SOME may nominate the first-round Souths v Roosters, but Souths v the West Tigers provided the Rabbitohs with a strong nomination for most undeserved victory in NRL history.
Disinterested observers might regard the Tigers as cruelly denied, and with the loss probably went their season.
The Tigers played all the football, scored three marvellously constructed tries and had a strategic plan that bespoke hours of study.
One-dimensional Souths could only thank the gods for the mad last five minutes that gave them their improbable win. And thank referee Shane Hayne.
This implies no bias from Hayne, a terrific referee with a real feeling for the game. It’s just that two penalties courtesy of the ridiculous stripping rule decided the result, and the two were particularly egregious examples.
Both balls were dislodged in fractions of seconds just from impact, and even if they weren’t — the spirit of the game would have said the dislodgments were a legitimate defensive tactic. An outcry was expected over these absurdities, but no, nothing.
It’s long since past the time to recognise the cure has been worse than the disease, and to just give a penalty when ‘‘held’’ has been called.
Meanwhile, the time has arrived when questions are being asked about whether Adam Blair’s arrival at the Tigers from the Melbourne Storm has been worth the upheaval.
So far, Blair has proven neither an impact player in the Dave Taylor-Frank Pitchard mould, nor a tearaway lead-from-the-front type with mongrel; the player who would have been handy against Souths.
To accommodate Blair, The Tigers ditched Bryce Gibbs and Andrew Fifita, both now kicking on with the Cronulla Sharks.
Peter Sterling has noted personality tearaway Gibbs is the best around-the-legs tackler among the front rowers, at a time when tackling in the forwards is really a collision, a strength-and-wrestling contest between the respective club gymnasiums. Right now, there wouldn’t be a Tigers fan who wouldn’t swap Gibbs-Fifita for Blair.
There’s still time for the New Zealand international to make a statement and make some repayments, but it will be too late for the Tigers’ top-eighth chances if he doesn’t do it soon.
One of the modern mysteries is why Craig Bellamy’s coaching success at the Melbourne Storm wasn’t repeated in State of Origin with NSW. The answer lies in that very success with the Storm.
Watch them and watch a team with mastery of all the set pieces and a plan for every game eventuality.
That takes endless hours, months, seasons of practice. (It helps when you have Queenslanders Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk as the spine. But then it says something about Bellamy’s eye for a player and coaching that he can make a former journeyman like prop Bryan Norrie a star. Norrie was running around with St Marys five seasons ago).
As coach of NSW, you don’t have weeks, months and seasons. You only have a few training sessions.
Paul Vautin once said of his time in dominant Maroon sides of the Wally Lewis era, that Origin didn’t come down to game plans. All the combatants knew each other’s play; it came down to one moment of inspiration or one mistake under pressure.
Except in recent seasons as Queensland head for seven straight this year. Talent spreads go in cycles, but not in those recent seasons.
Never has one team had a monopoly of talent in the way the Maroons have had. The Queensland team could be the Australian team, and virtually has been.
Swap Queensland’s Mal Meninga with Bellamy in his NSW days, and the winner would have been the same. Now Darren Lockyer has retired and several Queenslanders have been up awhile, Origin might return to the sort of contests Vautin described.
A Blacktown schoolboy with a football and his gear on calls out ‘‘Sonny Bill’’ while walking down the street with his mates. Sonny Bill Williams is his hero. That’s starpower.
But Williams isn’t even a rugby league player; he’s a rugby union player who’ll be returning to the NRL with the Roosters next season if the stories are right. He’s also a mercenary for whom it’s Williams 1, 2 and 3 and he’s in no danger of ever being given a long-service testimonial.
Nathan Hindmarsh announces this will be his last season with Parramatta after 17 seasons at the club. He’s honoured for his loyalty, and his one-club record mightn’t be matched again.
There might be an increasing number of Williams’s, however. . . Players on short-term contracts who can announce theye’ll be going elsewhere virtually before a ball has been kicked, as have James Maloney and the long-service Braith Anasta — though for contrasting reasons to the globetrotting Williams.
What to do? The reintroduction of the draft would help, but there’s no chance of uniformity among clubs and players.
With the legal precedent set, someone would challenge the draft if it were to their advantage. Clubs could consign departing players to the lower grade, as Wayne Bennett once did with Justin Hodges when Hodges had signed with the Roosters from the Broncos.
If all clubs did that, the problem would just about go, but that’s dreamland stuff. No club would sacrifice wins and a possible title for the greater good. It will take more than the wisdom of Solomon Haumono to solve this one. Meanwhile, should Williams go to the Roosters: let the buyer beware