Mid-Season report Card
Brisbane Broncos- B
The Broncos brought themselves up a grade with a great win over Manly on the weekend that have helped keep their noses in front of many sides. The team has lost a number of tight contests this season, yet still find themselves in the middle of the top eight on the ladder, thanks largely to a great attacking record. They are well set for a finals charge in the back half of the season. As always, Brisbane have the advantage of playing most of their games at the same time each week, although the team showed on Sunday they don’t mind when that gets mixed up a little. There is a lot to like about what is building at the Broncos.
Dux: Andrew McCullough- the Broncos hooker has been a tackling machine all season, and has given the Broncos great service out of dummy half.
Canberra Raiders- D-
When Ricky Stuart was signed up as coach with the Canberra Raiders last year, fixing the side’s defense would have been his number one priority. Unfortunately, whatever he has tried has not worked, the Raiders statistically have the worst defense in the competition, and by some margin. The Canberra Raider’s strength is in their young guns such as Paul Vaughn, Jack Wighton, Anthony Milford and Mitchell Cornish. In all honesty, it points to the future, rather than 2014. This season, they will look at plugging the holes.
Dux: Anthony Milford- The Raiders will be sad to see the dynamic full back leave next year. Milford can create something out of nothing, leading the way with 11 line breaks this season.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs A+
The benchmark of the competition, the Bulldogs have been outstanding. Their big men have just proved too much for their peers, charging up the middle to allow their quicker men room to move and their halves space to direct play. They wouldn’t have thought they would lose both halves to Origin, so the next period of the competition will be a test for the Bulldogs. Once the representative season passes however, they should be set to charge towards the minor premiership.
Dux: Hard to choose from a team performing well across the park, but the inspirational attitude of English import James Graham puts the Canterbury side on the front foot, and as a result he gets the award.
Cronulla Sharks- D-
The Sharks performed admirably in adversity in 2013, but this season they haven’t been able to reach the same heights. Languishing at the bottom, the Cronulla team would just love to be able to field a full strength side. Injury has stopped the side from playing to potential, while their inability to score points has again damaged their chances of winning football games.
Dux: Wade Graham- Captaining the side for much of the year, Graham has lead from the front, always putting in his best effort in a struggling side. Brutal in defence and strong in attack, the Sharks would be even further behind in class if not for Wade.
Gold Coast Titans- C+
The Gold Coast Titans led the competition at one stage, surprising everyone, especially when they had a negative for and against at the time. Despite having a good mix of youth and experience, the side has struggled for consistency, and are at times guilty of going sideways in attack. Flashes of individual brilliance have saved them on occasions, but they need to work more on team performances. After a great start, they have really dropped off the pace, and coach John Catrwright will have a lot to work on as a result.
Dux: Greg Bird may irk a lot of opposition players but his team mates must love him. Bird will never shirk away from his responsibilities, whether in attack or defence, or even converting tries. He loves to get in to the opposition’s faces and is just such a great competitor making him a wonderful asset to the Titan’s side.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles- A-
It was thought at the start of the season that the team was too old to mix it with the other this year, but Manly have silenced the critics again. The Sea Eagles personify winning culture, and their results year in and year out highlight this. What will impress coach Geoff Toovey is their ability to win ugly, as highlighted by their last second field goal to take the chocolates from Newcastle.
Dux: Daly Cherry-Evans is just about unstoppable at times. He single headedly destroyed Canberra, and stole the game from the Knights. DCE was missing from the side in round twelve and the Sea Eagles got comprehensively flogged. The Manly halfback is pivotal to his side.
Melbourne Storm- C-
Top of the class for so long, the Storm have fallen back down to earth in this year, with the big three in Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater taking a while to find their feet. The Storm find themselves outside of the eight with the Origin period hardly helping, particularly with injuries to Cronk and Slater. Melbourne will have to work hard in the second half of the season if they are to reach their own lofty standards.
Stand out player: Will Chambers has beaten the big three to the prize, mostly on the back of the fact they haven’t reached their own near perfect standards. Chambers continues to grow as a key member of the Storm side, particularly as the backline gets younger. He has an ability to stand up his opposite number, and is always reliable in defence.
Newcastle Knights- D-
Not much has gone right for the Newcastle Knights this season. They have lost young second rower Alex McKinnon to a career ending neck injury, mining magnate Nathan Tinkler was forced to hand back ownership of the club as he struggled to pay players, and the side finds themselves second last on the ladder. It is hard to see where the Knights will go to turn things around, with super coach Wayne Bennett facing his biggest challenge in resurrecting the confidence of the team.
Dux: It may seem a bit from left field, but Robbie Rochow has been outstanding for the Newcaslte side this season. The second rower has a knack of getting himself in the right place at the right time and has a number of tries to his name as a result.
North Queensland Cowboys- C
The North Queensland side has found its groove of late, yet find themselves out of the eight following a slow start to the year. It took a while for the Cowboys to gel under new coach Paul Green, however if their recent form continues, they will be well and truly there come the business end of the season. The North Queensland squad are a good balance of attack and defence and have belted some strong competition sides to stake their premiership claims.
Dux: Matt Scott has been churning through the metres for the Cowboys, particularly in more recent weeks. This has allowed perennial Cowboys dux Jonathon Thurston room to work his magic. Scott knows his role in the side, and doesn’t try to overplay his hand, pushing through the middle of the field to put opposition teams on the back foot.
Parramatta Eels- B+
The Eels have been the whipping boys of the competition the last couple of years, however times have changes. Once again the Hayne plane has taken off, and flying high with him is cheeky halfback Chris Sandow. Unfortunately for the Eels, they have lost Nathan Peats for the season, a major blow with the hooker a major part of the Parramatta side’s success to start the year.
Dux: Jarryd Hayne has been simply outstanding this year, not only scoring freakish tries in which he has brushed past a number of defenders, but also saving Parramatta in defence at crucial times. He has recaptured the form from 2009, which saw the Eels go within a whisker of a premiership.
Penrith Panthers- A
Not many would have predicted the Penrith side to be second on the ladder at the half way point of the competition, but Coach Ivan Cleary has the side ticking. The main issue for the Panthers at the start of the season was consistency with the club winning one then losing the next. Now, on a three game winning streak, the Panthers will look to continue on their merry way towards a return to finals football.
Dux: Matt Moylan has performed incredibly this year for the Panther, especially when you consider the side were on the verge of cutting him from the roster at one point in 2013. Moylan has been a third playmaker option for Penrith, chiming in to take pressure off Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward.
South Sydney Rabbitohs- B
The South Sydney side was another slow starter in 2014, but now find themselves in the top four at the middle of the season. They are well balanced across the field, ranking third in defence in fifth in attack. While it is hard to account for why they started so poorly this season, losing three games on the trot at one stage, the Rabbitohs recent form has them set for a shot at the title again.
Dux: Dylan Walker has come along way this season, particularly in defense. His ability to accelerate quickly makes him a nightmare to defend, with opposition needing to anticipate his move.
St George Illawarra Dragons- D-
It is hard to remember that after three rounds, the Dragons were atop the NRL ladder, now mid season, they are floundering down in the bottom four, and look like going nowhere fast. They have a new coach after sacking Steve Price, and signed on code hopper Benji Marshall, yet neither of these things have changed the clubs fortunes. Marshall looks a shadow of the player he once was, making simple mistakes to put his team under pressure. It doesn’t help that the St George forwards are getting pummeled up front, their lack of size causing great headaches in defending the middle.
Dux: Gareth Widdop’s ability to play outside of Melbourne was questioned, but the Dragon’s five eighth has silenced his critics with some lovely plays, particularly at the start of the season. He now has to step up again, in order to create more for the Dragons, to drag them out of the hole they find themselves. Widdop looks willing to try anything to put the team back in the winner’s circle.
Sydney Roosters- B
Last year’s premiers struggled to find their composure at the start of the year. It seemed that James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce may have been distracted by Origin talk as their form dropped off. Since the pair have been left out of the State of Origin arena, this form has turned around. Maloney was fantastic in the team’s win against Canberra, while Pearce’s kicking game was also spot on. It is all clicking for the Roosters now, who find themselves in the lucky situation of having their halves during the Origin period, and sit on the edge of the top four. As is often the case with their side, the Roosters forwards have been leading the way.
Dux: Winger Daniel Tupou just seems to have an unfair advantage, being so tall. While his leap in the air makes him almost unstoppable under a bomb he also has eleven line breaks too his name. His form earned him a NSW Blues jersey and has got the Roosters backline singing.
New Zealand Warriors- C+
This is one report that has the potential to read very differently at the end of the year. Once again, the Warriors started the year getting belted by each team they played, winning the odd game to give hope, before being belted again. The more down than up form line led to the sacking of Coach Matthew Elliot, and since then it has been a far better story for the New Zealand side. New coach Andrew McFadden has added the warriors missing ingredient to the team: consistency. They have won four of their past five games, their only loss in that period to table toppers Canterbury, in a game they almost stole. Outside of the top eight at the moment, the Warriors will look to continue their rise and could be the big movers in the second half of the season.
Dux: Nathan Friend just doesn’t know how to stop tackling. Many though his last contract may have been his last, but the machine like hooker is playing better than ever for the New Zealand outfit. He works the ball efficiently out of the ruck area, makes few errors, and tackles, tackles before tackling some more. His defense is a key ingredient in the Warriors’ form reversal.
Wests Tigers- B+
Many people predicted the Tigers to win the wooden spoon, but Wests have proven everyone wrong finding themselves inside the top eight. Their concern will be that they have only won two out of their last five games and face falling back down to the bottom half if they can’t continue their solid start. While much of the praise for Wests’ six wins will fall on the back of Luke brooks, the truth is they have had contributors across the park. Adam Blair is finally showing the form that the Tigers paid big money for, Blake Austin has been a revelation, and winger Pat Richards has been scoring points galore. Braith Anasata was much maligned last year, but surely Tiger’s fans can thank his cool head fro helping Luke Brooks find his feet so quickly. The big question from here will be whether the team can keep on proving the doubters wrong.
Dux: Luke Brooks is a stunning prospect for the NRL, with all the skills in the game. He seems to have the ball on a string, and at such a young age, he could do anything in his career. Even when Robbie Farah was away injured, Brooks was still able to lead the team admirably, showing that he can handle the pressure when teams will try to shut him down as the main threat.