Last weekend saw a number of upset results in round four of the NRL. There were also controversies over refereeing, some freakish displays of athleticism and – most astonishingly – a Cameron Smith send off. Most importantly, we gained some idea of the shape of the competition.
Thursday night featured a colossal upset, as the Panthers travelled to Townsville without star playmaker Nathan Cleary yet still managed to put on their most complete performance so far. The 33-14 win to Penrith was a fair reflection of their dominance. The Cowboys will be left feeling very flat after their ordinary start to the season.
On Friday afternoon the very ordinary Rabbitohs and Bulldogs played a largely forgettable fixture. The only redeeming feature of the match was the closeness of the scores, which at least kept viewers engaged. In the end Souths won 20-16 – and we confirmed that neither of these teams will be a premiership contender.
What should have been the match of the round took place on Friday night in Cronulla. Unfortunately ill-discipline marred the spectacle, with the two sides giving away 33 penalties between them. In a sight that had every non-Storm NRL fan yelling “about time”, Captain Cameron Smith was sin-binned for backchat. The Sharks won a very stop-start encounter 14-4.
On Saturday title favourites the Roosters welcomed the undefeated Warriors to Sydney. Unfortunately, in a scene that may well be replayed later on in the year for Union fans, the New Zealanders took the NRL spoils in a dominant display.
Later on Saturday evening Manly took on the winless Canberra Raiders at Brookvale. The Raiders once again failed to fire, and the Sea Eagle’s attack did the rest as they won 32-16. Manly will be without star fullback Tom Trbojevic for the next few weeks after he picked up an ankle injury.
On Sunday the Knights attempted to slay the Dragons, but were sent back to Newcastle with their tails between their legs. St George continued their open style of play this season, which is being well-rewarded by the referees.
Sunday also featured a seemingly predictable Queensland derby between the Titans and Broncos in Brisbane. Gold Coast, however, clearly hadn’t read the script as they produced their best performance in at least a year. Brisbane were left stunned and on the wrong end of a 26-14 scoreline.
The final game was on Monday afternoon, between Wests Tigers and Parramatta. Parramatta have been the disappointment of the season after last year’s top four finish, while Wests have surprised everyone so far. Benji Marshall inspired the Tigers in attack as they won the battle of the west comfortably 30-20.
The referees seem intent on rewarding open play and punishing teams that try to slow the game down. This leaves last year’s NRL premiership contenders with some work to do to modify their style of play. Unless they can do that quickly, we may see a changing of the guard this season.