Corey Norman

Field goal hero Norman wins it for Dragons again

St George Illawarra Dragons prop Paul Vaughan

St George Illawarra Dragons fans are overcoming deja vu tonight as Corey Norman has won his team their second win of the season with a field goal, this time in golden point over the Newcastle Knights.

The affair was very different from the Brisbane Broncos defeat however, as Kalyn Ponga looked to have been driving his team to a victory with the number 1 back on his jersey.

The evening started slowly as the Dragons took the first points through a penalty goal.

The two teams went back and forth for the rest of the night.

Intensities were high as both teams were looking at a 1 win, 3 loss tally and the likes of Ponga stepped up to try and ensure that didn’t happen.

10 minutes in, Ponga delivered a near perfect pass to a wide open Edrick Lee for the first try of the evening.

With one pass, Ponga’s confidence at fullback was exemplified and he looked to have killed the five-eighth experiment for good.

The Knights, in control, suffered a huge momentum shift after Tyson Frizell (who returned substantially early from injury) stripped the ball from Mitchell Pearce to pounce on the try line between the posts.

Just 5 minutes later, Ponga got his team on the board again with an assist for a flying Hymel Hunt to go in untouched.

Holding on to a 2 point lead, Newcastle looked comfortable, however, the Dragons kept clawing their way back in.

After a potentially harsh forward pass call on what would have been a try, the Dragons managed to regather the ball to replicate the same play on the other side of the field.

This time courtesy of Matt Dufty putting Mikaele Ravalawa in for his second career try.

With 15 minutes to go, Kalyn Ponga jumped at the opportunity to even the game up converting a penalty goal from a head high tackle on birthday boy Mitchell Pearce from Tariq Sims.

From there, the match was neck and neck as the two struggled with the intensity which was only amplified by an incredibly vocal 19,105 fans at McDonald Jones Stadium.

3 missed field goals shared between the two teams – 1 by Pearce, 1 by Norman and 1 by Ponga.

The game clocked over into golden point and the intensities were skyrocketed even more.

The first 5 minutes flew by with Pearce and Norman failing field goal attempts again, both only slightly.

The second half saw both teams derail as exhaustion well and truly kicked in. Ben Hunt, attempting a 40/20 on third tackle, kicked the ball dead granting the Knights a 7 tackle set and the game on a silver plater.

Unfortunately for the home crowd, their team was unable to capitalise on the gift and the Dragons received the ball in good field position.

5 tackles in and 42 metres out proved third time lucky for Norman who kicked the winning field goal for his team once again and truly finding a place in the hearts of the Red V faithful.

Norman drew strong praise from Dragons coach Paul McGregor for his insistence in wanting the ball at the big moments.

“He’s a joy to coach because he’s an energetic kid that takes footy serious, but in and around that, he can have a bit of fun as well,” McGregor said.

“He wants the footy at important times, and that’s what your better playmakers do.”

Knights coach Nathan Brown was proud of his side’s effort but the lack of execution concerns him.

“Our effort was tremendous,” Brown said.

“Even against Penrith, going down 16-14, we probably weren’t quite as good as we were the week before against Cronulla, but I don’t think anyone would be critical of that.

“The challenge now is we’ve got to back up against Manly and come out and put in a good one on Saturday.

“That’s going to be a challenge … against Manly, who are playing some good footy.”

NRL News Man of the Match

3. Paul Vaughan

2. Kalyn Ponga

1. Tim Lafai

Double trouble as Ferguson stars for Eels

Parramatta Eels winger Blake Ferguson

For only the second time since 1999, the Parramatta Eels led by Blake Ferguson have started the season 2 for 2 in a polar opposite season start from 2018.

You can almost forgive the fans for their celebrating after such a disastrous season the year before but the faithful had little to celebrate early on in the competition against their rivals Canterbury Bulldogs in front of 20,134 fans at ANZ.

20 minutes into the first half, the Bulldogs were well in control of the match with 75% of the possession and 10 points on the board.

The Eels made them fight hard to get there but Kieran Foran finally broke the defence 14 minutes in, pouncing onto a unique but well executed floater from Lachlan Lewis to score his first try in almost a year.

Just four minutes later, the Bulldogs were on the board again after a loose carry from Maika Sivo found the boys from Parramatta defending their goal line once again.

The Fijian winger was definitely welcomed to first grade football by the Bulldogs after a poor defensive read saw Reimis Smith put one in the corner.

When their defensive wall started showing moments of weakness, the Eels were able to finally regain some possession and complete a set.

With the ball was finally controlled in their hands, they showed their strength on attack as Ferguson nabbed his first try for his new club.

The veteran winger combined with a cheeky inside ball from his fullback to grab Parramatta’s first points of the day.

Mitchell Moses converted and just 3 minutes later was back converting another.

Clint Gutherson was the try scorer this time off a Reed Mahoney tackle break that saw the two in open space.

The teams went to the sheds practically neck and neck and fans of both teams were on the edge of their seats in anxiety for the second half.

Much to the dismay of Bulldogs fans, the Eels picked up exactly where they left off though as  Gutherson scored his second try of the afternoon with Ferguson supporting him this time.

The Bulldogs struggled to catch up to the Eels and when things began to look promising again they fell apart for a disastrous 10 minutes.

Two intercept tries – one for Ferguson for his double and one for Shaun Lane for his first try at the club.

The Eels led by 20 with 30 minutes to go and looked to have the game all but wrapped up.

The remaining 30 minutes saw some strong defensive efforts and in the 63rd minute Bulldogs’ recruit Dylan Napa scored his first try for his new club.

In doing so, he powered over Gutherson to put the ball down.

The Dogs continued to try and claw their way back into the competition with the clock quickly running down however Dylan Brown, in a fantastic second NRL performance, got himself 4 points for his first career try.

There were definitely promising signs for the Canterbury Bulldogs as they put together a far more impressive 80 minutes than that of the week before.

However, the positive signs for Parramatta were far too over powering.

The blue and gold trot home to Parramatta with 2 doubles and the 2 points.

The recruits for the club stood up loud and proud to silence any doubters about recruitment issues from Brad Arthur and the young 18 year old from New Zealand still cool as a cucumber securing his spot in first grade footy.

As the best winger last year, many thought a change of club for Ferguson would dampen his 2019 achievements.

If the start of the season is anything to go by, it will have no such effect, as the winger drew praise from Eels coach Brad Arthur.

“He’s been great. He’s 106-107 kilos and when he came, he said he’d like to play around that 101-kilo mark,” Arthur said.

“But he’s strong and he’s good to have around the group.

“The boys just like sitting there next to him in the sheds because he breeds confidence.”

After a second loss to the start the year, Bulldogs coach Dean Pay be forced to bring out some selection changes to try and buck their fortunes.

“We’ll address that during the week and see where we need to be better with some of our players – see how our second grade went today,” Pay said.

“There’s a few guys putting some pressure on there.”

NRL News Player of the Match

3. Blake Ferguson

2. Clinton Gutherson

1. Shaun Lane

Parramatta thank ANZ

Tonight, the Parramatta Eels faithful get to say farewell to the 2018 season – one which has been painful majority of the time – but they at least get to say farewell to their temporary home at ANZ Stadium.

This year, the stands at Olympic Park haven’t been a very happy place for the blue and gold army as there haven’t been too many reasons to cheer.

When you look at the big picture, though, over the two years without a Parramatta Stadium due to the construction of Western Sydney Stadium, there have been many positive moments.

It’s easy to focus just solely on this season as a Parramatta fan however; across the two years, ANZ has proved to be a lovely home.

As difficult as it may be to look at the future excitedly, this venture at Olympic Park may prove to be very helpful to the blue and gold.

Obviously the two years have been very different years on paper for the team, however, when you look at the records, ANZ still acted as a prime home base.

In 2017, the Eels played a total of 15 games at ANZ stadium – including 1 final and 3 classified away games.

Of those 15, Parramatta won 8 home games, the 3 away games and only lost a total of 4 games, home or away.

This year, in 2018, things haven’t looked quite as positive but for ANZ the record still isn’t half bad. They played a total of 13 home and away games at ANZ for a record of 5 home wins, 5 home losses and 3 total away losses.

Combine the two seasons together and despite the dreaded wooden spoon on its way to Parramatta this year, the win percentage at ANZ is still positive even if it is only just.

This season, the Eels have not won an away game. It’s a statistic that is very concerning and worrying for the fans and club as a whole.

Away games are inevitable and if you can’t win away from home, you aren’t a real dominate force in the competition.

2019 is going to be a whole new ballpark for Parramatta, however. they do have a little bit of help in fixing their away slump.

Many fans have been scratching their heads or throwing their arms up in frustration at the recruitment at Parramatta, or lack thereof I should say.

They seem to be forgetting, though, that the team hasn’t just recruited Blake Ferguson, Junior Paulo and Shaun Lane – they’ve also recruited a brand new stadium.

After two years away, Parramatta are finally returning home to Parramatta. They have a brand new stadium and as exciting as all of the new features are, the greatest benefit is the home ground advantage again.

This is their home. They won’t be sharing it with any other rugby league team like the 3 (occasionally 4) teams who have had to share ANZ.

Fans will have to travel to Parramatta and enter Parramatta’s territory to verse the team which proves to be a real benefit for teams. What Parramatta also has on their side now is a backup home.

Fans have become accustomed to traveling to ANZ. They’ve figured out the best time trains and favourite food or drink vendors.

They’re used to the parking lots or the walk around the stadium to the station.

It’s become a part of their overall football experience as a fan so flocking to ANZ for the 3 or so away games against the Dogs, Rabbits and potentially Tigers won’t be an issue at all.

In a way, they’re like bonus home games.

Who knows what will happen with this game in 2019.

If this season has proven anything, it’s that anything can happen so there’s no real point super-analysing sides before the season has even started.

However, one inevitable is that Parramatta have a new home. They may physically farewell ANZ tonight against the Roosters but mentally, they’ve still got ANZ on their side next year.

Panthers prove they’re still the real deal

Not only did the Penrith Panthers keep the minor premiership race well and truly alive, they also killed a 5 year losing streak against the Melbourne Storm.

Having only won 1 of the last 18 games against the Storm, the boys from Penrith were in for quite a challenge however, the challenge appeared a little lessened with the late withdrawal of Billy Slater due to personal matters and Cameron Munster and Brodie Croft due to injury.

Despite the players lost, the Storm still put up quite a fight in front of their home crowd finding themselves first on the board early in the game through a penalty conversion from the skipper.

Just seven minutes later Josh Mansour responded with a powerful solo try which found him fighting off three Melbourne defenders to muscle the ball down for the first try of the night.

The tables turned for Mansour very quickly, however, when he left his team down to 12 men after he was deemed to have grabbed the arm of Justin Olam restricting him from possibly scoring a try.

The professional foul sanction proving quite costly to Penrith as their frustration quickly took over the game as displayed through a very uneven penalty count.

The Storm looked to capitalise on the advantage, over coming an initial no try, with a try to Felise Kaufusi who finally broke the Penrith defense wall which had stood so strongly until that moment.

Cameron Smith was sweet with the boot to convert the try and found himself lining up just 3 minutes later after a Tyrone Peachey tackle was deemed head high.

Uncharacteristically, the skipper missed the conversion but not even a full minute later the Panthers found themselves down to 12 men again with James Tamou in the bin after repeat penalties.

Smith couldn’t miss two in a row and slot the goal sweetly to take his team’s lead to 6 points.

2 minutes before the half time siren rang and the Panthers pounced on a penalty conversion chance late in the half – this goal proving to be Nathan Cleary’s only successful shot at goal all night.

The second half looked to have started off bright with young debutant Scott Drinkwater crossing the try line only to have his moment denied due to an obstruction.

The Panthers jumped at the opportunity to level up the scoreboard and just minutes later, Mansour was over for his double after some individual excellence from Waqa Blake.

As time quickly ticked on, the Storm looked to be showing signs of weakness as they missed their star players who provide extra creativity in attack.

The Panthers were looking to load the points on with Blake getting himself on the score board this time off a perfectly weighted James Maloney kick. A kick which definitely cemented the importance of the veteran half in this team.

The two teams continued to tussle hard for the next 20 minutes with lots of near moments of brilliance – including a no try to Olam – but the Panthers, through Blake again, put the dagger into the Storm as he got himself a double.

The night wasn’t finished, though, with a new contender for try of the year going to Christian Crichton after he managed to acrobatically grab himself an intercept from Cheyse Blair to take the lead to 12.

Nathan Cleary’s boot was the only real concerning signs for the Panthers, keeping the Storm ever so slightly still in the game.

A 12 point lead quickly dropped to 6 through the young boy on the park. Amazingly, the debutant Drinkwater managed to score himself a try even after being denied in the first half and the Storm kept the faith alive at AAMI Park.

The Storm threw everything they had at the Panthers in the final minutes with some very near misses but some brilliant defence, particularly from Cleary and Regan Campbell-Gillard, granted the Panthers their 2 points.

Panthers coach Cam Ciraldo admits that he could not be prouder of his side’s performance.

“I couldn’t be prouder,” Ciraldo said.

“It’s been a tough couple of weeks.

“Just the way they prepared all week gave us a real confidence coming down here.

“The way they hung in here tonight, I couldn’t be prouder of their effort.”

Still a chance to win the minor premiership if results go their way, Cam Smith admits that the Storm are lucky to even have a chance to win it.

“Winning the minor premiership would have been really nice, but if you look at the way our season’s panned out,” the Storm captain said.

“It’s quite a remarkable effort to be quite honest to have the Melbourne Storm sitting second and playing a game in the last round to wrap up the minor premiership.”

Player of the Match:

3. Waqa Blake

2. Josh Mansour

1. Scott Drinkwater