And then there were four.
The Qualifying Finals games were just about the most drama packed, insane games of football it would be possible to have. There were big hits, players playing though injury, a hat trick of field goals from a player that scored all of his teams points, a sex scandal, comebacks, drama, and the feeling that when we as a sport get it right, NOTHING can touch us for a spectacle.
Let’s start with the Sharks vs the Panthers. One thing needs to be said up front, the attendance for that game was horrible. Empty seats and a poor atmosphere is not a good look for the game (especially when a minor semi in AFL is a 90,000 sellout between Richmond and Collingwood). The fans that stayed away must be kicking themselves though as a see saw game saw the Sharks limp over the line with a 21-20 win. Billed as a matchup between two players who had swapped clubs in the close season, for Cronulla, it was real justification for their decision to sign Matt Moylan. He was incredible playing at stand off, whilst Valentine Holmes looks every inch and international fullback these days after making it plain he felt wasted on the wing. Andrew Fifita was incredible and ate up the meters in his spells on the pitch, whilst Luke Lewis who is retiring at the end of this season ran a great line and showed all the pace he used to have when he started on the wing in 2003. He’s very much the Gareth Ellis of that team, they’ll miss him next year.
For the Panthers it looked like the season of so much promise faded as soon as they sacked Anthony Griffin, which I talked about in detail a couple of issues back. Their stand off, James Maloney, had probably his worst game all season, and what a time for that to happen…. Knock out footy AND against his old club too. Unfortunately though the spotlight fell on young Nathan Cleary who missed two attempts at a field goal which would’ve tied the score. Panthers had roared back into contention with one of their trademark late comebacks and were coming home with a wet sail only for Chad Townsend to knock over the one pointer for the Sharks and steady their ship instead. Cleary needs to get over the heartbreak and fast, he looked distraught and in tears after the game, you couldn’t help but feel for him no matter what your allegiances are.
Another player who came out of last weeks games with the tag of hero is Adam Reynolds. Scoring all of his teams points is no mean feat, and to kick three drop goals, the last of which was nothing short of miraculous must have him bouncing going into this weeks game against the Roosters. The sad story to come out of this game is Ben Hunt.
Hunt is one of those players that seems to get the blame for everything. He was the guy that dropped the ball from the kick-off in extra time when he was playing for the Broncos in the Grand Final vs the Cowboys a couple of years back, and arguably he’s suffered from that particular demon ever since. He was the starting halfback for the Maroons this year in Origin, when they lost their first series in years, and was signed by the Dragons to be the player that finally led them around the pitch where so many others have failed.
The irony is that in the game previous he was incredible against the Broncos. The fans gave his stick every time he caught the ball from the kick off, yet he never dropped anything and was instrumental in the win. The major problem, in my opinion anyway, was the injury that Gareth Widdop suffered in that game. That meant that Hunt had to play alongside the largely untested Kurt Mann in the halves against the Bunnies, and that was always going to be a huge ask.
Hunt, in fact scored the first try of the game, ghosting through and showing a great dummy and nice speed. He looked like a player who had gotten his confidence back. Then, as the game got to the pointy end, his game management deserted him, and with the scores locked at 12-all, and the minutes ticking into inevitable extra time (NOT golden point though – that’s just for the Grand final), the Dragons and Hunt, somehow instead of kicking the ball out, or deep for territory, managed to get caught in possession on the half way line, and Reynolds stepped up and nailed the one-pointer three tackles later. Gutting for the lad, and when you can see so clearly that he has mental demons, and is a real confidence half back, you have to wonder if he’ll ever have the temperament to be a truly world class halfback. A real shame.
So heroes and villains it’s been – and with the news that a girl in Sydney has pparently seen Big Sam Burgess’s bits on Facebook chat – its really business as usual for the NRL.
In other news, the Cowboys have released seven players, including one I think would be a great signing for Hull. Shaun Fensom would be a perfect player for us. Tackles like a lunatic, runs his weight, would really take the pressure off Houghton, can play nine or back row and would be useful off the bench. Leeds are sniffing (as ever) but he’s one I’d seriously look at if we could free up a quota space. The way he’s come back after breaking his leg in last years Grand Final has been inspirational – and he’s only 30 so would be good for a long-term deal – one to think about?
Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.
Rich – Twitter @pommyrich